Saga of the electric torpedoes

Early in 1942 a German torpedo ran up onto the beach on our East Coast. The Navy quickly made it safe to handle and realized they had a German electric torpedo.

As soon as practical the Navy took it to Westinghouse and told them to manufacture an exact duplicate; they were not to try to improve it or change it, but copy it so our forces would quickly have a functioning electric torpedo. The advantage of an electric torpedo is it moves through the water without leaving any wake, while our standard torpedo left a white wake on the surface above the torpedo, warning the ship under attack that a torpedo was coming and where, so the ship could take evasive action. Far worse, the torpedo's wake pointed to where the submarine was that fired the torpedoes. By the fall of 1943 the multiple problems with the "steam" torpedo had been solved, and submarines had a reliable torpedo though it warned of its approach.

Unfortunately Westinghouse engineers tried to improve the German electric torpedo, so it did not go into production until the Navy forced it into production. When early ones were tested, there were problems, and time was required to correct the torpedoes.

When production enabled the new electric torpedoes to arrive at Pearl Harbor, there was skepticism among submariners, because of the problems they had experienced with their "steam" torpedoes failing to explode in combat. Many feared the new torpedo would require changes and corrections after it went into combat. And initial electric torpedoes had problems with batteries and with their staying on course. The skepticism of some seemed justified. But skilled workers at the Pearl Harbor torpedo shop, who had probed into the causes of failures of the steam torpedoes, also probed the new electrics and soon reliable electrics went into combat. Most fulfilled the hope of a wakeless torpedo that gave no warning to the attacked ship. In the last months of the war many submarines carried half of their torpedoes electric and half the "steam" torpedoes that were faster than the electrics but warned targets of their approach.