Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet submarines during World War II, is rightly viewed as the foremost figure of the first half century of American submarines. Since Lockwood was ComSubPac for only the last 31 months of the 44 months of the war, and he never commanded all U.S. submarines, and had two strong-willed superiors above him in the U.S. Navy’s chain-of-command (Nimitz and King), and submarines are peculiarly unresponsive to direct, higher lever control, one must ask what is it about Charles Lockwood and his performance in WWII that so endears him to American submariners?

And make no mistake, he is endeared-revered even. Ned Beach called him a “submariner’s submariner”; Ike Galantin referred to him as “a great ex.ample of loyalty down”, whose trust in his officers drew their “wholehearted support and admiration.” Theodore Roscoe said of him: “Competence and submarining were two words long associated with the name of Lockwood.”

He was affectionately known as “Uncle Charlie” and his moniker seems to fit his public image. He took care of his troops. He saw his job as supplying them with the tools to do their jobs once he sent them out on patrol. In no area of support for submariners on patrol is he more highly regarded than for his actions in fixing the great torpedo scandal.

U.S. torpedoes in WWII had two problems: there weren’t enough of them and they were unreliable. Their unreliability was manifest in running deeper than set, premarures, duds, and circular runs. One defect masked another and post-action miss analysis was confused further by submarine skippers who attacks lacked aggressiveness.

As the new Commander, Submarines Southwest Pacific area, Lockwood heard complaints by returning COs about poor torpedo performance. He arranged for test firings of warshot-weight torpedoes into fishing nets and, there in the antipodes, in Australia, about as far from Newport as once can get, he took a submarine off the line and fired precious torpedoes at a net to do BuOrd’s work for them. These tests showed the torpedoes running approximately 11 feet deeper than set. BurOrd quibbled but eventually, with the timely intervention of Admiral King, the depth error was confirmed.

Later, as ComSubPac, after complaints by respected skippers like Mush Morton, Lockwood had the magnetic feature of the Mk 6 exploder deactivated. When Dan Daspit in TINOSA returned after firing 11 dud Mk 14 torpedoes at a sitting duck tanker, Lockwood arranged tests that showed the firing pin design to be insufficiently robust to withstand a head-on impact. The Sub Base shop redesigned the firing pin and by September 1943, U.S. submarines were departing on patrol with reliable torpedoes. It had taken nearly two years to solve the torpedo problems and the solutions had come from the fleet, and largely through Charles Lockwood’s initiatives.1

Lockwood did more than just jury-rig testing in the field and spur his staff to work technical fixes. He actively corresponded with important people in the Navy Department, particularly his old friend Rear Admiral Richard Edwards, Admiral King’s chief of staff, and Vice Admiral W .H.P. Blandy, Chief of BuOrd. He ragged them good-naturedly, but with biting humor.2

A month or so after the TINOSA fiasco, based on a report by the Commanding Officer of LAPON, a new construction boat that had been at Newport assisting in tests of Westinghouse’s new electric Mk 18 torpedo, Lockwood once again nagged BuOrd.
1Alas, the circular run problem was not solved during the war.

2On one trip back 10 Washington, DC, he addressed the Submarine Officers’ Conference: “If the Bureau of Ordnance can’! 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.” Later that day, Blandy, boiling mad, accused him of trying to discredit the bureau. “Well, Spike,” he replied, “if anything I have said will gel the Bureau off its duff and gel some action, I will feel that my trip has not been wasted.”

According to the CO, Torpedo Station personnel gave Westinghouse little help with the Mk 18-a long awaited development which Westinghouse had copied a year earlier from a captured German G7e. Through Lockwood’s timely intervention, the Mk 18 got unjammed and began to reach the fleet in the fall of 1943. It had teething problems and at first was not popular with skippers. But by then BuOrd and fleet cooperation was in place and the bugs got worked out. By the end of the war, boats were going on patrol and shooting 65 percent Mk 18s vs. 35 percent Mk 14s. Mass production of the Mk 18 electric torpedo finally solved the second serious problem: shortage. Because Mk 18 was built by private industry it didn’t compete with existing steam torpedo production facilities, and it took only 35 percent of the manhours needed to manufacture Mk 14s.

