Goat Island and the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station: Guncotton, Smokeless Powder and Torpedoes

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Goat Island and the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station: Guncotton, Smokeless Powder and Torpedoes

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Weak maritime nations have always sought to augment the strength of their coastal defenses and navies by the use of “diabolical” contrivances for destroying an invader’s ships. The history of the adoption of the torpedo as a recognized implement of warfare is not unlike that of gunpowder or of exploding shells. Each in its turn was met by the cry, “Inhuman, barbarous, unchivalrous.” During the American Civil War, the Confederate Navy employed submerged mines, called torpedoes, and explosive charges mounted on a long pole referred to as the “spar torpedo” which was bumped into the hull of an enemy vessel exploding on contact.

These weapons enjoyed great success during the conflict. In July 1869, the Secretary of the Navy announced the establishment of the Naval Torpedo Station on Goat Island in the harbor of Newport, Rhode Island, for development of a more sophisticated and deadlier self-propelled torpedo. From its founding until the end of the Second World War, the Naval Torpedo Station has been the Navy’s principal center for the design of torpedoes. Newport continues as the home of the U.S. Navy’s most important laboratory for research and development of modern weapons’ systems.


RICHARD V. SIMPSON is a native Rhode Islander who has always lived within walking distance to Narragansett Bay. After retiring in 1996 from a Federal Civil Service career with the U.S. Navy Supply Center and Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, he began a second career as an author of books on subjects of historical interest in Rhode Island’s East Bay, with his principle focus on Bristol.

234 x 156 mm - hardback - 224 pages - 126 black-and-white photographs

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