If you have never heard of Admiral Hichborn, don’t be too surprised. He had a long and glorious career but has faded into obscurity over the last 100 years. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever done something important that was not looked upon with favor while you were doing it.
In his role as the Chief of Construction and Repair, he was a powerful voice that helped the United States Navy obtain and develop the modern submarine. He did this in the face of overwhelming forces that were trying to minimize the submarine and prevent it from taking its place I the long line of naval inventions.
In the midst of all the bluster, some voices were still determined to experiment with a new type of warship. The submarine had been around in various configurations for a long time but its usefulness and dependence on operating on the surface for much of its time made them less than desirable. Many of the Admirals considered them a distraction at best but a waste of precious funds for battleships. Some in Congress agreed but some also saw that if a submarine craft could be built at a lower cost and offer a way to protect the country, the savings would be really pleasing to the folks back home. That last reason alone was enough to frighten the Navy brass.
Around the world in 1900, most of the major players were already experimenting with submersible craft of their own. This post has a number of stories form a publication known as the Army Navy Journal.
During its time, this journal was a sure fire way to keep up with the latest trends and activities of all of the world’s navies. It was also a sounding board for those in power and out to try and influence the direction of the armed services. So it’s not a surprise that al lot of articles showed up with the excitement of the new Holland Boat.
Not everyone was a fan though. Whether here or in the many countries involved with this “submarine epidemic”, the opportunity was sorely weighed against the threat. If the growth of these pesky little craft was not managed well, there could be real consequences to the participating fleets in any future war. Since success was still being measured by “tonnage” and gun caliber and size, these craft posed a threat before they had even fired their first torpedo in way.
November 11, 1899 Army and Navy Journal – TRIAL OF THE HOLLAND SUBMARINE BOAT.
The Holland submarine torpedo boat underwent a successful test over a course between Little Hog Neck and Great Hog Neck, Long Island, on Nov. 6, in water 20 feet deep. The test was made before the following Navy officers, members of the Board of Inspection, and Survey: Rear Adml: Frederick Rodgers, Capt. Robley D. Evans, Comdr. William H. Emory, Comdr. Charles R. Roelker, Naval Constructor Washington L., Capps and Lieut. Richardson Henderson, recorder. The first run was one mile under water, submerged to a depth of ten feet over her deck. The run was made in exactly nine minutes.
On coming to the surface she discharged a torpedo which weighed 840 pounds, , ten seconds later. The torpedo shot past the mark, which was a stake with a flag on it, and came within 25 feet of the stake, although it was discharged nearly 400 feet distant. The torpedo traveled 800 yards.
Under water the Holland turned completely around in one and one-half times her own length, which is 54 feet. A second trip was made in which the boat was at times under water, then, with deck awash, and again with her upper parts completely out of water. While completely submerged a torpedo was again discharged simply to show that it could be done. Running against a strong ebb tide and a strong wind blowing across her the boat ran, with decks awash, a quarter of a mile at the rate of 8 knots.
The Holland was launched from Lewis Nixon’s yard, at Elizabethport, N. J., in March, 1896. She is 54 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. , Her hull is a perfect sphere amidships, the so-called deck being merely a flat superstructure designed to give the crew a foothold as they step from the conning tower. The Holland will be taken to Washington for any further inspection that the Navy Department may desire. The trip will be made through the Raritan Canal.
November 18, 1899 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL. – THE HOLLAND BOAT A SUCCESS.
The Inspection and Survey Board, which recently made tests with the submarine boat Holland, reports the trials were highly successful. Chief Engr. John Lowe was specially ordered to witness all trials and the official tests. His report is of great interest, as it highly commends the Holland. He says:
“I report my belief that the Holland is a successful and veritable submarine torpedo boat, capable of making a veritable attack upon the enemy unseen and undetectable, and that, therefore, she is an engine of warfare of terrible potency, which the Government must necessarily adopt into its service.”
