Whitehead Torpedo Fuze / Pistol

Been after one of these for many years and finally scored it :-)



OK I’m willing to show my ignorance of torpedoes and fuzes. I assume the fuze front (top) piece with 4 blades is the arming vane which rotates in the water and arms a launched/fired torpedo after traveling a certain distance in the water. From the pictures the vane does not appear to have any pitch or if so it is very slight. Also the blades appear to be very sturdy as if to have some other/additional function like grabbing or digging into the intended target of the torpedo. Or is the vane designed/made that way to handle the stress of passing through water? I’m assuming this fuze fits on the nose of the torpedo or have I got that wrong (i.e. a “tail” fuze)? Can you fill me in on this?

Any idea of the time frame this fuze was used and who made it?

Inquiring minds want to know:-)

And by the way that’s a neat fuze!!!



Jason, congrats on this acquisition!!!'
Why do you call it a “pistol”?

In WW2 the German Navy also called the torpedo fuze “Pistole” – even the magnetic ones (that failed so miserably off the Norwegian coast) but I have no idea about the origin.

In the English ammunition sphere a “pistol” is a firing mechanizm (that will even fit the pistol as a weapon). The first fuzes (note spelling) were designated as “fuses” (spelling) which basically were related to the “safety fuse” which was nothing else but a burning powder train.
My assumption here is now that since when mechanical fuzes were invented without an incorporated “fuse” the designation for the machanical item then became pistol. No to forget that the naval torpedo fuzes in many cases predated any mechanical artillery fuzes.

The Brits used the word “pistol” for mechanical bomb fuzes without detonators still during WWII and some time after (would be interesting to learn when they changed it).

As the word “pistol” is having it’s roots in Italy (some other sources say elsewhere) we can only speculate if the word for a mechanical fuze was used first in Germany, the UK or the US.

As said just my observations and the related opinion…

Excellent historical info, Alex! Thanks so much. I always wondered why the term was used. Including this one, I have a total of three different Inert torpedo fuzes and they were all sold to me as “pistoles”. The two others I have are German, WW2 era, PiC3 and Pi4.

I am not 100% sure what era this Whitehead fuze is but I believe it may be earlier then WW2? After examining it I think this one functions both as a safety / arming device as well as a detonation fuze? When disarmed, the top steel 4 vain part is pressed tight against the lower brass fuze body but does not press agains the firing pin. I believe that after firing, the torpedo exits the tube causing the vanes to spin which in turn cause the internal spindle to rotate and extend down which pushes the steel upper 4 vane part up and away from the brass base part about 1/4 inch. This also now directly connects the base of the extended steel top 4 vane part to the firing pin so they touch. Upon impact the steel 4 vane part compresses 1/4 inch forcing the firing pin down into the charge. Hope this makes sense? No clue if I am right on this though :-)


Jason, this fuze is described in the 1898 US manual on the Whitehead torpedo.
If it was not obsolete already by WWI then definately long before WWII.

That is awesome! It may possibly be my oldest inert torpedo artifact in my collection then. I do have a Whitehead torpedo gyroscope dated 1902 :-) Maybe they belonged to each other? Many years ago a collector contacted me that had two of these but he primarily wanted to learn information about them which I did not have the time. His collection specialized in Spanish American war artifacts and said his fuzes were from that era. Until now I thought he was mistaking. I hope I still have his e-mail address to let him know he was possibly correct. Pretty excited to learn its date, thank you.


Information from Torpedo History ( history.navy.mil/museums/key … /part2.htm ) on Whitehead torpedoes:

Whitehead Mk 1 Torpedo- 3.5 meter and 5 meter versions, used 1894 to 1922 with War Nose Mk 1* Contact Exploder (*War Noses Mk 1, Mk 2, and Mk 5 were used interchangeably during this time).

