I was blessed to serve on five submarines during my time in the Navy. The boomers and fast attacks that sailed the open seas in defense of freedom played a key role in winning the Cold War. But from the very beginning of my sea tours, I was able to see the strength of the support units that serviced the boats from Guam to Scotland (including here in the continental US).
The submarine tenders (AS) were designed to provide repairs, supplies, resting places, and diesel fuel to alongside units. In many cases, they did this work in remote areas and were also capable of generating power for the submarines while in port. Two ships were built specifically for the boomer fleet as it was first deployed: The USS Hunley and the USS Holland. Both were diesel powered ships that could generate enough electricity to supply themselves and multiple boats alongside.
The tenders were not built for speed. They were built for service though. My last tour was as M division and later A Division on the Hunley and we had enormous capability to service boats. Our repair shops could manufacture nearly anything needed to get the boats back to sea. In our last two years, we also proved that we were not chained to the pier. We deployed multiple times and even helped in the recovery in South Florida after Hurricane Andrew.
But before those ships were built, there was another Holland.
In 1926, the Submarine Tender Holland was built.
One sure sign that the submarine force was finally becoming mature was the building of the very first ship designed and planned from the keel up as a true submarine tender. While many other ships functioned as repair and rescue ships (such as the USS Vestal) Holland was intentionally designed to address the needs of the growing submarine fleet.
NAVY’S NEWEST REPAIR SHIP READY
The U. S. S. Holland will join the Fleet as Submarine Repair Ship in March. This ship was built at the Navy Yard Bremerton, Washington and is named after the successful inventor of the underwater craft.
The Holland will be the repair ship and tender for the submarines of the U. S. Battle fleet, Pacific Coast. She has 10,600 tons displacement, 16 knot speed with a length of 506 feet and beam of 60 feet. She is equipped with a machine, pattern, pipe, copper and blacksmith shops and a foundry.
The Holland’s main power plant consist« of two oil burning express type boilers with single screw propulsion, driven by Parsons turbine which develop 7000 horsepower.
The complement of the Holland’s crew consisting of 82 Chief Petty Officers and 341 other ratings include the skilled navy workmen representing fifty five trades. The ship and crew will keep the submarines in repair.
In order to give honorably discharged men a chance to serve on the U. S. S. Holland the Navy Department has authorized all its Recruiting stations throughout the country to accept applications for the Holland from previous service men and to transfer them to Puget Sound to join the Holland. The Navy Recruiting Office at Salt Lake City is designated to accept men desiring duty on the U. S. S. Holland, from Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Utah.
Belt Valley times. (Armington, Mont.), 14 Jan. 1926.
Submarine Tender Holland Will Be Launched April 16
by the Associated Press.
The Navy Deportment has set April 16 as the launching date for the submarine tender Holland under construction at Puget Sound Navy Yard and which was originally scheduled to have been completed and launched in February. Miss Elizabeth S. Chase, daughter of Rear Admiral J. V. Chase, commandant of Puget Sound yard, will act as sponsor tor the ship at the christening.
The Holland is the first submarine tender to be built by the Navy for that purpose and to be specially equipped in her construction for the care of undersea craft. She is named after the pioneer of successful submarine construction in this country.
Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 01 April 1926.
The USS Holland arrived in San Francisco from Puget Sound on 24 April to become flagship of Captain J. T. Thompkins, Commander Submarine Divisions, Battle Fleet. On 24 September, she was permanently assigned to base at San Diego, California, tending submarine divisions there with periodic tours to Panama to service submarines based at the Canal Zone.
From 1926 to 1928, LCDR Cassin Young served on board Holland as a staff member for the Submarine Division Battle Fleet. His next assignment would take him back to the Naval Academy where he worked as a member of the Enginnering Instruction Division.
On 5 November 1930, Holland became flagship of Captain Chester W. Nimitz, Commander Submarine Divisions, Battle Fleet with additional duty as Commander of Submarine Division 20. The former command was abolished as of 1 April 1931 and Captain Nimitz retained his flag in Holland as Commander, of his submarine division, now designated Submarine Division 12. He left Holland on 17 June, relieved by Captain Wilhelm L. Friedell.
In addition to being the flagship of Submarine Division 12, Holland temporarily served as Submarine Force Flagship (March–July 1933). In June 1935, she became joint flagship of Submarine Squadron 6 and Submarine Division 12. This duty continued until June 1941 when she became flagship of Submarine Squadron 2.
On 22 November 1941, Holland arrived at Cavite Naval Base, Philippines, to service submarines of the Asiatic Fleet. Due to the air raids in early December 1941, Holland was hurried out of Manila Bay under cover of night with her vital cargo of repair and replacement parts for submarines of the Asiatic Fleet. Heading south, she escaped unscathed from two air raids while at Balikpapan, Borneo, then repaired a battle-damaged submarine at Soerabaja, Java where she was joined by two destroyers that gave her escort to Port Darwin, Australia, which she reached on 2 January 1942 for round-the-clock operations which included the building of docks and floats as well as the constant repair and equipping of ships as well as submarines. On 3 February, Captain C.Q. Wright took command and she was underway for Tjilaljap, Java, to remove Rear Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Jr., and his Asiatic Fleet Submarine Force Staff to Australia. Her outstanding service to the Fleet during the first crucial months of the war brought Holland a Navy Unit Commendation.
While based in Australia, under the command of Captain C.Q. Wright, Holland serviced and overhauled several submarines before returning for overhaul at Mare Island Navy Yard in late February 1943. She reached Pearl Harbor from the West Coast in June and completed 22 refits and 13 repair jobs for submarines within the next 11 months. She shifted to Midway Atoll on 1 June 1944 and sailed the following month directly to support submarines in the Mariana Islands. Holland returned to Pearl Harbor late in November 1944, to be fitted out as headquarters ship for Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Jr., Commander Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet. In January 1945, she steamed out of Pearl Harbor for Guam where she embarked Vice Admiral Lockwood. By the close of hostilities, Holland had given 55 instances of refit to submarines, provided repair and service to 20 surface craft and completed various jobs on shore installations.
The ability to repair submarines in forward areas and under very difficult circumstances set a standard that still continues today. The second USS Holland submarine tender was instrumental in maintaining a high level of operations tempo all through the cold war. While the men and later women who served on these ships may not have had the glory, their dedication and devotion to duty was second to none.
The last two US Navy fully manned and operated Submarine Tenders USS EMORY S. LAND and USS FRANK CABLE have been handed over to Military Sealift Command. Merchant Marines will sail and operate the ships -while a small contingent of US Navy “technicians” will provide service for tended units.
US Navy Submarine Tenders – fully US Navy manned and operated as they were for 100 plus years no longer exist.
Time will tell if this was a good idea or not.
By the end of 1926, the military in general and the Navy in particular were feeling the strains of budget cuts and downsizing. The growing capacity of foreign navies was becoming an early alarm for how far behind our forces were becoming. In December, the behind the scenes pressure was gaining strength. The Roaring Twenties had not erased the global threats.