APL Colloquium

November 1, 2019

Colloquium Topic: Going Deep: John Philip Holland and the Invention of the Attack Submarine

In the early morning hours of September 22, 1914, after three days of storms, a tentative calm finally descended on the North Sea.  At the Admiralty in Great Britain, by then at war with Germany in a struggle that was to become the bloodiest in human history, it was decided that patrols could once again commence off the coast of Holland.  An hour before dawn, three aging battle cruisers, the Aboukir, the Hogue, and the Cressy, were sent out to take positions on the line, three miles apart.

At 6.30 a.m., the three ships separated to take up their stations.  Ninety minutes later, all three had been sunk, and more than fifteen hundred British sailors were dead. The ships had been sent to the bottom by a vessel that, until six weeks earlier, had never been employed by the German navy, or in a real sense by any navy at all.  It sailed not through the waves, but under them.

War on the high seas had changed forever.

Although he had died in near obscurity six weeks before, John Philip Holland cast a shadow over those fifteen hundred deaths in the North Sea and also the hundreds of other encounters between traditional warships and this new instrument of stealth and surprise.  He was then and still widely is considered the father of the attack submarine, but he would never know that he had helped create one of the defining killing machines of two world wars.

For millennia, the ocean depths have held as great a fascination as the heavens, and undersea travel has been a fantasy equal to the dream of flight.  Just as virtually every society created fanciful machines to allow men to soar into the sky, there were similar fancies about devices that could sustain humans under the water.  Leonardo, as did other of the great scientific thinkers, theorized about both—and failed to bring either to fruition.  But, like Wilbur and Orville Wright, who had followed in many of the same footsteps, John Holland did not fail.  For decades, combining insight with perseverance, enduring frustration, trial, and much error, Holland turned imagination into reality.  And, as with every journey of exploration, death waited constantly in the wings.

But still, after decades of working to solve one of humankind’s great mysteries, Holland would be shunted aside, replaced by men for whom innovation was far less important than profit.  And so today, when submarines can remain submerged almost indefinitely, limited only by the amount of food they carry, and are virtual cities that travel around the world, John Holland has all but disappeared from the history books.

Why this man is not known to every American, has not been accorded the same posthumous accolades as other great innovators of the period, is a tale of genius, persistence, deceit, and ultimately tragedy.

Colloquium Speaker: Lawrence Goldstone

Lawrence Goldstone is the author of more than a dozen books of both fiction and non-fiction. Six of those books were co-authored with his wife, Nancy, but they now write separately to save what is left of their dishes.

Goldstone's articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have appeared in, among other publications, the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant, and Berkshire Eagle. He has also written for a number of magazines that have gone bust, although he denies any cause and effect.

His first novel, Rights, won a New American Writing Award but he now cringes at its awkward prose. (Anatomy of Deception, The Astronomer, and Murtro's Niche are much better.) 

Despite a seemingly incurable tendency to say what's on his mind (thus mortifying Nancy), Goldstone has been widely interviewed on both radio and television, with appearances on, among others, Diane Rehm (NPR), "Fresh Air" (NPR), "To the Best of Our Knowledge" (NPR), "The Faith Middleton Show" (NPR), "Tavis Smiley" (PBS), and Leonard Lopate (WNYC). His work has also been profiled in The New York Times, The Toronto Star, numerous regional newspapers, Salon, and Slate. 

Goldstone holds a PhD in American Constitutional Studies from the New School. His friends thus call him DrG, although he can barely touch the rim. (Sigh. Can't make a layup anymore either.) He and his beloved bride founded and ran an innovative series of parent-child book groups, which they documented in Deconstructing Penguins. He has also been a teacher, lecturer, senior member of a Wall Street trading firm, taxi driver, actor, quiz show contestant, and policy analyst at the Hudson Institute. 

He is an unerring stock picker. Everything he buys instantly goes down.

For those with insatiable curiosity, you can learn more at www.lawrencegoldstone.com