I think if you think you have a problem, then you have a problem. The reverse is not always true, but most problems are not really the problem we are think they are. They are a different problem. And that's the real problem. And, by way of illustration, the problem I'd like you to think about is how a World War Two American submarine captain sank an enemy ship.
First, he had to find it in the 165 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, then get his 300 foot long “pig boat” within half a mile of the target, close enough to see it in his periscope and identify it in his silhouette manuals. These gave the height of the mast, which, with a little geometry, would give an estimated range to the target. The target speed would be estimated, and its course relative to the submarine, or “angle on the bow”. All these estimates would be entered into the mechanical Target Data Computer (TDC). And only then could the captain actually try to sink the target ship.
The method chosen by the U.S Naval Bureau of Ordnance (AKA BuOrd), for sinking a ship, was to detonate 643 pounds of “Torpex” explosive close to its hull. That required every member of the 50 to 70 man crew to aim and fire the 3,300 pound, 20 foot long, 21” diameter Mark 14 torpedo (above), which would carry the Torpex at 46 knots to the target.
As it passed under the steel hull, a magnetic detonator (above) would set off the Torpex, or if the torpedo actually hit the hull, the impact would drive a firing pin into the detonator. Either way, the shock wave of the explosion would rip apart the steel hull and sink the ship. The problem was, the target ships were not sinking.
Just one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on 14 December, the USS Sargo was patrolling off the coast of Vietnam when she spotted two Japanese freighters. Having already lost one target because of a premature detonation, Lieutenant Commander Tyson Jacobs fired three torpedoes with the magnetic detonators disconnected, from 1,000 yards. He recorded no hits. In Christmas day, Jacobs closed to within 900 yards of a target, and fired two more Mark 14's, and again got no hits.
After repeatedly risking his crew's lives and expending a total of 13 torpedoes, at a cost to taxpayers of $130,000 and making no hits, Jacobs was so frustrated he radioed his complaints in the clear back to Pearl Harbor: “The Mark 14...torpedoes are faulty in two respects. First...(the) exploder cannot be relied upon...Second that set depth is not being attained...”
Command made their feelings clear when they stripped the Sargo of her torpedoes and her next mission was to ferry ammunition. Said a crew member, “We all felt Captain Jacobs was being punished for tinkering with the BuOrd torpedo.” And Jacobs was far from the only one. Historian Clay Blair, a submariner himself, would later note, “By the end of March (1942)...every submarine commander...believed the Mark 14 was defective.” But Rear Admiral Robert English (above), Commander, Submarines, Pacific (ComSubPac) decided the problem was with the captains and crews, and not the torpedo. English began transferring captains whom were deemed “not sufficiently aggressive”, out of command. Someone with an nasty sense of humor saw to it that Jacobs was transferred to the BuOrd, back in the states.
Captains, desperate to hurt the enemy, and to protect their careers, began to secretly disconnect the magnetic detonators, and tinker with the depth settings on their Mark 14s. They also began to experiment with firing techniques to find the angle of impact that gave the best chance to detonate the Torpex. Sinkings went up, but Admiral English thought this was because his new captains were more aggressive.
There were still reports of Mark 14s failing to explode under their targets, then circling back to threaten their own sub, of “clanging” into the target but not exploding, and even of Japanese merchantmen returning to port with un-exploded Mark 14 torpedoes jutting out of their hulls. Because of the ad hoc experimentation during 1942, it was impossible to know which “fixes” if any were actually working. But during that year U.S. subs fired 1,442 torpedoes, but sunk only 211 ships.
Luckily for the United States for three crucial months in early 1942, Admiral Charles “Uncle Charlie” Lockwood (above) was acting commander of the submarines in the Southwest Pacific, based in Australia – ComSubSoWesPac. At a conference in San Francisco, Lockwood insisted the BuOrd should examine the torpedoes that were not exploding. During a brake in the meeting Rear Admiral “Spike” Blandy, commander of the BurOrd, confronted his old friend. “I didn't know it was part of your mission to discredit the BuOrd”. Lockwood replied, “If anything I have said will get the Bureau off its duff and get some action, I will feel that my trip has not been wasted.” The confrontation ended their friendship, but it did get action.
An expert was dispatched from the Naval Torpedo Station at New Port News, Rhode Island (above). He reported the maintenance on the torpedoes was sloppy, and the depth settings were probably being done incorrectly. Lockwood refused to accept the report and in June 1942, ordered a few torpedoes fired into 500 feet of fishing nets hung in Frenchman's Bay, Australia, These found the Mark 14's were running ten to eleven feet deeper than the depth set on the torpedoes. Lockwood ordered all the depths reset, and the magnetic detonators disconnected on all the torpedoes in his command.
