HISTORY OF EARLY TORPEDOES (1800-1870)
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
The word "torpedo" is generally believed to have been first used by Robert
Fulton around 1800 to describe a device with an enclosed mass of gunpowder
which was to be exploded beneath enemy ships. The word may have been chosen
due to the similarity in the way in which the device and the torpedo fish both
communicated shock, or simply because detonation of the charge rendered fish
In any case, the word torpedo was generally applied to all underwater
explosive devices through most of the nineteenth century. David Bushnell,
Robert Fulton, Samuel Colt, and other early inventors were concerned with
stationary torpedoes or what are called mines today. The earliest recorded use
of a torpedo was in 1801 when Robert Fulton sank a small ship using a
submarine mine with an explosive charge of 20 pounds of gunpowder at Brest,
Stationary torpedoes were first used on a large scale by the Russian
government during the Crimean War (1854-1856). They were used as part of the
defense of Sebastapol, at the entrance to the Sea of Azov in the Black Sea,
and at Cronstadt and Sweaborg in the Baltic Sea. In the Baltic, torpedoes were
exploded under four English ships near Cronstadt. None were destroyed, but
all were damaged to some degree.
Various types of torpedoes were employed during the Civil War with the
Confederate Navy enjoying the greater success. Twenty-two Union ships were
sunk and twelve were damaged by Confederate torpedoes, while six Confederate
ships were destroyed by Union Navy torpedoes.
The idea of providing mobility to the torpedo, thereby turning it into an
"offensive" rather than "defensive" weapon, is generally credited to Fulton,
who proposed using a boom-mounted explosive charge in the early nineteenth
century. The boom or spar-mounted configuration was employed by both the
Confederate and Union Navies during the Civil War. The most notable use of
the spar torpedo was the sinking of the Confederate ram ALBEMARLE by Lt. W. B.
Cushing, U.S.N., at Plymouth, N.C. in October of 1864.
Another type of mobile torpedo adopted by most navies in the years from
1870 to 1880 was the towed torpedo. An explosive charge was contained in a
case that had a fixed rudder (figures 1 and 2) so that it could be towed off
the ship's stern or beam. When towed from abeam, the tow line assumed an
angle of about 45 degrees with the ship's centerline when under way. When the
torpedo contacted an enemy ship the charge was detonated either electrically
or by impact.
Figure 1. Explosive Charge Lashed to Boom of Spar Torpedo
Figure 2. Spar Torpedo Rigged for Test from Bow of Steam Launch
ORIGIN OF THE WHITEHEAD TORPEDO
About the middle of the nineteenth century, an officer of the Austrian
Marine Artillery conceived the idea of employing a small boat carrying a large
charge of explosives, powered by a steam or an air engine and remotely steered
by cables to be used against enemy ships. Upon his death, before he had
perfected his invention or made it public, the papers of this anonymous
officer came into the possession of Capt. Giovanni Luppis of the Austrian
Navy. Impressed with the potential of the idea, Luppis had a model of the
boat built which was powered by a spring-driven clockwork mechanism and
steered remotely by cables. Not satisfied with the device, in 1864 Luppis
turned to Robert Whitehead, an Englishman. Whitehead was then manager of
Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano, a factory in Fiume, Austria (now Rijeka,
Yugoslavia) on the Adriatic Sea. Whitehead was also impressed with the
potential of such a weapon and became determined to build an automatic torpedo
that could run at a given depth below the surface for a reasonable distance.
In October 1866, the first experimental model was ready. As designed by
Whitehead, the model was driven by a two-cylinder, reciprocating,
compressed-air engine, which gave the torpedo a speed of 6-1/2 knots for a
distance (range) of 200 yards. Compressed air for propulsion was stored in a
section of the torpedo known then, and still known now, as the air flask at a
pressure of 350 psi. Figure 3 shows the probable form of this torpedo.
Figure 3. Probable Form of Whitehead Torpedo (1868)
Austria, the first government to show interest in the invention, purchased
and conducted experiments with the torpedo during 1867-1869. As a result, in
1869 Austria purchased the manufacturing rights from Whitehead for an unknown
price, but permitted Whitehead to sell his torpedoes to other governments.
Contemporary Russian literature on torpedoes states that the first
self-propelled mine (torpedo) was developed by the Russian inventor I. F.
Aleksandrovskiy in 1865. In spite of successful tests of the Aleksandrovskiy
torpedo, the Russian Naval Ministry preferred to buy the torpedoes designed by
Whitehead which, it is claimed, were no better in quality or characteristics
than the Aleksandorovskiy torpedo.
THE WHITEHEAD TORPEDO IN THE WORLD MARKET
Whitehead offered his torpedoes for sale to the navies of the world. In
1868, he offered two models:
1. Length, 11 feet 7 inches; diameter, 14 inches; weight, 346 pounds;
explosive charge, 40 pounds guncotton.
2. Length 14 feet; diameter, 16 inches; weight 650 pounds; explosive
charge, 60 pounds guncotton.
Performance of the two models was about the same: 8-10 knots with a range
of 200 yards. The offering price of these torpedoes was $600 for the smaller
version and $1000 for the larger model.
The Royal Navy (U.K.) became interested in the Whitehead Torpedo following
a successful warshot demonstration in home waters in 1869 and received their
first delivery in 1870. In 1871, the Admiralty bought manufacturing rights,
and production was started at the Royal Laboratories at Woolrich, England.
Within a short time, the British were manufacturing their own version of the
Whitehead Torpedo which was known as the "Woolrich" or "Royal Laboratory"
The French, German, Italian, Russian, and Chinese Navies followed the
Royal Navy in the purchase of the Whitehead Torpedo and soon Whitehead was
exporting his torpedo around the world. By 1877, the Whitehead Torpedo was
attaining speeds of 18 mph for ranges of 2500 feet (830 yards) and/or 22 mph
for 600 feet (200 yards). Air flask pressure also had been increased to
approximately 1100 psi.
By 1880 nearly 1500 Whitehead Torpedoes had been sold to the following
Great Britain, 254, Germany, 203; France, 218; Austria, 100;
Italy, 70; Russia, 250; Argentina, 40; Belgium, 40; Denmark,
83; Greece, 70; Portugal, 50; Chile, 26; Norway, 26; and
Whitehead had achieved instant success with a novel weapon. The first
experimental torpedo worked well and was being mass produced for export within
four years: an enviable achievement for any new product development!
THE SCHWARTZKOPFF TORPEDO
In 1873, the firm of L. Schwartzkopff, later known as Berliner.
Maschineubau A. G. (Berlin Machine Building Stock Co.), began manufacturing
torpedoes based on the Whitehead design. Characteristics of the Schwartzkopff
Length - 14 feet 9 inches,|
Diameter - 14 inches,
Speed - 23-25 knots for 220 yards, 22-23 knots for 440 yards,
Weight - 616 pounds,|
Flask pressure - 1500 psi,
Explosive charge - 44 pounds guncotton.
Schwartzkopff was permitted to sell this torpedo to such countries as were
designated by the German government: Russia, Japan, and Spain. Since the
Schwartzkopff Torpedo was manufactured entirely of bronze rather than steel as
was the Whitehead, corrosion resistance was one of the main selling points of
U.S. NAVAL TORPEDO STATION, NEWPORT, R.I.
The U.S. Naval Torpedo Station (USNTS), Newport, R.I., was established in
1869 as a U.S. Navy experimental station for the development of torpedoes and
torpedo equipment, explosives, and electrical equipment. The first Commanding
Officer was LCDR E. O. Matthews, U.S.N. Located on Goat Island in Newport
Harbor, the torpedo station site had been used as a fort by the town, colony,
state, and finally the U.S. Government since its purchase in 1676 by the town
of Newport from Benedict Arnold (who had purchased it in 1658 from
Cachanaquoant, Chief Sachem of the Narragansett Bay Indians). The island was
deeded to the U.S. Government in 1799 by the town of Newport for $1500. The
name of the fort on Goat Island changed with the political winds and when
occupation began by the Torpedo Station, it was known as Fort Wolcott.
In 1869, the occupation of Goat Island by the Navy was authorized by the
Secretary of War. Initially, the Torpedo Station had three civilian employees
and the facilities consisted of the wooden buildings that had been erected and
then abandoned by the former occupants. Initial efforts were devoted to
stationary torpedoes (moored mines) and the spar torpedo (a boom-mounted
contact explosive charge).
THE U.S. NAVY FISH TORPEDO
Shortly after its establishment, the Torpedo Station at Newport was given
the task of building a "Fish" Torpedo, similar to the Whitehead Torpedo. The
Fish Torpedo was to be designed to meet two requirements:
1. To go underwater for a considerable distance at a fair rate of speed,
2. To make a straight course and maintain constant immersion, whether
started on the surface of the water or at any point below it.
A torpedo then was built which had the following characteristics:
Shape - Fusiform,|
Radius of the curves - 66 feet,
Diameter - 14 inches,
Length - 12-1/2 feet,
Total weight - 480 pounds,
Explosive - 70-90 pounds guncotton,|
Speed - 6-8 knots,
Range - 300-400 yards.