Mr. Lowe says it is his opinion “that this Government should at once purchase the Holland and not let the secrets of the invention get out of the United States, ”and that the Government ought to create a submarine torpedo boat station for the purpose of practice and drilling of crews, and says: “We need right off and right now, fifty submarine torpedo vessels in Long Island Sound to protect New York, preserve the peace, and to give potency to our diplomacy.” The Holland will be sent around to Washington, the early part of December and will give an exhibition in the Potomac River for the benefit of Congress and the Navy Department officials.
December 9, 1899 ARMY AND NAVY .JOURNAL. – SOME FOREIGN ITEMS.
Before the Society of Naval Architects, at Charlottenburg, Dec., 8, Geheimrath Busley read a paper on “Submarine Boats” in which he said they offered no good prospects for the future, and congratulated the German Admiralty on, abstaining from “costly and protracted experiments.”
January 27 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – TORPEDO BOAT REPORT
The Naval Board on Construction on Jan. 19 (1900) decided by a vote of 4 to 1 against recommending the purchase of the Holland submarine torpedo boat. The majority report says that the proposition was to buy the boat for $165,000 as she stands, or two larger boats for $170,000 each. The report says: “The Board does not recommend the purchase of the Holland.” Then it goes on to cite the delinquency of the company in the case of the boat Plunger, and says when that craft is out of the way and settled for it will be time to discuss further contracts. The signers of this report are Rear Admls. O’Neil, Melville, Bradford and Comdr. Clover. They take pains to point out that they refrain from any criticism or discussion of the merits of the Holland and merely consider it a bad business transaction to buy it when larger and better boats can be got for nearly the same money.
The minority report is signed by Admiral Hichborn, and takes the ground that the question of possible improvements in the Plunger have been in the hands of a Naval Board for some months, the report of which has itself been held in abeyance, it is believed, pending the result of official tests of the Holland. The express intention of the company to proceed, as soon as authorized, with the necessary alterations to the Plunger, without expense to the Government, seems in every way satisfactory, and will, the Admiral believes, be promptly carried out. Considering the comparatively small cost of submarine boats, he believes that the Government should encourage their development, in view of their possibilities in time of war, and, furthermore, that it should have the boats in its possession for purposes of experiment and drill. Admiral Hichborn holds that the Department would be fully warranted in contracting for two boats of the Holland type; the Holland itself being acceptable, in his opinion, although less desirable than the proposed boats of slightly greater dimensions.
The immediate possession of the Holland, however, in the event of a sudden emergency, is to be considered an advantage. The fact of our having possession of the Holland, in her present state of efficiency, in the spring of 1898, would have been very marked in its effect.
Other countries do not appear over-sanguine regarding the submarine boat. Germany seems to have decided altogether against it. Recently Geheimeath Burley, at a naval meeting held in Charlottenburg, spoke with disdain of submarine boats, and averred that the German Navy had nothing to fear from anything of this kind which might be built by foreign powers.
In France, from which have come very favorable reports of trials, there are indications of a reversal of opinion. The “Yacht,” that Parisian nautical authority, referring to recent trials at Cherbourg, says: “There is too great a tendency to exaggerate the importance of submarine and submersible boats, and that they are at present purely serviceable for coast defence.” Taking the experience of all nations that have tested submarines, the chief objection appears to be the difficulty of maneuvering them under water, which has been found insuperable in practice up to the present time. It would be unwise, of course, to assume, because all previous attempts to devise a boat capable of practical and really effective action beneath the surface of the water have proved abortive, that therefore the submarine vessel may be regarded impracticable. The submarine vessel may ultimately become a source of real danger to the warship, but so far as it is possible to forecast the future of any invention, that day appears to be yet far distant.
