History of U.S. Destroyers - History

History of U.S. Destroyers - History

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In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast, maneuverable, long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against powerful short range attackers. They were originally developed in the late 19th century by Fernando Villaamil for the Spanish Navy [1] [2] as a defense against torpedo boats, and by the time of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, these "torpedo boat destroyers" (TBDs) were "large, swift, and powerfully armed torpedo boats designed to destroy other torpedo boats". [3] Although the term "destroyer" had been used interchangeably with "TBD" and "torpedo boat destroyer" by navies since 1892, the term "torpedo boat destroyer" had been generally shortened to simply "destroyer" by nearly all navies by the First World War. [4]

Before World War II, destroyers were light vessels with little endurance for unattended ocean operations typically a number of destroyers and a single destroyer tender operated together. After the war, the advent of the guided missile allowed destroyers to take on the surface combatant roles previously filled by battleships and cruisers. This resulted in larger and more powerful guided missile destroyers more capable of independent operation.

At the start of the 21st century, destroyers are the global standard for surface combatant ships, with only two nations (United States and Russia) officially operating the heavier class cruisers, with no battleships or true battlecruisers remaining. [note 1] Modern guided missile destroyers are equivalent in tonnage but vastly superior in firepower to cruisers of the World War II era, and are capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. At 510 feet (160 m) long, a displacement of 9,200 tons, and with armament of more than 90 missiles, [5] guided missile destroyers such as the Arleigh Burke-class are actually larger and more heavily armed than most previous ships classified as guided missile cruisers. The Chinese Type 055 destroyer has been described as a cruiser in some US Navy reports due to its size and armament. [6]

Some NATO navies, such as the Canadian, French, Spanish, Dutch and German, use the term "frigate" for their destroyers, which leads to some confusion.

After the Second World War, destroyers grew in size. The Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer had a displacement of 2200 tons, while the Arleigh Burke class has a displacement of up to 9600 tons, thus growing in size almost 340%.

History of U.S. Destroyers - History


The word "torpedo" is generally believed to have been first used by Robert Fulton around 1800 to describe a device with an enclosed mass of gunpowder which was to be exploded beneath enemy ships. The word may have been chosen due to the similarity in the way in which the device and the torpedo fish both communicated shock, or simply because detonation of the charge rendered fish torpid.

In any case, the word torpedo was generally applied to all underwater explosive devices through most of the nineteenth century. David Bushnell, Robert Fulton, Samuel Colt, and other early inventors were concerned with stationary torpedoes or what are called mines today. The earliest recorded use of a torpedo was in 1801 when Robert Fulton sank a small ship using a submarine mine with an explosive charge of 20 pounds of gunpowder at Brest, France.

Stationary torpedoes were first used on a large scale by the Russian government during the Crimean War (1854-1856). They were used as part of the defense of Sebastapol, at the entrance to the Sea of Azov in the Black Sea, and at Cronstadt and Sweaborg in the Baltic Sea. In the Baltic, torpedoes were exploded under four English ships near Cronstadt. None were destroyed, but all were damaged to some degree.

Various types of torpedoes were employed during the Civil War with the Confederate Navy enjoying the greater success. Twenty-two Union ships were sunk and twelve were damaged by Confederate torpedoes, while six Confederate ships were destroyed by Union Navy torpedoes.

The idea of providing mobility to the torpedo, thereby turning it into an "offensive" rather than "defensive" weapon, is generally credited to Fulton, who proposed using a boom-mounted explosive charge in the early nineteenth century. The boom or spar-mounted configuration was employed by both the Confederate and Union Navies during the Civil War. The most notable use of the spar torpedo was the sinking of the Confederate ram ALBEMARLE by Lt. W. B. Cushing, U.S.N., at Plymouth, N.C. in October of 1864.

Another type of mobile torpedo adopted by most navies in the years from 1870 to 1880 was the towed torpedo. An explosive charge was contained in a case that had a fixed rudder (figures 1 and 2) so that it could be towed off the ship's stern or beam. When towed from abeam, the tow line assumed an angle of about 45 degrees with the ship's centerline when under way. When the torpedo contacted an enemy ship the charge was detonated either electrically or by impact.

Figure 1. Explosive Charge Lashed to Boom of Spar Torpedo

Figure 2. Spar Torpedo Rigged for Test from Bow of Steam Launch


About the middle of the nineteenth century, an officer of the Austrian Marine Artillery conceived the idea of employing a small boat carrying a large charge of explosives, powered by a steam or an air engine and remotely steered by cables to be used against enemy ships. Upon his death, before he had perfected his invention or made it public, the papers of this anonymous officer came into the possession of Capt. Giovanni Luppis of the Austrian Navy. Impressed with the potential of the idea, Luppis had a model of the boat built which was powered by a spring-driven clockwork mechanism and steered remotely by cables. Not satisfied with the device, in 1864 Luppis turned to Robert Whitehead, an Englishman. Whitehead was then manager of Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano, a factory in Fiume, Austria (now Rijeka, Yugoslavia) on the Adriatic Sea. Whitehead was also impressed with the potential of such a weapon and became determined to build an automatic torpedo that could run at a given depth below the surface for a reasonable distance.

In October 1866, the first experimental model was ready. As designed by Whitehead, the model was driven by a two-cylinder, reciprocating, compressed-air engine, which gave the torpedo a speed of 6-1/2 knots for a distance (range) of 200 yards. Compressed air for propulsion was stored in a section of the torpedo known then, and still known now, as the air flask at a pressure of 350 psi. Figure 3 shows the probable form of this torpedo.

Figure 3. Probable Form of Whitehead Torpedo (1868)

Austria, the first government to show interest in the invention, purchased and conducted experiments with the torpedo during 1867-1869. As a result, in 1869 Austria purchased the manufacturing rights from Whitehead for an unknown price, but permitted Whitehead to sell his torpedoes to other governments.

Contemporary Russian literature on torpedoes states that the first self-propelled mine (torpedo) was developed by the Russian inventor I. F. Aleksandrovskiy in 1865. In spite of successful tests of the Aleksandrovskiy torpedo, the Russian Naval Ministry preferred to buy the torpedoes designed by Whitehead which, it is claimed, were no better in quality or characteristics than the Aleksandorovskiy torpedo.


Whitehead offered his torpedoes for sale to the navies of the world. In 1868, he offered two models:

1. Length, 11 feet 7 inches diameter, 14 inches weight, 346 pounds explosive charge, 40 pounds guncotton.

2. Length 14 feet diameter, 16 inches weight 650 pounds explosive charge, 60 pounds guncotton.

Performance of the two models was about the same: 8-10 knots with a range of 200 yards. The offering price of these torpedoes was $600 for the smaller version and $1000 for the larger model.

The Royal Navy (U.K.) became interested in the Whitehead Torpedo following a successful warshot demonstration in home waters in 1869 and received their first delivery in 1870. In 1871, the Admiralty bought manufacturing rights, and production was started at the Royal Laboratories at Woolrich, England. Within a short time, the British were manufacturing their own version of the Whitehead Torpedo which was known as the "Woolrich" or "Royal Laboratory" pattern.

The French, German, Italian, Russian, and Chinese Navies followed the Royal Navy in the purchase of the Whitehead Torpedo and soon Whitehead was exporting his torpedo around the world. By 1877, the Whitehead Torpedo was attaining speeds of 18 mph for ranges of 2500 feet (830 yards) and/or 22 mph for 600 feet (200 yards). Air flask pressure also had been increased to approximately 1100 psi.

By 1880 nearly 1500 Whitehead Torpedoes had been sold to the following countries:

Great Britain, 254, Germany, 203 France, 218 Austria, 100 Italy, 70 Russia, 250 Argentina, 40 Belgium, 40 Denmark, 83 Greece, 70 Portugal, 50 Chile, 26 Norway, 26 and Sweden, 26.

Whitehead had achieved instant success with a novel weapon. The first experimental torpedo worked well and was being mass produced for export within four years: an enviable achievement for any new product development!


In 1873, the firm of L. Schwartzkopff, later known as Berliner. Maschineubau A. G. (Berlin Machine Building Stock Co.), began manufacturing torpedoes based on the Whitehead design. Characteristics of the Schwartzkopff torpedo were:

Length - 14 feet 9 inches,
Diameter - 14 inches,
Speed - 23-25 knots for 220 yards, 22-23 knots for 440 yards,

Weight - 616 pounds,
Flask pressure - 1500 psi,
Explosive charge - 44 pounds guncotton.

Schwartzkopff was permitted to sell this torpedo to such countries as were designated by the German government: Russia, Japan, and Spain. Since the Schwartzkopff Torpedo was manufactured entirely of bronze rather than steel as was the Whitehead, corrosion resistance was one of the main selling points of this torpedo.


The U.S. Naval Torpedo Station (USNTS), Newport, R.I., was established in 1869 as a U.S. Navy experimental station for the development of torpedoes and torpedo equipment, explosives, and electrical equipment. The first Commanding Officer was LCDR E. O. Matthews, U.S.N. Located on Goat Island in Newport Harbor, the torpedo station site had been used as a fort by the town, colony, state, and finally the U.S. Government since its purchase in 1676 by the town of Newport from Benedict Arnold (who had purchased it in 1658 from Cachanaquoant, Chief Sachem of the Narragansett Bay Indians). The island was deeded to the U.S. Government in 1799 by the town of Newport for $1500. The name of the fort on Goat Island changed with the political winds and when occupation began by the Torpedo Station, it was known as Fort Wolcott.

In 1869, the occupation of Goat Island by the Navy was authorized by the Secretary of War. Initially, the Torpedo Station had three civilian employees and the facilities consisted of the wooden buildings that had been erected and then abandoned by the former occupants. Initial efforts were devoted to stationary torpedoes (moored mines) and the spar torpedo (a boom-mounted contact explosive charge).

Shortly after its establishment, the Torpedo Station at Newport was given the task of building a "Fish" Torpedo, similar to the Whitehead Torpedo. The Fish Torpedo was to be designed to meet two requirements:

1. To go underwater for a considerable distance at a fair rate of speed, and

2. To make a straight course and maintain constant immersion, whether started on the surface of the water or at any point below it.

A torpedo then was built which had the following characteristics:

Shape - Fusiform,
Radius of the curves - 66 feet,
Diameter - 14 inches,
Length - 12-1/2 feet,
Total weight - 480 pounds,

Explosive - 70-90 pounds guncotton,
Speed - 6-8 knots,
Range - 300-400 yards.

The torpedo had a two-cylinder reciprocating engine, operated by compressed air, which drove a 1-foot-diameter, four-bladed propeller. A hydrostatic depth control mechanism was also used. The first torpedo trial was in 1871. The torpedo did run, but difficulty was encountered in obtaining a water-tight hull and an air-tight air flask. Azimuth control was a problem although the depth mechanism worked well. Figure 4 is an actual photograph of the Fish Torpedo.

Figure 4. Newport's Auto-Mobile "Fish" Torpedo (1871)

Accounts indicate that an attempt was made to overcome the problems encountered in the first test by modifying the torpedo. The modifications consisted of a new air flask cast in one piece and a new engine.

The second version of the torpedo was given captive in-water trials alongside the dock in 1872. It was estimated to have achieved a speed of 8-1/2 knots and would have run 4000 feet (1300 yards), which was comparable to the Whitehead Torpedo of that time. A proposal for the Fish Torpedo was submitted to the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) in 1874, but beyond that there is no record of any further effort on the U.S. Navy Fish Torpedo.


Early torpedoes were fusiform or spindle shaped with no straight cylindrical section between the nose and the tail as shown in figures 3 and 4. The shape was based on the premise that the long tapered nose would cut or part the water, yielding better hydrodynamic performance.

In 1883, a committee was appointed in the United Kingdom to study various aspects of torpedo design. A hydrodynamicist of that day, Dr. R. E. Froude, stated that the blunt nose offered no speed disadvantage and would permit more explosive to be carried.

Comparative tests were conducted by the committee using a Whitehead Torpedo and a Royal Laboratories torpedo, each of which was fitted with both a pointed and a blunt nose. The tests showed that the blunt nose offered a full knot speed advantage over the pointed nose. This meant that more volume could be devoted to carrying explosive and air for propulsion without sacrificing speed performance. The volume gained was quite significant, bearing in mind that the nose shape in question extended from the middle of the torpedo's length to the tip of the nose. The ultimate in blunt nose design during this period appeared about 1909 with the American hemispherical heads.


In spite of the spectacular achievement of the Whitehead Torpedo, two offers to sell the rights to the U.S. Navy, in 1869 for $75,000, and again in 1873 for $40,000, were not accepted. An employee of the Woolrich Laboratory was also willing to turn over plans and specifications for the torpedo in return for employment at the USNTS in Newport. Although the record indicates that the Navy declined the sub-rosa offer, a set of plans was obtained and turned over to Commodore Jeffers, then Chief of BuOrd. The plans were not exploited, but were the subject of a lengthy exchange and quite probably legal proceedings between Commodore Jeffers and Robert Lines, Whitehead's U.S. agent, as reported in the press in the spring of 1881.

A summary reaction to the Whitehead Torpedo was that it "stirred naval tacticians more profoundly than any weapon ever produced" 2 by its tremendous potential but the Whitehead Torpedo seems to have inspired a contrary reaction among U.S. Navy tacticians. A paper on "movable torpedoes" published in 1873 states, "Our conclusion is that the Whitehead-Luppis Torpedo is not adaptable to the combat of vessels on the high seas, but that it can be advantageously employed in the defense of ports and the attack of vessels surprised at anchor." 3 The Navy consensus of the day was that the Whitehead Torpedo was too delicate, too complex, and too "secret."

In fairness, it must be said that the Whitehead Torpedo also had other critics. Defects of the Whitehead Torpedo as enumerated in an 1889 British publication, were:

1. Inefficiency due to the small charge carried, which is not sufficient to destroy the hulls of vessels like modern ironclads that are divided into numerous water-tight compartments.

3. Expense. - The manufacturing cost of one Whitehead being over 500 pounds, to which must be added the share of price first paid for the patent, and the cost of the discharging appliances.

4. Intricacy. - The torpedo containing a quantity of highly finished and complicated machinery.

5. Difficulties in Manipulation. - Great intelligence on the part of the personnel combined with a long and careful training being essential.

6. Difficulties in Maintenance. - Constant attention and care being required to keep the torpedoes and their impulse arrangements clean and efficient.

7. Loss of Control after Discharge. - Which, combined with the uncertainty as to accuracy already mentioned, increases the difficulties attending the employment of these torpedoes in fleet actions.

8. Motive Power Dangerous. - The highly compressed air having sometimes burst the torpedo. Hostile shot would increase this danger.

9. Space Occupied. - Especially when that of the appurtenances are taken into consideration.

It is not too surprising, then, that during this period (1870-1880) the U.S. Navy chose to de-emphasize the "Fish" or "Auto-mobile" torpedo and content itself with further development of the spar and towing torpedoes primarily through the addition of electrical detonation features.



Torpedo development in the United States during the period from 1870 to 1900 consisted of experimenting with many schemes. Chemical, electrical, and rocket propulsion were attempted, and surprisingly, guidance and supplying of power by means of a trailing wire was popular. The USNTS at Newport was the site of many of the experiments and tests of the devices proposed by the civilian and military inventors of the day.

This was the era of the "Lay," "Lay-Haight," "Ericsson," "Cunningham," "Sims-Edison," and "Barber" Torpedoes, to mention a few. An illustration and brief description of major characteristics of these torpedoes follows. (See figures 5 through 10.)

1. Lay Torpedo: A chemical torpedo propelled on the surface by a reciprocating engine operated by superheated carbonic acid gas. Two cables payed out from the torpedo to the controlling ship or station, controlled the stop and start mechanism, and the steering engine (1872).