The torpedo had a two-cylinder reciprocating engine, operated by
compressed air, which drove a 1-foot-diameter, four-bladed propeller. A
hydrostatic depth control mechanism was also used. The first torpedo trial
was in 1871. The torpedo did run, but difficulty was encountered in obtaining
a water-tight hull and an air-tight air flask. Azimuth control was a problem
although the depth mechanism worked well. Figure 4 is an actual photograph of
the Fish Torpedo.
Figure 4. Newport's Auto-Mobile "Fish" Torpedo (1871)
Accounts indicate that an attempt was made to overcome the problems
encountered in the first test by modifying the torpedo. The modifications
consisted of a new air flask cast in one piece and a new engine.
The second version of the torpedo was given captive in-water trials
alongside the dock in 1872. It was estimated to have achieved a speed of
8-1/2 knots and would have run 4000 feet (1300 yards), which was comparable to
the Whitehead Torpedo of that time. A proposal for the Fish Torpedo was
submitted to the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) in 1874, but beyond that there is
no record of any further effort on the U.S. Navy Fish Torpedo.
THE TORPEDO TAKES A NEW SHAPE
Early torpedoes were fusiform or spindle shaped with no straight
cylindrical section between the nose and the tail as shown in figures 3 and
4. The shape was based on the premise that the long tapered nose would cut or
part the water, yielding better hydrodynamic performance.
In 1883, a committee was appointed in the United Kingdom to study various
aspects of torpedo design. A hydrodynamicist of that day, Dr. R. E. Froude,
stated that the blunt nose offered no speed disadvantage and would permit more
explosive to be carried.
Comparative tests were conducted by the committee using a Whitehead
Torpedo and a Royal Laboratories torpedo, each of which was fitted with both a
pointed and a blunt nose. The tests showed that the blunt nose offered a full
knot speed advantage over the pointed nose. This meant that more volume could
be devoted to carrying explosive and air for propulsion without sacrificing
speed performance. The volume gained was quite significant, bearing in mind
that the nose shape in question extended from the middle of the torpedo's
length to the tip of the nose. The ultimate in blunt nose design during this
period appeared about 1909 with the American hemispherical heads.
U.S. REACTION TO THE WHITEHEAD TORPEDO
In spite of the spectacular achievement of the Whitehead Torpedo, two
offers to sell the rights to the U.S. Navy, in 1869 for $75,000, and again in
1873 for $40,000, were not accepted. An employee of the Woolrich Laboratory
was also willing to turn over plans and specifications for the torpedo in
return for employment at the USNTS in Newport. Although the record indicates
that the Navy declined the sub-rosa offer, a set of plans was obtained and
turned over to Commodore Jeffers, then Chief of BuOrd. The plans were not
exploited, but were the subject of a lengthy exchange and quite probably legal
proceedings between Commodore Jeffers and Robert Lines, Whitehead's U.S.
agent, as reported in the press in the spring of 1881.
A summary reaction to the Whitehead Torpedo was that it "stirred naval
tacticians more profoundly than any weapon ever produced"2 by its tremendous
potential; but the Whitehead Torpedo seems to have inspired a contrary
reaction among U.S. Navy tacticians. A paper on "movable torpedoes" published
in 1873 states, "Our conclusion is that the Whitehead-Luppis Torpedo is not
adaptable to the combat of vessels on the high seas, but that it can be
advantageously employed in the defense of ports and the attack of vessels
surprised at anchor."3 The Navy consensus of the day was that the Whitehead
Torpedo was too delicate, too complex, and too "secret."
In fairness, it must be said that the Whitehead Torpedo also had other
critics. Defects of the Whitehead Torpedo as enumerated in an 1889 British
1. Inefficiency due to the small charge carried,
which is not sufficient to destroy the hulls of
vessels like modern ironclads that are divided into
numerous water-tight compartments.
2. Uncertainty as to Accuracy. - For, although a
vessel can generally be hit up to a range of 300
yards, this cannot be depended upon, the course of a
Whitehead occasionally being very erratic, especially
with over-water discharge from the broadside of a
vessel at speed. Moreover, during handling and
discharge, the fins, and rudders, and other gear
projecting from the body of the torpedo, are liable
to derangement. Inaccuracy as to submersion is also
encountered, due to imperfections in the design or
manufacture of the automatic controlling gear.
3. Expense. - The manufacturing cost of one
Whitehead being over 500 pounds, to which must be
added the share of price first paid for the patent,
and the cost of the discharging appliances.
4. Intricacy. - The torpedo containing a quantity of
highly finished and complicated machinery.
5. Difficulties in Manipulation. - Great
intelligence on the part of the personnel combined
with a long and careful training being essential.
6. Difficulties in Maintenance. - Constant attention
and care being required to keep the torpedoes and
their impulse arrangements clean and efficient.
7. Loss of Control after Discharge. - Which,
combined with the uncertainty as to accuracy already
mentioned, increases the difficulties attending the
employment of these torpedoes in fleet actions.
8. Motive Power Dangerous. - The highly compressed
air having sometimes burst the torpedo. Hostile shot
would increase this danger.
9. Space Occupied. - Especially when that of the
appurtenances are taken into consideration.
Not only are the above defects recognized by
many critics whose opinions are not to be despised,
but the torpedo boats specially built to carry the
Whitehead are now regarded with much less favor than
formerly, owing to the physical impossibility that
human beings can live on board when the boats are
required to keep the sea for any length of time.
Indeed, it appears that all Whitehead torpedo boats
that are too large to be hoisted on board a
man-of-war, and yet too small themselves to keep the
sea, must be relegated to harbour or river defense.4
It is not too surprising, then, that during this period (1870-1880) the
U.S. Navy chose to de-emphasize the "Fish" or "Auto-mobile" torpedo and
content itself with further development of the spar and towing torpedoes
primarily through the addition of electrical detonation features.
EARLY U.S.N. TORPEDO DEVELOPMENTS (1870-1915)
TORPEDO EXPERIMENTS IN THE U.S. (1870-1900)
Torpedo development in the United States during the period from 1870 to
1900 consisted of experimenting with many schemes. Chemical, electrical, and
rocket propulsion were attempted, and surprisingly, guidance and supplying of
power by means of a trailing wire was popular. The USNTS at Newport was the
site of many of the experiments and tests of the devices proposed by the
civilian and military inventors of the day.
This was the era of the "Lay," "Lay-Haight," "Ericsson," "Cunningham,"
"Sims-Edison," and "Barber" Torpedoes, to mention a few. An illustration and
brief description of major characteristics of these torpedoes follows. (See
figures 5 through 10.)
1. Lay Torpedo: A chemical torpedo propelled on the surface by a
reciprocating engine operated by superheated carbonic acid gas. Two cables
payed out from the torpedo to the controlling ship or station, controlled the
stop and start mechanism, and the steering engine (1872).
2. Barber Torpedo: A submarine torpedo propelled by a rocket charge
3. Ericsson Torpedo: A torpedo with a rectangular cross section,
propelled and steered by compressed air fed to it from a shore station through
a rubber hose coiled within torpedo and payed out as the torpedo moved ahead;
introduced concentric drive shafts (1873-1877).
4. Lay-Haight Torpedo: Three-cylinder, engine-propelled torpedo, using
carbonic acid expanded in external tanks warmed by sea water (1880).
Sulphuric acid and lime was used to increase speed (1883).
5. Sims-Edison Torpedo: A float-supported torpedo, electrically driven
from shore generator through a cable, controlled from shore by
battery-operated steering mechanism; detonated by contact or by operator
6. Cunningham Torpedo: Another rocket-propelled torpedo to be fired from
submerged tubes (1893-1894).
Figure 5. Lay Torpedo
Figure 6. Barber Torpedo
Figure 7. Ericsson Torpedo
Figure 8. Lay-Haight Torpedo
Figure 9. Sims-Edison Torpedo
Figure 10. Cunningham Torpedo
THE HOWELL TORPEDO
The first successful U.S. torpedo development began in 1870 and was
completed in 1889. Largely the work of LCDR J. A. Howell (later Rear Admiral,
U.S.N.) the Howell Torpedo was driven by a 132-pound flywheel spun to 10,000
revolutions per minute prior to launch by a steam turbine mounted on the
torpedo tube. Two variable pitch propellers on parallel shafts were driven
through bevel gearing from the flywheel. The diminishing speed of the
flywheel, in turn, was compensated for by propeller pitch to maintain a
constant torpedo speed. The rotating flywheel created a gyroscopic effect.
Deviations in azimuth were adjusted by a pendulum which sensed the heel of
torpedo when it deviated from its course and was coupled to the rudder. This
gave the torpedo good directional stability; however, the depth-keeping
characteristics were not good. Despite this, the Howell Torpedo was used in
service on U.S. battleships until 1898 when it was supplanted by the Whitehead
Torpedo. (The Howell Torpedo is shown in figure 11.)
Figure 11. Howell Torpedo
Although the Howell Torpedo did not create the reaction of the Whitehead
Torpedo, the following contemporary discussion is of interest.
The objection has been raised that this torpedo "does not lie
in a state of constant readiness, but has to be spun up" before it
is ready to launch, but it must be noted that when the wheel has
been spun up, very little power will keep it going, and therefore
the torpedo can be kept in the state of "ready" from the
commencement of an action until its termination, unless, in the
meantime, it be discharged.
