Category Archives: World War 2

Electrocuting the Enemy: 1917

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A hundred years ago this month, the cover of the June 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter shows Hugo Gernsback‘s idea for “shooting with electricity.” In response to the German flamethrower (flammen werfer, or “liquid water”), Gernsback proposed a system inspired by a hapless firefighter who sprayed water on the third rail of an electric train. That fireman was knocked out, but not injured fatally, by the resulting shock, but Gernsback suggested that the same thing could be done in reverse. And if a more conductive fluid were used, then the results would be more lethal.

Gernsback proposed a solution of diluted sufluric acid (or chlorid of zinc or even ordinary salt water) in a tank on a soldier’s back. Another chemical is added to increase the pressure, resulting in enough pressure for a stream to reach the enemy line. The system is completed with a 10 HP gas engine driving an AC generator, whose voltage is stepped up to 10,000-15,000 volts. One side is hooked to the stream of liquid, and the other to ground (apparently through spikes on the soldier’s boots). The stream is directed at the enemy soldier. Assuming he is in contact with ground, “the enemy will almost certainly be rendered unconscious.”

As to the friendly soldier, Gernsback points out that “it is self-evident that his equipment must be such that he himself will not be electrocuted.” He suggests that this problem is easily solved by the simple expedient of his wearing a “special ‘high-tension’ rubber shoe, capable of withstanding 20,000 volts,” along with rubber gloves.



Bombardment of Fort Stevens, 1942

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Servicemen examining a shell crater after the attack. Wikipedia image.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Bombardment of Fort Stevens,
the only instance during the war of a U.S. military installation within the continental United States being attacked.

The fort, which dated to the Civil War, was on the Oregon side of the mouth of the Columbia River. On June 21, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25, which had been assigned to attack enemy shipping, entered U.S. coastal waters and followed fishing boats to avoid mines.

Late that night, Commander Tagami Meiji ordered the crew to surface at the mouth of the Columbia. The sub then fired a total of seventeen 5.5 inch explosive shells.

Upon the first sign of the attack, the fort’s commander had ordered an immediate blackout. Furthermore, he ordered his men not to return fire, since doing so would reveal the base’s location.

The strategy proved effective, and the only real damage done was the severing of some telephone cables. Most of the shells landed in a nearby baseball field or a swamp.

The sub was spotted by Army Air Corps planes on a training mission, and they called in the sub’s location for a bomber to attack. The bomber spotted the sub, but the sub was able to dodge the bombs and submerge undamaged.

The fort remained an active military base until 1947.  It is now part of Fort Stevens State Park.



Cooking With Sugar Rationing

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Sugar rationing took effect in the United States in May 1942, and the next month, CBS radio personality Kate Smith stepped up to the plate in the June issue of Radio Mirror with recipes with which the housewife could conserve the commodity, but still prepare deserts.

Smith knew that her readers would accept rationing for what it was–“an emergency method of making quite sure that everyone gets all the sugar he needs and that no one gets more than he really needs.” She also knew that her readers wanted to make sure that they didn’t use their portion wastefully.

Therefore, she presented these recipes showing how delicious deserts could be prepared with other sweetening agents such as corn syrup, prepared pudding mixtures (which used dextrose), molasses, and honey.

Her sugarless layer cake used corn syrup, and the molasses cake used molasses along with a bit of brown sugar. She suggested that an easy and delicious filling for either cake could be made with a package of chocolate pudding mix and milk, following the package directions, but with a bit less milk. Instead of frosting, the cake could be covered with nut meats, currants, or raisins, or a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar could be used.

She also included a chocolate souffle recipe using a packaged pudding mix, and baked stuffed oranges using corn syrup or honey.

For glazing a ham, she included a recipe with a corn syrup glaze.

 



Mirrorphone, 1942

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Shown here on the cover of National Radio News, June-July 1942, is the Mirrorphone from Western Electric. The magazine noted that the magnetic tape recording device was being used by radio announcers, actors, and in speech classes as an aid to speech improvement.

It recorded the subject’s voice onto a steel tape, which was presumably in n endless loop. A switch provided for immediate playback, allowing the speaker to detect and correct errors of pronunciation, emphasis, or tone.

The recorder automatically erased previous recordings.

The magazine noted that the device was in use by a number of radio stations, dramatic groups, and speech classes to train thousands of new telephone operators and secretaries in government agencies and war industries.

More information about the Mirrorphone, along with photos, can be found at this link.



