I have recently read William Patterson's biography of Mr. Heinlein and _For Us The Living_ a second time, and the _Revolt in 2100_ reprint version of _If This Goes On..._. I am in the midst of reading through Dr. Wysocki's _The Great Heinlein Mystery_, after doing some flipping to and fro.
I've already a few pages of notes I've worked up just from this much. Posting will be coming as I have time to type them up from my scribble.
At this time I will put in with:
I find it interesting that when FUTL turned up it was by way of the files of Adm. Laning. This would lead one to have reinforced faith that Adm. Laning was the "inventor" in question. However as yet, I still am not firmly convinced that some other story (or even story notes) might not be the source.
Mightn't RAH have shared some story ideas with Laning... ideas that went into post-War stories... or even ideas that were suppressed from being put into a story when Laning said "Hey. We can use that."?
What this boils down to is that I don't believe we must necessarily give RAH's story of this "gadget" complete credence as literal truth. He very tightly controlled what was known of himself, at least this is strongly shown in the 60s and later. I believe him quite capable (and correct) in creating confusion and misdirection over an idea which was truly a highly sensitive military secret.
I'm not sure which is the "least hypothesis" -- A) literal truth, or B) complete mis-direction, or C) somewhere in between. B and C certainly make the quest for an answer much harder, if not impossible. A is certainly the only sane way to approach research to start... or maybe I should say the only way to research this and remain sane.
Another point: Perhaps in use by the "Fleet" should not be taken too literally. Communications from Washington to area commands on to field commands could easily come under this description. And keep in mind that the Navy (along with it's subsidiary the Marine Corps) was in WW-II heavily Air Power driven.
Now, for some possibly constructive comments; these being what I feel are the most important of what I have so far gleaned:
1- Dr. Wysocki limits his investigation of "sonics" to underwater systems. Is this limitation going too far? Might a system of sonic positioning for surface manoeuvring in fog-bound conditions have been feasible. I would not completely discount this due to the existence of RADAR. If a condition of _complete_ radio-silence is to be maintained then it must be remember that RADAR is an active radio "voice". BUT... would it be practicable?
On the other hand (going back to sub-surface) Laning was in submarines for a bit and I had read he worked on homing torpedoes. I believe I recall that the use of active "sono-buoys " was used during WW-II. I don't know much about them, but could this tie-in with "sonic-radar"?
2- TBS: Talk Between Ships. I find little information on this on a "first search." What I do find only indicates it as a "low-power, VHF, line-of-sight" radio system. Was this all there was to it? I believe that I first became aware of this system not by any reading, (I would have to review a few dozen books -- many now in boxes) I recall but little mention of it in (at least) pre-1962 WW-II histories, but by seeing the equipment on board the USS North Carolina Memorial.
Could this system have in fact employed Frequency-Hopping, or Spread-Spectrum, or Infra-Red Technologies? Or even possible Voice-Scrambling systems. The last being a technology which Bell Labs _did_ work on during WWII; and it definitely was used in some form during the war. (More on that as I find my notes on this from a talk I attended at NC State Univ. by the NSA's Historian this last year.) (Oh... and... this was the _first_ _digital_ (as we use the term today) electronic communications system!)
When, for certain, were such systems first "fiddled" about with? If they were "top secret" much information could have been suppressed and then as the newer systems came along simply forgotten about. Unfortunately, there are precious few WW-II veterans left to ask; especially Acadamy grads. who would have been the ones most trusted with such and any experienced engineers that may have worked on such.
Suppose that even the operators/users of such systems may not have known if such was the case; the actual electronics/mechanism may have been locked away as "classified eyes-only" equipment. Concrete example: On the USS N.C., in Main Radio, there was (is) a compartment (approx. 300 plus square feet) which was such a high security area. It is denoted as having been the "cryptography compartment" or some such; but I conjecture it could have (being in Main Radio) concealed equipment for FH, SS, or Scrambling.
