Thank you for your column on the embarrassing failure that was the U.S. Naval Aviation Torpedo, Mark 13, in the early part of WW II. My father, Chief Ordinance Man Ralph S. Morris, was able to begin the process of improving it, through a bit of good fortune that is a story in itself.
The short version: He enlisted in 1941, and by the time he went ashore on Guadalcanal Island in the Fall of 1942, he was an Ordinance Man, First Class. You know the story about how the U.S. fleet had to withdraw upon threat of a superior Japanese flotilla, which proceeded to shell Henderson field, the U.S. toehold on Guadalcanal. Later, Marine and Naval air power were responsible for overcoming that force in the battle of Coral Sea.
In the meantime the isolated Marines and Sailors at Henderson Field survived, in part by sending a raiding party to the other side of the island to steal rice and whatever else they could, from the Japanese storerooms!
The bit of luck that got my father an air flight to Washington, D.C. was a Japanese torpedo, which ran up on the beach at Guadalcanal, and failed to detonate. At home, we didn’t know where he was, exactly, because that was classified, so you can imagine the shock we got upon seeing a photo of him in the Indianapolis Star newspaper, sitting astride that torpedo like the character in Dr. Strangelove.
He was trained in bomb disposal, so he deftly removed the firing mechanism from the torpedo, and the Navy requested him and the torpedo be sent to The Naval Ordinance headquarters in the nation’s capital. In addition to working with the engineers who examined the Japanese torpedo, he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer and assigned to teach at The Bomb Disposal School there.
After a year there, he tired of “desk duty,” and in true Mr. Roberts style, requested assignment to the Pacific theater, where he again landed with a Marine Air Squadron soon after the invasion of Leyte, in the Philippines. While there he received a Presidential Citation for his work a year earlier toward improving the U.S. aerial torpedo. I have a photo with notation of his receiving this award, but I never saw a letter from the President, if one existed.
He died in 1981 at age 68, and is buried in the Veterans National Cemetery in Riverside, California.
Ralph F. Morris
Ralph, that’s terrific information and you must be immensely proud of your dad. He sounds like a true American. BD