How does torpedo drive at constant depth

Federal Army

How the torpedo was made

The inventions of Luppis, Whitehead and Obry

Hardly any other naval weaponry has changed so little in its basic structure and appearance over 140 years as the torpedo - and none had a stronger influence on naval warfare well into the 20th century. It is common knowledge. Far less known, however, is that the torpedo was developed in the Danube Monarchy or by Austrian designers and officers.

The word torpedo (from torpere, Latin, inter alia: to be rigid, to freeze) is the Latin name of the electric rays (torpedinidae), which paralyze or kill their opponents or victims when they come into contact with electric shocks. We tend to associate the term torpedo with a marine weapon several meters long, self-propelled and with a circular cross-section, which, after being shot down, moves towards a ship below the surface of the water in order to damage or sink it.

But the term torpedo used to mean something else: at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, this was the term used to describe stationary explosive charges provided with detonators, which were supposed to explode underwater if a ship ran aground. In the second half of the 19th century, a distinction was made between defensive torpedoes, including stationary and floating explosive charges (according to today's understanding, ground and anchor mines as well as drifting mines), and offensive torpedoes, explosive charges that first had to be moved to the target, e.g. B. on poles in front of ships and boats (pole or spar torpedoes) or that were towed to the target on ropes. After the invention of the self-propelled Whitehead fish torpedo, this type of ordnance was called torpedo and the versions without self-propelled as sea mines.

The torpedo and its main parts

The torpedo is (according to today's understanding) a cigar-shaped underwater projectile with self-propulsion and self-control (by means of rudder and down rudder), which is launched by under- and surface ships, by aircraft and fixed coastal areas. The torpedo housing is made of stainless metal (stainless steel was used from 1912), the length is three to nine meters and the diameter varies between 35 and 60 cm. The drive takes place (e) by compressed air, gas, steam, electricity or by means of a chemical reaction ("internal combustion engine").

As early as 1898, the torpedo consisted of the six typical main parts (bolted together):

  • the watertight, detachable warhead with the ignition pistol, the contact detonator with ignition chain, the explosives as well as the transport and pipe safety device;
  • the pressure vessel with air or gas (originally with 25 atm pressure, 1902 already with 150 atm), on which the speed and the range depend;
  • the depth apparatus chamber with valves, water tank, fuel tank, depth apparatus and linkage or the drive of the depth rudder;
  • the drive chamber, which is not watertight for the purpose of cooling, with the main drive, the drive of the rudder, a pressure distribution valve and the drive shaft;
  • the watertight buoyancy chamber (the so-called tunnel section) with the straight running apparatus and the transmission rods running through bulkheads to the drive chamber and the tail section and
  • the tail piece with the ballast tank, the stabilizing fins, the depth and straight rudder and the drive propeller.

The fully functional construction from 1898 had minimal flow resistance and was waterproof, corrosion-resistant, light and accurate where it was required. The ignition with its large contact area to the target was very reliable for the conditions at the time.

The Italian torpedoes - also made in Austria - that sank the Austro-Hungarian battleship "Szent István" in the Adriatic in 1918 and the "eels" of the German submarines that were transferred to the ships of the British Arctic convoy PQ-17 in 1941 Hulls torn open were constructed according to this basic principle, as were the British torpedoes that destroyed the Argentine battle cruiser "General Belgrano" south of the Falkland Islands in 1982. The more modern torpedoes had and still have more powerful engines and warheads as well as much more complex devices for regulating the draft and direction. They also not only move (relatively) in a straight line, they also follow

  • a predefined schedule or
  • Signals (e.g. acoustic) that you receive from an external source or destination, or
  • seek the goal by yourself.

More modern torpedoes usually also have proximity fuses. The resulting underwater explosion will damage or destroy the target with a high degree of probability (see chapter "Underwater explosion").

Underwater explosion (Source: Prof. Khoo):

Unlike a grenade, which usually hits the (armored) superstructures and side walls of the ships, the torpedo hits the weaker structural parts of the ship's hull below the waterline. Due to the insulating effect of the water, underwater explosions are more devastating than (practically uninsulated) explosions on land or in the air.

Direct hits by torpedoes, triggered by the impact of the detonator on the target, tear open the hull, lead to local destruction by the pressure and the detonation wave, cause water ingress and impair the longitudinal strength of the ship. Distance hits triggered by proximity fuses and underwater sensors have an even more devastating effect:

  • The shock wave spreads in milliseconds and hits the ship's hull as the first destructive impulse. At the same time, a gas bubble is created in the center of the explosion.
  • The gas bubble expands very quickly to its maximum volume under high pressure. The hull is partially lifted, bends upwards, and that weakens the keel.
  • The gas bubble then collapses, creating a suction that partially bends the ship's hull downwards. This further weakens the keel. When the bubble collapses, a jet emerges.
  • At high speed and high pressure, this jet can penetrate the fuselage relatively easily and cause extremely serious damage.)

From "fire" to torpedo

"Brander" (Bûrlot, Burlotto, Fire Ship) were used from antiquity to the end of the sailing ship era. These were mostly sailing ships and boats filled with flammable materials, which were lowered onto enemy ships with the wind or the current, mainly to set their rigging on fire and at least make the enemy incapable of maneuvering.

The "fire" was followed by the drifting and towing mines, the mobile development of which is the torpedo (according to today's understanding of the term). Many inventions and events influenced the development of this weapon, the most important of which are listed here in chronological order:

1776 American David Bushnell built the "Turtle", a hand-operated one-man submarine that carried a mine (first known as the "torpedo").

1801 the American Robert Fulton demonstrated the effects of the underwater explosion with his submarine "Nautilus".

1805 Fulton sank the Danish brig "Dorothea" near Deal with an underwater catamaran. Fulton also developed the anchor mine.

1811 the French general Henri-Joseph Paixhans constructed boat-like floating bodies with rocket propulsion, but their control failed.

1846 the German Christian Friedrich Schönbein invented the gun cotton.

1852 Léon Foucault invented the gyroscope.

1854 - 56 During the Crimean War, explosive devices called "torpedoes" were used to protect Kronstadt.

1859 minefields in front of Venice, Trieste and Pola prevented the landing of the French and Sardinians (residents of Sardinia; note).

1860 the Austrian officer Wilhelm Lenk von Wolfsberg improved the gun cotton.

1860 The Austrian frigate captain Johann (Giovanni) Luppis had the model of the "Coastal Savior" ("Salvacoste") made.

1861 Pascal Plant received US Patent No. 37,940 for rocket propulsion of a "torpedo".

1861 - 65 were used in the American Civil War on both sides sea mines, these sank 26 ships.

1864 The muscle-powered southern submarine "Hunley" with its spar torpedo sank the steam-powered northern corvette "Housatonic" off Charleston.

1862 Pascal Plant mistakenly sank the schooner "Diana" in front of President Lincoln.

1864 The Danes mined Alsen and Fyn. The chemical detonator of the Danish mines was housed in a glass vial.

1864 - 66 Johann Luppis and Robert Whitehead developed the "fish torpedo".

1866 Austria secured the coasts of Veneto and Istria with submarine minefields.

1867 Luppis and Whitehead introduced the propeller-driven offensive torpedo.

In 1868 Whitehead built the "Secret" into the torpedo as a depth control.

1870 - 71 In the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia used the otter torpedo (a tow mine) invented by the Harvey brothers (Great Britain) to secure ports.

1871 The American John Adams Howell built a torpedo powered by a gyroscopic flywheel, the precision of which was only achieved by Whitehead in 1895.

1873 the Swedish engineer Thorsten Nordenfelt built the first torpedo with an electric motor (operated by 108 batteries). This torpedo had a top speed of ten knots (approx. 18.5 km / h) and a range of 3200 meters.

1875 Alfred Nobel invented dynamite.

1877 The Peruvian armored cruiser "Huascar" narrowly escaped the first Whitehead torpedo of the British frigate "Shah" at a distance of 360 m.