2. Barber Torpedo: A submarine torpedo propelled by a rocket charge (1873).

3. Ericsson Torpedo: A torpedo with a rectangular cross section, propelled and steered by compressed air fed to it from a shore station through a rubber hose coiled within torpedo and payed out as the torpedo moved ahead introduced concentric drive shafts (1873-1877).

4. Lay-Haight Torpedo: Three-cylinder, engine-propelled torpedo, using carbonic acid expanded in external tanks warmed by sea water (1880). Sulphuric acid and lime was used to increase speed (1883).

5. Sims-Edison Torpedo: A float-supported torpedo, electrically driven from shore generator through a cable, controlled from shore by battery-operated steering mechanism detonated by contact or by operator (1889).

6. Cunningham Torpedo: Another rocket-propelled torpedo to be fired from submerged tubes (1893-1894).

Figure 5. Lay Torpedo

Figure 6. Barber Torpedo

Figure 7. Ericsson Torpedo

Figure 8. Lay-Haight Torpedo

Figure 9. Sims-Edison Torpedo

Figure 10. Cunningham Torpedo

The first successful U.S. torpedo development began in 1870 and was completed in 1889. Largely the work of LCDR J. A. Howell (later Rear Admiral, U.S.N.) the Howell Torpedo was driven by a 132-pound flywheel spun to 10,000 revolutions per minute prior to launch by a steam turbine mounted on the torpedo tube. Two variable pitch propellers on parallel shafts were driven through bevel gearing from the flywheel. The diminishing speed of the flywheel, in turn, was compensated for by propeller pitch to maintain a constant torpedo speed. The rotating flywheel created a gyroscopic effect. Deviations in azimuth were adjusted by a pendulum which sensed the heel of torpedo when it deviated from its course and was coupled to the rudder. This gave the torpedo good directional stability however, the depth-keeping characteristics were not good. Despite this, the Howell Torpedo was used in service on U.S. battleships until 1898 when it was supplanted by the Whitehead Torpedo. (The Howell Torpedo is shown in figure 11.)

Figure 11. Howell Torpedo

Although the Howell Torpedo did not create the reaction of the Whitehead Torpedo, the following contemporary discussion is of interest.

The objection has been raised that this torpedo "does not lie in a state of constant readiness, but has to be spun up" before it is ready to launch, but it must be noted that when the wheel has been spun up, very little power will keep it going, and therefore the torpedo can be kept in the state of "ready" from the commencement of an action until its termination, unless, in the meantime, it be discharged.

Remembering the defects of the Whitehead Torpedo, which have been enumerated, it will be found that most of them have been overcome in the Howell Torpedo.

2. Also the uncertainty as to accuracy.

3. Also the great expense, for the Howell Torpedo and its appurtenances are cheaper to manufacture.

4. Also, simplicity of detail is substituted for that intricacy and delicacy of detail which in the Whitehead enlists our astonishment and admiration.

5. As regards manipulation, comparative trials are required, the advocates of the new arm being confident of the result.

6. The maintenance of the simpler apparatus must be less troublesome and costly.

7. The new arm is evidently under better self-control after discharge.

8. The danger due to the existence under fire of a chamber full of highly compressed air is absent.

9. And finally, the space occupied is less than with the Whitehead.

In short, it would appear that the Howell is superior on nearly all points, and, on account of its humming sound, is inferior only as an arm for a sneak boat, or for a vessel attempting to run a blockade.

If used for harbour defense these torpedoes might be placed in shore batteries, and their simple fittings and accessories would not be difficult to keep in order. But it would generally be preferable to mount them on some floating body and moor it under the shelter of the land or a fort in a convenient place for aiding the defense. By these means, a foe would be kept in ignorance of the position from which his vessels might be torpedoed should they attempt to force a passage. 4


Around 1891, negotiations for torpedo manufacturing rights in the United States began in earnest between the Whitehead Co. and the E. W. Bliss Co. of Brooklyn, N.Y. Favorable terms were reached and in 1892, the U.S. Navy contracted with the Bliss Co. for the manufacture of 100 Whitehead (3.55 meters by 45 centimeters) Mk 1 torpedoes at a price of $2000 each. Thus, some 26 years after the Whitehead Torpedo was introduced, U.S. experts finally got around to this tacit admission of its worth. This concession was probably inspired in part by a successful torpedo attack on 23 April 1891, against the Chilean insurgent 3500-ton battleship BLANCO ENCALADA. This ship was sunk while at anchor by a Whitehead Torpedo fired from a gun boat.

Between 1896 and 1904, the Bliss Co. manufactured approximately 300 more Whitehead-developed units of five types for the U.S. Navy. The 3.55-meter Whitehead Mk 1, Mk 2, and Mk 3 torpedoes were basically the same, differing mainly in mechanical details. The Mk 1 and Mk 2 versions were also available in the 5-meter length.

The performance of the two Whitehead Mk 1 torpedoes was the same, but the 5-meter Mk 1 used the Obry steering gear (gyro) invented by an Austrian, Ludwig Obry, for azimuth control and had the largest warhead of any torpedo of that time -- 220 pounds of wet guncotton.

In 1856, the French physicist, Leon Foucault, invented and built a laboratory model of the gyroscope as it is known today. In 1894, Obry was granted a patent for his gyro mechanism to control the torpedo in azimuth. Other similar devices were being actively pursued at the same time. In Germany, Schwartzkopff was using a device developed by Kaselowski of that company and Robert Whitehead was experimenting with the Petrovich device, developed by a Russian both appear to have attained marginal results. Overshadowing all, there was the Howell patent of 1871 in which the use of the flywheel for directional control was a part. In 1898, Howell initiated legal proceedings against Bliss, the Whitehead U.S. licensee, because of the use of the Obry gear in Whitehead Torpedoes. However it was found that the Obry device did not infringe on the Howell patent.

Initially, the gyro was used to keep the torpedo on a course as defined by the axis of the launcher this meant that the aiming of the torpedo had to be accomplished by maneuvering the firing ship. The installation of trainable torpedo tubes in 1893 improved the tactical flexibility. Finally, curved

fire, which used the gyro to control the torpedo on a preset course, was adopted in U.S. Navy torpedoes about 1910. First installed in the Whitehead Mk 5 torpedoes of U.S. manufacture and the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 2 torpedoes, it was intended for use from fixed tube installations. Ultimately it was applied to all straight-running torpedoes, and all torpedo tubes were provided with gyro angle setting capability.

The two Whitehead Mk 2 torpedoes had different performance characteristics the 5-meter version had slightly better speed and nearly double the range than that of the 3.55-meter version. In a significant departure from the Mk 1, the 5-meter Mk 2 did not have a gyro for control in azimuth.

The Whitehead Torpedo Mk 3 was developed and produced in the 3.55-meter version only. The significant difference between the Mk 3 and the other 3.55-meter torpedoes was that it used the Obry steering gear (gyro) for azimuth control.

Initially, Whitehead torpedoes had used a reciprocating engine in which the exhaust was expelled through a hole in the afterbody. This method of exhaust, however, interfered with the torpedo steering. Peter Brotherhood, an employee of the Royal Laboratories, Woolrich, England, developed a reciprocating engine which exhausted into the crankcase and then the exhaust was ducted out the tail of the torpedo through a hollow drive shaft.

The Brotherhood engine, along with contrarotating drive shafts developed by another Woolrich employee, was adopted by Whitehead about 1880. These innovations improved steering and eliminated the heel-and-roll tendency due to a single propeller. A Mr. Rendel was granted a patent in 1871 for double propeller propulsion, but whether he was the Woolrich employee referred to is not known.

Ultimately, in order to free himself from the Brotherhood patents, Whitehead redesigned the engine by changing the valves from the rotary slide type to vertical poppets. (A U.S. Whitehead Torpedo is shown in figure 12.)

Whitehead engines were operated by compressed air and were classified as "cold running" torpedoes. The advantage of hot gases for improving the efficiency was evidently well understood, since unsuccessful attempts were made to heat the air in the air flask by burning a spray of liquid fuel in the air flask itself. These early attempts led to the use of an air heater or "combustion pot" (also referred to as a "superheater") between the air flask and the engine. Torpedoes with an air heater became known as "hot running," and those without, "cold running."

Figure 12. USS MORRIS (USTB 14) Launching Whitehead Torpedo

About 1901, the last model of the Whitehead torpedo to be used by the U.S. Navy was introduced. A hot running torpedo, the Whitehead Mk 5 used an air heater or combustion pot (with kerosene as a fuel) and a four-cylinder reciprocating engine. The result of using heated air was remarkable. The Whitehead Torpedo Mk 5 ran 4000 yards at 27 knots, an increase in range by a factor of 5. In this model, provision was made for varying the speed and range in three steps: 4000 yards at 27 knots 2000 yards at 36 knots 1000 yards at 40 knots. This was accomplished by physically changing the reducing valve plug or varying its setting in the reducing valve, controlling the pressure/flow of air and fuel to the combustion pot. The adjustment was made prior to tube loading through an access hole provided in the torpedo hull.


In 1898, 12 Schwartzkopff Torpedoes were purchased by the U.S. Navy, but these torpedoes receive only passing mention in history. One of the European nations that also purchased this type of torpedo was motivated by curiosity, in view of Schwartzkopff claims and by the corrosion resistance offered by the all-bronze construction. In the case of that nation, tests with the Whitehead Torpedo demonstrated overall superiority over the Schwartzkopff version. Although unsaid, the U.S. experience was probably the same since this was the one and only purchase of Schwartzkopff Torpedoes by the U.S.

In 1904, Frank McDowell Leavitt, an engineer for the E. W. Bliss Co., developed a new torpedo, the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1. This torpedo was powered by a single-stage, vertical (plane of rotation) turbine which also had a combustion pot, and used alcohol as fuel to heat the air before entering the engine.

The developmental model of the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 torpedo used an air flask pressure of 1500 psi and ran cold with a speed of 30 knots for 1200 yards. With an air flask designed for 2200 psi and a "superheater," speeds of 35 knots for 1200 yards, 29-1/2 knots for 2000 yards, and 24-1/2 knots for 3000 yards were obtained. The production version of the Mk 1 with an air flask pressure of 2250 psi and a superheater, ran at 27 knots for 4000 yards.

The Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 had one significant shortcoming. The single-stage turbine drove a single propeller resulting in an unbalanced torque which caused the torpedo to roll. This was corrected in subsequent Bliss-Leavitt torpedoes by using a two-stage turbine driving contrarotating propellers. Development of the two-stage, balanced turbine is credited to Lt. Gregory Davison, U.S.N. The two-stage turbine was essentially the same power plant used in all U.S. "steam" torpedoes through World War II, except for minor engineering changes and for the change in the plane of rotation from vertical to horizontal.

With the introduction of the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 and the Whitehead Mk 5, there were seven torpedoes which the U.S. Navy either had purchased or would purchase for Fleet use. The torpedoes were:

1. Whitehead Mk 1 (3.55 meters x 45 centimeters),
2. Whitehead Mk 1 (5 meters x 45 centimeters),
3. Whitehead Mk 2 (3.55 meters x 45 centimeters),
4. Whitehead Mk 2 (5 meters x 45 centimeters),
5. Whitehead Mk 3 (3.55 meters x 45 centimeters),
6. Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 (5 meters x 53 centimeters),
7. Whitehead Mk 5 (5.2 meters x 45 centimeters).

Except for the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1 and the Whitehead Mk 5 torpedoes, both of which had a device for azimuth control, all were "cold running."

Bliss-Leavitt continued development of the "hot-running" torpedo. The Mk 2 and Mk 3 were similar but had slight differences in performance both did have two-stage, contrarotating turbines which drove contrarotating propellers, thus eliminating the roll tendency found in the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 1.

The Bliss-Leavitt Torpedo Mk 4 was an 18-inch torpedo utilized in the torpedo boats and submarines of the period around 1908.

There is no indication that there ever was a Bliss-Leavitt Mk 5 torpedo. It should be noted, however, that mark numbers were assigned by BuOrd and were not designations that were assigned by the developer/ manufacturer. The absence of a mark number then does not indicate a lapse in an evolutionary process, but merely a halt to the early practice of assigning the same mark number to two devices differentiated only by the developer's name.

All of the early torpedoes employed a mechanical impact warhead detonating mechanism. These devices used percussion caps to initiate the detonation of the explosive train, and, where used, the primers (boosters) were dry guncotton placed bare in the primer case (exploder cavity) prior to installation of the mechanism. The detonating mechanisms were called "war noses."

War Nose Mk 1 was designed and manufactured by the Whitehead Torpedo Works, Weymouth, England, prior to 1900. The war nose was mounted in the primer case (exploder cavity) in the forward end of the warhead, on the longitudinal centerline of the torpedo. A firing pin capable of longitudinal motion within the body of the war nose was held in place away from the percussion cap by a shear pin made of tin. Upon impact with the target, the shear pin would be cut and the firing pin would impact the percussion cap initiating detonation of the explosive train.

To prevent accidental detonation during handling, war nose installation, tube loading, etc., the war nose had a mechanical arming feature. A screw fan (propeller) located on the forward end of the war nose (figure 13), had to be rotated about 20 revolutions (equivalent to about 70 yards of torpedo travel through the water) before the firing pin was free to move and impact the percussion cap.

Figure 13. War Nose Mk 1

War Nose Mk 1 weighed about 2-1/2 pounds, was 6 inches long and 2-1/2 inches in diameter. A very simple device, the war nose was sensitive only when impact with the target was directly on the war nose along the torpedo longitudinal axis.

War Nose Mk 2 Mod 0 was slightly larger than the Mk 1. It weighed 4-1/2 pounds, was 6-1/2 inches long and 3 inches in diameter the same detonator as the Mk 1 was used, but a primer of dry guncotton was also used to insure detonation of the warhead.

The main advantage of the Mk 2 war nose was that it had four levers (whiskers) extending outward from the body casting which would, if struck, cause the firing pin to impact the detonator. This war nose would cause warhead detonation if struck with something less than a direct blow on the end of the war nose. War Nose Mk 2 had the same safety features as did the Mk 1.

War Nose Mk 2 Mod 1 weighed 8 pounds, was 8 inches long, and 4 inches in diameter. Identical to War Nose Mk 2 Mod 0 except for minor mechanical details, the Mod 1 had longer whiskers and thus would fire on a more glancing blow.

War Noses Mk 3 and Mk 4 never materialized beyond the experimental stage. The Mk 3 was a Mk 2 Mod 1 version with longer whiskers. The Mk 4 was an experimental model of the War Nose Mk 5 that followed the Mk 4 version.

War Nose Mk 5 was the first warhead detonating device designed to fire on impact from any angle/direction. It was also the first to have a safety device that kept the screw fan from turning while in a submerged tube. In addition, the Mk 5 incorporated a multiple detonator system to eliminate failures from this aspect. Designed for use with slow speed torpedoes, War Nose Mk 5 was unsatisfactory when torpedo speeds approached 30 knots because the releasing pin plate, which prevented the screw fan from turning prior to torpedo launch, bound due to frictional forces. The Mk 5, which was about 11 inches long, 2 inches in diameter, and weighed about 5 pounds, employed a complicated firing mechanism that downgraded its reliability.

The war noses already noted were designed and reportedly used in torpedoes up until 1911. There is no indication that detonating devices subsequent to the war noses were interchangeable with their earlier counterparts consequently, it may be reasonably assumed that war noses continued in use until the torpedoes that utilized them were condemned around 1922.

