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My Dad’s contribution to WWII

August 26, 2005

I recently saw a show on the History Channel about the 5 deadliest weapons ever used. In no order, they were the Soviet 50 kiloton nuclear bomb, incendiary weapons, the VT fuse, machine gun and VX nerve gas. Why does this concern me? My dad helped the development of the VT or Radio Proximity fuse.

For a more detailed explanation of this, go to Radio Proximity Fuse. The net explanation is that instead of having to hit the target for a kill which was the centuries old way, the VT fuse detects a target by radar and detonates near (or in proximity) to the target, enabling a much higher kill rate.

So who cares?

It took over 2000 rounds to shoot down each kamikaze plane prior to the invention of the fuse. This was cut to under 400 rounds when using the VT fuse. It’s next to impossible to hit a plane diving at over 450 mph. This invention saved a lot of sailors lives who later came home and had families rather than having to pay the ultimate sacrifice. They cared.

Here’s what my Dad contributed. He helped with the testing and development of the Radio Proximity fuse at the Applied Physics Lab in John’s Hopkins University. Later he went to the European theater where he trained artillery units to use this device. Remember, they had no silicon chips, PC’s or CAD programs in 1941/42, they did it with slide rules and vacuum tubes.

Why does this matter?

The Germans were shelling London with the V1 “buzz bomb”. It was powered by a pulse jet that made a buzzing noise which gave it the name. When it ran out of fuel, the buzzing stopped and it fell to its target. The V1 traveled at near 600 mph, which made it very difficult for artillery to hit, or fighters that went 350 mph to shoot down. The intentions of the Germans was both terror and destruction in London. Remember that terrorism is used to cause fear in the intended victim and take away the spirit to fight. I don’t know about you, but I would find the sound of an air raid siren or a buzz bomb engine that quit very frightening as you count it down to explosion.

The British had their backs against the wall and the Germans were starting to demoralize them with this scare.

With the VT fuse, the kill rate approached 100%, making the V1 ineffective as either a bomb, or a weapon of terror. The fuse was a big factor in the Battle of the Bulge, helping to decide the outcome (no disrespect to the tacticians and soldier here).

The fuse on the Atomic bomb was a Radio Proximity Fuse.  It helped end the war.

Later in the War, he raced jeeps around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but that doesn’t have a lot to do with physics or winning the war.

Growing up, he like most veterans he didn’t say much or brag about what they had accomplished. Rather, he said he was doing his job and was glad to help contribute in whatever way he could. That we could all have that attitude.

Way to go Dad.

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4 Comments
  1. great story John. with a grandfather in the war effort, and a dad and uncle who both served in combat, i certainly second your thoughts.

  2. when is the next military/technology history installment coming John? you can tell i want it by the fact i am using this sucky blogger comment system

  3. soon

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