Remembering the defects of the Whitehead Torpedo, which have
been enumerated, it will be found that most of them have been
overcome in the Howell Torpedo.
1. The inefficiency due to small charge carried has been met.
2. Also the uncertainty as to accuracy.
3. Also the great expense, for the Howell Torpedo and its
appurtenances are cheaper to manufacture.
4. Also, simplicity of detail is substituted for that intricacy
and delicacy of detail which in the Whitehead enlists our
astonishment and admiration.
5. As regards manipulation, comparative trials are required,
the advocates of the new arm being confident of the result.
6. The maintenance of the simpler apparatus must be less
troublesome and costly.
7. The new arm is evidently under better self-control after
8. The danger due to the existence under fire of a chamber full
of highly compressed air is absent.
9. And finally, the space occupied is less than with the
In short, it would appear that the Howell is superior on
nearly all points, and, on account of its humming sound, is
inferior only as an arm for a sneak boat, or for a vessel
attempting to run a blockade.
The torpedo has been officially tried in the United States,
and the Naval Board detailed to carry out these experiments has,
it is understood, reported very favourably on the invention.
If used for harbour defense these torpedoes might be placed
in shore batteries, and their simple fittings and accessories
would not be difficult to keep in order. But it would generally
be preferable to mount them on some floating body and moor it
under the shelter of the land or a fort in a convenient place for
aiding the defense. By these means, a foe would be kept in
ignorance of the position from which his vessels might be
torpedoed should they attempt to force a passage.4
THE WHITEHEAD TORPEDO JOINS THE U.S. NAVY
Around 1891, negotiations for torpedo manufacturing rights in the United
States began in earnest between the Whitehead Co. and the E. W. Bliss Co. of
Brooklyn, N.Y. Favorable terms were reached and in 1892, the U.S. Navy
contracted with the Bliss Co. for the manufacture of 100 Whitehead (3.55
meters by 45 centimeters) Mk 1 torpedoes at a price of $2000 each. Thus, some
26 years after the Whitehead Torpedo was introduced, U.S. experts finally got
around to this tacit admission of its worth. This concession was probably
inspired in part by a successful torpedo attack on 23 April 1891, against the
Chilean insurgent 3500-ton battleship BLANCO ENCALADA. This ship was sunk
while at anchor by a Whitehead Torpedo fired from a gun boat.
Between 1896 and 1904, the Bliss Co. manufactured approximately 300 more
Whitehead-developed units of five types for the U.S. Navy. The 3.55-meter
Whitehead Mk 1, Mk 2, and Mk 3 torpedoes were basically the same, differing
mainly in mechanical details. The Mk 1 and Mk 2 versions were also available
in the 5-meter length.
The performance of the two Whitehead Mk 1 torpedoes was the same, but the
5-meter Mk 1 used the Obry steering gear (gyro) invented by an Austrian,
Ludwig Obry, for azimuth control and had the largest warhead of any torpedo of
that time -- 220 pounds of wet guncotton.
In 1856, the French physicist, Leon Foucault, invented and built a
laboratory model of the gyroscope as it is known today. In 1894, Obry was
granted a patent for his gyro mechanism to control the torpedo in azimuth.
Other similar devices were being actively pursued at the same time. In
Germany, Schwartzkopff was using a device developed by Kaselowski of that
company and Robert Whitehead was experimenting with the Petrovich device,
developed by a Russian; both appear to have attained marginal results.
Overshadowing all, there was the Howell patent of 1871 in which the use of the
flywheel for directional control was a part. In 1898, Howell initiated legal
proceedings against Bliss, the Whitehead U.S. licensee, because of the use of
the Obry gear in Whitehead Torpedoes. However it was found that the Obry
device did not infringe on the Howell patent.
Initially, the gyro was used to keep the torpedo on a course as defined by
the axis of the launcher; this meant that the aiming of the torpedo had to be
accomplished by maneuvering the firing ship. The installation of trainable
torpedo tubes in 1893 improved the tactical flexibility. Finally, curved
fire, which used the gyro to control the torpedo on a preset course, was
adopted in U.S. Navy torpedoes about 1910. First installed in the Whitehead
Mk 5 torpedoes of U.S. manufacture and the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 2 torpedoes, it
was intended for use from fixed tube installations. Ultimately it was applied
to all straight-running torpedoes, and all torpedo tubes were provided with
gyro angle setting capability.
The two Whitehead Mk 2 torpedoes had different performance
characteristics; the 5-meter version had slightly better speed and nearly
double the range than that of the 3.55-meter version. In a significant
departure from the Mk 1, the 5-meter Mk 2 did not have a gyro for control in
The Whitehead Torpedo Mk 3 was developed and produced in the 3.55-meter
version only. The significant difference between the Mk 3 and the other
3.55-meter torpedoes was that it used the Obry steering gear (gyro) for
Initially, Whitehead torpedoes had used a reciprocating engine in which
the exhaust was expelled through a hole in the afterbody. This method of
exhaust, however, interfered with the torpedo steering. Peter Brotherhood, an
employee of the Royal Laboratories, Woolrich, England, developed a
reciprocating engine which exhausted into the crankcase and then the exhaust
was ducted out the tail of the torpedo through a hollow drive shaft.
The Brotherhood engine, along with contrarotating drive shafts developed
by another Woolrich employee, was adopted by Whitehead about 1880. These
innovations improved steering and eliminated the heel-and-roll tendency due to
a single propeller. A Mr. Rendel was granted a patent in 1871 for double
propeller propulsion, but whether he was the Woolrich employee referred to is
Ultimately, in order to free himself from the Brotherhood patents,
Whitehead redesigned the engine by changing the valves from the rotary slide
type to vertical poppets. (A U.S. Whitehead Torpedo is shown in figure 12.)
Whitehead engines were operated by compressed air and were classified as
"cold running" torpedoes. The advantage of hot gases for improving the
efficiency was evidently well understood, since unsuccessful attempts were
made to heat the air in the air flask by burning a spray of liquid fuel in the
air flask itself. These early attempts led to the use of an air heater or
"combustion pot" (also referred to as a "superheater") between the air flask
and the engine. Torpedoes with an air heater became known as "hot running,"
and those without, "cold running."
Figure 12. USS MORRIS (USTB 14) Launching Whitehead Torpedo
About 1901, the last model of the Whitehead torpedo to be used by the U.S.
Navy was introduced. A hot running torpedo, the Whitehead Mk 5 used an air
heater or combustion pot (with kerosene as a fuel) and a four-cylinder
reciprocating engine. The result of using heated air was remarkable. The
Whitehead Torpedo Mk 5 ran 4000 yards at 27 knots, an increase in range by a
factor of 5. In this model, provision was made for varying the speed and
range in three steps: 4000 yards at 27 knots; 2000 yards at 36 knots; 1000
yards at 40 knots. This was accomplished by physically changing the reducing
valve plug or varying its setting in the reducing valve, controlling the
pressure/flow of air and fuel to the combustion pot. The adjustment was made
prior to tube loading through an access hole provided in the torpedo hull.
THE SCHWARTZKOPFF TORPEDO PURCHASE
In 1898, 12 Schwartzkopff Torpedoes were purchased by the U.S. Navy, but
these torpedoes receive only passing mention in history. One of the European
nations that also purchased this type of torpedo was motivated by curiosity,
in view of Schwartzkopff claims and by the corrosion resistance offered by the
all-bronze construction. In the case of that nation, tests with the Whitehead
Torpedo demonstrated overall superiority over the Schwartzkopff version.
Although unsaid, the U.S. experience was probably the same since this was the
one and only purchase of Schwartzkopff Torpedoes by the U.S.
In 1904, Frank McDowell Leavitt, an engineer for the E. W. Bliss Co.,
developed a new torpedo, the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1. This torpedo was powered by
a single-stage, vertical (plane of rotation) turbine which also had a
combustion pot, and used alcohol as fuel to heat the air before entering the
The developmental model of the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 torpedo used an air
flask pressure of 1500 psi and ran cold with a speed of 30 knots for 1200
yards. With an air flask designed for 2200 psi and a "superheater," speeds of
35 knots for 1200 yards, 29-1/2 knots for 2000 yards, and 24-1/2 knots for
3000 yards were obtained. The production version of the Mk 1 with an air
flask pressure of 2250 psi and a superheater, ran at 27 knots for 4000 yards.
The Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 had one significant shortcoming. The single-stage
turbine drove a single propeller resulting in an unbalanced torque which
caused the torpedo to roll. This was corrected in subsequent Bliss-Leavitt
torpedoes by using a two-stage turbine driving contrarotating propellers.
Development of the two-stage, balanced turbine is credited to Lt. Gregory
Davison, U.S.N. The two-stage turbine was essentially the same power plant
used in all U.S. "steam" torpedoes through World War II, except for minor
engineering changes and for the change in the plane of rotation from vertical
With the introduction of the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 and the Whitehead Mk 5,
there were seven torpedoes which the U.S. Navy either had purchased or would
purchase for Fleet use. The torpedoes were:
1. Whitehead Mk 1 (3.55 meters x 45 centimeters),|
2. Whitehead Mk 1 (5 meters x 45 centimeters),
3. Whitehead Mk 2 (3.55 meters x 45 centimeters),
4. Whitehead Mk 2 (5 meters x 45 centimeters),
5. Whitehead Mk 3 (3.55 meters x 45 centimeters),
6. Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 (5 meters x 53 centimeters),
7. Whitehead Mk 5 (5.2 meters x 45 centimeters).
Except for the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 and the Whitehead Mk 5 torpedoes, both
of which had a device for azimuth control, all were "cold running."