1877 - 78 the Russo-Turkish War raged, in which the Turkish gunboat "Initbah" was sunk by two Whitehead torpedoes.

1891 In the Chilean Civil War, an ironclad - the "Blanco Encalada" (3,500 t) - was sunk by two torpedo boats for the first time.

1894 a torpedo boat torpedoed and sank the armored turret ship "Aquidaban" (5,000 t) during the civil war in Brazil.

1895 Japanese torpedo boats sank the Chinese ironclad "Ting-Yuen" in the port of Wei-hei-wei during the Sino-Japanese naval war.

1895 Ludwig Obry's (gyroscopic) straight-line apparatus made the torpedo a reliable and autonomous weapon suitable for the sea - even at great distances.

The making of the Whitehead torpedo

Even in the first half of the 19th century, attempts were made to shoot the enemy through "broadsides" incapable of maneuvering. B by destroying the sails and rigging. The enemy was generally fired at sight, firing ranges of several kilometers were the exception. In the second half of the 19th century, when more and more sail and steam powered ironclad ships replaced ships with unarmored wooden hulls, battles were carried out from ship to ship with longer-range, heavier guns with rifled barrels and shell ammunition over the range of sight of the gunners as well as with mines and explosive charges (then called torpedoes) or - in exceptional cases - with the massive, metal ramming bow.

In 1866, before Lissa, Admiral Tegetthoff was faced with a numerically and artillery superior Italian fleet under Admiral Persano and had necessarily sought close combat by ramming - and won the battle! After that, naval strategists considered the anachronistic ramming bow to be indispensable, which is why many capital ships (some veterans even in the Second World War) had a ramming bow (which, incidentally, had proven hydrodynamic advantages) during the First World War.

Before the 20th century, the wooden ships were largely replaced by metal ships. These already had long-barreled breech-loaders that were capable of firing twist-stabilized explosive and armor-piercing shells, first from casemates and then from rotating towers. This led to a race between projectile effect and armor - the ships were getting bigger and heavier - and therefore needed more powerful machines. All of this demanded ever higher budgets for building fleets from the states.

Coastal artillery and mines (called defensive torpedo at the time) were used to secure the ports. During the Austro-French War of 1859, the French fleet operated unhindered in the northern Adriatic. Venice, Trieste and the Croatian coast were therefore prepared for defense and ports mined for the first time. In June 1859 the French fleet landed in the Quarnero on Lussin and in Fiume (today Rijeka).

With this impression of impotence, the chemist and mechanic Franz Pfeifer proposed to the commander-in-chief of the Adriatic region, Feldzeugmeister Count Gyulai, to build a buoyant apparatus out of two metal cylinders - both with a conical bow and stern. One cylinder should contain compressed air for propeller drive (propeller is the technical term for a ship's propeller) and the other should contain explosives. This was supposed to be detonated by a percussion fuse when it came into contact with a ship's hull.

In 1860, frigate captain Johann Luppis, commander of the frigate "Bellona", had the model of the "Coastal Savior" ("Salvacoste") made on board, an approx. Six meter long, completely covered boat that is driven by a propeller (screw) and by means of two parallel rudder blades at the bow (!) and stern should be steered to the target via lines from land. The "coast rescuer" was filled with explosives, which should be detonated by four percussion fuses if hit by a sea target. In the absence of suitable motors, however, Luppis used a spring motor (clockwork motor) - and that turned out to be a mistake!

In 1864 Luppis presented his invention to the naval section of the War Ministry and asked for funding for further development. The model was even demonstrated in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph, but Luppis received a rebuff for reasons of cost and doubts about the functionality of the system.

