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May 23, 1997

BRAVOZULU and ATTABOY to Denver McCune’s letter in April’s THE SUBMARINE REVIEW regarding the need for three vibrant retired submariner organizations working more closely together to support common goals. The undersigned sees these goals as support of our current and future Submarine Force programs including the annual Congressional budgetary process, as well as the advancement of the proud tradition of submarine professionalism and excellence established in World War II. As a proud member of all three organizations almost from the inception of each, I offer a proposal to initiate McCune’s suggestion for establishing a joint annual meeting of the top national officers of all three groups.

I propose establishing at an early date a joint program for major national and regional celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of Submarines in the year 2000 including the issuance of a Post Office Submarine memorial stamp. I understand that a Post Office stamp committee has rejected Submarine Memorial stamp efforts to date on the basis that the SS Force JW Anniversary is a regional thing and because of self-imposed 3 year lead times. The April-June U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI) American Submariner issue has an article by their former National Secretary Pete McGuire (p22) stating that former President Bush supports this effort. Surely we can mount a joint political effort to cause the Post Office to reexamine their refusal.

The Naval Submarine League has professional, technical and defense industry strength. The Submarine Veterans of World War II and the USSVI have people and potential political strength in their many chapters throughout our country that the NSL does not reach. We are all retired submarine shipmates with a proud tradition of professional excellence and accomplishment. Let us BRING IT ALL TOGETHER for a memorable national regional celebration in the year 2000 and let us have fun and camaraderie in doing it.

The above effort should be nationally and regionally coordinated with the plans of our active duty submariners to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of our Submarine Force in the year 2000.

John M. Barrett


March 24, 1997

Lieutenant Thompson’s thought-provoking article about Subscol also touches briefly on PCO training. The lack of approach and attack training in the proposed PCO curriculum is alarming. This the single most important facet of training for a PCO. The time listed in Table I of the article to learn the bureaucracy is excessive. Rather, the PCO curriculum should be heavily weighted to approach and attack training in the attack trainers, followed by exercise torpedo firings at sea in ASW and ASUW tactical situations which are as realistic as possible. Short of factual combat, seldom will the CO have the opportunity to conduct this training for himself, and be objectively evaluated, once he reports to his ships. He is then too involved in teaching this fine art to his subordinates.

CAPT Jack McDonald, USN(Ret.)


April 20, 1997

I read with great interest the articles about torpedoes written by Frederick J. Milford and published in recent issues of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. The Great Torpedo Scandal 1941-43 was of particular interest. Mr. Milford’s description of flaws in the Mk 14 torpedo (including the Mk 6 exploder), and of steps taken to correct these flaws, is written with clarity and technical expertise. As he notes, the worst part of the scandal was the reluctance of Buford or the Newport Torpedo Station to accept or investigate criticism of the weapon by the operating forces who were trying to use it.

One statement by Mr. Milford is misleading. In concluding his discussion of the three most aggravating deficiencies in the Mk 14 (running 11 feet below set depth and design flaws in both the magnetic and contact exploder mechanisms) Mr. Milford states, 11 0nce these and other less significant problems were solved, the Mk 14 torpedo became a reliable and important weapon.” As a matter of fact, by late 1943 when these problems were resolved the torpedo was much improved, but still had significant residual faults.

In a footnote to his article Mr. Milford makes reference to U.S.Submarine Operations in World War II by Theodore Roscoe, and of Silent Victory by Clay Blair, Jr. Both books are chronologies of the submarine war in the Pacific. On page 263 of U.S. Submarine Operations in World War II Mr. Roscoe states, “the torpedo trouble was well cured by the end of 1943”. On page 20 of Silent Victory Mr. Blair tells us that, ” … it was not until September 1943, 21 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, that all the torpedo defects were corrected”. These claims are incorrect and may have misled Mr. Milford.

Mr. Blair drew heavily on submarine patrol reports for his accounts of specific submarine operations. In Part V of Silent Victory he describes selected submarine operations during 1944. Included are 15 separate incidents involving torpedo malfunctions, seven of which were circular runs. Two of the circular runs caused the destruction of those U.S. submarines (TULLIBEE and TANG) that fired them.

Torpedo performance may have improved in the latter two years of World War II, but neither the Mk 14-3A nor the Mk 18 could be considered safe or reliable.