Bliss-Leavitt continued development of the "hot-running" torpedo. The Mk 2
and Mk 3 were similar but had slight differences in performance; both did have
two-stage, contrarotating turbines which drove contrarotating propellers, thus
eliminating the roll tendency found in the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1.
The Bliss-Leavitt Torpedo Mk 4 was an 18-inch torpedo utilized in the
torpedo boats and submarines of the period around 1908.
There is no indication that there ever was a Bliss-Leavitt Mk 5 torpedo.
It should be noted, however, that mark numbers were assigned by BuOrd and were
not designations that were assigned by the developer/ manufacturer. The
absence of a mark number then does not indicate a lapse in an evolutionary
process, but merely a halt to the early practice of assigning the same mark
number to two devices differentiated only by the developer's name.
All of the early torpedoes employed a mechanical impact warhead detonating
mechanism. These devices used percussion caps to initiate the detonation of
the explosive train, and, where used, the primers (boosters) were dry
guncotton placed bare in the primer case (exploder cavity) prior to
installation of the mechanism. The detonating mechanisms were called "war
War Nose Mk 1 was designed and manufactured by the Whitehead Torpedo
Works, Weymouth, England, prior to 1900. The war nose was mounted in the
primer case (exploder cavity) in the forward end of the warhead, on the
longitudinal centerline of the torpedo. A firing pin capable of longitudinal
motion within the body of the war nose was held in place away from the
percussion cap by a shear pin made of tin. Upon impact with the target, the
shear pin would be cut and the firing pin would impact the percussion cap
initiating detonation of the explosive train.
To prevent accidental detonation during handling, war nose installation,
tube loading, etc., the war nose had a mechanical arming feature. A screw fan
(propeller) located on the forward end of the war nose (figure 13), had to be
rotated about 20 revolutions (equivalent to about 70 yards of torpedo travel
through the water) before the firing pin was free to move and impact the
Figure 13. War Nose Mk 1
War Nose Mk 1 weighed about 2-1/2 pounds, was 6 inches long and 2-1/2
inches in diameter. A very simple device, the war nose was sensitive only
when impact with the target was directly on the war nose along the torpedo
War Nose Mk 2 Mod 0 was slightly larger than the Mk 1. It weighed 4-1/2
pounds, was 6-1/2 inches long and 3 inches in diameter; the same detonator as
the Mk 1 was used, but a primer of dry guncotton was also used to insure
detonation of the warhead.
The main advantage of the Mk 2 war nose was that it had four levers
(whiskers) extending outward from the body casting which would, if struck,
cause the firing pin to impact the detonator. This war nose would cause
warhead detonation if struck with something less than a direct blow on the end
of the war nose. War Nose Mk 2 had the same safety features as did the Mk 1.
War Nose Mk 2 Mod 1 weighed 8 pounds, was 8 inches long, and 4 inches in
diameter. Identical to War Nose Mk 2 Mod 0 except for minor mechanical
details, the Mod 1 had longer whiskers and thus would fire on a more glancing
War Noses Mk 3 and Mk 4 never materialized beyond the experimental stage.
The Mk 3 was a Mk 2 Mod 1 version with longer whiskers. The Mk 4 was an
experimental model of the War Nose Mk 5 that followed the Mk 4 version.
War Nose Mk 5 was the first warhead detonating device designed to fire on
impact from any angle/direction. It was also the first to have a safety
device that kept the screw fan from turning while in a submerged tube. In
addition, the Mk 5 incorporated a multiple detonator system to eliminate
failures from this aspect. Designed for use with slow speed torpedoes, War
Nose Mk 5 was unsatisfactory when torpedo speeds approached 30 knots because
the releasing pin plate, which prevented the screw fan from turning prior to
torpedo launch, bound due to frictional forces. The Mk 5, which was about 11
inches long, 2 inches in diameter, and weighed about 5 pounds, employed a
complicated firing mechanism that downgraded its reliability.
The war noses already noted were designed and reportedly used in torpedoes
up until 1911. There is no indication that detonating devices subsequent to
the war noses were interchangeable with their earlier counterparts;
consequently, it may be reasonably assumed that war noses continued in use
until the torpedoes that utilized them were condemned around 1922.
During the period 1911-1915, the USNTS, Newport, R.I., developed Exploder
Mechanism Mk 1. (This was a change in nomenclature. With the war noses,
"exploders" was the nomenclature associated with what are now called
detonators.) Exploder Mk 1 had several mechanical defects and was replaced by
Exploder Mk 2; however, improvements to the Mk 2 brought about the Mk 3 before
manufacture of the Mk 2 was completed. Consequently, the first U.S. Navy
exploder mechanism was the Mk 3 "simple exploder."
It is interesting to note that the anticircular run (ACR) feature, now
incorporated in most torpedo course gyros, was initially a part of the
exploder mechanism. This device sterilized the exploder (prevented
detonation) if the torpedo turned 110 degrees from the original course. Like
modern ACR devices, it was operable only during the initial part of the run.
With much emphasis on devices that cause detonation of the warhead if the
torpedo passes under the target, approximately 20 different types of exploders
have been developed with varying degrees of success.
Guncotton (nitro-cellulose) was the universally used explosive for torpedo
warheads up to about 1912. At that time it was planned to use TNT
(Trinitrotoluol) for all future warheads. Indications are that the use of TNT
started around 1911 and was continued until the introduction of Torpex in
1930. Torpex was replaced by HBX in the 1940's, followed by H-6 in the
1960's. Torpex, HBX, and H-6 were all basically TNT with additives to
increase the explosive yield, or improve the stability/ reduce long-term
storage deterioration. PBX, the explosive currently in use, evolved in the
Consistent with its established purpose, much of the production effort in
the early days of the Torpedo Station at Newport was concentrated on
manufacturing main charge explosives and explosive components (primers and
The effort being applied to torpedoes, per se, was in component
development, ranging/acceptance of torpedoes manufactured by E. W. Bliss Co.,
coupled with experiments in launching torpedoes from the various platforms.
From the first, torpedo acceptance by the U.S. Navy was on the basis of
in-water performance. To facilitate torpedo launching experiments, the Navy's
prototype torpedo boat "USS STILLETTO" and the first of the new torpedo boat
class "USS CUSHING" (USTB 1) along with early submarines "USS HOLLAND," "USS
ADDER," and "USS MOCASSIN" were among the ships assigned to the USNTS,
Newport, for this purpose.
Emphasis in the efforts of the USNTS was soon to change. Early in 1907,
explosive main charge manufacturing and all equipment for that purpose were
transferred to Indian Head, Md.
THE U.S. NAVY TORPEDO FACTORY
About 1906, Admiral N. E. Mason, then Chief of BuOrd, requested an
appropriation of $500,000 from Congress of which $150,000 was for the purpose
of establishing a U.S. Navy Torpedo Factory at Newport, R.I. He was apparently
successful, for construction of the factory began on July 1, 1907, and in
1908, the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport (the torpedo factory) received an
order for 20 Whitehead Mk 5 torpedoes.
In the light of establishing a competitor to E. W. Bliss Co., who had
enjoyed a virtual monopoly in supplying torpedoes to the U.S. Navy, the
climate was probably more favorable for dealing with Whitehead rather than
Bliss for manufacturing rights, tooling, etc. At the same time, an order for
additional Whitehead Mk 5 torpedoes was placed with Vickers Ltd., in England,
perhaps an indication of a strained relationship between the U.S. Navy and the
Bliss staged a comeback with the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 6 torpedo in 1911 which
used horizontal turbines (spin axis at right angles to the longitudinal
centerline). An 18-inch diameter torpedo intended for above-water launching,
this weapon could obtain a speed of 35 knots but a range of only 2000 yards.
THE "STEAM" TORPEDO
The Bliss-Leavitt Mk 7 torpedo was the next significant step forward in
technology. A water spray was introduced into the combustion pot along with
the fuel spray and the "steam" torpedo came into being.
Torpedo Mk 7, with a range of 6000 yards at 35 knots, was introduced into
the Fleet about 1912 and was in use for 33 years up to and including World War
II when it was used in reactivated World War I destroyers (with 18-inch
In the "steam" torpedo, air, fuel, and water are simultaneously fed into
the combustion pot. The fuel burns and the water reduces the temperature of
the gases produced by combustion. The water turns into steam, thus increasing
the mass of the gas. The gases generated by combustion and the steam provide
the motive power to the engine. Although only a fraction of the gases is
steam, the term "steam" torpedo has been generally used throughout the years
Figure 14. Typical Hot Gas Generator System of Steam Torpedo
TORPEDO DESIGNATIONS OF 1913
By 1913, the U.S. Navy inventory of torpedoes included both "hot" and
"cold" running Whitehead and Bliss-Leavitt design torpedoes, with some
identified by the same Mark. Consequently, new designations were formulated
as shown in tables 1 and 2.
