Torpedo - Encyclopedia

GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES Spanish Simplified Chinese French German Russian Hindi Arabic Portuguese

TORPEDO. In 1805 Robert Fulton demonstrated a new method of destroying ships by exploding a large charge of gunpowder against the hull under water. No doubt then remained as to the effectiveness of this form of attack when successfully applied; it was the difficulty of getting the torpedo, as it was called, to the required position which for many years retarded its progress as a practical weapon of naval warfare. Attempts were first made to bring the explosive in contact with the vessel by allowing it to drift down to her by the action of tide or current, and afterwards to fix it against her from some form of diving boat, but successive failures led to its restriction for a considerable period to the submarine mine (q.v.) in which the explosive is stationary and takes effect only when the ship itself moves over or strikes the charge. Used in this way, it is an excellent deterrent to hostile warships forcing a harbour.

Table of contents

Spar or Outrigger Torpedo

The limitations attached to the employment of submarine mines, except for coast defence, revived the idea of taking the torpedo to the ship instead of waiting for the latter to gain some exact point which she might very possibly avoid. This first took practical shape in the spar or outrigger torpedo. This consisted of a charge of explosive at the end of a long pole projecting from the bow of a boat, the pole being run out and immersed on arriving near the object. Directly the charge came in contact with the hull of the ship it was exploded by an electric battery in the boat. If the boat was not discovered and disabled while approaching, the chances were favourable to success and escape afterwards. Against a vigilant enemy it was doubtless a forlorn hope, but to brave men the venture offered considerable attractions.

Frequent use of this spar or outrigger torpedo was made during the American Civil War. A notable instance was the destruction of the Confederate ironclad "Albemarle" at the end of October 1864. On this mission Lieut. Cushing took a steam launch equipped with an outrigger torpedo up the Roanoke River, in which lay the "Albemarle." On arriving near the ship Cushing found her surrounded by logs, but pushing his boat over them, he immersed the spar and exploded his charge in contact with the "Albemarle" under a heavy fire. Ship and launch sank together, but the gallant officer jumped overboard, swam away and escaped. Submerged boats were also used for similar service, but usually went to the bottom with their crews. During the war between France and China in 1884 the "Yang Woo" was attacked and destroyed by an outrigger torpedo.

Locomotive Torpedoes

Though the spar torpedo had scored some successes, it was mainly because the means of defence against it at that time were inefficient. The ship trusted solely to her heavy gun and rifle fire to repel the attack. The noise, smoke, and difficulty of hitting a small object at night with a piece that could probably be discharged but once before the boat arrived, while rifle bullets would not stop its advance, favoured the attack. When a number of small guns and electric lights were added to a ship's equipment, success with an outrigger torpedo became nearly, if not entirely, impossible. Attention was then turned in the direction of giving motion to the torpedo and steering it to the required point by electric wires worked from the shore or from another vessel; or, dispensing with any such connection, of devising a torpedo which would travel under water in a given direction by means of self-contained motive power and machinery. Of the former type are the Lay, SimsEdison and Brennan torpedoes. The first two - electrically steered by a wire which trails behind the torpedo - have insufficient speed to be of practical value, and are no longer used. The Brennan torpedo, carrying a charge of explosive, travels under water and is propelled by unwinding two drums or reels of fine steel wire within the torpedo. The rotation of these reels is communicated to the propellers, causing the torpedo to advance. The ends of the wires are connected to an engine on shore to give rapid unwinding and increased speed to the torpedo. It is steered by varying the speed of unwinding the two wires. This torpedo was adopted by the British war office for harbour defence and the protection of narrow channels.