Lidice Massacre, 1942

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Lidice Massacre, June 10, 1942, at Lidice, in the current Czech Republic. In retaliation for the assassination of Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhard_Heydrich
Hitler and Himmler ordered the destruction of the village of Lidice. On this day, the 173 male residents over 15 years of age were executed by shooting. The 184 women and 88 children were deported to concentration camps, where they were gassed.

Unlike most atrocities, the Nazis bragged about this one. The German radio station, received by the Associated Press in New York, reported “all male grownups of the town were shot, while the women were placed in a concentration camp, and the children were entrusted to appropriate educational institutions.” A total of 340 died in the reprisal.



1942 Air Raid Alarm

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The June 1942 issue of Service magazine carried this ad for an air raid alarm to be added to any radio.  It noted that the first sign of an air raid would often be local radio stations leaving the air, lest they serve as a beacon for incoming bombers.  If you were listening to the radio during the day, you would know immediately.  But at night, with the radio off, you would be caught unaware.

With this home alert, you would leave the radio on standby, and if the station you were tuned to left the air, this would be the sign of a possible air raid.  The ad noted that during air raid alarms in Los Angeles, radios equipped with this device sounded the alarm from six to ten minutes before the sirens sounded.

The unit sold for $5, and could be installed by a local service shop.



Recording a Record for Servicemen, 1942.

1942June8ChiTrib75 years ago today, the June 8, 1942, issue of the Chicago Tribune carried this ad from the Marshall Field department store.

So that customers could express their gratitude to the men in the service, the store had a “canteen” on the second floor containing 576 different gift ideas that were, after “consultation with the War Department and the boys themselves,” were guaranteed to please the serviceman. The ad invited customers to “spend very little, or quite a lot, but send the boys something regularly.”

The store’s prices included free shipping by railway express to any military or naval post, station, camp, or ship.

One suggestion to include in the box to the boys was a phonograph record. For just a quarter, you could record five minutes on two sides of a 6 inch phonograph disk so that the boys could hear a voice from home.



1942 Portable Aircraft Detector

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Seventy-five years ago this month, the cover of Popular Mechanics, June 1942, pictured this aircraft spotter with the latest in portable listening equipment. This plane detector featured a parabolic microphone worn as a headpiece. The spotter would listen for the low-pitched hum of an approaching aircraft, and turn his body until the sound was the loudest. He would then be facing the source and could use his binoculars to swiftly and accurately focus in on the plane.

The amplifier, featuring miniature tubes, was worn in a carrying case slung over the shoulder, which also included batteries and accessories. The magazine noted that the set could be used in places where more elaborate units were not available.

For another aircraft detector, see our earlier post.



Battle of Midway and Aleutian Islands Campaign: 1942

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U.S. dive bombers attacking Japanese carrier. Wikipedia photo.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of two battles of World War II in the Pacific. the Battle of Midway began on June 4, 1942, and the Aleutian Islands Campaign began the day before.

At Midway, the Japanese had intended to eliminate the United States as a strategic power in the Pacific. The Japanese had made faulty assumptions of American reaction, and American cryptographers had been able to determine the date and location of the planned attack. The battle was a U.S. victory, and all four of Japan’s large aircraft carriers were sunk. Along with the Guadalcanal Campaign which began in August, the battle is considered a turning point in the war in the Pacific.

Navy radio station at Dutch Harbor, AK. Wikipedia photo.

On June 3 and 4, the Japanese attacked the SuS. airfield at Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The attack on Dutch Harbor prompted a blackout of radio stations along the West Coast of North America. According to the June 8, 1942, issue of Broadcasting, stations along the West Coast were silenced for more than eight hours, from 9:01 PM until 5:24 AM the next morning. This was the longest radio blackout to date. Stations in British Columbia, Canada, and Baja California, Mexico, were also off the air for about the same time period.

The magazine noted that the blackout resulted in heavy loss of revenue, but the West Coast stations “cheerfully dug in for the duration.” In most cases, full staff remained on duty. Station switchboards were flooded with calls from listeners, but “operators and attendants on duty kept the public reassured.” According to the magazine, “stations up and down the entire Pacific Coast area have been highly complimented by official Washington, the Army and Navy, as well as by an appreciative public for their efficient cooperation in following through on all orders given.”



1942 QST: Visual Signalling

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75 years ago, American amateur radio operators were off the air for the duration, but QST kept rolling off the presses, and continued to encourage hams to hone their skills for the war effort.  One skill, of course, where hams had a natural edge was their knowledge of the International Morse Code, which was widely used both in the military and by government and civilian radio stations.