Table 1. Cold Serviceable Torpedoes
Table 2. Hot Serviceable Torpedoes
|Type A||Mk 3||Whitehead||140 inches x 17.7 inches|
|Type B||Mk 1 (5-meter)||Whitehead||187 inches x 17.7 inches|
|Type C||Mk 2 (5-meter)||Whitehead||197 inches x 17.7 inches|
|Mk 1 Mod 1||Mk 1||Bliss-Leavitt||197 inches x 21 inches|
|Mk 2||Mk 2||Bliss-Leavitt||197 inches x 21 inches|
|Mk 3||Mk 3||Bliss-Leavitt||197 inches x 21 inches|
|Mk 4||Mk 4||Bliss-Leavitt||197 inches x 17.7 inches|
|Mk 5||Mk 5||Whitehead||197 inches x 17.7 inches|
|Mk 6||Mk 6||Bliss-Leavitt||204 inches x 17.7 inches|
|Mk 7||Mk 7||Bliss-Leavitt||204 inches x 17.7 inches|
|Mk 8||Mk 8||Bliss-Leavitt||256.3 inches x 21 inches|
All other torpedoes in the inventory (i.e., Howell, Whitehead Mk 1, and
Whitehead Mk 2 (3.55-meter versions) and the Whitehead and Schwartzkopff
torpedoes of foreign manufacture that were purchased or captured during the
Spanish-American War) were condemned against further service use.
THE TORPEDO BOAT
The use of the torpedo as an offensive weapon gave rise to the need for
developing a delivery platform, the torpedo boat. The U.S. Navy's prototype
of the torpedo boat, the "USS STILLETTO," was built as an unarmed steam yacht
by Herreshoff in Bristol, R.I., and introduced into the Navy in 1887. It was
assigned to the Torpedo Station in Newport for torpedo experiments and
designated Wooden Torpedo Boat (WTB 1).
In 1890, the USS CUSHING (TB 1), the first of the U.S. Navy's new class of
torpedo boats, was commissioned and assigned to Newport. Torpedo boats of the
CUSHING class were 140 feet long, displaced 116 tons, had a top speed of 23
knots, and were equipped with two or three 18-inch torpedo tubes. In 1893,
the fixed torpedo tubes in USS CUSHING were replaced with trainable torpedo
tubes (a design attributed to Lt. F. F. Fletcher, U.S.N.) which increased her
tactical flexibility. Each year larger and faster torpedo boats were
developed. In 1895, Japanese torpedo boats attacked the Chinese fleet at
anchor with a loss to the Chinese of 14,000 tons. This action appears to have
been a major factor in development of the torpedo boat countermeasure - the
torpedo boat destroyer.
THE TORPEDO BOAT DESTROYER
The USS BAINBRIDGE (DD 1), launched in 1901, was the first U.S. Navy
torpedo boat destroyer. (In a few years, ships of this type became known
simply as destroyers.) The BAINBRIDGE displaced 420 tons, had a maximum speed
of 29 knots, and was armed with 3-inch guns and two 18-inch torpedo tubes.
These destroyers of torpedo boats were, in fact, torpedo boats as well.
Shortly before the first World War in 1913, the DUNCAN class, 1020 tons, came
into being; they were equipped with 18-inch, double- or triple-mount torpedo
tubes firing the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 6 and Mk 7 torpedoes. Beginning with the
USS CALDWELL (DD 69) in 1917, the raised forecastle gave way to flush decks,
displacement increased to 1200 tons, and speed increased to 32 to 35 knots.
Of far reaching significance, the advent of the DD 69 also introduced the
standard 21-inch surface torpedo tube. With tubes installed in triple mounts,
four mounts per ship (12 tubes in all), these ships fired the Bliss-Leavitt Mk
8, the U.S. Navy's first 21-inch by 21-foot torpedo, with a range of 16,000
yards at a speed of 27 knots.
In 1900, the U.S. Navy's first submarine, USS HOLLAND (SS-1), came to
Newport for demonstration and test. In 1901, while carrying three Whitehead
Mk 2 torpedoes, the HOLLAND was exercised with a Navy crew from the Torpedo
Station. Lt. Harry H. Caldwell, who is believed to be the U.S. Navy's first
submarine officer, was in command. In exercises off the coast of Newport, the
HOLLAND closed to within torpedo firing range of the USS KEARSARGE (BB 5)
without being detected.
The HOLLAND was followed by other U.S. Navy submarines in tests and
experiments at Newport. These early "A" type submarines such as the USS ADDER
and USS MOCASSIN were equipped with one bow-mounted, 18-inch torpedo tube.
During the submarine's days of infancy, later classes had two or four 18-inch
torpedo tubes installed and carried a total complement of four to eight
torpedoes on board. The exception was the G-3 which had six 18-inch torpedo
tubes installed and carried a total complement of ten torpedoes. The ultimate
torpedo for these early submarines was the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 7.
Like the surface Navy, submarines were standardized with 21-inch torpedo
tubes beginning in 1918 with the "R" class. Submarines equipped with the
21-inch torpedo tubes used Torpedo Mk 10, which had the heaviest warhead of
any torpedo up to that time, 500 pounds, with a speed of 36 knots, but a range
of only 3500 yards. This torpedo was a development of the USNTS, Newport,
with the assistance of the E. W. Bliss Co.
Bliss-Leavitt Torpedo Mk 9 was developed about the same time as Torpedo Mk
10 (1915). It was intended to replace Bliss-Leavitt Mk 3-type torpedoes in
battleships. When use of torpedoes in battleships was discontinued in 1922,
the Mk 9 was converted for submarine use and was used in the early days of
World War II to supplement the limited stock of Mk 14's.
The last of the Bliss-Leavitt torpedoes, the Mk 9 appears to have been a
misfit in the evolutionary process. It was slow, had a short range for a
surface ship torpedo, carried a small explosive charge and air flask pressure
was reduced to 2000 psi from 2500-2800 psi. There was apparently some effort
to improve Mk 9 capability, for in follow-on mods, its speed was unchanged and
range in some cases reduced, while the explosive charge was increased to
around 400 pounds and air flask pressure was increased to 2800 psi (indicating
use of a new air flask).
WORLD WAR I AND THE AFTERMATH (1915-1929)
WORLD WAR I
During this time period, the U.S. entered World War I. By the spring of
1917, the German U-boat menace had become so great that it overshadowed all
other enemy threats. Torpedo research and development was practically
discontinued in favor of the development of depth bombs, aero bombs, and
mines, which were the antisubmarine warfare weapons of that era. The
resources of the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport were redirected to this end
and played an important role in wartime development, particularly in the
development of the U.S. depth bomb which supplanted the British design.
The use of the torpedo by the U.S. Navy and the Allies in World War I was
a negligible factor (specific data are not available); on the other hand,
German submarines are credited with sinking 5,408 ships for a total of
U.S. NAVY ELECTRIC TORPEDO DEVELOPMENT
Development of an electric torpedo started around July 1915, with the
Sperry Gyroscope Company of Brooklyn, N. Y. The characteristics were as
Range - 3800 yards,|
Speed - 25 knots,
Diameter - 7-1/4 inches,
Length - 72 inches (without explosive charge),
Weight - 90 pounds (without explosive charge).
The propulsion motor of the proposed electric torpedo was to act as a
gyroscope to stabilize the torpedo in azimuth, as in the old Howell Torpedo.
This development was terminated in 1918 with no torpedoes having been produced.
Navy interest in the development of an electric torpedo, prompted by the
successful development of one during World War I in Germany, continued after
termination of the Sperry contract. Navy in-house development of an electric
torpedo of conventional size continued at the Navy Experiment Station, New
London, Conn. This design was designated the Type EL, then the Mk 1.
In 1919, the Navy Experiment Station was closed as an economy measure, and
the development of the Mk 1 was assigned to the USNTS, Newport. Development
continued sporadically over the next 25 years on the Mk 1 and Mk 2 electric
torpedoes culminating finally with the Mk 20.
AFTER THE WAR WAS OVER
World-wide reduction in naval armament during the 1920's resulted in a
wave of reduced expenditures for military purposes. Appropriations for
torpedo research and development were small, with an allocation of
approximately $30,000 per year for the Torpedo Station at Newport during this
In the same wave of economy, development and manufacture of torpedoes for
the U.S. Navy at the E. W. Bliss Co. was terminated in the early 1920's, upon
completion of the Torpedo Mk 9 project. Disputes over patent rights, and also
the fact that the USNTS, Newport, with 15 years of experience in torpedo
manufacture was considered capable of providing for the Navy's needs, were
cited as factors influencing termination of work with the Bliss Co. Economy
seems to have been the primary motivation, for at the same time, torpedo
manufacturing activities at the Washington Navy Yard and the Naval Torpedo
Station in Alexandria, Va., were halted. The Newport Torpedo Station became
the headquarters for torpedo research, development, design, manufacture,
overhaul, and ranging.
In 1922, in a move to reduce maintenance costs, all torpedoes of design
prior to the Bliss-Leavitt Torpedo Mk 7 were condemned (withdrawn from service
and probably scrapped) in favor of more modern torpedoes. With this move, the
U.S. Navy inventory of torpedo types then consisted of four models:
1. Torpedo Mk 7 - used by destroyers and submarines with 18-inch
2. Torpedo Mk 8 - used by destroyers with 21-inch tubes,
3. Torpedo Mk 9.- converted for use with 21-inch submarine tubes,
4. Torpedo Mk 10 - used by submarines with 21-inch tubes.
In the mid-1920's, manufacturing efforts were minimal, and the efforts
were mainly concerned with improving the existing torpedo inventory.