February 10, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – Great Britain’s Point of view
The two problems now agitating the engineering world of Great Britain and the United States seem to be of the same type, and they relate to the feasibility of petroleum for fuel on the torpedo boats, and the value of the submarine torpedo boat. Neither question has advanced much beyond the experimental stage, and the results thus far are far from satisfactory in either matter. The position of the submarine torpedo boat has received somewhat of a setback by the lately promulgated adverse report of the Board appointed by the United States Navy Department, and the future of sub marine warfare remains about where it was at the beginning—a matter of opinion.
April 14, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – Purchasing Holland
The recent tests which have been made by, the United States and France with types of submarine ships of war have caused considerable comment among military and naval experts of Europe. The problem of the submarine torpedo boat seems so far solved that attention is being directed to the means of meeting their attacks. Our Government has decided to purchase for $150,000 the Holland with the understanding that, the Holland Company deposit in, some national bank the sum of $90,000 as a surety that it will complete the construction of the submarine boat Plunger, already contracted by for the Government. Few officers of the Navy have, until recently, realized just what, the Holland and ships of like construction are capable of performing. The tests made this spring in the Potomac River have been witnessed by naval experts of this, as well as other, governments, Congressmen and representatives of the press. After seeing, the little craft dive all have been greatly impressed with the invention.
April 21, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – Holland’s Capabilities
The Holland, which has just been bought by our government, is, strictly speaking, a torpedo; but a torpedo controlled in all its workings by human agency inside the craft, instead of being automatic in its operations. It is claimed that the vessel can go 1,500 miles on the surface of the water without renewing its supply of gasoline. It is further claimed that it can go fully 40 knots under water and that there is enough compressed air in the tanks to supply the necessary number of men for running the craft with fresh air for thirty hours, if the air is not used for any other purpose, such as emptying the submerged tanks. It was demonstrated in one of the recent tests that the Holland is capable of diving to a depth of twenty feet in eight seconds. It can stay at sea under an emergency for a week. Such has been the interest excited in this submarine vessel that Japan, as usual one of the leading nations, has directed her military attache in Washington to carefully examine into the merits of the vessel. On April 7 he was allowed to be present on the Holland during one of the official tests. Attaches of other nations also are taking great interest in the little craft. Mr. Goschen, 1st Lord of the Admiralty, in reply to a question by the House of Commons with reference to submarine boats, disparaged them except as weapons of defense, and said: “It seems certain that a reply to this weapon must be looked for in other directions than in building submarine boats ourselves, for, clearly, one submarine boat cannot fight another.”
April 28 1900 Army and Navy Journal – Army and Navy Appropriations Hearings
In regard to sheathing of ships Mr. Cummings (Congressman) said: “The Navy Department is peculiarly constructed. One year its board decides it is best to have sheathed ships. That was done a year or two ago. Afterward England built some unsheathed battleships; ships intended for use on her own coast, and not to be sent to foreign harbors. Of course, our Navy was compelled to follow the example set by England. Whether the Secretary of State was consulted or not I cannot say. The new board decided that sheathed ships were not needed. Boards are at times necessary contrivances, but not necessarily useful. Take the case of the Holland. Here was a board that were to make a report on the submarine boat Holland. They came back and reported in her favor but at the same time expressed the opinion that submarine boats were useless—England was not building any of them. The Navy Department, however, has bought the boat, and I have had the honor of introducing a bill providing for the purchase of 20 more of them. I am strongly of the opinion that the provision to have been inserted in this appropriation bill and I think those who have seen the Holland’s surprising performances will agree with me. I will answer for Admiral Dewey.”
May 19, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL. News: 1900 NAVAL APPROPRIATION BILL APPOVED
The Secretary of the Navy is hereby authorized and directed to contract for five submarine torpedo boats of the Holland type of the most improved design, at a price not, to exceed one hundred and seventy thousand dollars each: Provided, That such boats shall be similar” in dimensions to the proposed new Holland, plans and specifications of which were submitted to the Navy Department by the Holland Torpedo Boat Company November twenty-third, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine.
