Story Of The First Dive
The first of the five Holland type boats built at Barrow was commanded by D. Arnold-Foster. How he came to Barrow to see his new command, and his first experience of diving her is described in Lt Arnold-Forster's own words.
As I was to be her first captain I was anxious to see the boat directly I got to Barrow, but found that nobody seemed to have heard of any submarine at all.
Eventually I discovered her in a shed (labelled 'yacht shed' in large white letters) where she was being built in the utmost secrecy.
Only selected trustworthy men were allowed inside, all frames and other parts made in the yard were marked "For Pontoon No.1" and so she aroused no special interest in the busy workshops.
What surprised me most when I did find the boat was her small size. She was only 63 ft. long and was shaped like a very fat and stumpy cigar. She had fins and a tail with a single propeller and two rudders, one for steering and the other for diving.
There was a small conning tower on top just big enough to put one's head and shoulders in. Her speed turned out afterwards to be seven knots on the surface and never more than about four knots under water.
The ingenious designer in New York evidently did not realise that the average naval officer has only two eyes and two hands, the little conning tower was simply plastered with wheels, levers, valves and gauges with which some superman was to fire torpedoes, dive and steer and do everything else at the same time.
The first dive and underwater run was made in Morecambe Bay and an American crew that had done some trial runs was sent over by the Holland Boat Co. to go out with us for our first effort.
After the boat was carefully trimmed down everyone except the American working the diving rudder wheel, the 'boss diver' as he called himself, was seated about the boat on canvas stools opposite their work and warned that if they moved they might upset the balance and perhaps cause a nose-dive into the mud.
Then the motor went ahead, the diving rudder was put down and green water was seen through the conning tower windows Gradually the depth gauge showed we were running under water for the first time and those who could see watched it anxiously whilst listening to the hum of the motor and the queer sounding American orders given by our temporary captain.
The boat ran, as these beats always did, with her nose well down and to those who could not see the depth gauge it seemed as though we were bound for the bottom and when a bucket got loose and clattered down the engine room floor plates it sent their hearts into their mouths.
After a little practice the boat was found to be very handy under water but on the surface she was a brute. Being short and stumpy she was awkward to steer on the surface and one day she alarmed the inmates of the sick-bay in her parent ship by poking her big nose right through the ship's side into the berths.
When it was at all rough the boat was all awash and nothing could be seen from the little conning tower. Everything had to be battened down. Those below had to stop there and those on deck, the captain and the coxswain, had their work cut out to hang on by the wheel and ventilators when their feet were washed from under them by the seas.