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February 11, 2019

What do the Torpedo of Rijeka, Robert Whitehead and rock band Whiteheads have in common?


The design for torpedo, an invention that sparked revolution in naval strategy and tactics, was conceived by Rijeka’s Giovanni Biagio Luppis (Johann Blasius Luppis, lvan Blaz Vukic), an officer of the Austro-Hungarian navy, who returned to his hometown after his retirement in 1960s with an attempt to develop prototypes for the self-propelled torpedo. His idea was to develop a small boat carrying a large charge of explosives, powered by a steam or an air engine and remotely steered by cable to be used as a naval weapon. He envisioned a floating device filled with explosive charges that would be unmanned and controlled from land, have glass wings (to be less visible) and be controlled via long ropes from the coast. Aware of its technical capabilities (of better to say – the lack of), with the help of the then mayor of Rijeka Giovanni de Ciotte, Lupis made contact with the then director of the Technical Institute of Rijeka, a British industrialist Robert Whitehead. Thanks to their collaboration, the idea finally came to life and in 1866 they introduced a new, autonomous underwater weapon called the torpedo, at the time known as Minenschiff (literally meaning mine ship). According to available resources, from 1866 to August 1943, 20323 torpedoes, 1053 launchers and 1368 high-pressure compressors were manufactured in Rijeka.

Although he remained a British subject through his entire life, Robert Whitehead considered Rijeka his home away from home and took interest in city’s communal matters, participating in the founding of some companies and associations, expanding his factory, building magnificent buildings, investing his resources, time and energy into the city. What is paradox is the fact that, although he invented the weapon that killed thousands of people in World War II, Whitehead was appalled by what was happening in 1848 in Europe and hated war and violence. He invented torpedo with the purpose to defeat warships, not destroy human lives.


Inspired by the success of torpedo, further great achievements in technology, as well as events in Rijeka at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, a group of enthusiasts called “torpedoists” achieved in bringing the first torpedoes and numerous other torpedo instruments, parts and tools to the City Museum of Rijeka. Further efforts from the same group resulted in a fascinating exhibition called “First in the World – 150 Years of Rijeka’s Torpedo” which represents a significant step towards establishing a museum of industrial heritage.

First and foremost, it is important to note that the exhibition was opened thanks to joint efforts of Rijeka City Museum and the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral in Rijeka, but also thanks to the enthusiasts such as Goran Pernjek, former OSRH officer, who co-authors the exhibition with the curator Ivo Mileusnic. For those wanting to learn more about the exhibits, Goran Pernjek is always ready to share his knowledge of the development and technical details related to the torpedo which is immense, much like his enthusiasm and energy vested in this exhibition. As an expert, not only does he visit museums and old factory halls looking for all things related to the torpedo, but he also restores the torpedoes and their components, and is present every time official divers collect an item from the sea. Goran Pernjek emphasizes the importance of the existence of such a space, especially for the city of Rijeka, hometown of torpedo, as a tangible testimony of the city’s deeply rooted tradition of high engineering. Of all the people who came to see the exhibition so far, Pernjek was most delighted to see Peter Whitehead, a descendant of Robert Whitehead, the history figure who, along with Ivan Vukic Luppis, made the development of torpedo possible.


We also take this opportunity to announce a performance of Whiteheads, a rock band from Rijeka, which will take place on January 26, 2018.

Whiteheads is a rock band from Rijeka, founded in 2015 as part of the cultural movement LP Rock. The band is composed of former members of famous bands from the ’70s and’ 80s who bring several generations of Rijeka’s musicians together to represent the artistic spirit of the city and it’s well known beat.

Apart from bearing a witty reference to the color of their hair, their name honors the person who left a great mark in both history of Rijeka and world history. The band is named after Robert Whitehead, one of the inventors of torpedo and a well-known industrialist, and their performance will conveniently be held as part of the exhibition “Torpedo of Rijeka – the First in the World” at the very premises of Rijeka City Museum. The big news is that Mr. Whitehead, the direct descendant of Robert Whitehead – his great-grandson to be more exact, confirmed his attendance of the event. Mr. Peter Whitehead expressed great honor to be invited as well as his willingness to support the whole project in any way possible.

At the beginning of their work the band recorded covers of songs originally performed by famous international and local rock bands, and in 2017 they recorded their first original songs, “Sto je Bilo”, “Na Badnju Vecer” (in collaboration with the 80s rock star, Aleksandar Sladjan Milosevic) and “Istok i Zapad” (in collaboration with pianist Ana Mihailovic).

The formal part of the promotion for invited guests and media members will be held from 7 to 9 pm. After the promotion and the press conference, the band and their special guest, Aleksandra Sladjana Milosevic, will have another performance in the Museum, among the very torpedo artifacts found underwater in the Bay of Rijeka and the surrounding area.

January 26, 2018, is also when the Night of the Museum takes place in many cities all over Croatia, so the door of the Museum will stay open long after 9 pm and the visitors will get a chance to see and experience this rather unusual museum, so special to the city of Rijeka, and enjoy the exhibition to the live soundtrack of Whiteheads.