1901 - 1913: Holland Class
Up to 1900, the British Admiralty had stolidly refused to have anything to do with submarines, considering them to have a defensive role only, for the weaker maritime nations, and to be a 'damned un-English weapon'. But the fact that the French were rapidly building up a submarine fleet, undoubtedly helped persuade them to test the value of the submarine boat as a weapon in the hands of our enemies'.
Accordingly, five submarines were ordered to be built at Barrow by Vickers, Sons and Maxim, under licence from the Holland Torpedo Boat Company of America (later to become the Electric Boat Company).
The founder of the Holland Torpedo Boat Company was John P. Holland, an Irish emigrant to America. He had long had an interest in submarines - seeing them as a means of demoralising, or even destroying, the English Fleet. His first submarine design was for a one-man boat, 16 feet long, the propeller being mechanically driven by the occupant. But the later development, Holland No 1 was fitted with a 4hp Brayton petrol engine.
By 1893, development of the working submarine was well advanced, and the US Naval Board recognised that there was a place for the submarine in naval warfare, and laid down a set of requirements for naval submarines. These requirements were met by a boat of Holland's design, and in 1895 he was awarded a contract to build a submarine boat for the US Government.
Development proceeded rapidly from here, and the design destined to become the Royal Navy's Holland No 1 was, it is thought, America's Holland Number 10 - known as the Adder Class
Working drawings supplied to Vickers had many discrepancies and in some particulars were obviously incorrect. But building went on to these plans, and it was only after the boat almost turned on end during dock trials that Vickers were allowed to make modifications. The problems were due, in part, to the difficulties of communication with the Holland Boat Company, and the fact that construction of the RN Holland No 1 was ahead of the prototype Adder Class - the drawings had not been proved.
In the American design no periscope was fitted; the only way to see was to look through a scuttle in the conning tower. A periscope of British design was fitted to one of the Holland's. This was a hinged periscope, raised and lowered on a ball and socket joint on the hull. The target was only upright when ahead; when abeam it was on its side; when astern it was upside down.
During the Holland construction programme, association with the Electric Boat Company was severed and Vickers seriously began the task of designing submarines themselves. It is interesting to note that Vickers' association with the Electric Boat Company was renewed in the 1960s, with the construction of Britain's first nuclear-powered submarine HMS Dreadnought.
The five Holland Class were completed by mid-1903 at a cost of £35 000 each. Although they were poor sea boats and could dive to only 100 feet, they were sufficiently successful to convince the Admiralty to continue the development of the submarine.
Holland's 1 to 3 were sold to T W Ward for breaking up in 1913, but No 1 foundered off the Eddystone Lighthouse, while on tow. No 4 was deliberately sunk by gunfire during experiments in October 1912 and No 5 sank while on tow from Portsmouth to Sheerness. Incredibly, in April 1981, the wreck of No 1 was found.