Navy Trials
1898 - 1899

H6-16-Photo of Holland VI and tug with trial observers

Holland VI tied alongside a tugboat in 1898

Photo courtesy of Richard K. Morris

In his book John P. Holland: Inventor of the Modern Submarine, Richard K. Morris described the first Navy trials as follows:

"It was raining on the Sunday morning [March 27, 1898] when Frost arrived at Perth Amboy with Lieutenant Nathan Sargent, who had been sent by the Board of Auxiliary Vessels to inspect the submarine. Again the tug Erie served as a tender and at the insistence of the lieutenant, only Company officials were allowed on board. The choppy water on the Sound forced Holland to close the hatch to keep heavy spray from being driven below as the submarine first ran through paces awash. Dressed in heavy-weather gear and standing alone in the prow of the escort vessel, Sargent watched the submarine disappear, staffs and all, beneath the Sound. When the vessel surfaced again and Holland opened the hatch, Lieutenant Sargent waved congratulations to the submarine’s skipper; and the little flotilla headed back for the Raritan docks."1

In a report to Captain Frederick Rodgers the following day, Lieutenant Sargent reported that "the steering qualities were not as good as they should be, she being sluggish in response to her helm" and "the boat fully proved her ability to propel herself, to dive, come up, admit water to her ballast tanks, and eject it again without difficulty."2

The official Navy response came in a letter to the Holland Torpedo Boat Company from the Secretary of the Navy, John Long.

NAVY DEPARTMENT, Washington, May 3, 1898.

  1. The Department has considered the various reports that have thus far been made regarding your submarine torpedo boat, which you have recently offered for sale to the government.
  2. While these reports are in many respects favorable, it is evident that in several particulars, certain parts of the mechanism have worked imperfectly, and the working of other parts has either not been demonstrated or has not been functioned to the satisfaction of the inspectors who were ordered to witness the trials of the boat.
  3. The Department is, however, willing to witness further trials when you are prepared to make them, and will order a board of naval officers for that purpose if you so desire.
  4. Among the points which must be successfully exhibited, in order that the Department may consider the idea of purchase, are the following :
        Ability to run awash at good speed; ability to dive and to rise readily and with certainty; ability to run under water at depths from 10 to 35 feet, at a speed of about six (6) knots per hour; the boat holding a reasonably steady course, both in the vertical and horizontal planes during said runs, which are to be each not less than ten minutes in duration; ability to turn both to starboard and to port with reasonable quickness and certainty; the steering gear being managed without too much effort, and conveying readily and with certainty the movements of the steering wheel to the rudder; the mechanism for controlling the diving apparatus to be equally efficient and satisfactory; the mechanism for raising and lowering the boat in the water, and for altering her trim, must be also efficient and certain in its action; the apparatus for insuring a steady course during the run, both above and below water, must be reasonably simple and also certain and efficient in its action.
  5. The Board will be directed to ascertain accurately the rate of speed above and below water, as well as the steadiness of movement in the horizontal and vertical planes; and the facility of turning with the diameter of the turning circle, etc.; and for these purposes you must be prepared with staffs or other suitable devices to enable the board to determine the position of the boat during her submergence.
  6. The boat must be strongly constructed, the material and workmanship of all parts the best of their respective kinds, and the efficient performance of the torpedo discharge apparatus must be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the board by one or more discharges of torpedoes adapted to each kind of tube, mounted on board ; and such torpedoes as you propose to furnish yourselves must function satisfactorily during flight, and must explode with certainty at the proper time.
  7. The Department will furnish service Whitehead torpedoes, which your Company must discharge successfully and efficiently through the tube you have provided for that purpose.
  8. It is to be understood that all parts of the torpedo discharge apparatus shall be thoroughly practicable and efficient, and that the boat complete, and her armament, shall be efficient, practical, and adapted to the uses of sub- marine warfare, including the means of supplying air inside during the whole time that she may be used to effect a submarine operation in war.
  9. If you desire to have this trial made, you will please so inform the Department promptly, stating the time you will be ready to exhibit the boat to the board.

Very respectfully,




25 Pine Street, New York City, N. Y.3

The second set of trials were held November 12, 1898. The Board of Inspection and Survey consisted of Captain Frederick Rodgers, Chief Engineer Cipriano Andrade, Captain R. D. "Fighting Bob" Evans, Commander W. H. Emory, and Lieutenant Nathan Sargent. The trial began with loading and firing a torpedo while alongside the dock. A second torpedo was fired while running on the surface. Later, the Holland VI performed a series of dives lasting up to 10 minutes and reaching a maximum depth of 15 feet. The boat performed well in all respects except one. The Board reported that "Steering was very erratic and boat unable to maintain position under water for more than a few minutes at a time."4

Major modifications were necessary, but the Holland Torpedo Boat Company was short on funds. Soon after the March trials, the company began its search for additional investors. They invited Isaac L. Rice for a visit. Rice had established a virtual monopoly in the storage battery business and became interested in submarines as a market for his storage batteries. He visited the Holland VI in dry-dock on July 4, 1898 and took "a dip" in the boat on September 3. In the fall of 1898, Isaac Rice agreed to finance the necessary modifications.

On June 5, 1899, the Holland Torpedo Boat Company moved their operation to the Goldsmith and Tuthill Yard in New Suffolk, Long Island and laid out a trial course in Little Peconic Bay - far removed from the marine traffic of New York City.

The third set of Navy trials were held on November 6, 1899. The Board of Inspection and Survey consisted of Rear-Admiral Frederick Rodgers, Commander W. H. Emory, Commander C. R. Roelker, Naval Constructor W. L. Capps and Lieutenant-Commander T. J. Henderson. After a thorough inspection of the boat, the Holland VI proceeded to the trial course in Little Peconic Bay. When the signal was given, the Holland VI dove to a depth of five feet and traveled approximately one mile before surfacing. Upon surfacing, the Holland VI made a course correction, fired a torpedo which passed within 70 feet of the target, turned and dove again. The Holland VI traveled the one mile back to the beginning of the course broaching the surface for a total of 28 seconds to take bearings. After returning to the beginning of the course, the torpedo tube was reloaded and fired while running submerged at full speed. The Board reported that the Holland VI fulfilled the requirements set forth in the report of November 12, 1898.

  1. Morris, Richard K., John P. Holland: Inventor of the Modern Submarine. (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1966; 2nd ed., Univ. S.C. Press, 1998), pp. 85-86.
  2. Quoted in Cable, Frank Taylor, The Birth and Development of the American Submarine. (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1924), p. 122.
  3. John Lowe manuscript, Library of Congress
  4. Board of Inspection Report on Trials dated 12 Nov 1898 (The John Lowe manuscript, Library of Congress)

See also:
John Lowe Report on Trials dated 14 Nov 1898
John Lowe Report on Trials dated 19 July 1899
John Lowe Report on Trials dated 7 Nov 1899
Board of Inspection Report on Trials dated 9 Nov 1899

ÓCopyright 1999,2000,2001,2002 Gary McCue