How Effective Were German Torpedoes?

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Tom Niefer
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How Effective Were German Torpedoes?

Post by Tom Niefer » 22 Apr 2003 17:37

My Father-in-law, who was in the Canadian Navy, told me of an experience of his while on escort duty. His ship was escorting two merchant ships from New York City to Halifax to meet a convoy ready to leave for the UK. On the approach to the harbour at Halifax he happened to look back at the two ships, turned away to light a smoke, looked back again and one ship was gone and the other was sinking. He immediately began looking in the water around his own ship and saw a torpedo narrowly miss the ship. Pretty scarey, huh. My question is, were torpedos that effective or did this require excellent targeting? Seems to me these ships went down in an instant.

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Post by Mark V » 22 Apr 2003 18:28

Well, it all depends.

Sometimes ship that was hit by torpedo was sunken immediately, sometimes ship could sustain the damage quite easily and continue it's voyage to safety of harbour with her own power.

Type of the ship, cargo or not, what kind of cargo, displacement, placement and number of torpedo hits, direct hit all proximity fuzed "under belly" hit, state of sea on time of torpedo hit, competence of crew, pure luck....

There is a lot of variables here.

In general all torpedoes (German or not) are very efficient way to deliver deadly damage to ship. Much better than any other means available during WW2. One or two hit's was mostly sufficient for average dry-cargo ship.

In early years of war Germans tend to shoot at very close range, using only few torpedoes (on the contrary to Brits), so if torpedo worked like it supposed to do (and many times it did not !) - hit propability was quite good.


Mark V

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Trommelfeuer
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...

Post by Trommelfeuer » 22 Apr 2003 19:31

Here's an interesting example for a german "manned torpedo", the "Neger":
This actually was a manned torpedo with a war-head torpedo underneath.
(..they were not suicide weapons like the japanes Kaitan...)
Image

english source:
http://www.uboatwar.net/neger.htm

With friendly greetings, Sven
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Erik E
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Post by Erik E » 22 Apr 2003 22:13

I have been reading a lot about the Norwegian ships which were sunk during the war. One of the things I noticed, was that allmost every oreship were lost with all hands..... I would have thought the tankers were the most dangerous, but ( in the Norwegian books) the crewmembers of a tanker had better chances then the crew of a oreship.....

But as mentioned earlier, there were many factors..... A 10000T merchant could sink after one torpedo, while a 2500T tanker could survive 2 torpedos.....

Erik

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Post by Matt L » 23 Apr 2003 09:02

Hi Tom,

I've read that Uboat crews faces all the same issues with their 'Eels' as did American and British submariners- (faulty fuzes, gyros, etc.) I know of at least one Uboat that is thought to have been sunk by one of her own torpedoes that malfunctioned and circled back. I'd actually think that only the late weapons like the T5 Zaunkönig acoustic torpedo could be classified as superior to those of any other nation. I've read of a destroyer sunk by a blind shot T5 that homed in on her propeller noise.

It can't be denied that their torpedoes were effective given the number of ships they sunk during the war- and given the factors involved in shooting an unguided weapon with only optics and primitive computers to aim them, they must've been fairly good. Acutally, I'd think that in order to know your weapon was a dud, it had to hit the target- and I've read about a lot of frustration due to duds! Given the ranges at which shots were taken, both the targetting and the weapon's ability to remain on course had to be excellent.

As for the efficacy of a torpedo in sinking a ship, Mark has it right- there are a lot of factors involved. One of the main ones is whether the torpedo detonated against the ship's hull or UNDER it. I know at some point someone realized that the water displaced by a torpedo warhead detonation was FAR more devestating than a direct impact, so magnetic detonators were designed so that a torpedo would detonate as it passed under a ship. Modern torpedoes, which probably don't have significantly larger warheads, can crack a ship in HALF. I know there were a lot of problems with these detonators and that they were withdrawn from service in 1940, not to reappear until 1943.

The main type of torpedo in service throughout the war was the T2 (G7e)- an electric torpedo with a range of about 6000m at 30kts, and had a 500kg warhead. The T IIIa FAT (G7e) (Flächenabsuchender torpedo = area searching torpedo) was the type that zig-zagged through a convoy at 800m or 1600m intervals between course changes. It had a 7500m range at 30kts and a 280kg warhead.

Since you mentioned that your Father-in-Law saw the torpedo that just missed his ship, it must have been the early T1 (G7a) steam-powered torpedo that had a range of 14 000m at 30 kts or 6000m at 44 kts and a warhead of 320kg.

Here's a pretty good website with all the details:

http://www.warships1.com/Weapons/WTGER_WWII.htm

Matt

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Post by Tom Niefer » 23 Apr 2003 16:00

Great information and pictures, guys. I showed this sight to the Old Man. He thinks this is pretty cool stuff. I love talking to these old vets. They've got great information and experiences to tell if you can get them talking about it.

Matt, Dad says as far as he can remember this event happend fairly early in the war. He thought maybe 1940. When he read about the dud torpedoes you mentioned, he says they drydocked his ship for repairs at one time and found a large dent in the side of the ship probably made by one of those duds.