Uncontrolled Torpedoes

The objection of naval officers to have any form of torpedo connected by wire to their ship during an action, impeding her free movement, liable to get entangled in her propellers and perhaps exploding where not desired - disadvantages which led them to discard the Harvey towing torpedo many years ago - has hitherto prevented any navy from adopting a controlled torpedo for its sea-going fleet. The last quarter of the 19th century saw, however, great advances in the equipment of ships with locomotive torpedoes of the uncontrolled type. The Howell may be briefly described, as it has a special feature of some interest. Motive power is provided by causing a heavy steel fly-wheel inside the torpedo to revolve with great velocity. This is effected by a small special engine outside operating on the axle. When sufficiently spun up, the axle of the flywheel is connected with the propeller shafts and screws which drive the torpedo, so that on entering the water it is driven ahead and continues its course until the power stored up in the flywheel is exhausted. Now when a torpedo is discharged into the sea from a ship in motion, it has a tendency to deflect owing to the action of the passing water. The angle of deflexion will vary according to the speed of the ship, and is also affected by other causes, such as the position in the ship from which the torpedo is discharged, and its own angle with the line of keel. Hence arise inaccuracies of shooting; but these do not occur with this torpedo, for the motion of the flywheel, acting as a gyroscope - the principle of which applied to the Whitehead torpedo is described later - keeps this torpedo on a straight course. This advantage, combined with simplicity in construction, induced the American naval authorities at one time to contemplate equipping their fleet with this torpedo, for they had not, up to within a few years ago, adopted any locomotive torpedo. A great improvement in the torpedo devised by Mr Whitehead led them, however, definitely to prefer the latter and to discontinue the further development of the Howell system.

The Whitehead torpedo is a steel fish-shaped body which travels under water at a high rate of speed, being propelled by two screws driven by compressed air. It carries a large charge of explosive which is ignited on the torpedo striking any hard substance, such as the hull of a ship. The body is divided into three parts. The foremost portion or head contains the explosive - usually wet gun-cotton - with dry primer and mechanical igniting arrangement; the centre portion is the air chamber or reservoir, while the remaining part or tail carries the engines, rudders, and propellers besides the apparatus for controlling depth and direction. This portion also gives buoyancy to the torpedo.

When the torpedo is projected from a ship or boat into the water a lever is thrown back, admitting air into the engines causing the propellers to revolve and drive the torpedo ahead. It is desirable that a certain depth under water should be maintained. An explosion on the surface would be deprived of the greater part of its effect, for most of the gas generated would escape into the air. Immersed, the water above confines the liberated gas and compels it to exert all its energy against the bottom of the ship. It is also necessary to correct the tendency to rise that is due to the torpedo getting lighter as the air is used up, for compressed air has an appreciable weight. This is effected by an ingenious apparatus long maintained secret. The general principle is to utilize the pressures due to different depths of water to actuate horizontal rudders, so that the torpedo is automatically directed upwards or downwards as its tendency is to sink or rise.

The efficiency of such a torpedo compared with all previous types was clearly manifest when it was brought before the maritime states by the inventor, Whitehead, and it was almost universally adopted. The principal defect was want of speed - which at first 7'011 - __----- ------- FIG. 1. - Diagrams of 14and 18-in. Torpedoes.

did not exceed 10 knots an hour - but by the application of Brotherhood's 3-cylinder engine the speed was increased to 18 knots - a great advance. From that time continuous improvements have resulted in speeds of 30 knots and upwards for a short range being obtained. For some years a torpedo 14 ft. long and 14 in. in diameter was considered large enough, though it had a very limited effective range. For a longer range a larger weapon must be employed capable of carrying a greater supply of air. To obtain this, torpedoes of 18 in. diameter, involving increased length and weight, have for some time been constructed, and have taken the place of the smaller torpedo in the equipment of warships. This advance in dimensions has not only given a faster and steadier torpedo, but enabled such a heavy charge of gun-cotton to be carried that its explosion against any portion of a ship would inevitably either sink or disable her. The dimensions, shape, &c., of the 14and 18-in. torpedoes are shown in fig. 1. A limited range was still imposed by the uncertainty of its course under water. The speed of the ship from which it was discharged, the angle with her keel at which it entered the water, and the varying velocity of impulse, tended to error of flight, such error being magnified the farther the path of the torpedo was prolonged. Hence 800 yards. was formerly considered the limit of distance within which the torpedo should be lol discharged at sea against an object from a ship in motion.

