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Circular Running Torpedoes

Reported by U. S. Submarines

During World War II


This presentation lists thirty instances of circular runs by torpedoes fired U. S. submarines at enemy vessels during World War II combat operations in the Pacific Ocean. I have verified the occurrences listed below in the respective submarine's applicable patrol report, except for Tang, Triton, and Tullibee, because their circular runs occurred during their final patrols and therefore no reports were made. For these three boats I have cited the articles on them in United States Submarine Losses World War II as the official source. I verified the torpedo type for each instance in either the patrol report or the SORG report, "U. S. Submarine Attacks Listed by Date and Hour of Attack." Triton is the only submarine for which the type of torpedo used cannot be found.

There are without doubt many other instances of circular runs which I have not yet come across in my research and reading. Therefore this presentation will be updated as I discover new and verifiable instances of "wild" torpedoes.

I extend my thanks to Charles R. Hinman, of OnEternalPatrol.com, for providing me with eight instances of circular-running torpedoes that were not on my original list.


01  On December 25, 1941, the USS Perch (SS-176), while on her first war patrol, experienced a circular run by what was probably a Mark 14-1 torpedo. "At 2010, when range had closed to 2000 yards stopped and fired four torpedoes. Three of the torpedoes ran straight and normal, those from tubes 1, 2, and 4. The torpedo fired from No. 3 tube broached at launching then took its depth and started circling to the right. When just forward of Perch's beam and on opposite course it broached again, and as it again started to dive it exploded throwing up a considerable geyser of water and giving off a big flash." From USS Perch (SS-176), Report of First War Patrol, entry for December 25, 1941.


02  On May 16, 1942, the USS Tautog (SS-199), while on her second war patrol, experienced a circular run by Mark 14-1 torpedo. "Mk XIV torpedo No. 15861, fired on 16 May, 1942, ran circular. Because of the large diameter of the turning circle it is believed that this resulted from a sticky steering engine rather than a flooded gyro pot. This torpedo had been in a flooded tube, at periscope depth, for less than four minutes on the previous day." From USS Tautog (SS-199), Report of Second War Patrol, entry in "Major Defects Experienced."


03  On July 31, 1942, during her first and final war patrol, the USS Grunion (SS-216) attacked and disabled the Japanese transport vessel Kano Maru, leaving her afloat but powerless. From periscope depth, the Grunion attempted to finish the transport by firing three Mark 14-1 topedoes at the disabled vessel. Two of them hit the Kano Maru, but did not explode. The last one passed astern. Crewmen aboard the Kano Maru reported seeing bubbles on the surface moving in a circular pattern about 200 to 300 meters away. At the vanguard of the bubbles a large black and brown column of water appeared, a thin black metal bar was jettisoned above the surface and then fell back and sank, and oil was seen on the surface. The thin black bar was probably the air flask of the errant torpedo, the warhead having broken off undetonated when it hit the submarine. See USS Grunion (SS-216).


04  On September 25, 1942, while on her fifth war patrol,the USS Sargo (SS-188) "Maneuvered for a straight bow shot. At 1342 noted crew had abandoned ship. At 1342 fired fourth (Mark 14-1) torpedo, straight bow shot, 1200 yards, track 100 starboard, depth set zero feet, large warhead. Torpedo was observed to circle right. Turned left at high speed and went deep. Sound bearings of torpedo confirmed the circular run. At five and a half minutes after the firing the torpedo exploded apparently fairly close astern." From USS Sargo (SS-188), Report of Fifth War Patrol, section for particulars of attack conducted on September 25, 1942.


05  On November 3, 1942, during her seventh war patrol, the USS Seawolf (SS-197) experienced a circular run by a Mark 9 torpedo. "Ordered 150 feet as second fish fired was running circular." From USS Seawolf (SS-197), Report of Seventh War Patrol; see narrative entry for November 3, 1942, 16-12-18.


