Torpedo boat - a class of small or medium-sized ships, intended mainly for torpedo attacks on enemy ships. It was established at the end of the 19th century, when the torpedo boats were also at their peak. Later, replaced by other classes of ships, they were built and used in smaller numbers until the Second World War.
The progenitors of the torpedo boats were steam cutters armed with tipping mines or mines towed behind the ship (also initially called "torpedoes"). The proper class of torpedoes, however, can only be talked about after self-propelled torpedoes were constructed at the turn of the 1860s and 1870s. In addition to arming larger ships with torpedoes as auxiliary weapons, the concept of building small and cheap units for which torpedoes were the main or even the only armament emerged. The first specially built torpedo boat was the British HMS Lightning (TB.1) from Thornycroft (owned by John Thornycroft) from 1876.
Soon after, France, Germany and other countries also started building numerous torpedo boats. Widely exported torpedo boats were used by virtually all countries with navies. The British companies Thornycroft and Yarrow, the German Schichau from Elbląg and the French Normand have become particularly well-known producers in the world. The years 1880-1905 were the period of the most mass construction of the torpedo class. With the development of technology, the size of torpedo boats and their parameters, especially speed, grew. Some countries distinguished torpedo boats of the 1st, 2nd, and sometimes also 3rd class, depending on their size, but this division was not uniform or generally accepted. The smaller torpedo boats were, in principle, only suitable for coastal operations and port defense. Initially, attempts were also made to carry them by larger ships instead of ordinary ships or cutters, but this was not introduced on a larger scale.
The smallest early torpedo boats are sometimes also referred to as torpedo boats in Poland, and torpedo boats are primarily larger ships, better armed and equipped with rotary torpedo tubes.
The torpedo boats of the end of the 19th century typically had normal displacement from several dozen to about 200 tons, most often between 60 and 150 tons (the smallest units were several tons). They were armed with 1-3 torpedo tubes and, apart from the smallest units, several small-caliber guns (up to 37-47 mm). One fixed torpedo tube in the bow was often used, as well as single rotary torpedo tubes on the deck. The smaller torpedo boats had only bow tubes or side dumps. The typical caliber of torpedoes was 356 mm (14 inches), later 450-457 mm (18 inches). Most of the torpedo boats reached speeds of 18 to 25 knots, fewer were the faster (up to 31 knots - the French Forban from 1895) or slower. The length of the torpedo hull was usually between 30 m and 50 m and it was very elongated.
After their creation, torpedo boats were perceived as extremely dangerous weapons, available in large numbers to non-maritime powers, capable of fighting the much larger and more expensive battleships, which were the backbone of the fleets at that time. The emphasis on building a large number of torpedo boats was put, among others, by French so-called "Young school". Due to this threat, in the 1890s, torpedo boats developed into larger and faster torpedo-artillery ships, with more powerful artillery weapons, initially intended specifically for fighting torpedo boats and hence called the destroyer class (from: "torpedo destroyer") or destroyers. Due to their size (from 250-400 tons and above), they eliminated the common disadvantage of torpedo boats, which was their low seaworthiness, and will soon replace them.