During the period 1911-1915, the USNTS, Newport, R.I., developed Exploder Mechanism Mk 1. (This was a change in nomenclature. With the war noses, "exploders" was the nomenclature associated with what are now called detonators.) Exploder Mk 1 had several mechanical defects and was replaced by Exploder Mk 2 however, improvements to the Mk 2 brought about the Mk 3 before manufacture of the Mk 2 was completed. Consequently, the first U.S. Navy exploder mechanism was the Mk 3 "simple exploder."

It is interesting to note that the anticircular run (ACR) feature, now incorporated in most torpedo course gyros, was initially a part of the exploder mechanism. This device sterilized the exploder (prevented detonation) if the torpedo turned 110 degrees from the original course. Like modern ACR devices, it was operable only during the initial part of the run.

With much emphasis on devices that cause detonation of the warhead if the torpedo passes under the target, approximately 20 different types of exploders have been developed with varying degrees of success.

Guncotton (nitro-cellulose) was the universally used explosive for torpedo warheads up to about 1912. At that time it was planned to use TNT (Trinitrotoluol) for all future warheads. Indications are that the use of TNT started around 1911 and was continued until the introduction of Torpex in 1930. Torpex was replaced by HBX in the 1940's, followed by H-6 in the 1960's. Torpex, HBX, and H-6 were all basically TNT with additives to increase the explosive yield, or improve the stability/ reduce long-term storage deterioration. PBX, the explosive currently in use, evolved in the early 1970's.

Consistent with its established purpose, much of the production effort in the early days of the Torpedo Station at Newport was concentrated on manufacturing main charge explosives and explosive components (primers and detonators).

The effort being applied to torpedoes, per se, was in component development, ranging/acceptance of torpedoes manufactured by E. W. Bliss Co., coupled with experiments in launching torpedoes from the various platforms. From the first, torpedo acceptance by the U.S. Navy was on the basis of in-water performance. To facilitate torpedo launching experiments, the Navy's prototype torpedo boat "USS STILLETTO" and the first of the new torpedo boat class "USS CUSHING" (USTB 1) along with early submarines "USS HOLLAND," "USS ADDER," and "USS MOCASSIN" were among the ships assigned to the USNTS, Newport, for this purpose.

Emphasis in the efforts of the USNTS was soon to change. Early in 1907, explosive main charge manufacturing and all equipment for that purpose were transferred to Indian Head, Md.


About 1906, Admiral N. E. Mason, then Chief of BuOrd, requested an appropriation of $500,000 from Congress of which $150,000 was for the purpose of establishing a U.S. Navy Torpedo Factory at Newport, R.I. He was apparently successful, for construction of the factory began on July 1, 1907, and in 1908, the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport (the torpedo factory) received an order for 20 Whitehead Mk 5 torpedoes.

In the light of establishing a competitor to E. W. Bliss Co., who had enjoyed a virtual monopoly in supplying torpedoes to the U.S. Navy, the climate was probably more favorable for dealing with Whitehead rather than Bliss for manufacturing rights, tooling, etc. At the same time, an order for additional Whitehead Mk 5 torpedoes was placed with Vickers Ltd., in England, perhaps an indication of a strained relationship between the U.S. Navy and the Bliss Co.

Bliss staged a comeback with the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 6 torpedo in 1911 which used horizontal turbines (spin axis at right angles to the longitudinal centerline). An 18-inch diameter torpedo intended for above-water launching, this weapon could obtain a speed of 35 knots but a range of only 2000 yards.

The Bliss-Leavitt Mk 7 torpedo was the next significant step forward in technology. A water spray was introduced into the combustion pot along with the fuel spray and the "steam" torpedo came into being.

Torpedo Mk 7, with a range of 6000 yards at 35 knots, was introduced into the Fleet about 1912 and was in use for 33 years up to and including World War II when it was used in reactivated World War I destroyers (with 18-inch torpedo tubes).

In the "steam" torpedo, air, fuel, and water are simultaneously fed into the combustion pot. The fuel burns and the water reduces the temperature of the gases produced by combustion. The water turns into steam, thus increasing the mass of the gas. The gases generated by combustion and the steam provide the motive power to the engine. Although only a fraction of the gases is steam, the term "steam" torpedo has been generally used throughout the years (figure 14).

Figure 14. Typical Hot Gas Generator System of Steam Torpedo


By 1913, the U.S. Navy inventory of torpedoes included both "hot" and "cold" running Whitehead and Bliss-Leavitt design torpedoes, with some identified by the same Mark. Consequently, new designations were formulated as shown in tables 1 and 2.

Table 1. Cold Serviceable Torpedoes

Type AMk 3Whitehead140 inches x 17.7 inches
Type BMk 1 (5-meter)Whitehead187 inches x 17.7 inches
Type CMk 2 (5-meter)Whitehead197 inches x 17.7 inches
Table 2. Hot Serviceable Torpedoes

Mk 1 Mod 1Mk 1Bliss-Leavitt197 inches x 21 inches
Mk 2Mk 2Bliss-Leavitt197 inches x 21 inches
Mk 3Mk 3Bliss-Leavitt197 inches x 21 inches
Mk 4Mk 4Bliss-Leavitt197 inches x 17.7 inches
Mk 5Mk 5Whitehead197 inches x 17.7 inches
Mk 6Mk 6Bliss-Leavitt204 inches x 17.7 inches
Mk 7Mk 7Bliss-Leavitt204 inches x 17.7 inches
Mk 8Mk 8Bliss-Leavitt256.3 inches x 21 inches

All other torpedoes in the inventory (i.e., Howell, Whitehead Mk 1, and Whitehead Mk 2 (3.55-meter versions) and the Whitehead and Schwartzkopff torpedoes of foreign manufacture that were purchased or captured during the Spanish-American War) were condemned against further service use.

The use of the torpedo as an offensive weapon gave rise to the need for developing a delivery platform, the torpedo boat. The U.S. Navy's prototype of the torpedo boat, the "USS STILLETTO," was built as an unarmed steam yacht by Herreshoff in Bristol, R.I., and introduced into the Navy in 1887. It was assigned to the Torpedo Station in Newport for torpedo experiments and designated Wooden Torpedo Boat (WTB 1).

In 1890, the USS CUSHING (TB 1), the first of the U.S. Navy's new class of torpedo boats, was commissioned and assigned to Newport. Torpedo boats of the CUSHING class were 140 feet long, displaced 116 tons, had a top speed of 23 knots, and were equipped with two or three 18-inch torpedo tubes. In 1893, the fixed torpedo tubes in USS CUSHING were replaced with trainable torpedo tubes (a design attributed to Lt. F. F. Fletcher, U.S.N.) which increased her tactical flexibility. Each year larger and faster torpedo boats were developed. In 1895, Japanese torpedo boats attacked the Chinese fleet at anchor with a loss to the Chinese of 14,000 tons. This action appears to have been a major factor in development of the torpedo boat countermeasure - the torpedo boat destroyer.


The USS BAINBRIDGE (DD 1), launched in 1901, was the first U.S. Navy torpedo boat destroyer. (In a few years, ships of this type became known simply as destroyers.) The BAINBRIDGE displaced 420 tons, had a maximum speed of 29 knots, and was armed with 3-inch guns and two 18-inch torpedo tubes. These destroyers of torpedo boats were, in fact, torpedo boats as well. Shortly before the first World War in 1913, the DUNCAN class, 1020 tons, came into being they were equipped with 18-inch, double- or triple-mount torpedo tubes firing the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 6 and Mk 7 torpedoes. Beginning with the USS CALDWELL (DD 69) in 1917, the raised forecastle gave way to flush decks, displacement increased to 1200 tons, and speed increased to 32 to 35 knots. Of far reaching significance, the advent of the DD 69 also introduced the standard 21-inch surface torpedo tube. With tubes installed in triple mounts, four mounts per ship (12 tubes in all), these ships fired the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 8, the U.S. Navy's first 21-inch by 21-foot torpedo, with a range of 16,000 yards at a speed of 27 knots.

In 1900, the U.S. Navy's first submarine, USS HOLLAND (SS-1), came to Newport for demonstration and test. In 1901, while carrying three Whitehead Mk 2 torpedoes, the HOLLAND was exercised with a Navy crew from the Torpedo Station. Lt. Harry H. Caldwell, who is believed to be the U.S. Navy's first

submarine officer, was in command. In exercises off the coast of Newport, the HOLLAND closed to within torpedo firing range of the USS KEARSARGE (BB 5) without being detected.

The HOLLAND was followed by other U.S. Navy submarines in tests and experiments at Newport. These early "A" type submarines such as the USS ADDER and USS MOCASSIN were equipped with one bow-mounted, 18-inch torpedo tube. During the submarine's days of infancy, later classes had two or four 18-inch torpedo tubes installed and carried a total complement of four to eight torpedoes on board. The exception was the G-3 which had six 18-inch torpedo tubes installed and carried a total complement of ten torpedoes. The ultimate torpedo for these early submarines was the Bliss-Leavitt Mk 7.

Like the surface Navy, submarines were standardized with 21-inch torpedo tubes beginning in 1918 with the "R" class. Submarines equipped with the 21-inch torpedo tubes used Torpedo Mk 10, which had the heaviest warhead of any torpedo up to that time, 500 pounds, with a speed of 36 knots, but a range of only 3500 yards. This torpedo was a development of the USNTS, Newport, with the assistance of the E. W. Bliss Co.

Bliss-Leavitt Torpedo Mk 9 was developed about the same time as Torpedo Mk 10 (1915). It was intended to replace Bliss-Leavitt Mk 3-type torpedoes in battleships. When use of torpedoes in battleships was discontinued in 1922, the Mk 9 was converted for submarine use and was used in the early days of World War II to supplement the limited stock of Mk 14's.

The last of the Bliss-Leavitt torpedoes, the Mk 9 appears to have been a misfit in the evolutionary process. It was slow, had a short range for a surface ship torpedo, carried a small explosive charge and air flask pressure was reduced to 2000 psi from 2500-2800 psi. There was apparently some effort to improve Mk 9 capability, for in follow-on mods, its speed was unchanged and range in some cases reduced, while the explosive charge was increased to around 400 pounds and air flask pressure was increased to 2800 psi (indicating use of a new air flask).


During this time period, the U.S. entered World War I. By the spring of 1917, the German U-boat menace had become so great that it overshadowed all other enemy threats. Torpedo research and development was practically discontinued in favor of the development of depth bombs, aero bombs, and mines, which were the antisubmarine warfare weapons of that era. The resources of the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport were redirected to this end and played an important role in wartime development, particularly in the development of the U.S. depth bomb which supplanted the British design.

The use of the torpedo by the U.S. Navy and the Allies in World War I was a negligible factor (specific data are not available) on the other hand, German submarines are credited with sinking 5,408 ships for a total of 11,189,000 tons.


Development of an electric torpedo started around July 1915, with the Sperry Gyroscope Company of Brooklyn, N. Y. The characteristics were as follows:

Range - 3800 yards,
Speed - 25 knots,
Diameter - 7-1/4 inches,
Length - 72 inches (without explosive charge),
Weight - 90 pounds (without explosive charge).

The propulsion motor of the proposed electric torpedo was to act as a gyroscope to stabilize the torpedo in azimuth, as in the old Howell Torpedo. This development was terminated in 1918 with no torpedoes having been produced.

Navy interest in the development of an electric torpedo, prompted by the successful development of one during World War I in Germany, continued after termination of the Sperry contract. Navy in-house development of an electric torpedo of conventional size continued at the Navy Experiment Station, New London, Conn. This design was designated the Type EL, then the Mk 1.

In 1919, the Navy Experiment Station was closed as an economy measure, and the development of the Mk 1 was assigned to the USNTS, Newport. Development continued sporadically over the next 25 years on the Mk 1 and Mk 2 electric torpedoes culminating finally with the Mk 20.

World-wide reduction in naval armament during the 1920's resulted in a wave of reduced expenditures for military purposes. Appropriations for torpedo research and development were small, with an allocation of approximately $30,000 per year for the Torpedo Station at Newport during this era.

In the same wave of economy, development and manufacture of torpedoes for the U.S. Navy at the E. W. Bliss Co. was terminated in the early 1920's, upon completion of the Torpedo Mk 9 project. Disputes over patent rights, and also the fact that the USNTS, Newport, with 15 years of experience in torpedo manufacture was considered capable of providing for the Navy's needs, were cited as factors influencing termination of work with the Bliss Co. Economy seems to have been the primary motivation, for at the same time, torpedo manufacturing activities at the Washington Navy Yard and the Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria, Va., were halted. The Newport Torpedo Station became the headquarters for torpedo research, development, design, manufacture, overhaul, and ranging.

In 1922, in a move to reduce maintenance costs, all torpedoes of design prior to the Bliss-Leavitt Torpedo Mk 7 were condemned (withdrawn from service and probably scrapped) in favor of more modern torpedoes. With this move, the U.S. Navy inventory of torpedo types then consisted of four models:

2. Torpedo Mk 8 - used by destroyers with 21-inch tubes,

3. Torpedo Mk 9.- converted for use with 21-inch submarine tubes, and

In the mid-1920's, manufacturing efforts were minimal, and the efforts were mainly concerned with improving the existing torpedo inventory. Development of Torpedo Mk 11, which was started at the Washington Navy Yard, was completed by the Torpedo Station at Newport in 1926. This torpedo, which was intended for use by destroyers and cruisers, had multirange/speed selection: 6000 yards at 46 knots, 10,000 yards at 34 knots, or 15,000 yards at 27 knots. (Cruiser use of torpedoes was discontinued in 1936.) Production of Torpedo Mk 11 started in 1927 however, in 1928, the Mk 11 was succeeded by the Mk 12, which was similar but refined in many details. About 200 Mk 12's were produced.

The 1930's were the development/production years for Torpedoes Mk 13 (aircraft), Mk 14 (submarine), and Mk 15 (destroyer), which constituted the U.S. "modern" torpedo inventory at the start of World War II.

PRE-WORLD WAR II ERA (1930-1939)


The development of the aircraft torpedo covered a time span of about 25 years. It involved two Navy Bureaus - Ordnance and Aeronautics (the latter due to the necessity of parallel development of a satisfactory torpedo plane).

The first experimental air drops were made in May 1920 at the Naval Air Station, Anacostia, Md., using two Torpedoes Mk 7 Mod 5. Air speed for these drops is believed to have been 50 to 55 knots at altitudes of 18 and 30 feet. It was found that the torpedo dropped from 30 feet was badly damaged while the one dropped from 18 feet was not.

The prime mover in the early days of Naval aviation, particularly with respect to the use of the torpedo as an aircraft strike weapon, was Rear Adm. Bradley A. Fiske, U.S.N. He was granted a patent for the torpedo plane in 1912. Included in his patent were proposed methods for the tactical use of the aircraft torpedo, which were used by the U.S. Navy for many years.

A degree of the interest in the aircraft torpedo is evidenced by the fact that an Aviation Unit for the Newport Torpedo Station was established at Gould Island, R.I., in 1921. It was at this facility that the bulk of the testing that ultimately resulted in the aircraft torpedo was accomplished. In the beginning, efforts were directed towards modification/adaptation of existing torpedoes for aircraft application. By 1924, Torpedoes Mk 7 were being launched successfully from DT 2 torpedo planes at air speed of 95 knots from an altitude of 32 feet. An air-dropped Mk 7 is shown in figure 15.

In February 1925, BuOrd initiated "Project G-6" to develop a torpedo specifically for aircraft launching with the following specifications:

Weight (warshot) - 2000 pounds,
Warhead charge - 350 pounds,
Minimum range - 4000 yards,
Minimum speed - 35 knots,
Diameter - 21 inches,
Length - not to exceed 18 feet.

The torpedo was also to withstand launching speed of 140 mph from an altitude of at least 40 feet.