The said new contract and the submarine torpedo boats covered, by the same are to be in accordance with the stipulations of the contract of purchase made April Eleventh, nineteen hundred, by and between the Holland Torpedo Boat Company, represented by the secretary of said company, the party of the first part, and the United States, represented by the Secretary of the Navy, the party of the second part.
The Secretary of the Navy is hereby directed to cause construction of vessels fitted to transport two. four, and plans and estimates of cost to be made for the construction of six submarine torpedo boats of the Holland type, respectively, and to lower and hoist them with the utmost expedition, said vessels to carry also such guns as may be best suited to their uses as armed craft to be used also as transports of submarine torpedo boats. The Secretary of the Navy is also directed to cause plans and estimates to be made for the conversion ” one or more transports now belonging to the United States and which he may deem best suited for the conveyance of submarine torpedo boats of the Holland type.
May 26, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – Another view from London
The London “Engineer” says: “The assumption that the French submarine navy is a form of lunacy is very comfortable, but one cannot forget that fifty years ago our Admiralty doubted French sanity because they went in for screw warships across the Channel—a fact that makes the doctrine of official infallibility difficult to hold. Theories against submarine boats are just as bad as wild theories in their favor—we want facts on both sides. The sous marine are hardly as yet potent factors maybe; but they appear to be pretty much where torpedo boats were about 1876; and they have displayed quite enough in the way of “possibilities” to make the antidote worth thinking about.” It adds that, if one-quarter of the reports of successful submarine navigation in the French press are true, the British Admiralty occupy a “tolerably criminal position” in not experimenting with this method of warfare.
June 30 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – ADMIRAL HICHBORN ON SUBMARINES.
Rear-Admiral Philip Hichborn, Chief Constructor, US. Navy, in “The Engineering Magazine” for June discusses “The Demonstrated Success of the Submarine Boat.” The ﬁndings of the so-called “Endicott Board” in 1886, he says, ﬁrst called his attention to the matter. This Board, composed of prominent Army and Navy officers with the then Secretary of War as president, expressed the opinion that submarine boats had not passed the experimental stage. An exhaustive and complete history of this type of naval vessel was appended to the Board’s report by a sub-committee of which General Abbot of the Engineers, and Commander, now Admiral Sampson were members. To one accustomed to the actions of Boards and to reading between the lines of a report. it was apparent that General Abbot and Admiral Sampson desired to accentuate the probable value of submarines, although the Board as a whole could only be brought to an expression in regard to them which was the merest platitude.
His attention thus drawn to the matter Admiral Hichborn continued a study of the submarine. It appeared that the art of brain-directed submarine navigation has been in process of development for at least three hundred years, and that many of the attempts to make it practicable would have been near enough to success to insure continued effort toward improvement, had it not been for the ultra-conservatism of seafaring folk. William Bourne, an Englishman has the credit of operating the ﬁrst submarine boat, as such, in contradistinction to a diving bell. The records of Bourne’s operations have, however, been lost as his labors ended more than three hundred years ago.
In 1624 the Hollander, Cornelius Van Drebbel, took twelve persons for an under-water run in his submarine boat worked by twelve pairs of sculls, and carried “quintessence of air” for them to breathe——probably compressed air. During the succeeding twenty years the main principles of submarine navigation were well grasped. And in 1633 a Frenchman, whose name has been lost, built and operated a submarine boat at Rotterdam.
Later in the century an Englishman named Day is reported to have lost his life in a submarine boat of his own invention, through the crushing in of her hull by water pressure due to depth on her second attempt at submersion. After a long hiatus, in the records at least, Bushnell, of Connecticut, projected in 1771 and made operative in 1775, a small one-man-operated boat devised for work against ships at anchor. The boat possessed many of the features recognized to-day as essential for submarine navigation, notably buoyancy.
Fulton, in 1707, was pushing submarine navigation in France. Borrowing the ideas of Bushnell and applying them to more powerful craft, he made a long stride in the methods of under-water work. Fulton’s Nautilus was, for her time as efficient as the Holland of to-day- and met with the same kind of encouragement.
