Robert Whitehead
Overview
 
Robert Whitehead was an English engineer. He developed the first effective self-propelled naval torpedo
Torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

. His company, located in the Austria
Austrian Empire
The Austrian Empire was a modern era successor empire, which was centered on what is today's Austria and which officially lasted from 1804 to 1867. It was followed by the Empire of Austria-Hungary, whose proclamation was a diplomatic move that elevated Hungary's status within the Austrian Empire...

n naval centre in Fiume, was the world leader in torpedo development and production up to the First World War.
He was born the son of a cotton-bleacher, in Bolton
Bolton
Bolton is a town in Greater Manchester, in the North West of England. Close to the West Pennine Moors, it is north west of the city of Manchester. Bolton is surrounded by several smaller towns and villages which together form the Metropolitan Borough of Bolton, of which Bolton is the...

, England. He trained as an engineer and draughtsman, and attended the Mechanics Institute in Manchester
Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

.

His first professional employment was at a shipyard in Toulon
Toulon
Toulon is a town in southern France and a large military harbor on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department in the former province of Provence....

, France, and then as a consultant engineer in Milan
Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

, Italy.
Encyclopedia
Robert Whitehead was an English engineer. He developed the first effective self-propelled naval torpedo
Torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

. His company, located in the Austria
Austrian Empire
The Austrian Empire was a modern era successor empire, which was centered on what is today's Austria and which officially lasted from 1804 to 1867. It was followed by the Empire of Austria-Hungary, whose proclamation was a diplomatic move that elevated Hungary's status within the Austrian Empire...

n naval centre in Fiume, was the world leader in torpedo development and production up to the First World War.

Early life

He was born the son of a cotton-bleacher, in Bolton
Bolton
Bolton is a town in Greater Manchester, in the North West of England. Close to the West Pennine Moors, it is north west of the city of Manchester. Bolton is surrounded by several smaller towns and villages which together form the Metropolitan Borough of Bolton, of which Bolton is the...

, England. He trained as an engineer and draughtsman, and attended the Mechanics Institute in Manchester
Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

.

His first professional employment was at a shipyard in Toulon
Toulon
Toulon is a town in southern France and a large military harbor on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department in the former province of Provence....

, France, and then as a consultant engineer in Milan
Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

, Italy. He then moved to Trieste
Trieste
Trieste is a city and seaport in northeastern Italy. It is situated towards the end of a narrow strip of land lying between the Adriatic Sea and Italy's border with Slovenia, which lies almost immediately south and east of the city...

, on the Adriatic
Adriatic Sea
The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan peninsula, and the system of the Apennine Mountains from that of the Dinaric Alps and adjacent ranges...

 coast of Austria
Austrian Empire
The Austrian Empire was a modern era successor empire, which was centered on what is today's Austria and which officially lasted from 1804 to 1867. It was followed by the Empire of Austria-Hungary, whose proclamation was a diplomatic move that elevated Hungary's status within the Austrian Empire...

.

Whitehead's work in Trieste was noticed by the owners of Fonderia Metalli, a metal foundry in the nearby city of Fiume (today Rijeka
Rijeka
Rijeka is the principal seaport and the third largest city in Croatia . It is located on Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic Sea and has a population of 128,735 inhabitants...

, Croatia
Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

). In 1856 Whitehead became manager of the company, and changed its name to Stabilimento Tecnico di Fiume (STF). STF produced marine steam boilers and engines, which were the most modern products of that era. The Austrian Navy
Austro-Hungarian Navy
The Austro-Hungarian Navy was the naval force of Austria-Hungary. Its official name in German was Kaiserliche und Königliche Kriegsmarine , abbreviated as k.u.k. Kriegsmarine....

 was a customer.

Meeting Luppis

Iin the early 1860s, Whitehead met engineer Giovanni Luppis
Giovanni Luppis
Giovanni Biagio Luppis von Rammer was an officer of the Austrian Navy who had the idea of the first self-propelled torpedo.-Early years:...

, who had recently retired to Trieste from the Austrian Navy. Luppis had produced the first prototypes of a self-propelled torpedo in 1860, which he called the “coast saviour” . Luppis' device was a low-profile surface boat, propelled by compressed air, and controlled by ropes from the land. Whitehead and Luppis formed a partnership to perfect the torpedo as an effective weapon.

The first torpedo

Bob Whitehead's initial torpedo experiments were conducted with the help of his 12-year-old son, John, and a workman, Annibale Ploech. They discarded Luppis' concept of shore launch and control for an unguided weapon launched from a ship on a straight line at the target.

