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US Torpedos in the Beginning of WWII Were Surprisingly Defective and Useless

STG_58_guy

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The torpedo bombers that tried to deliver them were pretty bad too. At least that's what I've been lead to believe by documentaries and material I've read on the matter. It wasn't just the plane launched torpedoes though. It seems like destroyers and submarines were bouncing torpedoes off Japanese ships on a regular basis for the first year of the war.

I read one piece that claimed all the testing was done in fresh water, which has a different density than salt water, which lead to them all being miscalibrated for running depth. That's a rookie error, even for 100 years ago. There were many problems with these things. And testing was very limited because they were very expensive and in short supply, or so I've read.

It makes you wonder what weapons systems we field today will fail miserably if ever put to task.

Those torpedo bombers may have sucked but they did distract the Japanese enough that dive bombers were able to sink 4 carriers at Midway. Few of them returned from their missions. Those were brave men.

I'm no WWII history expert. Do I have this wrong? WTF was the deal?
 

J308

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It was gone over very comprehensively in the time-life series. The head of BU-ORD was just enamored with the first gen torpedoes and actively fought against any changes to them no matter what. In addition to depth accuracy issues and magnetic triggers that didn't work, the firing pins meant to make em go boom on impact, were made of metal that was soft enough to deform on impact and fail to strike the primer. Once someone (I forget who. A sub captain iirc) did some actual live fire tests after laying a spread of a dozen? More? torpedos on a motionless target at slack tide and almost all were duds, they took em apart, replaced the firing pins with harder material, and finally had torpedoes that worked.
 

Wildcat

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Layers upon layers of problems with the MK 14. Some were design and others were bureaucratic.

Torpedoes were expensive and time consuming to make. So dear that they didn't want to lose many in testing.
There was a continuous shortage of torpedoes for most of the war.
During development, they had to rearrange the internals to accommodate a larger warhead. When they did that, the new port location for the depth sensor allowed the water rushing past the fish to produce less pressure than the actual depth; causing it to run deeper than was set for. While stationary it read the correct depth.

The triggering mechanisms both had problems.

The contact exploder (a carryover from WWI designs) didn't work well. If the torp hit perpendicular to the target, it frequently failed but if it struck at an angle it often worked. The orientation of the mechanism within the torpedo is a significant contributor to this problem

The magnetic exploder (proximity fuze) also had failures but to be fair, other navies had serious problems with magnetic exploders. There are variations in the Earth's magnetic field that are enough to confuse the exploder and it would trigger early.

Combine multiple problems with very poor/overly frugal testing that produced misleading results and the Bureau of Ordnance was convinced that the sub skippers were lousy shots.
Most accounts indicate that the sub commanders were doing their part correctly and the results were maddeningly unproductive.

It would have been a very different (and shorter!) war if our navy had a halfway decent torpedo.
 

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Took some time to go from a peacetime armed forces, to a wartime force.
What testing and problem solving that was too expensive to conduct in peacetime, became standard practice in wartime conditions.
We sent in non-armored Humvees, when we needed Humvees in a hurry, then caught up with protection.
10 rounds of practice ammo per man per year, peacetime, became unlimited ammo, in wartime.
Peacetime, hardly anyone carries live ammo, wartime, carry as much as you want.
Transitions from peacetime to wartime, always beings up issues with equipment, men, and training...
 

Mebsuta

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It was well-known when I was a brat kid that our torpedoes sucked at the beginning of WW2.

We had trouble with a lot of stuff at the beginning of WW2, but that's how the USA is sometimes. We absorb what the enemy throws at us, come out stepping all over our d1ck, then gather up strength.
 

tac-40

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The torpedo bombers that tried to deliver them were pretty bad too. At least that's what I've been lead to believe by documentaries and material I've read on the matter. It wasn't just the plane launched torpedoes though. It seems like destroyers and submarines were bouncing torpedoes off Japanese ships on a regular basis for the first year of the war.
Unfortunately, all of the US used torpedoes of the time were designed, developed and built by the US Bureau of Ordinance Navy Torpedo Service. In order to minimize expenses, the three types of torpedoes (aerial, ship-borne, and submarine) shared many components and design factors. The exploder was the biggest problem source in all of the torpedoes initially, but it was consequently identified by both surface and sub sailors and modified to work properly. The aerial torpedoes had issues with the sturdiness of the design and was often damaged when it impacted the water surface. This issue was partially corrected by copying the wooden nose and tail pieces used by the Japanese on their torpedoes. Early in the war, 1942, several German electric torpedoes were recovered intact and taken to the US for examination. Although NTS was directed to expedite their analysis and design of a US copy, they took their time. As a result, the torpedoes were given to Westinghouse so they could design and build they new version. Westinghouse had them in production in a few months and they entered fleet use rapidly. Issues with the batteries, mostly from hydrogen gas production slowed their entry into the submarine fleet. They also had the same issues with the exploder. By the end of the war, the majority of torpedoes fired by the submarine fleet were the Westinghouse electric MK18 torpedo.

