Ship Killer

A History of the American Torpedo
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Published:November 15, 2010
By Thomas Wildenberg (Author), Norman Polmar (Author)

There have been many books published about submarine and aircraft attacks on ships.  While the torpedo was the principal weapon of most of those submarine attacks and many of the aerial attacks, there are only a few books on this weapon. In this book, Thomas Wildenberg and Norman Polmar provide a definitive work on the development and use of the torpedo by the U.S. Navy. Since the start of the 20th Century there have been several thousand books published about submarines and on the order of a thousand discussing aircraft attacks on ships. The principal weapon of most of those submarine attacks and many of the aerial attacks—both by land- and carrier-based aircraft—was the torpedo. Indeed the torpedo and the mine share responsibility—by a large margin—for sinking more ships than those lost to gunfire and bombs over the past 100 years.

However, only a handful of these books have been about torpedoes. Ship Killers will fill that gap by discussing U.S. Navy torpedo development through the end of the Cold War. It begins with a brief description of the weapons developed for "submarines" prior to the beginning of the 20th Century--the efforts of Americans Bushnell and Fulton, the spar torpedo of the Civil War, and the U.S. Navy's attempts to imitate the Whitehead torpedo. Then, from the beginning of the 20th Century, the book will discuss American torpedo development in peace and during war, and their use--from submarines, surface warships and small combatants, and aircraft, including blimps and helicopters. The book will also covers the technologies and politics involved in torpedo development, and many unusual efforts to deliver torpedoes.

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Product Details
  • Subject: Weapons
  • Hardback : 308 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (November 15, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1591146887
  • ISBN-13: 9781591146889
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 X 11 in
  • Shipping Weight: 0 lb

Thomas Wildenberg is an independent historian/scholar specializing in the development of naval aviation and technological innovation in the U.S. Navy. He has written extensively about the Navy during the interwar period. His articles have appeared in various scholarly journals and is the author of five books on U.S. naval history.

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Norman Polmar is an analyst, author, and consultant, specializing in naval, aviation, and technology subjects.  He has directed studies related to the Soviet/Russian navies for various government organizations, and has been a consultant or advisor on related issues to three U.S. Senators,  the Speaker of the House, the Deputy Counselor to the President, and three Secretaries of the Navy. He has visited the Soviet Union/Russia several times as a guest of the  Navy commander-in-chief, the submarine design bureaus, and the Institute of U.S. Studies. 

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Customer Reviews

1 Review
Average Customer Reviews
5.00 Stars
Provides an insightful analysis of the political and tactical reasons that drove the direction of torpedo development.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
By: Captain James B. Bryant, USN (Retired)
This is not a coffee table book. I thought I knew a lot about torpedoes, but this book proved me wrong. I was a Weapons Officer for two years and had experience in several generations of torpedoes (steam, electric and mono-propellant fuel). I have launched many exercise torpedoes and one war-shot torpedo during tours leading to and while in Command of a Fast Attack Nuclear Powered Submarine during the Cold War. Despite this experience I learned much from this book. This book provides a history of the American torpedo, including air dropped and surface fired torpedoes. Other nations’ torpedoes are discussed when they influenced the development and use of the American torpedo. Norman Polmar told me that both he and his co-author did their own technical work. But his coauthor, Thomas Wildenberg, was the wizard that found the original technical manuals so they could provide a straight forward and accurate explanation of how torpedoes worked and the procedures for their use. This book provides much more than just the new technology required for the development of air, surface and submarine launched torpedoes. It provides an insightful analysis of the political and tactical reasons that drove the direction of torpedo development and the technology and cost issues that forced us to produce the torpedoes we actually used. The unintended consequences of trying to make these weapons more effective are enlightening. The most notable is the infamous problems with the Mark 14 torpedo during World War II. Many books have excellent, detailed explanations of these problems and their solutions. John Wayne’s 1951 movie Operation Pacific provided an entertaining version. I believe this book provides the clearest, most concise description of the subject that includes a fair portrayal of the infighting, politics and technology that created and eventually fixed the problems. Norman says their goal was to tell this story in one half the current length, but alas this fabled “word smith” couldn’t cover this complex subject in a shorter version. The analysis of torpedo effectiveness, or lack thereof, in combat and the consequence it had on the morale and tactics of the combatants is fascinating. An analysis of what might have changed if the Mark 14 torpedo problems had been solved earlier in World War II is sobering. The authors’ analysis of Cold-War torpedoes is based on their perceived effectiveness in combat and the effects it had in the political-military arena. There is an interesting discussion of the need for small nuclear warheads against advanced Soviet submarines because of their large size, many compartments, double hull construction and most interesting the possible deployment of effective counter measures. These warheads are described as Sub-Kiloton Insertable Nuclear Components for torpedoes and would have had a more relaxed release authority than standard nuclear weapons. The stir this caused in Washington is classic Norman Polmar and a must read. The book ends with a discussion of how future conflicts at sea could be influenced by torpedoes, and anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.


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