T for Torpedo

On this week’s Throwback Thursday, we’re looking at the very first torpedo, the range weapon used in the defence sector. The first concept of a torpedo came about many centuries before it actually came to be a working device. The description came from the works of a Syrian engineer named Hassan al-Rammah in 1275, where he described his contraption as “the egg which moves itself and burns”. As intriguing as it sounds, we won’t be starting here today. We’re going to move on and talk about the first self-propelled/locomotive torpedo. Ready? Let’s go…

It all started in the 1860s, when Captain Giovanni Luppis came into possession of the papers of an Austrian marine upon his death. These papers detailed a small boat laden with explosives, propelled by steam or an air engine, to be used against enemy ships. Luppis had the device prototyped, but he was unhappy with the outcome and so commissioned British engineer Robert Whitehead, who worked for a factory in Fiume, Rijeka (present day Croatia), to work on the project. Whitehead believed the design to be impractical and began work on his own design. In 1866, he had a working torpedo.

The original design by Whitehead had issues in maintaining depth, until he introduced a mechanism in 1868 that used a hydrostatic valve and pendulum which caused the hydroplanes to adjust and maintain a pre-set depth. The Austrian government were impressed with Whitehead’s invention and decided to invest in it, setting up the first torpedo factory in Fiume.

In 1895, the gyroscope was developed in order to gain directional control. The gyroscope was able to apply a corrective movement to the vertical rudders if they detected any deviation from the set course. Further modifications even allowed a set angle of up to 90 degrees in the course before the steering rudders took control. This modification allowed a ship to launch the torpedo without having to turn broadside to the target, and this update really changed the game for marine warfare.

After further modifications, more modern torpedoes were run from propulsive power, usually by battery-powered electric motors. The torpedo played a big role in both world wars, and the submarine was the naval vessel to employ the torpedo most successfully. During World War II, torpedo-carrying aircraft and homing, or acoustic, torpedoes were introduced.

Various versions of the torpedo were developed across the world, especially during the wars. As for the Whitehead torpedo, the last known operational use for them was during the Battle of Drøbak Sound in 1940. Today, it’s usually submarines that carry and fire torpedoes. And for all of you who are wondering, the most powerful torpedoes that exist today are:

  • Black Shark Torpedo
  • F21 Heavyweight Torpedo
  • Spearfish Heavyweight Torpedo
  • Torpedo 62 (Torpedo 2000)
  • DM2A4/SeaHake mod 4
  • Shkval-E
  • Mk48 ADCAP Mod 7 CBASS
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