History’s Worst Weapons
[Re. “10 of History’s Worst Weapons, by Stephan Wilkinson, May:] I was somewhat surprised to see that the Mark 14 torpedo made the list.
As a young man of 18 I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1976. After recruit training I was assigned to torpedoman “A” school for six weeks of basic training in Orlando, Fla., then given orders to report to the submarine tender USS Proteus, homeported in Guam. I would always volunteer to go out on our boats when we would recover test torpedoes. This was 1977, and the Mark 14 was still in use— 32 years after World War II.
I left Proteus in 1978 and was sent to Mark 14 “C” school in Orlando for eight weeks. This was when I learned of its flaws in World War II—bad depth mechanisms that made the torpedo run deeper than the set depth; firing pins not hitting hard enough to explode the warhead; the Mark 6 exploder’s magnetic influence not functioning correctly.
It took months, many lives and much disappointment after the start of World War II to resolve the flaws of the Mark 14 torpedo.
Though the U.S. Navy has more advanced torpedoes now, they have yet to be proven during a time of war. We do not know how they will react to torpedo countermeasures. The Mark 14 would not recognize any countermeasures in use today.
U.S. Navy (Ret.)
As an infantry platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam, I read the silly cover story in Time slandering our M-16 rifle. Between firefights I questioned all of my NCOs and privates about their experiences with the rifles. I discovered that a few goldbricks, being unfamiliar with the three-pronged flash-suppressors at the muzzles, had jammed them into the ground to use the rifles as tent poles, or for support, only to be shocked their rifles didn’t work well. Fortunately, no men were ever endangered in combat.
Egon Richard Tausch
San Antonia, Texas
I very much enjoyed “10 of History’s Worst Weapons,” a fun and informative read. However, I must disagree with the placement of France’s Maginot Line on such a list.
I find it inappropriate to place an entire defensive line on a list otherwise made up of individual weapon systems. It comes off as another potshot at the French for their June 1940 defeat. Furthermore, the author’s comment “It cost France an enormous amount of energy plus 3 billion francs that could have been better spent on armored divisions and a more effective air force” places undue emphasis on the materiel aspects of France’s defeat. I direct readers to Eugenia Kiesling’s Arming Against Hitler: France and the Limits of Military Planning, which makes a convincing point that France was not defeated because of materiel shortcomings, but rather because of a fundamentally flawed defensive doctrine and prewar planning. More tanks will not make a difference if improperly used, and given inadequate preparations, it is unlikely heavier investment in armored divisions would have prevented France’s defeat. History is rich with examples of ineffective, wasteful and downright silly weapons that would fit much better in this list. There is no need for yet another attack on the Maginot Line, which has become the lowest common denominator for failed military endeavors.
Floral Park, N.Y.
I really enjoyed that article. One of the Panzer VIII Maus tanks is in a museum in Russia. Did you know that Hitler approved two weapons that would have dwarfed the Maus? One was the Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte, which would have been five times the weight of the Maus, or 1,100 tons. The gun on the Ratte was going to be a dual 280mm gun turret, as opposed to the 128mm on the Maus. The other was the Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster, which promised an 800mm cannon (à la the “Gustav” and “Dora” railway guns). Fortunately, Albert Speer cancelled both Wagnerian projects. If some generals had had their way, many more Tigers would have been built. I shudder to think what would have happened had the Allies faced the Maus, the Ratte or the Monster.
Staten Island, N.Y.
As a longtime and ardent reader of your magazine I feel compelled to comment about your recent article about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising [Hallowed Ground, by David T. Zabecki, July], which has always been for me an inspiring story of human courage and dignity. The Alamo in our history has the same symbolism—courage in the face of certain death.
There was much about the article to compliment, [but] I thought the point was missed when the author started commenting about the body count. To even mention the body count in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising misses the point entirely. The fact of the matter is that people who had no hope still chose to go down fighting rather than be slaves to an overwhelming and evil force. What they did had the multiplied effect of many thousand of times for the spirit and resolve of free peoples and those people at risk to lose their freedom.
