TORPEDO & MISSILE RECOVERY
At the end of WW II, many of the small craft operated by the US Navy were surplus. A significant number of these boats were disposed of in the Philppines as well as other overseas locations. Rescue boats in the US were auctioned off for either commercial or private use in the late 1940’s. However, a number of the boats were kept by the US Navy, and quite a few were either modified or converted for post-war weapons trials and test programs. The layout of the 63ft rescue boats lent itself to being easily adapted for three roles, torpedo recovery, noise measurement of submarines, and drone launchers. Finally, some were simply used as targets. Rescue boat numbers and prior service history of most of these boats has not been found.
From the late 1940s to the mid-1950s a number of the 63ft rescue boats were converted to the role of Torpedo Retriever. The boats were often referred to as TR or TRB, which could mean either Torpedo or Target Retriever Boat. When the technology advanced to missile development, the 63’ boats operated by the USAF were converted to Missile Retrievers
The first boats converted to be Torpedo Retrievers were the WW2 vintage Model 314 boats, as these had the engine amidships, the cockpit aft, and thus was the easiest design to convert to the new role. The following profile and plan were taken directly from the reprint of the Official 1960 edition of the Catalogue of Boats of the US Navy. Whereas the plan is accurate and shows the detail of the torpedo recovery ramps, the associated winches and the deck storage of the torpedoes, the profile lacks the same detail. The profile does not agree with the plan in several areas, but the main difference is in the portrayal of the superstructure, particularly the flying bridge. The few photographs available suggest that this part of the profile is inaccurate. The boats were re-powered with twin diesels – these most likely to have been Gray HN64 type (known to be used in similar conversions of former USAF Mk3 boats) or Detroit Diesel engines which were used in other boats converted for Noise Measuring Boats.
The early Torpedo Retrievers were based at several locations including the two US Navy Torpedo Testing facilities at Newport, Rhode Island and at Keyport, near Seattle, Washington. The latter base at Keyport was locally known as “Torpedo Town USA”. Other areas where the boats operated were at San Diego, California; Key West, Florida and Norfolk, Virginia; all connected with testing areas and naval facilities supporting our submarines. Torpedo retrievers were also stationed at Pearl Harbor in support of the ranges and submarines operating out of Hawaii.
Shortly after World War II the U.S. Navy began to deploy acoustic homing torpedoes on board submarines. These torpedoes were significantly different than those used during the war. The new torpedoes could dive deeper, change course, and steer themselves toward the target rather than just run in a straight line, or manoeuver according to a well-defined pattern like WW II torpedoes. World War II torpedoes, especially early in the war, were very poor performers, many said not much better than junk. These new torpedoes also had improved versions of the contact exploder. By 1948-49 it became apparent to the Navy that Keyport's Torpedo Range in Port Orchard Inlet was much too shallow to test the new deep diving, acoustic Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) weapons that were coming off the drawing boards. In response to this, a nationwide search began for a protected body of salt water suitable for testing the new torpedoes. As a result of this search, Keyport began to shift torpedo testing operations to Hood Canal and the deeper Dabob Bay. In late 1949 the Navy received official permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use parts of Dabob Bay and Hood Canal for “non-explosive torpedo ranging.” During the period 1947-1950 there was little production or testing carried out at Keyport, but as the Korean War started, during 1951 the facility was again back in full use. The facility has had several name changes over the years from the US Naval Torpedo Station in 1930, through when it was combined with the Naval Armament Depot at nearby Bangor in 1950 and became the US Naval Ordnance Depot Puget Sound. By 1978 it was apparent that the NTS role in undersea technology was no longer limited to torpedoes, so the name was again changed to NUWES (Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station), and later to NUWC (Naval Undersea Warfare Center).
From the dates of the boats being transferred to the Navy and since several were subsequently based at the Naval Ordnance Section at Key West, it is probable that they replaced all or most of the WWII era boats in service at the base, and included in that list would be those craft depicted below. Photos of the Mk3 boats converted to US Navy Torpedo Retrievers are not very clear, but it appears that the conversions, were similar to the Mk2 boats with the flying bridge being cut down and shortened, and the gun tubs were removed. The conversion aft of the engine room was similar but made that much easier as the Mk3 boats already had a transom gate, which was easily modified for the recovery of missiles or later for torpedoes when in US Navy Service.
USAF Target Boat a.k.a. SEPTAR
(Self Propelled Radio Controlled Targets)
In the early 1950’s the USAF ordered replacement boats (Mk2) for their inherited WW II models and in the mid 1950’s a program of construction for the USAF Mk3 boats began. Several of these post-war built boats were subsequently converted and re-designated as Missile Retrievers (MR) by the USAF. (See Mk3 section for details). Subsequently a number of the Mk3 boats were transferred to the US Navy for further use, and again were either converted or re-converted for use as Torpedo Retrievers. The actual dates of conversion and service of the Missile Retrievers is not known. The USAF also converted some of the boats to missile targets and drone launchers.
SEPTAR, another view
Profile of Drone Launcher