Royal Navy's first submarine Holland One honoured by prestigious Engineering Award

By Richard Moss | 04 May 2011
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a photo of a group of sailors on the deck of a submarine
Holland One and its crew© Royal Navy Submarine Museum
When it first ran silent and deep beneath the shores of England it was deemed “underhand, unfair and damned un-English” by the head of the Royal Navy. Now the Senior Service’s first submarine has received a top engineering award.

Holland One launched in 1901 as the first operational Royal Navy submarine despite the Royal Navy’s traditional mistrust of submarine warfare.

More than a century later, the sub which now resides at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum has received the prestigious Engineering Heritage Award from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The award sees the submarine join the world’s first rail locomotive, the Thames Barrier and Bletchley Park’s Bombe code-breaking machine recognised as one of Britain’s greatest engineering feats.

a photo of a sumarine emerging from the waves
The launch of Holland One in 1901© Royal Navy Submarine Museum
Holland One was originally commissioned in 1900 when an order was secretly placed with the submarine pioneer John Philip Holland, who combined the internal combustion engine with the electric motor and electric battery in one hydro-dynamic machine.

This innovation would set the standard for submarines across the world for decades to come.

Ironically, Holland developed his ideas with the financial backing of the Irish Fenian Society (forerunner of the IRA), which wanted to use the new underwater vessels to launch attacks on the Royal Navy.

Following its secret launch in 1901, Holland One went on to enjoy 12 years of experimental service before being decommissioned in 1913. However, while being towed to the scrap yard it hit stormy weather and sank to the bottom of the Channel.

It was a fortuitous accident, as it remained largely intact on the seabed for 68 years before the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, working with Navy mine sweepers, salvaged the wreck in 1981. The remarkably restored relic is now one of the Gosport venue's key exhibits.

a photo of a submarine sailing across the surface of the sea with its crew of seven sailors outside on deck
Holland One underway.© Royal Navy Submarine Museum
Isobel Pollock, Deputy President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Chair of the Heritage Committee, said the innovative sub had “dragged the Royal Navy into the modern era.”

“With this award we want to not only recognise Holland One’s pivotal role in changing naval warfare forever, but also pay tribute to the tremendous restoration job that has saved this crucial part of British heritage for future generations," she added.

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