Streetwise Professor

September 21, 2013

Underwater Missiles?

Filed under: History,Military — The Professor @ 8:06 pm

The Military Channel is showing Operation Pacific, starring John Wayne.  The UVerse description of the movie is: “A Naval commander anxious to get his nonexploding underwater missiles working . . . ”  Underwater missiles?  You mean like, torpedoes?  And “nonexploding”?  You mean like, defective?

This film is about the scandalous experience with the Mark XIV torpedo during WWII.  This weapon malfunctioned with alarming regularity in 1942 and 1943, before the defects in the detonators were discovered.  The Bureau of Ordnance stubbornly refused to believe there was anything wrong with the weapon, and blamed the submariners for the failures.

The movie is a fictionalized account of the process of diagnosing the detonator defects and fighting the Navy bureaucracy.  Not that you’d know that from the description, which reads like one of those instruction manuals translated from Korean by a native Japanese speaker.  Or is it that those who wrote the description don’t know what torpedoes are, or believe that the potential audience doesn’t?

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9 Comments »

  1. Odd thing, but everyone had problems with torpedoes during WWII. Germans, British. Come to think of it, not a single Argentine torpedo functioned correctly in the Falklands war, but that turned out to be user error. Meanwhile RN torpedoes worked fine on that occasion.

    Comment by jon livesey — September 22, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

  2. All but the Japanese. Their Type 93 Long Lances were incredibly effective. They were large-24″ as opposed to the standard 21″-and used compressed oxygen instead of compressed air, which reduced the bubble trail. They had a long range and reliable exploders. They wreaked havoc with the US Navy in the Solomon Islands in particular, especially at Tassafaronga. Japanese submarine torpedoes were effective too, as were their aerial torpedoes.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 22, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

  3. Torpedoes were extremely complex weapons for the day. Motors, guidance, detonators, fuel, a source of oxygen. A complicated combination. Much more complicated than guns and shells, which had evolved over centuries, and were a mature technology, and certainly more complicated than bombs. Aerial torpedoes had an additional source of complexity: they had to be able to withstand the drop from an aircraft.

    The ironic part about the American torpedoes was that what should have been the most basic part-the detonator-was the problem.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 22, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

  4. Not John Wayne’s best effort and I never could understand why the Armed Forces were pursuing that particular nurse.

    Comment by pahoben — September 23, 2013 @ 10:33 am

  5. @pahoben-LOL. Both true.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 23, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

  6. There was a heartbreaking incident where a US U-boat skipper stalked – I think – Yamato for several days and hit her with a spread of torpedoes, only for the weapons to fail to explode.

    That has to piss you off as a submariner. WW2 torpedoes typically left a bubble wake that told you precisely where they had been fired from. If they exploded correctly, this information was usually too late to be useful from the target’s perspective. But if they did’t, well, it must leave a submarine crew wishing they hadn’t bothered.

    IIRC both the Americans and Germans eventually solved their problem by copying a British contact exploder, which had itself been copied from a German one in WW1. What goes around comes around.

    The British magnetic exploder was tried out against Bismarck, and it didn’t work. All the weapons dropped exploded almost immediately on entering the water. This was, as it turned out, quite lucky, because the ship they were aimed at on that occasion wasn’t Bismarck but Sheffield, a British heavy cruiser.

    I am always intrigued by the hunt for the Bismarck, and the fact that the finding and crippling of the capital ship were all done by rickety naval air. It was a relatively unusual example of the Germans bringing a knife to a gunfight.

    Comment by Green as Grass — September 24, 2013 @ 6:40 am

  7. @Green-Rickety is right. Fairey Swordfish: The Stringbag. (Though it did well against the Italians at Taranto.) The LR reconnaissance was done mainly by PBYs. Interesting illustration of how the epitome of one technology (battleships) can be beaten by primitive examples of a new one.

    Interesting re detonators. Wasn’t aware of the copy of a copy angle.

    SPeaking of what goes around comes around, that was another example of US torpedo problems. They had an unsettling tendency to do a U-turn. One of the best US subs, the Tang, commanded by Richard O’Kane, was sunk by its own torpedo.

    Re the bubble wake-that was one of the advantages of the Japanese torpedoes. They used compressed O2 instead of compressed air, which reduced the wake. Ironically, there is sort of a global warming connection. Using O2 meant that the gas produced by combustion was CO2 which is water soluble, and hence didn’t leave the same bubble trail.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 24, 2013 @ 8:36 am

  8. When I lived in the Netherlands there was a restored PBY in Dutch colours flying out of Rotterdam. I remember it flying across the road in front of me once as I drove past the airport. It took it ages. It was doing maybe 60mph. The Stringbag likewise had loiter ability not surpassed until helicopters arrived.

    Have you been keeping up with the latest IPCC nonsense? Apparently the reason the atmosphere hasn’t warmed since 1998 – despite the CO2 content rising by a third – is that the heat is hiding in the deep oceans.

    They can’t demonstrate this because nobody monitors deep ocean temperatures. But they just know, right? Because the models can’t be wrong, and the ocean’s the only place left.

    I blame the Japanese Long Lance torpedoes.

    Comment by Green as Grass — September 25, 2013 @ 7:18 am

  9. Yes. PBYs amazingly slow. But amazingly effective. They shot down a surprising number of Japanese planes during the war.

    Speaking of loiter, a P-3 Orion has been flying at low altitude over my office in Houston the last several days. If they’re looking for subs, they’re lost 😛

    Yes, I’ve been following the IPCC BS. I keep scratching my head as to how all that heat can hide in the deep oceans without leaving a trace at shallower depths. But I guess I’m just not smart enough to understand these mysteries. Maybe you’re right: the heat is carried there by torpedoes.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. The Arbiters of Settled Science resort to profoundly unscientific methods by hiding behind hypotheses that cannot be tested and hence cannot be refuted. And another hit: they are again profoundly unscientific by rejecting the data instead of the models when the former refutes the latter. They are so invested in these models-literally and figuratively that they can’t and won’t admit they are utterly flawed, and likely incapable of being fixed. I’ve written before how this whole exercise reminds me of the Keynesian big model era of the 1960s and 1970s, an effort that collapsed in failure. And the climate models are even worse.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 25, 2013 @ 9:14 am

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