TMC(SS) Patrick Meagher USN(Ret) qualified and served on USS CUSK SS-348, USS ANDREW JACKSON SSBN-6198, and USS BARBEL SS-580. He served 011 active duty with the Submarine Force from 1960 through 1977. He is a life member of USSVI, and an associate member of USSVWWII.
In early 1973, late January I think, we went out on Prospective Commanding Officers (PCO) ops for two weeks. We were scheduled to shoot about 30 torpedoes during that two week period. This was our first torpedo shoot since the previous summer as we had spent the previous six months deployed in WestPac, so we spent some time in the torpedo room checking everything and talking over how we were going to handle a daily shooting schedule that would run from sunrise to almost midnight.
The PCO class was planning to shoot MK 37 torpedoes after sunset. The MK 3Ts would have strobe lights for the torpedo retrievers to locate them. At that time I had a TM2 (SS), Henry Hernandez and fourTM3s (SS), Scott Hayes, Walter(Ski) Sluzarski, Bob (Army) Armstrong, and George Cox for a torpedo gang, all with limited torpedo shooting experience. For that two week period I went off the watch bill so I could supervise torpedo preparation, loading, and firing. Everything went well for the two week torpedo shoot. We shot everything and the torpedo gang got a lot of experience. It was during this PCO op that we saw our first problem with the MK 45 Mod 2 torpedo that used the flex hose dispenser. I think we shot two and one ate the flex hose before it left the tube. The TM who had made up the flex hose told me that he had tucked the hose under the rubber retainer and there was nothing for the propellers to grab as the torpedo started-up before swimming out of the tube. I passed that on to the Gun Boss, LT. Bill Marks; a MK 45 eating the flex hose is a big deal! The warshot MK 45 torpedo had a nuclear warhead. It was wire guided, you could steer it to intercept the target submarine and command detonate the nuclear warhead by backing down the nm to burst command to the vicinity of the target submarine. The warhead was a W-34 also used in Lulu; the MK IOI air dropped depth charge’. The W-34 warhead had a yield of nine kilotons! If the MK 45 torpedo eats the flex hose before it leaves the tube you can’t steer it to intercept the target submarine, the nm to burst setting may be set to minimum safe range at the ordered running depth, and it is now running at reduced speed with broken propeller blades and counting off range from propeller shaft revolutions calculated at 40 knot running speed. I think you get the picture!
We continued to shoot torpedoes, at least 6 to 8 almost every week we were underway. We shot mostly MK 16 Mod S’s and MK 37 Mod2’s; the wire guided MK37 that used the flex hose dispenser. There was no problem with the MK 37 using the flex hose dispenser because there was about 3 feet between the torpedo propellers and the face of the flex hose dispenser. Not so with the MK 45, there was only about eight to ten inches distance between the propellers and the face of the flex hose dispenser. We continued to shoot a fewMK45’s with an occasional flex hose eater. The Gun Boss told me that the opinion of higher-up’s was the torpedomen were not making up the flex hose correctly. I assured him we were. After this discussion I got together with the torpedo gang to figure out what we could do about the MK 45 flex hose problem. I told them I knew they were tucking the hose under the rubber retainer properly, however in the future I would personally verify the lay and tuck of the flex hose prior to closing the breech door on the tube. We kicked around some ideas about what was causing the problem.
Was the lay of the hose as it payed out of the dispenser, like at 12 o’clock, or 3 o’clock, that sort of thing, a problem? Was the tuck not tight enough?~ Or could some of the MK 45’s be taking more time than others to get out of the tube, or possibly the torpedo was moving rearward after the torpedo tube stop bolt rolled and the motor and propellers came up to speed to drive it out of the tube? I decided that we needed to get some stop watches and start timing a couple of events. Time between stop bolt rolling and seawater scoop on the battery dropping (you can hear the scoop drop) to when the propellers start turning, and then when it leaves the tube. I also decided to document the lay and tuck of the hose on the flex hose dispenser using a Xerox copy from the torpedo Ordnance Publication illustrating make up of the flex hose to the torpedo payout tube. This data, tuck and lay of the flex hose and timing of firing events I passed to the Gun Boss to add to the torpedo firing reports.
