Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eastern Sea Frontier War Diary - The Submarine Situation June 1942

I found this  Eastern Sea Frontier report recently that discussed the state of submarine attacks and counter measures needed. The office worked out of 90 Church Street in Manhattan just around the corner from the picture below.

The light brown building on the left side in this picture was the Western Electric building where the NDRC/OSRD Division 15, Radar Countermeasures worked. It was also the first building to have a microwave communication transmitter/receiver, the other half sitting in an airfield in Mount Neshanic, New Jersey.
This building sits across from the new Freedom Tower. I was working in the building on the right until recently for about a year until my research uncovered that so much of my story was so close at hand.
The Tizzard Mission starts two blocks up and one down on Broadway not far from here.
The path between the Tower and work is blocked with construction and there is an over pass that allowed me to get up close to the Art Deco stone work in the  NDRC building ( Verizon today ). It's been a year and a day since Sandy hit. When I  was first able to get back into the City, the debris mark was chest high - I'm six feet two inches tall.

This was taken from the Irish Hunger Memorial, a small sloping park rising next to the Hudson River with transplanted grass, plants, stone, and a stone house - sans roof, from Ireland , commentating the migration of the Irish to America during the Famine, their rough road, and their contribution to the American story.

I wanted to send best wishes to those impacted by the weather in Europe, friends, family and strangers alike. Hold  on, together, and you'll be get through it. Good luck and I'll keep you in my prayers.

Dark days will pass. They have before and they will again.

This report outlines the state of the submarine war in the Atlantic and the need to use any and all air craft - including lighter than air aircraft to patrol against enemy submarines. It was this need to detect enemy submarines that drove the NDRC scientists work. Ingenuity is driven by necessity to overcome adversity... but not always without cost. That is part of the story of the L-8 and L2/G1 that I've been trying to get across.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mad, Radar and Blimps

I've been going through my records refreshing my memory as I write. This project is so much bigger than I thought when I started it. It started as a simple little mystery to solve and maybe write an article outlining the mystery.

I found myself mesmerized by the few facts I could find, the lack of information, and annoyed by the here-say, flights of fancy, and the puzzle that lay in front of me to figure out.

By now you know I have suggested that I believe radar had some part in the story of the Ghostblimp.
I'd like to explain how I came and do it in traditional Otto fashion - with facts, not just because I say so and I'm emphatic or passionate about my theory or the topic.No name calling either to bully your argument to the masses either. Just the facts we have at hand, a logical review, and may the best argument win.

So let's get started.

Even before I found the L-8 folder I was looking for hints using the list of names I'd gathered. That would include the people involved as well as the places involved. I happened to be working at my day job running the computer infrastructure group for finance department a large insurance company at the time. I was going through the microfilm index for the Navy along withn the rest of the name list. The Navy records I scanned included the Fixed Asset records ( something you own that is not consumed, but is reused - a stove or frig, for example, as opposed to food stuffs, if we were using your house as an example ).
In the records I found that lots of equipment was sent to both the Farralones and Point Reyes. The Farralones I could understand and this did not bother me. I made note to explain what Point Reyes had that required electronics. Bookmark until later.

Then I started to find other brought up the idea. I had ordered the DOD record for Cody and Adams. It's a long story but the records for Adams came through first after a long and Herculean effort. Thinking about getting Cody's records still can cause a nervous twitch. His record is long and impressive but one bit I couldn't understand was that he had transferred from a group called the "rangefinders".  Anyone into photography would have the image of a split prism view finder pop into their head. What's a rangefinder in the Navy and how does it fit into light-than-air. Range finders find the direction and location of things. Sometimes it a place you go to, sometime it's something you want to blow up. Bookmark that.

I found the L-8 folder and had some more facts and I could shed some light on the sequence of events that day. But with that I could eliminate the idea that the L-8 crew was taken by a Japanese sub crew since there were two sets of witnesses watching the investigation of the oil slick. The inquest also eliminated the idea that the crew "landed" in water since the recovery crew handling the refurbishment of the L-8 noted there was no water in the L-8, that the metal would have etched had it been sprayed with salt water, and that had it filed with water it was unlikely to have lifted that much weight, and that the secret document bag was intact ( the paper would have smudged and been wet, the bag filled with water, etc ).

