March 1948 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
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published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
In his 1948 editorial titled "Radio in the Next War," Hugo Gernsback predicted no fewer than four major technological milestones. The first two were actually foreseen in his pre-World War II articles where he wrote of what would become known as 'radar' and the 'Handie-Talkie.' With war against the Commies in North Korea brewing, he wrote of both cruise missiles, NORAD, and the concept of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) as it pertained to the U.S. now being the first to detonate a nuclear weapon henceforth. For more than 70 years the prediction has held. You need to be a pretty good judge of both technical capabilities and their developmental timelines, and an equally good judge of human nature with its instinct for survival to accurately prognosticate as many inventions and political events as Gernsback managed. That doesn't make him a Nostradamus (who really wasn't a psychic as many proclaim), but it does make his opinions and visionary writings worthy of serious consideration.
Radio in the Next War
We Must Prepare Efficient Defenses, Now...
By Hugo Gernsback
Once again it becomes my unpleasant duty to speak of a coming war - the third time in my life.
Two and a half years after the end of World War II, we find ourselves far from peace - and we are drifting further away from it every day. I abhor war and all that goes with it as much as any lover of peace, but I do believe that when the storm signals are flying - and they are flying unmistakably today - we should heed them and prepare now.
Perhaps I can do no better than quote some of my former remarks on the subject. The following are excerpts from my editorial entitled "Short Waves and the Next War," in Short Wave Craft, October, 1934 issue (five years before World War II):
It is not pleasant to talk about the next war, but all authorities are pretty well agreed upon the fact that war is with us to stay and that, for many thousands of years to come, war will be with us. The next large conflict is probably not so far away as many think, and it behooves us, in view of the circumstances, to look ahead a bit and see where short waves will fit in during the next struggle. In 1912, several years before the 1st World War started, I found it necessary to talk in a similar vein, and I was then mindful of the radio amateur and how he would fit in with the then coming struggle.
In the World War (I), short waves, as such, were not very well understood. Signaling was crude because the vacuum tube was still imperfect, and radio was not the precise science that it is today.
In the future war, short waves will play a tremendous role - especially microwaves which can be directed like a searchlight.
It will become possible for armies to be in constant touch with each other without the enemy being able to overhear the signals, for by means of reflectors the waves will be directed, so that the signals cannot possibly go over into the enemy's camp. These microwaves, also called "centimeter" waves, are of utmost importance for communication ...
A year later also in Short Wave Craft, November, 1935, under the heading of: "Short Waves and War," I said:
"The next war will see profound changes in all branches of warfare and one of the most interesting ones will no doubt be that involving the instrumentality of short waves. Short Wave Craft has repeatedly chronicled the latest inventions used in conjunction with short waves. These microwaves appear to pierce fog and even clouds, and work along optical lines. It will be impossible hereafter for an airplane to hide in the fog and even behind clouds, because the "mystery wave" directed against it is reflected down to earth where it is used for recording or alarm purposes.
A city, during the next war, will easily be protected against unheralded enemy aircraft by having a barrage of such microwaves surrounding the entire city, the action being automatic in such a manner that automatic recording instruments will immediately sound the alarm when an airplane appears overhead within the confines of the city. It will be impossible, in the future, for an enemy airplane to get through such a short-wave barrage. (prediction of radar)
For communication purposes, between Army units, exceedingly short short-waves will be used; each battalion will have its own short-wave set, which will be so small that one man can easily carry it. In this manner it will. be possible to keep in touch with headquarters all the time." (prediction of Handie-Talkie)
Let me say at this point, that I am one of the small minority who do not believe that in the next war the atom bomb will be used. My reasons for this unorthodox view are simple, and I believe logical:
The United States has the bomb. We will for many decades to come be far ahead in its development - even when others have it. A technological axiom is that once you have the know-how of a complex technical process, you will - everything being equal - stay ahead. This is even truer with the atom bomb, because its technical intricacies, processes and many other developmental phases have been kept a pretty well guarded secret.
It can be said with a fair degree of certainty that the U. S. will not use the atomic bomb first on the enemy. The enemy, knowing that we will have more powerful A-bombs than he has, and certainly more of them - due to our early start - will think twice before he uses them on us. He'd have to be far more stupid than we think he is. Few countries in history have attacked another country which was known to be stronger and better equipped." (prediction of Mutually Assured Destruction - MAD)
A parallel from World War II may be apropos. Germany had vast stores of poison gas, ready to use. During the battle of England, and later during the invasion. of Normandy, nothing prevented Hitler from using it. But it was never used. Why? The German war staff knew very well that England and the U. S. would have drenched every large German city with poison gas in retaliation.
