More on the South Korean Sinking–It was a torpedo–What next?

A bit more information about the Korean sinking here.

The South Koreans are in a very awkward situation. It will be interesting (as in the old Chinese curse) to see how this plays out.

Another question is, what kind of craft was used to launch the torpedo? The North Koreans have a wide range of platforms, from early Cold War Era Russian conventional sub designs, to midgets, planning hull semi-submersibles, torpedo boats, and “human torpedoes.” The more unconventional of these craft may make it to Iran and possibly on to terrorist groups.

19 thoughts on “More on the South Korean Sinking–It was a torpedo–What next?

  1. Chuck,

    Impressive layout by the South Koreans. It also shows us that any new cutter wouldn’t have a chance against the sophisticated targeting systems out there. I have to wonder if the South Korean had an active sonar watch.

    The North Koreans have been at this for decades. My late younger brother was a draftee and was sent to Korea as a tanker in 1968-69. He sat in a M60 on the DMZ and he wrote me that the north put people across the border all the time to ambush South Korean patrols. They would not attack Americans, however, that did not lessen the alert status.

  2. It also illustrates why if we ever want to stop a “maritime suicide truck bomber” we would be much better off using a torpedo rather than guns.

    • I take it from one of those Coast Guard submarines? There are small diesel boats that would be good for the task. However, the white paint and stripe would just bring on Japanese whalers looking for Moby.

      • I sometimes have a hard time telling if you are serious or not in posts (a hazard of electronic communication), but I’m sure you know you can fire torpedoes from a surface ship or even a small(ish) boat. 378’s used to have torpedoes, didn’t they?

        Actually I think Chuck might be on to something. One challenge in the port environment is what to do if a big ship, like a frieghter or something, is used as a weapon. Options to stop it are few and far between…If a CG vessel had torpedoes, I wonder if they could sink/disable a large commercial vessel? Of course a sunken freighter in the shipping lanes is a whole other set of problems! Still, it might be a better worst case, last resort option than trying to co-ordinate a last minute air strike or equivilant.

        I am NOT a torpedoman by any means, but it seems like they would not be able to react quickly enough to be much good against a small boat threat to a ferry or warship though, still stuck with guns there!

  3. Obviously Bill is being facetious, but I was not.

    I really worry about our ability to stop a medium to large ship. Heck, I worry about our ability to stop a small ship with a determined crew. Look at the attack on the Dock as St Nazaire.

    That was a ship not much bigger than a 210, and it got passed shore batteries, anti-aircraft batteries and heavy machine gun.

    Even heavy 21″ torpedoes were carried by craft smaller than WPBs. I’ve often thought that it would be relatively easy to convert obsolete Mk 44 or 46 ASW torpedoes, which are much smaller 12.75″, to give us a weapon that could home on the screws of a surface ship and have a really good chance of stopping a ship. Plus if we had to shoot in a harbor, torpedoes don’t have the problem of stray rounds landing among civilians.

    You can forget about organizing a last minute air strike. It ain’t gonna happen.

    • I agree with you Chuck. Theres an AAR on the historians site somewhere of a 378′ capturing a tramp steamer runnning guns in Vietnam during the war…They fired a lot of rounds, I think over 100, form their main gun before it finally stopped. Guns actually suck for sinking ships, at least anything we have! Torpedoes seem like a tool with a lot of potential…..

  4. Chuck would use the word “facetious.” I would use sarcastic.

    The idea that the Coast Guard would, or could, convert the 1960s MK 44 or MK 46 ASW torpedo for surface work is so far out of the box, well– let’s just say way out. The Coast Guard won’t even put a decent main battery on its 400+ foot cutters much less some slow WPB with deck tube. Then there is the problem of guidance. These torpedoes are not made to run in a straight attack line until acoustic contact is made. At least they were not in the 1960s went I worked with them. Like Chuck said, they would have to be reworked. I’m not sure the conventional warhead is powerful enough anyway for a surface target.

    It would not be John Kennedy on the bridge of his PT Boat with his manual angle sight looking back at this torpedoman and giving the launch command.

    Frankly, before I invested in any torpedo system, I’d look at surface-to-surface missiles on the order of the Penguin. A smaller warhead but these are designed for replaceable pods on small combatants without a bunch of re-engineering of the torpedoes. The last workable surface torpedoes the Coast Guard had were in the late 1890s–then again the cutters were also fitted with a ram bow. The latter may be in vogue again. See the image of McCullough.

    Erik, the vessels running guns in Vietnam were not “tramp steamers.” The only tramp steamers in Vietnam were the merchant vessels delivering ammunition to the U. S. there. Oh yes, there was this one South Vietnam coastal freighter we boarded about once a month on her run. She was built in 1939 but still plugged along.

    The incidents you mention, and there were nine of them, the Coast Guard was very successful. More successful than the navy. The vessels were steel hull trawlers. Some of them could run very fast. There were some fishing trawlers that could run a steady 25-30 knots but they could not outrun a .50 caliber. Take my word on this. Here is one story:,%2021-22%20November%201970

    • Bill, Great story about Sherman (and Rush). Still that was a small ship loaded with explosives, hit at close range by the best the Coast Guard had.

      I don’t think I have ever heard of the infiltration trawlers doing much more than 10 knots, which is what Sherman reported this trawler was doing, otherwise they would have outrun our 82 ft WPBs.

      I recall we had an incident, I believe in the 80s, when we fired 25 mm into a fishing vessel suspected of carrying drugs in an attempt to stop him before the ship entered another country’s territorial waters–the fishing vessel just kept going and our attempt to stop him failed.

