Giovanni Luppis (or Lupis) was born in the city of Rijeka (then Fiume) in 1813, which was at the time part of the Illyrian Provinces, but soon passed back to Austria. His parents where Ferdinando Carlo, nobleman of Poreč and Vis1 and Giovanna Parich, noble of Republic of Dubrovnik. In the city of Rijeka, Giovanni Luppis's family has been powerful shipowners.2 Lupis attended a gymnasium in Rijeka and the Collegio di marina, the Austrian naval academy in Venice. Then he married a noblewoman, the Baroness Elisa de Zotti.
He served in the Venezianisch-Österreichische Kriegsmarine (after 1849 K.u.K Kriegsmarine3 ) and rose up the ranks to the position of Frigate Captain (Fregattenkapitan). In 1848/1849 he was an officer on the ships that blocked Venice.4
About the middle in the 19th century, an officer of the Austrian Marine Artillery conceived the idea of employing 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 against enemy ships. Upon his death, before he had perfected his invention or made it public, the papers of this anonymous officer came into the possession of Capt. Giovanni Luppis.5
He envisioned a floating device for destroying ships that would be unmanned and controlled from land, while the explosive charges would detonate at the moment of impact. His first prototype was one metre long, had glass wings, and was controlled via long ropes from the coast. It didn't succeed due to primitive implementation.
The second model was built with a clock mechanism as the engine for the propeller. The explosives were in the stern and were ignited through a pistol-like control, which in turn was activated through the bow, the sides or the mast. It had two rudders: one turned to the right, the other to the left, that were moved by ropes/wires from land. After numerous experiments, this design, marked '6 m', finally performed well enough. He nicknamed it 'Salvacoste', Italian for "Coastsaver".6
In 1860, after Luppis had retired from the Navy, he managed to demonstrate the '6 m' design to the emperor Franz Joseph, and it was a success, but the naval commission refused to accept it without better propulsion and control systems.
In 1864 Rijeka the future mayor Giovanni de Ciotta introduced Luppis to the British machine engineer Robert Whitehead, manager of the local factory 'Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano', with whom he signed a contract to develop the 'salvacoste' further.
Whitehead built a model but decided that the idea was not viable. He did however start to think about the problem of setting off explosive charges remotely below a ship's waterline, this being far more effective than above-water bombardment. Whitehead made a device running under water and installed an engine running on compressed air, as well as automatic guidances for the depth and direction.
Whitehead had significantly altered the original design, but always credited Lupis with the invention.
On 21 December 1866 the first automobile torpedo, now named Minenschiff, was officially demonstrated in front of the Austro-Hungarian state commission for evaluation. This model was 355 mm in diameter and 3.35 m in length, weighing 136 kg with 8 kg of explosives. The naval commission accepted it, and subsequently on 6 March 1867 the government contracted the inventors for a test production and agreed to pay all the production costs.
Whitehead retained the copyrights and even negotiated a new contract with Luppis which gave Whitehead full control of all future sales.
On 27 May 1867, the navy paid 200,000 forints in royalties to the inventor. The invention was generally regarded as a promising one, but in the first years of production there were not enough orders, so 'Stabilimento' went through a crisis and went bankrupt in 1873. R. Whitehead took it over and at the beginning of 1875 transformed it into a private company called 'Torpedo-Fabrik von Robert Whitehead'.
Giovanni Luppis was given the noble title of Baron von Rammer ('the sinker') on 1 August 1869. He died in the borough (frazione) of Torriggia, in the municipality of Laglio, near Como on 11 January 1875.
- Gray, Edwin. The Devil's Device: Robert Whitehead and the History of the Torpedo, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991 310pp, ISBN 0-87021-245-1
- Wilson, H. W. Ironclads in action;: A sketch of naval warfare from 1855 to 1895, London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1895, Fourth Edition 1896 (Two Volumes), pre ISBN
- Luppis is descended from a branch of the Italian noble family of de Lupis, that moved to Dalmatia from Giovinazzo, Apulia. This branch moved first to Republic of Dubrovnik and then to the peninsula of Pelješac in Croatia), where Slavicized the name in Vuk, Vukic or Vukašinovic (another adaptation of lupus, "wolf"). When, in the 17th century, one of his ancestors had moved to Rijeka, that in that time had a mostly Italian urban population, he Italianized again his name in Luppis. See: Giovanni Luppis family in the Libro d'Oro della Nobiltà Italiana scanned version here; also: History of the de Lupis Family (in Italian) and Giovanni Luppis genealogy
- Giovanni Luppis genealogy
- La Voce del Popolo (Fiume), Sabato 3 marzo 2007: Storia del silurificio di Fiume e biografia di Giovanni Luppis (pp.6-7)
- "Origin of the Whitehead torpedo, p. 6". Torpedo History - Part 1 - Historical Background. Naval Undersea Museum. 28 June 2010. Retrieved 30 June 2013. "About the middle of the nineteenth century, an officer of the Austrian Marine Artillery conceived the idea of employing a small boat carrying a large charge of explosives, powered by a steam or an air engine and remotely steered by cables to be used against enemy ships. Upon his death, before he had perfected his invention or made it public, the papers of this anonymous officer came into the possession of Capt. Giovanni Luppis"
- 1st international Conference on the occasion of 150th anniversary of torpedo factory in Rijeka and preservation of industrial heritage
- Giovanni Luppis genealogy
- Giovanni Luppis in the Libro d'Oro della Nobiltà Italiana
- History of Rijeka torpedo factory
- History of the Whithead Factory (part one)
- Evolution of the submarine weapons in 19th century (in Italian)
- History of R. Whitehead (site about Royal Navy)
- History of the torpedo: the early days (Journal of the Royal Navy Scientific Service Vol 27 No 1)
- Torpedo History (Naval Undersea Museum of U.S. Navy)
- La Voce del Popolo (Fiume), Sabato 3 marzo 2007: Storia del silurificio di Fiume e biografia di Giovanni Luppis (pp. 6–7)