TMC(SS) Patrick Meagher USN(RET) qualified and
served on USS CUSK SS-348, USS ANDREW JACKSON
SSBN-619B, and USS BARBEL SS-580. He served on active
duty with the Submarine Force from 1960 through 1977.
He is a life member of USS VJ and an associate member of
USSVWWJ/. Torpedo Tales (Part 1) appeared in the January 2006 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
In 1973 USS BARBEL SS-580 went on a torpedo shooting spree, I don’t know any other way to describe it. We started with Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) operations in January. We loaded and shot around 30 exercise torpedoes. Mostly MK 16 Mod S’s and Mk 37 Mod 2’s with a couple of MK 45 Mod 2’s thrown in. I’ve addressed the MK 45 torpedo problem in part 1.
The MK 16 Mod 8 was the final development of the steam torpedo that burned alcohol mixed with water in an oxygen atmosphere in the combustion chamber. The oxygen was contained in concentrated hydrogen peroxide (NA VOL [ 1 ]). The oxygen was released by catalytic action in a catalytic chamber connected to the combustion chamber. The left over water was also injected into the combustion chamber to expand and cool the exhaust gas that turned turbine wheels connected to reduction gears which were connected to the propeller shafts. The MK 16 Mod 8 had started life as a MK 16 Mod 6 in the late 40’s. The Mod 6 used some component parts from the MK 14 Air-Steam torpedo. The MK 12 torpedo Gyro assembly as well as the tail cone assembly, propellers, stop and charging valve assembly, and starting gear lever assembly. NA VOL used as an oxidizer was problematic on submarines. Contamination of the NA VOL contained in the energy section of the MK 16 torpedo could release massive amounts of oxygen blowing out valve
assemblies in the torpedo and creating a highly flammable atmosphere in the torpedo room filled with hydraulic equipment and torpedo warheads. It’s a real recipe for fire and explosion. Stability of the NA VOL contained in a tank in the MK 16 torpedo energy section was monitored through the torpedo “A” cable by a Naval Monitoring Panel. Hourly readings were taken and recorded. You watched for a blinking light on the panel. The blink was caused by
a bubble of oxygen passing the sensor in the NA VOL tank. If the blinks-per-minute exceeded a certain count you had to hook up a NA VOL tank disposal kit from the torpedo to the torpedo room trim line hose connection and pump the NA VOL tank to sea. The MK 16 also had a small air flask in the energy section. Air was used to operate all the valves in the propulsion system, depth and steering engines, spinning and sustaining air to the gyro, pressurize the fuel and NA VOL tanks. Therein lay the problem with the MK 16 Mod 6. The air actuated valves in the propulsion system were prone to leakage of NA VOL through out the system leading to contamination of NA VOL tank. The MK 67 Super Buoyant Exercise Head used with the MK 16 MOD 6 torpedo was over engineered. It contained a small air flask to inflate flotation bags folded into a small space with a hinged door on each side of the exercise head. It contained a pi tot tube to monitor speed of the torpedo (you don’t want the torpedo moving through the water when the flotation bags are deployed which could result in the bags being tom off). It also contained an attitude valve which monitored how close the torpedo was to vertical (when the torpedo slows down at end of run it sinks tail first due to weight of the engine and components in the afterbody).
The actuation of the attitude valve along with a valve connected to the pitot tube inflated and deployed the flotation bags (2). After a dozen years of problematic use the MK 16 Mod 6 was withdrawn from service. A major Ordnance Alteration (OrdAlt) to the torpedo involved replacing all the air actuated valves in the propulsion system with explosive valves, and a battery operated timer. The explosive valves sealed the NAVOL tank from leaks solving the major problem with the torpedo. The MK 67 Super Buoyant Exercise head was replaced with a simple exercise head
modeled after the exercise head used on the MK 14 torpedo increasing reliability of operation and ensuring recovery of the torpedo at end of run. The modified torpedo was reissued to the fleet in the late 60’s as MK 16 Mod 8 (3).
By 1970 the MK 16 Mod 8 had finally matured into a reliable, long range, anti-shipping torpedo packing a big punch. The torpedomen liked it because of its simplified preparation and maintenance requirements compared to the MK 14 Air-Steam torpedo.