The atom bomb if used first on us, would bring swift and terrible punishment to the enemy. This is one of the logical reasons why I do not believe that atom bombs will be used in the next war. There are other equally good reasons, but for the purpose of this article, we need not go into that phase.
Granted all this, we nevertheless cannot afford to dwell in a fool's paradise. A city with the best imaginable fire department cannot afford to neglect its far distant water supply - without it the best fire-fighting force is impotent.
Therefore, having the best atom bomb now, we must safeguard it energetically. By that is meant, safeguard the country that produces it. I may put it this way: An atom bomb is not more powerful than the people who guard it.
It is true that in some respects there is - as yet - no defense for the atom bomb. It is possible for a foreign power to plant time A-Bombs in strategic points all over the U.S. This, however, is not so simple in practice as it looks. Nor would the damage done by such bombs be as extensive as those dropped from overhead.
What about A-bombs dropped from V-2-like guided missiles? Again a possibility - but not for another 10 to 15 years. Certainly not if the missiles come from more than 1,000 miles away. The art has not progressed so far that a city can be hit with any degree of certainty from 1,000 miles away, at the present state of long distance missile development.
What about airplane-dropped A-bombs? This is the more reasonable avenue open to the enemy, as we ourselves proved at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
What other means are there? One of the simplest would be via submarine. Special submarines carrying in their hold one or more A-bombs, could approach our coastal cities and bombard us by means of small airplanes or guided missiles carried by the submersibles. All this seems like a good possibility right now. (prediction of Polaris missile type)
What then is our first line of defense? Radio, of course. At this moment we are wide open to an astute enemy - far more than before Pearl Harbor. We have no real air force - with all that goes with it - to speak of. Says General H. H. Arnold in a recent article: "Although the Air Force was able to activate 55 of these groups (of 70 combat groups) by the end of last year, there are funds to sustain the remaining 15 on a skeleton basis only. The Air Force budget for 1948 will permit the maintenance of only 40 combat groups-not much better than half the minimum requirement for the safety of the country."
But during the next war, no air force can wait till the enemy flies over the U.S. We need - desperately - a far flung net of search radar installations at all strategic points. (prediction of NORAD) These are in the following order of urgency:
1. The coast of Alaska. 2. The 60th parallel throughout Canada. 3. Our northern boundary paralleling all of Canada. 4. Our Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
These radar installations should be of the latest and most efficient design, and they should be of the automatic recording type. In addition they should all be synchronized with effective antiaircraft guns. This forces the enemy into the stratosphere, giving our radar posts a much better time factor for interception by our own Air Force.
In the two oceans - the Atlantic and the Pacific - our Navy should soon be on a most effective patrol duty. We probably have sufficient destroyers now for anti-submarine duty. Again radar - which won us the submarine war against the Germans in World War II - will be used effectively, even better, with our past experience plus supersonics and vastly improved instruments, during the next war.
Suppose that the enemy uses atom bombs against us first. There is, of course, always the possibility that he may. With early, efficient safeguards as outlined above, it will make his task much more difficult. That some A-bombs will fall on the U.S. is certain in such a case - that they will create untold havoc too, is equally certain. But it will only be a fraction of what would be in store for us without our safeguards and adequate defenses.
How will we retaliate? All of the following is not science-fiction (a term which I coined): We already have developed long distance planes to fly 5,000 miles without refueling. We are well ahead in radio guided missiles that can be launched from the long distance mother planes. Each mother plane can launch several of such radio guided missiles. These are robots - carry no human crew. They will be launched many miles from the targets, thus do not endanger the crew of the mother ship which thus incurs no risk as in flying over the target into antiaircraft fire.
So small are these robot missiles they are most difficult to shoot down. Moreover, they are now television equipped. By radiotelevision the operator in the mother ship can actually see the target under the robot-missile and explode its A-bomb at the exact point and time desired.* (prediction of cruise missiles)
To further confuse the enemy, if he sends up fighter planes to shoot down the robots, many of the latter can be dummies - without A-bombs. If for instance three times as many dummies are used as A-bomb ones, the chances that a greater percentage of loaded ones will explode over the target are vastly improved.
Thus A-bomb saturation and complete annihilation of the doomed city is certain - without much loss of life for our side.
All this is technologically feasible today - it is not a future development.
I sincerely hope that this article may serve as a terrible warning to all concerned - there is still time to turn back the holocaust-clock. But we can no longer afford to remain unprepared - the isolation era for America is long past. The next Pearl Harbor may finish us as a nation.
*The idea of a television controlled airplane to drop bombs over a distant target was first described by me in The Experimenter (November 1924 issue) under the title of "The Television Controlled Airplane."
Radar is now being used in their work by the Canadian Mounted Police, recent reports indicate.
Posted January 23, 2015