April 1944 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
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Hugo Gernsback, ever the prolific author on futuristic technology of the wireless nature, proposes here (c1944) a new form of sea-faring weapon that would project an practically unstoppable assault on enemy ships: a high speed, remote controlled torpedo. After being launched from the safety of a location far out of range of enemy fire, a human controller in an airborne platform (i.e., an airplane) would, using navigation advice provided by spotter aircraft (forward air control, in modern terms), steer the explosive craft over potentially long distances to direct hits on battleships, destroyers, landing craft, patrol boats, etc. Fortunately for all involved (well at least for Allied nations), the war would only last another year and a half by the time this concept was published so it did not come to fruition in time to test. That would have to wait for the next war - Korea, a mere five years after the end of World War II.
By Hugo Gernsback
The present war has shown that large capital ships rarely fight it out with other capital ships. The huge monster battleships are usually held in reserve, wherever possible for the balance of sea-power; they engage the shores of the enemy rarely. If they do, they must make sure that there is a sufficient air umbrella to protect them from enemy aircraft.
No longer are large battleships safe near the enemy shore. The sinking of the two English battleships - The Prince of Wales and the Repulse - proved this sufficiently off the coast of Malaya. These two battleships, not having an aircraft umbrella, were quickly sunk by Japanese torpedo planes. Likewise, the Italian capital ships, when still under the Axis rule, stayed safely in their harbors and did not venture forth to give battle to the English and American Navies.
Air power has changed naval tactics considerably, and even if one country has an overwhelming superiority in naval equipment, this does not make for an automatic or certain victory, as would have been the case before the advent of air power. Today, when one naval unit attacks another, a handful of airplanes equipped with torpedoes can raise fearful havoc with the opponent's fleet. For this reason, it is safe to predict that future decisive naval battles will be fought without the two fleets even glimpsing each other. This has already been shown by our own engagements in the South Pacific with parts of the Japanese fleet, and the tendency will increase from now on. Whenever we are attacking a Japanese fleet, it will be from a safe distance anywhere from 100 to 150 miles away. Our Air Force will bear the brunt of the preliminary fighting. We will try to sink or damage as many of the Japanese naval units as we possibly can from the air, before our capital ships close in for the kill.
Long distance torpedoes, which are combined with a type of motorboat craft and which are controlled by radio from airplanes, form the substance of this article.
These radio super-torpedoes have enough fuel to travel over a distance of several hundred miles in the open sea. Their speed is sufficiently great and the radio control is such that they they become difficult targets for the enemy.
The present day aerial torpedo, launched from an airplane against an enemy vessel is a formidable weapon, but if the opposing force possesses sufficient air-power - that is, fighting planes - it can then down the torpedo plane or planes, so that the latter never get a chance to come near the enemy fleet.
We need, therefore, something better, and the means which are described here seem to fill that need.
As is well known, the ordinary torpedo usually is powered by compressed air. It only runs for a few thousand yards at the most, then if it does not strike its target, it automatically sinks before it is captured by the enemy, or does damage to its own fleet. What then is needed is a long distance torpedo which can travel, if necessary, 100 miles towards the enemy, then if no strike is made, it can return to its own fleet with, full safety to the latter. For this purpose, we require not an ordinary torpedo, but rather a sea-going motor speed-boat combined with a torpedo as shown in our illustrations. In the forward part of the boat is the war-head carrying several thousand pounds of high explosives, similar to those in regulation torpedoes. The device therefore is nothing but a super-torpedo, which instead of using compressed air (or electric batteries, as some types now use) has powerful, standard motorboat engines. There is also sufficient fuel aboard so that the craft can run up to a' distance of 200 miles, if necessary.
One observer-pilot may handle the necessary controls to keep two or more torpedoes accurately on their way to the distant target.
Like a regulation torpedo, this motor-torpedo carries no one aboard the craft. But here, the similarity ends. The usual torpedo is launched on its course and then by means of its gyroscope and other electric devices, it speeds toward the enemy craft which it usually sinks, or heavily damages, on impact with it. The radio-controlled motor-torpedo also has its share of automatic devices, but, most important, its radio "brain" which does the steering has the latest possible refinements, so that it not only can be made to veer from right to left, but it can suddenly swerve almost at right angles, cut figure eights, run around in circles, etc. In practice this radio super-torpedo would work out somewhat as follows:
The motor torpedoes are carried on any suitable naval craft of the fleet. When ready for battle, they are lowered into the water, the engine is started and, after short preliminary tests, the craft is sent on its way in the general direction of the enemy. At the moment the motor-torpedo is started, an airplane which has on board the radio control which is to guide it, also takes off from its carrier, or is catapulted from its mother battleship. The torpedo is painted in such. a color that it is easily visible from aloft. Note that this particular torpedo does not submerge entirely as does the regulation type. There is, however, very little of its upper structure visible and its runs almost awash. Most prominent is its antenna over which it receives the impulses from the guiding control plane.
The motor torpedoes are carried on any suitable naval craft of the fleet. When ready for battle, they are lowered into the water, the engine is started and, after short preliminary tests, the craft is sent on its way in the general direction of the enemy. At the moment the motor-torpedo is started, an airplane which has on board the radio control which is to guide it, also takes off from its carrier, or is catapulted from its mother battleship. The torpedo is painted in such a color that it is easily visible from aloft. Note that this particular torpedo does not submerge entirely as does the regulation type. There is, however, very little of its upper structure visible and it runs almost awash. Most prominent is its antenna over which it receives the impulses from the guiding control plane.
The radio control operator on board the radio-control airplane has in front of him a keyboard and the other radio transmission devices making it comparatively simple to steer the radio motor-torpedo from above. These radio controlled war engines are fast craft, funning over 40 miles per hour, even in a rough sea. For the time being, enemy is nowhere visible. But in the meanwhile, our reconnaissance airplanes have already reported the general position of the enemy fleet. The radio-control airplane therefore knows the exact direction and he will now speed the radio motor-torpedo in that direction until the enemy fleet becomes visible.
I should mention here that it is quite feasible for one radio-control plane to direct more than one radio motor-torpedo. As many as three in a group can thus be guided by a single plane. The observer, anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 feet up, can follow the course of the several torpedoes without too great difficulty. If the weather does not permit it, he will have to come down, so that with his binoculars he can actually follow the craft's course. He will be greatly aided in this because the torpedoes make quite a visible wake in the water, which helps him in locating them.
Automatic or semi-automatic apparatus may assist in the control and guidance of these super-torpedoes, making it unnecessary for the observer to concentrate all his attention on one. There is some reason to believe that some kind of automatic guiding apparatus is already in use on German aerial radio rockets. (See Radio-Craft, February 1944, page 267, for a note on certain features of these rockets.)
From here on it becomes a battle between the control airplane and the enemy's air fleet. Naturally the enemy will do all in its power to down the control plane, if he can do so. Furthermore the radio-control plane, being the driving brain of the torpedoes, will be sought out by the enemy - if he can find it. For that reason, it is advisable for practical purposes to employ a number of planes. The enemy therefore cannot guess which of the planes is the guiding plane. As all of the planes are fighter planes, the enemy will not find it too easy to single out the one plane he most wants to down.
It will be of little use for the enemy to try and bomb the motor-torpedoes, for several reasons. In the first place they travel at to high a speed. Secondly, being very small targets, it will be practically impossible to make a bomb-hit on them. But now let us suppose that we have out-maneuvered the attacking enemy airplanes. It is by no means necessary for the control airplane to get right over the enemy fleet. There is no such intention. By now our planes, including the control plane, have risen to a great height and the radio torpedoes are steered on their course. Remember, they travel under their own power. Our radio control airplane may actually still be miles away from the enemy fleet. Thus it does not get within the range of the enemy's anti-aircraft fire, or anywhere near it. If now the enemy tries maneuvering to evade the motor-torpedoes, our little craft can do likewise, only much faster, and no matter how fast the enemy tries to turn, the motor-torpedoes can do it quicker, because they are so much smaller. The radio operator aloft can then steer each torpedo into the final run where it must hit its target. The control operator can even guide the torpedoes around the fleet and attack the enemy from the rear.
The objection will be made that the enemy will be certain to bring into play his full gunfire directed toward any torpedo when it comes within gun range and try to blow it up before it can strike one of his ships. This is quite true, but consider that the motor-torpedo runs at high speed and therefore makes a most difficult target. The radio control operator aloft can further safeguard it by running it in a zigzag course. This again makes a hit much more difficult for the enemy's guns, and the chances for the motor-torpedo to strike its target will therefore be all the greater.
That an occasional gun hit will be made against one of the torpedoes, and blow it up before it gets near a ship or transport, is a foregone conclusion. Not every torpedo can possibly hope to find its mark but note that each of the radio-control planes can guide up to three motor-torpedoes without too much difficulty. It should also be realized that we will not attack the enemy just with three torpedoes alone. We may attack with a dozen or more, at .the same time by using a number of radio-control planes, each operating on a different wave length, for its own flock of torpedoes. All this is possible and feasible today, with means well known in the art.
As I have pointed out in my former articles* it is almost impossible for an enemy to "jam" a radio-controlled weapon today. Therefore this means of beating the motor-torpedo is immediately ruled out.
If all runs well for us, we therefore will be in a position to secure a number of sure strikes by means of these radio-controlled torpedoes and sink or otherwise damage the enemy fleet and probably cripple a good many units.
There are a number of other uses for these radio motor-torpedoes, particularly for night warfare, against harbor installations, etc., which for security reasons cannot be divulged in this article.
The idea of radio controlled naval craft is by no means a new idea. During World War I, the English Navy successfully piloted a radio-controlled ship into the harbor of of Zeebrügge (Belgium), used by the Germans at that time as a submarine base. This particular craft had no one on board and was guided to its destination purely by radio into Zeebrügge harbor, where it was blown up and sunk. This effectively bottled up the German submarines and their outlet to the sea for many months.
*The Radio Glider Bomb, Radio-Craft November, 1943. Radio Pilot Mine Destroyers, Radio-Craft, December, 1943.
Posted December 7, 2014