Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Moving Torpedo Warheads, Yorktown Mine Depot, 1943

Shown here is a General Electric "44-ton Switcher" "45-ton Switcher" locomotive carefully moving live Mk18 torpedo warheads at the Yorktown Mine Depot (now called Yorktown Naval Weapon Station). These switcher trains shipped the warheads to main rail lines.  From there, main railroads took the warheads to the Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island or the new Naval Ordnance facility in Forest Park, Illinois.  At these facilities, workers attached the warhead to a torpedo propulsion unit, and then shipped the finished product out to the Fleet. 

Mk 18 torpedo warhead
The Navy originally intended the Depot in Yorktown to be used only as a storage facility for surplus ordnance.  Its location on the York River was ideal, situated miles away from large urban areas.  The Navy later upgraded the Depot's mission from storage facility to industrial manufacturing for World War II.  Specifically, the Depot became the Navy's primary source for the highly effective, but incredibly unstable, "TORPEX" explosive mixture. Each torpedo warhead contained  660 lbs of TORPEX. The Navy also used TORPEX in undersea mines and depth charges to great effect.  The Army Air Corps used it in their bombs dropped on Germany. 

Measured as fifty percent more powerful than the traditional TNT explosive, British scientists discovered the TORPEX formula and then shared it with the United States.  American ordnance experts conducted only a few safety tests on TORPEX, due to the pressure to get the explosive into the hands of war fighters as soon as possible.  By mid-1943, the facility was producing over 2,000,000 pounds of TORPEX per month.  Safety officers had initially indicated that a rate of 500,000 pounds/month was the acceptable limit.  Unfortunately, the Depot experienced a major accident involving TORPEX.  Read about the incident here.  A very good discussion on American naval torpedoes can be found at one of our sister museum's, the Undersea Warfare Museum, website here.

Mark 14 Torpedo and all its moving parts


Mark Perry said...

That is a GE 45 ton locomotive, not a 44 ton

Gordon Calhoun said...

Thank you for pointing that out and I agree with you. Will make change.