The ﬁrst Napoleon appreciated submarines, just as he appreciated breech-loading small arms. But in both cases he submitted the designs to Boards, and the devices were promptly condemned. The French did not wholly abandon the submarine idea. In 1810 a committee of the Institute reported, after trials of the Coessin_ boat, that “there is no longer any doubt that submarine navigation may be established very expeditiously and at very little cost.”
From 1810 to the time of the United States civil war submarine boats were designed every few years, nearly all of them driven by manual power and most of them following the ideas of Bushnell in forcing them down by an application of power apart from the diving rudder.During the civil war both the Federal and Confederate Governments tried to develop submarines, and failed of success only because the “state of the art” was not studied, and crude devices were tried.
In 1863 the Brun boat, the Plongeur, was built at Rochefort, France and was one of the ﬁrst to have mechanical motive power. She lacked diving rudders, attaining her depth solely by variations in weight. As a result there was no control in the vertical plane. Horizontal rudders were ﬁtted, and the boat worked very well—-with the usual result, Admiral Hichborn adds that she was declared useless by a Board, and made into a water tank.
The importance of horizontal rudders was not grasped in spite of experience with the Plongeur. In fact one of the curious circumstances connected with the development of submarine navigation is that in very few cases does any evidence appear of the study of the art. Almost all inventors began de novo with the consequence that that our late patent files show designs had been reached a couple of centuries ago. During the last forty years attempts to solve the problem of submarine navigation have been almost constant and the progress has been generally forward, and these years may he considered the era of the power-driven boat
One of the last hand-worked submarine craft was the Intelligent Whale which attracted much attention because she was bought by our Government and became a United States vessel, although she possessed no feature superior to Fulton’s design a half century earlier and in many principles of design was inferior. She was an example of the power of conservatism, which practically prevented her use for studying the laws of immersed bodies, and was responsible on the one occasion she was operated, for manning her with an incompetent crew and trying her under ridiculous conditions which worked up a fright about the danger connected with her. A press account appeared crediting her with a total of forty-nine victims. As a matter of fact, no life has been lost in her from the time she was built in Galveston, just after the close of the civil war to the present day.
Since 1880 Europe has been experimenting with submarine boats, and in France, Spain and Italy the governments have encouraged the experiments. In France alone has there been government encouragement through a series of years; progress has been so great as to call forth official estimates and requests for the building of a submarine ﬂotilla of 38 boats. The French type developed by the trials with an electric-storage motor boat, the Zede is a good one, deficient in import but sufficiently good for the economical French to be impressed with the great service submarines will bring to their mobile coast…
June 30, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – The doubt lingers on In the America Naval Leadership
Of Admiral Hichborn’s article, of which we give a synopsis on another page, the “Army and Navy Gazette” says: “We cannot think that the Admiral has made out his case either in regard to the satisfactory nature of the Holland, or of her use, but in any case the same conditions do not rule for us as for the United States. We are inclined to believe also that the Narwal has proved herself a better boat than the Holland. But, as we have said before, it is the duty of the authorities in this country to find an answer to the ‘submarine,” and everything points to the fact that such an answer will not be found in a boat to operate under water.”
August 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – THE FRENCH NAVY.
A certain number of naval experts in France incline to the opinion that it might be better to substitute smaller vessels, of 6,000 to 8,000 tons, for the 15,000-ton battleships, these smaller ships to have equal powers of offence and defence, but a slower speed. To this idea M. Normand lends the great authority of his name, and he supports his views by extracts from the latest work of Captain Mahan.
