The US Navy trains dolphins and sea lions to find mines — something I noted, good Lord, over a decade ago! — and recently some Navy dolphins discovered a Howell torpedo off Coronado:
Until recently only one Howell torpedo was known to exist, on display at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash. Now a second has been discovered, not far from the Hotel del Coronado.
Meant to be launched from above the water or submerged torpedo tubes, the Howell torpedo was made of brass, 11 feet long, driven by a 132-pound flywheel spun to 10,000 rpm before launch. It had a range of 400 yards and a speed of 25 knots.
As a kid, I never wondered what propelled a self-propelled torpedo. The Howell torpedo used a flywheel, like a toy car, while its more successful competitor, the Whitehead torpedo, used compressed air:
The result was a submarine weapon, the Minenschiff (mine ship), the first self-propelled torpedo, officially presented to the Austrian Imperial Naval commission on December 21, 1866.
Maintaining proper depth was a major problem in the early days but Whitehead introduced his “secret” in 1868 which overcame this. It was a mechanism consisting of a hydrostatic valve and pendulum that caused the torpedo’s hydroplanes to be adjusted so as to maintain a preset depth.
After the Austrian government decided to invest in the invention, Whitehead started the first torpedo factory in Fiume. In 1870, he improved the devices to travel up to approximately 1,000 yd (910 m) at a speed of up to 6 kn (11 km/h), and by 1881 the factory was exporting torpedoes to ten other countries. The torpedo was powered by compressed air and had an explosive charge of gun-cotton. Whitehead went on to develop more efficient devices, demonstrating torpedoes capable of 18 kn (33 km/h) in 1876, 24 kn (44 km/h) in 1886, and, finally, 30 kn (56 km/h) in 1890.
Royal Navy representatives visited Fiume for a demonstration in late 1869, and in 1870 a batch of torpedoes was ordered. In 1871, the British Admiralty paid Whitehead £15,000 for certain of his developments and production started at the Royal Laboratories in Woolwich the following year.
This was the crazy steampunk era of rapidly changing naval technology.