Originally, Destroyer Escorts were equipped with a triple
bank of 21" torpedo tubes. Later improvements to the AA armament required
grounding the torpedo tubes in favor of additional 20mm or 40mm guns. For the DEs supplied under lend-lease, the
British elected replace the torpedo bank with either 40mm Cannons or 20mm
machine guns to defend against air attack. In hindsight, they were
correct. There are only two recorded instances of DEs attacking enemy targets
with the torpedoes, and both were failures. This is a triple-tube launcher
firing a Mark 15 torpedo.
National Archives #80-G-462565
torpedoes are ejected from their tubes by a black powder charge, much like the
K-gun. As the torpedo left the tube, a lever activated the torpedo motor,
usually steam that was generated by mixing alcohol and kerosene. The
operator sat on top of the mount on a small bench and operated the entire
mechanism. (Close-up photos of the controls are below.) The photo shows a Mark
15 torpedo launching. Notice the steam exhaust near the twin propellers.
National Archives #80-G-462566
Mk 15 Surface-Launched Anti-Surface Torpedo
Mark 15, developed in 1935 (from a 1918 Mark 11 design) and added to the
fleet in 1938. This $10,000 torpedo was similar to the improved Mark
it was equipped with a conventional contact exploder and was one of the
last steam-driven weapons. It was slightly longer, heavier,
carried a larger payload, and had a three-speed capability. It was the
last torpedo designed to be launched from destroyers against surface
The Mk-15 was the standard Destroyer Escort mounted torpedo. It was carried
on all classes of U.S. Destroyer Escorts but was not installed on the Buckleys
transferred to England under the Lend Lease agreement. The Mk 15 was the surface-launched
model of the torpedo-trio (Mk-13/-14/-15), sharing
many of the family's defects.
The Mk-15 was
developed from 1936 onwards and was in wide-spread service by 1941. There are no
recorded instances of Destroyer Escorts employing torpedoes to sink an
enemy target. The Mk 15 saw no
major action in combat until Guadalcanal however, four were used to
scuttle the carrier Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea. In October 1942,
two destroyers fired sixteen torpedoes to scuttle the carrier Hornet,
but they failed to sink the carrier. The problem
with the Mk-15, as with the Mk-14, was the Mk-6 exploder, which employed a
magnetic detector to detonate under the target - in theory. In practice, it
didn't work. This resulted in the much researched "Great
|Year of Construction: 1936
Bore: 21 inches
Weight: 3,841 pounds
Length: 24 feet
Ranges: 6,000 yards at 45 knots
10,000 yards at 33.5 knots
15,000 yards at 26.5 knots
Explosive Charge: 825 pounds Torpex*
*Up until the 1940s trinitrotoluene
(TNT) was the explosive of choice because it was cheap to manufacture
and, with a melting point of only 177° F, was easily cast into weapons
cases. Another explosive invented in 1899, RDX (also called cyclonite,
Hexogen and T-4. The chemical name is cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine.
Say that 3 times real fast...), was more powerful but was far too
sensitive to be used for military applications. The British and
Canadians eventually mixed RDX and TNT together and combined this
mixture with powdered aluminum and beeswax. The new mixture,
called TORPEX, produced a more powerful blast and increased brisance
(shattering and fragmenting effect).
I took this while sitting on the operator's
bench looking forward. It shows the entire control panel area. The data
Ordnance Plant. 21" Above Water Torpedo Tube Gyro Setting Mechanism, MK
These are the controls for manually setting the
torpedo gyro, depth, and speed and are fitted on top of the torpedo bank. The
controls include the Mark 5 Gyro-setting mechanism, Mark 2 Torpedo Course
Attachment, Mark 1 Torpedo Course indicator, Mark 2 Depth Setting Mechanism, and
Mark 2 Speed-Setting Mechanism. Man, thatsa lotta Mark 2s! Here we
Mark 5 Gyro-setting mechanism. The dials were not
Mark 2 Torpedo Course Attachment and the Mark
1 Torpedo Course indicator. The markings on the oval dial at the left reads
"Torpedo Course." The small one at the bottom reads "Tube
Train" and appears to be numbered 0-360. The round dial at the right
is also numbered 0-360. Nothing intuitive about this beast...