On BARBEL we routinely fired several MK l 6’s during weekly Op’s. The firing procedure was to prepare three torpedo tubes for a salvo shot. One tube contained the torpedo and the other two were fired as water slugs. The atmosphere on the torpedo tube deck was always highly charged when we shot MK 16’s due to the coordination required of the muzzle door manifold operator, blow and vent manifold operator, and the Torpedo tube captain. There were two
ejection pumps, port and starboard, with three torpedo tubes per bank serviced by an ejection pump. When salvo’ing both ejection pumps were used with 3 to 4 second intervals between shots. The muzzle door operator was busy closing the muzzle door on the tube just fired; equalizing tube pressure and opening the muzzle door on the 3’d tube to be fired as the second tube was shooting. There was a tremendous amount of noise in the torpedo room as the firing
valves lifted and the ejection pumps went through their strokes followed by venting off the firing air into the torpedo room at the end of each stroke. In addition there was the sound of hydraulic oil
moving through muzzle door actuators, interlocks moving and muzzle door valves being opened and closed. In the midst of all the noise the phone talker nearby would also be relaying info to the control room. By late spring the torpedo gang was very skilled in MK 16 salvo firing.
I approached the Gun Boss (Leiutenant Bill Marks) with a proposal that we request pennission to salvo fire two MK 16 Mod S’s. I showed him the section from SubPac Ordnance Notes prohibiting salvo firing of steam torpedoes without permission and suggested we ought to go for it. He was enthusiastic and said he would take it up with the skipper (CDR Howard Eldridge). Within a week or two we had approval.
The MK 16 Mod 8 salvo firing went off without a hitch. The only trick to it is the requirement to gage the exercise torpedo air flask at least 20 minute prior to shooting. Air flask pressure is critical for exercise shots. You must have max pressure in the air flask to completely blow down the exercise head at end of run.
We coordinated gauging the air flasks on both torpedoes as part of tube loading procedure and with the fire control party to give them as much time as possible to get a set up on the target vessel, a DE out of Pearl Harbor. We were operating in the waters between Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Maui. Weather and sea conditions were near perfect. There was also a helicopter operating with us to monitor the shoot. We fired our usual three tube salvo this time actually shooting two torpedoes. Sonar reported two fish running hot, straight, and normal ( 4). The water was so calm and clear the helicopter reported sighting both torpedoes headed for the target ( 5). Both torpedoes ran under the target and surfaced at end of run about 500 yards beyond. The torpedo retriever backed up to each torpedo, hooked up to the nose ring and pulled it up on deck. Everyone on the boat was excited! We had salvo fired two exercise MK 16 Mod 8 antishipping torpedoes. This had not been done in years. The torpedo gang, two TM2 ‘s and two TM3 ‘s had a shooting experience no one else on the waterfront could claim, real bragging rights.
After the Mk 16 Mod 8 salvo firing I proposed that we shoot a MK 14 Mod 5 air-steam torpedo. I told the gun boss the torpedo gang had never shot a Mk 14 and I wanted them to have the experience. At the end of our next two week upkeep period I took the TM’s to the steam torpedo shop to do preliminary adjustments to our MK 14 Mod 5. The Torpedo shop personnel did the preliminary adjustments to the MK 16 torpedo as part of the assembly routine. For the MK 14 it was firing craft personnel who perfonned preliminary adjustments. This included running depth and steering engine checks, running the main engine with air, charging the air flask, adding lube oil, alcohol fuel, and water. A lot more hands on for the torpedomen. They loved it! We shot the MK 14 Mod 5 the following week without a hitch.
In early summer we had another two weeks of PCO ops and again shot over 30 torpedoes. By this time we had shot over 90 torpedoes. We were the hot boat in Pearl Harbor. The torpedo gang all youngsters, all first tenners had more torpedo shooting experience than many career torpedomen riding Nuc boats. I approached the gun boss again and suggested that we request to shoot a warshot MK 16 Mod 8. We received approval to shoot the warshot late in the
year. It would be the last torpedo we would fire in 1973, it would be number 118.
