Holland No.5

Basic Site Facts
Period: 20th century (1912)
Location: Royal Sovereign Bank, English Channel
Reason for Designation: historical significance

Wreck History and Loss

In response to submarines entering service in foreign navies during the late 1890s, the British Admiralty reluctantly decided that they should acquire some submarine boats for the purpose of evaluating their potential as a weapon. Agreement was made with the Holland Torpedo Boat Company that five of their Holland No. X design would be built at Vickers Sons & Maxim Ltd at Barrow-in-Furness.

The first submarine was launched in October 1901. 'No.5' was launched in May 1902, two months before the launch of 'No.6', the first of the improved Holland types, one of which is the 'A1'.

Multibeam Image of Holland No.5

Multibeam Image of Holland No.5 © Wessex Archaeology

The boats were built in great secrecy and with direct involvement from the Holland Company. The Admiralty regarded the boats as wholly experimental and extensive trials were carried out. Many developments were made on the boats and several of these ideas were taken back to the USA, not least of which was the first application of a periscope to a submarine in order to allow surface vision whilst the boat was submerged; all previous submarines were dependant on porpoising up and down to view through deadlights.

The Holland boats served their purpose well and even before the last of the type was launched, the improved class that was to supersede them was already being built. Once their function was fulfilled the Navy quickly disposed of the Holland class: 'No.4' had foundered in 1912 but was raised and expended as a gunnery target and all the rest were sold to ship breakers.  'No.5' foundered on 8 August 1912 whilst under tow to the breakers yard.

The hull of 'No.1', the first of the experimental class, was located and salvaged in 1982 and is displayed at the Royal Navy (RN) Submarine Museum, Gosport. Due to the nature of their service lives, the Holland boats produced a great deal of surviving documentation and photographs; these are now housed in the extensive archive of RN Submarine Museum.

Discovery and Investigation

Discovered in September 2000, the site is the only surviving example of this class of submarine on the seabed anywhere in the world and  therefore  the wreck is crucial to the history of the early development of submarine technology. 

The boat is sitting upright on the seabed with the periscope standard or a ventilator still upstanding. Until recently it was closed up and largely complete with only lighter external fittings missing. The potential for the survival of organic remains was considered to be very good and it was likely that all internal fittings were in place and in good condition.

Sadly the Holland No.5 is now at the centre of a police investigation due to the recent disappearance of the torpedo hatch.  Although it is not believed that entry by souvenir hunters into the submarine is likely, this will have had a significant impact on the potential level of preservation inside.

Further Work

The Nautical Archaeology Society are helping with visiting diver access to the site as part of a programme of ongoing monitoring and survey.

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