Development of Torpedo Mk 11, which was started at the Washington Navy Yard,
was completed by the Torpedo Station at Newport in 1926. This torpedo, which
was intended for use by destroyers and cruisers, had multirange/speed
selection: 6000 yards at 46 knots, 10,000 yards at 34 knots, or 15,000 yards
at 27 knots. (Cruiser use of torpedoes was discontinued in 1936.) Production
of Torpedo Mk 11 started in 1927; however, in 1928, the Mk 11 was succeeded by
the Mk 12, which was similar but refined in many details. About 200 Mk 12's
The 1930's were the development/production years for Torpedoes Mk 13
(aircraft), Mk 14 (submarine), and Mk 15 (destroyer), which constituted the
U.S. "modern" torpedo inventory at the start of World War II.
PRE-WORLD WAR II ERA (1930-1939)
DEVELOPMENT OF THE AIRCRAFT TORPEDO MK 13
The development of the aircraft torpedo covered a time span of about 25
years. It involved two Navy Bureaus - Ordnance and Aeronautics (the latter
due to the necessity of parallel development of a satisfactory torpedo plane).
The first experimental air drops were made in May 1920 at the Naval Air
Station, Anacostia, Md., using two Torpedoes Mk 7 Mod 5. Air speed for these
drops is believed to have been 50 to 55 knots at altitudes of 18 and 30 feet.
It was found that the torpedo dropped from 30 feet was badly damaged while the
one dropped from 18 feet was not.
The prime mover in the early days of Naval aviation, particularly with
respect to the use of the torpedo as an aircraft strike weapon, was Rear Adm.
Bradley A. Fiske, U.S.N. He was granted a patent for the torpedo plane in
1912. Included in his patent were proposed methods for the tactical use of
the aircraft torpedo, which were used by the U.S. Navy for many years.
A degree of the interest in the aircraft torpedo is evidenced by the fact
that an Aviation Unit for the Newport Torpedo Station was established at Gould
Island, R.I., in 1921. It was at this facility that the bulk of the testing
that ultimately resulted in the aircraft torpedo was accomplished.
In the beginning, efforts were directed towards modification/adaptation of
existing torpedoes for aircraft application. By 1924, Torpedoes Mk 7 were
being launched successfully from DT 2 torpedo planes at air speed of 95 knots
from an altitude of 32 feet. An air-dropped Mk 7 is shown in figure 15.
In February 1925, BuOrd initiated "Project G-6" to develop a torpedo
specifically for aircraft launching with the following specifications:
Weight (warshot) - 2000 pounds,|
Warhead charge - 350 pounds,
Minimum range - 4000 yards,
Minimum speed - 35 knots,
Diameter - 21 inches,
Length - not to exceed 18 feet.
The torpedo was also to withstand launching speed of 140 mph from an
altitude of at least 40 feet.
In 1926, Project G-6 was discontinued in favor of adapting existing
18-inch torpedoes. The moratorium was short-lived and Project G-6 was revived
in 1927 upon the urging of the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. The intent
was to develop a torpedo designed to meet aircraft requirements, in order that
production could be started before the existing stock of 18-inch torpedoes was
After a period of vacillation, specifications were revised in 1929. The
torpedo was to be capable of launch at 100 knots (ground speed) from an
altitude of 50 feet. Other specifications included:
Range - 7000 yards,|
Speed - 30 knots/minimum,
Weight (warshot) - 1700 pounds,
Warhead charge - 400 pounds,
Diameter - 23 inches,
Length - 13 feet 6 inches (maximum).
The design that evolved from these specifications was the 13-foot, 6-inch
by 22.5-inch torpedo which was designated the Mk 13 in August 1930. Work on
Project G-6 was again halted from October 1930 to July 1931 due to the
elimination of the torpedo squadron from the Carrier Air Group planned for the
USS RANGER (CV 4).
In March 1933, the question of whether or not there would be a torpedo
plane was aired. The question not only arose out of the undesirable features
of the plane (T4M/TG) then in use (poor performance, poor capability
Figure 15. Aircraft-Dropped Torpedo Mk 7
for self-defense, large size, and high cost of operation and maintenance) but
also because of poor torpedo performance. These two factors tended to result
in tactical ineffectiveness and large losses of material.
The Bureau of Aeronautics, in essence, withdrew support for the Mk 13 type
torpedo, favoring instead the development of a 1000-pound torpedo for use from
bombing aircraft with these specifications: (1) capable of launching at 125
knots from an altitude of 50 feet; (2) range, 2000 yards; and (3) speed, 30
At the time, BuOrd considered that the development of the 1000-pound
torpedo was practically impossible within the state of the art and continued
with the development of the Mk 13. This development was given greater impetus
by the outbreak of World War II in September of 1939. Torpedo Mk 13 was
available, although in limited numbers, when the United States entered the war
in 1941. Aircraft employed were the Douglas Devastator (TBD, circa 1937) and,
later, the Grumman/General Motors Avenger (TBF and/or TBM, both circa 1941).
DEVELOPMENT OF THE SUBMARINE TORPEDO MK 14
The submarine torpedo inventory of 1930 consisted of Torpedo Mk 7 (18-inch
tubes), Torpedo Mk 9 (converted from battleship torpedoes), and Torpedo Mk 10
(developed about 1915). The development of the Torpedo Mk 14 during the
decade following provided a 21-inch modern steam torpedo with a
two-speed/range capability and a large warhead.
With Mk 14 development completed and production started prior to the start
of the second World War, approximately 13,000 torpedoes of this type were
manufactured during the war years. The mainstay of the submarine force in the
war until the advent of the wakeless, electric Torpedo Mk 18 about 1944, the
Mk 14 is credited with sinking approximately 4,000,000 tons of Japanese
Originally designed and produced for mechanical fire control setting,
Torpedo Mk 14 was modified to be compatible with modern electrical-set fire
control systems, and continues in service in today's submarine forces.
Wartime service demands for more torpedoes and scarcity of materials in
1943 led to development and manufacture of Torpedo Mk 23, a short-range,
high-speed torpedo (4500 yards at 46 knots). Identical to the Mk 14 without
the low-speed feature, this torpedo was not favored by the operating forces
since the multispeed option of the Mk 14 permitted greater tactical
flexibility, especially during the latter stages of World War II, when more
sophisticated escorts and ASW tactics forced firing from longer ranges.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE DESTROYER TORPEDO MK 15
In the years between the World Wars, destroyer construction ceased with
the commissioning of the last of 273 flush-decked, four stackers in 1922. No
new destroyers were commissioned in the years between 1922 and 1934.
The USS FARRAGUT (DD 348), commissioned in 1934, embodied many innovations
such as welded hull construction, a high-pressure, steam power plant, improved
gun and torpedo fire control systems; and a 5-inch/38-caliber dual-purpose gun
to replace the old 4-inch one. The modern destroyer of this and later classes
was equipped with multiple-mount, 21-inch torpedo tubes.
The limited inventory of destroyer Torpedoes Mk 11 and Mk 12 developed and
produced during the economy years (1920's), coupled with limited warhead size
(500 pounds), were factors leading to the development of Torpedo Mk 15 in
1931. With speed and range similar to its predecessors, it was longer and
heavier due to the increase in the size of the warhead from 500 to 825
pounds. Development of the Mk 15 was completed prior to the start of World
War II. Production started and continued during the war years to the extent
that approximately 9700 Torpedoes Mk 15 were manufactured.
Decisively used on occasion during the war in the Pacific, the Mk 15 died
a natural death when the 21-inch torpedo tubes were removed from destroyers
during the Fleet rehabilitation and modernization program of the 1950's, to
make way for ASW weaponry consistent with the emerging role of the destroyer
as an ASW platform.
WORLD WAR II ERA (1939-1950)
NATIONAL DEFENSE RESEARCH COMMITTEE
In June 1940, President Roosevelt appointed a group of eminent civilian
scientists to be members of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC).
Dr. James B. Conat, President of Harvard University, was appointed chairman.
Others named were Dr. Karl Compton, President of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (M.I.T.) and Dr. Frank B. Jewett, President of the National
Academy of Science. It was established as a unit of the Office of Scientific
Research and Development (OSRD), which was headed by Dr. Vannevar Bush,
President of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. The main objectives
of NDRC were to: (1) recommend to OSRD suitable projects and research
programs on the instrumentalities of war, and (2) initiate research projects
on request of the U.S. Army and Navy or allied counterparts. NDRC, as finally
constituted, consisted of 23 divisions, each specializing in a particular
Division 6 (Sub-Surface Warfare, headed by Dr. John T. Tate) was the group
tasked with the torpedo research and development role. The division's first
objective was "the most complete investigation possible of all the factors and
phenomena involved in the accurate detection of submerged or partially
submerged submarines and in anti-submarine devices."5 Through the
systematic study of all phases of underwater acoustics, the ground work was
laid to permit engineering development and deployment of the acoustic homing
torpedo during World War II.
