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Koninklijke Vereniging - Société Royale

HISTORIEK  HISTORIQUE  HISTORIC

 

The modern torpedoes (Part II)

 

Energy sources


Compressed air

The Whitehead torpedo of 1866, the first successful self-propelled torpedo, used compressed air as its energy source. The air was stored at pressures of up to 2.55 MPa (370 psi) and fed to a piston engine that turned a single propeller at about 100 rpm. It could travel about 180 metres (200 yd) at an average speed of 6.5 knots (12.0 km/h). The speed and range of later models was improved by increasing the pressure of the stored air. In 1906 Whitehead built torpedoes that could cover nearly 1,000 metres (1,100 yd) at an average speed of 35 knots (65 km/h).

At higher pressures the cooling experienced by the air as it expanded in the engine caused icing problems. This drawback was remedied by heating the air with seawater before it was fed to the engine, which increased engine performance further, because the air expanded even more after heating. This was the principle used by the Brotherhood engine.


Heated torpedoes

Passing the air through an engine led to the idea of injecting a liquid fuel, like kerosene, into the air and igniting it. In this manner the air is heated more and expands even further, and the burned propellant adds more gas to drive the engine. Construction of such heated torpedoes started circa 1904 by Whitehead's company.


Wet-heater
A further improvement was the use of water to cool the combustion chamber of the fuel-burning torpedo. This not only solved heating problems so more fuel could be burnt but also allowed additional power to be generated by feeding the resulting steam into the engine together with the combustion products. Torpedoes with such a propulsion system became known as wet heaters, while heated torpedoes without steam generation were retrospectively called dry heaters. A simpler system was introduced by the British Royal Gun factory in 1908. Most torpedoes used in World War I and World War II were wet-heaters.


Compressed oxygen

The amount of fuel that can be burned by a torpedo engine (i.e. wet engine) is limited by the amount of oxygen it can carry. Since compressed air contains only about 21% oxygen, engineers in Japan developed the Type 93 (nicknamed Long Lance postwar) for destroyers and cruisers in the 1930s. It used pure compressed oxygen instead of compressed air and had performance unmatched by any contemporary torpedo in service, through the end of World War II. However, oxygen systems posed a serious danger to any ship that came under attack while still carrying such torpedoes; Japan lost several cruisers partly due to catastrophic secondary explosions of Type 93s. During the war, Germany experimented with hydrogen peroxide for the same purpose.

 

Wire driven

U.S. World War II PT boat torpedo on display

The Brennan torpedo had two wires wound around internal drums. Shore-based steam winches pulled the wires, which spun the drums and drove the propellers. An operator controlled the relative speeds of the winches, providing guidance. Such systems were used for coastal defence of the British homeland and colonies from 1887 to 1903 and were purchased by, and under the control of, the Army as opposed to the Navy. Speed was about 25 knots (46 km/h) for over 2,400 m.

 


Flywheel

The Howell torpedo used by the US Navy in the late 19th century featured a heavy flywheel that had to be spun up before launch. It was able to travel about 400 yards (370 m) at 25 knots (46 km/h). The Howell had the advantage of not leaving a trail of bubbles behind it, unlike compressed air torpedoes. This gave the target vessel less chance to detect and evade the torpedo, and avoided giving away the attacker's position. Additionally, it ran at a constant depth, unlike Whitehead models.

 

Electric batteries

Electric batteries of a French Z13 torpedo

Electric propulsion systems avoided tell-tale bubbles. John Ericsson invented an electrically propelled torpedo in 1873; it was powered by a cable from an external power source, as batteries of the time had insufficient capacity. The Sims-Edison torpedo was similarly powered. The Nordfelt torpedo was also electrically powered and was steered by impulses down a trailing wire.

Germany introduced its first battery-powered torpedo shortly before World War II, the G7e. It was slower and had shorter range than the conventional G7a, but was wakeless and much cheaper. Its lead-acid rechargeable battery was sensitive to shock, required frequent maintenance before use, and required preheating for best performance. The experimental G7ep, an enhancement of the G7e, used primary cells.

The United States had an electric design, the Mark 18, largely copied from the German torpedo (although with improved batteries), as well as FIDO, an air-dropped acoustic homing torpedo for anti-submarine use.

Modern electric torpedoes such as the Mark 24 Tigerfish or DM2 series commonly use silver oxide batteries that need no maintenance, so torpedoes can be stored for years without losing performance.


Rockets

A number of experimental rocket-propelled torpedoes were tried soon after Whitehead's invention but were not successful. Rocket propulsion has been implemented successfully by the Soviet Union, for example in the VA-111 Shkval--and has been recently revived in Russian and German torpedoes, as it is especially suitable for supercavitating devices.


Modern drive systems

Modern torpedoes use a variety of drive mechanisms, including gas turbines (the British Spearfish), monopropellants, and sulfur hexafluoride gas sprayed over a block of solid lithium.

