The Holland Class Submarines

As part of the UnPath'd Waters Project the NAS are helping to address the need to link archives together to maximise the research potential and to make maritime archaeological sites more accessible, providing tangible links to British history through engagement especially with the non-diving general public. 

The People and the Sea element of the UnPath'd Waters Project aims to make submerged and museum-displayed wrecks exciting by creating new ways of imagining, understanding and valuing them.

Visual images already convey the other-worldly excitement and mystery of submerged shipwrecks, but we also want visually impaired audiences to share this thrill. Being able to see, smell and touch recovered objects and ships helps people to imagine shipwreck worlds and blend the tangible and intangible.

People and the Sea Activity

This element of the UnPath'd Waters project is looking at four key areas:

  1. How to digitally connect the museum-based Mary Rose and Holland 1 to the underwater Holland 5 and Mary Rose. The Needles Protected Wrecks and nearby non-protected wrecks will also be investigated to link individuals and coastal communities through their construction, people, rescue and display.
  2. How to connect known digital wreck evidence to new archival discoveries.
  3. How to create experimental extended reality (XR) encounters and probe audience connections to wrecks by exploring the Holland 1Holland 5 submarines and the Mary Rose through digital scans.
  4. Assessing how today’s communities interact with wrecks and how we can work with them to jointly design new learning tools. This will involve the public, school and university students, volunteers, museums, wreck divers, researchers and the Protected Wrecks Association.


Holland No.1

Located within the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, the Holland No.1 was the first in a six-boat batch of the Holland-class submarine ordered for the British Admiralty. She was lost in 1913 while under tow to the scrapyard following decommissioning. The boat was recovered in 1982 and put on display at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport.


Above: Jack and Fraser from the University of Southampton laser scanning the Holland No.1 Submarine as part of the UnPath'd Waters Project.

In 1901 the Holland No.1 was ordered from John Philip Holland and built at Barrow-in-Furness. The keel was laid down 4 February 1901. In order to keep the boat’s construction secret, she was assembled in a building labelled "Yacht Shed", and the parts that had to be fabricated in the general yard were marked for "pontoon no 1". She was launched on 2 October 1901 and dived for the first time (in an enclosed basin) on 20 March 1902. Sea trials began in April 1902.

In September 1902 she arrived at Portsmouth with the other completed Holland boat and along with HMS Hazard (their tender) made up the "First Submarine Flotilla", commanded by Captain Reginald Bacon. On 3 March 1903 Holland 1 suffered an explosion that caused four injuries. 

Above: Holland No.1 in Portsmouth Harbour.

On 24 October 1904, with the rest of the Holland fleet and three A-class boats, Holland No.1 sailed from Portsmouth to attack a Russian fleet that had mistakenly sunk a number of British fishing vessels in the North Sea in the Dogger Bank incident. The boats were recalled before any attack could take place.

The submarine was decommissioned and sold in 1913 to Thos W Ward for £410. By the time the submarine was sold she was considered so obsolete that she was sold with all fittings intact, and the only requirement put on the purchaser was that the torpedo tube be put out of action. Whist under tow the Holland No.1 sank off Plymouth.

The wreck was located in 1981 by Plymouth historian Michael Pearn and in November 1982 she was raised. From 1983, after coating in anti-corrosion chemicals, she was displayed at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, in 2001, on her centenary, a new purpose-built climate-controlled building was opened by Countess Mountbatten. In the same year the Royal Mail put a photo of the submarine on a 65 pence stamp. In 2011 the submarine was given an Engineering Heritage Award by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Above: The raised hull of the Holland No.1 submarine.



Holland No.5

Holland No.5 was the last of the five Holland-class submarines ordered by the British Admiralty to evaluate the potential of the submarine with the Royal Navy. She was one of the first submarines to be accepted into Royal Navy service, and unique to her class, she carried one of the earliest periscopes. By the time she was launched, a number of A-class submarines had already been ordered to replace this class in navy service.


Above: The Holland No.5 in the Solent

Like all Holland submarines the boat had a single-hull design, built from "s" grade steel. It sank whilst under tow to the scrap yard in 1912, possibly caused by the torpedo hatch being left open. The wreck was rediscovered in 2000 and was protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act in 2005. Damage has been caused to the site in recent years, and at some point between September 2008 and June 2010, the torpedo hatch was removed from the wreck. 


Above: Multibeam sonar survey of the Holland 5 (MSDS Marine, funded by Historic England)

The Holland class of submarine rapidly become obsolete and in 1912, the Holland No.5 was destined for destruction and was being towed to Sheerness when she foundered and sunk at her present location 6 miles SE of the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, Sussex, England.  Holland No. 5 remains the only submarine of her class on the seabed. Holland No.1, the only other boat of her class remaining, is on show at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

From initial studies of both vessels it has become readily apparent that the deck of the Holland No.5 differs greatly from that of Holland No.1.  It is suspected that this was likely due to the experimental nature of these submarines. Of note are the differences in construction of the upper deck, different periscope housing designs, and different construction methods for the torpedo-loading hatch. It is anticipated that analysis of datasets and archives will demonstrate other differences in design and function.


At present the known archives held relating to Holland submarines are dispersed between:

  • National Archives
  •           Science Museum
  •           National Museum of the Royal Navy, including the Submarine Museum
  •           Archaeology Data Service
  • UK Hydrographic Office
  •           Historic England
  •           Wessex Archaeology
  •           Nautical Archaeology Society
  •           British Pathé
  •           British Newspaper Archive
  •           MSDS Marine 
  •           Vickers, now BAE Systems Submarine Solutions
  •           Cumbria Archive Service
  •           Portsmouth History Centre and records office
  •          Those held in private collections.



UnPath'd Waters Project Study Objectives

In 2022 and 2023 the delivery of the UnPath'd Waters work on the Holland Class submarine assemblages will address the need to link archives together to maximise the research potential and to make maritime archaeological sites more accessible, providing tangible links to British history through engagement especially with the non-diving general public. 

Linking and presenting available archive data for the Holland No.1 and the Holland No.5 and wider maritime environment will enable the collections to be accessed in new ways and for new stories to be told. 

Methods for visualisation and access will be developed and tested within a range of audiences online in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth and in-person in collaboration with the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  The NAS will deliver resource and audience testing with the museum audiences through installations and exhibitions within the museum in Gosport. These will test and evaluate audience engagement with project outputs.


Above: Visualising the Holland 5 on Sketchfab

Above: Experience the Holland No.5 submarine without getting wet


Study Delivery

Key tasks are expected to include:

  •         Identification of all available collection material in both public and private repositories.
  •         Development of map of datasets, research themes and links to aid design and creation of visualisation/ immersive experience.
  •         Development of viewer/ immersive to access and experience the data through a range of options (in conjunction with University of Portsmouth). 
  •         Devising a range of methods for evaluation and testing of audience engagement (in conjunction with University of Portsmouth).
  •         Development and delivery of public engagement and evaluation through online, in-person of VR/ immersive sessions, in-person through museum exhibition at Royal Navy Submarine Museum.