In these circumstances, though improvements in the manufacture of steel and engines allowed of torpedoes of far longer range being, 18-[[Inch Torpedo - 14-Inch Torpedo]].

made (the fastest torpedo up to 1898 having a speed of 29 knots for 800 yds.), it was of no advantage to make them, as they could not be depended upon to run in a straight line from a stationary point for more than 800 yds., while from a ship in motion good practice could only be ensured at a reduced range. It was obvious, therefore, that to increase the effective range of the torpedo, these errors of direction must be overcome by some automatic steering arrangement. Several inventors turned their attention to the subject, nearly all of whom proposed to utilize the principle of the gyroscope for the purpose. The first which gave any satisfactory results was an apparatus devised by Ludwig Obry - an engineer in Austria - and tried by the Italian government about 1896. These trials demonstrated the feasibility of accurately and automatically steering a torpedo in a direct line by this means. Messrs Whitehead & Co., of Fiume, then acquired the invention, and after exhaustive experiments produced the apparatus which is now fitted to every torpedo made. It is based on the principle that a body revolving on a free axis tends to preserve its plane of rotation. A gyroscope with plane of rotation parallel to the vertical axis of the torpedo will have an angular motion if the torpedo is diverted from its original course. This angular motion is employed to actuate the steering mechanism by operating an air motor connected with the rudders, and keeping the torpedo in the line of discharge. The apparatus consists of a flywheel caused to rotate by a spring, the barrel on which the latter is wound having a segmental wheel which gears into a toothed pinion spindle of the flywheel. Owing to the diameter of the segment being much greater than the pinion, a rapid rotatory motion is imparted. The spring is wound up by a key from outside the torpedo, and kept in tension until the projectile is discharged, when the spring is released by the air lever being thrown back, which admits air to the engine; the gyroscope is then freed and set in motion with its plane in the plane of the vertical axis of the torpedo as it was in the launching tube.

Assuming now that the course of the torpedo is diverted by any cause, its axis will move or perform a certain angular motion with regard to the plane of the flywheel, which will have the same result as if we consider the conditions reversed, i.e. as if the plane of rotation of the flywheel were altered and that of the axis of the torpedo remained the same. The axis of the flywheel performs a relative angular motion which it imparts to a crank actuating a servo-motor worked by compressed air, and connected with the rudders of the torpedo, moving them in the opposite direction to that in which the torpedo was diverted from its original course. Thus all inaccuracies of flight due to errors of adjustment, miscalculation of deflexion, or even damage to some part, are eliminated. As long as the gyroscope is in good order the torpedo is bound to run in the line it was pointing when the flywheel was started. It is placed in the after-body of the torpedo, as indicated in fig.

limited by the strength of the engines and other parts. Improvements in steel manufacture have permitted the use of much higher pressures of air and the construction of air-chambers able to withstand the pressure of 2000 lb to the sq. in. with the same weight of air-chamber. This has enabled increased range without reduction in speed to be attained, or conversely, increased speed at shorter ranges. By improvement in the engines which are now of the Brotherhood 4-cylinder central crank type further gains have been effected.

Having reached the limit of pressure and endurance of airchambers with present materials without undue increase of weight, the designer had to seek additional energy in another direction. Now the energy obtainable from a given weight of compressed air is dependent upon the volume of air available at the working pressure of the engines. At a constant pressure this volume of air is proportionate to its absolute temperature. If then the air be stored cold and highly heated before delivery to the engine the available energy from a given weight will be greatly increased. By this means we obtain the equivalent of a larger and heavier air-chamber without the increased weight such would involve.

As originally used a quantity of hydrocarbon fuel was placed in the air-vessel. Upon discharging the torpedo this fuel was automatically ignited and the contents of the air-chamber were heated. Unless, however, the combustion could be regulated there were serious risks of abnormal pressures, of overheating and weakening the air-vessel. Devices have been applied to overcome this liability, and other methods devised to obtain the same result.

By the use of heating and thereby increasing the volume of air in proportion to the rise of temperature the extra volume will allow of an increased speed for a given range or a greater range without increase of speed. The limit to the development of this system seems to be the temperature the materials will stand, but even at this early stage it has added several knots to the speed of this wonderful weapon.

Torpedo Carriages and Discharge

As no gun which is inefficiently mounted can give good results, so the best torpedo is valueless without a good carriage or system of discharge. In the early days of the Whitehead, discredit came upon it because the importance of this was not sufficiently realized; and an erratic course under water was in nine cases out of ten due to a crude method of discharge. A delicate piece of mechanism was dropped into the water from a height of several feet, and naturally suffered internal derangement. Gun-ports were then used for the purpose, but now a special orifice is made, to which the torpedo carriage is fitted with a balland-socket joint - forming a water-tight aperture - so that this carriage or tube may be only 2 or 3 ft. above the water-line. The ball-and-socket joint enables it also to have a considerable angle of training. Originally the torpedo was pushed out by a rod acted upon by compressed air, in which case the carriage was a Engine Room After Body Fig. 2. - Arrangement of Gyroscope in Torpedo.

