Britain
Torpedoes Pre-World War II

Updated 04 January 2014


18" (45 cm) Torpedoes
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Whitehead 18" (45 cm)
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WTBR_PreWWII_Whitehead_pic.jpg

Midshipmen training on Whitehead Torpedo around 1896
Photograph courtesy of Steve Johnson of Cyberheritage

Ship Class Used On Surface Ships
Date Of Design about 1888
Date In Service 1894
Weight 845 lbs. (383 kg)
Overall Length 140 in (3.556 m)
Explosive Charge 118 lbs. (53.5 kg) wet gun-cotton
Range / Speed 800 yards (730 m) / 26.5 knots
Power Air-flask (cold running) compressed air powered, three cylinder, radial Brotherhood pattern engines
Notes:  N/A
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18" (45 cm) Mark V
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Ship Class Used On "River" and "Tribal" destroyers of the early 1900s
Date Of Design about 1899
Date In Service 1901
Weight 1,353 lbs. (614 kg)
Overall Length N/A
Explosive Charge 296 lbs. (134 kg) including pistol
Range / Speed N/A
Power Air-flask (cold running) compressed air powered
Notes:  Had a working pressure of 2,000 psi (141 kg/cm2).
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18" (45 cm) Mark VI
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Ship Class Used On Destroyers of the early 1900s
Date Of Design about 1904
Date In Service 1905
Weight N/A
Overall Length N/A
Explosive Charge N/A
Range / Speed 4,000 yards (3,650 m) / 28.5
1,000 yard (910 m) / 41 knots
Power Air-flask (cold running) compressed air powered
Notes:  N/A
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18" (45 cm) Mark VII and Mark VII*
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WTBR_PreWWII_Swift_pic.jpg

18" (45 cm) Torpedo Tube on HMS Swift
This single-tube installation was typical of early torpedo boats as torpedoes were thought of as being something in the way of "sniper" weapons

WTBR_PreWWII_Cuckoo_pic.jpg

Well-known photograph of Sopwith T 1 Cuckoo dropping a torpedo during a practice run
Photograph from J.M. Bruce/G.S. Leslie Collection

Ship Class Used On Pre-World War I torpedo boats, destroyers and Flying Boats in the 1920s
Date Of Design 1907
Date In Service 1910
Weight N/A
Overall Length N/A
Explosive Charge 320 lbs. (145 kg) TNT
Range / Speed Mark VI
   6,000 - 7,000 yards (4,570 - 7,650 m) / 30 knots
   3,000 yards (3,280 m) / 41 knots

Mark VI*
   5,000 yards (4,570 m) / 35 knots
   7,000 yards (6,400 m) / 29 knots

Power Wet-heater
Notes:  Introduced on the 1908 members of the 'Tribal' class.  First Torpedo to be designed with wet-heater propulsion.  Some Mark VI torpedoes were modified for aircraft use.
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18" (45 cm) Mark VIII
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WTBR_PreWWII_Ripon_pic.jpg

Blackburn Ripon Mark IIA torpedo bomber of No.811 Squadron dropping a torpedo during training
IWM Photograph Q 92900

WTBR_PreWWII_submarine_pic.jpg

Torpedo room on unidentified submarine
IWM photograph Q 22668

Ship Class Used On World War I Submarines
Aircraft in 1920-1937
Date Of Design 1913
Date In Service 1914
Weight 3,828 lbs. (1,736 kg)
Overall Length N/A
Explosive Charge 320 lbs. (145 kg) TNT
Range / Speed 2,500 yards (2,300 m) / 35 knots
4,000 yards (3,650 m) / 29 knots
Power Wet-heater
Notes:  N/A
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18" (45 cm) Mark XI
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Ship Class Used On Aircraft Launched
Date Of Design about 1934
Date In Service 1936
Weight 1,500 lbs. (680 kg)
Overall Length N/A
Explosive Charge 465 lbs. (211 kg) TNT
Range / Speed 1,500 yards (1,370 m) / 40 knots
4,000 yards (3,660 m) 24-25 knots
Power Burner-cycle
Notes:  Was specified to be able to be dropped from 30 - 100 feet (9 - 30 m) at 150 knots and not dive below 60 feet (18 m) and then recover to set depth within 400 yards (360 m).
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21" (53.3 cm) Torpedoes