R.H. Caldwell
Box 11, Niantic, CT 06357


May 3-4, 1997

Captain Harry Caldwell’s letter raises an important and interesting issue. How does one resolve the conflicts that exist among various data about torpedoes in WWII? Recollections of people who were there are a very important contribution to understanding what happened and, one would hope, avoiding similar problems in the future, but the formal reports of submarine commands cannot be dismissed. I completely agree that any statement such as ” … all the torpedo defects were corrected” is wrong in principle, but by the end of 1943 the main systematic defects had been identified and fixed. More subtle erratic faults remained and probably could not have been fixed without a complete redesign. My main reservation concerns Captain Caldwell’s charitable suggestion that I might have been misled by Blair and/or Roscoe. If I have been misled, I have done it to myself with a very small assist from SubPac. That said, there is a little more about torpedo failures in 1944 and 1945 that may be worth reviewing.

The basis for my statement about Mk 14 reliability after December 1943 is ComSubPac “Submarine Operational History: WW II”, pp. iv-1428 and 1429. (This is the originally SECRET report compiled by Dick Voge who was the SubPac operations officer from August 1942 through the end of the war.) Those pages contain the data reproduced in Table I. In particular, SubPac submarines achieved 477 (44 percent) hits out of 1090 Mk 14 torpedoes fired in 1944. The improvement in the percentage of hits, 30 percent in 1942, 37 percent in 1943 and then 44 percent in 1944, is also worth noting. If I remember correctly, a perfect four torpedo spread produces two hits (50 percent) and a miss ahead and a miss astern. In my opinion, 44 percent hits qualifies the Mk 14 as reliable in 1944 and, in spite of the well known problems, the data for earlier years seem to indicate that it was not terribly bad even then. I hasten to add, however, that this in no way mitigates the scandal.

SubPac produced other data on torpedo failures some of which is reproduced in Table II. (This data was apparently produced on a monthly basis, but I have not yet found copies of the reports.) This data is for all Mks and shows that, for the entire war, a remarkable 35.5 percent of 8474 torpedoes fired by SubPac submarines hit their targets while only 3.74 percent of the torpedoes fired failed. This too leads me to describe WWII U.S. Navy torpedoes, more generally, as relatively reliable.

These data reveal other anomalies in the WWII operational history of torpedoes and resolving them, if that is possible, will require not just numerical analysis of summary data or the study of first hand accounts, but very careful efforts to obtain and reconcile all available data.

Frederick J. Milford


May 28, 1997

Dear Dr. Milford:

Thank you so much for your letter of 4 May and for the copy of your reply to the Editor.

You said that the issue of World War II torpedo performance is very difficult to rationalize. I could not be in more hearty agreement. I was embarked in DACE for its last four war patrols so tend to view torpedo failures from the operator’s perspective rather than that of the logistician or the operational analyst. During this period DACE fired approximately 75 war shots of which at least four misbehaved. Though not a statistical sample, this experience is reasonably consonant with the overall results for 1944 and 1945.

I think operators view torpedo failures more subjectively than command staffs or other non-participants. For example, an operator would not lump circular runs in with cold shots, other gyro failures or premature either at the enabling range or near the target. Boomerang torpedoes are potentially lethal to the firing submarine; other torpedo failures result in a miss and so may be grouped with tire control errors-frustrating for the attacker but not deadly. I believe that by 1944 there existed sufficient evidence that circular runs were a recurrent problem to warrant a serious investigation and corrective effort. Such program could have saved ships and lives.

I was interested to read in your letter of TRIGRONE’s circular run in 1963. Although I served in submarines for several years after World War II, this incident had not previously come to my attention. In fact, I don’t remember any torpedo failures after we took the war heads off, perhaps because such failures did not seem as important as they had during the war.

Let me comment briefly on the statistics in Table I and Table II which accompany your letter to the Editor. Table I is purely a record of the number of torpedoes expended and the number of hits obtained. It provides some insight into the efficiency of the submarine weapon system, but is of little value in measuring torpedo performance. As you pointed out, this is very difficult to assess. The basic source documents for torpedo performance are individual submarine war patrol reports. Comments on torpedo malfunctions appear in the narrative and are supported with details inappropriate appendixes. While information on hits versus misses could be imprecise since it often depended on an accurate range to the target at the time of firing, the submarine usually could tell at once from sonar tracking if the torpedo failed to run hot, straight and normal. Torpedo hit percentage doesn’t tell much about torpedo performance when a significant number of fish were (under existing spread doctrine) aimed to miss, and many more missed due to fire control errors and target maneuvers.

