Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, March 7, 2016

Battleships with Torpedo Tubes?

Contributed by Naval Historian Steve McLaughlin

Almost all battleships were fitted with torpedoes up until World War I. The image below is of the torpedo room of the USS Oregon, heroine of the Spanish-American War, 1898. Torpedo ranges had increased from about 3,000 yards in 1905 to about 10,000 yards by 1914, so their running distance was comparable to gun ranges. But it took about ten minutes for a 30-knot long-range torpedo to travel 10,000 yards, so hitting an individual ship was, quite literally, a long shot. 

Torpedo Room, USS Oregon

Fired against a long line of ships (as in line-of-battle — the British battle line at Jutland was about 12,000 yards long), however, there was a fair chance that a salvo fired from all of your battleships would hit some of the enemy's battleships. This was a tactical factor that exercised a great deal of influence through World War I. Battleships and battle cruisers fired a total of 21 torpedoes at one another during the Battle of Jutland (British capital ships fired 13, German ships 8), without scoring a single hit. The only other instance of a battleship-on-battleship torpedo attack seems to have been by HMS Rodney against the Bismarck on 27 May 1941. The general consensus is that Rodney did not score a hit. Many navies removed underwater torpedo tubes from their battleships after the First World War.

Battleship HMS Marlborough Both Fired a Torpedo and
Suffered a Torpedo Hit at Jutland Launched by SMS 
(corrected from original) 

I should note that torpedo speed could be traded for longer range. In most cases during World War I, submarines fired torpedoes from within 1,000 yards of their targets, so the torpedoes could be set for maximum speed (40–45 knots), which, combined with the short range, gave a much better chance of hitting, giving a travel time of less than a minute. To get longer range, you had to set the torpedo for a slower speed. During the war both the British and Germans developed 15,000-yard torpedoes, but the speed had to be reduced to 20 knots or less, which meant a running time of about 20 minutes —again, a real long shot.


  1. Steve, I enjoyed your article very much. I knew Dreadnought era battleships had torpedo tubes, but your article is the first I have read about them being used.

    1. Robert K. Massie, in his sequel to his book, Dreadnought, Castles of Steel, details various actions of the Naval Battle of Jutland, including how the HMS Collingwood, carrying the future King George VI, was very nearly sunk by torpedos fired by a German destroyer.

  2. The torpedo that hit HMS Marlborough was fired by the cruiser SMS Wiesbaden, not by a U-boat.

    1. Thanks for keeping us on our toes, Adrian. A correction has been posted on the article. MH

  3. The Austro-Hungarian Tegetthof class dreadnought type battleship SMS Szent Istvan was sunk by a small Italian pt type MAS boat in the Adriatic 10 June 1918, clearly demonstrating the vulnerability of dreadnoughts to torpedoes. Although the sinking and subsequent capsizing of the battleship was caught on film, the event was largely ignored by the outside world, which was caught up in the excitement of the coming end of the war.

  4. On the Oregon, how did they load the torpedoes into the tube?