View Full Version : OT - Kind of interesting..."WWII's lost weapon."

Mike Burdick
05-17-2008, 11:03 PM
This is interesting...

Secret Strobelight Weapons of World War II

By David Hambling May 17, 2008

http://blog.wired.com/defense/images/2008/05/16/cdl_matilda.jpg (http://blog.wired.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/05/16/cdl_matilda.jpg)

It might have been the greatest lost weapon of World War II. Major-General JFC Fuller, the man credited with developing modern armored warfare in the 1920's, called failure to use it "the greatest blunder of the whole war." He even suggested that British and American tank divisions could have overrun Germany before the Russians if it had been deployed...

...for the rest of the article...


05-17-2008, 11:15 PM
Interesting, light as a weapon. When I was in the gulf in 1988, kinda a diff war really. But we had a "top secret" event that was to take place involving several ships and some high ranking brass. Dunno if its declassified yet so I wont go into it. But it involved lights, specifically laser light, and aircraft..

They were all so hush hush about the event. And even though I held a TS clearance and operated our own weapon system need to know still came into place so I was outta the loop, kinda.. JR

05-18-2008, 08:52 AM
Policeman have a similar problem when the rotating lights on top of the patrol cars are on at night.

05-18-2008, 08:56 AM
Errm, yep.
And helicopter pilots turn off the strobe in cloud.:rolleyes:

05-18-2008, 09:01 AM
And pursuant to that link....

"The scope of work includes the design, testing, and development of a near-term, cost-effective, light-weight, high-intensity personnel disabling illumination system to support covert and non-lethal missions. Peak Beam will use the foundation of its existing Maxa Beam searchlight technology to develop an effective non-lethal Xenon Light system that will be mounted and demonstrated on a small unmanned rotorcraft."

A model helicopter with a strobe.
Wish I'd sold that! :eek:

05-18-2008, 09:55 AM
Ultra high power strobes were extensively used in WWII for reconnaissance photography. They were developed by "Doc" Edgerton.

Edgerton's development in the 1930s of the first highly powerful, reusable flash lamp allowed him to photograph high-speed events, and later caught the eye of the U.S. military. His strobes enabled the Allies to track enemy movements at night during World War II.
http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/02-05/02-03-05/tab.gif Pilots initially weren't interested in flying test runs for Edgerton, who put his problem-solving skills to use again.
http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/02-05/02-03-05/tab.gif"Doc obtained the coordinates of a nudist camp in Britain," Douglas said, noting that pilot interest quickly increased. "The runs were so frequent, that there's apparently one picture that when it was developed, there was a sign that said 'reporting you."'

05-18-2008, 10:00 AM
IIRC, Edgerton had much to do with the Bowens camera flash.
As seen attached to many a Speed-Graphic from the 40s to the 70s (or so)

05-18-2008, 11:29 AM
A good read is the book "Secret Soldiers" I think Chapter 4 "Razzle-Dazzle", in WWII they talk about using strobes around submarine pens to disorientate the German dive bombers at night. The loss of depth perception when dive bombing at night usually turned out to be less favorable for the pilot rather than the intended target. Interesting in deed.

Optics Curmudgeon
05-18-2008, 02:48 PM
The CDL was a prime example of the British attitude of the time, in a desperate situation it was necessary to try anything that made even a little sense, and the generals that were vetting the ideas, like Fuller, were largely insulated from the reality of the battlefield. Some ideas, like the dam buster system, worked, while others were a complete failure. The CDL seemed like a foolproof and easy plan. In the other hand, when the US got dragged into the CDL plan, the NDRC, headed by Vannevar Bush, immediately say the folly of the idea, and proved their point. The first use of these, assuming the secret didn't leak out, would be followed by the simplest of countermeasures. An arc welding hood filter over the sight of an antitank gun would knock down the light level and provide a wonderful aiming point for the AT gunner, a flashing greenish light right on the turret. Bush's scientists demonstrated this, and the US Army, having built a number of these already, stashed them in the desert and forgot about the whole thing. A legend about the supersecret weapon grew up around them, the real reason they were so secret was embarrassment. Every so often a new generation, without the perspective of knowing what happened "way back then" sees one of these wonder weapons and thinks there was a failure of judgment in not using it. The real problem is that the news articles don't tell the whole story.


Weston Bye
05-18-2008, 03:36 PM

05-18-2008, 05:07 PM
Some ideas, like the dam buster system, worked, while others were a complete failure.

Operation Chastise wasn't considered a success by the RAF: only 2 of the 5 damns targeted (the Möhne and the Eder) were breached, and both were repaired within 6 - 9 weeks. In return the RAF lost 53 of the 133 aircrew, and 3 more as POW's. Not surprisingly, Operation Chastise was never repeated.

Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb and the chief engineer, was reportedly so deeply depressed at the outcome that the RAF had him on a suicide watch.

