Louis Brennan

(1852—1932) mechanical engineer

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(28 January 1852–17 January 1932). Born at Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, Brennan migrated to Melbourne with his family in 1861. Here he was apprenticed to an engineer. In 1874, at the age of 22, he invented the Brennan torpedo (see Torpedoes), a shore-based weapon propelled by a steam-powered winch connected to the torpedo by fine steel wires (which also enabled the warhead to be steered towards the target and even retrieved if the torpedo missed). Brennan patented his design in 1877 and, aided by a £700 grant from the Victorian government, successfully trialled a working model in Hobson's Bay in 1879. Brennan went to England in 1880 at the request of the British government for further torpedo trials and never returned to Australia. The British government awarded him a lump sum of £5000 and £1000 a year while the torpedo was being tested, and when after five years' work it was accepted by the War Office, Brennan was given a further £110,000, an enormous amount of money, which indicates the importance placed on his invention. A factory was set up to manufacture the torpedo in Gillingham, Kent, with Brennan as superintendent, and the weapons were installed in the defences of all the major British ports as well as strategic ports in the British Empire. The British government considered the torpedo so important that it refused an order from the Victorian government on the grounds that no torpedoes could be spared. Brennan also designed a monorail system and a helicopter, which crashed on trials in 1925. During the First World War he worked in the Ministry of Munitions, and from 1919 to 1926 he worked at the Royal Aircaft Establishment at Farnborough. He became a foundation member of the National Academy of Ireland in 1922. Brennan was killed in a car accident in Switzerland in January 1932. A plaque in Gillingham commemorates his life and work.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Military History.