21" (53.3 cm) Mark I "Short" and "Long"

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Ship Class Used On Destroyers
Date Of Design About 1908
Date In Service About 1910
Weight Short:  2,100 lbs. (953 kg)
Long:  2,800 lbs. (1,270 kg)
Overall Length Short:  17 ft 10.5 in (5.45 m)
Long:  23 ft 1.25 in (7.04 m)
Explosive Charge Original:  200 lbs. (91 kg) wet gun-cotton
Modified:  225 lbs. (102 kg) wet gun-cotton
Range / Speed Short
   1,000 yards (910 m) @ 50 knots
   7,500 yards (6,850 m) @ 30 knots

Long
   1,000 yards (910 m) @ 50 knots (?)
   12,000 yards (11,000 m) @ 30 knots

Modified
   2,000 yards (1,820 m) @ 50 knots
   10,800 yards (9,900 m) @ 30 knots

Power Wet-heater, 2,100 psi (148 kg/cm2)
Notes:  The first 21" (53.3 cm) "heater" torpedo.  Introduced on the Beagle class destroyers.  Cost £1,086 in 1914 and £1,193 in 1917.
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21" (53.3 cm) Marks II, II* and II**
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WTBR_PreWWII_Vanoc_pic.jpg

Preparing a torpedo aboard HMS Vanoc in August 1941
This is probably a Mark II or Mark IV torpedo
Office of War Information.  Overseas Picture Division.  Washington Division; 1944
Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-USZ62-132627

Ship Class Used On World War I destroyers, former USA Lend-Lease destroyers, some submarines
Date Of Design About 1910
Date In Service About 1914
Weight N/A
Overall Length N/A
Explosive Charge Original design:  280 lbs. (127 kg) wet gun-cotton

Early versions:  400 lbs. (181 kg) TNT

Later versions:  515 lbs. (234 kg) TNT

Range / Speed World War I
   5,500 yards (5,000 m) / 30 knots
   about 4,000 yards (3,600 m) / 35 knots

World War II
   Submarines, only:  5,000 yards (4,570 m) / 35 knots
   Destroyers, only:  8,000 yards (7,300 m) / 29 knots

Power Wet-heater
Notes:  Earliest versions dated to before World War I.  Still used on old ships during World War II.  Also used on ex-US Lend-Lease Flush Deck destroyers during World War II.  The earliest version had a high speed setting for 3,000 yards (2,700 m) at 45 knots, but it was erratic at this speed, so it was reduced to 35 knots.
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21" (53.3 cm) Mark II***
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WTBR_PreWWII_Ramillies_pic.jpg

Hoisting a 21" (53.3 cm) torpedo aboard HMS Ramillies
Note the torpedo trolley

WTBR_PreWWII_battleship_pic.jpg

Loading torpedoes on an unidentified battleship sometime during World War I
IWM photograph Q 17941

Ship Class Used On World War I battleships and battlecruisers
Date Of Design About 1914
Date In Service About 1915
Weight N/A
Overall Length N/A
Explosive Charge 515 lbs. (234 kg) TNT
Range / Speed 4,500 yards (4,110 m) / 45 knots
10,750 yards (9,830 m) / 31 knots
Power Wet-heater
Notes:  An improved version of the Mark II used mainly on capital ships.
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No information available on Mark III
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21" (53.3 cm) Mark IV and Mark IV*
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Ship Class Used On World War I - Destroyers
World War II - Hood, older destroyers, MTBs
Date Of Design About 1912
Date In Service About 1916
Weight 3,206 lbs. (1,454 kg)
Overall Length 22 ft 7.5 in (6.896 m)
Explosive Charge 515 lbs. (234 kg) TNT
Range / Speed 8,000 yards (7,300 m) / 35 knots
10,000 yards (9,150 m) / 29 knots
13,500 yards (12,350 m) / 25 knots