But the owner of the Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano shipyard and machine factory, the English engineer Robert Whitehead, took on the invention on the recommendation of the War Department. He recognized the shortcomings and developed the fish torpedo from Luppi's idea. In doing so, he came very close to the original idea of ​​the Pfeifer cylinder. Whitehead, however, rejected the upstream journey due to the disturbing waves and visibility. The ordnance was thus submarine, the running depth was initially regulated by a water pressure valve. The leash steering of the rudder of the test model got tangled in the propeller and thus proved to be unsuitable for use. It has therefore been replaced by a presetting (trimming) of the rudder and by a lancing device (a tube that specifies the direction). The torpedo thus ran in a slight curve to the target after leaving the tube. A compressed air machine with two movably mounted (oscillating) cylinders with single-acting pistons offset at right angles was used to drive the two-bladed propeller. A valve system produced a constant speed despite the falling pressure.

On December 20, 1866, a fish torpedo was launched on a target 370 meters away in front of a commission (Archduke Leopold and Frigate Captain von Littrow). The demonstration was impressive and, despite "teething troubles", very promising.

On April 15, 1867, a contract was signed between the naval section of the War Ministry and the two inventors, which granted the latter 200,000 guilders if the attempt was successful and the right to sell the invention to third parties.

At the end of 1867 Whitehead developed an underwater launch tube that was installed rigidly under the waterline in the old gunboat "Gemse". The torpedo was inserted into and trapped in the launch tube from behind. After opening the bow hatch, the torpedo was ejected with compressed air.

However, the tests showed that the hydrostatic depth regulator was too imprecise. Whitehead then built in the so-called "Secret": He replaced the previous depth regulator with a heavy pendulum, which - against any inclination - acted on the depth rudder via lever systems. In a test series on July 12, 1867, of 28 launches at 670 meters against an anchored target the size of a gunboat, twelve torpedo shots failed - but 16 (57 percent) hit!

The depth deviation after installing the "Secret" was in the range of 15 centimeters above and below the set depth. The k. u. k. Navy, although for distances of more than 400 meters the dispersion and the speed were still insufficient for a naval battle.

On August 27 and 28, 1868, Whitehead handed over to the k. u. k. After completion of the commissioned tests, the Kriegsmarine received a 35 cm torpedo and a 40 cm "normal torpedo" with the associated construction drawings. This also expired the contract between Whitehead and Luppis, whose relations deteriorated noticeably.

Johann Luppis Ritter von Rammer:

Johann Blasius (Giovanni Biagio) Luppis was born on January 28, 1813 as the son of a naval officer in Fiume (today Rijeka). In 1835 Luppis graduated from the Naval College in Venice and joined the Navy in 1837 as a Marine Corps cadet. In 1845 he became a ship's ensign and in 1848 a frigate lieutenant. After deployments in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, he took part in the blockade of Venice on the frigate "Bellona" in 1848/49. In 1851 he became a lieutenant, in 1853 a corvette captain and in 1857 a frigate captain. In 1859 he commanded the frigate "Venus" off Dalmatia in the Sardinian-French War. In 1860, as the commander of the frigate "Bellona", he had the model of the "Coastal Savior" ("Salvacoste") made. In 1861 he resigned as captain of the "Bellona" and received the Order of the Iron Crown, 3rd class, for his invention.After presenting his invention to the emperor, Luppis contacted engineer Robert Whitehead in 1864 and developed the Whitehead fish torpedo, which was ready for demonstration in 1866. In 1869 Luppis was knighted and in 1875 he died in Torrigia (Lombardy).

Robert Whitehead:

Robert Whitehead was born on January 3, 1823 in Bolton-le-Moors (Lancashire, Great Britain). In 1837 he graduated from Grammar School, then attended private school, became an apprentice to his uncle in Manchester and completed engineering training at the Mechanical Institute in Manchester in his spare time. In 1843 he followed his uncle to Marseille and later became a designer in a shipyard. In 1847 he moved to the then Austrian city of Milan, where he worked on machines for making silk. In 1849 Whitehead went to Trieste as a designer for the Austrian Lloyd. In 1856 he became director of the Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano shipyard and machine factory in Fiume (Rijeka), where he constructed Austrian warships. From 1864 he worked on the development of the fish torpedo and produced the first usable torpedo in 1866. In 1868 Whitehead was ennobled (baron). In 1873 he bought the previously bankrupt shipyard / machine factory and founded the Silurificio Fiumano together with Count Georg Hoyos. In 1876 Whitehead improved the torpedo barrel and its draft with a servo motor and in 1895 built in Ludwig Obry's gyroscope for better directional control. Whitehead died on November 14, 1905 in Becket, Berkshire, Great Britain.