When I reported on board my first submarine, it still had the MK14 (steam powered), MK37 (electric homing), and MK45 (electric nuke warhead) on board. A couple of years later, all of them were being replaced by the MK48 and SUBROC (UUM44). Based upon my experiences of war shot exercises, the MK14 problems had been solved in the 30 years since the war. The SUBROC was a hoot to shoot, also. Unfortunately no big bang warhead was mounted on our weapon.
 

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If we had the better torpedos at the start, P51 fighteres, which we already had designed,......and no Sherman tanks--but a M26 Tank with big gun instead, there would not have been so much danger fighting the Japs and Nazi's.......

Huge egos, are the hardest thing to defeat in the MIC.
 

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Growing up reading about Mush Morton and the likes, it was pretty well known that they were duds.

ETA: I remember some stories of subs coming back with no torpedoes left and not sinking any ships due to the duds
Morton did as much as Dealey and O'Kane to win the MOH, but after he ordered Japs in the water machinegunned, they never put him in for higher than the Navy Cross, which he had four and a DSC - that would've translated into an MOH without politics.
 

SWOHFAL

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As it was then, so it is now. Follow the money far enough back and it leads right into some politician's constituency, and ultimately, his pocket.

It's the American Way, both politics and business - let the end user do the beta testing to determine if all the corners cut result in too many failures. Plenty of soldiers and sailors have died (and not a few consumers also) to provide the home office/Pentagon with the answers.
 

MAINER

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Remember a movie about this torpedo problem, mostly about the man that came up with a solution.

Of course, time has not been kind enough for me to remember the name of said movie.
 

LYCAN

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i do recall, from my very extensive vault of random information - The Jap's had special fitted wooden attachments on the torpedoes utilized during the attack on Pearl Harbor - it assisted with overcoming the challenges of the shallow waters, in which they were utilized.
 

tac-40

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i do recall, from my very extensive vault of random information - The Jap's had special fitted wooden attachments on the torpedoes utilized during the attack on Pearl Harbor - it assisted with overcoming the challenges of the shallow waters, in which they were utilized.
Those were modifications to the wooden attachments used to prevent damage to the torpedo when dropped from higher altitude and faster speeds. The modifications for the Pearl Harbor torpedoes were to keep them from diving to their normal depth of 50 feet to prevent them from sticking in the mud. In the open ocean, this wasn't a problem, but Pear Harbor is very shallow. The US ended up copying these attachments later in the war to prevent our aerial torpedoes from being damaged and to allow a drop from higher altitudes and fast speeds to make our Avengers less of a target instead of low and slow.

Wooden tail stabilizers
The project revised Type 91 aerial torpedoes, as the revision 1 supporting wooden tail plates, taken off on water entry, in 1936. The team demonstrated the launching tests of Type 91 aerial torpedoes wearing wooden shock-damper objects at altitude 500m (1,640 ft) and 1,000m (3,281 ft) in the following year, 1937. The project came up again and resumed the development of Type 91 aerial torpedo. Type 91 aerial torpedo of earlier revision had a frail body.

 
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LYCAN

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Those were modifications to the wooden attachments used to prevent damage to the torpedo when dropped from higher altitude and faster speeds. The modifications for the Pearl Harbor torpedoes were to keep them from diving to their normal depth of 50 feet to prevent them from sticking in the mud. In the open ocean, this wasn't a problem, but Pear Harbor is very shallow. The US ended up copying these attachments later in the war to prevent our aerial torpedoes from being damaged and to allow a drop from higher altitudes and fast speeds to make out Avengers less of a target instead of low and slow.
THIS ^ Is why I love this place!

Thank You for such detailed about & raw History!
 

meltblown

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I think what hasn't been mentioned was a few subs were sunk when their torpedoes circled back like the Tang and others. Even the MK 18. I was at the sub museum at Pearl Harbor and was reading all the monuments on the eternal patrol circle and remembered it today
 

Wildcat

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I think what hasn't been mentioned was a few subs were sunk when their torpedoes circled back like the Tang and others. Even the MK 18. I was at the sub museum at Pearl Harbor and was reading all the monuments on the eternal patrol circle and remembered it today
I thought those were due to problems with the gyro and not necessarily specific to a particular model of torpedo.
 

NFADLR

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John Wayne was the lead from memory.

And there was an reservoir north of Azusa California Where torpedoes were tested up on hwy 39.






20220807_162646.jpg

Remember a movie about this torpedo problem, mostly about the man that came up with a solution.

Of course, time has not been kind enough for me to remember the name of said movie.
 
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gunplumber

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I'm no WWII history expert. Do I have this wrong? WTF was the deal?
At least 50% of US torpedos were defective throughout WWII. Sometimes so badly they'd do a U-turn and kill the launching sub.

Not enough business executives and flag officers were hung for this travesty.
 

Impala_Guy

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I'm honestly surprised that they were unable to widely deploy a sucessful homing torpedo in WW2. You don't need complicated electronics to home in on a giant chunk of steel weighing thousands of tons.

Imagine trying to protect supply convoys today..........
 
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