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Torpedo Boats in Action

The first Whitehead to be fired with hostile intent was directed at the Peruvian monitor Huáscar by the British cruiser Shah, which sought to capture or destroy the former to prevent her from further lawless attacks on British vessels. On May 29, 1877, the English cruiser Shah fired one Whitehead torpedo at the Peruvian Huascar, but it had not power to run the distance. The shot failed because fired at too great a distance.

In the Russo-Turkish war, a Turkish ironclad was sunk in an encounter with a torpedo boat. In the Russo-Turkish war of 1877, out of nine cases of attack by Russian torpedo boats the Turks lost one ironclad and two steamers, while three ironclads were injured. The loss in men is unknown. On the Russian side three torpedo boats were injured, also three steam sloops, while one torpedo boat was sunken. Two sailors were killed and ten wounded.

Russia built ten little torpedo-boats, only eight meters long, destined solely for service on the Danube, and these little boats soon went into active service during the Russo-Turkish war. The Turkish monitor "Se'ifi" was stationed, with two other vessels, in an arm of the Danube on the night of the 25th- 26th of May, 1877, while two boats of the little squadron rowed guard. Three small Russian torpedo-boats came down the river, keeping close to the bank and going dead slow, so aa to avoid being observed. About two o'clock in the morning the leading one, the "Tzarevitch," commanded by Lieutenant Dubasoff, having reached a position within two hundred meters of the "Seifi" approached the latter at full speed and exploded her torpedo under the quarter of the Turkish vessel, which at once began to sink. Lieutenant Chestakoif, who commanded the torpedo-boat "Xenia," succeeded in exploding his torpedo in contact with the side of another of the Turkish vessels. While the "Seifi" was sinking, her ship's company kept up a heavy fire of musketry upon the two Russian boats, but, under full steam, they escaped without losing a man.

In the following year the Russians had another success to record. Several Turkish vessels, one of which was a cruiser of fifteen hundred tons, were anchored off Batoum. During the night of January 25, 1878, two Russian boats carrying Whitehead torpedoes and named "Tchesm6" and " Sinope," quietly approached the anchorage. This time the assailants did not have to approach so close, and thus expose themselves to the fire of muskets and mitrailleuses. The Whitehead torpedoes could be used at a distance of three to four hundred meters. But, to make sure of success, the Russians approached much closer than that, undiscovered. At a distance of less than one hundred metres they simultaneonsly launched their torpedoes, and the Ottoman cruiser was sunk, while the Russian boats got off without any injury.

In both these affairs, then, where vessels were destroyed by torpedoes, the assailants got safely away, and it was evidently necessary to devise new means of defense, so as to prevent surprise and to destroy the assailants in case they succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the lookouts on board the vessels attacked.

On August 28th, 1879, the "Huascar" visited Antofagasta, and found there the Chilian warships "Magallanes" and "Abtao," under the shelter of the guns of the forts. The "Huascar" had just been fitted with the Lay torpedo, and proceeded to use it against the "Abtao." On entering the water, however, it turned and came straight back on the "Huascar." The turret-ship was in imminent danger, when Lieutenant Canseco leaped into the water and guided the treacherous weapon aside.

The French fleet used torpedo boats in in the war with China, at Cheipoo and the river Miu. In August, 1884, Admiral Courbet's fleet, reinforced by the two torpedo-boats Nos. 45 and 46 (of the twenty-seven-metre class), established the blockade of the Min. The Chinese fleet was lying higher up, and among them the cruiser " Yang- Woo," of fourteen hundred tons, and the dispatch-boat " Foo-Poo," of twelve hundred and fifty- eight tons. The French torpedo-boats attacked the two Chinese vessels soon after noon on the 25th of August, the Chinese having no protective booms rigged and no mitrailleuses, but plenty of great guns and small-arms. No. 46 was ordered to attack the "Yang-Woo" and the other the "Foo-Poo." No. 46 rushed at the " Yang-Woo" full speed, and exploded her torpedo under her port side, about amidships, and the cruiser, irreparably damaged, made for the shore and settled in the mud. In making her retreat No. 46 had a hole pierced in her boiler, and lost one man, killed by a musket-ball. As for torpedo-boat No. 45, she struck the ." Foo-Poo" under the port quarter and her torpedo exploded, but the staff got caught in the propeller of the dispatch-boat, and could not, for a considerable time, be disengaged, although the engine was going full speed astern.

Although it was'khown that the Chinese had torpedo-boats, none of them had made their appearance during the action. Nevertheless the French admiral took special measures to guard against surprise from them, and not without reason, for two days afterwards the Celestials attempted their revenge. At four in the morning a Chinese boat, with torpedo and staff rigged out and ready for action, bore down upon the "Viper," one of the French fleet. A shot from a sentinel gave the alarm, and at once the electric search-lights of the "Triomphante" and "Duguay-Trouin" were turned upon the assailant, which was almost immediately sunk by the Hotchkiss gun of the "Viper."

