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Mark 6 exploder

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Mark 6 exploder

The Mark 6 exploder was a United States Navy torpedo exploder developed in the 1920s. It was the standard exploder of the Navy's Mark 14 torpedo.

Development

Mark 6 exploder. This version apparently does not have a voltage regulator.
Mark 6 Mod 1 exploder used early in the war.[1] Later on it was replaced with the Mark 6 Mod 5.

The Mark 14 torpedo was designed at the Newport Torpedo Station (NTS), Newport, to replace the Mark 10 which had been in service since World War I. Its fairly small 643 lb (292 kg) warhead[2] required it to explode beneath the keel where there was no armor.[3]

This led to the creation of the sophisticated new Mark 6 exploder, to have a magnetic influence feature similar to the British Duplex[4] and German[5] models, all inspired by German magnetic mines of World War I.[3] The Mark 6 was intended to detonate the warhead some distance below the ship, creating a huge gas bubble which would cause the keel to fail catastrophically.

The Mark 6 exploder, designated Project G53,[6] was developed "behind the tightest veil of secrecy the Navy had ever created."[6] Small quantities were produced in extreme secrecy, and at a cost of US$1,000 per unit,[7] by General Electric in Schenectady. The exploder was tested at the Newport lab and in a small field test aboard USS Raleigh. At the urging of the Mark 14's designer, Lt. Ralph W. Christie, equatorial tests were later conducted with Indianapolis, which fired one hundred trial shots between 10°N and 10°S[8] and collected 7000 readings.[9]

Due to shortsighted Congressional penny-pinching, very few live fire trials of the torpedo or exploder were ever done, and those only in top secrecy. The goal of most practice exercises was to get the torpedo to run under the target, after which it was assumed that the magnetic influence exploder would do the work. This misplaced trust in the magnetic exploder was also the reason for the depth problems encountered by early torpedoes, for if the exploder were to work properly a depth error of a few feet would not matter.[10] Chief of Naval Operations William V. Pratt offered the hulk of Cassin-class[11] destroyer Ericsson,[9] but prohibited the use of a live warhead, and insisted the Bureau of Ordnance (commonly called BuOrd) pay the cost of refloating her if she was hit in error.[9] These were strange restrictions, as Ericsson was due to be scrapped.[12] BuOrd declined.[9] A service manual for the exploder "was written—but, for security reasons, not printed—and locked in a safe."[9]

Problems

After the Mark 14 entered combat service in the Pacific War, it was discovered the torpedo had several major flaws which had a crippling effect on submariner's morale. For example, the skipper of the Skipjack, after watching his torpedoes running directly under a transport, reported that "I now have little confidence in these torpedoes."[10]

  • It tended to run about 10 feet (3.0 m) deeper than set, resulting in instances of torpedoes running directly under their target with no effect.
  • The magnetic exploder often caused premature firing.
  • The contact exploder often failed to fire the warhead. It often jammed with a textbook right angle hit to a ship's side as the firing pin could not take the shock of the impact.

Similar problems also plagued the Mark 15 torpedo used by U.S. Navy destroyers. That all of these problems could lead to misses or failures, they tended to mask one another, making isolating any of them more difficult.[10]

Premature explosions

Later model of the Mark 6 magnetic exploder assembly that uses a ball switch assembly as the contact exploder. The ball switch did not have the high acceleration problems of the earlier models.

Many submarine commanders in the first two years of the war reported explosions of the warhead with little to no damage of the enemy. The magnetic exploders were triggering prematurely, before getting close enough to the vessel to destroy it. Earth's magnetic field near NTS, where the trials (limited as they were)[13] were conducted, differed from the areas where the fighting was taking place.

Duds

Early reports of torpedo action included some dud hits, heard as a dull clang. In a few instances, Mark 14s would strike a Japanese ship and lodge in its hull without exploding. The contact pistol appeared to be malfunctioning, though the conclusion was anything but clear until running depth and magnetic exploder problems were solved. These experience was exactly the sort of live-fire trial BuOrd had been prevented from doing in peacetime, causing one submarine skipper to complain that "round trips of 8500 miles (13000 kilometers) into enemy waters to gain attack positions undetected within 800 yards (730 meters) of enemy ships only to find that torpedoes run deep and over half the time fail to function, seems to me an undesirable method of gaining information which might be determined any morning within a few miles of a torpedo station in the presence of comparatively few hazards."[10] It was now clear to all at Pearl Harbor that the contact pistol was also defective.

