Submarine "bow shot" as depicted in "Run Silent, Run Deep"

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Submarine "bow shot" as depicted in "Run Silent, Run Deep"

Postby L. Kafka » Mon Apr 11, 2011 12:38 pm

I have seen Run Silent, Run Deep a number of times. This past Saturday when I happened to flip to Run Silent, Run Deep on TCM (tcm.com) I wondered, again, how common it was for a submarine to sink a ship with a dead on "bow shot" as it was called in the movie. Considering that most cargo and navy ships smaller than aircraft carriers and battleships had beams of around 60 to 90 feet, or 20 to 30 meters, sinking a ship by hitting it dead on in the bow or stern seems like a low probability.

Were some of the torpedos of all navies during WWII equipped with proximity-type fuses that would detonate from magnetic fuse settings? This would make a bow shot more likely.

I read Run Silent, Run Deep by Eward Beach years ago. There was one exciting episode in the book that did not appear in the movie. While running on the surface at night near the coast of Florida the submarine that Edward Beach is commanding picks up a radar contact. It turns out to be a German submarine that is trailing the American sub while apparently hoping it turns to expose its flank to a torpedo. The American sub holds speed and course but prepares to fire torpedoes from its stern tubes if the German sub fires its torpedoes. The tense stand off lasts for an hour or two before the German sub finally reduces its speed in order to fall back outside of torpedo range. The narrative of this section of the book is worth reading.

I have read sections of Operation Drumbeat about the German submarine campaign off of America. I should finish reading it; good sto
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Re: Submarine "bow shot" as depicted in "Run Silent, Run Deep"

Postby John W. Howard » Mon Apr 11, 2011 1:46 pm

I am not sure they were common, but some US commanders liked to use them, especially against destroyers!! Beach's books were always good especially RSRD.
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Maximum range of WWII torpedoes?...

Postby L. Kafka » Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:09 pm

If I had to guess, I would say a torpedo could run 4 to 7 kilometers, or about 2.5 to 4 miles before losing propulsion. Curious if any navy included a self-destruction device in torpedoes upon not hitting a target after running a specified distance.

Anyone remember the Kirk Douglas WWII movie in which he worked on resolving the technical problems with US Navy torpedoes?

John W., have you read Torpedo Junction about submarine warfare off of North Carolina in 1942-43?
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Re: Submarine "bow shot" as depicted in "Run Silent, Run Deep"

Postby EricS » Tue Apr 12, 2011 11:50 am

I haven't seen the movie you're talking about, but I have read a lot about on U-boots and the Battle of the Atlantic.

Ideally the goal was to shoot a torpedo from an angle of 90 degrees because that gives to greatest chance of hit. Hitting a ship dead on was probably an exception, but I can't give you any precise numbers of how often it did took place. Apart from having a smaller target, a shot from dead on had the disadvantage of just blowing the bow off the target which gives a much smaller change of sinking the ship. I think I read in an memoir of U-boot-commandant Karl-Friedrich Merten that the ideal place to hit the ship was at about 2/3 from the bow, because that was the location of the engine room. It's impossible to hit that location with a dead on shot. Also it often took more than one torpedo to sink a larger ship, meaning that at least twice someone would need to have the luck to hit that small target.

Concerning the fuses, magnetic fuses were used by I think all navy's. This made it possible to have a torpedo go under the target, exploding there and braking the ships back, instead of just blowing a hole in the side by using impact fuses. In 1943 the Germans started using an Zaunkönig (acoustic homing) torpedo which could be fired from dead on because it steered itself. This was especially used in the stern-tube to give the U-boot a weapon to escape from following enemy escorts.

I'm not sure torpedo's had a self-destruction device, often there was an 'end of the run'-explosion but in other cases the torpedo would just sink when it ran out of power. I think there was no purpose-build self destruct feature, because in some case's orders were given not to use new experimental torpedo's in proximity of land to avoid the risk of the torpedo running aground where it could be found by the enemy.

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Re: Submarine "bow shot" as depicted in "Run Silent, Run Deep"

Postby John W. Howard » Tue Apr 12, 2011 12:41 pm

I have not read the book L. Kafka, but it sounds good. All I know about it was that the U-Boots had a field-day, due to the lack of a black-out along the coast, and Admiral King's refusal to adopt a convoy system to help protect the merchant ships. The only reason for King's refusal to do so, seems to have been his intense dislike of the Brits, who were advising him to use convoys. Perhaps there was another reason, but I have never heard of one. Take care. As an aside, I love the 1st Mar Div avatar; Marine Corps patchs have always seemed ho-hum to me, but I love the 1st Mar Div patch!!
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WWII movie about defective torpedoes...

Postby L. Kafka » Wed Apr 13, 2011 11:45 am

I was confusing Kirk Douglas in another WWII movie with John Wayne. Here is the link to the movie about bad torpedoes...
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043887/plotsummary
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Re: Submarine "bow shot" as depicted in "Run Silent, Run Deep"

Postby Tom Houlihan » Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:54 pm

While I haven't read a lot of sub books, I think that bow shot was less common than the movies made it appear. It wasn't real effective, and I seem to remember it was used only as a last resort.
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