Serving the Silent Service: The Legend of Electric Boat

By Rodengen, Jeffrey L. | Sea Classics, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Serving the Silent Service: The Legend of Electric Boat


Rodengen, Jeffrey L., Sea Classics


The United States Navy's submarine fleet, known as the "Silent Service," is a stealthy force that maintains a constant state of readiness and vigilance, patrolling the seas of the earth and keeping the peace.

Electric Boat has been serving the Silent Service since the company's inception in 1899. The Groton, Connecticut-based company sold the US Navy its first submarine in 1900, and has continued through this century to supply it with high quality, high performance submarines.

There is perhaps no other device designed and built by the hands of man that can rival the technological sophistication of the nuclear submarine. More complex than the space shuttle, blending more hybrid technologies than virtually any other single product, the modern nuclear submarine represents a zenith in creative teamwork. Imagine, then, to submerge it all beneath the caustic surface of an untamed sea, to plunge forward at atomic-powered speeds fast enough to have won international speedboat competitions within recent memory. Further imagine supporting nearly 15Q men for months at a time with a viable environment, meals, sanitation, global navigation and communication, not to mention more firepower aboard one virtually invisible vessel than was deployed by all the belligerents in all the wars fought by man since the first rock was thrown.

JOHN P. HOLLAND

Recognized by many historians as the father of the modern submarine, John P. Holland was born 24 February 1842 in the small coastal village of Liscannor, Ireland. The young Holland had a life-long affinity for the sea. By 17, he had already drafted plans to build boats that could be operated while submerged. However, there was little that the impoverished young man could do to advance his theories, so he became a schoolmaster.

Holland arrived in Boston in November 1873. Just days after his arrival, however, he slipped on ice and broke his leg. While lying idle in the hospital, he pondered his submarine designs. He defined several principal problems that arose during submersion that needed to be resolved -- creating propulsion, renewing the air supply, and navigating in horizontal and vertical planes.

In 1877, Holland secured backing from a group of Irish patriots known as the Fenians, who thought Holland's submarine could aid the cause of freeing Ireland from British rule. (Hatred of the British and their navy was a recurring motivational theme in early submarine development projects.) Holland first built a 30-inch proof-of-concept model propelled by coiled springs which resulted in the construction of a craft almost 15 feet long. Although this boat did not perform perfectly - it leaked and the engine repeatedly balked -- Holland proved his ideas were sound. The inventor could finally afford to quit teaching and devote himself fulltime to submarine development.

The HOLLAND made her first successful dive on St. Patrick's Day, 17 March 1898. The submarine slid into the water and submerged so quickly that a worker on her deck had to jump clear and swim to shore. For 20 long seconds, the submarine remained out of sight before surfacing to float at the prescribed depth. On 7 February 1899, American businessman Isaac Rice incorporated the Electric Boat Company, which absorbed the Holland Torpedo Boat Company and shortly afterward, purchased the Electro-Dynamic Company and the Electric Launch Company of Bayonne, New Jersey, which built luxury yachts and tenders. By the time Electric Boat was established, the Holland had already gone through much in the way of sea trials and shakedown cruises. Although officially not interested, the US Navy kept a watchful eye on the HOLLAND's movements.

On 4 April 1900, the company offered the HOLLAND to the Navy for $150,000. The Navy accepted the offer a week later, the HOLLAND was delivered to the Navy Department on 30 April 1900. In her final version, the HOLLAND was 53 feet long, ten feet, three inches at the widest beam, and displaced 74 tons. …

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