Another example that comes to mind is Masada. Almost 1,000 Judeans chose to die by their own hands as free men and women rather than submit to the tyrannical rule of Rome. Surrender might have saved some lives, but not the spirit of the defenders.
Dr. Edward G. Halstead
I enjoy Military History very much and check out my local newsagent regularly to ensure I do not miss a copy. I was interested to see the spread on the Lewis machine gun [Hardware, by Jon Guttman] in the May issue. The Australians in France and Belgium in World War I were particularly fond of this weapon and had not suffered the inadequacies of the dreadful Chauchat. My grandfather served in the 19th Battalion, 5th Brigade, of the Australian Imperial Forces’ 2nd Division. In that battalion was another soldier whose expertise on the Lewis gun during the attack on Flers on the Somme in November 1916 was recorded by Australia’s official historian C.E.W. Bean. Was it coincidence or the army’s sense of humor to allocate the weapon to the appropriately named Lance Cpl. Louis Lewis?
New South Wales, Australia
Hunley With an H.L.
I noticed an incorrect nomenclature in the War Games, “More Bad Weapons” quiz [May]. For No. 10 you had the answer as CSS Hunley. The correct name of the vessel was H.L. Hunley. CSS applied to ships of the Confederate navy. H.L. Hunley [named for Confederate submarine designer and financier Horace Lawson Hunley] was not in the navy. It was a private venture and was technically a privateer (see P. 21). Though it could not take prizes on the high seas, it could receive a bounty for enemy ships sunk.
Minor thing guys. Great magazine!
In regard to the question posed in your magazine as to whether Michael Collins was a freedom fighter, a sellout or a terrorist [“Rebel of the Cause,” by Ron Soodalter, March]: He was all those things, depending on how you define them. By some definitions you could call the leaders of the American Revolution terrorists. Collins fought against a very powerful foe in the only way he had a chance to prevail. There is little doubt he was an extremely able leader of the IRA’s fight for Irish independence.
My father fought in that war, in the 5th Cork Brigade. He was disgusted at the sellout on the [Anglo-Irish Treaty], and he fought against the “Free Staters” until it became clear that fight could not be won. He then returned to the United States and never considered living in Ireland again.
The delegation led by Collins settled for only a partial victory by entering into the 1921 treaty with the British. Ireland was still under the British Commonwealth, and the island was partitioned, with the wealthiest part of it—Belfast—remaining in British hands. It is my understanding that execution of those who had signed the treaty was considered on their return, but it was felt world opinion would be on the side of the revolutionaries if the treaty was subjected to a vote of the Irish [House of Commons], where it would surely lose. The treaty was approved, and civil war ensued.
I don’t know what Collins was thinking. Presumably he felt this was the best deal he could achieve with the British. The IRA was underfunded and short of munitions. The Irish people, many of whom supported the rebellion only half-heartedly, were tired of the war. Perhaps Collins felt he could achieve the objectives of the IRA by other means once the treaty was in place and he was the country’s leader.
The Ireland that resulted remained an impoverished nation for decades, and only with the establishment of the European Union did Ireland flourish. It seems a shame Collins did not live, since he was indeed a capable leader.
Brian Boru Spillane
I enjoy reading “Bloodlands,” by Richard A. Gabriel, but am mystified why the events are listed in reverse order? It makes more sense to me to read about them in chronological order.
John J. Umhoefer
Editor responds: As conceived, the layout for “Bloodlands” was to resemble an archaeological dig, with layers of illustrated/ photographed artifacts in ascending chronological order, as at an actual dig site. The text mirrors that order. We’ve long wondered whether readers would read from the bottom up or top down. And now, sadly, the point is moot, as we’ve discontinued the feature. You might say, “It’s history.”
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.