Commander Dudley W. Mush Morton had become a great favorite of Lockwood’s and he gave Morton’s patrol exploits in USS WAHOO great publicity as a means to buck up morale and instill a spirit of aggressiveness in other COs. Morton’s fourth patrol had been one of the first into the Sea of Japan, hitherto considered a kind of sanctuary for Japanese shipping. At least Lockwood thought so. The southernmost entrance, the Tsushima Straits, were known to be heavily mined. Morton had gone through the La Perouse Straits north of Hokkaido, a dangerous passage because of heavy air patrols. He had cut that patrol short because of faulty torpedoes. With a load of mixed Mk 14s and 18s he departed on his fifth patrol. On October 11, WAHOO was due to exit through La Perouse when apparently an antisubmarine aircraft attacked her and sank her with depth charges. Up to that time Morton had had another successful patrol, sinking four ships for a total of about 13,000 tons.

Lockwood and the Submarine Force were devastated. Morton had been lionized by the Force, much as Hitler and Donitz had lionized Gunther Prien after he sank ROY AL OAK. Lockwood looked on Morton as a special skipper, one with an aura about him, one who embodied the ideal that Lockwood wanted every skipper to emulate. He may even have looked on him as a surrogate son. In any case, after Morton’s loss Lockwood became obsessed with finding a way back into the Sea of Japan.

Obviously, La Perouse wasn’t it. If it were to be penetrated, a way would have to be found to penetrate the Tsushima mine barrage submerged. Lockwood thought he found the solution in a development at the University of California Division of War Research at Point Loma: an FM sonar which would give an aural and visual indication of moored mines at a sufficient distance to avoid them.3 The aural indication was a bell-like tone. Submariners with this sonar, the QLA, called the sound “hell’s bells” and the group which eventually penetrated the minefield called itself “the Hell Cats.” Lockwood transferred his obsession to the QLA development and nagged the academics at Point Loma politely but incessantly to get on with it.

Like the Mk 18 torpedo, QLA introduction to the fleet had its problems. An impatient Charles Lockwood took personal charge of training and qualifying the dozen or so boats selected to attempt the penetration. He felt he would be able to realize his dream of going on a war patrol by leading the pack but Nimitz said no. Delay followed delay and Lockwood’s frustration mounted. Finally on June 4, 1945 the first successful penetration of the Sea of Japan occurred. On June 24 eight of the nine boats involved exited the sea through La Perouse. The operation was a success; the boats found lots of traffic sailing with running lights burning, and ASW was sloppy. Twenty-eight ships for 54,784 tons were sunk vs. the loss of one U.S. submarine (not lost penetrating Tsushima). It was important because by mid-1945 American subs had wiped other oceans clean of Japanese shipping. Lockwood was having trouble finding meaningful missions for his boats.

Lockwood did much more than oversee or nag bureaucrats for the materiel his boats required. He made a point of seeing to their recreation ashore, not an easy thing in advanced or desolate bases such as Exmouth Gulf, Albany, Midway, Guam, and Saipan. Lockwood felt that when a boat returned from the stress of patrol, its crew and officers should have complete dutiless rest until time to take the boat into the war again. He arranged relief crews and got approximately 20 percent of each crew and wardroom rotated off to new construction or shore duty after each war patrol, so that no one would have to go longer than five war patrols without a break.

3After the war the UCDWR became NEL

One of the most difficult duties of a submarine commander ashore during wartime is assessing the performance of boats and their skippers when they return from patrol. Since the reviewer wasn’t there to observe directly, and the patrol report is the CO’s document, getting at the truth requires keen observation. Much must be inferred: Is the boat clean? Do junior officers request transfers before their time is up? How does the CO look and act when the commander sits down to discuss the patrol over a cup of coffee? What’s the attitude in the after battery? Lockwood developed a keen sense in these things, relieving a number of commanding officers because they weren’t aggressive enough based on the objective evidence of their reports, but also relieving some based on a sense that all was not well in a boat. He frequently gave the skipper a second chance at command after a period ashore. In all cases, he treated the relieved officer with humanity and good will. He was conscious of the stress that combat could work in a man, especially a submarine commander. In no warship is the pressure of command more intense than a submarine. Not all men who objectively qualify for command can handle the stress. Good men can fail the test of submarine combat, men whose usefulness to the war could be great elsewhere. Better to treat these failures humanely, if for no other reason than their human dignity.

Charles Andrews Lockwood, Junior was born in southwestern Virginia in 1890, but grew up in Lamar, Missouri. He entered the Naval Academy in 1908, and after graduating in 1912 he was posted to the dreadnaught ARKANSAS. In 1914, seeking adventure, he requested transfer to the Asiatic Fleet. He was chagrined when upon arrival in Manila he was assigned as Commanding Officer of USS A-2, the third oldest submarine in the Navy. His chagrin soon turned to delight and he spent most of the next 33 years of his career in submarines. He had virtually every duty possible in submarines except junior officer and, regretfully from his point of view, combat.4 He commanded A-2, B-1, G-1, N-5, R-25, S-14, V-3, and the ex-German UC-97. In his first several boats he was the only officer on board; he could not take A-2 underway as CO until he was qualified. He had to become totally familiar with everything on the boat-weapons, motors, pumps, batteries, tankage-everything.