 

Propulsion

The first of Whitehead's torpedoes had a single propeller and needed a large vane to stop it spinning about its longitudinal axis. Not long afterward the idea of contra-rotating propellers was introduced, to avoid the need for the vane. The three-bladed propeller came in 1893 and the four-bladed one in 1897. To minimise noise, today's torpedoes often use pump-jets.

Some torpedoes--like the Russian VA-111 Shkval, Iranian Hoot, and German Unterwasserlaufkörper/ Barracuda--use supercavitation to increase speed to over 200 knots (370 km/h). Torpedoes that don't use supercavitation, such as the American Mark 48 and British Spearfish, are limited to under 100 kn (120 mph; 190 km/h), though manufacturers and the military don't always release exact figures.


Guidance

A torpedo dropped from a Sopwith Cuckoo during World War I

Torpedoes may be aimed at the target and fired unguided, similarly to an artillery shell, or they may be guided onto the target. They may be guided automatically towards the target by some procedure, e.g., sound (homing), or by the operator, typically via commands sent over a signal-carrying cable (wire guidance).


Unguided
The Victorian era Brennan could be steered onto its target by varying the relative speeds of its propulsion cables. However, the Brennan required a substantial infrastructure and was not suitable for shipboard use. Therefore, for the first part of its history, the torpedo was guided only in the sense that its course could be regulated so as to achieve an intended impact depth (because of the sine wave running path of the Whitehead, this was a hit or miss proposition, even when everything worked correctly) and, through gyroscopes, a straight course. With such torpedoes the method of attack in small torpedo boats, torpedo bombers and small submarines was to steer a predictable collision course abeam to the target and release the torpedo at the last minute, then veer away, all the time subject to defensive fire.

Illustration of General Torpedo Fire Control Problem

In larger ships and submarines, fire control calculators gave a wider engagement envelope. Originally, plotting tables (in large ships), combined with specialised slide rules (known in U.S. service as the "banjo" and "Is/Was"), reconciled the speed, distance, and course of a target with the firing ship's speed and course, together with the performance of its torpedoes, to provide a firing solution. By the Second World War, all sides had developed automatic electro-mechanical calculators, exemplified by the U.S. Navy's Torpedo Data Computer. Submarine commanders were still expected to be able to calculate a firing solution by hand as a backup against mechanical failure, and because many submarines existing at the start of the war were not equipped with a TDC; most could keep the "picture" in their heads and do much of the calculations (simple trigonometry) mentally, from extensive training.

Against high-value targets and multiple targets, submarines would launch a spread of torpedoes, to increase the probability of success. Similarly, squadrons of torpedo boats and torpedo bombers would attack together, creating a "fan" of torpedoes across the target's course. Faced with such an attack, the prudent thing for a target to do was to turn so as to parallel the course of the incoming torpedo and steam away from the torpedoes and the firer, allowing the relatively short range torpedoes to use up their fuel. An alternative was to "comb the tracks", turning to parallel the incoming torpedo's course, but turning towards the torpedoes. The intention of such a tactic was still to minimise the size of target offered to the torpedoes, but at the same time be able to aggressively engage the firer. This was the tactic advocated by critics of Jellicoe's actions at Jutland, his caution at turning away from the torpedoes being seen as the reason the Germans escaped.

The use of multiple torpedoes to engage single targets depletes torpedo supplies and greatly reduces a submarine's combat endurance. Endurance can be improved by ensuring a target can be effectively engaged by a single torpedo, which gave rise to the guided torpedo.

 

Radio and wire guidance

Though Luppis' original design had been rope guided, torpedoes were not wire-guided until the 1960s.

During the First World War the U.S. Navy evaluated a radio controlled torpedo launched from a surface ship called the Hammond Torpedo. A later version tested in the 1930s was claimed to have an effective range of 6 miles.

Modern torpedoes use an umbilical wire, which nowadays allows the computer processing power of the submarine or ship to be used. Torpedoes such as the U.S. Mark 48 can operate in a variety of modes, increasing tactical flexibility.


Homing

Homing "fire and forget" torpedoes can use passive or active guidance, or a combination of both. Passive acoustic torpedoes home in on emissions from a target. Active acoustic torpedoes home in on the reflection of a signal, or "ping", from the torpedo or its parent vehicle; this has the disadvantage of giving away the presence of the torpedo. In semi-active mode, a torpedo can be fired to the last known position or calculated position of a target, which is then acoustically illuminated ("pinged") once the torpedo is within attack range.

Later in the Second World War torpedoes were given acoustic (homing) guidance systems, originally by the Germans in the G7es torpedo. Pattern-following and wake homing torpedoes were also developed. Acoustic homing formed the basis for torpedo guidance after the Second World War.

The homing systems for torpedoes are generally acoustic, though there have been other target sensor types used. A ship's acoustic signature is not the only emission a torpedo can home in on: to engage U.S. supercarriers, the Soviet Union developed the 53-65 wake-homing torpedo.


Warhead and fuzing

The warhead is generally some form of aluminised explosive, because the sustained explosive pulse produced by the powdered aluminium is particularly destructive against underwater targets. Torpex was popular until the 1950s, but has been superseded by PBX compositions. Nuclear warheads for torpedoes have also been developed, e.g. the Mark 45 torpedo. In lightweight antisubmarine torpedoes designed to penetrate submarine hulls, a shaped charge can be used. Detonation can be triggered by direct contact with the target or by a proximity fuze incorporating sonar and/or magnetic sensors.


