Camp Evans played role in WWII countermeasures / cs-2003-06-05
The Coast Star June 5, 2003
By Fred Carl Page 2
General Gaither was inspecting the Camp Evans administration building and found crates of World War II top secret documents in a secure area. He ordered the documents burned. Many a story went up in smoke - lost to history. However, not every top secret story is lost.
Dr. Harold Zahl, a radar pioneer, recounted a number of stories in 1968. In WWII the Army Air Corps attacked the enemy with gravity bombs - "bombs away" was their famous cry.
At Camp Evans, the Signal Corps fought the war with electronics, thus Dr. Zahl titled his book Electrons Away.
The Camp Evans engineers were developing the latest radars and improving the older units with new components. They were also doing analysis of captured enemy electronic equipment. One reason was to improve American equipment with any improvement the enemy had made.
The other, and most important reason, was to figure out methods to confuse the enemy equipment. This is called electronic counter-measures. If you could develop a new countermeasure you could make millions of dollars of enemy equipment as worthless as old junk.
The first electronic countermeasures laboratory was in the attic of the old Marconi Hotel. Some of the work benches and specially designed cages are still there today, 60 years later.
The Germans had radar units connected to anti-aircraft guns. One type was the "little Würzburgs." The Germans had over 8,000 of these effective units. Many American and British, planes were shot down by this deadly combination.
Dr. Zahl tells us, "Our GIs captured one in Europe and it was quickly air freighted to Monmouth so we could study it and learn better how to use countermeasures against it. Unfortunately, the German crew objected to the 'liberation' of this particular set, and when our boys insisted, in a fit of temper, the Germans fired a fusillade of bullets into the critical parts of the set."
"The set came to me, and soon our engineers were able to replace all broken parts except for the most critical one, a cathode-ray'' tube the likes of which we had never seen in this country. It was a complex multi-electron gun affair.
"I called my friend Allen B: Dumont, who had often helped us on cathode ray tubes problems. Within hours, he was down in the Evans area and we went over the problem - or rather looked at the pieces."
`I'll try,' he said, and we put all the pieces we could find into a paper bag and he took them back to his plant. Selecting his best engineers, he put them on three shifts, and away they went. Four days later, Allen called me and said he had six identical tubes available and they would work.
"Shortly afterward, we had the Würzburg operational, and moved rapidly to discover its weaknesses, and there were some. "
This is were Dr. Zahl ends his account.
Possibly the planes that would rain aluminum foil strips along old Highway 34 by Allaire Airport were working with the Evans engineers to counter the captured repaired enemy unit. These strips would reflect the radar signals and fill the radar operators screen with thousands of dots. Which dot to aim at was the problem the Nazi radar and gun operators faced.
Sadly, this captured Würzburg was not saved for history. The good news is many American and British bomber crews survived the war thanks to a countermeasure developed at Camp Evans with the help of the Dumont Radio Company.
Today, many are grandfathers who feel they were lucky to survive the Nazi anti-aircraft flak, however, little do they know experts at Camp Evans made their luck.
[Fred Carl is the director of the Infoage Science-History Center at Camp Evans]