In 1926, Project G-6 was discontinued in favor of adapting existing 18-inch torpedoes. The moratorium was short-lived and Project G-6 was revived in 1927 upon the urging of the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. The intent was to develop a torpedo designed to meet aircraft requirements, in order that production could be started before the existing stock of 18-inch torpedoes was depleted.

After a period of vacillation, specifications were revised in 1929. The torpedo was to be capable of launch at 100 knots (ground speed) from an altitude of 50 feet. Other specifications included:

Range - 7000 yards,
Speed - 30 knots/minimum,
Weight (warshot) - 1700 pounds,
Warhead charge - 400 pounds,
Diameter - 23 inches,
Length - 13 feet 6 inches (maximum).

The design that evolved from these specifications was the 13-foot, 6-inch by 22.5-inch torpedo which was designated the Mk 13 in August 1930. Work on Project G-6 was again halted from October 1930 to July 1931 due to the elimination of the torpedo squadron from the Carrier Air Group planned for the USS RANGER (CV 4).

In March 1933, the question of whether or not there would be a torpedo plane was aired. The question not only arose out of the undesirable features of the plane (T4M/TG) then in use (poor performance, poor capability

Figure 15. Aircraft-Dropped Torpedo Mk 7

for self-defense, large size, and high cost of operation and maintenance) but also because of poor torpedo performance. These two factors tended to result in tactical ineffectiveness and large losses of material.

The Bureau of Aeronautics, in essence, withdrew support for the Mk 13 type torpedo, favoring instead the development of a 1000-pound torpedo for use from bombing aircraft with these specifications: (1) capable of launching at 125 knots from an altitude of 50 feet (2) range, 2000 yards and (3) speed, 30 knots.

At the time, BuOrd considered that the development of the 1000-pound torpedo was practically impossible within the state of the art and continued with the development of the Mk 13. This development was given greater impetus by the outbreak of World War II in September of 1939. Torpedo Mk 13 was available, although in limited numbers, when the United States entered the war in 1941. Aircraft employed were the Douglas Devastator (TBD, circa 1937) and, later, the Grumman/General Motors Avenger (TBF and/or TBM, both circa 1941).


The submarine torpedo inventory of 1930 consisted of Torpedo Mk 7 (18-inch tubes), Torpedo Mk 9 (converted from battleship torpedoes), and Torpedo Mk 10 (developed about 1915). The development of the Torpedo Mk 14 during the decade following provided a 21-inch modern steam torpedo with a two-speed/range capability and a large warhead.

With Mk 14 development completed and production started prior to the start of the second World War, approximately 13,000 torpedoes of this type were manufactured during the war years. The mainstay of the submarine force in the war until the advent of the wakeless, electric Torpedo Mk 18 about 1944, the Mk 14 is credited with sinking approximately 4,000,000 tons of Japanese shipping.

Originally designed and produced for mechanical fire control setting, Torpedo Mk 14 was modified to be compatible with modern electrical-set fire control systems, and continues in service in today's submarine forces.

Wartime service demands for more torpedoes and scarcity of materials in 1943 led to development and manufacture of Torpedo Mk 23, a short-range, high-speed torpedo (4500 yards at 46 knots). Identical to the Mk 14 without the low-speed feature, this torpedo was not favored by the operating forces since the multispeed option of the Mk 14 permitted greater tactical flexibility, especially during the latter stages of World War II, when more sophisticated escorts and ASW tactics forced firing from longer ranges.


In the years between the World Wars, destroyer construction ceased with the commissioning of the last of 273 flush-decked, four stackers in 1922. No new destroyers were commissioned in the years between 1922 and 1934.

The USS FARRAGUT (DD 348), commissioned in 1934, embodied many innovations such as welded hull construction, a high-pressure, steam power plant, improved gun and torpedo fire control systems and a 5-inch/38-caliber dual-purpose gun to replace the old 4-inch one. The modern destroyer of this and later classes was equipped with multiple-mount, 21-inch torpedo tubes.

The limited inventory of destroyer Torpedoes Mk 11 and Mk 12 developed and produced during the economy years (1920's), coupled with limited warhead size (500 pounds), were factors leading to the development of Torpedo Mk 15 in 1931. With speed and range similar to its predecessors, it was longer and

heavier due to the increase in the size of the warhead from 500 to 825 pounds. Development of the Mk 15 was completed prior to the start of World War II. Production started and continued during the war years to the extent that approximately 9700 Torpedoes Mk 15 were manufactured.

Decisively used on occasion during the war in the Pacific, the Mk 15 died a natural death when the 21-inch torpedo tubes were removed from destroyers during the Fleet rehabilitation and modernization program of the 1950's, to make way for ASW weaponry consistent with the emerging role of the destroyer as an ASW platform.

WORLD WAR II ERA (1939-1950)


In June 1940, President Roosevelt appointed a group of eminent civilian scientists to be members of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC). Dr. James B. Conat, President of Harvard University, was appointed chairman. Others named were Dr. Karl Compton, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and Dr. Frank B. Jewett, President of the National Academy of Science. It was established as a unit of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), which was headed by Dr. Vannevar Bush, President of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. The main objectives of NDRC were to: (1) recommend to OSRD suitable projects and research programs on the instrumentalities of war, and (2) initiate research projects on request of the U.S. Army and Navy or allied counterparts. NDRC, as finally constituted, consisted of 23 divisions, each specializing in a particular field.

Division 6 (Sub-Surface Warfare, headed by Dr. John T. Tate) was the group tasked with the torpedo research and development role. The division's first objective was "the most complete investigation possible of all the factors and phenomena involved in the accurate detection of submerged or partially submerged submarines and in anti-submarine devices." 5 Through the systematic study of all phases of underwater acoustics, the ground work was laid to permit engineering development and deployment of the acoustic homing torpedo during World War II.


Capture of the German submarine U 570 in 1941, gave the United States a German G7e electric torpedo (in January 1942), which led to the development of Torpedo Mk 18 by Westinghouse Electric Company at its Sharon, Pa., facility. Within 15 weeks, the first prototype was delivered. Six months from the date of contract award, the first six production units were delivered. Torpedo Mk 18 is credited with having sunk 1,000,000 tons of Japanese shipping during World War II. In addition to being wakeless, electric torpedoes such as the Mk 18 required only about 70 percent of the labor required to manufacture a torpedo with thermal propulsion.

The electric torpedo differed from its predecessors in that the air flask was replaced by a battery compartment which housed the energy source (batteries). The engine and its accessories were replaced by an electric motor, and with electrical power available, electric controls were generally used. In the Mk 18, the climate of war urgency dictated the use of tried and proven pneumatic controls, with the high-pressure air stored in air bottles in the afterbody.

The electric torpedoes used in World War II utilized lead-acid secondary batteries as a power source. These batteries required periodic maintenance, (i.e., checking specific gravity of electrolyte, addition of electrolyte and periodic charging).

One of the main problems with use of the submarine torpedoes was that battery maintenance had to be performed in the torpedo room while on patrol. On the other hand, the aircraft torpedo was returned to a base, carrier, or tender if not launched, and could be broken down to perform the necessary battery maintenance. To facilitate maintenance, the battery compartments of submarine torpedoes were provided with handholes which permitted access to the batteries and provided a means of purging the compartment of hydrogen which was formed during the changing process or simply by the self discharge of the cells while standing idle.


In 1943, it became known in the technical community that the Germans were using a torpedo called the German Naval Acoustic Torpedo (GNAT) with terminal homing, a torpedo that guided itself to contact with the target by the noise generated by the ship's propellers (cavitation). German development of the GNAT had been known in the U.S. Intelligence community, and in 1940, the NDRC sponsored a project to develop an acoustic homing torpedo. The project was headed by Western Electric the homing system effort was centered at the Bell Telephone Laboratories and the Harvard Underwater Sound Laboratory. Engineering development of the torpedo, Mine Mk 24 (mine being a misnomer for security reasons), was assigned to Western Electric Co., Kearney, N.J. and the General Electric (G.E.) Engineering and Consulting Laboratories, Schenectady, N.Y. Following successful evaluation of the prototypes, production was started in 1942 Western Electric Co., Kearney, N.J. and at the G.E. Co., Erie Works, and later at the G.E. Co., Philadelphia, Pa. Approximately 10,000 units were ordered, but the order was reduced due to the high effectiveness of the weapon. (The Mine Mk 24 was also known by the code name "Fido".)

The Mine Mk 30, again a misnomer, was developed by the Brush Development Co., Cleveland, Ohio, concurrent with the Mine Mk 24 because of apprehension regarding the acoustic steering of the Mine Mk 24.

The Mine Mk 30 was unique in that it was only 10 inches in diameter and weighed only 265 pounds including a 50-pound warhead. It was nearly identical to Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 1 which was to follow a decade later except that the Mine Mk 30 employed passive acoustic bearing system rather than the active acoustic homing system of the Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 1.

Development was successfully completed in 1943, but was not produced since Mine Mk 24 had demonstrated satisfactory performance late in 1942.

After making its debut in July 1943 with the sinking of the U 160 in the Atlantic, about 340 Mines Mk 24 (figure 16) were launched by the Allied forces in World War II. Two hundred-four of these were against submarine targets with the following results:

2. Number of U-boats sunk - 37 (18 percent),

The U.S. forces, with a better opportunity for adequate training in the use of the mine, achieved the following results from 142 attacks on U-boats:

Figure 16. Mine Mk 24

A comparison of the effectiveness of Mine Mk 24 with aircraft-launched depth charges indicate that when depth charges were used, 9.5 percent of the U-boats attacked were sunk, but when Mine Mk 24 was used, 22 percent were sunk.

In approximately the same time frame, engineering development was started at Western Electric on an electric anti-escort torpedo. Torpedo Mk 27 Mod 0, or "Cutie," was the adaptation of Mine Mk 24 for submarine use, and saw service starting late 1944/early 1945 in the Pacific theater.

About 106 Torpedoes Mk 27 Mod 0 were fired during World War II, with 33 hits (31 percent) resulting in 24 ships sunk and 9 ships damaged. Based on an analysis of salvo firing of nonhoming torpedoes against escort-type ships, a single Torpedo Mk 27 achieved the same results against escorts as a salvo of the larger nonhoming torpedoes.

In the departure from the practice of the time for the purpose of obtaining a quiet launching, Torpedo Mk 27 was started while still in the torpedo tube and swam out under its own power, requiring 8 to 10 seconds to clear the tube. The noisy ejection of the conventional torpedo was thus eliminated.

With successful application of the passive homing feature to "mission kill" or crippling weapons characterized by small warheads, application to large antisurface ship weapons logically followed, thus, the development of Torpedo Mk 28 by Westinghouse Electric Corp., Sharon, Pa., in the later World War II years. The Mk 28 was a full-size (21-inch diameter by 21-foot length), electrically-propelled submarine torpedo, with a speed of 20 knots and a range of approximately 4000 yards. This torpedo was also gyro-controlled on a preset course for the first 1000 yards, at which point the acoustic homing system was activated. The explosive charge was also increased to approximately 600 pounds.

About 14 Torpedoes Mk 28 were fired during World War II resulting in four hits. Since this torpedo was made available late in the war without adequate training in its tactical use, the number of hits was not as large as expected. The tendency to regard the acoustic homing torpedo as a device that could correct for any kind of fire control error was a factor in its low success rate. Nevertheless, the Mk 28 demonstrated that it was possible to successfully include acoustic homing in a full-size, submarine-launched torpedo.


The acoustic weapons developed and deployed during World War II were passive they listened for a sound and then indiscriminately attacked the source. This technique, while far more effective than any preceding it, had limitations against a ship at slow speed, a submarine running deep, a submarine sitting on the bottom, or a ship employing countermeasures such as a stream of bubbles or a noisemaker.

Investigation of the use of echo-ranging equipment or an "active" homing torpedo system was initiated under the auspices of NDRC in 1941 at the G.E. Co. Research Laboratory, Schenectady, N.Y. Active homing differs from passive homing in that, with active homing, the torpedo steers on the basis of the signal returned by the target through reflection of the torpedo's own transmitted signal. In mid-1942, G.E. began development of the first active homing torpedo, Torpedo Mk 32, which was physically similar to Mine Mk 24 (figure 17).

Figure 17. Torpedo Mk 32

By mid-1944, the program had progressed through the successful prototype stage, and due to the saturation of G.E. production facilities with other contracts, Leeds and Northrup of Philadelphia, Pa., was selected as supplier. About ten units were completed when World War II ended, and the project was deactivated until 1951 when Torpedo Mk 32 Mod 2 was produced in quantity by the Philco Corp. of Philadelphia, Pa. Originally intended as an aircraft-launched torpedo, the Mk 32 Mod 2 finally saw service use as a destroyer-launched ASW torpedo until replaced by Torpedo Mk 43.


Although the chemical torpedo came into being during World War II, basic research which ultimately led to the "chemical" torpedo started about 1915 at Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. (WECO), Sharon, Pa., under the direction of A. T. Kasley. Early experiments resulted in issuance of two patents to Mr. Kasley, assigned to BuOrd, covering the employment of liquid, solid, and gaseous fuels for the purpose of sustaining exothermic (heat-producing) reactions for the propulsion of torpedoes. The cost of the early experiments was borne by WECO, but later (about 1920) it was put on a contractural basis and continued until late 1926.

At that time, the project was transferred to Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Washington, D.C. In August 1927, NRL recommended that the WECO approach be abandoned and proposed that increased output of torpedo power plants be achieved by development of an "oxygen" torpedo (use of oxygen in place of air for combustion).

In 1929, the development of an oxygen torpedo was authorized. By 1931, successful dynamometer tank tests had been completed. The torpedo was then

run on the range at USNTS, Newport, when control and propulsion problems were encountered. If the oxygen torpedo was to become a reality, attention had to be focused on supplying oxygen to ships. This was done with limited success.

After an initial flurry of activity, the Navy Department lost interest in the oxygen torpedo but maintained an interest in the development of some kind of chemical torpedo, since it offered promise of tripling the energy output over the steam torpedo with greater flexibility in range, speed, and warhead size.

From 1929 on, NRL studied various chemical sources of energy for torpedoes. In 1934, "Navol" (concentrated hydrogen peroxide H2O2) was selected as the proper medium. In 1937, experimentation started with Torpedo Mk 10 as a vehicle using a Navol power plant. In September 1937, this torpedo was brought to USNTS, Newport, for dynamometer tank tests and ranging. The use of Navol increased the range of the standard Torpedo Mk 10 by 275 percent (from 3500 yards to approximately 9500 yards). This demonstration convinced BuOrd that serious consideration should be given to the use of Navol in torpedoes.

NRL was then tasked to apply the principle to Torpedo Mk 14. After a number of successful dynamometer tank runs, the torpedo was run on the range where it made a run of 16,500 yards at 46 knots (standard Mk 14 performance was 4500 yards at 46 knots). At this time (about 1940), manufacture of six torpedoes of this type was begun at USNTS, Newport.

In July 1940, an NRL representative was transferred to Newport on a full-time basis, and the Torpedo Station was authorized to start development of a destroyer-launched, 50-knot torpedo with a range of 16,000 yards and a 600-pound warhead. The end objective was to manufacture 50 torpedoes to be designated as the Mk 17.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, pressure to produce Torpedo Mk 13 and Torpedo Mk 14 to satisfy immediate Fleet needs was so great that BuOrd postponed the planned manufacture of the Mk 17 even though committed as armament for new construction destroyers.

The program was dormant until 1943 when it was determined that there was not enough Navol production capability available to satisfy the Navy need if the Navol torpedo was to become a reality. After a long delay, construction was started on a Navol production facility at Dresden, N.Y., in the fall of 1944.

In response to a request from BuOrd, Columbia University, Division of War Research, Special Studies Group, established a laboratory at M.I.T. The main objectives were to increase the efficiency of Navol through studies of its decomposition and combustion, to learn how best to handle it, and optimize the torpedo power plant for its use. The laboratory, established with $250,000 from the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), was in full operation by August, 1945.

