1900s: The beginnings of the Submarine Service

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The Navy's first submarines

The Royal Navy initially opposed the introduction of submarines at the turn of the 20th century. Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, the Controller of the Navy, believed that underwater fighting was not the way forwards. He famously stated that "submarines are underhand, unfair and damned un-English". The Navy felt that neither they nor any other nation ought to have submarines and tried to prevent their development. There was also a determined belief in the superiority of the battleship, which Britain possessed more of than any other nation.

However, Captain Charles Robinson at HMS Vernon, the Navy's Torpedo School, advised Sir Wilson that his staff could not proceed with developing an antidote to French submarines until they understood the performance capabilities of these craft. The Admiralty therefore decided in 1900 to acquire some submarines to find out just how dangerous they were, hoping they would be proved ineffective.

Launch brooch for Holland 2
Launch brooch for Holland 2 (RNSM)

Article Highlights

  • Introduction

  • Acceptance of submarines

  • Holland I

  • British designed submarines

  • 'Overseas' submarines


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