The efficiency of the Whitehead torpedo has thus been enormously increased, and more accurate practice can now be made at 2000 yds. than was formerly possible at 800 yds. This adds considerably to the chances of torpedo-boats attacking ships, even in day-time, at sea or at anchor, and will render further protection necessary against this weapon. Against a ship in motion there is still, however, the calculation as to her speed and the distance she will travel before the to y pedo reaches her. Should this be miscalculated, an increased range for torpedoes will magnify the error. For instance, a 30-knot torpedo will travel loon yds. in a minute. If aimed at a ship on the beam assumed to be steaming 15 knots an hour, to reach her when loon yds. distant the torpedo must be discharged at a point 500 yds. ahead of her. But if the ship is actually steaming 12 knots, she will have travelled only 400 yds. in the minute, and the torpedo will be 100 yds. in advance of her. If discharged at a range of 500 yds., such a miscalculation causes an error of only 50 yds. or 150 ft. But if the object is 300 tt. long, and her centre was taken as the target, her bow would be just at the spot the torpedo would reach in thirty seconds. It would seem, therefore, that increased velocity of torpedo is necessary before the full advantages of the gyroscope can be realized. Now the range of the torpedo is entirely dependent upon the store of energy which can be carried; upon, therefore, the capacity of the air reservoir, the maximum pressure it can stand, and on the efficiency of the propelling engines. The speed over a given range is also dependent upon these factors; the maximum speed being simple frame. The rod, pressing against the tail with some force, was apt to damage or disarrange the rudders, so the air-gun took the place of rod impulse. Here the torpedo fits closely in a tube or cylinder with an opening at the rear made air-tight when closed. At the desired moment compressed air is admitted to the rear part of the cylinder and blows the torpedo out. Gunpowder then superseded air for this operation; and now this has given place to a small charge of cordite, which does not leave any deposit on the inside of the cylinder. There is a double risk in the use of locomotive torpedoes from above water. (1) The charge may be exploded by hostile fire. Though mainly consisting of damp gun-cotton, which is not readily ignited, the dry primer and detonator may be struck, which would lead to a disastrous explosion. (2) The airchamber is also a source of danger. As it contains air compressed to a high degree of tension, experiments have shown that if struck by a small shell it may burst with great violence; and as it offers a considerable mark, this is not an improbable event in an action. An instance of the danger of above-water torpedo tubes occurred in the Spanish-American War at the battle of Santiago. A shell entered the "Almirante Oquendo" and struck a 14-in. torpedo in the tube. The charge detonated, causing a fearful explosion and practically wrecking that part of the vessel. The development of moderate-sized quick-firing guns has increased this risk. Hence we find the use of above-water torpedo tubes now mainly confined to torpedo and other craft too small for submerged discharge.

Submerged Discharge

The risk attached to having loaded torpedoes above the water-line - independently of the fact that to get the best result they should start in the element to which they belong - has given great impetus to the system of submerged and tube into the ship again, so that practically the whole operation is one motion.

Fig. 3 will further explain this apparatus. A is the outer tube; B the inner tube; C the shield; D torpedo; E explosion chamber for cordite charge placed at K; F pipe for gas to pass into outer tu'3e; G and Y doors of inner and outer tube; J the valve which opens automatically when inner tube arrives at position shown in fig. 2; T and P appliance for running the tube in and out by hand when desired; 0 arrangement for bringing whole apparatus back for repair, &c.; M and N sluice-valve and handle; R, r', r 2 'r' 3, for draining tubes before torpedo is put in; X indicator showing position of inner tube.

Torpedoes have been discharged from this apparatus with successful result from a ship steaming at 172 knots.

