History of the Torpedo - The Early Years.
Believe it or not, the word "torpedo" was first used by David Bushnell, an American in the Eighteenth century. The word "Torpedo" is from a family of fish - the Torpedinidae, (Electric Ray), as the Readers Digest Dictionary states "...having a rounded body and a pair of electric organs capable of producing a fairly strong electric charge." In fact - to it's prey - it's a stunning shock!
It is suggested that Bushnell first used the term "Torpedo" to an invention of his - a mine attached to the hull of a ship and detonated possibly by a clockwork fuse. (This was achieved however by using a boat, designed by Bushnell, that was manually pedal-powered and went under the water - the first submarine? see picture on the right) All types of water bound explosive devices, i.e., floating mines, floating barrels of burning pitch (carried to the target by the water current), and spar torpedoes (approximately 60lb charge was fixed on the end of a 25 foot pole, was exploded below the waterline).
The German firm L. Schwartzkopf (later to be known as Berliner Maschinenbau A.G.), were producing about 400 weapons annually, shipping them to Spain, Italy, China and Great Britain. Then in 1904, the Battle of Tsushima was finally ended by gunfire as there was no torpedo built (at the time) which could reach ranges of 600 yards. The main benefit of the torpedo was the stealth and shock - the Torpedinidae family!
"The Torpedo Test Station" was set up at Rhode Island, (USA), in 1870, working on spar torpedoes, later, improved mainly by Mr. J.L. Lay, an US Naval Officer, produced the 18 inch Lay Weapon. Other types of torpedoes being built at this time around the world include:
These listed above are only a VERY FEW of the torpedoes being designed, and through the years - right up to modern day weapons, one can see how they evolved. Some are still in use to-day like the 21 inch Whitehead Torpedo which was used during the Falklands conflict to devastating effect.
The Lay torpedo (pictured right), was powered by a gas engine driven by compressed carbon dioxide, and steered by impulses transmitted down a wire, operating electromagnetic relays on the rudder. Unreliable majority of the time, two Lay torpedoes were sold to the Peruvian Government in the war with Chile. A Lay' was fired from the Huascar (Peruvian Ironclad ship) at a Chilean ship - half-way there the Lay' turned about and came back to the mother ship at 15 knots - despite frantic efforts of the operator. The ship was saved by an officer swimming out to the torpedo and deflecting it! The captain took the two weapons to the local graveyard to be buried, only for the Chilean rebels to rescue them!
The Ericsson torpedo was the first to be powered by electric in 1873. Propulsion was by having power down a cable, unreeled from the torpedo. The torpedo had a large float and obtained a speed of 10 knots. The final model built in 1889 had a 400lb warhead and a range of over two miles!
Ericsson also produced a rocket-powered torpedo (after the Whitehead model made it's appearance), with a speed of 40 to 60 knots and a range of 100 yards.
The Patrick torpedoes used carbon dioxide gas expanded through a gas engine - usually a three cylinder Brotherhood type (similar to the one used extensively by Whitehead). It was suspended by two unsinkable floats. made from either wood or thin copper sheet cylinders with water-proof gun cotton.
The gyro's one main problem is that it would topple over after a short run, due to the gyroscope gimbals were required to directly operate a rudder servo control as well. Whitehead was, it appears well ahead of the field in torpedo design, in fact he introduced a second servo which greatly reduced the forces acting on the gimbals - the way was opened up now for long range torpedoes.
The Howell torpedo built in the USA, became the major torpedo for the American Navy for 20 years - and so preferred than the Whitehead torpedo. (See picture left.) It was ship launched from a tube, a flywheel was set spinning (12,000 r.p.m.) before firing, transmitting power to turn propellers, giving a speed of 30 knots over an 800 yard range. There were really three main advantages that the Howell' had over the Whitehead', (see picture on right), apart from the simplicity - it left no track, (in the water), it did not vary it's trim and it kept a straight course. This was achieved by using the gyroscopic actions of the flywheel, as the flywheel axis was transverse, any deviations from a straight line caused the torpedo to keel over. This movement was detected by a transverse mounted pendulum which was directly connected to rudders which in turn forced a correction in course - so producing a righting torque.
Note: This was the first torpedo to use gyroscopes and when Whitehead started to use them in 1895, Howell started a legal battle over patient rights.
This weapon was used for coastal defences by the Royal Engineers over a 20 year period, from around 1900. Hugh Brotherhood winches were installed in concrete blockhouses, with the torpedoes been run on rails down to the water. (One of these derelict station remains have been discovered on the Thames estuary.)
|Royal Navy Bibliography
|Eric's Service History
|Brief history of the torpedo