TORPEDO JUICE: "The Madness & the Myth"

Discussion in 'General' started by vcs-ww2, Feb 28, 2009.

  1. vcs-ww2

    vcs-ww2 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    During World War Two "Torpedo Juice" was, because of it’s recipe requirements, basically a Navy concoction. If you were a Navy enlisted man, after you sailed west from Pearl Harbor your chances of purchasing or obtaining alcoholic beverages were zero to virtually impossible. There were no cocktail lounges aboard ships and there were no exotic tropical bars on the little remote islands you might visit, or on which you might be stationed. Plus,"Big Brothers" – wearing the only bars one came into contact with – were constantly monitoring your actions.

    That’s where good old American ingenuity came into play.

    During the early part of the war torpedoemen (and others who handled torpedoes) on submarines, destroyers, destroyer escorts, etc. were often in a position to sneak small amounts of the pure grain alcohol that fueled the torpedoes. Now, one sneak didn’t amount to much. But if you could manage to collect a bunch of sneaks into a stashed bottle or jar you could eventually host a clandestine , but very noisy, cocktail party.

    Torpedo Juice Cocktails were usually a mixture of the pure alcohol and grapefruit juice, or orange juice. As for taste – there was none – other than the that of whatever you were cutting the alcohol with. Besides being tasteless the pure grain alcohol was colorless, flammable. and 190-proof . (Compared to 80 to 90 proof store-bought spirits) The first swallow of Torpedo Juice was an electrifying and jolting experience. Sort of like being kicked by a mule. You felt it all the way down to your toes – and then all the way back up again. It was really potent – and harsh!!!

    On an occasion or two I had the opportunity to sip the stuff and I can report that I didn’t find it a particularly pleasant experience. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of those, like me, who partook of the forbidden nectar would agree. But it was the "macho" thing to do. You held back any sudden shock or tears to show that you could handle the situation. At least you had the satisfaction that you were "beating the system". Wether or not that warranted the headaches, the sickness, the upchucking, and, perhaps, the resultant punishment, imbibing in the potent "white lightening"was up to the participant. But --on the other hand – when the opportunity arose – it seemed like the thing to do. It was the only alcohol available!

    When the military caught on to what was happening, they started adding a colored liquid to the alcohol to stop the practice. It worked! It wasn’t a poison, but it would sure make you sicker than hell.

    As for filtering out the offensive additive by running the tainted alcohol through a loaf of bread – I never actually saw this done. I never knew anyone who actually tried it. I never talked to anyone who knew someone who actually tried it. As far as I’m concerned this oft- stated claim is pure myth.

    As for me? I’ll stick with the next best thing ----- Martinis!!!!!

    (I purposely avoided telling the Marine side of this story because most of the time west of Hawaii and north of New Zealand was spent training and going to work aboard a troop ship – plus the fact that torpedoes weren’t part of their arsenal. Navy and Marine officers had limited access to hard liquor. The Navy did not run on an "Equal Opportunity" system.)
    . – . – .
    warhawk likes this.
  2. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

  3. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Hello and welcome to the Forum.

  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Hi VCS,
    I'd noticed you here & on WW2F (don't worry! Nothing sinister! ).
    Can we take it that you're a US Marine veteran of the war?

    Nice to hear from someone who actually tasted this stuff... & survived to tell the tale!

  5. warhawk

    warhawk Member

    :)Welcome, and good thread.B)
  6. leonvdm

    leonvdm Junior Member

    It seems to be more than coincidence!!! A few days ago I watched a snippet on TV that mentioned this exact practice. And yes the bit about the bread was shown.

    I may add this. Its revolting but it happens.

    In South Africa there are many homeless people. In the Cape Town area they stay in the velds and in the lower reaches of Table Mountain. They are known as "bergies".

    They can not afford alcohol in the correct sense of the word and often buy methylated spirits. They pour this through white bread and then catch the flow at the bottom and drink that.

    It takes the purple colouring away. It still smells like meths and has the same effect.

    And yes they drink it and a few years later, from continued drinking, they turn blind.

    Sorry to have upset any stomachs. Just shows how weird our world is.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Hi VCS and welcome,

    I too saw, possibly the same programme leon mentions about Torpedo Juice. It was a documentary about the crews on torpedo boats in the pacific. Peter has put a link above to my post about the stuff. It really sounds like it had the 'WOW' factor (taken from the Great Escape scene on the 7th of July).

  8. leonvdm

    leonvdm Junior Member

    Yes you are correct. I watch very little television (I try to stick to history and news program IF I do). It was about the Pacific and they went on to JFK on PT109....
  9. Lonewolf

    Lonewolf Junior Member

    Hi VCS-WW2
    Welcome to the forum. I have been involved in my uncles Navy reunions for the past 7 years. He was KIA at Guadalcanal. I asked his shipmates about the “Torpedo Juice", they just looked at each other and smiled. Yes it’s true. That is all we had to drink. They were on a destroyer. They had the fuel and the bigger ships had the grapefruits. There seemed to be some trading going on between the ships. They also told me that they would take a can of peaches and make alcohol out of it.
  10. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    You people never tasted the Italian "Grappa" - potent ?.....a Churchill 40 ton Tank would use up four gallons of petrol per mile.... but with a gallon of Grappa that same Tank would run all day... and you could break all the Olympic records to the latrines !

  11. vcs-ww2

    vcs-ww2 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    With your kind patience I’d like to take just one more crack at the Torpedo Juice "Pink Lady" controversy before I sign off on the matter.

    FIRST: Regarding wether or not the additive to the grain alcohol was a poison:
    It was not a toxic poison, simply an additive that caused violent sickness, according to a Navy medical doctor whom I queried on the subject way back when I first heard of the practice. I remember that he added something like: "The Japs are killing enough or our guys. We certainly don’t want to help them."

    SECOND: Regarding wether or not you could filter out the additive by running it through a loaf of bread:
    One of my favorite truisms is. "Repetition assures credibility." If you hear something often enough you’ll eventually believe it to be true.

    I don’t think for a moment that WW2 guys made up some of the stories they related (and still relate) about things that happened during the war But a lot of the stuff you hear about is pure "here-say". Never any documentation. It was always "Somebody told me......" or "I heard that....." The story relators probably believed what they were (and are) saying, but you never seemed to come face to face with an actual person who actually did, or actually saw, the actual related deed. Actually, I hope you get my drift.

    I’d bet you that – if you put together some of the grain alcohol and the disputed "Pink Lady" additive – then handed it, together with a loaf of bread, to someone who believes the "filter" tale – then asked him to filter the stuff through the bread -- and then drink it – the story teller would have a last minute change of heart. Something like the old saying: No atheists ever die on the battlefield.

    But, in the end, what do I know!!!!!!!

    Incidently – If you would like to try some " Torpedo Juice" this is still entirely possible. Most states approve the sale of 190-proof grain alcohol in stores. Other states – because of college student binge drinking – have stopped its sale. Good luck – and Happy Headache!

    . – . – .
  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    On the loaf of bread subject:

    In a documentary I saw Black and White (Original from WW2) footage of Sailors (PT Boat crews) holding loafs of stale bread partly hollowed out and pouring the fuel into it and catching the drips in their canteen beneath. This was done somewhere on one of the many Pacific Islands. They then added Pineapple juice to their canteens if it was available.

    VCS, Did you read the link Peter Clare posted above in Post 2 ?
  13. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    VCS WW2 -

    as you say one of your favouite truisms is that "Repitition ensures credibility" goes along with your other statement - "what do I know" -

    you will no doubt be shocked to learn that this "truism" was the basis of Dr Goebells ' philosophy in that " if you tell a lie often enough it becomes the Truth ".....

    Dr Goebells of course was Hitler's best buddy and committed suicide in the same bunker on the same day - after killing his wife and six you might want to rethink "your favourite truism ".....

  14. vcs-ww2

    vcs-ww2 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    When I used the expression "Repetition assures credibility" in my most recent post I truly didn’t mean that I subscribe to that philosophy. I just though it fit the argument that I was trying to make. That it would have any implied connection with Dr. Goebbels never crossed my mind.

    I’m quite familiar with Goebbels and his lies. And, I certainly wasn’t implying in my post that anyone is lying when they state opinions counter to my own.

    I’m assuming it was my use of the word "favorite" that triggered your critical response. If it was I apologize.. I also assume you’re British and thus the name Goebbels would elicit deep-rooted emotions for you. After all, it was you folks who took the devastational brunt of the war.

    If I hadn’t used the word "favorite" I hope my post would have passed your muster. I’m willing to admit to a bad choice of words if you’re willing to accept that excuse.

    I’m truly sorry if I upset you. I’ll try to choose my words more carefully in the future.

    Lastly, let me thank you for your service in WW2.
    . – . – .
  15. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Vcs -
    apology accepted as your assumption is quite correct as I am British now living in Canada - as for being upset that is a long way from the fact as I spent some 40 odd years in the sales field and can assure you that I have been insulted by experts !

    Don't slow down on my behalf as I find your input to be very interesting and can offer a little bit of advice - " DON't drink the Italian Grappa - unless you need a frantal lobotomy"

  16. :unsure:G'day VCS,

    Just wondered if you know what percentage alcohol is at 190% proof?

    My Father was with small ships up around the islands during the war and spoke about TJ a bit and said that some of the users used to go crazy, good stuff to keep away from.

    Wonder how many more Japanese boats would have been sunk if all the torpedoes went out with a full fuel load.May have changed the course of the war.

    Interesting topic though.

  17. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    190 proof is about 95%.
    A mate used to bring bottles of grain spirit back from the states at 95% - mostly evaporated before it actually went down you & turned apple juice into a quite remarkable drink.
  18. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    I have friends in North Carolina and I can assure you that Moonshine is still brewed up in the Blue Ridge Mountain stills!:D

    Several years ago I was provided with a shot and it nearly blew my head off.

    I never knew the term Torpedo Juice then, I just called it Rocket Fuel/Paint stripper!

  19. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    A friend bought some stuff back from Bosnia, served in a tatty plastic water bottle we assumed it'd been brewed up in a Serbian dustbin. The only alcohol ever that we've been unable to find a successful mixer for, it's 'distinctive' taste overriding absolutely everything
    It may still reside at Bodston's house somewhere... unless he's used it all for cleaning metalwork by now.
  20. leonvdm

    leonvdm Junior Member

    In South Africa grain, grapes, corn, peaches are blended and then distilled. The result is a drink called "WitBlits" (white lightning). Its true. But even better:

    In the then Rhodesia during the bush war the locals distilled something they called something like "kasjas"... Well we called it ZoumDouf.

    One sip and your head went ZOUM.

    Then next moment you went


    as you hit the ground....

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