August 1944 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
World War II brought about
the first wireless remotely controlled weapons. Prior to radio technology, bombs
and missiles needed to either be within a distance serviceable by detonation wires,
or were set off using mechanical or electrical timers. Both of those methods required
the operator to gain access to the target area at a time relatively close to when
the attack was to occur. Army battalions did have warheads with spooled wires attached
that enabled them to control the time of detonation and even in some instances some
degree of steering, but range was limited. Wireless technology enabled weapons to
be delivered and controlled over great distances. Missiles could be directed enroute
and bombs could be planted practically anytime and anywhere to await a signal when
appropriate. Hugo Gernsback wrote a short op-ed piece in the August 1944 issue of
his Radio−Craft magazine about how wireless technology changed warfare
during WWII - for Axis and Allied forces. This "Radar Rockets" editorial
appeared a year later in the July 1946 issue of Radio−Craft.
Remote Control Weapons
... The present war has introduced the first remote-controlled weapon. The future
will bring a far greater variety of more formidable and more powerful war machines
The so-called secret Nazi weapon - which was not a secret at all - first appeared
on a fairly large scale against the British Isles last June.
As long ago as last February, Prime Minister Churchill several times mentioned
the fact that the Germans were going to launch their "secret weapons" against English
The Nazis subsequently made good their threats. By means of their pilotless robot
planes, carrying a high explosive and weighing about a ton, they indiscriminately
sprayed the English countryside with these flying robot-bombs.
The type which was used during June was not radio-controlled. The planes were
launched from secret roller-coaster chutes, then winged their way over the English
Channel and plummeted down haphazardly over town and country in southern England.
These particular Nazi rocket-propelled robot planes were steadied in their flight
by a regulation gyro compass, but the Germans at the sending end had no idea where
the missiles would finally land. This was wholly beyond their control because the
robot planes could not change their course once they were launched. Wind drift,
atmospheric conditions, squalls, etc., naturally affected the course of the robots
considerably, so that all they accomplished was a slight degree of terror. From
a military viewpoint the Nazi aerial robots were complete duds as they could not
be sent or directed to a specific target. They demolished houses, killed people,
and in general raised some havoc, but even the Nazis had to admit that their robot-bombs
would have no effect upon the outcome of the war.
This is the first time in warfare that a major effort was made by any power to
use long-distance robot missiles against an enemy. It is true that there is a parallel
with the German "Big Bertha" supergun, during the first World War, which bombarded
Paris from a distance of not quite eighty miles. This was orthodox artillery where
the shell exploded and killed people indiscriminately, similar to what the robot
planes did in England last June. But the Paris gun projectile weighed only a fraction
of the new robot bomb, consequently the latter could do far more damage than the
So far the Allied countries have viewed the German effort with disdain and scorn,
chiefly for the reason that it is not a military weapon and because the enemy cannot
see and know in advance where the missiles will strike. Allied military men look
upon the Nazi robot plane as a tacit admission that the German Luftwaffe has failed
miserably, and further that the weapon was used primarily as an instrument of revenge
in order to raise German morale.
It is certain that military science will not stop with the Nazi robot plane.
It is only the forerunner and the first example of far more effective and frightful
weapons to come.
Long distance rocket-bombs which are radio-controlled and can be aimed fairly
accurately are no longer an impossibility. I referred to them in an article in the
last issue of Radio-Craft. But even more effective long distance robot weapons are
in the offing.
As long ago as 1924 - to be exact, in my former publication The Experimenter
Magazine, November 1924 issue, I was the first to describe in word and picture a
pilotless robot plane, which was television-controlled. Here we have a weapon which
- contrary to the Nazi terrorizing robot - can be conveyed over hundreds of miles
to the exact spot desired, without any human being aboard the machine. The television-controlled
airplane sees in six directions at the same instant - something no human being can
accomplish. The television plane, as I described it twenty years ago, has six photo-electric
eyes which can see north, south; east and west, up and down simultaneously. A continuous
image of what the plane sees - in all six directions - is radioed back to headquarters
where observers view the six-image screen as the plane proceeds on its course If
another plane or planes approach from any point, the distant radio-control officer
can put the plane through evasive tactics and elude the pursuers. The plane can
even be equipped with guns, which can be fired by remote control as desired. After
the television plane has negotiated the various war hurdles and evaded interception
flak, etc., it can then discharge its bombs on the target, or (if necessary) the
plane can carry a single large load of explosive which is detonated on contact -
blowing up the plane itself, should this be desired. If the plane is to be saved,
it could drop bombs in the manner of present-day bombers, and then return to its
base - all by radio-control.
All this is not an impossible picture and you may be sure that long distance
robot military planes of this type will be in use in the future.
One thing about them - they most likely will not be used to terrorize the population
and kill people needlessly as the Nazi robots are doing now. In war, whenever possible,
every High Command prefers to use weapons for purely military purposes.
Posted November 9, 2021
(updated from original post on 9/23/2014