Then I started to figure out who was involved in the Love 8 flight and the fact that they all came from Lakehurst, NJ. What are the chances that this was random? Unlikely.
So I set out to figure out what they did at Lakehurst and found connections to LORAN, and radar, and the NDRC.

I also found things like this:

This wasn't the first thing I found but it was one of the most impressive things I found. By that point I'd had some introduction into ASG and further investigation verified that the weight of the units ( as posted in the NDRC records ) matched the weight of one extra man and took about an hour to install.
The purpose of the device in the document above was to combine MAD and Radar to fine tune  figuring out where potential targets were. Radar was good at finding things far away, but blimps were slow. MAD was fair at finding a local massive metal object underneath a blimp. The idea was to combine the two. In my mind I liken it to figuring out range and bearing in targeting. In the early 90's I worked on SOSUS at AT&T Federal Systems as a contractor.

I recently found some records before the goverment shutdown at NARA 2 that describe the situation and the need to develop the means to detect and effectively bomb U boats. One thing wasn't so apparent was how blimps targeted and bombed submarines versus how submarines but fundementaly this seems to have been an early attempt attempt at the same thing.

Pilots spotting an oil slick or some other sign of a submerged target dropped one or more flares to mark the spot. Then would then go and drop bombs ... on the spot. The idea that the sub has moved on seems to have been lost more often than not. Human nature saw something concrete to bomb and that became the target. Finding ways of calculating where to release the bomb through estimate or detection becomes a topic throughout the NDRC. Radar has also become a panacea for addressing so many issues. Range finding, detection, IFF, LORAN and so much more.

But there are problems also.

This is one of them. I bookmarked it. It would matter later when I would find another note in August saying that the coupling they developed used a plastic that was too soft. It sounds like it was a urethane or styrofoam foam consistency and the with bouncing the antenna didn't align  any longer.
It was just after that that I started to see medical papers and questions in the NDRC/OSRC papers asking the question about the effects of radar of people.

There was also a lot of research into the reflective and non-reflective properties of radar materials, for a number of uses. Scientific papers included topics suggesting how much reflected energy might be thrown back from surfaces for example. Others were for how transparent some materials were, plastics used in domes for example, and how much or little energy reflected back.

I would also like to point out something that I think some people may be confused over. The difference between standard Navy SOP ( Standard Operating Procedure)  and NDRC/OSRD test flights. The  NDRC would use blimp as laboratory space and schedule time. Some flights might be part patrol, part testing, some solely missions.
Here's something I found recently from April 14, 1942:

The NDRC Lab mentioned is Fort Trumbull in New London, CT. Dr Gilbert, who died aboard the L-2 worked out that office. Anyone wanting to write about the war should read War Diaries. When I get a chance I will go back and read the War Diaries at random. The imagery is jaw dropping and anyone who wants to write a realistic WW2 scene of a sub attack should read the War Diaries.

For anyone still wondering about Radar and MAD on blimps here's something from South Weymouth, June 1942:

To understand the L-8 you'll need to make sure you understand that the NDRC was in charge of the development of war weapons. They were tactful ( usually ), but while funded by the Naval Research Lab, they reported directly to the President. It was to aswage feelings and make sure that the whole process worked that the NDRC was transformed into the OSRD, with the military taking a more visable role.Civian scientists versus soldiers. Men in charge don't like nerdy scientists dictating to them. and it was this "us" versus "them" attitude that I suspect leads to the mystery of what really happened.

Some questions I still have regarding the L-8 mystery I would have thought could have, should have, would have been answered in the Navy testimony.

The Army had a SCR radar unit at Fort Funston that would have tracked the L-8 flight and stored the path on radix. The testimony mentions it, yet the radix is never entered into the testimony.

A G-2 man is on-site at the crash site in Daly City and no one knows his name and it is never questioned or brought up further. If it was to secure the secret briefcase aboard the L-8 it would have bveen a non-sequitur to hide his name, etc. since they brought everyone else involved into the courtroom.

The point I'm making is that the story is not as simple as we imagine. The story will only be told when we gather as much  information as we can and reflect on it logically. No self-confirming bias. No ego filled filtering. After all it's history, not Agatha Christie.