The advantage of cordite over compressed air for impulse is that it requires no attention: when a charge Gun FIG. 3. - Broadside Submerged 18-in. Torpedo Tube.

discharge. From the earliest days of the weapon this has been employed to some extent. But it was principally in the direction of right-ahead fire, by having an orifice in the stem of the ship under water, to which a torpedo tube was connected. The tactical idea was thus to supplement attack with the ram, so that if the vessel endeavouring to ram saw that the object would evade this attack, she could project a torpedo ahead, which, travelling faster than the vessel, might as effectually accomplish the required service. The stem orifice had a water-tight cover, which was removed on the torpedo being placed in the tube and the inner door closed; then, sufficient impulse being imparted to eject the torpedo, and its machinery being set in motion at the same time, it darted forward towards the enemy. There is, however, some risk of the ship using a torpedo in this manner striking it before the missile has gathered the necessary impetus from its propellers to take it clear of the vessel. The system, moreover, has the disadvantage of weakening the ram, the construction of which should be of immense strength. There is the further liability of ramming with a torpedo in the bow tube, which would be as disastrous to friend as foe. This method of submerged discharge has therefore given place to ejecting the torpedo from the broadside. Considerable difficulty attached to getting the torpedo clear of the ship from this position without injury, especially when the vessel was proceeding at speed. The natural tendency of the passing water acting on the head of the torpedo as it emerged was to give a violent wrench and crush the rear end before that portion could clear the aperture. To prevent this the torpedo must be hel-1 rigid in the line of projection until the tail is clear of the ship. This is thus effected. Besides the tube with the aperture in side of the ship under water, fitted with sluice-valve, all broadside submerged discharge apparatus possess the following features: A shield is pushed out from the ship's side. In this shield there are grooves of some form. Guides on the torpedoes fit and run in these grooves. When discharged the torpedo is thus supported against the streams of passing water, and guided so that its axis continues in the line of projection until the tail is clear of the side, the shield being of such length that this occurs at the same time that the guides on the torpedo leave the grooves in the shield. An apparatus on this principle has been fitted to a number of ships of the British navy, and gives good results at high rates of speed. It has the defect that the shield must be run out previous to the torpedo being discharged, and brought back afterwards, thus involving three separate operations, each performed by compressed air.

In the broadside submerged discharge, designed, constructed and supplied to many foreign navies by Messrs Armstrong of the Elswick works, the three operations are combined in one. There is an outer tube as before, but it contains an inner tube carrying the torpedo. Fized to this tube, and prolonging it, is the shield fitted with grooves. Both tubes have a door at the rear - made airtight when closed - by which the torpedo is entered. A charge of cordite is used for ejection instead of compressed air, the gas from which entering the outer cylinder first forces the inner tube out, and then by means of a valve in the door of the inner tube passes in and blows out water and torpedo together, the shield supporting the latter until the tail is clear of the ship. By this time the cordite gas has expanded and cooled so as to relieve the pressure in rear; this causes the pressure of the water outside to push the shield is placed in the explosion chamber, and a torpedo is in the tube, all is in readiness for firing when desired, without further attention in the torpedo-room. The cordite is fired by electricity from the conning-tower; the officer, therefore, having ascertained that all is ready below, has only to press a button when the object is in the required position. Automatic indications are given in the conningtower when the sluice-valve is opened and when all is in readiness for firing.

This method of discharging torpedoes from the broadside under water eliminates the principal danger of the system, which required the shield to be put into position beforehand. It was then liable to be struck and distorted by passing wreckage without the fact being apparent to those in the ship. On the discharge of a torpedo its course might thus be arrested, or possibly the charge be prematurely exploded in dangerous proximity to its own ship. There was a risk of getting the shield out too soon, and thereby exposing it unduly to injury, or leaving the operation until too late. The tendency of naval equipment being towards complication, any readjustment which makes for simplicity cannot be otherwise than beneficial, and this feature is especially desirable in all matters connected with the use of torpedoes.

The compartment containing the broadside submerged apparatus usually extends across the ship, so as to contain a tube for each side.