Control surfaces and hydrodynamics

Control surfaces are essential for a torpedo to maintain its course and depth. A homing torpedo also needs to be able to outmanoeuvre a target. Good hydrodynamics are needed for it to attain high speed efficiently and also to give long range, since the torpedo has limited stored energy.


Launch platforms and launchers


A Mark 32 Mod 15 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tube (SVTT) fires a Mark 46 Mod 5 lightweight torpedo

Torpedoes may be launched from submarines, surface ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, unmanned naval mines and naval fortresses.[  They are also used in conjunction with other weapons; for example the Mark 46 torpedo used by the United States is the warhead section of the ASROC (Anti-Submarine ROCket) and the CAPTOR mine (CAPsulated TORpedo) is a submerged sensor platform which releases a torpedo when a hostile contact is detected.
Ship

Amidships quintuple mounting for 21 in (53 cm) torpedoes aboard the World War II era destroyer USS Charrette

Originally, Whitehead torpedoes were intended for launch underwater and the firm was upset when they found out the British were launching them above water, as they considered their torpedoes too delicate for this. However, the torpedoes survived. The launch tubes could be fitted in a ship's bow, which weakened it for ramming, or on the broadside; this introduced problems because of water flow twisting the torpedo, so guide rails and sleeves were used to prevent it. The torpedoes were originally ejected from the tubes by compressed air but later slow burning gunpowder was used. Torpedo boats originally used a frame that dropped the torpedo into the sea. Royal Navy Coastal Motor Boats of World War I used a rear-facing trough and a cordite ram to push the torpedoes into the water tail-first; they then had to move rapidly out of the way to avoid being hit by their own torpedo.

Developed in the run-up to the First World War multiple-tube mounts (initially twin, later triple and in WW2 up to quintuple in some ships) for 21 to 24 in (53 to 61 cm) torpedoes in rotating turntable mounts appeared. Destroyers could be found with two or three of these mounts with between five and twelve tubes in total. The Japanese went one better, covering their tube mounts with splinter protection and adding reloading gear (both unlike any other navy in the world), making them true turrets and increasing the broadside without adding tubes and top hamper (as the quadruple and quintuple mounts did). Considering their Type 93s very effective weapons, the IJN equipped their cruisers with torpedoes. The Germans also equipped their capital ships with torpedoes.

Smaller vessels such as PT boats carried their torpedoes in fixed deck mounted tubes using compressed air. These were either aligned to fire forward or at an offset angle from the centerline.

Later, lightweight mounts for 12.75 in (32.4 cm) homing torpedoes were developed for anti-submarine use consisting of triple launch tubes used on the decks of ships. These were the 1960 Mk 32 torpedo launcher in the USA and part of STWS (Shipborne Torpedo Weapon System) in the UK. Later a below-decks launcher was used by the RN. This basic launch system continues to be used today with improved torpedoes and fire control systems.


Submarines

Modern submarines use either swim-out systems or a pulse of water to discharge the torpedo from the tube, both of which have the advantage of being significantly quieter than previous systems, helping avoid detection of the firing from passive sonar. Earlier designs used a pulse of compressed air or a hydraulic ram.

Originally, torpedo tubes were fitted to both the bow and stern of submarines. Modern submarine bows are usually occupied by a large sonar array, necessitating midships tubes angled outward, while stern tubes have largely disappeared. The first French and Russian submarines carried their torpedoes externally in Drzewiecki drop collars. These were cheaper than tubes, but less reliable. Both Britain and America experimented with external tubes in World War II. External tubes offered a cheap and easy way of increasing torpedo capacity without radical redesign, something neither had time or resources to do prior to, or early in, the war. British T class submarines carried up to 13 torpedo tubes, up to 5 of them external. America's use was mainly limited to earlier Porpoise-, Salmon-, and Sargo-class boats. Until the appearance of the Tambors, most American submarines only carried 4 bow and either 2 or 4 stern tubes, something many American submarine officers felt provided inadequate firepower.This problem was compounded by the notorious unreliability of the Mark 14 torpedo.

Late in World War II, the U.S. adopted a 16 in (41 cm) homing torpedo (known as "Cutie") for use against escorts. It was basically a modified Mark 24 Mine with wooden rails to allow firing from a 21 in (53 cm) torpedo tube.


Air launch

Aerial torpedoes may be carried by fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters or missiles. They are launched from the first two at prescribed speeds and altitudes, dropped from bomb-bays or underwing hardpoints.


Handling equipment

Although lightweight torpedoes are fairly easily handled, the transport and handling of heavyweight ones is difficult, especially in the small space of a submarine. After the Second World War, some Type XXI submarines were obtained from Germany by the United States and Britain. One of the main novel developments seen was a mechanical handling system for torpedoes. Such systems were widely adopted as a result of this discovery

 

 

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