From the moment when humans first started picking up rocks to hit animals and each other with, an arms race began. For every weapon that was developed, someone was already thinking of one that would be more effective and threatening to counter it. Even at sea, this was no different. For many centuries, the only way to attack enemy ships was to get close enough to ram or board them. Later on, it became possible to deliver small explosive charges through the air (such as by firing cannons), or by finding another way to use a large explosive.
A breakthrough came thanks to an English inventor named Robert Whitehead. The first prototype torpedo was launched in 1866, and just a few decades later, torpedoes were present in the arsenals of every major maritime nation. They were also famously used during World War I. Over a third of ships in the Battle of Jutland were downed by torpedo fire. Every attack like this was a true menace – several hundredweights of explosives rapidly approaching your ship – unlike regular HE shells, it really couldn’t be ignored, especially if the charge had been sent to detonate underwater. An underwater breach to the hull could be sufficient to down even the largest battleships. Even if the ship is lucky enough to remain afloat, her speed and manoeuvrability will be severely reduced due to the water in the hull.
In game, torpedoes are only carried by cruisers and destroyers, which have launchers on their decks. Aircraft carriers also have a means to use them through the aircraft on board. Why are they not used by battleships? Historically, these giant ships were only able to launch torpedoes from underwater launchers. Aiming was performed by turning the hull, and the torpedoes themselves had a low operational range. As a result, compared to the rest of the battleship’s armaments, torpedoes were a less desirable option, and sources state that the torpedoes were generally only used for training and never in battle.
So, what do we need to launch a torpedo? An enemy, our own ship with torpedo launchers aboard and, of course, the torpedoes themselves! There are numerous variables to take into account – speed, travel depth, salvo divergence angle (wide or narrow) all need to be account for. Not to mention the target’s azimuth (angular position), leading point, launch intervals, movement… It all sounds very complex, doesn’t it? Thankfully, we’re not building a sim, so we picked another way.
The leading point will be shown by the game – all we need to do is to define the launch direction and the divergence angle (how widely the torpedoes spread). Although massively simplified compared to the real life process, it’s still a fair bit to handle during the heat of a fierce battle as you will need to anticipate the movement of your enemy and define the angle for torpedo spread. At short distance you may want to give your torpedoes a wider spread to increase your chances of hitting the target. Narrower spreads will result in heavier impacts, but are also easier to dodge.
At long range, this is reversed. Wider spreads are easier to dodge because by the time the torpedoes reach the enemy, the gaps between them are much wider and easier to slip into.
So, our torpedoes fly out of the tubes and are speeding towards the target. What can the enemy do to resist the attack? Firstly, they can start actively manoeuvring to evade the attack. More nimble ships will find this simpler to do than big slow heavy ones! Ships can also use islands to provide natural cover from attacks, but be careful and choose wisely – certain low locations may be impossible to cross by ships but can still be skipped over by torpedoes!
So, to summarise! When used correctly, a torpedo launch can deal deadly damage to an enemy ship, even those that are far larger than the attacker!