3- Tele-Chronometer -- Even though the Quartermaster and Navigator used a manual system of setting the ship's chronometers from radio-broadcast this does _not_ rule out other more exact usage. The to-the-second accuracy was plenty good enough for the time-tic needed to do celestial and dead-reckoning navigation. They would have had no "need to know" of more accurate uses of a radio time signal. More accurate timing could be taken from the carrier frequency, as an example.
The main difficulty with this for long-distance time synchronization is signal propagation errors. This is a difficult enough problem when working with terrestrial land-lines. This would make it difficult to achieve the necessary accuracy for long-range communications security sync. But... if such a system for use only within the area of a Task Force is imagined a local transmitter (let us say on the flag-ship) would be adequate.
The point here being that such a radio-clock system would be the crux of any Frequency-Hopping scheme.
I can more easily see how RAH would have dropped "sonics" from post-war re-prints than the Tele-Chronometer. For use in place of RADAR in a story, the public was surely aware of RADAR by the war's end and would reject "sonics" as a relatively much less practical method. But I can well imagine that mili-second-accurate radio-time-synch might still be of value as a military secret.
4- Proximity-Fused AA shells?
5- Dr. Samuel Renshaw's work with Tachistoscopes.http://www.enter.net/~torve/critics/Renshaw/renshaw.htm
Yeah... this didn't appear in a Heinlein story until _after_ the war... but it may bear looking into. My "first searches" didn't pull up much. It was clearly used... but when and how was it developed?
6- In regard to the "gadget" being the "integration of existing systems" (not at all un-likely). Integration was/is the essence of CIC. Battle-plotters come under this domain; be they electro-mechanical or a guy with a grease pencil.
I've not looked into when CICs were planned and built into ships as they were constructed as opposed to being conversion jobs of combining Tactical Plot, Tactical Radio, Main Plot, etc.
To investigate such I would suggest visiting some of the WW-II battleships now laid-up as memorials. The battleships are about all of the WW-II naval vessels which can even begin to be considered to be "un-modified" condition. And there are precious few other vessels besides the Essex class aircraft-carriers (all heavily modified) which are now almost commonplace.
See: "List of museum ships" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_museum_ships
Wikipedia on: USS Texas (BB-35), USS North Carolina (BB-55), USS Massachusetts (BB-59), USS Alabama (BB-60), USS Stewart (DE-238), USS Salem (CA-139)
for the most probable candidates. Check Launch and Commission dates.
The only two of these ships I am certain were not commissioned with CICs in-place are the USS Texas and the USS North Carolina. I do not know if Texas got a CIC... she was used for the limited role of shore bombardment during Atlantic and Mediterranean amphibious invasions. The North Carolina's CIC was not "built from scratch" but pieced together during the war -- and is relatively (very) cramped-in.
Just looking around command and control centers and Main Plot, with information on what was "original equipment" and what is "new stuff", might give some feel as to what might have been done in the way of "systems integration".
I'm a Carolina Boy... so I've spent quite a many an hour poking around BB-55. Many new area have been opened to public visitation over the mumblety-mumble years since I first visited her.
Additionally, there is a "Hidden Battleship" tour they do once or twice a year which covers areas not open -- most significantly, perhaps, the upper super-structure where the main radar X-ceivers reside and have their closest connection with CIC (just a couple or few decks down). Note I've not taken this tour yet myself.
Sat 13 October 2012, 0830 and 1330. $45.00.http://www.battleshipnc.com/
And I believe they have all the ship's drawings: original and after each re-fit. I know they've got the ship's log. (I just got a few pages [research on another matter] e-mailed to me in the last couple of days.) No telling just how much information the archivists there may have.
7- Almost forgot:
John Brooks, _Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland: The Question of Fire Control_ (London, Routledge, 2005). ISBN 0-415-40788-5
Invention, industrial intrigue, political shenanigans, and war.... Certainly all pre our subject of interest time-wise... but interesting stuff on development of range-keepers, automatic-plotters, fire-control systems, etc.