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AT FORT MONMOUTH, NEW JERSEY:
CONTEXT FOR COLD WAR ERA,
REVISION OF HISTORIC PROPERTIES DOCUMENTATION,
AND SURVEY OF EVANS AREA
AND SECTIONS OF CAMP CHARLES WOOD
Mary Beth Reed
NEW SOUTH ASSOCIATES
Stone Mountain, Georgia
Subcontractor for Geo-Marine, Inc.
550 East Fifteenth Street
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Fort Worth District
819 Taylor Street
Fort Worth, Texas
Camp Evans and Camp Charles Wood are the only two World War II subinstallations that are still an integral part of Fort Monmouth. Toward the end of 1941, some of the Sandy Hook production facilities were relocated to Camp Evans, in Wall Township (CECOM Historical Office 1994:3-5), although it is believed that many of the research facilities remained at Sandy Hook until later in the war, when all radar work was finally relocated to Evans (John William Marchetti, personal communication 1995). Camp Coles is no longer part of Fort Monmouth; it was relinquished in 1974.
Part of the historical significance of the remaining subinstallation
buildings at Fort Monmouth is based on the important work in radar technology
and communications that was conducted there. The accomplishments
of the Signal Corps in these fields impacted the course of World War II,
and had a profound influence on developments that occurred during the Cold
War era. Beginning with the Signal Corps’ intensive period of radar
research in the 1930s, Fort Monmouth, and the subinstallations associated
with research and development, became a center for U.S. technological advancement
in these fields.
Fort Monmouth’s physical environment is intricately tied
to the research and development that took place there. Specific buildings
were acquired and constructed for the purpose of conducting research and
developing radar and communications systems. Advancements that took
place there were to impact wartime efforts and peacetime activities.
Beginning with the Signal Corps’ interest in radar technology, Fort Monmouth
would become the site of several important discoveries.
Figure 7. “Reflection Measurements, Platform Location Plan,” Evans Area, 1949 (Source: Master Planning and Real Property Branch, Directorate of Public Works, Fort Monmouth).
Figure 8. “Post Layout, Reservation Map, Camp Evans,” 1951 (Source: Master Planning and Real Property Branch, Directorate of Public Works, Fort Monmouth).
While the permanent post was undergoing completion in the 1930s, research in radar, under the direction of Harold A. Zahl, began yielding significant results. An acronym for “radio direction and ranging,” radar had taken on a new level of importance after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), when air power played a decisive role in large-scale conflict. Civilian populations were now exposed to mass destruction as never before, and fear of hostile air attack prompted most major governments to seek ways of detecting the approach of enemy aircraft.
The potential that radio waves held for detecting aircraft was realized by Harold Zahl, who championed its use in the years before World War II (Davis 1943:21; Shalett 1952:3). Initially, however, this potential was stymied by the limited broadcast range of the short radio waves associated with radar. In the early 1930s, it was generally believed that short, or “centimeter” waves could only travel “line-of-sight,” which meant they were limited by the earth’s curvature to a distance of some 20 miles from a potential source. While this is generally true, there are exceptions, and it was through Zahl’s research that these exceptions were discovered.
Zahl arrived at Fort Monmouth around 1931, and by 1933 had successfully demonstrated that centimeter waves could travel beyond line-of-sight if the equipment was capable of picking up the signal. Zahl’s discovery was based on experiments in which he set up a centimeter-wave signal at the Twin Lights lighthouse at the eastern edge of the Navesink Highlands. He then took an Army tugboat from Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook and proceeded east into the ocean. Using conventional radio equipment, he picked up the signal from Twin Lights up to 25 miles at sea, roughly standard line-of-sight distance. Switching to a 400 megacycle radio, he continued to follow the signal for more than 90 miles off-shore (Zahl 1969). Zahl’s experiment had a major impact on the development of radio wave detection devices, for it increased the possible range for detecting aircraft.