I just found it very surprising that in the time it took to light a cigarette a ship would go down. It shouldn't though because the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk during a storm on Lake Superior in a matter of seconds without a torpedo helping sink her. I guess we sometimes have the Hollwood version stuck in our heads were the ship sinks slowly enough that he crew miraculously escapes death.

Thanks again for all the info, guys.

Cheers
Tom

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Post by Mark V » 23 Apr 2003 17:06

Erik E is right about the ore ships. They did sometimes sink very fast when hit. Actually it is natural. Iron ore (example) is truly a heavy cargo, and very concentrated.

One torpedo hit and water flooding to cargo bays makes ship loose buoyancy very fast and sometimes it was the cargo itself that actually sinked the ship.

Listing of ship, caused by torpedo hit and flooding in other side of ship may cause cargo to move, which can worsen the listing or even punch through the hull, in which case ship could actually sink within few seconds.

For same reason i would had not want to be a crewmember of early 20th century ore ship in peacetimes either - especially during storm...


Regards, Mark V

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Erik E
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Post by Erik E » 23 Apr 2003 20:07

Erik E is right about the ore ships
This even happens today!
Some years ago, a Polish ore freighter sunk just outside the coast here in Stavanger.
The Mayday singnal dissapeared after a few seconds, and when the helicopters arrived, they only found some oil spill.
None of the 16 crewmembers were ever found......

Erik

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Post by Matt L » 24 Apr 2003 06:10

Wow- that dent must've sent cold shivers up the spine of anyone who realized what it was...

I'm not all that surprised about ore freighters sinking faster than tankers- only a tanker carrying refined fuel would be REALLY bad- crude oil doesn't burn all that well afterall. But ore is dense and heavy. A 300+kg warhead would rip a REALLY big hole in an unarmored ship's hull...

Matt

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Post by Mark V » 24 Apr 2003 18:53

True, crude oil is much harder to start to burn than refined petroleum products, but...

... the large scale crude transporting business is a phenomenon of after WW2-era. During WW2 most of oil was refined in immediate vicinity of oilfields.

Why crude is transported to developed countries to be refinered is because of large losses when large oil-refineries (and oilfields itself) in many oil-producing countries were nationalized after independence of those countries - big oil companies don't take such risks again...

Mark V

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Post by varjag » 25 Apr 2003 11:22

Tom Neifer - I would have say that your f.i.l.'s description of a merchant ship disappearing totally 'while lighting a cigarette' - is perhaps erring on the Hollywood side of reality. 'Dead-weight' laden ships and certainly, as has been noted - iron-ore carriers - are prone to a quick demise, whether by torpedo or weather. Tankers - were, and are - very hard to sink because they are designed as a honey-comb of cells, i.e. the various tanks. This does not only make their hulls very strong, but also bouyant as no torpedo or even combination of torpedoes - is likely to compromise all of that bouyancy at once. Besides, the crude/oil/gasoline whatever - the ship carries is also lighter than water and thus delays the ships sinking. The 'quickest sinkings' recorded in the war, were of ammunition/explosives-laden ships where a torpedo/mine hit - triggered a secondary detonation of the ship's cargo or parts thereof. That's when the news carried the ominous 'it is feared there was heavy loss of life'. In clear text - that meant 'we don't think anyone survived'. But I think - that even if if was a windy day and I had to seek cover somewhere to light a fag - I would've seen the ship go down.

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Post by Zygmunt » 25 Apr 2003 15:05

I don't know about seeing ships go down, but I'd have expected to hear something. Granted, the water muffles the explosion etc, but if the ship was really that close, and sank that quickly... am I wrong?

Torpedoes sometimes swam too deep; the pressure on the U-boat meant that the sensors on the torpedoes gradually recalibrated themselves, and when launched would go straight, but pass below the target. Before proximity fuzes, this meant the warhead would not detonate.

Zygmunt

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Post by Madsen » 27 Apr 2003 13:46

Erik mentioned that ore ships sunk faster than tank ships most of the times. oil is lighter than water so it actually would help the ship ti stay floating. On battle ships there was the ammo storage and engine room that was the most deadly places. KNM SVENNER(R.Norw.Navy) was hit in the engine area at D-Day and sunk within min.
If you hit in a full oiltank under water, the oil would actually help the hull. fluid isn't much compressing but air is.

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Re: ...

Post by Brig » 27 Apr 2003 13:52

Trommelfeuer wrote:Here's an interesting example for a german "manned torpedo", the "Neger":
This actually was a manned torpedo with a war-head torpedo underneath.
(..they were not suicide weapons like the japanes Kaitan...)
Image

english source:
http://www.uboatwar.net/neger.htm

With friendly greetings, Sven
man, I'd kill for a piece like that in my collection :lol:

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Post by Madsen » 27 Apr 2003 14:44

ahh that's why Germany had so many ubouats. they wasn't so big
size doen't matter :lol: :lol:

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