      The problem in the “Maritime suicide truck bomb”/St Nazaire/Mumbai scenario is that by the time we recognize what is happening, the time available to actually stop the vessel may be very short, and we are unlikely to have a National Security Cutter or a Offshore Patrol Cutter on scene to take on the task (although I have my doubts that they could handle it as currently equipped). Even if we did have missiles and guns, we won’t necessarily have time for fire and progressive flooding to do the job. Attacking the propulsion is the best way to go. You can try to do that with missiles, but a torpedo to the propeller is much more direct. The fire control solution is rudimentary and the technology of acoustic and wake homing goes back to WWII. (A German acoustic homing torpedo blew the stern off of the Leopold, a Coast Guard manned Destroy Escort, sinking it, in 1944. Modifying a Mk-46 to home on the propeller and explode under it, would be almost trivial.

      A couple of Mk-46 torpedoes modified to explode under the props, could give the Fast Response Cutter and even the 87ft WPBs the capability to stop a ship of virtually any size.

      (The Penguin missile actually has a larger warhead than the Mk 46 but it is almost twice as heavy and much bulkier, plus it doesn’t go for the propulsion. There might also be minimum range problems.)

      There might be an international market for a Mk-46 modified for anti-surface, in that there are lots of “Coast Guard” type vessels out there that really don’t have the capability of stopping a ship that refuses to stop.

      There is an old saying, shells (and missiles) let in air, torpedoes let in the water. Here are some videos for comparison. Note how the ships hit by guns and missiles can take a very long time to sink, while the effects of the torpedoes is much more immediate.

      Torpedo hits

      Sinking a 2750 ton Aussy frigate:
      An 8,000 ton US Navy destroyer:
      USS FIFE DD991 8,000 tons
      And from a torpedo boat:

      Missile hits:
      HS Nearchos D-219 / USS Waddell DDG-24, 4,825 tons:
      USS Horne (CG30), 8,000 tons:
      USS David R. Ray (DD 971), 8,000 tons,
      USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3), 39,400 tons,
      USS O’brien (DD 975), 8,000 tons,

      • Sorry, I meant to delete the first couple of Youtube videos above, because they are duplicates.

      • Chuck,

        You are probably right about the weight of the MK 46. It has been a long time since two others and myself picked up one (well, a MK44) and carried it to the shipping container.

        “I don’t think I have ever heard of the infiltration trawlers doing much more than 10 knots, which is what Sherman reported this trawler was doing, otherwise they would have outrun our 82 ft WPBs.”

        When I say trawlers, I meant fishing trawlers. We regularly boarders some 30-50 foot wood boats with twin Yabuda(sp) six-cylinder diesels. The light weight of the boat, very shallow draft and lots of horsepower gave them the advantage in speed. And yes, they did outrun the WPBs. With a good engineer, we could squeak out about 21 knots with a following sea.

        Since we were astern, we employed the old concept of firing along the keel, straight through from stern to stem. The piggy-back 81mm/.50 caliber made this easier because it was more stable. Most of the fishermen would stop when they saw wood fly. However, they also knew that fighter aircraft from Yankee Station were always in the air and could be on scene in minutes if need be. I’ve got a good napalm story about them.

        I don’t believe one weapon type would be sufficient. I know the MK 46 will chase a sound that is what they are designed to do but the reconfiguration would have to eliminate the initial search depth settings. Interesting idea. I’d like to see where on an 87′ this would be mounted. I can see some BMCM with his hat turned backwards looking at his angle indicator and then yell, “Torpedo Los!”

        The Coast Guard has some experience with enemy torpedo boats. German E-boats (I believe) attacked the LSTs practicing the D-Day landings.

      • Were there CG manned LSTs involved in that?
        No, the Mk-46’s warhead is not big enough to sink anything more than a small ship, but I would be happy if it can damage the props and jam the rudder.

        The Mk 46 weighs about 500 pounds and the Penquin about 814.

        A missile I have had some interest in is the Hellfire. It is made in huge numbers, weighs only about 100 pounds, and the price is right at between $25,000 and $65,000 each. They have even been fired by C-130s., although we might have a problem getting aviators to put missiles or torpedoes on their aircraft. It was hard enough to get them to accept machine guns.

        The torpedoes might actually be launched from shore as well, like from Point Loma. The Norwegians sank the German heavy cruiser Blucher with torpedoes launched from shore, ironically recently returned from overhaul in Germany. Shore based torpedoes were also used in WWI in combat on a disputed river, the Danube I think.

      • There were no Coast Guard manned LSTs involved (See the story ) but the impact was felt throughout the fleet. I spoke with a former CG LST sailor and it had a profound impact on his pucker factor.

        By aviators, I assume you mean the Coast Guard variety. I am sure many would love it–especially the former Army DCAs. I spent a couple months aboard a FFG and when the SH-60 pilots got an opportunity to hang and fly with a live Hellfire they were all a twitter. (Of course, there were six pilots but only one working aircraft–they had to take turns being titillated. )

        I wonder if the Coast Guard could develop a deck fired Hellfire? They tried a 2.75-inch rocket launcher piggybacked on an 81mm mortar. Two words here — back blast. I had a CO who could never get the back blast concept even when firing a LAW and had to have someone with him to keep him pointed in the right direction. First Ltjg I ever saw with a fire control director.

      • That is hilarious.

        Speaking of 2.75 inch rockets. There is a kit that should be out in the field soon that converts them to laser guidance. They will be even cheaper and more abundant than the Hellfire.

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