Ludwig Obry:

Ludwig Obry was born in Trieste on August 22, 1852, graduated from the secondary school in Gorizia in 1870 and learned shipbuilding in Trieste. In 1872 he worked as an intern at the Stabilimento Tecnico Trieste shipyard and then for more than ten years as a draftsman for the Navy. From 1882 he worked at Whitehead in Fiume and from 1884 at the Burri company in Trieste. In 1885 he became a provisional draftsman 1st class ("private: single, no assets") and in 1886 an effective draftsman; as such he had "... some knowledge of building construction and the ability to carry out lighter constructions in the torpedo world". But that was obviously enough for the construction of a usable straight running device (gyroscope). The "straight-line control for torpedoes" was patented in 1894. Obry resigned from the k. u. k. Navy and then constructed gyro systems for the engineering company Ing. Ludwig von Petravic (in Vienna - Hernals). In 1906 he developed a gyro-controlled aiming system for artillery weapons ("Obry’s gun firing apparatus"), which was later also patented. Obry died in Trieste on November 2, 1942

Construction details

The first Whitehead torpedo was a spindle-shaped body of revolution made of sheet steel, 3.4 m in length, 36 cm in diameter and a total mass of 136 kg. The upper and one lower guide fin protruded 2.5 cm in the vertical axis and enclosed the propeller aft. Horizontally there were also two short, 2.5 cm wide guide fins in the middle. The tip of the torpedo contained a simple percussion fuse for the eight-kilogram explosive charge made of compressed gun cotton, which was surrounded by the initial charge.

The depth apparatus chamber initially only contained the archetype of the draft regulator: a membrane embedded in the bulkhead, loaded by a spiral spring on one side to specify the operating depth, and exposed to the water pressure on the other. The movements of the membrane were transmitted to the down elevator with pull wires.

The machine chamber, through which the seawater flowed for cooling, contained a two-cylinder compressed air machine (Brotherhood Compound system), which acted on the shaft of the two-bladed propeller via crank joints. There was a piston valve housing on each cylinder, via which the respective working cylinder was charged with compressed air. The compressed air then exiting the engine also causes the torpedo's "bubble path" on the surface of the water. When launching, a lever was tilted that started the compressed air motor via a linkage and unlocked the fuse.

The pressure vessel through which the tunnel pipe with the screw shaft ran contained compressed air at 25 atm.

At the aft end there was the ballast chamber, the adjustable rudder, the two-bladed propeller with fairing, the movable down rudder and a locking device (safety device) for the projectile. The torpedo was trimmed by blowing air into the (water-filled) ballast tank and using lead weights. The tempering device in the stern tube (a watertight connecting tube inside the components) only released the ignition after a certain number of revolutions via a linkage or, if the target was missed, opened a valve (lowering valve) between the ballast space and the engine room, thus causing the torpedo to sink.

Two devices were decisive for the precision of the later Whitehead torpedoes: the draft regulator and the straight-line apparatus.

Because the original draft regulator had proven to be unreliable at shallow depths, Whitehead supported the membrane movement with a heavy pendulum, the movements of which were transferred to the horizontal rudder via rods - later by means of servomotors. This pendulum acted like a damper with a small deflection and caused the small depth deviation of plus / minus 15 cm to the preset depth. The term "Secret" for this improved draft regulator comes from Whitehead.

The second device, the Obry straight line apparatus, was not introduced until 1895. It was essentially a gyroscope, consisting of an approximately 800 g flywheel with a diameter of seven to eight centimeters, the axis of which was suspended in a cardanic manner parallel to the torpedo axis (i.e. movable in all directions). When the torpedo was launched, a spiral spring drive brought the flywheel to 2,400 revolutions per minute. Its rotating axis kept its original orientation due to the gyroscopic movement, even if the torpedo changed its direction: "If the torpedo is forced to deviate from the curse due to external or internal influences, this results in a change in the axis position of the gyroscope in the torpedo body. The latter reacts to the servomotor, which immediately adjusts the rudder to bring the torpedo back into its course. This also explains why the runway, as mentioned earlier, is serpentine when viewed from above. " explained the inventor.