06, 07, & 08  On the first war patrol of the USS Tunny (SS-282), three circular runs by Mark 14 torpedoes occurred. "Without any attempt to alibi the misses, the torpedo performance of this patrol was certainly abnormal. Such a high percentage of erratic runs is definitely contrary to the general performance since the beginning of the war. After the attack on the tanker on February 3, all the remaining torpedoes were examined minutely, one whole day submerged being spent at this. In spite of this it is believed there were three more erratic runs. Not all of these reports of erratic runs are supported by other than sound but at least three were seen from the bridge and all the circular runs were definitely tracked around the ship." Comments written by LCDR John A. Scott, in USS Tunny (SS-282), Report of First War Patrol; see page 14, item 18, Remarks. Three circular runs were seen from the bridge; they are specifically mentioned in the patrol report narrative entries for February 2 and 3, 1943.


09  On her sixth war patrol, the USS Triton (SS-201) reported a circular run that occurred on March 6, 1943, probably by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "She reported their speed and course and the fact that she had sunk two AK's of the convoy and damaged another, claiming three hits out of six torpedoes fired at noon 6 March. A circular torpedo run forced her deep, where she was depth-charged by the destroyer." From United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 40.


10  On her fourth war patrol, the USS Trigger (SS-237) "Fired three stern shots [Mark 14-3A torpedoes] at 1100 yards 100 port track to run at 15 feet. The only one sound heard ran circles; ran right over our engine room. The commanding officer's confidence in himself and his weapons was so shaken that he considered further action by this vessel against these targets futile." From USS Trigger (SS-237), Report of Fourth War Patrol, entry for March 15, 1943, 2201 (K).


11  On her third war patrol, on March 23, 1943, the USS Whale (SS-239) reported a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "The circular run which occurred in attack No. 5 is attributed to a material failure in the steering mechanism. As the torpedo was tracked by an experienced sound man for one minute during which time it appeared to be running hot, straight and normal, no other explanation is offered as to why it should suddenly commence circling to the left. This torpedo was set at 16 feet depth. A hit is claimed because it was traced around in a circle back to the target and exploded immediately after which two very heavy explosions were heard from the target." From USS Whale (SS-239), Report of Third War Patrol, entry in Part XVII - Remarks.


12  During her sixth war patrol, on July 13, 1943, the USS Grouper (SS-214) reported a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "No contact with escort which had made no counterattack. Possibly he was disconcerted by circular run torpedo over us." From USS Grouper (SS-214), Report of Sixth War Patrol, entry for July 13, 1943, 2235. Also see page 17 of that report, which presents fire control and torpedo data for the circular torpedo run. It states, in part, "Upon surfacing fragments of an exploded Mark 14 torpedo were found scattered over the main deck; these fragments included metals from the warhead shell, the midship section, the exploder base plate, air connections, and other unidentified parts."


13  On her third war patrol, on November 20, 1943, the USS Harder (SS-257) experienced a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "With a track angle of 20 degrees port, range 1000, gyros zero, fired 3 more shots from stern tubes singly and deliberately. All three were erratic runs. Instead of running on relative bearing of 180, two ran on bearing 140 and the 3rd ran on 210 and then circled. All exploded at the end of their runs; the last one uncomfortably close to us." From USS Harder (SS-257), Report of Third War Patrol, entry for November 20, 1943, 0145 (L).


14  On her fourth war patrol, on December 1, 1943, the USS Peto (SS-265) experienced a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "Fired six torpedoes at nearest ship which was estimated of at least 7,500 tons. Probably Meiu Maru of 8,230 tons. Went deep due to proximity of escort and also because sound reported one torpedo commencing to circle to left." From USS Peto (SS-265), Report of Fourth War Patrol, entry for December 1, 1943, 0907-13.


15  On her third war patrol, on January 5, 1944, the USS Bluefish (SS-222) experienced a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "Fired three torpedoes (Attack No. 5) with zero gyro angles from the stern tubes, all aimed to hit. All three torpedoes broached continuously and ran all over the ocean. One circled and exploded about 150 yards on our starboard beam." From USS Bluefish (SS-222), Report of Third War Patrol, entry for January 5, 1944, 0143 (G).


