Background

I cannot recall the date exactly, but it was one evening back in 2021 when Chris Webb, Gerry Dowd and I were sitting in Cullins Yard supping a few beers. A couple of pints of Krombacher Pils later and the pair of them were pronoucing their friendship and respect for each other, reminiscing stories when one or the other got the other one out of the shit. Anyway, the conversation sidetracked into diving and with another Krombacher on the table, we were talking submarines, Gerry announing that he has a mark of a relatively undived submarine to the north-east, past Deal and towards the shipping lanes and that he would give the marks to Chris to dive one day. With another change of tack, the pair of them started squabbling in jovial banter as to who’s the best dive skipper out of Dover. I won’t say boring, but recurring discussion, witnessed a number of times in the past. 🙂

Anyway, addressing Chris, Gerry unexpectedly announced “I bet you haven’t found a submarine?” to which Chris responded “Nor have you” in quick retort. “Yes I have”, “No you haven’t”, “Yes I have”, “No you haven’t” went the pantomime volley as I swigged the end of my pint.

Looking in my direction, “Google Holland number 5” instructed Gerry as if I am some kind of umpire to the spat. Low and behold the first two results in SERPs was The Nautical Archaeology Society and Wikipedia websites.

"The wreck remained undiscovered (although not undisturbed) until 1995 when she was found by chance by Kent diver, Gerry 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."

Nautical Archaeology Society

And there is was, in black and white, Gerry’s submarine. Off to the bar for another round and Gerry continued the story of how the vessel was found and to the initial disbelief of Innes McCartney, being that other than Holland No1 (which is on display at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport), the remaining four Hollands were scrapped.

Nautical Archaeology Society

In quite a different story and one I shall only allude to here, I was invited to partake in a survey of HMS Natal later this year in 2022. A pre-requisite of that project was I needed to become a member and undertake a number of Nautical Archaeology Society courses. Thus in late 2021, I became a NAS member. Then in early 2022 a number of dive dates were advertised on the NAS Member Portal and et voila, Holland No5 was one of them. The scene was set; that I would invite Chris as my guest to dive Gerry’s submarine!

Diving HMS Holland No5

The date was set, Wednesday 20th July 2020. Diving out of Eastborne with Dive125 and skipper David Ronnan. Host for the day was NAS CEO Mark Beattie-Edwards.

The initial plan was a threesome of Chris, me and Nick Bray. However, as the date got closer, Nick announced that he would now not be able to make the dive and had donated his place to Tom Packman. A kind of Busman’s Holiday for Chris and Tom.

Tom and Chris

I had driven down and stayed in Hailsham for the evening. We met at the Soverign Marina car park aroud 08.30am, loading at 09.15am and ropes off 09.45am.

It was a partially cloudy day, temperatues in the mid-20’s, a stark contrast to the previous two “unprecedented 40degC” days heatwave. Sea state 2. Pretty much ideal conditions, the only limitation could be visibility, to which Tom and skipper David were happy to trade this years’ conditions while en-route to the dive site. Guestimates were in the 2m to 3m range as wind directions in recent days may have unsettled things.

Plunge time was 11.43am with a run time of exactly 50 minutes. Maximun depth was 30.4m and visibility a snotty 6 to 8 metres; a lot better than expected. Water temperature 16degC.

My plan and objective was simply to circumnavigate the wreck and take some video footage to post here. Obviously a small wreck, mission was completed with some repetative footage. Towards the end of the dive, we headed off from the propeller to swim off onto the surrounding seabed before launching our DSMBs and surface.

An absolutely lovely wreck to dive and well within recreational limits. It is believed that Holland No5 was the first submarine to have a periscope. Unfortunately that and the vertical exhaust system is not in place, thought to have been destroyed by trawling fishing nets. There are some nets still on the site, all partially buried in the sand. There is no real entangelment hazard as the NAS team have removed all other nets over recent years. The forward torpedo hatch has disappaered, some suspicion that divers have removed it prior to Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) protection. Still in situ is a glass pane in the conning tower. The rudder is still attached and can still be seen on the seabed alongside the propeller cowling. It was explained that none of the Hollands fired a torpedo in action, only practice.

Historic England are responsible for the management of Holland No5 and the DCMS responsible for its protection. For over 10 years the NAS has managed responsible access.

You do not need to be a member of NAS to dive Holland No5, but it makes sense. There are member prices and non-member prices. However, you will not be able to see any upcoming dates unless you have access to the member portal. So it makes sense to join NAS.

Gerry's Submarine

In closing, a little earworm. To the tune of Yellow Submarine by The Beatles.

In the port near he was born
Lived a man who dived to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines
So we sailed this early morn’
‘Til we found a sea not seen
And we dived beneath the waves
To Gerry’s found submarine

We’re going diving to Gerry’s submarine
Gerry’s submarine, Gerry’s submarine
We’re going diving to Gerry’s submarine
Gerry’s submarine, Gerry’s submarine

And our buddies are all aboard
And all thee of us shout “J’adore”
And the skipper begins to say

Who wants to dive to Gerry’s submarine
Gerry’s submarine, Gerry’s submarine
Who wants to dive to Gerry’s submarine
Gerry’s submarine, Gerry’s submarine.