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The birth of a Torpedo?

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    In modern language, a 'torpedo' is an underwater self-propelled explosive,—but historically, the term also applied to primitive naval mines. These were used on an ad hoc basis during the early modern period up to the late 19th century. Early spar torpedoes were created by the Dutchman Cordnelius Drebbel in the employ of King James I of England; he attached explosives to the end of a beam affixed to one of his own submarines and they were used (to little effect) during the English expeditions to La Rochelle in 1626.

 

    An early submarine, the Turtle, attempted to lay a bomb with a timed fuse on the hull of HMS Eagle, but failed in the attempt. In 1800, the American inventor Robert Fulton, while working in France, coined the term torpedo in reference to the explosive charges he outfitted his submarine Nautilus with, which he then offered to the French government and British government, both of whom were uninterested.

 

    Torpedoes were used by the Russian Empire during the Crimean War in 1855 against British warships in the Gulf of Finland. They used an early form of chemical detonator.

During the American Civil Ware, the term torpedo was used for what is today called a contact mine, floating on or below the water surface using an air-filled demijohn or similar flotation device. These devices were very primitive, and were apt to prematurely explode. They would be detonated on contact with the ship, or after a set time, although electrical detonators were also occasionally used. The USS CAIRO was the first warship to be sunk on 1862 by an electrically detonated mine.

 

    Spar torpedoes were also used; an explosive device was mounted at the end of a spar up to 30 feet (9.1 m) long projecting forward underwater from the bow of the attacking vessel, which would then ram the opponent with the explosives. These were used by the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley to sink the USS HOUSATONIC although the weapon was apt to cause as much harm to its user as to its target.

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