16  On her fourth war patrol, on March 10, 1944, the USS Bowfin (SS-287) experienced a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "Fired first three at the escort, shifted to the towing vessel and fired three more. There were no prematures and I could see the wakes of all torpedoes running generally towards the targets, except for one which turned right and went down our starboard side. I had intended to evade at periscope depth but sound reported the erratic torpedo coming in on 160 relative. I didn't much believe it, but that was no time to argue with the soundman as to what he heard. I went deep." From USS Bowfin (SS-287), Report of Fourth War Patrol, entry for March 10, 1944, 1832, patrol report page 5, PDF page 169. Also see Torpedo Attack Report for Torpedo Attack No. 2, report page 27, PDF page 191.


17  On her fourth and final war patrol, on March 26, 1944, the USS Tullibee (SS-284) was hit and sunk by a circular run from one of her Mark 14-3A torpedoes. See United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 85-86.


18  On her fourth war patrol, on April 9, 1944, the USS Seahorse (SS-304) "...commenced firing a four [Mark 14-3A] torpedo spread, range 1800 yards, angle on the bow 85° starboard. There were four ships overlapping in the field of the periscope with no open water between them. Immediately after firing the third torpedo, the angle on the bow of the target was seen to decrease. The new target course was introduced into the TDC for the fourth torpedo which was aimed ¼ length astern. This was an unfortunate decision, as the change in target course at the time of firing the first three torpedoes caused them to miss ahead, and the only chance of hitting with the original setup was with the torpedo aimed to pass astern. By putting in the new course, the torpedo missed aft. No hits after sufficient time had elapsed, so at 1729 (K) fired two torpedoes to hit. Two hits. One of the first four torpedoes circled, and passed close aboard several times." See USS Seahorse (SS-304), Report of Fourth War Patrol, entry for April 9, 1944, 1726 to 1729.


19  24-May-44 During her tenth war patrol, on May 24, 1944, the USS Flying Fish (SS-229) experienced a circular run by a Mark 18-1 torpedo. "One minute and twenty seconds after firing first torpedo came the biggest explosion I have felt to date - apparently an erratic run that exploded very close aboard. All contactors kicked out in the control cubicle and most of the master fuses were blown." See USS Flying Fish (SS-229), Report of Tenth War Patrol, entry for May 24, 1944, 2215 (I) (Attack #1). "An enormous explosion aft of Flying Fish 1m 20s after firing first torpedo was probably an erratic run and premature although we have no proof of this. We had turned away and were building up to full speed when this occurred." See the Torpedo Attack Report Form for Attack No. 1, in the same report.


20  During her sixth war patrol, on August 12, 1944, the USS Pompon (SS-267) experienced a circular run by a Mark 23 torpedo. "At 2340 three torpedoes were fired at an escort with the No. 1 and No. 2 ships of the convoy in line and overlapping. Two torpedoes hit the leading ship. The remaining three torpedoes in the bow were then fired at the No. 3 ship in the convoy, resulting in two hits and the sinking of this 4,000-ton AK. One torpedo of this salvo ran erratic and it became necessary to 'maneuver to avoid' same." From USS Pompon (SS-267), Report of Sixth War Patrol, see Comments on Sixth War Patrol for Attacks No. 2 No. 3 & No. 4 - 12 August 1944.


21  During her second war patrol, on August 22, 1944, the USS Pintado (SS-387) experienced a circular run by a Mark 23 torpedo. The Pintado's patrol report for this attack says "The two erratic torpedoes are considered to have been caused by personnel of this ship." Only one of the two erratic torpedoes circled back toward the Pintado. From USS Pintado (SS-387), Report of Second War Patrol, see Comments for Attack No. 3. I extend my thanks to Henry Welles for informing me of this event.