THE ELECTRIC TORPEDO MK 18
Capture of the German submarine U 570 in 1941, gave the United States a
German G7e electric torpedo (in January 1942), which led to the development of
Torpedo Mk 18 by Westinghouse Electric Company at its Sharon, Pa., facility.
Within 15 weeks, the first prototype was delivered. Six months from the date
of contract award, the first six production units were delivered. Torpedo Mk
18 is credited with having sunk 1,000,000 tons of Japanese shipping during
World War II. In addition to being wakeless, electric torpedoes such as the
Mk 18 required only about 70 percent of the labor required to manufacture a
torpedo with thermal propulsion.
The electric torpedo differed from its predecessors in that the air flask
was replaced by a battery compartment which housed the energy source
(batteries). The engine and its accessories were replaced by an electric
motor, and with electrical power available, electric controls were generally
used. In the Mk 18, the climate of war urgency dictated the use of tried and
proven pneumatic controls, with the high-pressure air stored in air bottles in
The electric torpedoes used in World War II utilized lead-acid secondary
batteries as a power source. These batteries required periodic maintenance,
(i.e., checking specific gravity of electrolyte, addition of electrolyte and
One of the main problems with use of the submarine torpedoes was that
battery maintenance had to be performed in the torpedo room while on patrol.
On the other hand, the aircraft torpedo was returned to a base, carrier, or
tender if not launched, and could be broken down to perform the necessary
battery maintenance. To facilitate maintenance, the battery compartments of
submarine torpedoes were provided with handholes which permitted access to the
batteries and provided a means of purging the compartment of hydrogen which
was formed during the changing process or simply by the self discharge of the
cells while standing idle.
PASSIVE ACOUSTIC HOMING TORPEDO DEVELOPMENT
In 1943, it became known in the technical community that the Germans were
using a torpedo called the German Naval Acoustic Torpedo (GNAT) with terminal
homing, a torpedo that guided itself to contact with the target by the noise
generated by the ship's propellers (cavitation). German development of the
GNAT had been known in the U.S. Intelligence community, and in 1940, the NDRC
sponsored a project to develop an acoustic homing torpedo. The project was
headed by Western Electric; the homing system effort was centered at the Bell
Telephone Laboratories and the Harvard Underwater Sound Laboratory.
Engineering development of the torpedo, Mine Mk 24 (mine being a misnomer for
security reasons), was assigned to Western Electric Co., Kearney, N.J. and the
General Electric (G.E.) Engineering and Consulting Laboratories, Schenectady,
N.Y. Following successful evaluation of the prototypes, production was
started in 1942 Western Electric Co., Kearney, N.J. and at the G.E. Co., Erie
Works, and later at the G.E. Co., Philadelphia, Pa. Approximately 10,000 units
were ordered, but the order was reduced due to the high effectiveness of the
weapon. (The Mine Mk 24 was also known by the code name "Fido".)
The Mine Mk 30, again a misnomer, was developed by the Brush Development
Co., Cleveland, Ohio, concurrent with the Mine Mk 24 because of apprehension
regarding the acoustic steering of the Mine Mk 24.
The Mine Mk 30 was unique in that it was only 10 inches in diameter and
weighed only 265 pounds including a 50-pound warhead. It was nearly identical
to Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 1 which was to follow a decade later except that the Mine
Mk 30 employed passive acoustic bearing system rather than the active
acoustic homing system of the Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 1.
Development was successfully completed in 1943, but was not produced since
Mine Mk 24 had demonstrated satisfactory performance late in 1942.
After making its debut in July 1943 with the sinking of the U 160 in the
Atlantic, about 340 Mines Mk 24 (figure 16) were launched by the Allied forces
in World War II. Two hundred-four of these were against submarine targets
with the following results:
1. Number of attacks on U-boats - 204,
2. Number of U-boats sunk - 37 (18 percent),
3. Number of U-boats damaged - 18 (9 percent).
The U.S. forces, with a better opportunity for adequate training in the
use of the mine, achieved the following results from 142 attacks on U-boats:
1. Number of U-boats sunk - 31 (22 percent),
2. Number of U-boats damaged - 15 (10 percent).
Figure 16. Mine Mk 24
A comparison of the effectiveness of Mine Mk 24 with aircraft-launched
depth charges indicate that when depth charges were used, 9.5 percent of the
U-boats attacked were sunk, but when Mine Mk 24 was used, 22 percent were sunk.
In approximately the same time frame, engineering development was started
at Western Electric on an electric anti-escort torpedo. Torpedo Mk 27 Mod 0,
or "Cutie," was the adaptation of Mine Mk 24 for submarine use, and saw
service starting late 1944/early 1945 in the Pacific theater.
About 106 Torpedoes Mk 27 Mod 0 were fired during World War II, with 33
hits (31 percent) resulting in 24 ships sunk and 9 ships damaged. Based on an
analysis of salvo firing of nonhoming torpedoes against escort-type ships, a
single Torpedo Mk 27 achieved the same results against escorts as a salvo of
the larger nonhoming torpedoes.
In the departure from the practice of the time for the purpose of
obtaining a quiet launching, Torpedo Mk 27 was started while still in the
torpedo tube and swam out under its own power, requiring 8 to 10 seconds to
clear the tube. The noisy ejection of the conventional torpedo was thus
With successful application of the passive homing feature to "mission
kill" or crippling weapons characterized by small warheads, application to
large antisurface ship weapons logically followed, thus, the development of
Torpedo Mk 28 by Westinghouse Electric Corp., Sharon, Pa., in the later World
War II years. The Mk 28 was a full-size (21-inch diameter by 21-foot length),
electrically-propelled submarine torpedo, with a speed of 20 knots and a range
of approximately 4000 yards. This torpedo was also gyro-controlled on a
preset course for the first 1000 yards, at which point the acoustic homing
system was activated. The explosive charge was also increased to
approximately 600 pounds.
About 14 Torpedoes Mk 28 were fired during World War II resulting in four
hits. Since this torpedo was made available late in the war without adequate
training in its tactical use, the number of hits was not as large as
expected. The tendency to regard the acoustic homing torpedo as a device that
could correct for any kind of fire control error was a factor in its low
success rate. Nevertheless, the Mk 28 demonstrated that it was possible to
successfully include acoustic homing in a full-size, submarine-launched
ACTIVE ACOUSTIC HOMING TORPEDO DEVELOPMENT
The acoustic weapons developed and deployed during World War II were
passive; they listened for a sound and then indiscriminately attacked the
source. This technique, while far more effective than any preceding it, had
limitations against a ship at slow speed, a submarine running deep, a
submarine sitting on the bottom, or a ship employing countermeasures such as a
stream of bubbles or a noisemaker.
Investigation of the use of echo-ranging equipment or an "active" homing
torpedo system was initiated under the auspices of NDRC in 1941 at the G.E.
Co. Research Laboratory, Schenectady, N.Y. Active homing differs from passive
homing in that, with active homing, the torpedo steers on the basis of the
signal returned by the target through reflection of the torpedo's own
transmitted signal. In mid-1942, G.E. began development of the first active
homing torpedo, Torpedo Mk 32, which was physically similar to Mine Mk 24
Figure 17. Torpedo Mk 32
By mid-1944, the program had progressed through the successful prototype
stage, and due to the saturation of G.E. production facilities with other
contracts, Leeds and Northrup of Philadelphia, Pa., was selected as supplier.
About ten units were completed when World War II ended, and the project was
deactivated until 1951 when Torpedo Mk 32 Mod 2 was produced in quantity by
the Philco Corp. of Philadelphia, Pa. Originally intended as an
aircraft-launched torpedo, the Mk 32 Mod 2 finally saw service use as a
destroyer-launched ASW torpedo until replaced by Torpedo Mk 43.
DEVELOPMENT OF CHEMICAL TORPEDOES MK 16 AND MK 17
Although the chemical torpedo came into being during World War II, basic
research which ultimately led to the "chemical" torpedo started about 1915 at
Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. (WECO), Sharon, Pa., under the
direction of A. T. Kasley. Early experiments resulted in issuance of two
patents to Mr. Kasley, assigned to BuOrd, covering the employment of liquid,
solid, and gaseous fuels for the purpose of sustaining exothermic
(heat-producing) reactions for the propulsion of torpedoes. The cost of the
early experiments was borne by WECO, but later (about 1920) it was put on a
contractural basis and continued until late 1926.
At that time, the project was transferred to Naval Research Laboratory
(NRL), Washington, D.C. In August 1927, NRL recommended that the WECO
approach be abandoned and proposed that increased output of torpedo power
plants be achieved by development of an "oxygen" torpedo (use of oxygen in
place of air for combustion).
In 1929, the development of an oxygen torpedo was authorized. By 1931,
successful dynamometer tank tests had been completed. The torpedo was then
run on the range at USNTS, Newport, when control and propulsion problems were
encountered. If the oxygen torpedo was to become a reality, attention had to
be focused on supplying oxygen to ships. This was done with limited success.