World War II Submarines, only:
6,000 yards (5,500 m) / 40 knots
9,500 yards (8,700 m) / 35 knots

Power Wet-heater
Notes:  Principal British Torpedo of World War I.  Still used in World War II by most older ships and by MTB's in the absence of newer torpedoes.
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21" (53.3 cm) Mark V
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WTBR_York_torpedo_hoist.jpg

21" (53.3 cm) Mark V torpedo being hoisted aboard HMS York
Photograph copyrighted by Mrs. Josephine Burston and used here by her kind permission

Ship Class Used On "A" and "B" destroyers, Kent Class Cruisers
Date Of Design About 1917
Date In Service 1918
Weight 3,828 lbs. (1,736 kg)
Overall Length 23 ft 3 in (7.086 m)
Explosive Charge N/A
Range / Speed 5,000 yards (4,570 m) / 40 knots
13,500 yards (12,340 m) / 25 knots
Power Wet-heater
Notes:  Replaced by Mark IX.  Kent class cruisers used a modified version with a strengthened tail assembly.
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21" (53.3 cm) Mark VII
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Ship Class Used On 8" (20.3 cm) Cruisers
Date Of Design 1925 (?)
Date In Service N/A
Weight 4,106 lbs. (1,862 kg)
Overall Length 25 ft 6 in (7.772 m)
Explosive Charge 740 lbs. (336 kg) TNT
Range / Speed Mark VIIC:  5,700 yards (5,200 m) / 35 knots
Power Oxygen-enriched air
Notes:  These torpedoes were all converted to natural air during the early part of World War II.
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24.5" (62.2 cm) Torpedoes
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24.5" (62.2 cm) Mark I
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WNBR_16-45_mk1_Nelson_torp_pic.jpg

Wreckage of 24.5" (62.2 cm) Mark I torpedoes after HMS Nelson was torpedoed in 1941
IWM Photograph

WTBR_PreWWII_Rodney_torp_pic.jpg

Torpedo room on HMS Rodney
These are the same type of torpedoes that HMS Rodney fired at the German battleship Bismarck, the only known occasion that a battleship fired torpedoes at an enemy battleship.  It is possible that one torpedo struck Bismarck.
IWM photograph A 820

Ship Class Used On Nelson Class
Date Of Design About 1923
Date In Service About 1925
Weight 5,700 lbs. (2,585 kg)
Overall Length 26 ft 7 in (8.103 m)
Explosive Charge 743 lbs. (337 kg) TNT
Range / Speed 15,000 yards (13,700 m) / 35 knots
20,000 yards (18,300 m) / 30 knots
Power Oxygen-enriched Air
Notes:  Carried only by Nelson class Battleships, the last battleship class designed with internal tubes.
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Data from
"The Grand Fleet:  Warship Design and Development 1906-1922" by D.K. Brown
"British Battleships 1919 - 1939" (revised edition) by R.A. Burt
"Naval Weapons of World War Two" by John Campbell
"Battleship Nelson:  The Story of HMS Nelson" by Ronald Careless
"Naval Aviation in the First World War:  Its Impact and Influence" by R.D. Layman
"Torpedo Warfare:  A Successful Prediction" article by D.J. Lyon in "Warship Volume VII"
Page History

03 February 2008 - Benchmark
12 January 2009 - Added data on Mark V, added picture of Vanoc
19 May 2012 - Added photograph of Ramillies
04 January 2014 - Added photographs of Ripon Torpedo Bomber, unidentifed battleship, unidentified submarine and HMS Rodney torpedo room