It was only with the Obry straight-line apparatus that the torpedo was able to achieve seaworthiness, accuracy and reliability, and in the latter case it even performed better than the naval artillery of the time. The straight-line apparatus also influenced the attack tactics, because targets more than 400 meters away could now be successfully fought and lead angles could be set. A disadvantage at that time was the decrease in the number of revolutions of the spiral spring-driven gyroscope with a longer distance and thus its effect on the rudder.

The new weapon prevails

In 1867 Whitehead had the development contract with the k. u. k. Navy completed, however, despite the successful attempts, they waived the exclusive acquisition of the invention - although this would have temporarily given it a certain superiority at sea.

So other states acquired the invention, including potential opponents of Austria. After impressive demonstrations in front of the British Admiralty in Sheerness, Great Britain acquired the torpedo in February 1871. Although the Royal Navy had rejected the new weapon as treacherous and unworthy ("a damned unenglish weapon"), its potential was recognized and a torpedo workshop was built in the Woolwich arsenal. That meant the final breakthrough for the new weapon system.

France followed in 1872, Italy and Germany in 1873, Scandinavia in 1875, Turkey and Russia in 1876 and in 1877 "the rest of the world", including Japan and the USA, also bought torpedoes.

The main components of the torpedo, especially the control mechanisms, were secret from the start. Every state that bought the production rights had to commit itself to the secrecy of the construction drawings. The Whitehead torpedo as such was never patented, as there was a fear of copycats and losses for their own armaments industry if the patent rights were disclosed.

Whitehead bought Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano in 1873 and founded Silurificio Whitehead. (From 1894 about 900 torpedoes were produced annually in Fiume.) Whitehead still kept the draft regulator, the "Secret", a secret. But the secrecy was apparently not complete. After a mysterious break-in in Fiume, in which a. an experimental torpedo was dismantled, the German Schwartzkopf-Torpedo (English: Blackhead-Torpedo!) came onto the market as an unexpected and unpleasant competitor product - with a practically corrosion-free shell made of phosphor bronze!

Further improvements

Any national improvement to the torpedo was immediately adopted and generally applied. In Woolwich, the counter-rotating propeller pair was developed in 1876, which increased the speed of the torpedo from seven (approx. 13 km / h) to twelve knots (approx. 22 km / h), prevented its rotation around its own axis and thus for stability and for provided a greater range. From 1872, three-cylinder compressed air motors (also from the Brotherhood Compound system) and stronger pressure vessels were installed as standard and the mass increased from 136 to 240 kg.

In 1875 the Royal Navy introduced (pivoting) surface launchers for torpedoes, and in 1883, Dr. Robert E. Froude in the experimental workshop in Torquay (England) that the ogive shape (pointed arch shape) was more aerodynamic than a pointed cone. In addition, the new shape also offered more space for explosives. From 1890 the warheads of the torpedoes were generally rounded.

In 1895, a Petravic engineer adapted Obry's straight line apparatus for Whitehead. The adapted straight running apparatus became standard equipment in 1898. At a (theoretical) target distance of seven kilometers, he reduced the deviation to half a degree! Even large angles of immersion when launching abeam from above water torpedo tubes could be compensated for. This increased the firing range to four kilometers.

From 1901 a heater for the compressed air tanks was installed to prevent ice formation at low outside temperatures (Colonel Victor von Scheliha had already received a patent for a torpedo heater in 1872). The Whitehead torpedoes were heated by heating the compressed air with a mixture of burned mineral oil and superheated steam.

Direct impact on naval warfare

The range and accuracy of the torpedo now corresponded - with the same target range - to that of the heavy ship artillery. In addition, the torpedo was the first "stealth weapon" - an invisible threat that was "omnipresent" in the maritime world from submarines during two world wars. The only drawbacks were the relatively slow speed and the time-consuming, cumbersome reloading process.

