My Recollection of the U.S.S. Holland after 43 years

The Holland, as far as I can remember, had two ballast tanks, two compensating tanks for two torpedoes, several air flasks, compressor, 50 h.p. motor, 110 V. 120 Amp, E.S.B. storage battery and a 50 h.p. Otto gasoline engine, a tank of 1500 gallons of gasoline, 1 - 18" torpedo tube; also a dynamite gun of approximately 8" diameter. The original crew consisted of five men and one officer as captain; later an executive officer was added.

The hull was some 53-ft. long and approximately 11 ft. in diameter, with a deck amidships about 3 ft. wide. In order to have more room on the deck, gratings were added on brackets secured to the hull, which were removed when the ship was preparing for maneuvers. The conning tower was some 18 to 20" in height, circular, and approximately 30 inches in diameter, the opening leading into the boat being 18" in diameter. The conning tower was equipped with openings of about 1-1/2" x 3", which were sealed with heavy glass, which permitted limited observation when ready to submerge. The tower was equipped with a heavy brass cover which, of course, had to be closed before submerging.

The inside of the Holland consisted of a torpedo tube and dynamite gun, as mentioned before. Below the torpedo tube was the gasoline tank. To the rear of the gasoline tank was the battery compartment, the cover of which constituted the deck. On each side above this deck was one compensating tank to be filled when the torpedo on that side was to be used.

The only place where one could stand upright was in the conning tower and in the forward portion of the engine room. There were no accommodations for eating or sleeping.

So much for the general description

At first our instructions consisted in getting used to our respective stations when underway, timing for diving, filling and blowing out ballast tanks, and then in working submerged runs. The captain in the conning tower, the air man at the air valves, one man at the tank valves, one man at the torpedo tube, the machinist at his engine, and the electrician at his controller. There was no moving about while submerged, everyone remaining at his post. My position as the electrician was next to the gas engine on one side, the wheel ropes over my head, the controller in front of me, and the only way to get out of my place was by squeezing through a small space between the gas engine and a 10 h.p. motor.

Ventilation, while running on the surface, was by means of a ventilator over the engine and draught from the open conning tower. Preparing for diving, the ventilator had to be removed and handed down into the boat. After a short while we became expert enough to dispense with our civilian instructors and were on our own. All this took place at the Torpedo Station at Newport, where we practiced in summer, and spent the winter months at Annapolis, Md.

I recall that on one of our runs we had some congressmen on board. To us it was amusing to see these congressmen dig into their ears while making a series of porpoise dives. While preparing to dock, the captain inadvertently gave the signal to back at full speed, when he intended to give the stop signal. The speed with which this signal was obeyed made a great impression on our visitors, who did not know what really happened.

Our first experience of what could happen came to us one night off Rose Island. We had prepared for diving, with the conning tower hatch partly open, when the swell of a Sound steamer washed over the hatch, and some water entered before the hatch was securely closed. Enough water entered to overcome our positive buoyancy, and we struck bottom. I do not recall the exact depth, but it was between 90 and 100 ft. The tanks were blown out, and we started to return to our mooring place, when we had the misfortune of running aground. We managed to free ourselves and returned to our home. This accident caused us to wonder how we could escape should we be unable to rise to the surface.

Later, at Annapolis, we tried an experiment. A dog had attached itself to our crew, and one day, with Capt. Caldwell's approval, we put the dog in the torpedo tube, closed the inner door, opened the outer, and applied fifty pounds of air into the tube. On deck we expected to see the dog shot to the surface, but only air bubbles appeared. We imagined that the dog had become jammed in the outer door, but closing the door slowly we found no obstruction. The tube was blown out, and there was the dog perfectly dry and unharmed. The tube being inclined and admitting air too quickly, prevented the tube from filling up completely, the dog remaining between the inner door and air inlet.

Our batteries were old and would not keep the charge, and about August 1902 had the battery charged by the Newport Light Company. We were finally ready to be towed to Philadelphia, with a stop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. While there we again charged our battery for a day and late that afternoon the battery began to gas badly. At five o'clock we stopped the charge, keeping our 1/4 h.p. motor running to clear the boat of the fumes. At six, when I went ashore, my assistant, Elect. 2nd class, W. Hall, was instructed by me to keep the exhaust blower on until nine o'clock. Sometime later that evening, Mr. Hill, the executive, gave orders to close the boat up. The next morning Hall started the exhaust blower, the gases were ignited by a spark at the starting box, burning him so severely that he was confined to the hospital for three months.

After the court of inquiry we proceeded to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Our tug cast us off so we could make the dock under our own power. We had barely made the dock when little blue sparks made their appearance. I gave the alarm and every man made for shore. We opened all hatches and brought everything on the dock which could cause spontaneous combustion. Among these was a bale of waste cotton. Capt. Caldwell was sitting on this bale on the dock when he noticed it to be warm. Upon opening the bale a lump, the size of a fist, was found to be smoldering in the very heart of the bale, which eventually would have caused a fire, or at least very heavy smoke.

Instruction continued, and finally in the latter part of 1902, Capt. Caldwell was transferred and Capt. Arthur McArthur assumed command. My request for transfer was granted and I was transferred to the U.S.S. Minneapolis on Jan. 21, 1903 and to the U.S.S. Worden on February 3, 1903, and discharged November 26, 1903.

Thanks to a disagreement with Admiral Leutze at the Washington Navy yard, while at the Gunnery School there, my navy career ended, with the recommendation of Capt. B.B. McCormick, commanding the U.S.S. Worden, that I be reassigned to his ship upon my re-enlistment.

The foregoing is to the best of my recollection and may differ in some instances with others, but I believe it to be substantially correct, after some 43 years. The picture of the crew is as of 6/29/1901. Two men who were attached to the U.S.S. Holland remained only a short time.