The late 1930s and early 1940s was a critical period in the development of American radar. Although the United States was not yet in the war, many civilian and military leaders considered it only a matter of time. During this period, research in radar intensified. Zahl and his fellow researchers created two workable long-range radar sets for the Army, the SCR-270 and SCR-271, in 1938. These sets operated at a frequency of 100 and 200 megacycles (John William Marchetti, personal communication 1995). Partly for security reasons, they were still called “Signal Corps Radios” (SCR). In 1939, both were tested at Twin Lights and recommended for standardization and manufacture. Two years later, in Hawaii, a SCR-270 unit detected Japanese planes approaching Oahu in the early morning of 7 December 1941. Unfortunately, the signal was misinterpreted and the United States entered World War II after the disastrous bombing of Pearl Harbor (Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories 1943:261-264; Zahl 1970b).
Soon after America entered the war, Secretary of the War Department, Henry Stimson, noted that the Signal Corps was no longer an agency that “just made flags,” but was in the forefront of the nation’s war effort (Thompson et al. 1957:59). This effort included everything from pigeon communication (used quite successfully) to the latest advances in radar. Radar in particular revolutionized the day-to-day routine of war. For the first time in history, it was possible to literally fight day and night; as a matter of course, squadrons ran night bombing runs, guided to and from their targets by radar (Davis 1943:1).
To accommodate the military’s needs, the Signal Corps labs arranged for production of at least three standard radar sets: the SCR-268, a short-range radar set; and the SCR-270 and SCR-271, the first long-range radar units (Davis 1943:2). These radar sets were mobile, but had to be driven into position. They also had rather unwieldy “bedspring” antennas, some as high as 60 feet off the ground.
One of Marchetti’s first jobs at Sandy Hook had been to construct a 600-megacycle radar set similar to the ones used by the Germans. Harold Zahl designed the vacuum tube for this radar, commonly known as the “Zahl tube.” The 600-megacycle radar proved to have a longer range than the 100- and 200-megacycle sets, and in 1941, two large 600-megacycle sets were taken to what is now Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where they were used to train American pilots for what to expect against German radar (John DeWitt, personal communication 1995; John William Marchetti, personal communication 1995).
In 1941, the British shared the designs for their new Magnetron 3000-megacycle set. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology began working on an American version of this set which was more powerful than the 200-megacycle radar then in standard use. This development eventually led to the production of SCR-548, the first American radar with the now-standard dish antenna (John William Marchetti, personal communication 1995). The SCR-584 and SCR-784 were also adapted from the British magnetron 3000 megacycle set, and had dish-shaped antennas (DeWitt 1993:2; U.S. Army Signal Training Command and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey 1961). The SCR-584 was employed as an anti-aircraft gun-control radar in the Italian campaign and in Normandy. It was not, however, very effective in locating enemy mortars which led to the development of a portable 600-megacycle set effective against mortars and used against the Japanese in the last months of the war (John William Marchetti, personal communication 1995).
While improvements in radar were important for the war effort during this period, the work conducted on radios and radio communications was also valued. The first walkie-talkie, created as early as 1936, was a two-way backpack radio, designed and developed at Fort Monmouth. By 1939, the Signal Corps labs had produced two improved radios that saw service in the war (Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories 1943:256-257). In 1941, Fort Monmouth engineers produced the first FM pack radio (U.S. Army Electronics Command [ECOM] Information Office ca. 1970).
Radio communications systems were improved with “radio relays,” which provided “long distance” capabilities for both teletype and radiotelephone service. When wire connections between local switchboards were not possible, radio relays served the same function over the air (Ross 1949:9-10). In 1943, teletype communication relays were tested and used between Army command headquarters in Algiers and the front lines around Tunis, 500 miles away (ECOM Information Office ca. 1970). Afterwards, long-range radio relay systems became common, allowing rapid communication down the chain of command (Ross 1949:9-10). Another achievement of Signal Corps radio research during World War II was the further development of FM radio (Dr. Richard Bingham, personal communication 1995).
By the time the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there were thousands of military and civilian personnel working at the Fort Monmouth Signal Corps labs scattered from Red Bank to Wall Township (CECOM Historical Office 1994:5). All of these labs worked closely with other labs and the various private companies commissioned to manufacture the materials designed by the Signal Corps labs. These included laboratories at Rutgers University, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the Westinghouse facilities at Bloomfield, and, perhaps most important of all, Bell Laboratories (Lender 1991:90-92; Thompson et al. 1957:66-68). But as the need for radio and radar units dwindled toward the end of World War II, Signal Corps scientists at Fort Monmouth turned toward other projects of interest. One of the most significant was Project Diana.
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