Nuclear depth charges?

So it recently came out that the UK had nuclear depth charges on the ships they sent to the Faulklands way back when. I’ve never even heard of these before, so I have a couple of questions:

Why nuclear? And given my basic knowledge of normal depth charges, how do they possibly avoid blowing up the ship dropping them?

They do exist, in fact, a friend of mine who server in the US Navy during the vietnam war as a weapon specialist (loading/unloading weapons). He told me that the drill they hated the most was the loading of “special weapons” which were the nuclear depth charge. Its purpose was as a last ditch effort to destroy any submarines attacking a carrier group. It works by crushing the hulls with the shockwave generated. They were intended to be dropped by helicopter. The helicopter deploying the weapon would also be destroyed.

The idea is to create such a large pressure wave in the ocean that the nuclear missile sub is crippled/destroyed and unable to launch its payload. A typical depth charge might not damage the sub enough to prevent that from happening.

I’d also guess it lets you be a little less accurate when tossing them over the side.

ASROC, (anti-submarine rocket) was equipped with either a rocket thrown torpedo or nuclear depth charge. The rocket sent the warhead far enough away that there was no damage to the ship, only the target and anything in it’s immediate vicinuity. Naturally it had a minimum and a maximum range for both warheads. The nuclear warhead was a tactical one, meaning relatively small. I believe these ranges and warhead sizes remain classified. Also the matter of whether the ship had any nukes on board was classified and probably still is.

There’s video taken from when the US did a deep underwater test of a nuclear weapon. The feed is coming from submarines. On the video, you can hear a creaking and then the water rushes in and takes out the camera. I don’t know where else you can find the video, but I know it’s part of the footage in Trinity and Beyond.

Conventional depth charges are essentially metal drums filled with explosive (Nitrol, TNT, etc.) and a pressure fuse that fires the high explosive when the charge reaches a preset depth. Because water is not compressible, the underwater explosion of one of these exerts pressure on the target hull. Although the most common anti-sub weapon of WWI and WWII, they were not very effective:

One attempt to remedy the effeciveness was to put a nuclear charge in place of the high explosive. This gave them a greater effective radius. Also, the greater pressures generated were intended to overcome the increasing strength of the Soviet sub’s pressure hulls. These were never used operationally (obviously), but there were tests such as the one asterion refers to.

Unlike conventional depth charges, nuclear depth charges were not intended to be dropped over the side of a ship. They were deployed from ASROC or anti-sub aircraft (copters, P-2’s, etc.)

Ultimately, homing torpedoes proved more effective at destoying enemy subs.

I remember that scene…and I’m sure its just stock footage edited to create movie magic.

I’m fairly certain that a camera inside a sunken submarine crushed by an underwater nuclear blast would be impossible to retrieve.

If it was video, all they would need is a cable to the surface.

The U.S. spent a huge amount of money (and fooled millions of schoolchildren with fables about the Glomar Explorer) to develop technology to retrieve items like Soviet subs from the sea floor. America actually tapped Soviet military phone lines crossing the deep sea floor of the Gulf of Okhotsk. Read the highly entertaining book Blind Man’s Bluff, now in paperback. :slight_smile: