Holland No.5 submarine - a remarkable piece of our naval heritage.

She was the first submarine to actually be commissioned in the Royal Navy, on the 19th January 1903 at the same time as Holland No.3. At this time the Holland's No.1, 2 and 4 were still being reworked. The Holland class of submarine rapidly become obsolete and in 1912 Holland 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.

The wreck remained undiscovered (although not undisturbed) until 1995 when she was found by chance by Kent diver, Jerry Dowd. Mr Dowd informed submarine expert Dr Innes McCartney of the find in 2001 and he made his first exploration of the site in the same year. The Holland No.5 was protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 2005. In 2011 the Holland No.5 was added to the Heritage at Risk Register by English Heritage.  Mark Beattie Edwards, the NAS CEO, currently has a survey licence to record the site.

Video: The Holland No.5 Submarine in 2018 as part of a Protected Wreck day event

Holland No.5 Submarine Project

Dives conducted on the site as part of the Holland No.5 Submarine Project have primarily aimed to cover three areas of activity:

  1. Net and fishing gear clearance,
  2. Photo/Video survey
  3. Comparative studies of particular features with Holland No.1, now housed at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, Hampshire.

The dives conducted since 2006 -2010 led to the site being freed of major nets, which had infested much of the hull sometime between 2001 and 2005. The nets were removed by both cutting and moving them off the wreck. This was laborious work for which thanks should be paid to all of the divers who assisted in doing this. The buoy line which had become wrapped up around the bow cap was also freed. Only a small amount of net remains on the seabed around the wreck. This net may be removed in future, but at present is not considered a threat to the wreck.

The major damage the nets caused appears to have been to the cast iron exhaust pipes which lead from the top of the pressure hull over the petrol engine to the exhaust box further aft along the upper deck. It was noted that two of the four pipes had been totally trawled off and a further pipe was only partially present. It was noted that the outcome of the successful net clearance of the foredeck in 2005 has encouraged the marine growth witnessed in 2001 to begin to grow back.

With the net removed divers were tasked with taking measurements and photographs of some of the features, which had been uncovered. The use of video and wide-angle (fisheye) photography has revealed much about the Holland No.5, which differs from Holland 1.

In 2013 with permission from the Royal Navy Submarine Museum Mark Beattie-Edwards was given access to the top deck of the Holland No.1 exhibit and was able to undertake a photographic survey of the entire deck as it is currently preserved.

It has become readily apparent that the deck of the Holland No.5 differs greatly from that of Holland 1. It was always suspected that this was likely due to the experimental nature of these submarines. Of particular note were the differences in construction of the upper deck, different periscope housing designs, and different construction methods for the torpedo-loading hatch. This study is at its beginning and we hope to have a fuller assessment of the differences in future years. Drawing of the exhaust box lid by David Dooley (below).

NAS divers David Dooley and Darren Gosling were tasked with making a scale drawing of the exhaust box cover. Over two dives they gathered the measurements and photos needed to do this and have subsequently produced the finished drawings. The drawings have been submitted to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum were it is currently being evaluated to see whether a replica of the Holland No.5 exhaust box cover can be fabricated for the Holland No.1 exhibit.

Holland No.5 Condition Assessment

The submarine is upright and in a fair degree of overall preservation. This is primarily because the single-hull design means that the pressure hull contains all of submarines workings, ballast and fuel tanks within. The pressure hull is, (according to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum) made of a rare "S" Grade steel only seen these days on the Holland submarines and the Forth Bridge. The durability of this material is probably why the main hull of the submarine is still durable and intact.

Sadly the same cannot be said of the submarine's external features. The upper superstructure has largely gone and the stern fins and propeller guard have also been pulled off. The periscope, which lay down on the deck when not in use, has been torn away along with the vent pipes for the interior and the external exhaust piping. There is no evidence of the upper steering position or compass binnacle and it is possible they were removed before her final voyage. However the presence of the exhaust box cover (which was not present on Holland No.1 when it was raised) seems to suggest that she was probably reasonably complete when she foundered in 1912.

It is the belief of the licensee that the site has been subjected to damage by commercial fishing. In 2005 and 2006 the wreck was very heavily netted (much more so than in 2001) and the NAS and visiting divers spent at least 3 hours of bottom time cutting some of the netting away that summer. Alarmingly there was also a steel cable wrapped over the wreck, which has almost certainly caused some of the destruction of the submarine's upper works and external features.

In June 2010 during a licensed dive by the Nautical Archaeology Society it became apparent that the torpedo bow cap of the Holland No.5, the only surviving example on the seabed of this class of submarine anywhere in the world and a designated wreck, was no longer attached to the submarine.


Video: The missing bow cap recorded on video in 2010 (Mark Callaghan).

A further survey dive on the 9th August 2010 confirmed it was no longer on the site. English Heritage reported the matter to Sussex police on 26th August and are working closely with them to bring offenders to account and to recover this nationally important asset. It is not clear whether the bow cap was removed by fishing trawler or by divers.

Above: The bow cap of the Holland No.5 was still place in 2008 (Photo from Wessex Archaeology)

It had been impossible to visit the site in 2009 due to bad weather and the last positive sighting of the hatch was in September 2008. The submarine appears to have significant marine growth in the area the hatch was removed which might indicate the bow cap was removed some time ago. Removing the cap and accessing the site without a licence is illegal under the Protection of Wrecks Act, 1973. Initial enquiries show that if it was removed by divers it was not then reported to the Receiver of Wreck, which would also suggest an offence under the Merchant Shipping Act may have been committed.

Historic England would like to appeal to the diving community for help in locating this important piece of the Holland No.5. Individuals can contact Sussex Police or Crime Stoppers on 0800 555111.

Above: The bow of the Holland No.5 in 2011 (Photo from Stuart Philpot)

100th Anniversary Dive

The NAS undertook a 100th anniversary dive on the Holland 5 submarine in 2012. Shown on ITV Meridian Tonight on the 9th August 2012. Thanks to Sarah and Barry from ITV, Alison from English Heritage, George from The RN Submarine Museum and the dive team.

Holland No.5 Dive Trail Project 2016-2018

Since 2016 the NAS has, with the financial support of Historic England,  in partnership with InDepth Photography and 3deep Media, produced a online visualisation or virtual dive tour of the wreck, and created a new underwater dive guide.

The virtual dive tour of the wreck can be found here. The 3D photogrammetry survey of the Holland No.5 from 15th June 2017 can be viewed on Sketchfab here

The new underwater guide leaflet can be downloaded here. This has been designed to be printed at A5 and laminated and taken underwater by the visiting divers.