There is a widespread belief that modern torpedoes are instant and unstoppable death for any modern ship and that carriers and other ships have been rendered nothing more than targets waiting to be sunk. Of course, we totally debunked that line of thought in a series of previous posts.
Let’s add another nail to that coffin by examining yet another aspect of the unstoppable torpedo myth. There is a belief that modern torpedoes are somehow more lethal than in the past. Is that true or just another torpedo-associated myth?
Here’s a list of some common torpedoes, past and present, and their warhead explosive weights.
Country Type Warhead
Japanese Type 93 (Long Lance) 1080 lb
German G7e 616 lb
Russian Type 65 Wake Homing 1225 lb
Russian Type 53 678 lb
German DM2A4 Seehecht 572 lb
It is instantly apparent that that the warhead weights are, on average, no greater today than in WWII and yet the entire world managed to operate vast fleets of ships without being instantly obliterated by torpedoes. How could that be if torpedoes are instant death? Well, we’ve already answered that so I won’t repeat it.
One significant change from WWII to now is the guidance mechanism. WWII torpedoes were generally unguided. Homing torpedoes were in their infancy towards the end of the war. Today’s guidance systems offer a greater chance of success.
Of course, the counterpart to guidance systems are decoy systems such as the U.S. Nixie.
Thus, on balance, it may be that there is no actual increase in success rates! If it took 4-6 torpedoes to ensure 1-2 hits in WWII, it likely still requires 4-6 torpedoes today to ensure 1-2 hits.
The relevant aspect of this little examination is the realization that modern torpedoes are no more lethal than they were in WWII. Please note that I am not saying that torpedoes are not a powerful weapon – they certainly are. However, they are not the instant, one-shot kill that so many people erroneously believe.
The fact that we can now clearly see that modern torpedoes are no more (or less!) lethal than their WWII counterparts should serve to put the torpedo threat in its proper context which is that they are powerful weapons but no more so than many other large weapons. We can successfully operate fleets of ships in the face of torpedoes just as we did in WWII if we treat the threat with the respect it deserves and apply effective ASW to the threat – which, sadly, we’re not.