In 1943, BuOrd initiated development of Torpedo Mk 16 at USNTS, Newport. A 46-knot, 7000-yard range submarine torpedo, the Mk 16 was to be the same weight and envelope as Torpedo Mk 14. In 1944, the range specification was changed to 11,000 yards and the new torpedo was designated Torpedo Mk 16 Mod 1 (figure 18).

Figure 18. Torpedo Mk 16

In 1944, production of the Mk 17 was resumed. Neither Torpedo Mk 16 nor Mk 17 was fully developed at this time, and it was realized that production units of both torpedoes would probably require extensive changes subsequent to production. This eventuality was acceptable to BuOrd, and a total of 520 Torpedo Mk 16's and 450 Torpedo Mk 17's were produced prior to the end of the war. Neither type, however, was used in combat.

Torpedo Mk 17 saw limited service in post-World War II, but was discontinued about 1950. Its heavy topside weight on destroyers, similarity to Torpedo Mk 16, and the emerging role of destroyers as an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) platform were factors contributing to its early demise.


Lack of experience in launching the aircraft torpedo led to a preference for the aerial bomb, with which most pilots were familiar. This preference was intensified by the low-altitude, slow-speed tactics required for torpedo launch. The problems with such tactics were seen at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. In this battle, torpedo launching runs were made from over the horizon at an altitude of 50 feet and a speed of 110 knots by inadequately protected planes against very strong enemy fighter and anti-aircraft cover, resulting in heavy losses. Thirty-seven out of 41 planes were lost without scoring a single torpedo hit.

By 1943, the attitude of the Fleet towards the Mk 13 torpedo had become so unfavorable that the need to develop a new, more rugged torpedo capable of being launched from higher altitudes and at greater speeds became urgent. In the summer of 1943, NDRC initiated development of Torpedo Mk 25 at Columbia University, Divison of War Research. In addition to having improved launching characteristics, the new torpedo was to be faster (40 knots versus 33 knots), have a shorter range (2500 yards versus 4000 yards), and was to carry more explosive (750 pounds versus 400 pounds).

Parallel with the development of the Mk 25, the Mk 13 was undergoing continuous improvement. Most significant was the development of flight-in-air accessories: stabilizers, drag rings, and shroud rings which permitted launching at altitudes of 2400 feet (vice 50 feet) and air speeds of 410 knots (vice 110 knots). With these improvements, the Mk 13 was successfully employed in the latter stages of World War II the most noteworthy success being its part in the sinking of the 45,000-ton Japanese battleship YAMATO in April 1945 off Kyushu.

In view of the shortcomings of the torpedo which dictated the tactics employed, and in some cases, the early aircraft (TBD), the overall statistical performance of the Torpedo Mk 13 as shown in table 3 is surprising.

Development of Torpedo Mk 25 was completed before the end of the second World War, but the torpedo was never produced for service use. The large inventory of Mk 13's (resulting from wartime production), improvement of Mk 13 performance, and the changing role of Naval aircraft from strike warfare platforms to ASW platforms, undoubtedly influenced this decision.


The development of the Navy electric Torpedo Mk 20 was completed about 1945, after having been through many changes in configuration, including one employing the sea water-activated battery developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories. Due to other successful electric torpedo developments during World War II, the Mk 20 was never produced for service use.

Table 3. Torpedo Attacks and Hits for U.S.
Carrier-Based Aircraft (7 Dec 1941 to 31 May 1945)

Class of TargetsNumber of Attacks*Number of HitsPercentage of Hits
Battleships and carriers32216250
Total warships84233139
Merchant vessels44518341

*An "attack," for the purpose of this table is defined as one plane attacking one ship with a torpedo.


As an overview of the level of torpedo activity during World War II, the expanded production capability consisting of the Pontiac Motors Division the International Harvester Co, the Naval Torpedo Stations at Newport, Keyport, and Alexandria and the American Can Co. (Amtorp) at Forest Park, Ill., and St. Louis, Mo., produced nearly 50,000 conventional torpedoes as follows:

Torpedo Mk 13 - 16,600,
Torpedo Mk 14 - 13,000,
Torpedo Mk 15 - 9,700,
Torpedo Mk 23 - 9,600.

Westinghouse Electric Corp., Western Electric Co., and General Electric Co. produced approximately 15,000 of the newer types of torpedoes as follows:

Torpedo Mk 18 - 9,000,
Mine Mk 24 - 4,000,
Torpedo Mk 27 Mod 0 - 1,100,
Torpedo Mk 28 - 1,000.


The overwhelming majority of torpedoes fired during World War II were from submarines in the Pacific theater. Approximately 14,750 torpedoes were fired from submarines at 3184 of the approximately 8200 ships sighted. Of these, 1314 ships were sunk for a total of 5,300,000 tons. In addition, submarines received "probable" credit for another 78 ships of 203,306 tons. The confirmed total included one battleship, eight aircraft carriers, three heavy cruisers and eight light cruisers. These Joint Army Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) confirmed sinkings (1314) accounted for 55 percent of all Japanese ship losses. The remaining 45 percent were lost to Army and Navy aircraft bombs, mines, and other causes.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. Navy had seven torpedoes in service use. Three were pre-World War II developments: Mk 13, Mk 14, and Mk 15. Four were developed during the war: Mk 18, Mk 27, Mk 28, and Mine Mk 24. Limited details are given in table 4.

In addition, 15 other types were under development during World War II, largely under the auspices of NDRC. Six were straight running: Mks 16, 17, 19, 20, 25, and 26 (table 5).

The nine homing torpedoes listed in table 6, Torpedoes Mk 21, 22, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35, were in development at the end of the second World War.

Of the 15 torpedoes listed in tables 5 and 6, six were included in BuOrd post-World War II plans. Of the six that were continued, only three became in-service torpedoes: the submarine-launched, Navol antisurface ship Torpedo Mk 16 the aircraft-launched, active homing ASW Torpedo Mk 32, used as a destroyer-launched ASW weapon and the aircraft-launched, passive homing ASW Torpedo Mk 34.

The torpedoes listed in table 7 (Torpedoes Mk 27 Mod 4, Mk 32 Mod 2, and Mk 34 Mod 1) were produced in quantity and issued as "interim" weapons to provide an immediate ASW capability. It was recognized, however, that they would soon be replaced by new development: Torpedoes Mk 35, Mk 37 and Mk 43.



Torpedo Mk 35 was intended to be a universal torpedo, (i.e., aircraft-, submarine-, or destroyer-launched, and used primarily as an antisubmarine weapon with passive/active or combination homing). The aircraft-launch requirement for the torpedo was dropped in 1948.

Designation Launch
Mk 13
Aircraft Surface
22.5inches diameter
161 inches length
2216 pound weight
33.5 knots
6300 yards
Torpedo Mk 14 Submarine Surface
21 inches diameter
246 inches length
3209 pounds weight
46.3/31.1 knots
4.5/9 kiloyards
Torpedo Mk 15 Destroyer Surface
21 inches diameter
288 inches length
3841 pounds weight
26.5/33.5/45 knots
15/10/6 kiloyards
Torpedo Mk 18 Submarine Surface
21 inches diameter
245 inches length
3154 pounds weight
29 knots
4000 yards
Mine Mk 24
Aircraft Submarine 19 inches diameter
84 inches length
680 pounds weight
12 knots
4000 yards
Torpedo Mk 27 Submarine Escort
19 inches diameter
90 inches length
720 pounds weight
12 knots
5000 yards
Torpedo Mk 28 Submarine Surface
21 inches diameter
246 inches length
2800 pounds weight
19.6 knots
4000 yards

Designation Launch
Mk 16
Submarine Anti-
21 inches diameter
246 inches length
3920 pounds weight
46 knots
14000 yards
Prod./Devel. High-speed, long-range,
antisurface ship torpedo.
Mk 17
Destroyer Anti-
21 inches diameter
288 inches length
4600 pounds weight
46 knots
1800 yards
Devel. Long-range Mk 16 for
destroyer use.
ted due to emerging D/D
ASW role.
Mk 19
Submarine Anti-
21 inches diameter
245 inches length
3154 pounds weight
29 knots
4000 yards
10 devel.
built and
Mk 18 with electric con-
trol system in lieu of
Mk 20
Submarine Anti-
21 inches diameter
246 inches length
33 knots
3500 yards
Gyro Devel. Final version of earlier
Navy type "EL," Mk 1/
Mk 2 effort. No production
due to availability of Mk 18.
Mk 25
Aircraft Anti-
22.5 inches diameter
161 inches length
2306 pounds weight
40 knots
2500 yards
Air/Gyro Devel. Development completed at
end of WWII. No production.
Mk 26
Submarine Anti-
21inches diameter
246 inches length
3200 pounds weight
40 knots
6000 yards
Term. Contrarotating motor/
propellers, variable
running depth. Terminated
due to Mk 16.

Table 6. Homing Torpedoes Under Development at End of World War II

Designation Launch
Mk 21
22.5 inches diameter
161 inches length
216 pounds weight
33.5 knots
6300 yards
Steam Turbine Passive
Devel. Application of Bell
Telephone Lab acoustic
homing system to the
Mk 13 torpedo for use as
payload for Petrel missile.
Mk 22
Submarine Anti-
21 inch diameter
246 inches length
3060 pounds weight
29 knots
4000 yards
Devel. Application of active
homing to antisurface ship
torpedo. Terminated at end of BuOrd evaluation.
Mk 29
Submarine Anti-
21 inches diameter
246 inches length
21/28 knots
First application of
sea water-activated
battery. Improved
Mk 28. Deferred due
to better Mk 16.
Mk 30
Submarine Anti-
N.A. N.A. Devel. Abandoned as a torpedo
as homing control system.
Mk 31
Destroyer Anti-
21 inches diameter
246 inches length
3000 pounds weight
20/29 knots
4000 yards
Acoustic-steering mod-
ification of Mk 18.
Contrarotating motor/
props. Magnetrostric-
tive hydrophones, two-
Mk 32
19 inches diameter
93 inches length
805 pounds weight
12 knots
6000 yards
First application of
echo ranging (active
homing) to a torpedo.
Limited production (10)
WWII. Reactivated 1951
as Mod 2, 3300 produced.
Issued to destroyers.
Mk 33
21 inches diameter
156 inches length
1795 pounds weight
12/18 knots
or Primary
Term. Electrohydraulic con-
trots. Terminated.
Features incorporated
in Mk 35.

Table 6. Homing Torpedoes Under Development at End of World War II (Cont'd)

Table 7. Torpedoes Under as Interim ASW Weapons

To fulfill the aircraft-launch requirement, development of Torpedo Mk 41 was initiated. The Mk 41 was to be a compact version of Torpedo Mk 35, eliminating those features not required for aircraft launching (that is, fire control preset, enable, etc.). A limited number of torpedoes were produced for evaluation, but Torpedo Mk 41 was discontinued in favor of the Torpedo Mk 43 type.

Torpedo Mk 37 was also being developed as a parallel effort with the Mk 35. The main differences between the Mk 35 and Mk 37 were hull construction and homing systems. The Mk 37 torpedo, with a welded aluminum hull vice aluminum castings for the Mk 35, was being developed around the Harvard Underwater Sound Laboratory/Ordnance Research Laboratory (HUSL/ORL) Project 4 homing panel which required target motion to satisfy a Doppler enabler circuit to establish attack conditions. This feature was to provide protection against homing on false targets such as surface or bottom. Although limited numbers of Mk 35's were produced and issued to the Fleet, the Mk 37 was selected for quantity production and became the standard submarine post-World War II weapon. At one point, Torpedo Mk 37 was also issued to destroyers, but was ultimately withdrawn from that application with the availability of the lightweight ASW torpedoes and Torpedo Tube Mk 32.


Development of aircraft-launched torpedoes in the World War II/early post-World War II era, followed the classic envelope (i.e., 21/22-inch diameter, 1000-pound plus warshot weight). Torpedoes Mk 25, Mk 35, Mk 40, and Mk 41 (a stripped-down Mk 35) all fit that mold, which was more suited to a strike warfare mission than the emerging ASW role for Naval aircraft.

At the end of World War II, it was envisioned that future convoys would be protected from submarine attack by helicopter with dunking sonar and/or LTA (lighter than air) airships with towed sonar. For this application, light weight become a primary consideration for the weapon, and in addition, since such a system might require large numbers of torpedoes, cost was also an important factor. Thus, in the early post-World War II years, the Navy's requirement for a lightweight, low-cost, ASW torpedo was evolved.

In 1950, the maximum weight for the lightweight ASW torpedo was set at 350 pounds with the realization that when compared with Torpedoes Mk 35 and Mk 41 (which was in development at that time), it would not be possible to attain the same performance characteristics. However, the same type of homing system used in the Mk 35 and the Mk 41 (active acoustic) might be employed accepting a degradation in speed and range performance. The feasibility of developing a torpedo of this type had been successfully demonstrated by Mine Mk 30 in 1943.

Against this background, the development of the Torpedo Mk 43 type was initiated. This development held the possibility of not only yielding an ASW torpedo for use from helicopters and LTA aircraft, but also for use from any type of patrol craft against slow or quiet submarines.

Two torpedoes of the Mk 43 type were developed concurrently: the Mod 0 by General Electric Co., Aeronautical and Ordnance Systems Div., Pittsfield, Mass. and the Mod 1 by Brush Development Co., Cleveland, Ohio. Both were electrically-propelled, had active acoustic homing systems, and were well under the maximum weight specification of 350 pounds. Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 1 was selected for further development, production, and ultimate Fleet use with technical direction assigned to the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS), Pasadena, Calif.

Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 1 established the new look for aircraft and destroyer ASW torpedoes. It was significant in the successful development of the lightweight ASW torpedo, since this torpedo obviated the need for a special torpedo plane. Its size and weight were such that the torpedo was readily adaptable to the bomb bays or external stations of virtually any aircraft with bomb-carrying capability.

The next generation of lightweight ASW torpedoes evolved from the EX-2 concurrent development program which started about 1952 the EX-2A was developed at NOTS, Pasadena, while the EX-2B was developed at the General Electric Co., Pittsfield, Mass.

In general, these acoustic homing torpedoes were designed to weigh less than 450 pounds, be reasonably inexpensive (less than $10,000 each in production), with the speed, range/endurance and homing capability to be effective against the modern deep-diving submarine target (of that time). These torpedoes were also to be capable of being launched from rotary/fixed wing or LTA aircraft and surface ships.

The two versions of the EX-2 (both electrically-propelled) that emerged from the development program were very similar as shown in table 8.

Table 8. Characteristics of EX-2 Torpedoes

Weight (Warshot)415 pounds445 pounds
Length98.5 inches100 inches
Diameter12 inches12.75 inches
ExploderMk 19Mk 19
Number (Contrarotating)22
Number Blades34
Battery TypeSilvercelSea Water
Motor22 hp30 hp
Contrarotating MotorYesNo
Gear BoxNoYes
Acoustic SystemPassive-AcousticActive
Operating DepthEqual

After the Bureau of Ordnance technically evaluated both versions at the Naval Ordnance Unit (NOU), Key West, Fla., in the fall of 1956, the EX-2B was selected for further development, production, and Fleet use. The EX-2B was designated Torpedo Mk 44 with technical direction for the program assigned to NOTS, Pasadena.

In 1956, development of the Mk 44 was completed and production of units for Fleet use commenced. This second generation, lightweight ASW torpedo began to replace Torpedo Mk 43 Mods 1 and 3 as the in-service aircraft/surface-launched ASW torpedo. In the surface launch application, the Mk 44 was also adopted as the missile payload for rocket launching in the ASROC missile system and was the torpedo payload when that system became operational in Fleet units about 1962.