22  During her sixth war patrol, on September 4, 1944, the USS Bowfin (SS-287) experienced a circular run by a Mark 23 torpedo. "Fired #3 torpedo range 670 yards, bearing 000°, gyro angle 358°. This torpedo was erratic. It started out on 300° relative, ran for an estimated 15 seconds swerved further to the left, came back to the right, crossed well astern of the target. It continued down the track in wide sweeps and appeared to run in circles after approximately a three minute run." Quote from USS Bowfin (SS-287), Report of Sixth War Patrol, report page 27, PDF page 30. Also see Torpedo Attack Report for Torpedo Attack No. 4, report page 47, PDF page 50.


23  During her fifth war patrol, on October 14, 1944, the USS Dace (SS-247) experienced a circular run by a Mark 23 torpedo. "Received report from bridge that number three torpedo was making a circular run to the right. Gave left full rudder and all ahead flank to clear torpedo, followed by right full rudder to bring stern tubes to bear on leading group of ships." From USS Dace (SS-247), Report of Fifth War Patrol, see patrol narrative entry for October 14, 1944, 0102-35.


24  During her fifth war patrol, on October 25, 1944, the USS Tang (SS-306) was sunk as a result of a circular run from one of her Mark 18-1 torpedoes. See United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 116.


25  During her sixth war patrol, on November 8, 1944, the USS Billfish (SS-286) experienced a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "Fired three torpedoes from tubes #3, 5 and 6; set at 6 feet with about zero gyro angle. Initial range about 1,000 yards. # 3 and # 6 ran straight and appeared to run under the target. #5 ran circular and was last seen on the starboard beam." From USS Billfish (SS-286), Report of Sixth War Patrol, see patrol narrative entry for November 8, 1944, 0118.


26 & 27  During her fifth war patrol, on February 22, 1945, the USS Flounder (SS-251) experienced circular runs by two of her Mark 14-3A torpedoes. "As soon as the torpedoes started out we could see that the two fired from tubes #5 and #6 were running erratically. The torpedo from #5 started turning off to starboard while the one from #6 started turning off to port. They both started turning off as soon as they left the tubes, they did not broach. The torpedoes from #3 and #4 seemed to run normally. Speed was increased to everything we had in order to get away from our own fish. Suddenly one torpedo passed close under our stern and passed up our starboard side not 10 repeat not 10 feet away." From USS Flounder (SS-251), Report of Fifth War Patrol, see patrol narrative entry for February 22, 1945, 0402.


28  On June 10, 1945, during Operation Barney and her eleventh war patrol, the USS Tinosa (SS-283) experienced a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "About same time heard whine of a circular run, believed to be second torpedo, pass close to conning tower. Flooded negative and started deep to avoid wild torpedo. At time of 69 seconds run on third torpedo, several men reported sound as of another dud hit or low order explosion. Was watching for wild torpedo through periscope and did not observe any hits in target." From USS Tinosa (SS-283), Report of Eleventh War Patrol, entry for Attack Data For Torpedo Attack No. 2 Date: 6-10-45; also see patrol narrative for that date at 2040.


29  On June 11, 1945, during her eleventh war patrol, the USS Tench (SS-417) experienced a circular run by a Mark 14-3A torpedo. "Fired 4 torpedoes from the bow tubes, depth 6 feet, near zero gyros, 130° port track, run 2,300 yards. Bridge made out target, but was unable to identify it against beach. After firing bridge announced target was a destroyer or DE. No hits. 3 torpedoes were observed to run straight. No. 4 started out all right , but at about 1,000 yards turned around and headed for us. Went ahead flank, but the torpedo practically hit our stern. Bridge observers swear it ran under our fantail." From USS Tench (SS-283), Report of Second War Patrol, patrol narrative entry for June 11, 1945, 0058. Tench's commanding officer also noted in his report that the wild torpedo, No. 24210, also ran erratic similarly on its last exercise firing, on October 4, 1944.


30  On June 20, 1945, during Operation Barney and her ninth war patrol, the USS Bowfin (SS-287) experienced a circular run by a Mark 18-2 torpedo. "One torpedo made a circular run. Reported by all sound operators." From USS Bowfin (SS-287), Report of Ninth War Patrol; see data for torpedo attack number three (page 205 on microfilm reel and page 25 in report) and patrol narrative for June 20, 1945, 0614-0621.