The New Student's Reference Work/Torpedo (weapon)

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Torpedo, an apparatus or machine designed to destroy ships by blowing them up with an explosive. Torpedoes are either stationary, floating or moving. Stationary and floating torpedoes are used in defensive operations, as in harbors or rivers. They are placed in the harbor, either being anchored or allowed to drift within certain limits, and so arranged that they explode by contact with a ship or can be exploded by an electrical contact from some convenient point. Moving torpedoes are projected through the water, either on or below the surface, and explode upon coming in contact with a ship. They may depend for motion wholly upon the original force of projection, or they may be supplied with some motive power by which they move themselves. When they are projected, they are usually discharged by compressed air from a long tube called a torpedo-tube. Many war-ships are fitted with these torpedo tubes, but special boats called torpedo-boats are more often used for the purpose. A torpedo-boat is a small, fast steamer fitted with appliances for launching torpedoes. Some navies have somewhat larger steamers which have great speed, and are equipped with fast-firing guns for protecting the large cruisers and battleships from torpedo-boats. Such boats are called torpedo-destroyers. Torpedo-destroyers are also supplied with torpedoes and torpedo-tubes for offensive operations. The use of torpedoes in warfare dates back to the i6th century, when floating torpedoes were used to blow up bridges etc. During the American Revolution floating torpedoes were tried with little success against Lord Howe's ships, both in New York harbor and on the Delaware. Col. Samuel Colt of Hartford, Conn., made numbers of experiments for the United States government about 1840. These experiments were in many ways successful, but did not lead to the general use of torpedoes. During the American Civil War the Confederates made large use of torpedoes as a means of defending their ports, and 24 Federal war-vessels and transports were destroyed by torpedoes. Torpedoes were used successfully by the Germans in 1870-71 in keeping off the French warships and by the Russians in the Russp-Turkish War (1877-8) in keeping Turkish ships out of the Danube. The torpedo employed until 1885 was a spar torpedo, but has been superseded by the automobile torpedo. The Whitehead, Schwartz-kopf and Howell torpedoes are the only successful torpedoes of this sort. The Whitehead goes more than half a mile at 30 knots an hour, strikes within a few yards of the spot aimed at on a ship and is a miracle of ingenious mechanism. It costs over $3,000. During the Spanish-American War the Cuban harbors were mined, and so kept out the United States warships, but no ships were destroyed by torpedoes on either side. Within recent years much study has been given to submarine boats for torpedo warfare. The Holland submarine has been successfully experimented on by the United States. It dives like a duck, goes ten miles an hour on the surface, carries torpedo-tubes and fires the largest White-heads. The American navy (1911) has eight submarines, 32 torpedo-boat destroyers and 36 torpedo-boats. In the Russo-Japanese War 16 torpedo-boats sank a battle-ship and five cruisers, only two of the torpedo-boats themselves and ten of their crew being lost. England France and Germany also, have many destroyers in their navies. We, however, fall short in submarines as well as in destroyers. The French also have numbers of successful submarine boats for torpedo warfare. The study of this science is carried on with great secrecy by the different nations. The American naval school for this work is at Willet's Point in New York harbor. See Navy.