Solutions

Two Mark 14 torpedoes stored in the after torpedo room of the museum ship USS Pampanito

Against orders, some submariners disabled the magnetic influence feature of the Mark 6 exploder, suspecting it was faulty. An increase in hits was reported. Shortly after replacing Wilkes in Fremantle,[14] Rear Admiral[14] Charles Lockwood ordered a historic net test at Frenchman Bay on 20 June 1942.[15] Eight hundred Mark 14s had already been fired in combat.[15]

After a historic net test by Jim Coe's Skipjack, BuOrd on 1 August 1942 finally conceded the Mark 14 ran deep, and six weeks later, "that its depth-control mechanism had been 'improperly designed and tested'".[2] This satisfied Lockwood and Robert H. English (then COMSUBPAC),[16] who refused to believe the exploder could also be defective.[2]

Finally, in July 1943, Admiral Lockwood ordered his boats to deactivate the Mark 6's influence feature and use only its contact pistol.[17]

Tests were carried out by COMSUBPAC's gunnery and torpedo officer, Art Taylor (ex-Haddock). Taylor, "Swede" Momsen, and others fired warshots from Muskallunge[18] into the cliffs of Kahoolawe, beginning 31 August. Their third test shot was a dud.[19] This revealed the firing pin had not been able to contact the detonator hard enough to fire the warhead.[19]

To avoid "shaking hands with St. Peter" (as Lockwood put it),[19] E.A. Johnson, USNR, supervised by Taylor, dropped dummy warheads filled with sand from a cherry picker raised to a height of 90 feet (27 m). In 7 out of 10 of these trials, firing mechanisms bent, jammed, and failed with the high inertia of a straight-on hit (the prewar ideal).[20] A quick fix was to encourage "glancing" shots[21] (which cut the number of duds in half),[20] until a permanent solution could be found. Lightweight aluminum alloy (from propellers[20] of Japanese planes shot down during the attack on Pearl Harbor) was machined to take the place of the Mark 6's heavy pin block so inertial forces would be lower. Electrical switches, developed by Johnson,[20] were tried as well. Both fixes worked and were relatively easy to implement. In September 1943, the first torpedoes with new contact pistols were sent to war.[22] "After twenty-one months of war, the three major defects of the Mark 14 torpedo had at last been isolated. ... Each defect had been discovered and fixed in the field—always over the stubborn opposition of the Bureau of Ordnance."[21]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Patrick, John (Winter 2012), "The Hard Lessons of World War II Torpedo Failures", Undersea Warfare: The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force (47) 
  2. ^ a b c Blair 1975, p. 278
  3. ^ a b Blair 1975, p. 54
  4. ^ Fitzsimons, Bernard, general editor. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare (London: Phoebus Publishing, 1978), Volume 8, p.807, "Duplex"
  5. ^ Dönitz, Memoir.
  6. ^ a b Blair 1975, p. 55
  7. ^ Blair 1975, p. 61
  8. ^ Blair 1975, pp. 61–62
  9. ^ a b c d e Blair 1975, p. 62
  10. ^ a b c d Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, volume IV. Published by Little, Brown & Company, Ltd. 1958
  11. ^ Fitzsimons, Volume 5, p.541, table.
  12. ^ Between 1934 and 1936. Fitzsimons, Volume 5, p.542, "Cassin".
  13. ^ Milford, Frederick J. "U. S. Navy Torpedoes." The Submarine Review, April 1996.
  14. ^ a b Blair 1975, p. 274
  15. ^ a b Blair 1975, p. 275
  16. ^ Blair 1975, pp. 226–227
  17. ^ U.S. Torpedo Troubles During World War IIShireman, Douglas A.
  18. ^ Under command of Willard Saunders. Blair 1975, p. 437
  19. ^ a b c Blair 1975, p. 437
  20. ^ a b c d Blair 1975, p. 438
  21. ^ a b Blair 1975, p. 439
  22. ^ Milford, Frederick J. "U. S. Navy Torpedoes. Part Two: The great torpedo scandal, 1941–43." The Submarine Review, October 1996.

References

Further reading

External links

  • Dud torpedoes of WWII
  • "Mark 14-3A Torpedo and its MK 6 Exploder". Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
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