Have a great day. I'll be away again the beginning of next week but I may post a document I found that I found interesting. A special thank you to those who have written.


Friday, October 4, 2013

I Found the L2 G1 Jag Inquest Folder

I just wanted to share that after many years of searching for the Judge Advocate Generals investigation into the collision of L-2 into the G-1 on the night of June 8th, 1942 off the coast of New Jersey. The crash as readers of this blog will recall involved testing a photoflash device that would be dropped into the water to illuminate enemy submarines.

The folder was mislaid all these and finding it has probably opened as many questions as it answered. But as I always say, "In God we trust, all others provide data", so fcats are a good thing.

The file was not in the index under anything sensible. I found it by giving a new research my elevator speech on the mystery I was trying to solve and the folder I was trying to locate. Impressing on her that I'd been bouncing back between NARA 1 and 2 for years, doing this search part-time, I'd found one other L-ship accident folder at NARA 1. I then gave her the names of the people involved in the L2-G1 accident and off she went.
An hour later she came back saying she'd located a folder referencing Frank Trotter, the commander of the G-1 and asked whether I'd like to have it submitted for the 3:30 pull.
Naturally I did as any item related to the L-8/L-2/G-1 are treasure for me.

I got the box just before 4:00pm and had until 4:30 to skim through the folders contained in the box and found the folder among the dozen in the box in a few minutes. It was misfiled under 1940 instead of 1942 and under one name instead as a case file.

Eureka! It did refer to Frank Trotter but it was actually the L-2/G-1 Inquest transcript folder!
I quickly photographed the contents oft he folder knowing I had to head back home to New Jersey. Later that evening at home I found that I didn't do that great a job and most of the photos were blurry, but I did have the numbers for the box. I went back this past Monday and in the few hours before the government shutdown I finished photographing the contents - twice - and read the contents a several times, mouth a gap.

I out the real story of what happened that night and somethings I'd found in other sources were right, others incorrect. I'll make sure the truth gets out there.

One thing I found is that Dr Wyse was on the L-2 with Cmdr. Clinton Rounds, burned and dies of helium anioxia, not Dr. Hoover. Dr. Hoover was on the G-1.
The G-1's gondola was entangled with the L-2 at the time of the collision and both fell into the water together. It was only after the Coast Guard Cutter 4344 attempted to move the blimps towards shore did the G-1 gondola detach. The gas bags were covering the gondolas and men attempted to dive and wade over the cover searching for the crash victims. The CG Cutter attached and attempted the move as a way of possibly uncovering the gondola and uncovering anyone underneath. They acted quickly and bravely, and that included two civilian scientists aboard the 4344.  Ensign Fahey was in the water for a short period of time and not the hours that other sources reported. It appears that the crash was not the result of a premature explosion of Dr. Hoovers device but a collision in the dark, the L-2 running into the side of the G-1.

The inquest has also opened up one mystery I'll share. The L-2 apparently did not have any of Dr. Hoover's photoflash devices aboard it and was there to photograph the experiment with still and movie cameras pointed at the 4344 acting as the "enemy sub".  After the crash, sitting it the water, the crew observed that there was a flash from the L-2. I'll need to figure out how Clinton Rounds and Dr. Wyse received burns over the back of their bodies. The inquest discusses whether gasoline fumes could have burned the men but the conclusion was that it would have caused more damage - cloths, hair, equipment, etc - would have showed signs of gasoline fumes blowing up.

I'm in mystery detectives heaven!

I'll trying to figure a way of posting the L-8 and  L-2/G-1 Inquest online. Out of space. I also found some other things this last trip that make my case that my theory is correct.
 More to come.


Drawing of Ensign Fahey's testimony about flight pattern of L-2 and G-1

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MAD and Radar

I'd like to share something that helped me see that I wasn't crazy once I started to gather bits and pieces that suggested there was more tothe L-8 story than the two men fell out of the blimp during a routine patrol.

I came across this letter in the records of the OSRD at the National Archives site at Waltham, Mass.
This letter from Division 14 was not the only suggestion looking to test the combination of MAD and radar.