Analyzing the French naval programme the “Engineer” says: M. Chautemps told his colleagues that the commercial war was a mirage, since there will be no such war. If the occupation of the commerce destroyers is gone, the French have found other reasons for abandoning their policy of relying entirely upon swift cruisers. The strongest of these is that, once blocked up in a port, they never could get out again. Moreover, France is the only country which has persisted in giving attention to this type of vessel, and as all other countries are pinning their faith in the battleships, the French naval authorities are beginning to see that they are perhaps wrong in not doing likewise. The failures of the new cruisers to come up to expectations are also largely r sponsible for this change of opinion. The Guichen is regarded as a disastrous experiment. Everything has been so far sacrificed to speed that her armor is inefficient, and she only carries two heavy guns. French naval critics are now wondering what is to be done with her.
This question of speed has also given rise to a disappointment. Vessels which, in trials, go up to 23 knots will not do more than an average of 18 knots or 19 knots in long runs. Not only do M. Lockroy and his followers find their predictions with respect to the cruisers entirely falsified, but they are even more severely hit by the results of the trials carried out with squadron torpedo boats and the submarine boats. The torpedo boat is at the mercy of the quick-firing gun, and in future it will be reserved solely for coast defence.
The Government has abandoned any idea of building squadron torpedo boats, but will replace them with destroyers.
As for the submarines, the Minister would scarcely care to shock public opinion by condemning them, but he damned them with faint praise, so faint, indeed, that no one could have any illusions as to their value. It is obvious that the trials carried out with these vessels, which are to terrorize a hostile fleet, have not been a success. The submarine boat has got its famous “eye,” but it appears that the moisture condensing upon it renders it blind, and in any event the speed under water is so slow that there is little chance of reaching a vessel which refuses to remain still to be hit. The Minister, however, looks hopefully to the carrying out of improvements, which will make the submarine boat a formidable weapon. With this end in view a sum is to be set apart for organizing competitions of plans similar to that which produced the Narval a few years ago. Meanwhile, the place which the submarine boat is to occupy in future strategy is to attack blockading ships in the daytime, while the torpedo will be employed for the same work at night.
August 18, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL – FOREIGN ITEMS
Forest, a well-known French Naval Constructor, familiar with submarine boats and an enthusiastic admirer of them, has joined M. Noalhat, a civil engineer, in the publication of a work on submarine boats. Their history is traced to an apparatus described by Aristotle, as employed at the siege of Tyre. Cornelius Van Drebble, a Dutch physician, 1620; Merseune, 1634, and Simons, 1747, are given preference over Bushnell, whose design for a submarine boat dates from 1773. Fulton’s Nautilus and the submarine suggestions of the Frenchmen, Marquis de la Feuillade, Dr. Payerne, Phillip an American, Bauer a German, and James Nasmyth are also included in the early history of subaquatic, warfare, and Admiral Aube is given a prominent place. M. Forest contends that submarine vessels have now reached the stage of successful experiment, and must be reckoned with hereafter in the calculation of naval strength. He believes that the Narval will prove a complete success, and that the type of vessels, she represents will, impose peace upon the world. , Ericsson also reached the conclusion before he died that submarine attack in some form, would bring low the pride of great navies and equalize the conditions of naval warfare, by giving the weaker nations a, powerful means of defence within their possibilities.Battleships Ericsson was accustomed to speak of as “torpedo food.”
August 18, 1900 ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL
The “Journal de la Marine” of France discussing the Holland submarine says: “Admiral Dewey holds that there could be nothing better for the defence of coasts and ports than submarines, but doubts their ” for service on the high seas. We do not share this latter belief and we believe that the use of extra swift under water craft would have if nothing else a great moral effect and in certain circumstances would play an important role. There would have to be special arrangements made, but these could be made.” Our French contemporary hopes that instead of the “epidemic of submarines” coming to an end as the English would like to see it, it will develop more and more, for we have in our hands a weapon which though not yet perfect can produce terrible effects and in certain cases annihilate the most powerful fleets.” The assurance of this French writer may be called extravagant considering that no submarine has yet been tested in actual warfare. Plenty of other weapons have in times of peace prospectively wrought great destruction, but have proved of little value in real war.