Mark 5 Portable Sight and Angle Solver. This device was mounted to the right of
the control panel under a metal cover. Beneath the cover there was a
rotten piece of canvas. Once I pulled that off, this is what I
found. I used every Kleenex in my camera bag to clean it up for this
During the 1950s, the
Francis M. Robinson (DE 220) was used as a testing platform for the Mark
32 acoustic torpedo. These were not standard issue weapon systems for
Destroyer Escorts, simply an interesting footnote. The Mk 32 was developed by the Navy to track down and
destroy high speed, long range submarines. In addition to its homing abilities,
its ease of launch made it a readily adaptable weapon. The Mk 32 was not fired from a torpedo tube, but
was thrown overboard by a Mark 2 launching system. Once in the water, its homing device guided it unerringly to the
The Mark 2 launching system consisted of a Mark 4
three Mk 32 torpedoes, and three storage carts for the torpedoes.
This is Joe
Dougherty standing next to one of the first
Mark 32 torpedoes. Joe was on the USS Robinson from 3/59 until 6/60.
Photo contributed by Joe
and Kathleen Dougherty.
The Mark 4 launcher throwing a Mark 32
The triple 12.75" Mark 32 torpedo tube. This is the
tube used to launch the Mk 44 and 46 acoustic-homing torpedoes. The torpedoes
were ejected from the tubes with a burst of high pressure air and could be
conveniently fitted almost anywhere on the superstructure. I've got one on my
The DEs were never equipped with
this tube, but the Francis M. Robinson Experimental vessel (EDE-220) performed
the developmental and operational testing before fielding to the fleet.
So...another claim to fame...
The first Mk 35 Mod 2 torpedoes issued to the Naval Ordnance
Unit in Key West, Florida in May 1953. The men (l-r) are Lt. E. C. White,
Naval Ordnance Unit, John W. Persohn, Bureau of Ordnance, and Commander J. C.
Wheeler, Commanding Officer, Naval Ordnance Unit.
National Archives #80G483598
The Mark 108 Launcher, "Weapon ALPHA". As sonar technology progressed, new weapons emerged
that took advantage of larger and more accurate detection areas.
This weapon, developed at the end of WW2, was essentially a
rocket-propelled depth charge that used the 12.75" Mark 1 and Mark
2 underwater rockets. It provided more flexibility than
the hedgehog spigot mortar with increased range and latitude of
attack. The "Alpha" removed the attacker's need to
move into the immediate area of the submarine, as was necessary with
conventional depth charges and hedgehog weapons. The
"Alpha" was a surface-to-underwater rocket fired from a
launcher that resembled a 5" gun turret. The Alpha replaced the number two 3"/50 mount. The turret
could be turned in almost a complete circle, permitting the Alpha to
launch as soon as the target was identified. The rocket sank rapidly and
covered a much larger area than traditional depth charges. It was
capable of firing either Mark 1 or Mark 2 rockets at a rate of 12 per minute.
The Mark 1 and Mark 2 Rockets carried 250 pounds of either
TNT or Torpex and an overall weight of 525 pounds. The tails housed a 5.25"
rocket motor. Flight time for the Mark 1 was approximately 10.9 seconds. Flight
time for the mark 2 was approximately 14.2 seconds. Both entered the water with
a velocity of 1,300 feet per second and had a sink rate of 40 feet per second.
Both rockets were triggered with a magnetic influence fuze. The Mark 1
employment ranges were 300 yards minimum and 766 yard maximum. The mark 2
employment ranges were 250 yards minimum and 975 yards maximum.
A different Mark 2 Rocket (not pictured) was a sub-caliber rocket
used for ASW training and measured 4" in diameter. It did not contain
National Archives #80-G-1018025
National Archives #80-G-1018026
National Archives #80-G-643036