Use in War. - This has been mainly confined to attacks upon squadrons and single ships by torpedo craft of various types. At the battle of Yalu, between the Chinese and Japanese fleets, torpedoes were discharged by the former, but none took effect. The Japanese trusted solely to gun-fire. After the defeat of the Chinese at sea, their remaining ships took refuge in the harbour of Wei-hai-Wei. Here they were blockaded by the Japanese fleet, which, having a number of torpedo-boats, made several determined attacks upon the ships inside. After one or two attempts, foiled by the obstructions placed by the Chinese to bar the passage, the Japanese boats succeeded in torpedoing several ships, and thus expedited the reduction of the place. In the war between Spain and the United States the inferiority of Admiral Cervera's squadron to that under Admiral Sampson might at the battle of Santiago have been to some extent counterbalanced by a skilful and vigorous use of torpedoes. If, instead of striving only to escape, a bold dash had been made for the American ships, the Spanish cruisers rapidly approaching end on to the foe, enveloped in the smoke of their own guns, should - some at least - have got within torpedo range without fatal injury. Closing each other at a speed of ro knots only they would cover an interval of 6000 yds. in 9 minutes - a short time in which to disable a ship by gun-fire under such conditions. But Cervera elected to offer a passive resistance only, and while suffering destruction wrought no material injury upon his opponents. On the other hand, there have been several instances of large warships being sunk by locomotive torpedoes discharged from small craft. During the Chilean revolutionary war of 1891, a battleship, the "Blanco Encalada," of 3 500 tons, was attacked in Caldera Bay by two torpedo vessels - the "Lynch" and "Condell" - of 750 tons. They entered the bay at dawn, the "Condell" leading. This vessel fired three torpedoes which missed the ironclad; then the "Lynch," after one ineffective shot, discharged a second torpedo, which struck the "Blanco" on the side nearly amidships. The latter had opened fire with little result, and sank soon afterwards. A similar incident occurred in 1894, when the Brazilian ironclad "Aquidaban" was sunk in Catherina Bay by the "Sampaio"- a torpedo vessel of 500 tons. She entered the bay at night, and first discharged her bow torpedo at the ironclad, which missed; she then fired a broadside torpedo, which struck and exploded against the bow of the "Aquidaban." It caused a great shock on board, throwing an officer on the bridge into the water. The vessel sank soon afterwards, and the "Sampaio" escaped uninjured.

In the war (1904-5) between Russia and Japan the Whitehead torpedo did not exercise an important influence upon the naval operations. It scored a success at the beginning of the struggle when a Japanese torpedo-flotilla made an attack upon the Russian fleet lying at anchor outside Port Arthur. For some unaccountable reason, though war was imminent, little or no precautions seemed to have been taken for effectually guarding the vessels. They had no nets in position nor boats patrolling outside them. Thus taken by surprise when the Japanese torpedo-boats suddenly appeared about midnight on the 8th of February 1904, several Russian ships were struck by torpedoes before they could offer any resistance. The most damaged were the "Retvisan" and "Tsarevitch" (battleships) and "Pallada" (cruiser), but all managed to get into Port Arthur and were eventually repaired. With three ships hors de combat the Russian fleet was considerably weakened at an early stage. The loss of the "Petropavlovsk" in April from a mine explosion was a further discouragement, especially as with this ship went down the gallant and energetic Admiral Makarov. In these circumstances the Russian fleet could not assume the offensive nor prevent the Japanese troops being sent by sea to invest Port Arthur. In June when the injured vessels were fit for service again the fleet put to sea but returned the same evening. The incident is noteworthy only because it led to an attack by the Japanese torpedo craft on the retiring squadron after sunset. As illustrating the uncertainty of hitting a moving object at sea with the Whitehead torpedo, already mentioned, no vessels were struck on this occasion and they reached the anchorage uninjured. In the battle of Tsushima the Japanese torpedo-boats attacked the Russian fleet after its disablement by gun-fire and gave the coup de grace to some of the ships, which had little power of resistance owing to the destruction of their light armament. This war, therefore, did not increase to any extent our knowledge of the actual capability of this weapon.

Effect upon Naval Tactics: Blockade

It has often been assumed that steam and the torpedo will in future render blockade impossible as it was carried out in the old wars; that, no longer dependent upon the wind to allow egress from the blockaded port, a vessel using steam can emerge when she chooses, while the fear of torpedo attack will deter a blockading squadron from keeping such watch as to foil the attempt. As regards the power conferred by steam, it will be no less advantageous to a blockading squadron, enabling it to maintain its position, whereas sailing ships were often driven by gales to leave their station and seek a port. This gave opportunities for the blockaded vessels to escape. As regards torpedo-boats, they would no doubt be a danger to a blockading squadron unprovided with a means of defence against these craft. Such defence consists in an adequate number of small vessels interposing an in-shore squadron between the port and the main body outside. Thus they perform the twofold service of watching the enemy's movements within and frustrating a torpedo attack. As an instance of blockade under modern conditions, we have that of Admiral Sampson upon Santiago - a guard more rigidly maintained than any in the old wars. So little was he deterred by the knowledge that Admiral Cervera had two torpedo vessels in his force, that he drew his squadron closer in at night when an attack might be expected, actually illuminating the, entrance of the harbour with his electric searchlights, so that no craft could come out unperceived. No attempt was made to dislodge him from that position, and we may assume that blockade, if required in any scheme of naval strategy, will be carried out, whatever the weapons of warfare.