Initially, torpedoes were the driving factor in submarine development as a torpedo launching platform. With rapid advances in submarine development, the roles were reversed. The high-speed, deep-diving, quiet, highly-maneuverable submarine as a potential threat provided the impetus for the development of another generation of the lightweight ASW torpedo, the Mk 46 Mod 0.

Development of the Torpedo Mk 46 Mod 0 started about 1958 to provide an improved lightweight torpedo to increase the kill capability and reduce the necessity for salvo fire. After competitive bidding by 14 contractors, a contract was given to Aerojet General Corp., Azusa, Calif. The Pacific Div. of the Bendix Corp. was designated by Aerojet as the principal subcontractor for the development and fabrication of the electronics systems. NOTS, Pasadena, was designated techical director for this program.

The torpedo that resulted from the development was the first to use the hot gases developed by burning a solid grain propellant to power a swash plate engine (a type of reciprocating engine) for propulsion. Concurrently, accessories were developed to permit launching the torpedo from aircraft at speeds up to 500 knots. Development was completed and production of Torpedo Mk 46 Mod 0 started in 1963.

The use of solid propellant, although providing the desired propulsion characteristics, created maintenance problems. Consequently in 1962, studies began seeking to improve the propulsion system of Torpedo Mk 46 Mod 0, with the end objective being to develop a Mod 1 version. Of the two primary systems under consideration, seawater battery electric propulsion and liquid fuel monopropellant cam engine, the cam engine system was selected. The end result was a torpedo that was lighter, and had improved propulsion characteristics and a higher reliability. Much of the Mod 0 configuration was retained in the Mod 1 including the guidance system, warhead, exploder, and launching accessories.

In the continuing development of Torpedo Mk 46, the Mod 2 was developed to provide helicopter attack torpedo system (HATS) capability. Prior to the

introduction of RATS, helicopter ASW tactics required the use of two helicopters in a coordinated attack one to detect the target and vector the second helicopter to launch position along the target bearing.

By the use of HATS, new course control circuitry that allowed a wider selection of the initial course of the torpedo after water entry permitted one helicopter to detect the target and also to launch the torpedo while hovering into the wind, regardless of the target's bearing.

The Torpedo Mk 46 type is the lightweight ASW torpedo currently in service use.

Within ten years of World War II, phase out of in-service weapons of World War II or early post-World War II vintage was under way as follows:

2. Torpedo Mk 14 - scheduled for replacement by Mk 16,

3. Torpedo Mk 15 - to be scrapped as above-water tubes were removed from destroyers,

4. Torpedo Mk 16 - designated service weapon.

5. Torpedo Mk 18 - scrapped,

6. Torpedo Mk 21 - designated payload for Petrel missile,

7. Torpedo Mk 23 - scrapped, later some converted to Mk 14, some cannibalized for Mk 14 spare parts,

8. Torpedo Mine Mk 24 - replaced by Mk 34 Mod 1,

9. Torpedo Mk 27 Mod 0 - replaced by Mk 27 Mod 4,

10. Torpedo Mk 27 Mod 4 - to be replaced by Mk 37 Mod 0,

11. Torpedo Mk 28 - to be replaced by Mk 37 Mod 0,

12. Torpedo Mk 32 - to be replaced by Mk 43,

13. Torpedo Mk 37 - designated service weapon,

14. Torpedo Mk 39 - designated experimental wire guidance development,

When these adjustments had been completed, the U.S. Navy service inventory of torpedo types was as follows:

2. Destroyer torpedoes - Mk 43, Mk 37,


Interest in providing surface ships with a "standoff" or "thrown torpedo" capability began in the early post-World War II period. The principal advantage of the thrown torpedo (projected through the air) was the substantial increase in range. A long-range weapon would enable attacks to be made at maximum sonar detection range. Ability to attack at long ranges would provide tactical flexibility and would permit the surface ship to take offensive action against a submarine before the submarine would be likely to launch its own attack against the surface ship. Indications are that a feasibility study relative to increasing the range of existing ASW weapons by use of rocket projection was initiated at the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) about 1950, with Mine Mk 24 as the weapon under consideration. Test vehicle firings in 1952/1953 were highly successful.

In 1953, initial success led to the Rocket-Assisted Torpedo (RAT) program, with more advanced ASW torpedoes of the Torpedo Mk 43 type as a payload. The RAT system was initially developed with Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 0 as the payload. However, when production of Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 0 was discontinued, the program was redirected using a Torpedo Mk 43 Mod 1. RAT demonstrated the feasibility of the thrown torpedo as an effective ASW system.

An extension of the weapon delivery technique developed in the RAT program, the ASROC weapon system development began in 1956 with technical direction assigned to NOTS, and as prime contractor, the Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company Ordnance Division, Hopkins, Minn. The ASROC weapon system with multicell launcher, associated fire control, and a missile employing Torpedo Mk 44 as a payload was introduced as a service weapon system about 1962 (figure 19). The system now employs Torpedo Mk 46 as a missile payload. The ASROC system is widely deployed in cruisers, destroyers, and other escort-type ships (figure 20).


Torpedo Mk 16 continued in development through the mid-1960's, and after a series of modifications, emerged in its final configuration as Torpedo Mk 16 Mod 8. The majority of the inventory was modified to this configuration and was used as a service weapon until phased withdrawal from service use began in 1975.

It is of interest to note that Torpedo Mk 14, a development of the 1930's, and the primary submarine-launched torpedo of World War II, was declared obsolete in the late 1950's or early 1960's, but was reactivated in 1969 and is still in service use.

Figure 19. AD 4 Aircraft Launching Torpedo Mk 44


Torpedo Mk 39, whose status was changed from a torpedo development to a homing control system development in the post-World War II period, re-emerged in 1956 with the conversion of approximately 120 Torpedoes Mk 27 Mod 4 to Torpedo Mk 39. Its purpose was familiarization and further development of wire guidance techniques.

Wire guidance as a control system was incorporated in the development of Torpedo Mk 45. A high-speed, long-range, submarine-launched torpedo with a nuclear warhead, it featured high reliability resulting from stringent quality standards applied to its manufacture. With quantity production starting about 1960, this was the first submarine-launched torpedo to successfully employ a seawater-activated battery in service use. Torpedo Mk 45 has recently been phased out of service use.

Follow-on development of Torpedo Mk 37 resulted in a version incorporating the wire guidance feature. Originally designated Torpedo Mk 37 Mod 1 and later redesignated the Mod 2, it was produced in quantity starting about 1962. Both the wire-guided Torpedo Mk 37 Mod 2 and nonwire-guided Torpedo Mk 37 Mod 3 are currently in service use.

Figure 20. ASROC Being Launched from Destroyer

The development of Torpedo Mk 38, a 21-inch diameter, submarine-launched, antisurface ship torpedo with electric propulsion (primary battery) and active/passive acoustic homing, had been planned for the post-World War II era, but was deferred pending the outcome of Torpedo Mk 37 development. With the successful development of the Mk 37, the need for Torpedo Mk 38 was nullified.


The success of the pattern-running torpedoes employed by Germany in World War II led to the initiation of the development of Torpedo Mk 42. Launched from a submarine or a destroyer against surface targets, this torpedo was to have a 20,000-yard range at 40 knots and a pattern-running control that would provide for any desired zigzag course by electrically presetting

six functions, three ranges and three gyro angles. In an effort to consolidate into one torpedo past experience on the development of various components, responsibility was divided among five activities: the Naval Ordnance Test Station the Naval Ordnance Laboratory the Naval Underwater Ordnance Station (formerly the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport) the Ordnance Research Laboratory and the Stevens Institute of Technology. Fragmentation of responsibility did little to enhance the program, for it was terminated in 1952 in favor of further development of Torpedo Mk 16.

Torpedo Mk 47 was to have been a modern, submarine-launched, high-speed, long-range, antisurface ship torpedo using either thermal or electric propulsion. The development was terminated at the outset due to the status of Torpedo Mk 48.

Torpedo Mk 48 is a long-range, high-speed, deep-depth, wire-guided, acoustic homing weapon for detecting and attacking surface ships and fast, deep-diving submarines.

Development of Torpedo Mk 48 Mod 0 started in 1963 as an outgrowth of the NAVORD sponsored RETORC II program with Westinghouse Electric Corp., Baltimore, Md., as prime contractor. This weapon used a turbine propulsion system and an acoustic homing system developed by the Ordnance Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. Torpedo Mk 48 Mod 2 was the ultimate product of this development program.

Concurrent development of the Torpedo Mk 48 Mod 1 with an improved acoustic homing system, employing a piston engine propulsion system began in 1967, with the Clevite Division of Gould, Inc., as prime contractor. Following evaluation of the two versions, Torpedo Mk 48 Mod 1 was selected in 1971 for production and ultimate Fleet use.

Torpedo Mk 48 signals the translation of the existing "state-of-the-art" technology into a production entity in the U.S. Navy torpedo inventory. Follow-on development of the Torpedo Mk 48 is a continuing process. A Mod 3 version with improved mid-course guidance is currently being produced.

Figure 21 is an actual photograph of 100 years of torpedo development. The larger torpedo is Torpedo Mk 48, circa 1971, while the smaller version was developed in 1870, the "Fish" Torpedo.

Part 2, which follows, contains greater physical and configuration details of the various torpedoes discussed in this section while a chronological list of events will given in appendix A. Appendix B presents a list of the former and current identities of the developers and producers of the modern torpedo.

Figure 21. One Hundred Years of U.S.N. Torpedo Development

History Revisited: Ships aground on Groton’s Black Rock

Published June 17. 2021 9:00AM

By Jim Streeter, Special to the Times

When you stop to think about it, the Thames River in southeastern Connecticut is probably one of the busiest ports for marine traffic between New York and Massachusetts.

Having grown up close to the shore of the river, I can honestly say the variety of vessels I have seen traveling up and down — large and small, military, commercial, pleasure craft, houseboats you name it — is endless. If someone were to take the time, especially during the summer months, and photograph the different types of ships and boats traversing the river, he or she could compile one heck of a book within the span of one or two weeks.

Over the years, the boats and ships that garner the attention have been the larger ones, such as submarines, military craft, steam ferries, freighters, tankers and cruise ships. For the most part, taking into consideration the number and size of many of these vessels, the number of accidents involving them has, especially on the Groton shoreline, been minimal.

Recently I came into possession of a photograph that I am sure will be of interest to many readers. The photograph shows a submarine grounded on some rocks near the shoreline, and the handwritten caption on the back reads: “R-6 on rocks New London Conn.” Upon closer examination I thought I recognized a large house on the shore in the background as possibly being the Tyler House at Eastern Point Beach in Groton. I also thought I recognized the rocks in which the submarine was grounded as being a rock ledge called 𠇋lack Rock,” located approximately 200 yards south of the beach.

Subsequent research revealed that I was correct in my belief that the submarine had indeed gone aground on the small Black Rock island at the entrance to New London Harbor, off of what is now known as the City of Groton’s Eastern Point Beach.

According to various news reports, in the early morning hours of Nov. 30, 2019, the Submarine R-6 (SS-83) had gone aground during a gale windstorm while she was heading in from Long Island Sound to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. From all reports, the ship had been blown into the rocks. Several attempts to pull her off by various ships and tugs were unsuccessful, and it was necessary to remove supplies of fuel and other vessel contents to make it lighter. On Dec. 2, when the tide was at its highest point, the submarine was pulled off the rocks by two Naval wrecking vessels from New York, after the removal of store and fuel from the submarine.

It is interesting to note that damage to the submarine was evidently little to none as it departed the Submarine Base on Dec. 4 for Norfolk, Va., and participated in exercises in the

Gulf of Mexico shortly thereafter.

Further research revealed that the R-6 submarine grounding was not the first such incident to have occurred at or on Black Rock off of Eastern Point.

On July 2, 1907, the steamer City of Lawrence, traveling on its daily scheduled run from New London to Watch Hill and Block Island, had also run aground on Black Rock at the mouth of the New London Harbor.

The steamer, which was owned by the Norwich Consolidated Railway Company, had departed her wharf at New London at approximately 10 a.m. with approximately 100 passengers on board, and was traveling south on the Thames River in one of the densest fogs experienced that year.

As the steamer neared Long Island Sound, at the entrance to the Thames River harbor, the boat turned to the east towards Pine Island, which would place them in what they believed to be the narrow channel they normally followed to enter safer waters. Unfortunately, with the visibility so poor, and, without the aid of today’s radar and navigational systems, the ship’s pilot took the turn too soon, and thus placed the ship on a path dangerously close to the rock reef located just off Eastern Point.

Within moments a member of the crew observed Black Rock directly in the path of the steamer and immediately shouted out the warning of the approaching obstruction. The warning came too late, though, and the 245-foot, steel-hulled steamer City of Lawrence was aground on the rocks.

Although the ship was not in imminent danger of sinking, she did have a large hole in her bottom and was taking on water. Distress signals were immediately blown, and within moments the steamer Griswold, which was used exclusively by guests of Groton’s Griswold Hotel, took all the passengers safely off of the Lawrence and brought them to the hotel.

The passengers’ baggage was also removed from the ship and brought to the Griswold.

Several local shipwreck and salvage companies responded and began pumping out water from the ship. Divers discovered three large holes in the hull and applied patches. It was hoped that, with the holes patched, most of the water could be pumped from the ship, then it would be pulled off the rocks when the tide was full.

Unfortunately, even after the patches were applied, the boat was still taking on a great deal of water. Further inspection revealed that the hull was damaged badly and the boat was split amidships. Refloating and repairing the vessel would be impractical.

The decision was then made by the ship’s owners and insurance company to abandon the ship and to sell what was left of it for scrap.

It is interesting to note that the salvage operation took close to four years to complete. There were many companies and individuals quite interested in salvaging materials from the vessel.

One individual purchased the right to all the lumber on the ship to build riverfront summer cottages in Middle Haddam. A second person bought all of the elaborate and ornate iron work throughout the ship. A Norwich company used dynamite to break up several large pieces of iron to sell for scrap.

By July 2011, the T.A. Schott Wreckage Company of New London reported that most of wreckage of the City of Lawrence had been removed from Black Rock.

This concludes the story concerning shipwrecks at Groton’s Black Rock however, I would like to pass along a few unrelated and personal tid-bits about Rock Island.

On a personal note, I recall as a teenager going to Eastern Point Beach and swimming out to that rock ledge. I also recall reading about members of the local Knights of Columbus youth group organizing an event to burn a large pile of spent Christmas trees on Black Rock to show their support for troops serving in the Vietnam War.

While conducting the research for this article, several other incidents involving maritime accidents and shipwrecks happening on the Thames River directly involving Groton came to light and will be the subject of a future article.

Ledyard resident William Fossum, a steamship enthusiast, contributed to this article.

Before the Civil War, New Orleans Was the Center of the U.S. Slave Trade

Waiting for the slave ship United States near the New Orleans wharves in October 1828, Isaac Franklin may have paused to consider how the city had changed since he had first seen it from a flatboat deck 20 years earlier.

The New Orleans that Franklin, one of the biggest slave traders of the early 19th century, saw housed more than 45,000 people and was the fifth-largest city in the United States. Its residents, one in every three of whom was enslaved, had burst well beyond its original boundaries and extended themselves in suburbs carved out of low-lying former plantations along the river.

Population growth had only quickened the commercial and financial pulse of New Orleans. Neither the scores of commission merchant firms that serviced southern planter clients, nor the more than a dozen banks that would soon hold more collective capital than the banks of New York City, might have been noticeable at a glance. But from where Franklin stood, the transformation of New Orleans was unmistakable nonetheless.

