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torpedo failures


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#1 scrounger

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Posted 26 November 2011 - 07:38 PM

Recently I was reading a bit about the German invasion of Norway and I was surprised at the failure rate of German torpedoes.The Royal Navy would have suffered grevieous losses had it not been for the dud torpedoes, several British battleships, battleceuisers, aircraft carriers and other warships were spared because of the misfireings, Also The Americans had allot of problems with faulty torpedoes early in the Pacific war. Did the British have the same problems as the U S N and the Kreigsmarine ? As far as I can tell the best was the Japanese long lance , did they also have problems ?

#2 lwd

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Posted 26 November 2011 - 09:57 PM

Pretty much everyone who tried magnetic triggers had problems with them, including the British who discovered the problem before it became serious. The type 93 had it's problems as well. Early on as many as a third may have detonated prematurely. The oxygen system on the cruisers made them very dangerous to the ships that carried them as well.

#3 Sentinel

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 12:27 AM

This is a subject that has long fascinated me. I can't imagine how countries went to war with torpedoes that didn't actually work.

Especially the US. There was an unacceptably high rate of failure during the early part of the war. What caused this? Why did it take so long to fix?

Was there simply a lack of testing prior to the war? It seems inexcusable, but then I have the benefit of hindsight. I'm sure there were seemingly good reasons at the time. But it's a subject I've not seen covered very much. Can anyone steer me to good sources, preferably on the Net?

#4 belasar

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 12:45 AM

From a book I read years ago about US sub operations, the prewar budgets were so tight that torpedoes were only test under ideal conditions, and often not to destruction to save money.
Wars are rarely fought in black and white, but in infinite shades of grey

(Poppy is occasionaly correct, or so I hear)

#5 scrounger

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 01:06 AM

It must have been infuriaitng to a submarine skipper who after risking his boat and the lives of the crew to penetrate a defensive screen set up a shot on a target especially a battleship or a carrier just to have the torpedoes misfire !!! Than after he survives the wrath of the escorts and makes it home in one piece he faces some desk bound staff officer telling him it's his fault he must have missed or he wasn't agressive enough ...

#6 Sentinel

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 01:29 AM

Belasar - That sounds plausible, though still not a very good policy.

Scrounger - I can understand this. One of the reasons is trivial-sounding.

I played Silent Hunter II as an American commander with realistic early-war torpedoes. After spending hours lining up for the perfect shot, I hit a Japanese carrier with five torpedoes ouit of six. All were duds.

I was so frustrated and angry that I never played that game again. And it was only a game! Imagine how bad it would be for a submariner in real life.

I've heard stories that at least one submarine captain went temporarily insane after something similar, but real, happened.

#7 LRusso216

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 01:41 AM

It was frustrating to the sub skippers. At least for the US, it was a combination of things. One, the torpedoes were expensive, so skippers were not able to test them. Second, the ordnance people thought they knew best, and the poor results were a function of poor shooting. The skippers, however, knew better.

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#8 scrounger

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 02:16 AM

There was also an incident that occured during the Bismark chase , when Swordfish torpedo planes launched an attack fron H M S Ark Royal they mistakenly attacked a British cruiser ( I think it was H M S sheffield ) they didn't know it was between Ark Royal and Bismark fortunately for Sheffield several of the swordfish torpedoes exploded prematurely and the British Cruiser wasn't damaged

#9 harolds

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 02:22 AM

There was a total difference in the way the Germans handled the problem and the way the USN did. Donitz believed his skippers and court-martialed the officers responsible and they were imprisoned for a period of time. In the USN the bureaucrats stonewalled and were believed for the longest time. The result was that the German torpedo problem was corrected relatively quickly while the USN's problems lingered well into 1943. By the way, I think Donitz later pardoned those officers and brought them back to work, but he got his point across!

I should mention that the torpedo problems were not only with the magnetic pistols, but also in getting the torpedos to run at the correct depth.

The Germans also had a problem in that if their torpedo hit a ships side at too steep an angle it would not go off. They corrected this by putting a larger "propeller" on the front. That "propeller" was part of the fuze and armed the torpedo after so many revolutions. When the blades jammed against something, the warhead would go off, but with the smaller blades, a glancing blow wouldn't allow the blades to contact the ship so they didn't go off. The larger blades would contact a ship with a glancing blow.

Edited by harolds, 27 November 2011 - 02:29 AM.


#10 scrounger

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 03:12 AM

If I was an american sub skipper of this period I think a couple of these desk jockeys would be coming on my next operational cruise and see for themselves just how useless the torpedoes are. and the consequences of a failed attack the target sails away while you are attacked by escorts, all for nothing !!!

#11 leccy1

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 02:10 PM

An interesting article about US torpedoes (particularly the MK XIV Sub launched version), their failures and remedies.

U.S. Torpedo Troubles During World War II
Three passages from the end of the article.

The Bureau of Ordnance and the Newport Torpedo Station were guilty of designing and issuing an entire generation of faulty torpedoes. Peacetime budget constraints and a preservationist attitude toward ordnance combined to create an interwar regimen under which the vast majority of scientists and submariners who rotated through Newport never heard or saw a torpedo explosion. To compound this error, both organizations proved incapable of making the transition from peacetime apathy to wartime demand and accepting incriminating combat evidence suggesting major ordnance flaws. Their blind faith and anemic testing may have saved money and material before the war, but it certainly cost lives during the war. Because of this logistics fiasco, veteran submariner and historian Paul Schratz said he 'was only one of many frustrated submariners who thought it a violation of New Mexico scenery to test the A-bomb at Alamagordo when the naval torpedo station was available.' Legitimate fault for this debacle must be assigned for the sake of those survivors and their fallen comrades who endured the struggle and won the war.


