(p. C6) There are very few wars in history that begin, dramatically, with a brand-new weapon displaying its transformative power, but one such case occurred in the southern North Sea in September 1914, when three large cruisers of the Royal Navy were torpedoed and swiftly sunk by a diminutive German U-boat, the U-9. At that moment, the age of the attack submarine was born, and the struggle for naval supremacy for a great part of both World War I and World War II was defined. The U-boat–shorthand for “Unterseeboot”–had come of age.
It is appropriate, then, that the historian Lawrence Goldstone begins “Going Deep” with a dramatic re-telling of the U-9’s exploit. It should be said immediately that his chronicle doesn’t present the whole history of submarine warfare but rather the story of the efforts of various American inventors and entrepreneurs–above all, an Irish-born engineer named John Philip Holland–to create a power-driven, human-directed and sub-marine vessel that could stalk and then, with its torpedoes, obliterate even the most powerful of surface warships.
. . .
“Going Deep” ends in 1914. By that time, the U.S. Navy was on its way to possessing some submarines–vessels equipped with torpedoes that were therefore capable, in theory, of sinking an enemy’s warships or his merchant marine, although in fact these boats were aimed at only coastal defense. And by 1914 American industry could boast of a nascent submarine-building capacity, especially in the form of the Electric Boat Co., which was to survive the capriciousness of the Navy Department’s “on-off” love affair with the submarine until World War II finally proved its undoubted power.
But these successes, limited though they were, were not John Philip Holland’s. He had played a major role–really, the greatest role–in developing the early submarine, grasping that it could transform naval warfare. He had grappled with and overcome most of the daunting technological obstacles in the way of making his vision a reality. Mr. Goldstone is surely right to give him such prominence. But eventually Holland was shunted aside by more ruthless entrepreneurs, diddled by business partners and denied Navy contracts. He passed away on Aug. 12, 1914, just as World War I was beginning. By then, feeling beaten and having retired, he was a quiet churchman and amateur historian. This part of Mr. Goldstone’s story is not a happy one.
For the full review, see:
Kennedy, Paul. “A Man Down Below; How an Irish-American engineer developed a Jules Verne-like wonder-weapon of the deep.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 17, 2017): C6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 16, 2017.)
The book under review, is:
Goldstone, Lawrence. Going Deep: John Philip Holland and the Invention of the Attack Submarine. New York: Pegasus Books Ltd., 2017.