FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Release # 167-52
April 11, 1952
TWO MEMBERS OF FIRST SUBMARINE'S CREW
RECALL LIFE ABOARD THE USS HOLLAND
Annapolis, Md., April 11 - Fifty-two years ago today the first submarine built for the U.S. Navy was accepted and placed in commission. The two surviving members of her crew today marked the anniversary by comparing reminiscences of their duty aboard the old USS HOLLAND, Submarine No. 1
The two old-timers, Lieut. Richard O. Williams, USN (Ret.) and Chief Gunner's Mate Harry Wahab, USN (Ret.), both live in Annapolis. Chief Wahab, 79, hoisted the HOLLAND's flag when she was commissioned in Newport, R.I., in 1900. Lieut. Williams, 73, joined the ship in September, 1901, as a Chief Electrician and was attached to her for three years. Both were volunteers, as were the two officers and five chief petty officers who comprised her crew, for duty aboard the HOLLAND was considered "hazardous".
The HOLLAND was small, only 53' long and 9' broad amidships. She was powered by a 2-cylinder 120 h.p. Otto gas engine, built in Germany in 1890, which drove her single screw at a top speed of 9 knots on the surface. She had no bow planes, no periscope, no deck guns, and only a single compartment which did not provide living or messing facilities for the crew. Her first skipper was Lieut. Comdr. Harry H. Caldwell, USN, who was later succeeded by Lieut. Comdr. Arthur MacArthur.
The HOLLAND had a single bow torpedo tube, which fired a 3.55-meter Mark I torpedo of 12" diameter. Chief Wahab has the distinction of having fired the first torpedo ever fired from a U.S. submarine, when the ship was operating in Narragansett Bay in 1900. He now resides at 77 Prince George St., Annapolis.
Lt. Williams, who lives at 85 Market Street, Annapolis, recalls that the HOLLAND's longest cruise was a 2-1/2 day run from Newport to Annapolis. This was quite an inconvenience to the crew, who had to subsist on basket lunches and sleep on newspaper or gunney sacks on the crowded battery deck. When not underway, the crew lived aboard the small gunboat SANDOVAL, a former Spanish ship captured by Admiral Dewey at Manila, which served as a tender to the HOLLAND in port.
The HOLLAND spent her winters at the Naval Academy, taking groups of four midshipmen at a time out for practice dives on Chesapeake Bay. Among the midshipmen thus trained were Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, later Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II and the Navy's senior submariner; Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King; wartime Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief; and Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, of Third Fleet fame. On a visit to Annapolis several years ago, Admiral Nimitz looked up the HOLLAND's two crew members and compared memories of those midshipman cruises with them.
Each summer the HOLLAND would return to Newport for exercises with the Great White Fleet. On one occasion, President Theodore Roosevelt, then vacationing at his summer home on Long island, ordered her to pick him up at Oyster Bay. The HOLLAND took him out for a practice dive, the only time a President of the United States has ever gone down in a submarine. The President noted, on that occasion, that the HOLLAND's crew looked particularly ragged, their dungarees literally rotting away. The captain explained this as a normal result of the heavy fumes that pervaded the tiny ship -- acid fumes that would ruin a pair of dungarees in short order. When told that the crew received no extra pay for their rugged duty, President Roosevelt said he'd "take care of it", and within a few weeks a bill was passed by Congress granting them a $5 pay increase per month!
Crew members aboard this unique craft were subjected to whatever hydrostatic pressure the craft was running under, while submerged. To govern this pressure, a free valve abaft the conning tower remained open constantly to allow the air to escape into the sea. The crew could look through the valve into the water above, a fact that never failed to produce a sensation among the passengers brought aboard for instruction.
According to Lt. Williams, the craft was so delicately balanced that the weight of a group of midshipmen students had to be determined beforehand, so that an equal weight in lead ballast could be removed before they embarked.
While at dockside trimmed for diving, with a positive buoyancy of 100 lbs., slight pressure of a boat hook on either end of the vessel was enough to tilt her fore and aft.
She had a two-cylinder steering engine, the exhaust for which came into the boat when she was submerged, as the water pressure was too great to permit operation when she was submerged, as the water pressure was too great to permit operation of an outside valve. The exhaust from this little engine was added to the many other fumes the crew had to breathe while at sea.
Her deepest dive, as Lt. Williams remembers, was about 60-feet in Chesapeake Bay, just south of Kent Island. On several occasions she remained submerged overnight, while doctors studied the physical reactions of those aboard.
Her main battery, 15x6x3 foot in size, had a rated capacity of 50 horsepower for 6 hours, or 150 h.p., for 2 hours. When submerged, her engines drove her at a top speed of about 5 knots.
Compared with the large, fast fleet-type snorkel-equipped submarines of today's Navy, the HOLLAND must be considered almost primitive. She carried four air flasks, which supplied the necessary oxygen. Her single hatch was scarcely large enough for a man to squeeze through -- in fact one Congressman, who visited the submarine at Annapolis, was unable to get down the hatch to inspect the boat's interior. The tiny conning tower, equipped with three-inch slits through which the captain could see while running with decks awash, extended almost knee-high from the deck. Smoking below deck was forbidden, because of the heavy gasoline and acid fumes. The boat's angle of ascent or descent was limited to 20°, beyond which the battery acid would spill out. When told of the USS PICKEREL's recent surfacing at a record angle of 48°, Lt. Williams said, "I don't see how they did it."
In addition to her single torpedo tube, HOLLAND carried two pneumatic "dynamite guns", fixed at an angle of 30° at bow and stern, flush with the deck. The guns were fired by air pressure alone, or by powder and air pressure. She carried three torpedoes.
The HOLLAND was the Navy's first serious experiment with a submersible, and the world's first motor-driven submarine. Her crew were the guinea pigs for the experiment. They proved that men could live under the trying conditions existing in such a craft; that a torpedo could be fired accurately under water, while the submarine remained almost invisible; and that the submarine had a great potential as either an offensive or defensive weapon. At the time she was built by the Electric Boat Company at Bayonne, N.J. naval strategy viewed the submarine principally as a defensive element, and it was planned to station submarines at all major seaports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts for coast defense. Her true offensive potentialities were not realized until the Germans began their submarine operations in World War I.
The HOLLAND was almost a toy, compared to the guppy subs of today and the atomic subs of tomorrow, but she was a true pioneer, and led the way for later developments in undersea warfare. Many of the principles utilized in her construction and propulsion are present in our modern submersibles.
Lieutenant Commander (later Rear Admiral) W.W. Kimball, commanding the torpedo fleet at Key West in 1898, said to the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs: "Give me six Holland submarine boats, the officers and crews to be selected by me, and I will pledge my life to stand off the entire British Flying Squadron ten miles from Sandy Hook, without any aid from our fleet."
The HOLLAND is no more, but her successors are today among our most effective naval weapons. The men of the "Silent Service" carry on the proud traditions of courage and devotion to duty established by the volunteers who manned the USS HOLLAND, our first submarine.