This quote shows how frustrated they were.

Perhaps Admiral Lockwood encapsulated the submariners' long frustration best when he suggested at a wartime conference in Washington that, 'If the Bureau of Ordnance can't provide us with torpedoes that will hit and explode… then for God's sake, get the Bureau of Ships to design a boat hook with which we can rip the plates off a target's side.' Although his submarines never had to resort to such measures, history has tended to overlook their early months of struggle, focusing instead on the final two years of their campaign.


What must never be forgotten is the fact that just over 50 years ago, submariners were forced to engage the enemy for 18 months with ordnance that proved to be at least 70 percent unreliable. Often, Japanese merchantmen would enter port with unexploded Mark XIV torpedoes thrust into their hulls. Despite the problems with ordnance, American submariners, a mere two percent of U.S. naval personnel, sank more than 1,178 merchant vessels and 214 warships, totalling more than 5,600,000 tons. They sacrificed 52 submarines, 374 officers and 3,131 enlisted men from their close-knit ranks. The Silent Service suffered 40 percent of all naval casualties in the Pacific, yet managed to destroy 55 percent of all Japanese ships. American submarines succeeded where the Germans had twice failed–in the systematic and complete blockade of an island nation.



#12 lwd

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 01:16 AM

There's a fair amount of info hung off this site
NavWeaps - Naval Weapons of the World - 1880 to Present
In particular:
Information on USA Torpedoes
A Brief History of U.S. Navy Torpedo Development

#13 scrounger

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 04:49 AM

I believe one of the great tragedies of these faulty American torpedoes would have to be at midway. When you see the courage the crews of those slow Douglas Devistator torpedo planes ,flying through a hail of fire from fighters and the Japanese Anti aircraft gunners they kept coming on and were wiped out scoring no hits and even if they had the torpedo would no doubt have been a dud .

#14 Up From Marseille

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 03:27 PM

There's a highly dramaticised (sp?) movie about the US torpedo problem starring John Wayne: Operation Pacific 1951.

I'll spoil the ending - The Duke solves the problem! :D

#15 Takao

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 04:03 PM

I believe one of the great tragedies of these faulty American torpedoes would have to be at midway.

I have to disagree with this. While the Mark 13 was not the best air-dropped torpedo, it could prove to be an effective weapon. The battle of the Coral Sea saw the best and worst of the early Mk 13s dropped under "ideal" combat conditions. There, the IJN Shoho was hit by some 6-7 torpedoes(source vary), however, the torpedo attacks against the IJN Shokaku were all for naught. IIRC, the number of torpedo drops against each carrier was some 20+.

The tragedy of the VTs at Midway was the American "errors" that led to the loss of the majority of the Devastators.

#16 Takao

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 04:34 PM

The Germans also had a problem in that if their torpedo hit a ships side at too steep an angle it would not go off. They corrected this by putting a larger "propeller" on the front. That "propeller" was part of the fuze and armed the torpedo after so many revolutions. When the blades jammed against something, the warhead would go off, but with the smaller blades, a glancing blow wouldn't allow the blades to contact the ship so they didn't go off. The larger blades would contact a ship with a glancing blow.

You have confused the "safety" mechanism with part of the contact "firing pistol", still, the Germans had problems with both.

The "propeller" was part of the "safety" mechanism, which prevented the torpedo from exploding until it was a safe distance away from the submarine/ship. The problem here, was that there were two different propellers, a four-bladed type and a five-bladed type. The four-bladed type had been put into production without being fully tested, the result being that sometimes it would sometimes fail to arm to torpedo. Whereas, the five-bladed version was considered to be reliable. Once the Germans discovered this, the four-bladed type was dropped from new production.

The German torpedoes also had four "whiskers" on the torpedo's nose that were part of the contact firing pistol. These "whiskers" were to allow the torpedo to detonate if the target was struck a glancing blow. However, the rod the whiskers were connected to was likely to bend at low angles of impact, thus it would fail to trip the firing pin.

#17 Gromit801

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 07:40 PM

I read somewhere that the main problem with US torps was a firing pin made of a too soft metal, and would mushroom on contact, instead of pushing through to detonate.
"I love deadlines. I love the 'Whooshing' noise they make when they go by." - Doug Adams

#18 Takao

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Posted 29 November 2011 - 12:16 AM

Gromit801,

The US firing pin was already mushroom shaped...

The problem, as I understand it, was with the friction, created by impact with a target, between the firing pin and the guide studs. This caused the firing pin to bind in the studs, and the firing spring was not powerful enough to overcome the friction. Thus, the firing pin would often not strike the firing cap, or if it did strike, there was insufficient force to detonate the firing cap. By replacing the stainless steel firing pin with a much lighter aluminum one, the friction problem was successfully overcome.

Another step made in the right direction was to make the entire firing assembly more robust, as the original was considered to "delicate" to withstand the high speed impacts on the Mark 14.




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