The problem they were trying to solve early in the war was trying to find  ways of locating submarines at a distance, coming in and dropping bombs. The problem was that visually sighting from aircraft was happenstance, radar was new and too big for airplanes, blimps were slow, and the military and the NDRC were desperate for any solutions they could find.
Engineering under pressure.

Here's one bit, but they suggested the same for blimps also.


The date is a few days before the L-8 accident but just a coincidence. They started putting radar on blimps earlier in 1942. It would have been 1941 but circumstances delayed that.

I'm posting this for a number of reasons. First, I think it's about time to give people an idea that I didn't just pull my theory out of the blue and it's based on documents. As I tell people my theory I get a number of looks - some bewildered, some "so sad Otto's gone over the edge..." , some "Otto's just plain missed the mark".  I always hold that that I may have missed the mark. Arrogance is the researchers worst enemy.
But I have always treated this honestly and with hope.

As most of the people who read this blog , I've seen (and love ) the shows like "Band of Brothers", "The Pacific", and all the hundreds of movies and shows, and the soldiers, sailors, and flyers winning the war.
The role of the scientist in the war movie is the addled brain genius working on the atom bomb or the breaking Ultra. There are so many more stories and people that were forgotten. Guns, bombs, planes, ships, etc just don't invent themselves and show up on the battlefront.

We knew what would happen should we fail to defend ourselves.

This started out with some guy from Jersey trying to solve a mystery but it's turned into something bigger.

I'm not sure where it's headed just yet. Maybe it's just a distraction, maybe it's getting the word out that weapons don't engineer themselves, maybe it's making people realize that as a nation we're stronger when we work towards a goal and not let our differences tear at the foundation of the nation. When I read the letters, lab books, and telegrams of the NDRC/OSRD, I see a country at risk and a people determined to work the problem together. The people involved were from many disciplines - from brilliant scientists to people who painted -artists developing cammo -  to those who did nothing more than have some trade valuable to teach something at the front.

I know this is a little preachy. Sorry. I was supposed to go to the National Archives and the Navy Yard last Monday. I wasn't up to it and decided to stay home the night before. My thoughts and prayers are with the workers at the Navy Yard who helped defend this nation, those who died and their families. The Navy Yard is one of those special places on the planet for me. It took me back in time when another set of people working behind the scenes, giving their lives, and using their brains and ingenuity, helped defend this nation.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

To Serve Man

If we bumped into each other on the street and told you about two guys who get on a blimp for a four hour flight only to disappear without a trace you'd think I was either nuts or telling you the plot to something I saw on TV. Well, at any rate the only the only thing I can guarantee is that I didn't see this on TV! There are days throughout this that I feel like some dime novel  detective. Jim Hutton in the 1970's "Ellery Queen" television show most of the time, pacing around absentmindedly trying to piece all the bits of facts together into the timeline. The facts are all that matter

The L8 story was a mystery not because anyone was hiding anything but because of all the events that occurred during that period in history paled in comparison.

I've come to understand it's many stories. It's about how people act during dark times.It's about ingenuity. It's about courage under fire. It's a story of people who know about the value in self-sacrifice, inner strength, character and intelligence. Strength through unity while still allowing a broad diverse set of minds to explore and the discipline to know what was going turn the tide of the war. This was the real purpose of the NDRC and it's evolution into the OSRD. It was this self sacrifice that accounted to connections failing to be made. The civilian scientists in involved quickly realized that for the whole setup to work and be productive and show results, they knew they'd have take the ego of their military partners into consideration while developing and that they would need to appear to take a back seat to the men used to leading the charge.

It's so much more than just a freak accident. It's not just an unfathomable mystery. It's both strange and heroic. No dark government conspiracy theory.  Nothing paranormal. Just a different spin on Shakespeare's  As You Like It, "All the World's a Stage" monologue, but I think that the ages of man are more about good times and dark days. Humanity has had both and will continue to have both in varying degrees and all we can do is control how we react.

