The automobile torpedo was the most deadly and feared naval weapon from its inception in 1866 until the explosion of the Atomic bomb in 1945. Had it not been invented, over 25 million tons of shipping would not lie rusting on the seabed and the submarine would not be the key deterrent it is today. Yet the historical development and complexities of this weapon are little understood outside of naval circles. Its British inventor Robert Whitehead was a brilliant Victorian engineer who, while honored by many countries world-wide, received little or no recognition from the land of his birth. Even the administrators of the Royal Navy seemed to have had very little respect for the weapon. In the 1950’s a superb collection of torpedoes on display at the Torpedo Experimental Establishment at HMS Vernon was scrapped, despite the pleas of the engineers who had built up the collection.
Weymouth and Portland was found to be an ideal area for the Royal Navy to test torpedoes once the British Government decided to purchase the manufacturing rights for the weapon from the Whitehead Torpedo Company, Fiume, Austria, in 1871. In 1895 the Whitehead Company set up its first manufacturing site outside of Austria, in Wyke Regis, near Weymouth. In 1898 the ‘Bincleaves’ testing range was established in Newtons Cove, Weymouth. As a result of these testing activities many torpedoes were lost. Since 1970, when Ed Cumming discovered a 1936, 21", MK 8 on Portland Harbour Wall, he has since recovered various components from a further nine weapons. Divers discovered some of these, others were trawled from the seabed by local fishermen.
Several are very rare, one 14" torpedo was manufactured by the Royal Laboratory in 1887. These items are to be added to the torpedoes and torpedo components currently in the Nothe Fort, Weymouth, Dorset, making it one of the foremost collections in the UK.
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