The torpedo was immediately recognized by all naval powers as a crucial weapon system. It could cause more damage than a grenade (see box "Keyword underwater explosion") and, including the launching device, was cheaper than a turret - and easier to accommodate.

It seemed that petty naval powers could now challenge even the greatest. France, in constant competition with Great Britain, even thought of a torpedo boat fleet instead of battleships and cruisers. Small, unarmored boats with torpedoes as their main armament could attack much larger, stronger (and more expensive) ships and, thanks to their superior speed and small signature, easily escape afterwards.

Instead of the originally individually arranged launching devices, ships - but also coastal protection devices - soon received rigidly installed and rotatable torpedo batteries suitable for fan shots (mostly with four, more rarely with six torpedoes).

The torpedo also led to the development of high-speed boats, the further development of submarines and the new tactical procedures associated with them: high-speed boats with several torpedo tubes operated according to the hit-and-run tactic. They approached as unnoticed as possible, shot down their torpedoes, turned and sped away at full speed. In World War I this was z. B. a good practice of the Italian MAS (motoscafo antisommergibile). One of these speedboats sank the k. u. k. Battleship "Szent István", a sister ship of the "Viribus Unitis".

Ultimately, even the relatively large submarine fleets of both world wars owe their existence to the torpedo!

Torpedo bombers were also built. Among the best known are the open Fairey "Swordfish" biplanes - one of these, with its torpedo, made the German battleship "Bismarck" incapable of maneuvering in 1941.

But Luppis' original idea - the immediate protection of the coast - has not been forgotten either. Norway built stationary torpedo batteries on the islands and on the coasts of some fjords. One of them sank the attacking German heavy cruiser "Blücher" in the Oslofjord in 1940 - with two torpedoes made in Austria that were almost 50 (!) Year old at the time.

If you saw the air bubbles of a torpedo runway from the deck, it was usually too late to change course or to destroy the approaching torpedo with machine guns. It was safest to capture the launch platform - that is, the speedboat or the submarine - before the targeted torpedo shot and fight it. However, this required additional security vehicles (with tracking devices, depth charges, etc.) against submarines, as well as small-caliber guns with high cadence in order to defend themselves against the torpedo boats.

In addition, (torpedo boat) destroyers, which themselves had torpedoes and artillery, were used against torpedo boats. The destroyers could use depth charges against submarines - just like the submarine hunter type of ship.

Larger surface ships received, among other things. double decks and torpedo bulkheads. Capital ships protect themselves in the roadstead or at anchorage with torpedo nets made of steel wire rings on swiveling spars, and the port entrances were blocked from mined networks.

Parallel and further developments after 1898

In 1890 the wire control of the Sam Edison torpedo was registered for a patent in the USA. The Siemens-Schuckert gliding torpedo (an unmanned, explosive-carrying glider that was dropped by an airship several kilometers from the target ship) was built in 1915. From 1916, the Lürssen shipyard (Bremen-Vegesack) provided explosive devices - cable-controlled remote control boats (FL 1 to 17 ) - with a top speed of 28 to 30 knots (approx. 52 to 56 km / h) and a payload of 700 kg trinitrotoluene (TNT). The use of these boats was successful. Their control came from Siemens and was carried out over 20 (!) Kilometers of cables. Four of the boats - FL 12, 13, 15, and 16 - were later converted to wireless aircraft control from Siemens-Halske. This increased the range from 20 to 180 (!) Kilometers. Austria-Hungary tried to get involved in the development, which the German Reichsmarineamt prevented in 1918.

Explosive boats were also used in World War II (e.g. the German "Linse" type of explosive vessel, 1944/45). However, these had a skipper who was supposed to jump off before the boat hit the target. "Suicide missions" like the kamikaze pilots were only planned by the Japanese.

In general, however, replaced more modern weapon systems such. B. homing torpedoes and sea target guided missiles the remote-controlled explosive device, as Luppis had originally devised.

