JAPAN'S Deadly Long Lance Torpedoes

By Tanakawa, Toshiro | Sea Classics, October 2010 | Go to article overview

JAPAN'S Deadly Long Lance Torpedoes


Tanakawa, Toshiro, Sea Classics


Boasting remarkable range, accuracy, and destructiveness, the Type 93 torpedo was Imperial Japan's surprise "secret weapon" of WWII

"We didn't know what hit us," recalled Boatswains Mate 2C Marv Marcetti of New York. "The Minneapolis (CA-36) was at flank speed, buttoned up, guns loaded and waiting for a radar bearing to begin firing when everything began to happen at once. Suddenly, the entire ship shuddered and seemed to raise out of the water. Knocked off my feet, I could only stare shocked into the dark of that starlit Pacific night and wonder what the hell had struck us as pandamonium threatened to break out. Then I realized why. Our entire bow was gone - blown away -and we were going to sink if we didn't do something fast..."

Marcetti wasn't alone in his confusion that dramatic night in Guadalcanal's infamous Slot. The 30 November 1942 battle of Tassafaronga would be remembered as one of the worst American defeats since Pearl Harbor when four heavy cruisers were knocked out of action in one engagement - the seriously damaged: Minneapolis, Pensacola (CA-24), and New Orleans (CA-32), plus Northampton (CA-26) sunk with hundreds of sailors killed or missing as they prepared to take on the powerful warships of the infamous Japanese Tokyo Express. Thanks to almost super-human efforts at damage control, the damaged ships were all saved. But it was too late for the Northampton.

At first, the Americans did not realize that they had run into a powerful Japanese armada escorting reinforcements to embattled Guadalcanal. It would be some time before the Americans comprehended that they had been hit not by Japanese mines or submarines, but a fusilade of 18 new Type 93 torpedoes fired as a broadside from far distant Japanese cruisers and destroyers. A deadly new Naval weapon Americans didn't even know existed - the chemically fuelled gyroscopically aimed Type 93 had a crushing 1080-lb high explosive warhead that contained nearly double the torpex explosive of American "tin fish."

The Type 93 was a 24-in diameter torpedo of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) commonly referred to by most Naval historians as the "Long Lance" torpedo; a nickname applied after the war by the noted chief historian of the US Navy, Samuel E. Morison. The Long Lance was by far the most advanced Naval torpedo in the world at the time.

The Type 93's development (in parallel with submarine model Type 95) began in Japan in 1928, under the auspices of R/Adm. Kaneji Kishimoto and Capt. Toshihide Asakuma. Japan was anxious to develop a torpedo superior to American types ofthat era as it sought to establish a parity with the large American fleet. At the time, by far the most powerful potential enemy of the Japanese Navy was the United States Navy. The US Navy's Pacific theater battle doctrine - War Plan Orange - presumed an invasion by Japan of the Philippines, (then an American protectorate), called for the battle line to fight its way across the Pacific Ocean where it would relieve or recapture the Philippines, and destroy the Japanese fleet. Since the IJN had fewer battleships than the US Navy, Japan planned to use light cruisers, destroyers, and submarines to whittle down the US Navy's fleet in a succession of minor battles, mostly staged at night where the Japanese had superior training. After the number of American warships were sufficiently reduced, the IJN would commit its own presumably fresh and undamaged battleships to finish off the US remnants in one huge climactic battle, essentially what the US Navy's War Plan Orange anticipated.

The Type 93 was one of the few Naval weapons capable of enabling small warships, such as destroyers, to damage heavily armored warships such as cruisers and battleships. IJN torpedo research and development focused on using highly-compressed oxygen instead of ordinary compressed air for the torpedo's fuel oxidizer in its propulsion system, feeding this into an otherwise normal wet-heater engine, where the oxygen was used to burn a fuel such as methanol or ethanol. …

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