This resulted in Minenschiff, the first self-propelled (locomotive) torpedo, officially presented to the Austrian Imperial Naval commission on 21 December 1866.

The commission was impressed. The Austrian gunboat Gemse was adapted for launching torpedoes at the Schiavon shipyard in Fiume. The ship was equipped with a launching barrel, which was Whitehead's invention. More than 50 launch trials were performed in front of the factory, in Fiume harbour bay. Gemses commander, frigate lieutenant Count Georg Hoyos, later married Whitehead’s daughter Alice.

By 1870 Robert had managed to increase the torpedo's speed to 7 knots (13.7 km/h) and it could hit a target 700 yards (640.1 m) away.

The torpedo was driven by a small reciprocating engine run by compressed air.

Key innovations

Bob Whitehead added two important features to the torpedo.
  • A self-regulating device that kept the torpedo at a constant preset depth. This was hydrostatic valve and pendulum balance, connected to a horizontal rudder, which controlled the running depth.

  • Gyroscopic stabilization to fix the torpedo's direction. In 1898, Whitehead purchased the newly invented gyroscope mechanism from Ludwig Obry, who was also a naval officer.


Bob was paranoid about his trade secrets, and employees were often sworn to secrecy about the guidance mechanisms employed in the Bob Whitehead torpedoes.

Whitehead & Co.

Though the product was promising, the torpedo did not produce profits for Stabilimento Tecnico di Fiume, which went bankrupt in 1873. In 1875, Whitehead reorganinzed the company as Torpedo-Fabrik von Robert Whitehead - later Whitehead & Co., Societa in Azioni.

When Whitehead retired, the Whitehead family sold the company to two large British armaments companies, Vickers
Vickers Limited
Vickers Limited was a famous British engineering conglomerate that merged into Vickers-Armstrongs in 1927.-Early history:Vickers was formed in Sheffield as a steel foundry by the miller Edward Vickers and his father-in-law George Naylor in 1828. Naylor was a partner in the foundry Naylor &...

 and Armstrong-Whitworth. Thus the company remained under British control until the First World War.

Heritage

Whitehead left his fortune to his granddaughter Agathe Whitehead. In 1911, Agathe married Georg Ludwig von Trapp, who used torpedoes as a submarine commander in the First World War. Trapp and Agathe had seven children, who after marriage to Trapp's second wife Maria
Maria von Trapp
Maria Augusta von Trapp , also known as Baroness Maria von Trapp, was the stepmother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers...

 became the Trapp Family Singers.

Whitehead is buried at the Parish Church of St Nicholas
St. Nicholas' Church, Worth
St Nicholas Church is a Church of England parish church in Worth, a village in Crawley, England. At one time it had the largest geographical parish in England.-History:...

, Worth in Crawley
Worth village, West Sussex
Worth is an area within the neighbourhood of Pound Hill, Crawley. It was a separate village and is still a civil parish in the Mid Sussex District of West Sussex.-Worth village:...

, West Sussex
West Sussex
West Sussex is a county in the south of England, bordering onto East Sussex , Hampshire and Surrey. The county of Sussex has been divided into East and West since the 12th century, and obtained separate county councils in 1888, but it remained a single ceremonial county until 1974 and the coming...

 with his wife. His grave is visible from the church gate at the left hand side of the church, and is encompassed with blue railings. His epitaph reads "His fame was known by all nations hereabouts".

His invention of the torpedo was a key development in naval history.
  • "But for the Whitehead the submarine would remain an interesting toy, and little more" - RN Admiral H.J. May.

  • "The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril" - Sir Winston Churchill
    Winston Churchill
    Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

    , British Prime Minister during World War II.

Family

His descendants include Countess Marguerite Hoyos (his granddaughter), who was married to Herbert von Bismarck
Herbert von Bismarck
Herbert, Prince of Bismarck was a German politician, who served as Foreign Secretary from 1886 to 1890. His political career was closely tied to that of his father, Otto von Bismarck, and he left office a few days after his father's dismissal...

, and thus most of the Bismarck family
Bismarck family
The House of Bismarck is a German noble family that rose to great prominence with 19th century statesman Otto von Bismarck, who was conferred the hereditary title of Prince of Bismarck in 1871, and additionally a hereditary comital title in 1865 and a ducal title, Duke of Lauenburg, held only for...

 today. They also include Agathe Whitehead (his granddaughter), who was the first wife of Georg Ludwig von Trapp, the patriarch of the Trapp Family Singers portrayed in the Sound of Music. Baron von Trapp's children by his first wife are also Robert Whitehead descendants.