The BuOrd argued the nets were not hanging properly, and did not give a fair measure of depth But when Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest King, read the report, and matched it with similar problems reported by his destroyer captains in the Atlantic with the Mark 14 (above), he “lit a blowtorch under the Bureau of Ordnance". So on first August, 1942, the BuOrd finally agreed the depth control system on the Mark 14 had been “improperly designed and tested.” Admiral English at Pearl Harbor still refused to believe there was any problem with the magnetic detonator, and Lockwood's experimentation played a part in ensuring that “Uncle Charlie” was not given permanent command of ComSubSoWesPac. The man who was, immediately ordered the magnetic detonators reconnected.
Then God, or chance, intervened. On the evening of Wednesday, 20 January, 1943, Admiral English and eight members of his staff left Pearl Harbor in a 4 engine Pan Am flying boat, bound for another briefing in San Francisco. Because of a strong tail wind the old Pan American Clipper arrived over California 3 ½ hours ahead of schedule, just in time to get caught in a violent storm. Conditions prevented a landing on San Francisco Bay, and the Pan Am crew decided to try to make Clearlake, 115 miles north, among the coastal redwoods. But about 7:30 the morning of Thursday, 21 January, the plane slammed into a 2,500 high mountain, killing all 19 on board, and decapitating the staff of ComSubPac.
At the end of August 1943, the new ComSubPac in Pearl Harbor was Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, who set out to prove he had been correct in his year old assessment of the Mark 14. His first order was to conduct a series of test shots against the 700 foot high vertical cliffs (continuing another 800 feet below the surface) along the east shore Kanapou Island (above), 100 miles east of Pearl Harbor. His second order was to again disconnect the magnetic exploder.
The first two shots against the cliffs exploded, but the third proved a dud. Navy divers managed to raise the weapon, and bring it back for a post mortem. It was the kind of testing that should have been preformed before the Mark 14 had gone into production in 1930, but depression era budget cuts had eliminated. It was discovered the firing pin had indeed retracted on contact with the basalt cliff face, but at 46 knots, the collision had bent the guides intended to ensure the firing pin would contact the detonator charge, preventing detonation. Further testing at the cliffs and dropping warheads from a crane showed that a direct 90 degree hit almost ensured a 70% failure rate.
Lockwood immediately ordered his boats as sea to shoot so as to hit their targets at high angles, and never the text book straight on attack from 90 degrees. Using steel made from the melted propellers of Japanese planes shot down during the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December, 1941, a simple rebuild of the guides for the firing pins, cut the failure rate in half.
The first corrected Mark 14s made their combat patrols in September 1943. For that year, U.S. subs doubled their sinking of enemy ships, sending 335 targets to the bottom. And during the first four months of 1944, they sank another 183. Clearly the corner had been turned.
Over the entire year of 1944, U.S. submarines sank 600 Japanese merchantmen, as well as one battleship, seven aircraft carriers, nine cruisers and numerous destroyers and escorts. But during the first 7 months of 1945, they sank just 190 Japanese ships, only because the Japanese merchant marine had been finally swept from the sea by United States submarines.
Oil, iron ore, copper, aluminum and food, stolen from the Philippines, China and Indonesia , could no longer reach Japan and feed its people or its war machine. After the war, submariner Paul Schratz admitted he believed it was “a violation of New Mexico scenery to test the A-bomb at Alamogordo when the naval torpedo station(in Newport News) was available.”
In four years of war, 288 American submarines with 16,000 crewmen, just 2% of the U.S. Naval personnel, sank 1,178 Japanese merchant ships and 214 warships, 55% of all Japanese ships sunk in World War Two.
The cost to the United States Submarine “Silent Service” was 52 boats, and 3,405 officers and men, a casualty rate of 22%, the highest for any American combat force in World War Two, and 40% of all U.S. Naval casualties in the Pacific. The majority of those deaths occurred during the first two years of the war, when the torpedoes did not work. Had the Mark 14 torpedoes worked from 7 December, 1941 on, it seems likely the Pacific war would have ended two years earlier, when the Japanese war machine ran out of raw materials, and before the fire bombing of Tokyo that killed 100,000 in one night, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It turned out, the real problem with the Mark 14 torpedo was not the depth setting, the magnetic detonator, or the faulty firing pin guides or even all three. Nor was it the depression era short sighted budget cuts of testing a new weapon system. Any and all of those things, or other unrelated mistakes were bound to be made. The real problem with American torpedoes was that every invention and belief has been designed and built by fallible, egotistical human beings, who refused to acknowledge that is exactly who they are. Human beings are always the problem. And they are the only ones who can fix that problem.
- 30 -