Teseo Tesei, Inventor of the Human Torpedo

Torpedos have played an important part in naval warfare because they are effective in disabling or even destroying their targets. But, while modern torpedos are self-propelled and can reach their targets on their own, this hasn't always been the case. During the Second World War, the Italian and British armies used human torpedos, which were basically  submarines that had a detachable warhead and were steered by people to their target.

These manned torpedos were developed by Teseo Tesei, an officer in the Italian navy. He was inspired by the mignatta, a type of primitive human torpedo that was used by the Italians during the First World War. The mignatta was successful sinking an Austrian battleship but, since the people who manned it didn't have any breathing apparatus, they had to keep their heads above the water to breathe. This eventually led to their discovery and imprisonment.

Crude breathing apparatuses were already available in Tesei's time, so he used this fact to create a better and stealthier human torpedo. He worked with naval engineer Elios Toschi to create the Siluro a lenta cora or SLC (“slow moving torpedoes” in English), which had a special system that allowed riders to  breathe underwater for a couple of hours. The new weapon was nicknamed Maiale or “the pig” because it was difficult to steer. With this improved design, two people would ride astride on the torpedo, steer it using controls in the cockpit, and move slowly towards the enemy ship. Once the torpedo was within range, the warhead was released (eventually attaching itself to the ship), and the humans manning the torpedo rode it away.

The Maiale became a successful addition to the Italian navy and helped them sink two British battleships and one tanker in Alexandria, Egypt, on December 1941. Unfortunately, Tesei wasn't around to see this because he had died earlier that year in a failed attack in Malta.


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