I was in Baltimore, Maryland last weekend working an angle on the L-8 research and came across a new picture of the L-8 just before it crashed at Daly City. Every time you think you think you have all that there is to know life has a way of reminding you it's all so much more complex than we all like to imagine.As far as I know no one has seen it widely since it was first published in the papers in 1942, and I've never seen this photo anywhere else. The quality isn't great but it's a sign of that there are always more to be found and life and mysteries are never that cut and dry. I was actually looking following another lead involving the British, the pre-war years and the involvement of the British Security Commission in the Tizzard Mission bring the 3 cm magnetron to America.

Baltimore Sun June 12, 1942 - taken from up the hill from it's final resting place.

About my theory of the events surrounding the disappearance of the L-8 crew. I think you can subscribe to two logical theories. The first is that one fell while trying to make some repair on the ship, falling to his death. The sudden loss of weight of the first man caused the blimp to suddenly upend causing the second to fall out the door. If you have been following this blog you'll have caught on to the connection between the L-8 mystery and the development of radar and other inventions by the NDRC/OSRD. The accidental death of the two men aboard occurred through a curious and random set of circumstances, some direct, some not.
Without getting into a bigger discussion on fate and God, I'll just say that there was no malice in any of what happened but that as with each of lives we live is the intersection of  the set of events driven by random events  circumstances, fate, man and God. It's an imperfect world we live in and the best we can hope for is that we find ways of getting through bad times intact and make our part of the puzzle better.

 No one had any ill will in any of this. No one knows what will happen but much of what will happen is driven by the past and interactions of events we do not have any control over.  The story is about the set of circumstances that lead to the accident. Perfection is not possible, but how we react to adversity is all we can control. The men aboard the L-8 did what they were supposed to do and through no direct fault they fell from the gondola that day due to side effects from experimental equipment aboard.

How did I come to that conclusion? It's the only way the facts fit and still have the events make sense.

The story told by the people familiar with the mystery tell bits and pieces. A lot of the story is wrong or missing important facts in different sources. Rift with confirmation bias, people see what details they need to make their personal theory work - and only what fits. From the start I made myself a promise that I would not fall into that mindset. Question everything honestly and openly even if it means your own disappointment.

Option One: They fell out into the water and their bodies were missed. The L-8, lightened by the weight of two men raised above the limit of the built-in safety value, opening it, and slowing releasing the helium and leaving the L-8 to the prevailing winds and it's final resting place.

Simple solution. Occam's Razor fans will go with that one, but it leaves too many unanswered details.

Solution Two.

At the inquest so many of the first people who took the stand were asked if they had seen any one aboard the L-8 or talking with the two pilots before the take-off. One after one they all said "No" until one man responded that he had seen indeed seen  two civilians had been aboard the gondola with the pilots in the hour or so before the take-off of Love Eight. Who were they and what took an hour to discuss?

Realizing that the L-8 was intact and all the bits were working in the post crash check-out confused me. Reading the radio log I kept reading that the radio operator kept trying to raise the crew and commented that it sounded like someone was trying to respond. But the radio was working in the post checkout. Even the Baltimore Sun article that contained the picture above discusses that the radio was blaring when the first people arrived on the crash scene. What changed so that one minute the crew couldn't communicate but then the radio is just fine?

The L-8 normally had a crew of three aboard but that morning the mechanic who was on her was ordered off at the last minute because it was too heavy. Speculation suggested that maybe the fog and rain added extra weight, yet it only rained less than a tenth of an inch the whole month of August 1942. The fog that rolled in the day before was no heavier than that day so I had to explain why the L-8 was one person too heavy.

Lots of these types of points  pop up when we replay the events of that day. They left me unsatisfied by the Solution One and so I kept digging looking to fill in the blanks until I had details and a story that fit together.

The fact that everyone important to the story of this accident on the other side of the country is from New Jersey - as understandable and flattering it is to a Jersey native - was statistically troubling. So why the disproportionate Jersey representation?

After I found the inquest records and eliminated that there was a surprise attack from a submarine or a rogue wave  that washed the crew away, but that two sets of witnesses saw the L-8 heads back towards San Francisco under control, and one person reporting that they saw the L-8 approaching the Golden Gate Bridge yet the search was out in open ocean?
Was there any reason to think that they were out there?

As I was sat at the National Archives on Pennsylvania Ave in Washington one weekend going through the indexes for the Navy finance records during WW2, I came across another  another important "hmmm.." moment. I should mention that as I start researching I keep a list of important names and locations handy. So as I was winding through the index records I was scanning for my names and places. The names that stood out were Reyes Point and the Farralone Islands. They both show up as having had electronic equipment deliveries. The Farralone entries were not a surprise but Reyes Point was a puzzle at that point I didn't find any reference to anything more than a geographic point used as part of the L-8 patrol route. What was at Reyes Point?

Well one thing lead to another and I discovered that Reyes Point was a Bell Labs site, that the Farralones, besides being a radio listening post, had a radar site on it. The connection between all the  involvement of the men from New Jersey was an easy guess since blimps were involved.

As I started investigating the work that was done at Lakehurst and the surrounding area military sites I started with a number of trips to the National Archives as well as searching New Jersey newspapers looking for clues about what might have been going on at Lakehurst. I also started trying to get the DOD records for anyone involved I could find records for. I soon came across the L2/G-1 accident and it stood out enough to make it worth investigating for a connection. I quickly foun dthat the connection was that the L-8 was the replacement for the destroyed L-2.

I have been looking for the the L2/G-1 JAG inquest records, still as yet unsuccessfully, and I'm sure they would have helped get me where I am sooner, I found that the records of the NDRC/OSRD at NARA and NARA2 held bits and pieces of a story most people - even those very familiar with WW2 - ever knew.So much of what I read was familiar on the surface but I'd sit for days and read records, everything from technical works to personal letters, that filled in so much more detail to the stories. The word that comes to mind is "honesty". I don't mean that the stories we're told are lies but that they are often distillation of very complex stories. In an effort to make them digestible for the readership or maybe the limitation of the writer, the story is simplified.

A reader of this blog reminded me of just how far I travelled to unravel this story.

The last blog about Dumbo was from a source I don't recall, but it came from some where in my travels. Most likely NARA2, but I started going through notes trying to see if I could track down any written references to DUMBO 1 or 2 when I was still uncertain about radars role in the L-8 incident. I've been refreshing my memory lately.

Box 52B at Waltham, Mass. contains the photos of the equipment used in DUMBO 1 and 2 but it contained an important clue to reinforce the idea that radar was at fault. The mounting for the dish that transmitted-received the microwave energy of the radar unit contained a soft plastic material in the early models and it was too soft to hold up to bouncing around and the dishes quickly became misaligned and pointed askew when the radar operator thought they were pointed in the right direction.

Other boxes contained complaints about the mica windows in the TR tubes, the component that allows the radar antenna to both "send" and "listen". The windows would leak and let EMF energy through.

More boxes, different problems. Complaints from air fields from Ohio to Florida complaining about the problems radar caused with radio on planes with radar. Pilots were unable to use both at the same time and before they realized it many pilots were flying in without contacting the tower, low on fuel unable to wait and not realizing what the problem was.

The first units produced were hand crafted. Eventually they were manufactured in a more typical fashion but never quite so since radar was so secret, they never let any one set of people really see the whole thing. Radar was treated much the same way the atomic bomb was. The magnetrons built a few miles from my home in New Jersey. I was fortunate enough to have worked at Bell Labs in Whippany, NJ. In fact I spent the 80's and 90's working at Bell Labs throughout New Jersey as a contractor. Not a day goes by that I don't mourn it's passing.

In nearby Newark and Harrison, electronic sub-components were manufactured primarily at Westinghouse before they were sent to the primary contractor, Philco, for final assembly.

When radar was first developed blimps were chosen as the first choice for deployment since blimps could stay up for long periods of time, carry many people and become flying laboratories.

I was looking through records of the OSRD kept at Waltham; letters, telegrams, lab books. Anything that lead me to who might have been in California in August 1942 and why.

The super-klystron was developed at the University of California and arrangements were made to made for two scientists to fly out and test it. One was a scientist by the name of Bainbridge. I spent a week at waltham last year at Waltham reading through Bainbridge's lab books.At that point I didn't know who he was but I quickly saw the brilliance in the the works and drawings. Well almost. It turns out everyone has seen his work. Years later at Alamogordo, NM it was his finger that set off the first atomic blast on the trigger switch he designed.

