An historic torpedo has been traced

A few months ago I reported that an historic Howell torpedo had been found off the California coast.  Now it’s been reported that the origin of the torpedo has been determined.  The US Navy reports:

Naval History and Heritage Command‘s (NHHC) Underwater Archeology Branch (UAB) dove into the history of a recently-discovered late-19th century No. 24 Howell Torpedo, Aug. 9, and they scored a direct hit.

“We started looking through SECNAV (Secretary of the Navy) reports and narrowed it down to eight ships which had been outfitted with Howell Torpedoes,” said Mikala Pyrch, a George Washington University intern with UAB who discovered where the torpedo’s origin. “From there we figured which ships had gone through the Pacific Fleet or spent any time in California along the coast. That narrowed it down the USS Marblehead and the USS Iowa. We went to the National Archives and looked in the deck logs. I saw that in December of 1899 Iowa had been doing target practice with the torpedoes and had lost… Howell No. 24.”

USS Iowa (BB-4) (image courtesy of US Navy)

The logs indicated that Iowa had been anchored off San Diego from Dec. 18, 1899 through Jan. 15, 1900 conducting training exercises. On Dec. 20, 1899, under miscellaneous events, the log entry noted, “Lost H. Mark 1, No. 24 torpedo.” This was the sole reference to the loss.

When used in training exercises, Howell torpedoes were fitted with a practice warhead that was attached to the midsection by four pins and a single screw. UAB scientists believe during the exercise, the practice warhead may have detached, providing a possible explanation for why only the mid- and tail-sections of the torpedo were found.

. . .

USS Iowa (BB-4) was constructed between 1893 and 1896 and participated in the Spanish-American War, most notably in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba July 2, 1898. Iowa was assigned to the Pacific Fleet from 1899 to 1902 to conduct training cruises, drills, and target practice.

The Howell torpedo, named for Lt. Cmdr. John A. Howell, the primary contributor, was developed between 1870 and 1889. The Howell, the first propelled torpedo, was 11-feet long, made of brass and It had a range of 400 yards, a speed of 25 knots, and a warhead filled with 100 pounds of explosive.

There’s more at the link.

It’s fascinating to recover a relic of the first type of torpedo that really worked, fired from a battleship that participated in the Spanish-American War.  History indeed!



  1. It had a range of 400 yards!I know a guy who shoots deer at that range, that is a bit close to be torpedoing anything but I guess they had to start somewhere.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *