Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/619

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SCIENCE AND WAR.

the Cossacks will have it in their power to inflict if accoutred as pioneers. These are selected from the smartest and most daring troopers, lightly armed and well mounted. In a belt round their waists they carry a few pounds of gun-cotton or dynamite, and with this highly-destructive explosive they may work incalculable harm. A small charge of gun-cotton placed simply upon a rail and fired with a fuse suffices to blow several feet of the iron to a distance of many yards, thus rendering the railway unserviceable on the instant. A trooper may dismount, place a charge at the base of a telegraph pole, fire it, and be in his saddle again within sixty seconds. Wires may thus be cut and communication stopped in the heart of an enemy's country by fearless riders, who have but to draw rein for an instant to effect the mischief, while lines of railway in the neighborhood are entirely at their mercy. Even light bridges and well-built stockades may be thrown down by the violent detonation of compressed gun-cotton, and forest-roads considerably obstructed by trees thrown across, which are never so rapidly felled as when a small charge of this explosive is fired at their roots.

The influence of the Whitehead torpedo, of which we have heard so much of late, will likewise be felt for the first time during the present war. An implement so ingenious in its character that, as Lord Charles Beresford the other day happily remarked, it can do almost anything but talk, is in the possession of both belligerents, and will doubtless be heard of ere long on the Danube and in the Black Sea. These torpedoes are manufactured at Fiume on the Mediterranean, and, like Krupp guns, are to be purchased by any one who chooses to pay for them.

The British Government manufactures its own Whitehead torpedoes in this country, having paid several thousand pounds for the privilege. The machinery inside this torpedo is still a secret, which is strictly maintained by our Government, but the principle of the invention is well known. It is a long, cigar-shaped machine measuring a dozen feet and upward. In the head is a charge of some violent explosive, such as gun-cotton, or dynamite, which explodes as soon as the torpedo strikes an obstacle. The motive power is compressed air, which is forced into the machine by powerful air-pumps, immediately before the torpedo is discharged into the sea, no less than 600 pounds on the square inch being the pressure exerted. The Whitehead is shot from a tube, and moves through the water as straight as a dart, the compressed air working upon a screw in the tail of the machine. The delicate machinery permits the torpedo to swim at any depth below the surface that may be desirable, and it flies straight in the direction it is aimed, at a speed of something like twenty miles an hour. If it fails to strike the foe, then the intelligent apparatus at once rises to the surface, becoming innocuous as it does so, and may in this condition be captured without difficulty.