In August of 1942 radar was in it's infancy and problematic. Lots of engineering and solutions to be figured out before it was ready for prime time but as the saying goes "time and tide wait for no man". The world is imperfect and we just do the best do with what we have.Airborne radar units took about an hour to install and the weight of one man. Hmmm.

Radar helped explain the radar interference problem. The weight issue.  The batteries being drained between the time the engines stopped turning the generators and the final crash.

Roosevelt had made reference to the Japanese being a problem when he signed the creation of Treasure Island for use as the site of an upcoming Worlds Fair. The first thing you would note looking at the five versions of the speech is the evolution involving the spin involving the impending need to prepare for war.
Reviewing the blueprints for "world fair grounds" the first impression I had was that it looked like runways with building placed on top that could later be removed. It seemed well thought out and dual purpose.
The speech dedicating Treasure Island was given in 1938.

After all, everyone knew there was a storm coming.

Radar operates in the microwave range and we're all familiar with when happens when direct microwaves at matter with water in it. Like people. It heats things up.

The book "Radio-Frequency and ELF Electromagnetic Energies: A Handbook for Health Professionals" by R. Timothy Hitchcock and Robert M. Patterson from Wiley was very useful in helping figuring out what would happen if a radar unit was aboard the L-8. The book help me figure out what could happen to a man when exposed to levels of energy produced in early radar units. In this case, the unit could heat someone up to about 103 degrees Fahrenheit ( 40 degrees Celsius ), producing a fever high enough to make you pass out, or maybe do something reckless and dangerous enough to fall to your death. Thermal heating via radio waves was and is still in common use.

Microwave energy development was originally attempted in order to create a death ray. It proved impractical for reasons I won't go into here. Germany abandoned radar development because what they really wanted was a  death ray capable of killing fields of troops at a distance and nothing so mundane as a way of detecting remote objects. Other countries dropped the idea of a death ray quickly but continued development of microwave energy based tools.

I have two working examples from the period. One was from St. Louis Worlds Fair exhibit that used microwaves beamed across a crowd at some ears of corn which would pop to the amazement of the crowd.
The other, not at all amusing, comes from Japan. The Japanese developed a prototype of the death ray, testing it on small animals and "dogs". This is not a political forum but I'll suggest anyone interested in this topic watch the History Channel episode on "Weird Axis Weapons" and research what the use of that word may mean. That suggestion comes with a big red warning label if you're squeamish as does reading the Hitchcock/Patterson book. It's not for everyone and I think most of you will understand that there is a suggestion that the Japanese tested their prototype on people.

 Should the dish become misaligned and the energy from the antenna directed into the gondola towards the pilots, they would have started to feel strange but would not have been able to get word back via radio.
Switch off the unit, but the switch isn't working. Head home but you feel feverish and may even pass out.
Make bad fevered decisions. Fall out.
You can't understand what is happening and just like a burning building, jump out.

One man falls and the blimp, suddenly lighter, bounces up dramaticly at an odd angle throwing the second man out the now open door. The blimp rises to the height the emergency release value opens dropping down, the wind blowing the L-8 inland and into the headlines.

 The hand of God or fate, you live, you die.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dumbo - Radar tested on the front lines

While I was working on writing the next installment of the L-8 I've been reviewing documents I found related to radar as part of the L-8 research. I'm working on the hardest part of the story to explain to people and I need to step away for it for a little while. A bus mans holiday.

I thought I'd take a break  from writing the book to post something that I thought a lot of people might find interesting. It's not really related to the L-8 story other than it involved radar. In the beginning I wasn't sure where the trail would lead me so I used to photograph as much as I could. Over the years some of it suddenly jumped into place while other bits, though interesting, never connected to any part of the L-8 story.

The story of Dumbo. Not the Disney cartoon elephant  though.