The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America

An award-winning historian reveals the harrowing forgotten story of America's internal slave trade—and its role in the making of America.

The pestilent summer was over, and the crowds in the streets swelled, dwarfing those that Franklin remembered. The change in seasons meant river traffic was coming into full swing too, and flatboats and barges now huddled against scads of steamboats and beneath a flotilla of tall ships. Arranged five or six deep for more than a mile along the levee, they made a forest of smokestacks, masts, and sails.

Coming and going from the forest were beef and pork and lard, buffalo robes and bear hides and deerskins, lumber and lime, tobacco and flour and corn. It was the cotton bales and hogsheads of sugar, stacked high on the levee, however, that really made the New Orleans economy hum. Cotton exports from New Orleans increased more than sevenfold in the 1820s. Pouring down the continental funnel of the Mississippi Valley to its base, they amounted by the end of the decade to more than 180 million pounds, which was more than half the cotton produced in the entire country. Nearly all of Louisiana’s sugar, meanwhile, left the state through New Orleans, and the holds of more and more ships filled with it as the number of sugar plantations tripled in the second half of the 1820s.

The city of New Orleans was the largest slave market in the United States, ultimately serving as the site for the purchase and sale of more than 135,000 people. In 1808, Congress exercised its constitutional prerogative to end the legal importation of enslaved people from outside the United States. But it did not end domestic slave trading, effectively creating a federally protected internal market for human beings. As Franklin stood in New Orleans awaiting the arrival of the United States, filled with enslaved people sent from Virginia by his business partner, John Armfield, he aimed to get his share of that business.

Just before dawn on October 2, Armfield had roused the enslaved he had collected in the compound he and Franklin rented on Duke Street in Alexandria. He had sorted the men, most of the women, and the older children into pairs. He had affixed cuffs and chains to their hands and feet, and he had women with infants and smaller children climb into a wagon. Then he had led them all three-quarters of a mile down to the Potomac River and turned them over to Henry Bell, captain of the United States, a 152-ton brig with a ten-man crew.

On October 21, after 19 days at sea, the United States arrived at the Balize, a dismal place where oceangoing ships often stopped to hire one of the boat pilots who resided there and earned a living ushering larger vessels upriver. As Henry Bell brought the United States around the last turn of the Mississippi the next day and finally saw New Orleans come into view, he eased as near as he could to the wharves, under the guidance of the steam towboat Hercules.

Franklin was not the only person waiting for slaves from the United States. The brig held 201 captives, with 149 sent by John Armfield sharing the misfortune of being on board with 5 people shipped by tavernkeeper Eli Legg to a trader named James Diggs, and 47 shipped by Virginia trader William Ish to the merchant firm of Wilkins and Linton. But none of them could collect what they came for until they took care of some paperwork.

In an effort to prevent smuggling, the 1808 federal law banning slave imports from overseas mandated that captains of domestic coastal slavers create a manifest listing the name, sex, age, height, and skin color of every enslaved person they carried, along with the shippers’ names and places of residence. One copy of the manifest had to be deposited with the collector of the port of departure, who checked it for accuracy and certified that the captain and the shippers swore that every person listed was legally enslaved and had not come into the country after January 1, 1808. A second copy got delivered to the customs official at the port of arrival, who checked it again before permitting the enslaved to be unloaded. The bureaucracy would not be rushed.

At the Customs House in Alexandria, deputy collector C. T. Chapman had signed off on the manifest of the United States. At the Balize, a boarding officer named William B. G. Taylor looked over the manifest, made sure it had the proper signatures, and matched each enslaved person to his or her listing. Finding the lot “agreeing with description,” Taylor sent the United States on its way.

In New Orleans, customs inspector L. B. Willis climbed on board and performed yet another inspection of the enslaved, the third they had endured in as many weeks. Scrutinizing them closely, he proved more exacting than his Balize colleague. Willis cared about the details. After placing a small check mark by the name of every person to be sure he had seen them all, he declared the manifest “all correct or agreeing excepting that” a sixteen-year-old named Nancy, listed as “No. 120” and described as “black” on the manifest, was in his estimation “a yellow girl,” and that a nine-year-old declared as “Betsey no. 144 should be Elvira.”

Being examined and probed was among many indignities white people routinely inflicted upon the enslaved. Franklin was no exception. Appraising those who were now his merchandise, Franklin noticed their tattered clothing and enervated frames, but he liked what he saw anyway. The vast majority were between the ages of 8 and 25, as Armfield had advertised in the newspaper that he wanted to buy. Eighty-nine of them were boys and men, of whom 48 were between 18 and 25 years old, and another 20 were younger teens. The 60 women and girls were on average a bit younger. Only eight of them were over 20 years old, and a little more than half were teenagers. It was a population tailored to the demands of sugarcane growers, who came to New Orleans looking for a demographically disproportionate number of physically mature boys and men they believed could withstand the notoriously dangerous and grinding labor in the cane fields. They supplemented them with girls and women they believed maximally capable of reproduction.

Now that he had the people Armfield had sent him, Franklin made them wash away the grime and filth accumulated during weeks of travel. He stripped them until they were practically naked and checked them more meticulously. He pored over their skin and felt their muscles, made them squat and jump, and stuck his fingers in their mouths looking for signs of illness or infirmity, or for whipping scars and other marks of torture that he needed to disguise or account for in a sale.

Franklin had them change into one of the “two entire suits” of clothing Armfield sent with each person from the Alexandria compound, and he gave them enough to eat so they would at least appear hardy. He made them aware of the behavior he expected, and he delivered a warning, backed by slaps and kicks and threats, that when buyers came to look, the enslaved were to show themselves to be spry, cheerful and obedient, and they were to claim personal histories that, regardless of their truth, promised customers whatever they wanted. It took time to make the enslaved ready to retail themselves—but not too much time, because every day that Franklin had to house and feed someone cut into his profits.

Exactly where Franklin put the people from the United States once he led them away from the levee is unclear. Like most of his colleagues, Franklin probably rented space in a yard, a pen, or a jail to keep the enslaved in while he worked nearby. He may have done business from a hotel, a tavern, or an establishment known as a coffee house, which is where much of the city’s slave trade was conducted in the 1820s. Serving as bars, restaurants, gambling houses, pool halls, meeting spaces, auction blocks, and venues for economic transactions of all sorts, coffee houses sometimes also had lodging and stabling facilities. They were often known simply as “exchanges,” reflecting the commercial nature of what went on inside, and itinerant slave traders used them to receive their mail, talk about prices of cotton and sugar and humans, locate customers, and otherwise as offices for networking and socializing.

Broadside announcing the sale of slaves at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1835 (Granger Collection)

Franklin is especially likely to have spent time at Hewlett’s Exchange, which held slave auctions daily except on Sundays and which was the most important location of the day for the slave trade. Supply met demand at Hewlett’s, where white people gawked and leered and barraged the enslaved with intrusive questions about their bodies, their skills, their pasts. Hewlett’s was where white people came if they were looking to buy slaves, and that made it the right place for a trader like Franklin to linger.

Hewlett’s was also proximate to the offices of many of the public functionaries required under Louisiana’s civil law system known as notaries. No slave sale could be entirely legal in Louisiana unless it was recorded in a notarial act, and nearly all of the city’s dozen or so notaries could be conveniently found within a block of two of Hewlett’s Exchange.

Before the year was out, Franklin would conduct 41 different sales transactions in New Orleans, trading away the lives of 112 people. He sold roughly a quarter of those people individually. He sold others in pairs, trios, or larger groups, including one sale of 16 people at once. Felix DeArmas and another notary named William Boswell recorded most of the transactions, though Franklin also relied on the services of seven other notaries, probably in response to customer preferences.

In a few instances, Franklin sold slaves to free people of color, such as when he sold Eliza and Priscilla, 11 and 12 years old, to New Orleans bricklayer Myrtille Courcelle. But nearly all of Franklin’s customers were white. Some were tradesmen—people like coach and harness maker Charles Bebee, goldsmith Jean Claude Mairot, and druggist Joseph Dufilho. Others were people of more significant substance and status. Franklin sold two people to John Witherspoon Smith, whose father and grandfather had both served as presidents of the College of New Jersey, known today as Princeton University, and who had himself been United States district judge for Louisiana. Franklin sold a young woman named Anna to John Ami Merle, a merchant and the Swedish and Norwegian consul in New Orleans, and he sold four young men to François Gaiennié, a wood merchant, city council member, and brigadier general in the state militia. One of Louise Patin’s sons, André Roman, was speaker of the house in the state legislature. He would be elected governor in 1830.

We rarely know what Franklin’s customers did with the people they dispersed across southern Louisiana. Buyers of single individuals probably intended them for domestic servants or as laborers in their place of business. Many others probably put the enslaved they bought to work in the sugar industry. Few other purposes explain why sugar refiner Nathan Goodale would purchase a lot of ten boys and men, or why Christopher Colomb, an Ascension Parish plantation owner, enlisted his New Orleans commission merchant, Noel Auguste Baron, to buy six male teenagers on his behalf.

Franklin mostly cared that he walked away richer from the deals, and there was no denying that. Gross sales in New Orleans in 1828 for the slave trading company known as Franklin and Armfield came to a bit more than $56,000. Few of John Armfield’s purchasing records have survived, making a precise tally of the company’s profits impossible. But several scholars estimate that slave traders in the late 1820s and early 1830s saw returns in the range of 20 to 30 percent, which would put Franklin and Armfield’s earnings for the last two months of 1828 somewhere between $11,000 and $17,000. Equivalent to $300,000 to $450,000 today, the figure does not include proceeds from slave sales the company made from ongoing operations in Natchez, Mississippi.

Even accounting for expenses and payments to agents, clerks, assistants, and other auxiliary personnel, the money was a powerful incentive to keep going.

Isaac Franklin and John Armfield were men untroubled by conscience. They thought little about the moral quality of their actions, and at their core was a hollow, an emptiness. They understood that Black people were human beings. They just did not care. Basic decency was something they really owed only to white people, and when it came down to it, Black people’s lives did not matter all that much. Black lives were there for the taking. Their world casts its long shadow onto ours.

Excerpted from The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America by Joshua D. Rothman. Copyright © 2021. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

By Frankie Witzenburg

U.S. destroyers, which were wrecked at Honda Point, 8 September 1923: USS Chauncey (DD-296), USS S.P. Lee (DD-310), USS Fuller (DD-297), USS Woodbury (DD-309), and USS Nicholas (DD-312).
(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Honda Point, also known as Point Pedernales, is located just north of the entrance to the Santa Barbara Channel in Santa Barbara County, California. The area has been known to be hazardous as far back as the 16 th century, when Spanish explorers coined the area the “Devil’s Jaw” due to its treacherous and plentiful rocky outcroppings. Local mariners have long known to avoid the area at all costs, and the sailors involved on the 8 September 1923 incident were no exception. However, a perfect storm of radio and navigational errors, irregular currents, and poor visibility all came together at just the right time to result in the largest peacetime loss of U.S. Navy ships, and the tragic deaths of 23 men.

The story of the Honda Point disaster finds its beginning seven days earlier and some 5,000 miles away, when the Great Kantō earthquake tore through the main Japanese island of Honshū on 1 September 1923. With a magnitude of 7.9 on the moment magnitude scale, the earthquake shattered the cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, and the much of the surrounding prefectures. Well over 100,000 lives were lost in the quake, and the damage to Japan’s infrastructure was estimated to have exceeded $15 billion dollars in today’s currency. As a result of the mighty earthquake, unusually large swells and powerful currents swept through Pacific Ocean, reaching as far as the California coastlines.

Despite the unusually rough conditions on the Pacific, the U.S. Navy deployed 14 Clemson-class destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 11 (DesRon 11) from San Francisco Bay to San Diego Bay for training exercises on 8 September 1923. Led by Captain Edward H. Watson, the ships of DesRon 11 conducted a series of tactical and gunnery exercises during their journey between the Bays. At the time of this incident, radio navigation aids were a relatively recent addition to navigational departments and were not yet wholly trusted by navigators aboard ships. The ships in DesRon 11 thus relied on dead reckoning for the bulk of their navigation, and only used radio navigation aids as a supplement to their preferred methodology.

The USS Delphy (DD-261) underway, circa 1920, before being fitted with an enlarged deckhouse to carry her after 4/50 gun.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)

As the day progressed, weather conditions worsened and reduced the visibility surrounding the destroyers. Captain Watson, who flew his flag aboard the USS Delphy (DD-261), had DesRon 11 form a column on the Delphy to decrease the risk of any mishaps. Using dead reckoning, the navigator aboard the flagship determined that the squadron was ready to turn east into the entrance of the Santa Barbara Channel at 21:00. The radio navigation aids aboard the Delphy indicated that they were off course by several miles northeast, but the squadron’s navigator believed the reports to be erroneous and chose to ignore them in favor of his own calculations. Though the squadron could have stopped to take soundings of water depths to confirm safe passage, Captain Watson had DesRon 11 simulating wartime conditions as an exercise and did not want his ships to reduce their speeds. Captain Watson ordered the ships to travel in close formation and barreled into what he believed to be the Santa Barbara Channel at a speed of 20 knots. Heavy fog blanketed the area and concealed the perils of what was actually Honda Point from their sights.

USS S. P. Lee (DD-310) and another unidentified destroyer run aground at Honda Point.
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Unfortunately, the men of DesRon 11 would not realize their mistake until it was too late. A mere 5 minutes after turning east, the Delphy plowed ashore at 20 knots. Sailors aboard the Delphy scrambled to sound the ship’s siren, but the wheels of disaster were already well in motion. The USS S.P. Lee (DD-310) saw the Delphy come to a sudden stop a few hundred yards ahead and quickly turned to port to avoid the flagship but swung herself broadside into the nearby bluffs instead. The USS Young (DD-312) made no move to change her course and sailed directly over a series of sharp, submerged rocks which tore a gaping hole in her hull. As the Young capsized onto her starboard side, rushing water trapped much of her fire and engine crew in the lower compartments of the ship. The USS Woodbury (DD-309), USS Nicholas (DD-311), and the USS Fuller (DD-297) all struck rocks and ran aground in shallow waters. Stunned by the unfolding chaos, men aboard the USS Chauncey (DD-296) decided to make way to the capsizing Young to save her crew, instead crashing ashore nearby.

USS Chauncey (DD-296), USS Fuller (DD-297) and USS Woodbury (DD-309) run aground at Honda Point.
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

While the perilous rocks of the Devil’s Jaw ensnared the first 7 ships of DesRon 11’s column, the blaring sirens of the damaged vessels bought time for the remaining 7 destroyers in the latter half of the formation. The USS Farragut (DD-300) and the USS Somers (DD-301) slowed just enough to hit the ground but were able to back up and out of danger. The USS Percival (DD-298), USS Kennedy (DD-306), USS Paul Hamilton (DD-307), USS Stoddert (DD-302), and USS Thompson (DD-305) avoided the disaster altogether by breaking formation and diverting their courses.

Captain John G. Church with a crew of six enlisted men and one Chief Boatswain’s mate appraising the situation at Honda Point from the bluffs. Note: the breeches buoy next to the men, and the wreckage of a destroyer in the background.
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

The sound of sirens, twisting metal, and shouting sailors did not go unnoticed by locals in the area. Nearby fisherman raced to the area to gather sailors from the wrecked ships, and ranchers rigged up breeches buoys from atop the bluffs to haul men away from the danger. The five destroyers of DesRon 11 that avoided the rocks immediately jumped into rescue efforts, sending out lifeboats and to collect men and bring them back to the safety of their decks. While the disaster occurred on 8 September, the last of the sailors were not rescued until the afternoon of 9 September. When all was said and done, 7 destroyers were declared a total loss, and 23 men, 20 aboard the Young and 3 aboard the Delphy, were lost in the catastrophe.