Similar results were obtained in the time of the French-Tonkin war of 1885. Two ordinary steam cutters, not more than 46 feet in length, armed with torpedoes, on the night of the 14-15 February, 1885, attacked a Chinese frigate of 3500 tons and sank it. This frigate was hidden in the harbour of Shein under the cover of fortifications, but the French Admiral Courbet was at a distance of several knots from this harbour. Hidden in the darkness the French cutters covered the distance unnoticed, and after destroying the Chinese ship returned uninjured to the admiral's flagship.

In the Chilian revolution two torpedo boats attacked and sank in the harbor of Caldera an ironclad ship, the Blanco Encalada, with White-head torpedoes. On Jan. 27, 1891, a torpedo launch from the Chilian Blanco, in revolt, fired a Whitehead at the Balmacdist armed steamer Imperial, but missed her. The torpedo-boat in its modern form was first used in hostile attack on April 23, 1891, when the Chilian government vessels, Lynch and Condell, attacked with their torpedoes the Revolutionary vessels in Caldera Bay; five torpedoes were discharged, only one of which struck its target; this one sunk the Blanca Encalada.

The official report of this action said that the lessons this taught were: "The difficulty of effectively using the Whitehead torpedo save when it is in the hands of people thoroughly familiar with it, and the un- trustworthiness of the human element in torpedo warfare. - The usefulness of the Whitehead torpedo when properly employed. - To use any torpedo effectively even in peace time requires not only coolness and self-command, but also great carefulness, and above all, training."

Target practice with the Whitehead torpedo as then supplied, everywhere proved the uncertainty of the direction that the torpedo would take after launching; that one out of five torpedoes discharged should hit its target was at that time to be considered good torpedo marksmanship. The invention of the gyroscope has converted the torpedo from a weapon of most uncertain aim to one of gun precision. The certainty of aim with which the torpedo can now be discharged bespeaks for it a far greater field than when it was so uncertain.

The strength of the Brazilian revolution lay almost entirely in the Aquidaban, a second-class battleship, which came in and out of the harbor of Rio at will without regard to the guns from the forts. In fact, these guns were so powerless against her that it seemed at one time that she might render the rebellion successful, although the army ashore was on the side of the government. Two separate attacks were made by four government torpedo vessels upon the Aquidaban. On the second night, one of four torpeSoes discharged, struck and sunk the Aquidaban. On 16 April 1894 [other accounts report April 4, 1894], the torpedo boat Gustave Sainpaio attacked and destroyed the Aquidaban, and this practically ended the war. The torpedo boat was struck during this attack three times in the hull and thirty-five times in the upper works, but sustained no serious damage, and the only person hurt aboard was a cadet, who lost his finger.

During the Chinese-Japanese war of 1894, Japan enjoyed a great advantage through its torpedo boats. The great lesson to be drawn from the torpedo-boat operations of this war is the utter worthlessness in accomplishing results of the weapon when operated by untrained crews. At no one time were the boats operated with the best strategical or tactical considerations. On July 25, 1894, the Japanese claim that in time of peace the Chinese Tsi-Yuen treacherously fired a torpedo at the Naniwa Khan, but missed her. The Chinese deny, and probably truthfully, that this ever occurred. At the battle of Yalu, on September 17, 1894, there were no Japanese torpedo-boats, and the Chinese boats present, if there were any, took no part in the fight.

At Wei-Hai-Wei the position of the Japanese invited torpedo-boat attack, but none was made upon it. Here, on January 30, 1895, sixteen Japanese torpedo-boats attacked the Chinese fleet, but failed in accomplishing anything. On Feb. 4, 1895, at the same place the same attempt was repeated and failed. On February 5, these boats repeated the attack upon the Chinese fleet, then crippled and disheartened, and sunk several ships. The Japanese with eight torpedo boats attacked the Chinese fleet, so disabling the iron-clad Ting Yuen that she had to be beached and abandoned. This was not accomplished, however, without the loss of two torpedo boats. The Japanese made a second attack with five boats and destroyed the Chinese schoolship and a tender without losing any of their vessels - the Ting-Yuen, Wei- Yuen and Lai-Yuen were sunk at once, and the Ching-Yuen was so disabled that she sank not long after.

There were no torpedo-boat operations worthy the name in the Spanish American War of 1898. The American boats were used for everything except torpedo-boat work. Apparently the Spaniards had not the faintest conception of the proper use of their destroyers, which were at all times a positive hindrance. In action they were vanquished by a converted American yacht. The attempted attack of the Terror upon the St. Paul was made in the greatest of ignorance, and of necessity ended in disaster.

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