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 about how wireless technology changed warfare during WWII - for Axis and Allied forces.
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 cities.
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
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
Posted September 23, 2014