After an initial flurry of activity, the Navy Department lost interest in
the oxygen torpedo but maintained an interest in the development of some kind
of chemical torpedo, since it offered promise of tripling the energy output
over the steam torpedo with greater flexibility in range, speed, and warhead
From 1929 on, NRL studied various chemical sources of energy for
torpedoes. In 1934, "Navol" (concentrated hydrogen peroxide H2O2) was
selected as the proper medium. In 1937, experimentation started with Torpedo
Mk 10 as a vehicle using a Navol power plant. In September 1937, this torpedo
was brought to USNTS, Newport, for dynamometer tank tests and ranging. The
use of Navol increased the range of the standard Torpedo Mk 10 by 275 percent
(from 3500 yards to approximately 9500 yards). This demonstration convinced
BuOrd that serious consideration should be given to the use of Navol in
NRL was then tasked to apply the principle to Torpedo Mk 14. After a
number of successful dynamometer tank runs, the torpedo was run on the range
where it made a run of 16,500 yards at 46 knots (standard Mk 14 performance
was 4500 yards at 46 knots). At this time (about 1940), manufacture of six
torpedoes of this type was begun at USNTS, Newport.
In July 1940, an NRL representative was transferred to Newport on a
full-time basis, and the Torpedo Station was authorized to start development
of a destroyer-launched, 50-knot torpedo with a range of 16,000 yards and a
600-pound warhead. The end objective was to manufacture 50 torpedoes to be
designated as the Mk 17.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, pressure to produce Torpedo Mk 13 and
Torpedo Mk 14 to satisfy immediate Fleet needs was so great that BuOrd
postponed the planned manufacture of the Mk 17 even though committed as
armament for new construction destroyers.
The program was dormant until 1943 when it was determined that there was
not enough Navol production capability available to satisfy the Navy need if
the Navol torpedo was to become a reality. After a long delay, construction
was started on a Navol production facility at Dresden, N.Y., in the fall of
In response to a request from BuOrd, Columbia University, Division of War
Research, Special Studies Group, established a laboratory at M.I.T. The main
objectives were to increase the efficiency of Navol through studies of its
decomposition and combustion, to learn how best to handle it, and optimize the
torpedo power plant for its use. The laboratory, established with $250,000
from the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), was in full
operation by August, 1945.
In 1943, BuOrd initiated development of Torpedo Mk 16 at USNTS, Newport.
A 46-knot, 7000-yard range submarine torpedo, the Mk 16 was to be the same
weight and envelope as Torpedo Mk 14. In 1944, the range specification was
changed to 11,000 yards and the new torpedo was designated Torpedo Mk 16 Mod 1
Figure 18. Torpedo Mk 16
In 1944, production of the Mk 17 was resumed. Neither Torpedo Mk 16 nor
Mk 17 was fully developed at this time, and it was realized that production
units of both torpedoes would probably require extensive changes subsequent to
production. This eventuality was acceptable to BuOrd, and a total of 520
Torpedo Mk 16's and 450 Torpedo Mk 17's were produced prior to the end of the
war. Neither type, however, was used in combat.
Torpedo Mk 17 saw limited service in post-World War II, but was
discontinued about 1950. Its heavy topside weight on destroyers, similarity
to Torpedo Mk 16, and the emerging role of destroyers as an antisubmarine
warfare (ASW) platform were factors contributing to its early demise.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE TORPEDO MK 25
Lack of experience in launching the aircraft torpedo led to a preference
for the aerial bomb, with which most pilots were familiar. This preference was
intensified by the low-altitude, slow-speed tactics required for torpedo
launch. The problems with such tactics were seen at the Battle of Midway in
June 1942. In this battle, torpedo launching runs were made from over the
horizon at an altitude of 50 feet and a speed of 110 knots by inadequately
protected planes against very strong enemy fighter and anti-aircraft cover,
resulting in heavy losses. Thirty-seven out of 41 planes were lost without
scoring a single torpedo hit.
By 1943, the attitude of the Fleet towards the Mk 13 torpedo had become so
unfavorable that the need to develop a new, more rugged torpedo capable of
being launched from higher altitudes and at greater speeds became urgent. In
the summer of 1943, NDRC initiated development of Torpedo Mk 25 at Columbia
University, Divison of War Research. In addition to having improved launching
characteristics, the new torpedo was to be faster (40 knots versus 33 knots),
have a shorter range (2500 yards versus 4000 yards), and was to carry more
explosive (750 pounds versus 400 pounds).
IMPROVED TORPEDO MK 13
Parallel with the development of the Mk 25, the Mk 13 was undergoing
continuous improvement. Most significant was the development of flight-in-air
accessories: stabilizers, drag rings, and shroud rings which permitted
launching at altitudes of 2400 feet (vice 50 feet) and air speeds of 410 knots
(vice 110 knots). With these improvements, the Mk 13 was successfully
employed in the latter stages of World War II; the most noteworthy success
being its part in the sinking of the 45,000-ton Japanese battleship YAMATO in
April 1945 off Kyushu.
In view of the shortcomings of the torpedo which dictated the tactics
employed, and in some cases, the early aircraft (TBD), the overall statistical
performance of the Torpedo Mk 13 as shown in table 3 is surprising.
Development of Torpedo Mk 25 was completed before the end of the second
World War, but the torpedo was never produced for service use. The large
inventory of Mk 13's (resulting from wartime production), improvement of Mk 13
performance, and the changing role of Naval aircraft from strike warfare
platforms to ASW platforms, undoubtedly influenced this decision.
THE NAVY ELECTRIC TORPEDO MK 20
The development of the Navy electric Torpedo Mk 20 was completed about
1945, after having been through many changes in configuration, including one
employing the sea water-activated battery developed by Bell Telephone
Laboratories. Due to other successful electric torpedo developments during
World War II, the Mk 20 was never produced for service use.
Table 3. Torpedo Attacks and Hits for U.S.
Carrier-Based Aircraft (7 Dec 1941 to 31 May 1945)
|Class of Targets||Number of Attacks*||Number of Hits||Percentage of Hits|
|Battleships and carriers||322||162||50|
*An "attack," for the purpose of this table is defined as one plane attacking
one ship with a torpedo.
WORLD WAR II TORPEDO PRODUCTION
As an overview of the level of torpedo activity during World War II, the
expanded production capability consisting of the Pontiac Motors Division; the
International Harvester Co;, the Naval Torpedo Stations at Newport, Keyport,
and Alexandria; and the American Can Co. (Amtorp) at Forest Park, Ill., and
St. Louis, Mo., produced nearly 50,000 conventional torpedoes as follows:
Torpedo Mk 13 - 16,600,|
Torpedo Mk 14 - 13,000,
Torpedo Mk 15 - 9,700,
Torpedo Mk 23 - 9,600.
Westinghouse Electric Corp., Western Electric Co., and General Electric
Co. produced approximately 15,000 of the newer types of torpedoes as follows:
Torpedo Mk 18 - 9,000,|
Mine Mk 24 - 4,000,
Torpedo Mk 27 Mod 0 - 1,100,
Torpedo Mk 28 - 1,000.
WORLD WAR II SUBMARINE TORPEDO PERFORMANCE
The overwhelming majority of torpedoes fired during World War II were from
submarines in the Pacific theater. Approximately 14,750 torpedoes were fired
from submarines at 3184 of the approximately 8200 ships sighted. Of these,
1314 ships were sunk for a total of 5,300,000 tons. In addition, submarines
received "probable" credit for another 78 ships of 203,306 tons. The
confirmed total included one battleship, eight aircraft carriers, three heavy
cruisers and eight light cruisers. These Joint Army Navy Assessment Committee
(JANAC) confirmed sinkings (1314) accounted for 55 percent of all Japanese
ship losses. The remaining 45 percent were lost to Army and Navy aircraft
bombs, mines, and other causes.
EARLY POST-WORLD WAR II
At the end of World War II, the U.S. Navy had seven torpedoes in service
use. Three were pre-World War II developments: Mk 13, Mk 14, and Mk 15.
Four were developed during the war: Mk 18, Mk 27, Mk 28, and Mine Mk 24.
Limited details are given in table 4.
In addition, 15 other types were under development during World War II,
largely under the auspices of NDRC. Six were straight running: Mks 16, 17,
19, 20, 25, and 26 (table 5).
The nine homing torpedoes listed in table 6, Torpedoes Mk 21, 22, 29, 30,
31, 32, 33, 34, and 35, were in development at the end of the second World War.
Of the 15 torpedoes listed in tables 5 and 6, six were included in BuOrd
post-World War II plans. Of the six that were continued, only three became
in-service torpedoes: the submarine-launched, Navol antisurface ship Torpedo
Mk 16; the aircraft-launched, active homing ASW Torpedo Mk 32, used as a
destroyer-launched ASW weapon; and the aircraft-launched, passive homing ASW
Torpedo Mk 34.
The torpedoes listed in table 7 (Torpedoes Mk 27 Mod 4, Mk 32 Mod 2, and
Mk 34 Mod 1) were produced in quantity and issued as "interim" weapons to
provide an immediate ASW capability. It was recognized, however, that they
would soon be replaced by new development: Torpedoes Mk 35, Mk 37 and Mk 43.
MODERN TORPEDO DEVELOPMENT (1950 TO PRESENT)
TORPEDOES MK 35 AND MK 37 DEVELOPMENT
Torpedo Mk 35 was intended to be a universal torpedo, (i.e., aircraft-,
submarine-, or destroyer-launched, and used primarily as an antisubmarine
weapon with passive/active or combination homing). The aircraft-launch
requirement for the torpedo was dropped in 1948.