In the June 1942 issue, long time QST Editor Clinton DeSoto, W1CBD, wrote this article about methods of visual signalling. He noted that many a young amateur “joined up with the Navy or the Sginal Corps secure in the belief that because he knew radio he knew all there was to know about communications.”

But DeSoto noted that knowledge of CW and radiotelephone, and even a smattering of wire telephone and telegraph, covered only a part of communications methods then in use. In many cases, radio was unavailable, such in cases where a ship had to observe radio silence, and wires were not always an option. Therefore, especially in the Navy, but also in the Army Signal Corps, a knowledge of visual signalling methods was critical.

In the article, he gives a primer on the methods then in use, and encouraged hams to learn these methods. Those methods were (1) aural; (2) blinker; (3) wigwag; (4) semaphore; and (5) the international flag code.

DeSoto noted that aural signalling would require little or no new knowledge for a ham, since copying Morse from a fog horn or siren was no more difficult than copying CW on the air.

Copying code from a light blinker required a bit of practice, since the ham had to use a different sense to transmit the signal to the brain. However, he noted that most hams could acquire a speed of 8-10 words per minute with just a few hours practice. This speed was quite useful, since 12 WPM was about the maximum ever encountered in blinker work.

The third method, wigwag, was rarely used, but since it was also based on International Morse Code, most hams would have an edge when it came to using it. In wigwag, a single signal flag or light is used. It is dipped to the left (from the viewer’s point of view) for a dot, and to the right for a dash. Between dots and dashes, the flag or light is held vertically above the head.

Wigwag is very slow and cumbersome, and had a maximum speed of a couple of words per minute. For that reason, it was rarely used except when nothing else would serve.

The much more efficient system of signalling with flags is semaphore, and DeSoto devoted much of the article to its explanation. As shown in the diagram above, semaphore uses two flags held in the positons shown above. Semaphore had been around since Napoleon’s day, and in addition to flags, shore-to-ship communication, and even inland links, of the past had used stations with tall masts and giant signalling arms.

With practice, a skilled operator could achieve speeds up to 25 words per minute, making semaphore a vitally useful skill.

The article gave the basics of the procedure used. To begin, the sender would wave the flags for the attention signal, until the receiving operator answered with the acknowledgment “C”. As the sender completed each word, he dropped his arms to the “break” signal. At that point, the receiver would acknowledge with another “C”. If no acknowledgement was received, that word would be repeated.

Some of the prosigns and abbreviations used by hams were also used in semaphore. For example, the symbol AR was commonly used to indicate the end of a message.

Finally, DeSoto spent some time discussing the international flag code, which used individual flags for each letter of the alphabet. Each flag also had an independent meaning. Therefore, if a single flag was displayed on the signal mast, it was understood that it was conveying that message.

To minimize the number of flags that had to be carried, four flags were assigned as “repeat” flags. The “First Repeat” flag would be used to indicate that the first letter of the word was being repeated. The “Second Repeat” flag would mean that the second letter of the word was being used again.

The international flags were reproduced in the article, but in black and white. DeSoto warned that it wouldn’t be a good idea to attempt to learn them from those illustrations. He recommended either coloring them on the pages of the magazine with water colors or crayons, or simply making a set of identification cards in the correct colors. He also included the source of flashcards, available for 50 cents postpaid, or the official “International Code of Signals (Vol. 1, Visual and Sound)” available from the Navy Department for $2.25. A more recent edition of that text is available at this link.

This article would be of particular interest to Boy Scouts or their counselors working on the Signs Signals and Codes merit badge.  As I discussed previously at this post and this post, that merit badge includes Morse Code, semaphore, international flag codes, in addition to other topics.  Therefore, DeSoto’s 1942 article includes much of the information necessary to earn the merit badge.

Elsewhere in the same issue of QST (page 53), ARRL Communications Manager F.E. Handy, W1BDI, suggested a use for the signal flags. With amateur radio off the air, there would be no Field Day in 1942. Handy suggested that hams could use the traditional Field Day weekend, the third weekend in June, to make an outing to their usual Field Day location to practice some of these techniques:

Working in pairs, amateurs should call out characters as they are interpreted from the flags, impressing a bystander for ‘recorder’ if necessary. With some experience you will with to try for greater DX. Then we also suggest a planned trek to the usual FD location if you can make it on that third weekend of June. This will make a good outing for those of the group that can be rounded up; it will rouse afresh the memories of the last ARRL Field Day. Don’t forget to give the signal-flag idea a Field Day workout!