Torpedo boat

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Prussian spar torpedo boat, mid-19th century, with a spar torpedo mounted on the side

A torpedo boat is a small, fast warship that was in use from about 1880 to 1945. It was the end of the 19th century largely by Briton John Isaac Thornycroft designed to meet the newly invented screw driven Torpedo be able to use the hitherto customary Spier torpedoes displaced. To do this, the boat had to bring the torpedoes relatively close to the opposing battle line and be correspondingly fast and manoeuvrable, and also have a low silhouette in order to be recognized late and to be a small target.

The torpedo boat appeared to be the ideal antidote for small powers against the ships of the line of the great naval powers, since a torpedo hitting underwater had a devastating effect and torpedo boats were by far not as expensive and complex to produce as large battleships.

Chinese Navy deep sea torpedo boat, circa 1880s

In 1873 the bow gun on the German gunboat SMS Basilisk , built in 1862, was removed and replaced by a torpedo tube; thus the basilisk was the first "torpedo carrier" of the Imperial Navy , if not the first "torpedo boat" in the true sense. The boat was decommissioned on December 28, 1876.

As a counter-weapon to the torpedo boats, the British Navy designed the torpedo boat destroyer , a type of ship that reached speeds similar to a torpedo boat and was just as manoeuvrable, but was also equipped with light rapid-fire guns. Their equivalent in the German Imperial Navy were the large torpedo boats . From 1915 on, smaller coastal torpedo boats (so-called A-boats ) were also put into service here. Generally, the boundaries between Torpedo boat and destroyer blurred in the First World War .

“Black journeymen”: Austrian caiman-class torpedo boats before the First World War
Large torpedo boat 55 in Wilhelmshaven, around 1914

Torpedo boats and their crews were often referred to as "black fellows" during the First World War, as they were sooty or dusty due to coal firing, low chimneys and, in general, a large machine system compared to the existing ship's space. The boats were also painted completely black as a camouflage color for night use.

After the First World War, various navies continued to build torpedo boats; These differed from contemporary destroyers by their smaller size and weaker artillery armament. This had either economic (Danish and Norwegian navies) or contractual reasons ( torpedo boat 1923 and torpedo boat 1924 of the Reichsmarine ). The London Naval Treaty of 1930 contained no restrictions on surface warships with a displacement of less than 600 ts . Germany ( torpedo boat 1935 ), France ( La Peloméne class ), Italy ( Spica class ) and Japan ( Chidori class ) built torpedo boats that were supposed to fall under this limit. However, it turned out that the limit of 600 ts was too narrow for a usable design, so that in reality the ships were in some cases significantly larger.

During the Second World War, the German Navy built destroyers and torpedo boats (e.g. Flottentorpedoboot 1939 ) in parallel, whereby the latter lost their originally offensive character and were mainly used for coastal protection and for escort tasks in the English Channel and in the Bay of Biscay .

British motor torpedo boat MTB 5, an early 60-foot boat produced by British Power Boat

Even during the Second World War, larger surface ships were hardly used mainly as torpedo carriers and after the war torpedo boats disappeared from the navy for good. The only surface units designed primarily for the use of torpedoes were then speedboats or motor torpedo boats . These had similar tasks as the original torpedo boats of the late 19th century, but were considerably smaller and faster. This type did not gradually go out of use until the 1970s when it was replaced by missile speedboats .

See also


  • Hans Mehl: Torpedo Boats and Destroyers. Publishing house for traffic, Berlin 1983.
  • Mike J. Whitley: Destroyer in World War II. Motorbuchverlag, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-613-01426-2 .
  • Siegfried Breyer: German torpedo boats 1925–1945. Podzun-Pallas Verlag, ISBN 3-7909-0616-6 .
  • Siegfried Breyer: The German Navy 1935-1945 VII. The history of the development of destroyers and torpedo boats. Podzun-Pallas Verlag, ISBN 3-7909-0425-2 .
  • Weyer's pocket book of the war fleets 1941/42.
  • Franz F. Bilzer: The torpedo boats of the kuk Kriegsmarine 1875-1918 . 2nd Edition. Weishaupt, Gnas (Steiermark) 1996, ISBN 3-900310-16-5 .

Web links

Commons : Torpedo boats  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Torpedo boat  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations