Heard This? Sailors During World War II Made A Cocktail Out Of Torpedo Fuel
During World War II, American soldiers were contending with more than their share of catch-22s. This was a time when a stiff drink was hard to find, and all the good stuff in army canteens would be over or rationed before it reached them. Things were similar for the sailors too. This is where innovation stepped in: they came up with inventive ways to pour themselves a sundowner.
The American Navy’s singular drink, the Torpedo Juice, became wildly popular among the seamen as it was made out of actual fuel—in the form of grain alcohol—that propelled their torpedoes!
Torpedoes are explosives that look like narrow tubes. During the war, they were deployed as submarine-launched, anti-ship bombs for combat in deep waters. These weapons required ethanol or grain alcohol as fuel to run. Curiously enough, it worked well as a potent drink after a particularly heavy day at the sea as well.
What Is Torpedo Juice?
Submarine warfare during World War II meant sailors were aboard these vessels for days on end, without pubs or bars to frequent. Since the space was tight, alternatives to procure spirits were fewer, sailors simply began to drink torpedo fuel as 180-proof alcohol.
The spirit was strong and harsh, hence, the men would often combine it with pineapple juice to smooth the burn. This is what led to the birth of Torpedo Juice. If you were to visit any American cocktail bar today and ask for this stuff, it would be given to you with two parts alcohol and one part pineapple juice.
Torpedo juice hardly sounds like a refined drink, but in the middle of a garish war, it was a terrific gulp to take the edge off.
It was not all smooth sailing for the Navy soldiers who indulged in drinking grain alcohol as a sundowner. According to a few anecdotal theories, they would indeed open fuel casks and drink from them. But, since ethyl alcohol was necessary to power torpedoes, the Navy commanders soon began to notice a shortage in supply.
When they figured out what the soldiers were up to, it is said they were immensely ticked off and initially decided to spike the fuel with Pink Lady—a substance made from methanol and red dye which supposedly makes one go blind. But sailors were quick to recognise this ploy and used compressed loaves of bread to strain the grain alcohol from this compound. Yet, if an explainer on VinePair is to be believed, some sailors did go blind from consuming Torpedo Juice spiked with Pink Lady when this distillation process was unsuccessful.
Eventually, superiors in the Navy came up with a different trick to discourage their soldiers from consuming fuel. They decided to swap the poisonous methanol with croton oil, which, however, caused diarrhoea, vertigo and fainting spells. But sailors figured out how to distil the oil from alcohol and smuggled the liquid out into innocuous hotel rooms in towns where they made port. Before being dumped in 50 gallon vats used to fuel the torpedoes, the grain alcohol was stored in five gallon containers. Sailors moved these containers to the makeshift stills and brought back the distilled spirit on board to mix it with pineapple juice.
Not all such experiments were successful. Sometimes sailors ended up contracting illnesses, and at other times, stills would catch fire or explode because of the volatile materials involved. But they persisted, and Torpedo Juice quickly caught on as a favoured drink among Navy men.
Later on, as the newer Mark-18 torpedo came aboard submarines, the need for fuel reduced drastically as it was powered by electric storage batteries and the habit of consuming grain alcohol gradually waned. But makers of booze invented their own versions of this maritime drink and today, if you ask for a version of Torpedo Juice, you’d get distilled vodka with macerated pineapple. Yet, one would be wary because the high alcohol content in the drink definitely packs quite a punch and can literally cause a burning sensation in your throat.