As the dawn of the 20th century approached, the truly submersible warship had been developed. Sure, there had been numerous experiments but it was France which lead the way. The Gymnote was launched in 1888 and made 2,000 successful dives during her 19 year career. Battery powered, the Gymnote carried two external torpedoes. After France the most active development of the submarine was in the United States. John P. Holland formed the Holland Torpedo Boat Company and had almost a monopoly on USN submarine production. There was another American competitor, Simon Lake, who tried to sell his designs to the USN but it took Congress to force the navy to buy a Lake design, the G class. The victor of the competition between Holland and Lake can be best judged by the subsequent corporate name of the Holland concern, The Electric Boat Company.
Not only was Holland supplying all of the USN submarines, starting with the SS-1 Holland launched in 1897 but also the company had foreign orders. Perhaps the most surprising came from the Royal Navy. At first the Admiralty denied any interest in the submarine but the Admirals saw the rising numbers of the new type of warship in France and the United States and secretly entered into negotiations with Holland's Electric Boat Company to build five of his submarines at Barrow under license. This was concluded in November 1900. Thus, the first submarines for the Royal Navy were of the same design as the first submarines of the USN, both were Holland designs. Japan's first submarine in 1902 was also a Holland design. The Imperial Russian Navy started building submarines of hr own design but as a result of the Russo-Japanese War ordered seven Holland Boats and six Lake boats built under license in 1904.
Both the Imperial German Navy and the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy were very conservative and waited to see how overseas development matured. Germany was the first to get off the fence when she ordered designs from German builders in 1904. Austria took far longer to join the submarine club. The first Austrian design of 1905 and all of the bids submitted in competition with that design were rejected as unworkable. As a result of this lack of practical Austrian designs, it was decided to buy a few submarines of each of the three leading designs found in the international arms market. The first design was the Simon Lake design and two boats, U-1 and U-2, were built at Pola Two more, U-3 and U-4, were a Germania design, built at Kiel and towed to Pola. The third design was the tried and true Holland design. U-5 and U-6 were built under license by Whitehead at Fiume. The Germania designs were launched in late 1908, while the Lake and Holland designs being built on the Adriatic were a little slower, all four were launched in the first half of 1909. Each of the three designs had its strengths and weaknesses.
The single hulled Holland design used a gasoline engine on the surface, like the Lake design, and the crews of U-5 and U-6 frequently became intoxicated on fumes. U-5 was launched on February 10, 1909 and U-6 on June 12, 1909. Whitehead built a third Holland boat at Fiume but at first the Austro-Hungarian fleet was not interested in her purchase. Whitehead then tried to peddle the boat to Peru, Portugal, Netherlands, Brazil, Bulgaria, as well as Austria, but it was still unsold in August 1914, when Austria finally snapped it up with the start of World War One. Initially this boat was given the provisional number of U-7 but her permanent number was U-12, assigned at the end of August 1914. The competing Lake boats never saw active service but the Holland boats did with great success. You may have heard of one of the early commanders of U-5, Georg Ritter von Trapp. The second highest scoring submarine commander in the K.u.K. marine, boats commanded by von Trapp sank 45,668 tons of enemy shipping in the war. On April 27, 1915 von Trapp and U-5 were in the Strait of Otranto. He spotted the French 12,000-ton armored cruiser, Leon Gambetta, and hit her with two 18-inch torpedoes. The cruiser went down in ten minutes, leaving only 137 survivors. On May 16, 1917 U-5 hit a mine on trials. She was raised, given a new conning tower as well as a 75mm gun and on her second life survived the war. Given to Italy as reparations, U-5 was scrapped in1920. U-6 became entangled in anti-submarine nets in the Otranto Straits on May 3, 1916 and was scuttled to prevent capture. U-12 was lost with all hands in August 1916 when she hit a mine while trying to enter the Venice anchorage. The hulk was raised at the end of 1916 and scrapped in Venice.
As most of you know, Wiener Modellbau Manufactur of Vienna specializes in producing 1:350 scale models of the World War One K.u.K. Marine. They have already produced a destroyer, then torpedo boat and now a submarine, the Holland U-5/6/12 design. If you have not seen a WMM kit, you are missing a world class kit. I have seen all three of the WMM releases in 1:350 scale and they are all excellent in design and quality. This Holland submarine is a gem. It is small but the quality is there. The small box contains nine resin parts, a brass photo-etch fret, a full decal sheet and of course instructions. The largest part is the one piece full hull with the characteristic Holland tear-drop design. This casting has strengthening strakes, bilge keels, bow detail, recessed flood holes in the narrow upper casemate and rudder integrally cast with the hull. There are two different sail designs. One is for the U-5 and U-6 and the other is for the U-12. The other six resin parts are two each of propeller hubs, diving planes and aft horizontal fins.
The kit comes with a medium sized brass photo-etch fret of the same excellent quality as the resin parts. The fret has extensive relief-etching and has an amazing amount of parts, 59, considering the small size of the submarine, even in 1:350 scale. Deck hatches can be assembled open or closed. There are propeller blades, fins, railing, cleats, doors and other fittings as part as this fret. Two thin brass rods are also included. A full decal sheet has the sail numbers for all three units, U-5, U-6 and U-12. WMM also includes the numbers for U-7 if you wish to model the U-12 boat in August 1914 when she was provisionally assigned that number. Directions come in the form of a single back printed sheet. This has a history and photos on one side with the reverse dealing with the assembly. The instructions are in German and English. When you turn over the sheet you first will notice the full color profile and plan with green bottom and distinctive red and white Austrian identification markings on the bow.
The next time you see The Sound of Music and the sugary singing von Trapp children, you can sing, "The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Torpedoes!" The SMU 5, under the command of Georg Ritter von Trapp scored one of the most significant successes of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. All three boats of this Holland design were active throughout World War One. Now you can have a 1:350 scale miniature of these boats in this outstanding kit from Wiener Modllbau Manufactur.