As regards the effect of torpedoes upon tactics at sea, and in general, as well as single ship, actions, they must operate against close range and employment of the ram. If it is recognized that a vessel within 1000 yds. is liable to a fatal blow, she will endeavour in ordinary circumstances to keep outside that distance and rely upon gun-fire. The exception would be where she is overmatched in that respect, and hence might endeavour to restore the balance by the use of torpedoes. In a fleet action the danger of missing a foe and hitting a friend would restrict the discharge of torpedoes; and this risk increases as formations disappear. But the torpedo must be conceded a tactical superiority over the ram for the following reasons: A vessel to usethe latter must come within torpedo range, while her adversary may successfully apply torpedoes without placing herself in any danger of being rammed. The ram can only be used in one direction, and a small miscalculation may cause disaster. If a vessel has more than one position from which torpedoes can be discharged, she is not confined as regards attack to a single bearing or direction.

In action we may consider the speed of the torpedo as double that of the ship, and since against a moving object allowance must be made for the space traversed while ram or torpedo is travelling towards it, the faster weapon is less affected in its chance of successful impact by change of direction and speed of the object at the last moment. Lastly, with machinery disabled a ship is powerless to use the ram, but can avert a ram attack with her torpedoes. The movements of squadrons or single ships on entering an action are not likely to be influenced by any contemplated immediate use of torpedoes, for the gun must remain the primary weapon, at any rate at the first onset. Commanders would hardly risk being crushed by gun-fire before getting within torpedo range. Having faith in the efficiency of their ordnance and the gunnery skill of their crew, they would first manoeuvre to bring these into play. Tactics for torpedo attack in such circumstances have not therefore been laid down, and it is only necessary to consider the positions which are advantageous for the use of this weapon, and, conversely, what should be avoided when a vessel, finding herself overmatched in gunnery, seeks to redress the balance with torpedoes.

Size of Target

This, with a ship, varies in length as the torpedo approaches end on to the vessel, or at angle to the line of keel; the greatest being when the path of both forms a right angle. Hence the object is to pace your ship where it presents the former condition to the enemy, while he affords the larger target. It must be remembered that, owing to the comparatively slow velocity of the torpedo, it must be aimed not directly at a ship in motion - like a shot from a gun - but at a point ahead which the ship will reach after the torpedo has traversed the intervening distance. Thus speed of object has to be estimated, and hence the importance of adding to the velocity of the torpedo and getting a broadside shot so as to reduce as much as possible errors of calculation. The great increase of the dimensions of warships, especially in length, which now has reached 500 ft., adds to the chances of a successful hit with torpedoes, and will doubtless tend to diminish a desire in future naval tactics to close inside torpedo range for the purpose of ramming.


Though the effective range of a torpedo discharged from a ship or torpedo vessel against a single object moving at high speed may be considered as approximately within woo yds. this limit of distance is considerably augmented where the target consists of several vessels at sea in close order, or is that afforded by a fleet at anchor. In the first case it may be worth while to discharge torpedoes from a distance of two or three thousand yards at the centre of the line for the chance of hitting one of the vessels composing it. As regards a mass of ships at anchor, unless protected by an impenetrable guard such as a breakwater or some invulnerable defence carried by the ships themselves, the increased range and accuracy of the torpedo imparted by recent developments would give it a chance of success if discharged against such a target at even greater distance.

Finally, by improvements in construction and methods of charge the torpedo has recovered the place it was rapidly losing a few years ago. As armour receives increased resisting power to above-water projectiles, and gets on a level again with the gun, more attention will be given to under-water attack, against which no adequate protection has yet been devised. Thus we shall probably find the torpedo taking a very prominent place in any future war between the great maritime powers. (S. M E.-W.)

Custom Search

Encyclopedia Alphabetically

A * B * C * D * E * F * G * H * I * J * K * L * M * N * O * P * Q * R * S * T * U * V * W * X * Y * Z

Advertise Here


- Please bookmark this page (add it to your favorites)
- If you wish to link to this page, you can do so by referring to the URL address below.

This page was last modified 29-SEP-18
Copyright © 2018 ITA all rights reserved.