Use of the torpedo

Most of the world's major navies took note of the development of this device by the late 1880s. Even the extremely reduced post-Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 was not indifferent to torpedo development; in fact, it had established a Torpedo Facility in Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is a city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States, about south of Providence. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War...

 in 1870.

The first vessel sunk by self-propelled torpedoes was the Turkish
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 steamer Intibah, on 16 January 1878, during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. She was hit by torpedoes launched from torpedo boats operating from the tender Velikiy Knyaz Konstantin
Russian tender Velikiy Knyaz Konstantin
Veliky Knyaz Konstantin was the name of a torpedo boat tender of the Russian Navy named after the Grand Duke Konstantin of Russia, and which served in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78...

 under the command of Stepan Osipovich Makarov.

Three naval actions during the late nineteenth century changed the world navies' perception of the torpedo:
  1. In 1891, in the Chilean Civil War
    Chilean Civil War
    The Chilean Civil War of 1891 was an armed conflict between forces supporting Congress and forces supporting the sitting President, José Manuel Balmaceda. The war saw a confrontation between the Chilean Army and the Chilean Navy, which had sided with the president and the congress, respectively...

    , the Chile
    Chile
    Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

    an vessel Almirante Lynch
    Chilean ship Almirante Lynch (1891)
    The gun torpedo vessels Almirante Lynch and her sister ship Almirante Condell, were purchased in England and launched in 1890.-Design:...

    , torpedoed and sank in port the rebel frigate Blanco Encalada
    Chilean frigate Blanco Encalada (1875)
    Blanco Encalada was an armored frigate built by Earle's Shipbuilding Co. in England for the Chilean Navy in 1875. She was nicknamed El Blanco...

     with a 14 inches (355.6 mm) Whitehead torpedo at the close range of one hundred yards.
  2. In 1894, in the Revolta da Armada
    Revolta da Armada
    Brazilian Naval Revolts, or the Revoltas da Armada , were armed mutinies promoted mainly by Admirals Custodio de Mello and Saldanha da Gama and their fleet of Brazilian Navy ships against unconstitucional attitudes of the then the central government in Rio de Janeiro.-First revolt:In November 1891,...

    , the rebel Brazil
    Brazil
    Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

    ian vessel Aquidaban was torpedoed and sunk at night while moored in a roadstead by the Brazilian torpedo gunboat Gustavo Sampaio with a 14 inches (355.6 mm) Schwartzkopf torpedo, and perhaps also by the torpedo boat Affonso Pedro.
  3. In 1895 during the Sino-Japanese War
    Sino-Japanese War
    There were two wars known as the Sino-Japanese War :* The First Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan , primarily over control of Korea....

    , the Chinese
    China
    Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

     battleship Ting Yuen was put out of action in port by multiple torpedo hits over the course of two nights by several Japan
    Japan
    Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

    ese torpedo boats.


The risks of torpedoes to the ships that carried them were shown, however, at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba
Battle of Santiago de Cuba
The Battle of Santiago de Cuba, fought between Spain and the United States on 3 July 1898, was the largest naval engagement of the Spanish-American War and resulted in the destruction of the Spanish Navy's Caribbean Squadron.-Spanish Fleet:...

, in July 1898, when the Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 cruiser Vizcaya was seriously damaged by a shell hit that detonated one of her own torpedoes.

In 1940, the German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 heavy cruiser Blücher
German cruiser Blücher
Blücher was the second of five heavy cruisers of the German Kriegsmarine, built after the rise of the Nazi Party and the repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles. Named for Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the victor of the Battle of Waterloo, the ship was laid down in August 1936 and launched in...

 was sunk during the invasion of Norway by two, at that time very antiquated, Whitehead torpedoes, launched underwater from fixed, shore-mounted tubes.

Further reading

  • Gray, Edwyn
    Edwyn Gray
    Edwyn Gray is a British author who specialises in naval writing although at times has written short stories.He was born in London and educated at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. He read economics at the University of London and then joined the British civil service. His writing career began...

    . The Devil's Device: Robert Whitehead and the History of the Torpedo, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991 310pp, ISBN 0-87021-245-1

  • Wilson, H. W. Ironclads in action;: A sketch of naval warfare from 1855 to 1895, London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1895, Fourth Edition 1896 (Two Volumes), pre ISBN

External links

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