People have been throwing around the idea of torpedos since the 13th Century. Yep. The 1200s. Rudimentary torpedos, which probably wouldn't fit the modern definition of a torpedo (although, they were called that at the time), were being used in the 1600s in Naval warfare, mostly in wars around England.
But, who invented the modern torpedo? Is it a modern invention, or has the torpedo been around far longer than many of us anticipated? Let's take a look.
Who Invented The Torpedo?
This depends on who you ask.
The first thing that comes close to the modern torpedo appeared shortly after the American Revolutionary War. Robert Fulton, an American, created a submerged bomb with a ticking mechanism. He successfully demonstrated that it had the ability to bring down ships without any issues. However, nobody wanted it. Not because it wasn't a brilliant idea. It was. It was too good. Militaries didn't want other militaries to get their hands on it.
During the War of 1812, the British even demanded that the US stopped using them because they were too devastating.
What we know as the modern torpedo was invented by Giovanni Luppis and Robert Whitehead. The latter was the designer, while the former was the one that asked Whitehead to design the torpedo for him.
When Was The Modern Torpedo Invented?
The very first self-propelled torpedo was invented by Robert Whitehead in 1866.
We entered the age of the modern torpedo in 1870. The Austrian military decided that it wanted to invest in torpedo technology, and they called in Robert Whitehead to do it. They paid him to develop more torpedos, and he went through different iterations, with each successive torpedo able to travel faster and for longer periods of time.
At roughly the same time, Robert Whitehead set up a torpedo production facility in England, which produced torpedos for several decades. It finally shut down shortly after the conclusion of World War II.
What Was The First Torpedo?
The very first of the modern torpedos was known as the Whitehead Torpedo. It was developed by Robert Whitehead in the late 1800s.
It was launched in much the same way that you would launch a cannon, and very similar to how modern torpedos are launched.
The Whitehead Torpedo had to be loaded into a torpedo tube. This torpedo tube was specially designed for the Whitehead Torpedo, but it could be used multiple times.
The person firing the torpedo would light the torpedo tube, which was full of gunpowder. This would then send the Whitehead Torpedo out of the tube, through the water, until it met its target.
There were multiple designs for the Whitehead Torpedo, with the American design (the right to build it was purchased by the US), seemingly the best.
This torpedo was fired all the way from 1866 through to 1940. Yep. Even though other torpedos had been developed during this time, some people just loved how the Whitehead Torpedo worked so much that they continued to use it. Although, there were much better torpedos around at the time, but we suppose military supplies were low during World War II, so they had to turn to some older methods.
Which Country Fired The First Torpedo?
In terms of the modern torpedo, that honor has to go to Austria. They had invested heavily in the Whitehead Torpedo and even hosted the original manufacturing facilities for it. This means that all of the torpedo testing was carried out in the country, although other nearby countries (namely Germany and France) soon caught on, and they were manufacturing their own torpedos too.
Before the modern torpedo, it is much more difficult to know. This is because, back then, what they called a torpedo, we would now call a contact mine.
What Was The First Ship Sunk By a Modern Torpedo?
We know that the very first ship to fire a torpedo in the heat of battle (i.e. as a form of aggression or defense) was the HMS Shah, a British warship. It fired the torpedo at a Peruvian ship, but the torpedo wasn't that brilliant, and the Peruvian ship didn't get hit.
The first ship sunk by a torpedo, a modern one, at least, came a few years later. On the 16th of January 1878, the Russo-Turkish war was in full swing. The Turkish boat, Intibah, was hit by a torpedo and sunk.
There is some debate as to whether any boats were sunk by torpedos before this point. Although, it is tough to find out much information for historians. A lot of this stuff was kept top secret back then, and nobody was writing it down. In fact, even today, there is an assumption that China had some sort of electric torpedo tech that they were using to sink ships around their area, but there has been absolutely no firm evidence that this is the case.
Are New Torpedos Different From The Original Torpedos?
The short answer: Yes.
While torpedos are still in use today, the design is different. Obviously, they still have roughly the same shape, and they have been designed to flow through the water with ease. However, they move faster, they are much more explosive, and this means that they are much more devastating.
Modern torpedos tend to be loaded up with all sorts of technical wizardry too. We are talking homing devices (so they can chase down ships), proximity damage, and they can even be launched from the air. Torpedo tech certainly has come a long way since the 1800s!
Torpedo history is lengthy. It is likely that the inventor of the modern torpedo was Robert Whitehead, an Englishman. He was certainly the first person to come up with the idea of a self-propelled torpedo, and his design very quickly spread around the world. Even today, modern torpedo design principles follow Robert's closely e.g. the shape of the device, although our modern torpedos are much more devastating than the ones that would have been used in the late 1800s all the way through to World War II.