Published Resources Details Journal Article

Torpedo boat design
The Engineer
vol. 85, 28 January 1898, p. 88

Accession No.520


The text of a paper read by Assistant Naval Constructor H.G. Gillmor, U.S.N. at the annual meeting of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, held in New York in September 1897. According to H. G. Gillmor spar torpedoes were first used in the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 and the torpedo boats of that time were the regular pulling boats and steam launches of the man-of-war. The Whitehead torpedo developed in the mid - 1860's by Robert Whitehead revolutionised torpedo warfare, and led to the construction of vessels specifically designed for torpedo warfare. Early in the 1870's it was proposed to construct small seam vessels, with lightweight hulls, fine lines, and powerful engines. J. I. Thornycroft and Company, Chiswick and A. Yarrow and Company, Poplar, were the first commercial builders of torpedo boats, and the rivalry that existed between these two firms accelerated the development of these fast, lightweight, highly manoeuvrable vessels. The first torpedo boat built was the Rasp (length 57 feet, beam 5 feet 6 inches, displacement seven and a half tons; trail speed 15 knots) built by Thornycroft and Company, Chiswick, for the Norwegian Government. The French began building torpedo boats in 1875, initially these vessels were subject to the following limitations, length, 20 metres; hull, steel capable of resiting musket fire; maximum speed, 14 knots; coal, sufficient for eight hours at full speed. In 1876 the American Government ordered the Lightning a 58-foot wooden launch armed with spar torpedoes from the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. In 1877 the Lightning (length 85 feet, beam 11 feet, displacement 27 tons; trial speed 19 knots), built by Thornycroft and Company, Chiswick, was the first torpedo boat purchased by the British Government. In the same year the Russian Government ordered no less than 100 similar vessels (length 75 feet, beam 10 feet: maximum speed 18 knots) from a number of builders. Italy followed the next year with a vessel very much like the Lightning, and in the same year the first German boat was built. By the end of 1878 the torpedo boat had a place in the navy lists of the major European powers. At the end of 1884 Russia possessed 115 torpedo boats; France, 50; Holland, 22; England, 19; Italy, 18; and Austria. 17. At the end of 1890, France possessed 210 torpedo boats; England, 206; Italy, 152; Russia, 143; Germany, 125; Japan, 24; Spain, 15, and the United States of America, 1.