Tag Archives: net cutter

The trace buster, buster, Captain Nemo edition

Ahh, the unlikely scourge of the armored leviathans of the early 20th Century– the plucky torpedo boat as seen by German naval artist Willy Stower, titled “Torpedo boats on maneuver”

Once the spar and locomotive torpedoes claimed their first victims in 1864 (USS Housatonic) and 1878 (the Turkish steamer Intibah), the world’s fleets began to research torpedo nets to be carried by capital ships to protect them from such infernal devices. By the early 20th Century, such an idea was common.

This, of course, led to:

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 84492

Behold, a net cutter fitted to an early MKV Whitehead Torpedo, at the Newport Torpedo Station, R.I., March 1908

In service from 1910 through the mid-1920s, the MKV was cutting edge.

Manufactured under license at Newport, the 1,400-pound fish carried 200-pounds of gun-cotton with a contact exploder in its nose and– a first for Whitehead– was hot-running. It was also variable speed on its 4-cylinder reciprocating engine, capable of being set for a sedate 27-knot clip for 4,000-yards (though the gyroscope keeping it in a straight line for that long was a stretch) or a blistering 40-kt pace for 1,000.

In 1908, Whitehead was the household name in locomotive torpedoes, having made them for over 30 years.

They sold the first to the Royal Navy back in 1877 and didn’t look back.

The early Whitehead: NH 95129 Illustrations of Torpedo Warfare Line engraving Harpers Weekly, 14 July 1877 early Whitehead torpedo

Whiteheads, later versions: Copied from the Journal of Scientific American Coast Defense Supplement, 1898. A widely-used naval torpedo, propelled by compressed air. This cut-away view shows the torpedo’s major components. Description: Catalog #: NH 73951

An improved Mark III Whitehead Torpedo fired from the East Dock, Goat Island, Newport Torpedo Station, Rhode Island, in 1894, torpedo boat destroyer USS Cushing in background

In the end, the Navy went with domestically designed and produced Bliss-Leavitt torpedoes over the Whiteheads, scrapping the latter in all their variants by 1922.

But they did outlive torpedo nets, which were ditched by ships in the early days of WWI, though defended harbor entrances continued to use anti-submarine nets through the 1940s.