We had a lot of riders the week we shot the warshot including ComSubRonOne and the Squadron One Weapons Officer,
Leiutenant Jerry Scott. We ran down to Kahoolawe on the surface arriving in early evening. The Gun Boss, Leiutenant Bill Lamm came down to the torpedo room and gave us the serial number of the torpedo we would shoot. TM l (SS) Warren (Pops) Pospisil had been aboard about two weeks. I had known Pops for years from his time on the SALMON and the CAIMAN. He and Walter (Ski) Slusarski installed the MK 9 exploder detonator and booster then installed the gyro and replacement pin. When we rolled the torpedo right side up we heard a clinking noise in the torpedo tailcone. I immediately knew the cause of the noise as did Pops and Jerry Scott. There was a loose rudder or elevator linkage pin in the tailcone. Pops removed the tailcone plugs to check the rudder and elevator linkage pins were in place which they were. I told Jerry Scott I wanted to pull the propellers and tailcone off to remove the loose linkage pin, after reassembly we would run the depth and steering engine checks and then complete final checks before firing. Jerry Scott departed for the wardroom to brief the skipper and the Commodore. He came back in
about a half an hour and told us to proceed. We pulled the propellers, rudder and elevator linkage pins, and tailcone. We then removed the loose linkage pin, reinstalled the tailcone, elevator and rudder linkage pins and propellers. We then ran the depth and steering engine checks which were satisfactory. Jerry then departed for the
wardroom to brief the skipper and Commodore on the results. He returned in about 15 minutes and told us we could complete final checks and load the warshot, which we did.
The next morning the skipper came down to the torpedo room and told me we were going to be surfaced when we shot the MK 16 warshot torpedo. I reminded him that we needed to be submerged at periscope depth for the torpedo to start when fired. I then reviewed the torpedo sea pressure switch functions with him. He left to return to the wardroom to brief the Commodore. About ten minutes later the skipper called down to the torpedo room and told me we would still shoot from the surface however we would flood the forward group ballast tanks to get the bow below 40 feet so the torpedo sea pressure switch would operate. After the torpedo was fired we would blow the forward group. Torpedo running depth would be set for 40 feet. The torpedo gang was pissed about the lack of confidence in the
torpedo preparation that was performed. We knew that decision to get back to the surface as quickly as possible was driven by a concern for a circular run with the warshot. It wasn’t the skipper’s decision, it was the Commodore’s.
We were ready in the torpedo room. The Fire Control Party and the skipper got the boat lined up on the target cliff on Kahoolawe then flooded the forward group ballast tanks. The boat took a down angle of about 15 to 18 degrees. We heard later from the electricians in maneuvering that the screw was part way out of the water. When the boat was settled out we flooded the tube, equalized with sea pressure and opened the outer door. Next we heard the firing
solenoid buzz, stop bolt roll, firing valve lift and the ejection pump stroke followed by venting of firing air. Within seconds we heard High Pressure air being dumped into the forward group ballast tanks and we were back on the surface. Sonar reported torpedo running hot straight and normal! The warshot ran for 88 seconds before detonation against the cliff. Forget all that stuff you hear on TV or in the movies of how a torpedo warhead sounds when it detonates. In reality it’s a short, sharp, very loud BANG! that’s it. There was a huge column of water several hundred feet high thrown up against the side of the cliff caused by the warhead explosion.
To say we were a happy bunch of torpedomen would be an understatement! We had a lot of crew members coming forward
congratulating us and telling us it was a real blast shooting a warshot. The cooks had prepared a cake to commemorate the event, not only the warshot but our total for the year which was 118, more than any other boat in SubPac. We mustered the FT’s and TM’s, Gun Boss, Skipper and Commodore in the crews mess for photos and cake cutting. Then we headed for Pearl Harbor on the surface standard 0n three.
1973 was a hell of a year for the BARBEL Weapons Department. 118 torpedoes fired, salvo fired two MK 16 mod 8 anti shipping torpedoes, first operational test of a MK 16 mod 8 warshot in 6 years, identified the cause of the MK 45 mod 2 flex hose eater problem, passed a MK 45 torpedo Technical Standardization Inspection with zero errors/defects, and received the Submarine Squadron one Battle Efficiency Award.