Table II speaks directly to torpedo failures but, as you note, brings its own biases, and is limited to SubPac experience. Also. it appears to exclude misses attributable to failure of the torpedo to run at set depth. Further, there are discrepancies between Table I and Table II in the total number of torpedoes fired and the number of hits obtained.

The improvement in torpedo hit percentage from 1942 to 1944 is, as you say, worth noting. My belief is that the improvement owes more to better fire control training and the advent of new equipment (surface search radar, the Mark IV TDC, Dead Reckoning Tracer, etc.) than to improvement in torpedo reliability, though that of course is an added factor. I suspect that the 1945 drop in hit percentage can be blamed on improved Japanese radar and a higher percentage of escorts per target as the number of merchant ships dwindled.

I suppose this all boils down to how you define reliability and what percentage of torpedo failures is acceptable. A 3.74 percent failure rate (augmented by those which ran deep) is not acceptable to me, particularly when it includes recurrent potentially lethal circular runs. I hope our modern weapon systems are held to a higher standard.

Very truly yours,
H.H. Caldwell


Rear Admiral Metcalf s explanation (THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, April 1997) of why few skippers chose to fire Mk 14 torpedoes in low power brought back a memory that I’d rather forget. In 1965 I was Weapons Officer on SWORDFISH (SSN 570). commanded by Commander Frank Adams. At the time Frank was regarded as one of the top SSN skippers in SUBPAC; there was no doubt in my mind then or now that he was the best. Frank liked to shoot torpedoes, as many as he could get his hands on. Between predeployment workups and taking the Prospective Commanding Officer classes to sea, SWORDFISH fired about as many weapons as the rest of the squadron put together. During the period of a year the ship deployed to WESTPAC twice, and I personally witnessed the preparation of about 120 torpedoes, both exercise and warshots. Needless to say, I thought we were pretty hot stuff.

The humbling event took place during a combined ORI and predeployment certification with the DIVCOM, Commander Hugh Murphree, embarked. The surveillance operations went well to the point that the crew was showing off for the DIVCOM. Near the end of the ORI a Mk 14-5 was launched and seemed to run hot, straight and normal, but passed astern of the target. SWORDFISH surfaced and ran down the torpedo track, but when 4500 yards from the launch point failed to sight the orange exercise head as expected. The ship continued down the track until a lookout spotted the torpedo still some distance ahead. As the Weapons Officer who had prepared and loaded the weapon, my concern was building.

As SWORDFISH pulled alongside the bobbing torpedo the CO called down to the Navigator in the control room asking the distance to the launch point. The Navigator replied “9000 yards sir”. Once the torpedo was aboard the retriever Captain Adams asked its crew to check the Hi/Lo speed setting, which on the electrically set Mk 14-5 was mechanically preset to Hi or Lo prior to tube loading. Of course, the answer was “Lo, Captain!” I vivid I y recalled standing inboard of tube # 1, checklist in hand, watching the Mk 14 slide into the tube, asking the Chief Torpedoman standing outboard to “check speed set Hi”, and getting the expected response, “speed set on Hi”. But, I hadn’t crawled under the torpedo to check the setting myself! By this time, the end of my submarine career was looming up in my mind as a real possibility. Fortunately, that dire consequence was never mentioned, but I learned a lesson I never forgot.

Considering the collective lack of enthusiasm for firing in low power reported by Rear Admiral Metcalf, it occurred to me that perhaps this torpedo launched from SWORDFISH in the Spring of 1965 represents the last operational firing of a Mk J 4 set on Lo. So, after 30 plus years of living with this event, maybe I can at least lay claim to a last. Can anyone recall a Mk 14 low power firing at a later date?

CAPT Thomas C. Maloney, USN(Ret.)


April 26, 1997

The following additional information regarding the development of homing torpedoes during WWII may be of interest. The SORG compilation of submarine torpedo firings lists the Mk 27 Cutie only as CUTY and the Mk 28 as DOGY-no mark numbers indicated. The first Cutie was fired by SKATE (SS 305) on 21 September 1944. Submarines claimed 33 hits for 24 sinkings, but few of the victims (mostly small craft) have been identified since the war.

The first DOGY was fired by PADDLE (SS 263) on 8 June 1945. I count 17 DOGY firings in the SORG report with five claimed hits. It would be interesting to know the origin of the name DOGY or Dogie; could it have been patterned after the Mine Mk 14 FIDO?

CDR John D. Alden, USN(Ret.)

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