A Brief History of U.S. Navy Torpedo Development, sometimes called OP 353W or TD5436. This report covers the growth/development of the "auto-mobile" or self-propelled torpedo in the U.S. Navy from torpedo inception in Europe by Robert Whitehead in 1866 up to and including Torpedo Mk 48 of 1978. Part I is a narrative of the historical aspects of the evolution, while part II contains illustrations and characteristics of each of the torpedoes that was in development or is/was in service use over the 112-year period.
Although limited by what was still classified in 1978, it remains an easy reference to most of the US Torpedoes. This document is not classified. By letter Ser 700OC/90, 2007, this document is now approved for Public Release, distribution unlimited. Information on more recent, including current inventory, U.S. Navy torpedoes may be found at: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2100&tid=900&ct=2
In this online version of the manual we have attempted to keep the flavor of the original layout while taking advantage of the Web's universal accessibility. Different browsers and fonts will cause the text to move, but the text will remain roughly where it is in the original manual. We have attempted to preserve the text of the original manual, including its eccentric spelling. We have accidentally introduced new typos that we wish to correct.
Naval Underwater Systems Center Newport Laboratory
Distribution limited to U.S. Government agencies only;
test and evaluation; 15 September 1978.
Other requests for this document must be referred
to the Naval Underwater Systems Center.
In the preparation of this report, the
author has relied on the archival holdings of
the Naval Underwater Systems Center and resource
material made available by current NUSC staff
members. Particular thanks are due to Mr.
A. E. Burke of the Weapon Systems Staff, Mr.
R. R. Corridon of the Technical Shops Department,
and Mr. A. J. Turner of the Weapon Systems
Department; and the efforts of Ms. P. A. Ellis,
Mr. M. A. deSa, and Mr. R. A. Thibodeau of the
Information Services Department in editing and
illustrating this report are gratefully
acknowledged. Other persons too numerous to
mention have also provided both information and
support in the preparation of this document.
This report is presented with the awareness
that parts of the story could be treated only
as fully as the resource material permitted.
Suggestions for additions, corrections, or other
improvements will be welcomed at any time.
REVIEWED AND APPROVED: 15 September 1978
J. E. Sirmalis
Head, Weapon Systems Department
The author of this report is located
at the Newport Laboratory, Naval Underwater
Systems Center, Newport, Rhode Island 02840.
This document is an attempt to present in an organized way, and thereby
preserve, what is known of the history of torpedo development while the
resources are still available. The last known attempt at a comprehensive
treatment of this special weapon form in the United States was the "History
of the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station." Compiled around 1946 and covering the
time period from 1869 through 1945, the document (by subject and by design)
presents a parochial view, and its seven volumes are concerned primarily
with the "steam" torpedo and the Navy in-house effort in the development of
an electric torpedo. A limited but outstanding history of the early
passive acoustic homing torpedoes is a volume by Albers.1
This history is based for the most part on source material from the
archives of the Naval Underwater Systems Center, Newport Laboratory,
Newport, Rhode Island (successor to the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station) and the
files of its current staff. The limiting factor on the depth of treatment
of some torpedoes is the availability of information; the darkest spot is
the era between 1900 and 1930. Since a main objective was to present the
information in an unclassified document, security classification limited
the details and discussion of the more current torpedoes.
From the days of its inception by Howell and Whitehead, the torpedo has
been a keystone in naval tactical development. The destroyer and submarine
came into being as a result of the need for a launch platform for the
torpedo. The torpedo's awesome potential was demonstrated on a large scale
in World War I when the German U-boats sank 5400 Allied ships with a total
displacement of 11,189,000 tons.
In spite of their problems and seemingly endless adverse publicity by
critics, the U.S. Navy submarine torpedoes in World War II were credited
with sinking 1314 Japanese ships for a total of 5,100,000 tons accounting
for 55 percent of all World War II Japanese ship losses. Thus, the
torpedo, which in the 1880's "stirred naval tacticians more profoundly than
any weapon produced,"2 demonstrated its tremendous effectiveness in a
time of great need.
This document is divided into two sections. Part 1 is a brief
narrative on the history of the various torpedoes. Part 2 presents the
physical and performance characteristics of the individual torpedoes as
well as a simple illustration of the shape of the weapon. A chronology of
significant events relating to the development of modern torpedoes is given
as appendix A, while a list of the former and current identities of various
developers and producers of the modern torpedo is presented as appendix B.