The Human Torpedo

When I was told I had to go to a museum and find an object to write about based between 1918-1985, I wasn’t all that excited. The first museum I went to was the Great British Museum and after walking around for quite a bit I stumbled into a grand room that reminded me much of a great library. With its dark washed wood, gold detailing and of course it’s balcony of books, I felt like I was in Harry Potter or something. The first thing that caught my eye was this glittering gold piece, shining in the middle of the room in a glass cabinet and I knew I had to make it my object. I took all the necessary pictures, took some notes on the information and went home happy I was going to write a good essay. However, when I arrived home and started looking at my notes, it suddenly dawned on me I hadn’t checked the time period on which I had to base my object or if my object even fell in that category.

It did not.

Fuelled with this annoyance that my fabulously chosen object did not fit the requirements to base my essay upon, I went in search for a new object. This time I decided to go the Imperial War Museum since I was guaranteed to find an object in the right time period.

Imperial War Museum (picture taken by me)

We started off in the Holocaust section which was not a good idea since we came out feeling incredibly depressed and ready to call it a day but decided to drift around the museum a little till our moods picked up and we saw a variety of compelling objects. There was a great many things to choose from as you could imagine and so I took a few different pictures and went home to sit down and pick something worth researching. Out of the tv set, the Japanese mail and the Lancaster, I decided on the “Human Torpedo.”

An overview of the museum (found of google images)

This object was one of those ones that were so big, the tip extended out the side of the wall and into the open space of the centre of the museum, trapped only by some clear glass or plastic (didn’t go up to it to find out). Yet the Torpedo itself isn’t that big compared to what you might think submarines are supposed to look like and the colour theme was a lot more attractive too. In fact, a lot of the objects on that floor were rather dark, as you may have guessed. Things based from the war were black, greys and browns but this little Torpedo was a lovely, bright, powdery blue, which is clearly why it caught my eye.

An overview of the Human Torpedo in all its glory

The war was not only fought on land but took place between the Mediterranean and Atlantic sea. Gibraltar, (which is located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula) was an important base for the Royal Navy in World War 2 as it controlled the comings and goings of the Mediterranean sea. Malta was also an Allie of the British as it was located near Sicily and was used by the British to launch attacks on the Italian navy and had a submarine base. The other place the British had taken over was Alexandria– Egypt, where I gathered they captured Italians on land.

The Human Torpedo was actually Italian and so back in 1940 when Italy first declared war on Britain, they used their newly born Human Torpedo to attack the British shipping. Inside the torpedo, there were two seats, therefore one would assume they worked in pairs. Italian divers would use the Torpedoes to go under the harbour defences and placed “high explosive warheads” under the targeted ships. Their attacks on Gibraltar and Malta, were not successful. However their attack on the British ships based in Alexandria were, in December 1941.

The first batch of Italian Human Torpedoes were considered slow and apparently so hard to handle that their crewmen called them “Maiali”, which translates to “Pigs”. This Torpedo however, was a second generation “Pig”, which happened to be much faster and more streamlined than the first. It was built for a second attack on Gibraltar but the Italian surrendered in 1943, meaning the attack was never carried out.

A peak of inside the cockpit of the submarine
The contrast of the bright blue against the dark set of the museum

The Torpedoes ranged in colours and styles, from little black submarines to dark green and lights greys. I suppose the colour of the Torpedo may have been based on the colour of the waters, since it would make sense to camouflage and none of them were created in a bright red of purple, for example. They all seemed to have open tops, so the person would predominantly have their bodies (at least definitely the top half) hanging out of the torpedo. This would give them access to planting whatever weapons they had to ships without any fuss of trying to get out of a closed submarine.

Here are some examples I found online:

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Overall, even if you’re not a huge fan of the war or not that interested in history like myself, you may still find this a interesting exhibition. This particular Human Torpedo is located on the second floor (I think) so if you wanted have a look for yourself, I would encourage you to do so. The entry to the museum is free, so why not? It shouldn’t be hard to spot, after all, it’s bright blue, swimming through a dimly lit floor of dark objects. I hope you learnt something reading this because I sure did pulling this together.


Alexandria, Egypt



Image of the museum:

Images of the different Torpedoes

Address of the Imperial War Museum: Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ


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