The further development of the gyroscope led to reliable navigation instruments, increased flight safety and made space travel possible in the first place. Gyroscopes provide, among other things. for the accuracy of missiles and the roll stability of ships, they are also found in gyrocompasses and autopilots. The weapon stabilization of tanks and warships is also carried out gyroscopically. (The battleships of the Austrian "Tegetthoff" class, including the "Viribus Unitis" and the "Szent István", would have had the world's first gyroscope-controlled artillery - had it not been rejected by the Austro-Hungarian Navy despite positive test results.) Gyroscopes to be used in the future wherever directional stability is important.

The modern torpedo

Modern torpedoes contain state-of-the-art electronics and sensors, and findings from the field of energy application (gas pressure, electromagnetism, mass acceleration) are also used. This means that the torpedoes can also be used against distant surface and underwater vehicles as well as against water structures (port facilities, docks, bridges, ...). The very existence of modern torpedoes forces the enemy to take complex protective measures.

The guiding principle, however, remained unchanged: to detonate a sufficient explosive charge under the keel or the waterline of the enemy without any great risk - i.e. without direct contact with the target. Once launched, the modern torpedo catches the target and steers it automatically until it hits. To do this, it has passive and active homing devices and distance detonators. Modern torpedoes are (almost) free of bubbles and noise and have an electric or thermodynamic drive with an oxygen reservoir. Their speed is 50 to 60 knots (approx. 93 to approx. 111 km / h) and their range is 20 to 30 nautical miles (approx. 37 to approx. 56 km). The American MK 48 torpedo is z. B. 5.8 meters long, has a diameter of 21 inches (about 53 cm) and a mass of about 1,580 kilograms. Its speed is 60 knots (approx. 111 km / h) and its range is 20 nautical miles (approx.37 km). It is driven by a gas turbine. The torpedo is equipped with a high explosive (HE) warhead, a shaped charge warhead or a nuclear warhead (payload approx. 300 kilograms).

The active countermeasures today are not only directed against the launch platform (speedboat, submarine, ...), but also against the torpedo itself: The Applied Research Laboratories (Pennsylvania, USA) work e.g. B. on a supercavitative anti-torpedo torpedo. (Super cavity: at very high speed, the torpedo is enveloped in an air bubble in which it shoots towards the target at around 350 knots / approx. 648 km / h.) One of the most effective passive countermeasures is the surface-effect construction of ships. The surface effect is caused by a propulsion system that combines a buoyancy system and a propulsion system. It reduces the draft to ten to 15 percent of a normal ship of comparable size and enables high speed.

At a glance

Frigate captain Johann Luppis built the model of the "coastal rescuer", an unmanned, clockwork-driven surface vehicle, which was steered to the target by means of wires and was thus the first remote-controlled explosive vessel based on a basic idea by Franz Pfeifer, based on tactical considerations (coastal protection).

The engineer Robert Whitehead developed the self-propelled underwater torpedo with a launching device in collaboration with Luppis. Whitehead recognized the "stealth" factor of the underwater attack, solved the problems of the depth and side control and developed a working weapon. But it was only the use of Obry's gyroscope that gave the torpedo the stability to hit the target and the range required for naval warfare.

The interaction of Luppis, Whitehead and Obry led to one of the most compact weapon systems of the 19th century, a naval weaponry that had little in common with the basic idea, remained almost unchanged in structure for 140 years, and the composition of the war fleets and naval warfare had a lasting influence well into the 20th century.

The autonomy of the torpedo (and the "technological leap" connected with it) is by all means comparable to that of the space rocket.


Author: DI Helmut W. Malnig, born in 1933. Matura and training in Vienna and abroad. Active as an analyst, system engineer and project manager in the energy sector, in defense technology and in the aerospace industry in Germany and abroad (Germany, Canada); Publications (heat transfer), patents (defense technology) and numerous articles on technical-cultural-historical topics. Retired since 1997.

This article is a revised version of a study on this topic for TRUPPENDIENST, published in the Austrian magazine for engineers and architects.

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