Whitehead Mk 2 Torpedo- 3.5 meter and 5 meter versions, used 1896 to 1922 with War Nose Mk 1* Contact Exploder (*War Noses Mk 1, Mk 2, and Mk 5 were used interchangeably during this time).

Whitehead Mk 3 Torpedo- 3.5 meter version, used 1898 to 1922 with War Nose Mk 1* Contact Exploder (*War Noses Mk 1, Mk 2, and Mk 5 were used interchangeably during this time).

The E. W. Bliss Co., Brooklyn, N.Y., was the manufacturer of this torpedo for the U.S. Navy.

From HISTORY OF EARLY TORPEDOES (Historical Naval Ships Association, hnsa.org/doc/jolie/part1.htm ) During the 1893 to 1904 time frame the Bliss Co. produced 400 Whitehead torpedoes for the U.S. Navy.

This articles indicates the last model of Whitehead torpedoes was the Mk 5 introduced in 1901.

In addition this article has a short chapter on “EXPLODER MECHANISMS” pages 22 - 25, and discusses the Whitehead War Nose model variations in some detail as manufactured by the Whitehead Torpedo Works, Weymouth, England.

Regarding length of time in use here is a direct quote from this article:

“The war noses already noted were designed and reportedly used in torpedoes up until 1911. There is no indication that detonating devices subsequent to the war noses were interchangeable with their earlier counterparts; consequently, it may be reasonably assumed that war noses continued in use until the torpedoes that utilized them were condemned around 1922.”

As mentioned above in 1922 all torpedoes prior to the Bliss-Leavitt Torpedo Mk 7 were condemned and removed from service by the Navy, this included all models of Whitehead torpedoes.

So your ‘fuze’ is actually called a War Nose Mk ? Contact Exploder.


Fantastic information, Brian! THANK YOU very much! Does that book have any photos of the War Nose Exploders?



Its not a book but an article on the Historical Naval Ships Association website, just click on the web page address (in blue) located in my post above and that will take you directly to the article. No photos of the War Nose Exploder but there is a diagram of one. The HNSA website has a pretty good library, there is a copy of a U.S. Navy book on the Whitehead torpedo with diagrams, circa 1898.

You may also want to post this on BOCN and see what information shows up as there seems to be a lot of interest in Navy big ordnance there. Maybe someone can pin down the Mk # for you.


Thanks, Brian. I measured the fuze and it seems to be the earlier MK1. So cool! Thank you, it is officially my oldest torpedo artifact in my collection :-)


When I did my Royal Navy Ordnance Apprenticeship they were still referred to as “pistols” and that was no more than 50 years ago. Certainly pistols was the term for those on the older shale oil powered torpedoes such as the marks 8 and 9, not so sure if this name was carried over to the electric powered fish.

Whitehead torpedoes were museum pieces by then of course.


Whitehead War Nose Mk 1 Contact Exploder it is! I don’t think there are very many of those floating around.

For those of us who are confused by the term ‘pistol’ as it is being used here, from British Bombs and Fuses (Pyrotechnics), U.S. Navy Bomb Disposal School, 1944, quote: ‘A pistol is purely a mechanical device for initiating explosive components which are inserted in the bomb (or torpedoes) as a separate entity. Initiating devices which contain explosive components as integral parts, however, are termed fuzes.”

Based on the diagram of the Whitehead War Nose Mk 1 shown in the HNSA article (cited above) the exploder element is integral to the War Nose Mk 1, so I guess one could classify it as a fuze. Unless the knurled ring nut shown in your picture above is unscrewed prior to placing the War Nose in the torpedo and the exploder element is then put in place in the War Nose and the ring nut holds the exploder element in place. In that case it can be classified as a pistol. I think:-)


Some pics that better showing the vane design.


A web site that briefly discusses Whitehead torpedoes and pictures a Whitehead pistol/fuze (War Nose Mk 1 Contact Exploder): spanamwar.com/torpedo.htm


Thanks so much for the great link, Brian! Much appreciated!