Torpedo Juice

Torpedo Juice

By John Vogel

If Americans have proven one thing in our 247 year history, it’s that we enjoy a drink—whether it’s legal or not.

During World War II, the U.S Navy deployed 263 submarines throughout the Pacific and Atlantic in hopes of taking out as many Axis ships as possible. Each one carried somewhere between 60-90 men and would patrol an area the size of Rhode Island. The tight confines didn’t help the fact that one’s nerves would need to be made of titanium to operate under the pretense that if your vessel met an enemy torpedo, odds of survival were about the same as getting a date with Marilyn Monroe. Conducting submarine operations day in and day out is thirsty business, but the Navy was not prone to supplying booze. However, the sailors made do.

Each U.S submarine carried around 24 Mark 14 torpedoes (aka Mk-14), and each torpedo contained a propulsion system powered by a miniature steam engine that required fuel to run. Conveniently, that fuel was 180 proof grain alcohol.

The Navy realized that cans and cans of 90% alcohol may disappear quicker than buddies on moving day, and went to work adding food dye and methanol in hopes of dissuading sailors from imbibing. The mixture caused temporary blindness and a raging hangover (I know this from experience). It almost worked, if it weren’t for sailors filtering the fuel through compressed bread loaves.

Since good old fashioned ingenuity beat initial attempts at dissuasion, the Navy started adding croton oil to the fuel. This would cause cramps, internal bleeding and either vomiting or the runs. And again, a wicked hangover.

But alas, the Navy forgot who they were messing with: the sons of moonshiners and anti-Prohibitionists.

Sailors created makeshift stills referred to as “Gilly” stills. They would simply send the fuel through a distillation process which separated the croton from the alcohol. Though it was labor intensive, what else was there to do all day besides sinking enemy ships?

Once the ethyl alcohol was collected, it still tasted like pure grain spirit. To counteract this, they would simply mix it with a 2:3 ratio of pineapple juice to make it enjoyable. The creation came to be known as Torpedo Juice.

By 1943, we had switched over to the Mk-18 torpedo, which utilized an electric motor instead of the steam engine. Subs were no longer required to carry 180 proof hootch aboard, and sailors had to resort to stealing from the communications guys using denatured alcohol to clean equipment.

If you’d like to create this at home, simply get your hands on 180 proof Everclear and pop open a can of pineapple juice. Add a maraschino cherry for garnish if you’re feeling fancy. 

From the FE Films Archive

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