Weapons are designed to cause devastation and havoc to the enemies. After all, the purpose of creating them was to improve, if not secure, your chance of defeating the enemies and becoming victorious with whatever cause you’re fighting for, right? There are times, though, when weapons were deployed way before they were truly ready for war. As a result of the rush, the weapons could be instead dangerous to their users instead of the enemies. Here are some of those weapons you wouldn’t want to use unless you wanted to die.
Mark 14 Torpedo
Mark 14 was designed during the Great Depression in 1930 when there was little to no money that could be used to even paint barracks, let alone fund an expensive weapon system. In fact, when Mark 14 was put into production, it was not even live-fire tested beforehand. Back then a torpedo was a very expensive piece of ordnance to expend, each one cost more than $10,000 when a new Chevrolet convertible was about $700. To save money the government only fired the occasional inert test torpedo to make sure the engine worked and that could be recovered, but none with actual live warheads used against actual ships. If this was not a recipe for disaster, we’re not quite sure what is.
Used by the US Navy during World War II, Mark 14 was notorious for missing the target entirely. As written by Defense Media Network,
In 1942, submarines in the three regional Pacific Ocean commands had fired 1,442 torpedoes and sunk only 211 ships totaling almost 1.3 million tons (post-war analysis of Japanese records reduced these figures to 109 ships and 41,871 tons). The new Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet, Rear Adm. Charles Lockwood looked at the tally sheet for March 1943. The results continued to be disappointingly low. The problem: duds and premature explosions of torpedoes.
MK 14 MOD 5 Torpedo. (Matrek, derivative work of User: Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)
The torpedo has several problems. First, a faulty depth gauge meant the torpedo ran about 10 feet deeper than its settings. The Mk 14 was designed to run under the target vessel and explode under the keel, a devastating hit that would often break the keel of the vessel sinking it for sure. Running too deep meant the torpedo’s magnetic trigger device would fail to detonate and the “fish” would pass harmlessly under the ship. The triggering device proved faulty as well resulting in torpedoes prematurely detonating well short of the target. Submarines rely on stealth for survival and a premature detonation of the torpedo would alert the convoy’s escorts to the submarine’s presence and invite an immediate counterattack.
Second, In desperation, the navy told its’ submarine skippers not to use the faulty magnetic trigger and set the torpedo for contact detonation which would mean the torpedo would be set to run at shallow depth and explode when it actually hit the side of the enemy vessel. Apparently, the contact trigger or “Pistol” was also faulty. More often than not, the torpedo would hit the side of the ship with a clunk and not explode.
In 1943, the sub-USS Tinosa spent an entire day trying to sink a single Japanese merchant vessel. She fired eleven torpedoes at the ship, none of which exploded.
Perhaps its worst scandal was when its gyro mechanism failed, causing the torpedo to circle back and hit the submarine that launched it. This happened to the USS Tullibee, on March 26, 1944. This caused the Tullibee to sink, killing all but one of her crew.
The Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance, which seemed to function outside the normal chain of command blamed the submarine skippers for the torpedoes not detonating as designed. Given its size and relative political power, very few were in the position to contradict them. Admiral Lockwood took it on himself to conduct a series of field tests with the torpedos which revealed the problems with the magnetic detonator and contract trigger that finally convinced the Ordnance Bureau that the problems were with the torpedoes and not the sub captains firing them.
We might like to think that the military can react quickly during wartime to fix deficiencies in equipment and tactics, but this was not the case with the Mk 14. It took 21 months for the Bureau of Ordnance to finally fix the Mk 14 so that it worked correctly in the field.
For hundreds of years, the basic equipment of any infantryman was the rifle. During World War I, Canada wanted to equip its infantry with a hunting rifle known as the Ross Rifle. The problem was that a weapon designed for hunting is not necessarily the rifle you want to take with you into the muck and mire of the trenches in a world war.
Inside the Ross Rifle Factory, Quebec City, ca. 1904-1905 (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
The rifle proved to be heavy to carry, while its length was just too long for the cramped-up trenches of World War I. Its bayonet at the front would often fall off every time the gun was fired, but the most alarming aspect of it was that the soldiers reassembling the rifle after cleaning it could do so in a way that resulted in the bolt not being secure, while the rifle would still be able to chamber and fire a round. The result would be the bolt dislodging backward when fired and striking the user in the face or hand. More than a few soldiers would end up mangled as a result. The Ross also had very tight tolerances and the British made ammunition provided for it did not. This resulted in loose cartridges swelling when fired and jamming the breach until it could be pounded out with a ramrod. Canadian soldiers took to discarding their Ross rifles and picking up British Enfields off the bodies of dead Tommie in No Mans Land. It took the military a year before they were pulled out from service. This was after about 420,000 of them were produced, 342,040 of which were purchased by the British.
There’s a reason why the first M-16 rifles were called “a piece of garbage” by the soldiers of the Vietnam war. It was introduced to the US military service members in 1964 after its demonstration of accuracy, and lightweight caught the attention of the military. A year later, these rifles were brought to the jungles of the Vietnam War. The design of the M16 was based on the Stoner AR-10 and AR-15 with small-caliber bullets that meant reduced recoil, and soldiers could carry three times the ammunition in their packs at the same weight of the M1 and M-14 ammunition. The round was also supersonic at 500 yards. What’s more, it was capable of penetrating steel plate. It also cost a great deal less to manufacture than the M1 or M-14 it would be replacing.
There were a few significant differences when M16 was released. First off, it was made of composite plastics, so the gun was lighter than the usual ones, but the soldiers thought it felt like they were holding a toy (thus the moniker Mattel 16.) It was also endorsed as a super-advanced gun with self-cleaning capabilities that it would never jam, nor would the soldiers ever need to clean them. For this reason, cleaning kits were given to the troops issued the M-16.
Its barrel was not coated with chrome so it would rust internally and the bullets fired through the untreated barrel would cause wear that reduced its accuracy.
Carl Witherspoon Cleans His M-16 Rifle. (USMC Archives from Quantico, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
None of what they claimed about the M16 rifle proved to be true, and the military would find that out the hard way. The rifle would usually jam as casings failed to eject from the chamber after firing. To solve this, the soldiers had to take their rifles apart to fix it. As Jim Wodecki, a USMC Vietnam veteran said in a LightningWar1941 video,
The shells ruptured in the chambers, and the only way to get the shell out was to put a cleaning rod in it. So you can imagine in a firefight trying to clean your weapon after two or three rounds. It was a nightmare for Marines at the time.
More than a few GI deaths later and amid constant complaints coming from the troops about jamming and extraction problems in the midst of combat, the M16 was refined and improved and became the rifle it is today. Long term they have proven to be highly accurate, durable, and cost efficient rifles to equip the infantry with.