There were two missions that tested radar in planes on the front lines under the designated names of Dumbo 1 and Dumbo 2. The MIT Rad Lab assembled ten pre-production ASV radar units in early 1942 that were installed on B18's commanded by Colonel William C. Dolan. The missions would test the new radar units on the front lines. The benefit was as obvious as it was necessary.
 The risk was that if a plane was hit the latest, greatest technology the Allies had would fall into the hands of the enemy. Worse yet would be if the plane were hit and crashed. The latest greatest technology the Allies had would be in the hands of the Axis. Worse still would be if the crew including Colonel Dolan, who knew everything about radar. Colonel Dolan had orders to pull a pin on an explosive device should he feel that the plane and it's secret cargo were in danger. The bomb would disintegrate the ASV unit as well as the plane and it's crew. The Colonel had an aide who was his driver and handled the mundane things the Colonel needed done. What the Colonel didn't realize was that the Sargent who acted as his aide was in reality a G-2 Major. His task was  that if his mission was in danger of either the plane being shot down, he was to shoot the Colonel in head and pull the pin on the charge if the Colonel couldn't or wouldn't.

Dumbo was a success in May of 1942 and the rest is history.

Here are some of the documents that I found while going through the records of the Office of Scientific Research and Development at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland and Waltham, Massachusetts.

Preparation for Dumbo planes in Ireland

A telegram discussing the tresting and results of radar onboard British  Liberators.

Meeting notes for the Microwave Committee November 1942 mentioning Colonel Dolan

Notes for a meeting of the Microwave Committee Nov 1942

..and then on the next page I see one of the bits that started me down the road of questioning the hazards that pilots were exposed to during the development of early radar. Microwaves, EMF, high voltage hazards.

Xray hazard
 Well I'm reminded of why I do this. I really enjoy the research behind trying to understand what happened.
Hope you find this as interesting as I do.

and back to work....
Stop by soon for more on radar and it's role in WW2 and the story of the L-8
Comments are always welcome.



Friday, April 19, 2013


As I was saying, Radio Detection And Ranging or radar became the main focus of the war effort.

The story of radar development was done at MIT in Boston. Besides the detection of military aircraft and ships the other important use that was developed for radar was navigation. That's part of the "ranging" part of the acronym. Targeting distance as well as navigation using electronic signals.

The navigation system, LORAN, or Long Range Navigation, used timing of signals from known sources to determine the position of the the craft. This allowed a navigator to plot their course using a radar scope and prepared signal maps.

I found an article with a good description of LORAN in the Popular Science February 1946 issue.


I have a sample plotting chart but because these records were mounted in book form at NARA, photographing some documents was not easy or fruitful. If I can find a clear copy of the plot using one of the charts I'll post an update. The magazine article has a useful sample though.

The work surrounding the development of LORAN was done at  Lakehurst. The blimps K-1 and K-2 were initially used to develop and test the equipment. Test flights were taken down the coast to Maryland and up and over to Montauk, Long Island. Trips were made to Bermuda.

The K-1 or K-2 would have its windows painted black so no one could get a visual on where they were flying. To it's credit the first tests to Montauk from Lakehurst were never more than a quarter mile off target, verified by observers stationed along the route.

K-2 in the air

The significance of this would escape me for a while until another bit of the puzzle dropped into place. Most of the people who transferred from Lakehurst to the airfields around San Francisco for Lighter-Than-Air aircraft patrols were attached to the Rangefinders group at Lakehurst. When I had gotten copies the L-8's co-pilot, Charles Adams,  Department of Defense records it while looking through his wide career and noticing a simple reference to the rangefinder group. Not knowing what they were it was this research that lead to radar.

From there I started noticing statements like this in documents:

Discomfort reported on aircraft with radar

A pattern started to form as I poured over boxes of documents.

Other descriptions made note of problems with the TR-box, on/off switches, and the mounting of radar componenets so they did not break, crack, separate or point in the wrong direction.
I also found similar letters complaining not only about the physical problems caused by being in proximity to radar but the effects that radar had on the radio units within the aircraft.

The electromagnetic energy generated are in the microwave range.

Next... "To Serve Man"...Twilight Zone fans will have a clue....


                     Commments and questions are always welcome:       otto<at>ghostblimp.com

If you haven't visited http://ghostblimp.com please be sure and check it out.

05/10/2013 - update

I found these two pages reporting on LORAN testing while going through my research.
I thought I'd share it. It is located in the OSRD records at the National Archives at College Park, MD. Unfortunately it was bound in such a way that made it difficult to photograph but I think you'll get the gist.