Testing put subs on target

Published on SGT Dave Morley (author)

Location(s): Albany

Topic(s): Training, Weapons, Submarines (SSG), 75th Anniversary

United States submarines docked in Fremantle during the Second World War. (photo: Unknown)
United States submarines docked in Fremantle during the Second World War.

A little-known event that helped turn the tide of the Pacific War was quietly commemorated 75 years on in Albany on 20 June.
 
National president of the Submarine Association Commodore Bob Trotter (retired) said US and Allied submarines withdrew to Fremantle and Albany in March 1942, from where they conducted 170 operations with a profound effect on the outcome of the war.
 
He said it wasn’t well-known that, from the start of the Pacific War, US submarines had relatively few successes against Japanese shipping, despite aggressive patrolling of enemy invasion and re-supply routes in the Philippines and Dutch East-Indies theatres.
 
“One reason appeared to be the submarines’ main offensive weapon, the Mark 14 torpedo,” Commodore Trotter said.
 
“By May 1942, Commander Submarines South-West Pacific, US Navy Captain Charles Lockwood, had received report after report of perfectly aimed torpedoes passing harmlessly beneath target ships.
 
“These complaints barely disturbed the calm of the Bureau of Ordnance, which had countered by asserting they were inventions to disguise the performance shortcomings of submarine skippers.”
 
Commodore Trotter said Captain Lockwood was incensed by this.
 
“The experienced Lockwood was spurred into action and, like in many wartime cases, the initiative of the men at the front came to the fore by ignoring red tape, rolling up their sleeves and forcing a solution,” he said.
 
“Supervised by Captain Lockwood’s Chief of Staff Captain James Fife, on June 20 and 21, 1942, Lieutenant Commander James ‘Red’ Coe in USS Skipjack fired three test torpedoes through a fishing net strung across Frenchman’s Bay at Albany.
 
“The tests concluded the torpedoes were running on average 11 feet deeper than set.”
 
Although initially maintaining its scepticism, the Bureau of Ordnance was finally driven to conducting its own tests on August 1, 1942, which, unsurprisingly to the skippers, concluded the torpedo ran 10 feet deeper than set.