U.S. Navy & Coast Guard Vessels by Type (Class, and Name)

Type: Designation: Naming:
Aircraft Carriers: Battleships BB States of the Union
Cruisers: ----- -----
--Large Cruisers CB Territories & insular possessions
--Heavy Cruisers CA Cities & towns
--Light Cruisers CL Cities & towns
Destroyers: ----- -----
--Destroyers DD Distinguished officers & enlisted men of USN & USMC
--Destroyer Escorts DE Distinguished officers & enlisted men of USN & USMC
Submarines SS Fish and other marine creatures
Minecraft: ----- -----
--Minelayers & Coastal Minelayers CM Old monitors of USN
--Light Minelayers DM Old monitors of USN
--Auxiliary Minelayers ACM Obstructions
--Minesweepers AM Birds or abstract qualities, word of action, etc.
--Coastal Minesweepers AMc Birds or abstract qualities, word of action, etc.
--Fast Minesweepers DMS Birds or abstract qualities, word of action, etc.
--Motor Minesweepers YMS (none)
Patrol Craft: ----- -----
--Gunboats PG Cities & towns
--Converted Yachts PG Precious & semi-precious stones, general words
--Frigates PF Cities & towns
--River Gunboats PR Islands
--Smaller Converted Yachts PY Precious & semi-precious stones, general words
--Coastal Yachts PYc Precious & semi-precious stones, general words
--Escort Patrol Craft PCE (none)
--Eagle Boats PE (none)
--Patrol Craft, Sweepers PCS (none)
--Motor Gunboats PGM (none)
Submarine Chasers: ----- -----
--Submarine Chasers (Steel Hull) PC (none)
--Submarine Chasers (Wooden Hull) SC (none)
Motor Torpedo Boats: ----- -----
--Motor Torpedo Boats PT (none)
--Motor Boat Submarine Chasers PTC (none)
Auxiliaries: ----- -----
--Crane Ship AB "Crane Ship No. 1"
--Advanced Base Section Dock ABSD (n/a)
--Advanced Base Dock ABD (n/a)
--Destroyer Tenders AD Geographical areas of the US
--Ammunition Ships AE Volcanoes, or explosive-related
--Provision Store Ships AF Stars
--Auxiliary Floating Dock AFD
--Large Auxiliary Floating Dock (non-self-propelled) AFDB
--Small Auxiliary Floating Dock (non-self-propelled) AFDL
--Medium Auxiliary Floating Dock (non-self-propelled) AFDM
--Miscellaneous Auxiliaries AG (unknown)
--Amphibious Force Command Ships AGC Mountains
--MTB Tenders AGP Mythological tenders
--Surveying Ships AGS Distinguished marine surveyors
Hospital Ships AH Peaceful or comforting words
Cargo Ships: ----- -----
--Cargo Ships AK Stars, or counties of the US
--Attack Cargo Ships AKA Counties of the US
--Net Cargo Ships AKN Stars, or counties of the US
--General Stores Issue Ships AKS Stars?
--Cargo Ships and Aircraft Ferries AKV Places associated with history of aviation
Net-Laying Ships AN Trees or old USN monitors
Oilers & Tankers: ----- -----
--Oilers AO American rivers with Indian names
--Gaoline Tankers AOG American rivers with Indian names
Transports: ----- -----
--Transports AP Presidents Signers of Declaration of Independence distinguished generals & admirals famous women historic places
--Attack Transports APA Counties of the US
--Self-Propelled Barracks Ships APB (none)
--Coastal Transports APc (none)
--High-Speed Transports APD (Retained original DD/DE name)
--Evacuation Transports APH Surgeons General of the USN
--Barracks Ships APL None unofficially: famous hotels
--Mechanized Artillery Transport APM "Lakehurst" (only 1)
--Transport Submarine APS "Argonaut" (only 1)
--Aircraft Ferries APV Places associated with history of aviation
Repair Ships: ----- -----
--Repair Ships AR Mythological figures
--Battle-Damage Repair Ships ARB Mythological figures
--Auxiliary Repair Dock (Concrete) ARDC (n/a)
--Internal Combustion Engine Repair Ships ARG Islands
--Heavy Hull Repair Ships ARH Mythological figures
--Landing Craft Repair Ships ARL Mythological figures
--Salvage Vessels ARS Terms associated with marine salvage
--Salvage Craft Tenders ARS(T) ?
--Aircraft Repair Ships (Aircraft) ARV(A) ?
--Aircraft Repair Ships (Engine) ARV(E) ?
Submarine Tenders & Rescue Vessels: ----- -----
--Submarine Tenders AS Submarine pioneers & mythological characters
--Submarine Rescue Vessels ASR Birds
Tugboats: ----- -----
--Auxiliary Tugs ATA Indian Tribes
--Fleet Ocean Tugs ATF Indian Tribes
--Old Ocean Tugs ATO Indian Tribes
--Rescue Tugs ATR (none)
Seaplane Tenders & Aviation Supply Ships: ----- -----
--Seaplane Tenders AV Aviation pioneers, bays, sounds & straits
--Catapult Lighter AVC (none)
--Seaplane Tenders (Destroyers) AVD ?
--Small Seaplane Tenders AVP Birds,
--Aviations Supply Ships AVS (none)
Distilling Ships AW (none)
Unclassified Vessels IX Various.
Landing Ships & Craft: ----- -----
--Landing Ships, Vehicle LSV Old Monitors of USN (Converted Minecraft & Net Tenders)
--Landing Ships, Dock LSD Homes of famous Americans, famous spots
--Landing Ships, Tank LST (none)
--Landing Ships, Medium LSM (none)
--Landing Ships, Medium (Rocket) LSM(R) (none later, American rivers with non-Indian names)
--Landing Craft, Flotilla Flagships LC(FF) (none)
--Landing Craft, Flak LCF (none)
--Landing Craft, Infantry (Gunboat) LCI(G) (none)
--Landing Craft, Infantry (Large) LCI(L) (none)
--Landing Craft, Infantry (Mortar) LCI(M) (none)
--Landing Craft, Infantry (Rocket) LCI(R) (none)
--Landing Craft, Support (Large) LCS(L) (none)
--Landing Craft, Tank LCT (none)
Small Landing Craft: ----- -----
--Landing Craft, Control LCC (none)
--Landing Craft, Mechanized LCM (none)
--Landing Craft, Personnel (Large) LCP(L) (none)
--Landing Craft, Personnel (Ramp) LCP(R) (none)
--Landing Craft, Rubber (Large) LCR(L) (none)
--Landing Craft, Rubber (Small) LCR(S) (none)
--Landing Craft, Support (S) LSC(S) (none)
--Landing Craft, Vehicle LCV (none)
--Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel LCVP (none)
--Landing Vehicle, Tracked LVT (none)
--Landing Vehicle, Tracked (Armored) LVT(A) (none)
--Landing Vehicle, Wheeled (Mark) LVW (none)
--Amphibious Trucks DUKW (none)
Yard and District Craft ----- (none)
Coast Guard Cutters: ----- -----
--Cruising Cutters WPG ?
--Weather Patrol Ships WIX ?
--Weather Patrol Cutters WPC ?
--Icebreakers WAG Winds
Maritime Commission Types ----- -----

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1. Total number of British destroyers from Francis E. McMurtrie, ed., Jane’s Fighting Ships 1939 (1939 rpt. Newton Abbot, Devon, England: David & Charles Reprints, 1971), 63–71. Number of destroyers lost from,

2. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume II: Their Finest Hour (Boston: Mariner-Houghton Mifflin, 1985), 353.

3. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume II, 353.

4. McMurtrie, Jane’s Fighting Ships 1939, 499–504.

5. Roy J. Lewicki and others, Negotiation 4th ed. (New York: Irwin-McGraw-Hill, 2003), 74–112.

6. Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In 3rd ed. (New York: Penguin, 2011), 99–108.

7. McMurtrie, Jane’s Fighting Ships 1939, viii.

8. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Volume VI: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (1983 rpt. Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 2018), 357.

9. Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Volume VI, 341–42.

10. Gilbert, 520 (quoted Darlan letter to Churchill dated 04 December 1942).

12. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume II, 206.

15. Churchill, 206, and Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Volume VI, 634.

16. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume II, 206.

17. Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Volume VI, 634, 636.

20. Martin Gilbert, interviewed in Secrets of the Dead: Churchill’s Deadly Decision, WNET/Public Broadcasting Service, 11 May 2010,

22. Warren F. Kimball, ed., Churchill & Roosevelt, The Complete Correspondence, Volume I: Alliance Emerging (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), 57.

23. William R. Casto, “Advising Presidents: Robert Jackson and the Destroyers-for-Bases Deal,” American Journal of Legal History 52.1 (2012): 56–61.

24. David Kaiser, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation Into War (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 39.

25. Elliott Roosevelt, ed., F.D.R.: His Personal Letters, 1928-1945, Volume II (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1950), 1,050.

26. Dean Acheson and others, “No Legal Bar Seen to Transfer of Destroyers,” The New York Times, 11 August 1940, 8–9.

27. Elliott Roosevelt, F.D.R.: His Personal Letters, 1,051–52.

28. Daniel S. Greenberg, “U.S. Destroyers for British Bases: Fifty Old Ships Go to War,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings 88, no. 11 (November 1962): 70–83.

29. Philip Goodhart, Fifty Ships that Saved the World (New York: Doubleday, 1965), 237.

30. Goodhart, Fifty Ships, 193–95.

31. Kimball, Churchill & Roosevelt, 68.

32. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume II, 362.

33. Navy Department, Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps 1940-1946, (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Officer, 1947), chapters 18–19.

34. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume II, 362–63.

35. Kimball, Churchill & Roosevelt, 59.

36. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume II, 201–2.

37.Warren Tute, The Deadly Stroke (London: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973), 17. Quoted in Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Volume VI, 643–44.

The Storied History of U.S. Navy Hospital Ships

USS Comfort serving as ambulance ship, ca. 1918 (BUMED Archives, 14-0058-003)

As the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are deploying to Los Angeles and New York, respectively, to assist the people in both cities in the fight against the coronavirus, the ships and their crews are capturing the nation’s attention and gratitude.

Sailors prepare surgical equipment to be sterilized aboard the USNS Mercy. DoD photo by Navy Seaman Luke Cunningham

While, their stateside deployment during a global pandemic takes these ships onto “uncharted waters,”* civilian “humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations have long been the clarion call for hospital ships,” along with their traditional mission of supporting the troops during naval operations.

The following is the majority of a great article by André B. Sobocinski, Historian, US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery that appeared in a DoD feature, “Know Your Military,” March 27.

Hospital ships have played pivotal roles in naval operations since the early days of the republic. During the Barbary Wars, Commodore Edward Preble ordered that the USS Intrepid be used as a hospital ship. The reconfiguration of this former bomb-ketch — a type of wooden ship that carried mortars as its primary armament — in 1803 marks the standard for almost all hospital ships used thereafter. To date, only the USS Relief was built from the keel up to serve as a hospital ship. All other ships — including the Mercy and the Comfort — were converted from other uses, whether as super tankers, troop transports or passenger liners.

Whether it was the USS Red Rover transporting patients up the Mississippi to Mound Island, Missouri, during the Civil War or the USS Solace taking wounded Marines from Iwo Jima to a Guam hospital, ships have long served in the capacity of ambulance ships.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, a host of Navy ships was sent around the country to serve as “station hospitals” for burgeoning naval bases.

From the 1850s until the early 1860s, the supply ships USS Warren and USS Independence operated at Mare Island, California, until shore facilities were constructed. Decades later, the Navy employed the former gunboat USS Nipsic at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, to serve as a predecessor to Naval Hospital Bremerton (Puget Sound). And from 1953 until 1957, the hospital ship USS Haven served as a station hospital at Long Beach, California, supporting medical activities in the 11th Naval District.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations have long been the clarion call for hospital ships. In March 1933 — following the devastating earthquake that hit Long Beach — the USS Relief sent teams of physicians and hospital corpsmen ashore to help treat casualties. Following the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989, the USNS Mercy — then moored in Oakland, California — provided food and shelter for hundreds of disaster victims.

Since 2001, USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy have taken part in some 19 humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions — such as U.S. Southern Command’s Continuing Promise medical exercise series and Operation Unified Assistance, the military response to a 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean — and treated more than 550,000 patients. But of these missions, only two were stateside deployments.

The Comfort was sent to New York City following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The USNS Comfort passes the Statue of Liberty enroute to Manhattan to aid victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres.

Originally envisioned as a floating trauma hospital for the victims of the twin towers’ collapse after the 9/11 attacks, the ship’s mission changed when it became clear there were not the large numbers of injured expected. Vice Adm. (Dr.) Michael Cowan, Navy surgeon general in 2001, recalled that New York’s Emergency Management Office stated the city was being overwhelmed by the needs of the displaced and relief workers.

“The island didn’t have facilities to support the firemen and rescuers and police digging through the rubble and sleeping on the hood of their engines,” Cowan said. “They were becoming dirty, going without water as they worked in harsh environments.” The city requested that the Comfort provide humanitarian services while docked close to the site.

From Sept. 14 to Oct. 1, the Comfort provided hot meals, showers, beds and clean clothes to about 1,000 relief workers a day from its temporary home at Pier 92 in Manhattan.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Comfort deployed to the Gulf Coast, where it treated 1,258 patients at Pascagoula, Mississippi and New Orleans.

When commissioned on Dec. 28, 1920, the USS Relief [below] could boast the same amenities as the most modern hospitals at the time: large corridors and elevators for transporting patients and fully equipped surgical operating rooms, wards, galleys, pantries, wash rooms, laboratories and dispensaries, as well as a sterilizing/disinfecting room, all with tiled flooring.

Hospital ward aboard USS Relief in the 1920s. (BUMED Archives, 09-5066-183)

The Mercy and the Comfort are no different in this regard and are comparable to some of the largest trauma hospitals in the United States. Each ship has 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a bed capacity of 1,000, and digital radiological services, medical laboratories, full-serve pharmacies, blood banks, medical equipment repair shops, prosthetics and physical therapy.

DoD information graphic depicting the general capabilities of the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort.

Each emblazoned with nine red crosses and stretching 894 feet in length — the size of three football fields — the Mercy and Comfort remain powerful symbols of medical care and hope during the darkest times.

* During the great influenza pandemic of 1918, the Comfort and the Mercy [predecessors of today’s Comfort and Mercy] were each briefly stationed in New York, where they took care of overflow patients from the 3rd Naval District before returning to the fleet and sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Along with the USS Solace, these ships ferried thousands of wounded and sick — including some with virulent cases of the flu — back to stateside facilities.

Deck Logs of U.S. Navy ships?

Rebecca Collier 05.02.2018 7:24

Where can I access Deck Logs of United States Navy ships?

Re: Deck Logs of U.S. Navy ships?
Textual Reference Branch, Archives II 20.02.2018 10:12 (в ответ на Rebecca Collier)

The National Archives holds the deck logs (log books) of the United States Navy. A deck log is a brief record of the daily administrative activities of a ship. It includes journal-style entries of the ship's administrative activities location and course of travel disciplinary procedures and any unusual events.  The logs sometime include information related to operational activities, although the level of content and detail may vary widely.  Deck logs are not detailed journals describing a ship's mission and all events transpiring in and around the ship, although they do sometimes provide information about a ship's operations. Also, deck logs generally include monthly rosters of officers for the period of 1941 through 1956. Beginning in March 1957, officer rosters are no longer included in the deck logs. From 1957 onwards, they are included in the ship's Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries and can be obtained from that source.

Watch the video: The Destroyer Documentary - Most Feared Ship Of All Time (July 2022).


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