I just finished reading the book “Iron Men and Tin Fish” by Anthony Newpower (ISBN 978-1-59114-623-0). It is a short book that does a really nice job of covering the use of torpedoes during World War 2. The author looks at torpedoes from the Japanese, American, German, and British perspectives. His observations can be distilled to these few points:
- The Japanese had the best torpedoes during the war.
They developed a superior set of vehicles and the tactics to apply them. It is amazing how the Allies underestimated the importance of the torpedo to Japanese naval strategy.
- The British, American, and German navies all tried to sense the presence of a ship using magnetic field-sensing exploders. All failed.
The magnetic field of the Earth proved to be too variable to count on.
- The British figured out that their magnetic field-sensing exploder system did not work before the war and ended up producing effective and reliable torpedoes.
- The Germans saw the exact same problem (and some additional ones) at the start of the war and fixed it after a number of months of internal bureaucratic squabbling.
Eventually, the Germans captured a British torpedo and ended up copying the British contact exploder.
- The Americans had almost exactly the same problems as the Germans, but they tried to blame the crews rather than fix the problems.
This was an excellent view into a management structure that was overly bureaucratic and unwilling to admit error. Eventually, an admiral did take responsibility, but only after years of time and many men dying. During the effort at fixing their torpedoes, the Americans ended up copying a German electric torpedo that was discovered on a beach. This helped alleviate the problem.
There have been a number of movies made on this topic. One pretty good one is “Operation Pacific.” There have also been a number of magazine articles on the topic. For example, this magazine article discusses how Einstein worked on the problem and quickly came to the correct conclusion. No one listened to him — very unfortunate.
As an engineer who is now in management, I always find these case studies of dysfunctional organizations interesting. I also find it interesting how most of the management lessons that I have learned are “negative” — things that I will make sure that I do not do in my group.