The Long Range Torpedo

Jim Brownlow

In early 1956, I was back at my all-time favorite Caribbean resort, Guantanamo on USS Dashiell (DD-659) for refreshing training. A FLETCHER class destroyer’s main armament was still listed as her quintuple 21 inch torpedo mount, presumably in recognition of Admiral Oldendorf’s deployment of his “tin cans” during the WW II battle of the Philippine Sea. So we were required to launch a torpedo during our readiness inspection.

We had breezed through our engineering and ASW drills, but subsequently things turned ugly. After the primitive process of fueling “the fish” and working out the firing solution it was, “Torpedo away!” The bad news was we missed the target, but the really bad news was we couldn’t find the torpedo which was supposed to visibly “pop up” to be recovered. We spent the afternoon in an expanding square search to no avail. The skipper had a fantasy that his torpedo might drift up the Gulf Stream possibly terrifying the watch of the Queen Mary (“Torpedo off the port bow!”).

Losing a torpedo in international waters was a big deal. Torpedo officer Bob Brooks, (not his real name) a short timer reservist was sent below to start the myriad of forms, e.g., “There’s a torpedo floating around in this area, but don’t worry, we think it’s a dud.” We set off that evening at 20 knots for a shore bombardment exercise at Vieques, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico where the Navy maintained a gunnery range to the consternation of a handful of Puerto Rican citizens and a large number of goats.

I had the 0400-0800 OOD watch the next morning when the captain appeared on the bridge and said, “Mr. Brownlow, slow the ship to five knots,” and then to the messenger of the watch, “Go wake Mr. Brooks and tell him we’ve found his torpedo.” (This was the same captain who once ordered a new OCS Ensign from Yale to stand a “mail buoy watch”). Eventually a tired and confused LT JG Brooks, came out on deck and began scanning the horizon. As the laughter spread the skipper decided his torpedo officer had been sufficiently humiliated, and he said, “Would someone remind him we’re 300 miles from Gitmo. I was joking.”