Weather can have a significant impact on transport and operations of all kinds, especially those at sea or in the air. This makes it a deeply important field of study, particularly in wartime. If you’re at all curious about how this kind of information was gathered and handled in the days before satellites and computer models, this write-up on WWII meteorology is sure to pique your interest.
The main method of learning weather conditions over the oceans is to persuade merchant ships to report their observations regularly. This is true even today, but these days we also have the benefit of things like satellite technology. Back in the mid-1900s there was no such thing, and the outbreak of WWII (including the classification of weather data as secret information due to its value) meant that new solutions were needed.
The aircraft of the Royal Air Force (RAF) were particularly in need of accurate data, and there was little to no understanding of the upper atmosphere at the time. Eventually, aircraft flew regular 10-hour sorties, logging detailed readings that served to provide data about weather conditions across the Atlantic. Readings were logged, encoded with one-time pad (OTP) encryption, then radioed back to base where charts would be created and updated every few hours.
The value of accurate data and precise understanding of conditions and how they could change was grimly illustrated in a disaster called the Night of the Big Wind (March 24-25, 1944). Forecasts predicted winds no stronger than 45 mph, but Allied bombers sent to Berlin were torn apart when they encountered winds in excess of 120 mph, leading to the loss of 72 aircraft.
There was a time when the very idea of building a complex circuit with the intention of destroying it would have been anathema to any electrical engineer. The work put into designing a circuit, procuring the components, and assembling it, generally with point-to-point wiring and an extravagant amount of manual labor, only to blow it up? Heresy!
But, such are the demands of national defense, and as weapons morphed into “weapon systems” after World War II, the need arose for electronics that were not only cheap enough to blow up but also tough enough to survive the often rough ride before the final bang. The short film below, simply titled “Potted and Printed Circuits“, details the state of the art in miniaturization and modularization of electronics, circa 1952. It was produced by the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), the main electronics R&D entity in the UK during the war which was responsible for inventions such as radar, radio navigation, and jamming technology.
Here at Hackaday, our aim is to bring you only the freshest of hacks, which carries the burden of being Johnny-on-the-spot with our source material. So if something of obvious interest to our readers goes viral, we might just choose to skip covering it ourselves, figuring you all have probably seen it already. But, if we can dig a little deeper and bring extra value over and above what the viral content provides — well then that’s another story.
That’s pretty much the story behind the excellent video recently released by [Real Engineering] about “The Secret Weapon That Changed World War 2.” It concerns the VT series of proximity fuzes — it’s a legitimate alternate spelling of “fuse” if a somewhat archaic one — that were used for artillery shells and spin-stabilized rockets in World War II. The video gives an excellent overview of the development of the VT, which was used primarily in anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). The details about the development of the American VT fuze are excellent, although curiously there’s no mention that British experiments with a radio proximity fuze were part of the goldmine of information brought to America at great risk by the Tizard mission in 1940. While there has been plenty of contention about the exact role the British work played, it’s fair to say that it at least informed the development and fielding of the American VT fuze.
We know. The title sounds like a bad newsreel from 1942. Turns out, though, that the Nazis were really good at pouring money into military research and developing — or trying to develop — what they called “wunderwaffe” — wonder weapons. While we think of rockets and jets today as reasonably commonplace, they were state-of-the-art when Germany deployed them during WWII. While the rockets were reasonably successful, the jets were too few and too late to matter. However, those were just the tip of the iceberg. The German war industry had plenty of plans ranging from giant construction to secret weapons that seem to be out of the pages of a pulp science fiction magazine.
Part of the plans included huge ships including one aircraft carrier displacing 56,500 tons. Many of these were never completed and, in some cases, were never actually started. In contrast, the Essex-class USS Hornet displaces 31,300 tons and the Lexington was 37,000 tons. The H-class battleships would have had as much as 140,000 tons of displacement dwarfing the Yamato class (73,000 tons) and the Iowa class (53,000 tons).
Depending on who you ask, the Norden bombsight was either the highest of high tech during World War II, or an overhyped failure that provided jobs and money for government contractors. Either way, it was super top secret in its day. It was also expensive. They cost about $25,000 each and the whole program came in at well over a billion dollars. The security was over the top. When not flying, the bombsight was removed from the plane and locked in a vault. There was a pyro device that would self-destruct the unit if it were in danger of being captured. So why did one of the most famous missions of World War II fly with the Norden replaced by 20 cents worth of machined metal? Good question.
You often hear the expression “less is more” and, in this case, it is an accurate idea. I frequently say, though, that “just enough is more.” In this case, though, less was actually just enough. There were three reasons that one famous mission in the Pacific theater didn’t fly the Norden. It all had to do with morale, technology, and secrecy.
As their prospects for victory in the Second World War became increasingly grim, the Germans developed a wide array of outlandish “Wonder Weapons” that they hoped would help turn the tide of the war. While these Wunderwaffe obviously weren’t enough to secure victory against the Allies, many of them represented the absolute state-of-the-art in weapons development, and in several cases ended up being important technological milestones. Others faded away into obscurity, sometimes with little more then anecdotal evidence to prove they ever even existed.
One of these forgotten inventions is the Fliegerfaust, a portable multi-barrel rocket rocket launcher designed for use against low-flying attack planes. Although thousands were ordered to defend Berlin in 1945, fewer than 100 were ever produced, and there’s some debate about how many actually survived the war. But that didn’t stop [Jonathan Wild] of Wild Arms Research & Development from building a functional replica of the weapon based on contemporary documentation and blueprints.
Building the launcher was relatively straightforward, as it’s little more than nine tubes bundled together with a handle and a simplistic electric igniter. The trick is in the 20 mm (0.78 inch) rockets themselves, which are spin stabilized by the exhaust gasses exiting the four angled holes on the rear. With no fins or active guidance the path of each rocket is somewhat unpredictable, but this was known to be true of the original as well.
There’s an unknown piece of military electronic gear being investigated over on [Usagi Electric]’s YouTube channel (see video below the break). The few markings and labels on the box aren’t terribly helpful, but along with the construction and parts, seem to identify it as relating to the US Navy from the WWII era. Its central feature is a seeing-eye tube and an adjustment knob. [David] does a bit of reverse engineering on the circuit, and is able to fire it up and get it working, magic eye squinting and all.
But there’s still the unanswered question, what was this thing supposed to do? Besides power, it only has one input signal. There are no outputs, except the “data” presented visually by the magic eye tube. Commenters have suggested it was used with sonar equipment, calibration tool, RTTY tuning aid, light exposure meter, etc. But if you dust off your copy of Navships 900,017 “Radar Systems Fundamentals” from 1944 and turn to page 249, there’s a section entitled Tuning Indicator that describes this circuit, almost.