We continued to shoot MK 45’s on a regular basis and discovered with the next flex hose eater that it was a slow-starter. The stop watch timing told us the time between battery scoop dropping and the torpedo starting to move out of the tube was a couple of seconds longer than regular starters. With the flex hose eaters you usually had a Jot of junk left in the torpedo tube you had to clear out. Pieces of propellers, chunks of flex hose, that kind of stuff. So we were looking at that to see if it would tell us anything.
Our next big torpedo shoot was two weeks of PCO ops in early summer. We had about 30 fish to load and shoot again. I think we had 4 or maybe 5 MK 45’s to shoot during the two weeks. As it turned out one of them was a flex hose eater. By this time we had a pretty good data base and knew that it was slow-starters causing the problem. I didn’t have to talk to the gun boss or skipper about the MK 45 problem because the data we were collecting did all the talking for us. We didn’t hear any more about the torpedomen not making up the flex hose properly.
I assume the skipper and Gun Boss, using the data we had been collecting in the torpedo room, were able to convince Squadron and SubPac that a real test needed to be conducted to confirm our data. So after PCO ops we loaded six MK 45 exercise units and a tech rep from the torpedo station in Newport R I. came aboard with some special test gear. On Monday evening he hooked up a rod assembly that was attached to the MK 45 tail button and lead out through the guidance wire tube in the breech door. The purpose of the rod assembly was to determine ifthe torpedo was moving aft in the tube when it was released by the stop bolt. We flooded the tube, equalized with sea pressure, opened the outer door, and hand operated the stop bolt to the fire position. We got the diving officer to change the angle on the boat up and down by a degree or two. In the 15 minutes or so that we played with his test gear there was no movement of the torpedo. We closed the outer door, drained the tube and removed the rod assembly. The next morning the tech rep installed a modified flex hose dispenser cradle that had a linkage assembly on it that would
monitor torpedo movement rearward when the torpedo was actually fired. He made up the flex hose on that torpedo.
No movement rearward was noted when we fired the torpedo. We also had a fire control problem on the first two shots that created a lot of confusion. After launch the torpedo was observed to jump out of the water and shut down within 200 yards of the boat. Initially we thought it was an erratic torpedo. The same thing happened with the next torpedo we fired. The FT’s solved the problem in about 15 minutes. It turned out the run to enable setting handle on the MK 15 Weapon Monitoring Panel (WMP) in the torpedo room was in the manual position and had overrode the setting from the MK 101 fire control system. As it turned out position of the setting handles on the WMP were not noted on the fire control checklist. The last five MK 45’s were prepared by the TM’s with the Tech Rep observing. We continued to record data as usual. It was either shot number five or six, I can’t remember which, that was the slow starter and as expected ate the flex hose. The Tech Rep was convinced as we were that the flex hose problem was caused by the MK 45’s with slow starting batteries. The extra couple of seconds in the torpedo tube until the torpedo started moving out of the tube was enough time for the propellers to wash some hose out of the dispenser to get entangled.
I was on BARBEL for about two more years. During that time we never heard a peep about the problem we had identified, No cautions, no warnings, nothing! You would think there would be some kind of all SubPac message alerting CO’s to the problem with the MK 45 torpedo. Maybe there was, we sure didn’t see it in the torpedo room. Knowing what was wrong with the MK 45 torpedo-flex hose dispenser combination certainly didn’t leave us with good feelings about using the damn things in a real shooting war!
In 1976 I was on shore duty as a technical assistant in the tactical weapons shop of SubPac Staff. One afternoon LCDR “Tex” Hudiburgh, the tactical weapons officer, called me over to his cubical to show me the proposed fix for the MK 45 torpedo-flex hose problem. It had arrived by mail. It was a circular flat steel plate that was to be placed on top of the flex hose and under the rubber retainers of the dispenser. The hose was supposed to payout around the outside diameter of the plate and under the rubber retainers. Tex and I took a look at the plate and just shook our heads. There would be no test of the flex hose dispenser fix in Sub Pac. As it turned out the MK 45 torpedo was withdrawn from service the following year. Let me tell you it was a happy day on the waterfront when the withdrawal message hit the boats.