Two men take off in a Navy blimp August 16, 1942 patrolling the coast off San Francisco. They disappear without a trace, midair, but their blimp crashes five hours later. 2012 was the 70th anniversary of this event and I have the solution. The story behind the story is fascinating and I hope you'll join in the discussion!
Monday, December 31, 2012
Turning Point: Collision of the G1 and L-2
Parachute jump practice from the G-1
the story turns to the L-8 it takes an interesting and critical turn
at Lakehurst, New Jersey that was to lead to the L-8 mystery.
the evening of June 8, 1942 the blimps L-2 and G-1 lift off from
Lakehurst on an experimental mission. The blimps circled over a Coast
Guard Cutter while dropping flash bombs into the water. They were
testing photo flash bombs developed by Dr. Charles R. Hoover to be
used to illuminate enemy submarines under the water so they would be
visible from the air. The surface ship stood in as an enemy sub, the
flash bombs dropped into the water would illuminate the outline for
the observers. Different chemical combinations produced different
colors of light and some were more effective than others.
G-1 was commanded by veteran balloonist Frank Trotter. The L-2 was
commanded by Clinton Rounds. Frank Trotter won many awards in
ballooning before joining the Navy. One of his previous jobs was
delivering mail to the Empire State Building by airship, dropping
mail bundles while holding the ship steady over the upper deck.
invented a number of devices in his naval career.
the crew was the flash bombs inventor, Dr. Charles R. Hoover,
NDRC/OSRD scientist from Wesleyan University, Middletown,
Connecticut. There are other scientists aboard but it is Dr. Hoovers
invention that matters in the part of the story.
radar and sonar are developed at Bell Labs, Whippany NJ. The Mountain
Lakes Testing Station ( Mountain Lakes, New Jersey ) was used to test
the flash bomb before the sea trial that led to the accident.
is a picture of acoustical testing with a model submarine. Dr. Hoover
is wearing the white hat.
Dr. Hoover at Mountain Lakes (NJ) Testing Station
two blimps containing 13 passengers collided five miles off the New
Jersey coast near Manasquan. They fell from about 500 feet into the
ocean, killing all but one person. He survived by quickly jumping
through a window in the gondola he was riding in, breaking his arm,
and swimming until picked up by the Coast Guard some eight hours
say that the L-2 suddenly veered from it's circular path crashing
into the side of the G-1. The gondola of the G-1 detached and was
sent crashing to the ocean where it quickly sank with all hands
aboard. The balloonets of the L-2 were punctured and it sank quickly
into the water. A flash was seen under the water. I have yet to
locate the JAG investigation file so I'm taking this as hearsay just
now although some secondary reports tend to corroborate the story.
L-2 balloon bag kept it afloat and it washed up on the shore at Point
Pleasant. The gondola of the G-1 settled on the bottom of the ocean.
the dead were four civilian scientists, including Dr Hoover.
is the birthday of the Clinton Rounds wife. She celebrated with their
six year old daughter, Camilla, because she wasn't sure when her
husband would be home. Around the time he was dying she blew out the
candles on her cake and went to bed not knowing she'd never see her
husband alive again.
had been a survivor of the crash of the airship, Macon, which crashed
in California in 1935.
these men actually survived the fall. But the gondola settled into
the water, half submerged, while the air bag covered the gondola
filling the the gondola with helium. The autopsy report for Cmdr
Rounds shows that he died along with Dr Hoover from anoxia,
suffocating when the air was displaced by the Helium. It also lists
that he suffered third degree burns most likely by an accidental
explosion of one of the flash bomb flares.
newspaper account from the Asbury Park Press (New Jersey)
One G-1 L-2 newspaper account
loss of the crews, Scientists, blimps and experiments aboard the L-2
and G-1 was a set back to the development of radar. Worse yet, it's
publicly visible. Newspaper accounts mention the secret mission and
potentially hazardous nature of the experimental mission the blimps
were. Given the list of the dead, including the civilian scientists,
it would be easy for spies to work out what was being done at
Lakehurst and infiltrate.
loss is quickly overshadowed by the war news about the Battle of
Staff is quickly shipped from
Lakehurst to Moffett Field at San Francisco being developed as the
West Coast NAS. This included the members of the Rangefinder group
including Adams and Cody. Both were given promotions that allowed
them to fly. Ensign A. Ulrich, who piloted the L-8 the day before the
disappearance, had only been at Moffet for 3 days also coming from
Lakehurst. He was the flight director for the mission and one of the
first on the scene with the recovery crew.
Adams had been awarded metals for bravery, saving people on the
Hindenburg – Herman Goering sent a letter of thanks. He was also
present at the loss of the Los Angeles and Macon. He served aboard
the USS Henley during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lt Cody's military records folder there is a copy of a telegram dated
with the following line;” Request he be ordered to duty NAS
Sunnyvale Moffett field services urgently needed.” A note in the
file from June 5th
states “the Secretary of the Navy has determined that this
employment on shore duty is required by the public interests.” The
significance of who and what the rangefinders group was and what they
did would be another clue to the solution of the mystery.
The L2 and G1 blimps were part of
the fleet used as testing platforms for experiments conducted by the
group of scientists who developed the weaponry for the war effort.
Solving practical problems and developing advanced weapons. New
techniques and efficient use of resources. The technology we take for
While most people will have
images of bombers and atomic bombs as the most valuable weapons, they
were really things like radar, sonar, proximity fuses, advances in
air craft design, explosives and bombs.
is one of the most guarded secrets rivaling that of the work
surrounding the Manhattan Project and had to be guarded at all costs.
Office of Scientific Research and Development; originally known as
the National Defense Research Committee, under Vannevar Bush, was the
heart of why the good guys won the war.
the crash of the L2 and G-1, the newspapers headlines pointed out to
every spy in America the secret work being performed at Lakehurst and
with that the OSRD had to find a new home for the work.
Field San Francisco was that place. The replacement for the L-2 –
the L-8 was assembled and shipped off. Instructors and equipment
shifted westward from Lakehurst to California. Not all but enough to
make sure any spies had to work to figure out what was being done
the news had public stories about a western air training site being
opened up, the real story was that development was shifting to the
west coast. Moffet Field and Treasure Island would be used to
continue the vital work of the OSRD.
is from the cover of the OSRD year book detailing all the work the
OSRD was responsible for during it's existance. Of all the things
they could have put on the cover this is what they chose.