But then there was a very popular book and movie made about it, and most of the details have been clouded by pop culture (George Lucas supposedly modeled the Star Wars Death Star bombing scene from the movie).

I think the same thing applies to the "lost" strobe-light technology. Contrary to the Wired article, the flashing strobe trick was used by all sides during the war. The British supposedly hired a famous magician to build "dazzle lights" (strobe lights) to "hide" the Suez Canal (?!)

I've also read that the trippy "dazzle camouflage" patterns that most WW II Navies painted on the sides of their ships, mostly because the other Navies were doing it, turned out to be completely ineffective.

But it's more fun, and more fiscally viable, to tell potential investors that you've discovered some long-lost, super-secret technology.

I'm working on a start-up to reverse-engineer the long-lost cloaking technology from the Philadelphia Experiment :D

05-18-2008, 05:12 PM
I've seen some of the military's high power strobes in action. I can speak about it because I wasn't involved at the time. One night when riding a motorcycle back from Tuscon, Arizona to Fort Huachuca we stopped for a break in the middle of the desert near the Fort. While we were warming up something went off high in the sky that seemed about as bright as the images I have seen of a nuclear explosion. This was in a military no fly zone where they used to recover film cannisters in the air that were dropped back to Earth from spy satellites. The flash was so intense that it clearly illuminated the mountains in the distance. We couldn't see squat for several minutes afterward and just as our night vision was beginning to return slightly they flashed it again. It was a damn good thing that we were stopped instead of riding at that moment as I probably would have ridden off the road trying to stop.

Blinding the enemy with magnesium flares was part of the reason to use them. After they go out it takes 10 to 20 minutes for any semblance of night vision to return. If your troops know this is about to happen they can wear an eye patch on one eye and take advantage of both the illumination and the following night blindness that the enemy will suffer.

As an aside, the Stratcom pilots of the B-52s always wore an eye patch over one eye so that if they were blinded by a nearby nuclear burst they could still fly the plane.

05-18-2008, 05:17 PM
IIRC, the chief success of the bouncing bomb, was the sinking of the Tirpitz.
The ordnance was, I believe, delivered by a DeHavilland mosquito.

Certain members of this board (ex RAF) should be able to correct me, if I err.

05-18-2008, 05:23 PM
IIRC, the chief success of the bouncing bomb, was the sinking of the Tirpitz.
The ordnance was, I believe, delivered by a DeHavilland mosquito.

The Tirpitz was sunk by 5 ton "earthquake bombs" designed by the same engineer: Barnes Wallis. They were carried by the same modified Lancasters (and the same RAF air squadron) that dropped the bouncing "dam buster" bombs.

According to a documentary on the Discovery channel (which included interviews with a couple of the remaining engineers and flight crew), the big issue with the bouncing bomb was that you had to drop it at 60 feet, flying at 240 MPH (!) Apparently Barnes originally designed a golf-ball shaped bomb, complete with dimples, which bounced a lot further, and was a lot more tolerant of the initial drop height/speed. But the RAF insisted that it was too expensive to build giant 5-ton dimpled spheres, so they made him re-design the bomb around a cylinder, which had a lot shorter range, and was much harder to get it to bounce.

By the way, the Highball pilot they interviewed in the Discover channel article described what it was like when they started to spin the bomb: they had large hydraulic motors, and he said that when the drum started spinning, you thought the Lancaster was going to shake itself apart. So imagine flying 60 feet above the water at 240 MPH, at night, with no radar altimeter. The Germans are pounding you with flak, and because the bomb weighed 5 tons, they had to remove most of the Lancaster's armor. The Highball is shaking the plane to pieces, and you've got to drop the bomb within tens of feet to get it to bounce over the torpedo nets...

Not surprisingly most of the surviving flight crew were heavily decorated when they returned to England.

05-18-2008, 05:44 PM
Yup, you're right Rob.
Put out of commission, but not "sunk" by RAF Lancs, 9 and 617 (Gibson's) squadrons.
Apologies if I've offended, it's late here :o

05-18-2008, 05:54 PM
Lazlo, The magician's name was Jasper Mascelyne. The Discovery Channel had a very interesting show about him a few years ago.

05-18-2008, 06:06 PM
Thanks -- do you remember the name of the show?

Was he the same magician that came up with the inflatable tanks during D-Day?

05-18-2008, 06:25 PM
Hi Lazlo, It was The History Channel. The title was "The War Illusionest"


They showed the inflatable armor and aircraft among his many other tricks.

05-18-2008, 08:25 PM
There is/was a paperback book, "The War Magician" about Jasper Maskelyne's work for the British, mostly in North Africa. Given that it was written to be a mass-market popular book I suppose one ought to read it with a certain allowance for elaboration to make a good story...but I found it interesting.

Assuming the book has some validity, among other things he created dummy tanks, camouflage techniques, survival kits for downed pilots, a fireproofing compound, and put strobe lights around the Suez Canal to disorient enemy bombers.