As he advanced in rank, his experience with submarines grew. His experience in command of V-3 (USS BONITA) was the most valuable. V-3 was one of six boats authorized in the mid-l 920s as prototype designs for the so-called “fleet submarine”. Between-the wars doctrine on employment of U.S. submarines was to support the fleet-as screens, scouts, or distant blockaders. Submarines had to be able to keep up with the fleet’s speed of advance and they had to be able to do this across the wide Pacific. This put a premium on surface speed and endurance and required a large boat, greater than 1,500 tons. The problem with large boats was they took up too much of the allotted submarine tonnage, which was fixed at 37,500 tons total by the 1930 London Naval Treaty. So the pressure was on to minimize the size of the boats in order to increase their number.

There was a problem with small hulls; existing slow-speed diesels were too large or their mountings weren’t adequate for their size. For the next 15 years BuEng would have nothing but trouble with some diesel designs. At the time there was little domestic market for the large diesels required for submarines. Eventually BuEng enlisted the aid of the Winton Engine company to design a high speed diesel (which would have to be coupled to the propeller shafts through reduction gears) and Winton (which became part of General Motors) in tum interested American railroads in dieselizing with the same 1,600 hp engines designed for submarines.
4This absence of submarine combat experience weighted on him greatly as a WWII force commander with responsibility for evaluating The performance of commanding officers coming off stressful war patrols. How could he put himself in their shoes? He repeatedly sought permission 10 take short war patrols but was turned down every time. He did have combat experience as commanding officer of a Yangtze River gunboat; at least he was shot at a number of times.

Lockwood was in the midst of these developments, first as repair superintendent at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard fitting M.A.N. diesels into an old T-class submarine, then PCO and CO of V-3, then, after seven years in other duty, as Division Commander of SubDiv 13. In 1939 he became Chief of Staff to ComSubLant and in May 1941 ,naval attache in London.

In 1937 he reported to OpNav where he represented the CNO in the General Board’s deliberations on submarines and took over as Chairman of the Submarine Officers’ Conference. This was a vital job at the time because the General Board was considering the design of the Tambor class boats, for the FY 1940 shipbuilding program. Also, the General Board was chaired by the redoubtable Admiral Thomas Hart, a submariner who didn’t like the fleet boat concept at all. He preferred a much smaller coast defense type vessel of no more than 800 tons.

Lockwood had to use all his experience, wiles, and call in all his IOUs to get Hart to agree to the fleet boat specs the Submarine Conference wanted. It was more than just size, speed, and cruising radius. Lockwood also wanted adequate hotel accommodations for the crew-air conditioning, and greater distilling capacity; he wanted 10 torpedo tubes and 14 reloads; he wanted a big deck gun, a TDC, thinner and longer periscopes; and above all, he wanted the new Winton high speed diesels. In the end, he got everything but the big deck gun. The Tambors were the penultimate fleet boat class; after them came the Gatos and the functionally identical Balaos and Tenches. If Lockwood ha done nothing else, this fight for the right design of fleet boat would ensure his place in the submarine hall of fame. He gave the U.S. Navy the finest submarine in the world in WWII!

Junior officer CO learning submarines from the keel up; CO of V-3 wrestling with its diesel and other problems; strong voiced and experiences advocate on the General Board that give us the WWII fleet submarine; innovative fixer of torpedo problems; nagger and cajoler of distant bureaucrats; friend of the white hate; wartime commander of forces that sank 55 percent of Japan’s maritime tonnage with less than two percent of Navy personnel; affable, amiable, avuncular: Charles Lockwood deserves the accolade of “American submariner of their first half-century”.

May 16-18, 2000 JHU/APL
Submarines: Enhancing Performance Through
Technology Refresh … The Future is Now!

Technical Sessions

  • Mission Requirements: The “Pull” on Technology
  • Hull and Ship Systems for Effectiveness and Efficiency
  • Sensor, Combat, and Command Systems: Achieving Mission Success
  • Delivered Systems That Make a Difference
  • Challenges and Opportunities of Foreign Technology
  • The Navy After Next and the Submarine Force Vision

Registration material:; or contact Pat Cook, NSL, (703) 256-2024 or e-mail:

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League