Every four years, Leap Year adds one day to the calendar to keep our timekeeping in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. I thought it’d be neat to find an event in naval history to highlight and mark the unusual day.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any of those major anniversaries that one would normally note — say, one of the World War II island assaults. A web search yielded nothing. Nada. The Navy agrees. According to navy.mil, “There is no Navy historical data noted at this time for Leap Day (Feb. 29).”
The Navy’s reference is to the big stuff, however. Things happened, and things that involved combat operations and risk to sailors, as well. According to the Naval History & Heritage Command, there are two Leap Year events of significance, both from the 20th century and 44 years apart:
1944 – PB4Y-1s from squadrons VB-108, VB-109, and VD-3, conduct a low-level bombing raid on Japanese positions on Wake Island.
1968 – Four North Vietnamese trawlers attempting to simultaneously infiltrate supplies into South Vietnam were detected. Three of the trawlers were sunk in battle on the following day and one survived by turning back.
Today also marks the 1840 birthday of John Philip Holland, the inventor of the modern submarine — one that could successfully operate on internal combustion afloat and electric battery power while submerged.
According to website of the Clare County Library, Ireland, Holland, an Irishman and engineer who emigrated to America in 1873, has his first submitted design for a submarine rejected by the Navy; the Navy Secretary called it “a fantastic scheme of a civilian landsman.” But he persisted and he launched his first sub, the Holland 1, in 1877, in New Jersey’s Passaic River.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to insert two screw plugs, and it began to sink. But the following day, several successful dives were made.
Holland kept at it. The Holland 6 was launched in May 1897, passed U.S. Navy trials in 1899, was bought on Apr. 11, 1900, for $150,000 and became the USS Holland — the Navy’s first sub.