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Author:  EdwardWysocki [ Sun Jul 22, 2012 4:37 am ]

This topic is intended for any discussions and feedback related to my newly published book, THE GREAT HEINLEIN MYSTERY: Science Fiction, Innovation and Naval Technology, which is available from both Amazon and CreateSpace.

As I explain within the book, it is the result of many years of research into what I defined as the Mystery. Heinlein claimed to have had a fictional device in one of his early stories that served to inspire one of his Naval Academy classmates to develop an actual naval system used by the Navy during World War 2.

Heinlein never identified the story.

Heinlein never identified the device.

Heinlein never identified the classmate.

Heinlein never identified the naval system.

In my research, I analyzed the statements of Heinlein, looked very closely at the stories, and did a lot of research on naval technology of the interwar and war years. The book presents the details of my research and the conclusions at which I have arrived. There are other related topics which were part of my research and which are presented in the book. For example, I present information on various of his academy classmates that is not generally known.

I expect that the members of the Forum will provide feedback to my results, and I expect there will be three types:

Errata. There are always errors of one form or another.

Disagreement with some of my statements and conclusions. Not all, I hope.

Responses to some open questions that I have presented. One such example concerns a technology presented in "If This Goes On" which first appeared in 1940. This technology concerns the identification of a person based on the uniqueness of the patterns of the blood vessels of the retina. This was first proposed as a means of identification by two New York ophthalmologists in a paper in 1935. My question is, was Heinelin the first author in any genre to employ the concept in a story? I have no idea, but someone else might know the answer.

Let the feedback begin!!!!!

Author:  its1110 [ Wed Aug 08, 2012 9:46 pm ]

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.
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"
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.

Hidden Battleship:
Sat 13 October 2012, 0830 and 1330. $45.00.

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.

M.D. Shuford
Hickory, NC

Author:  EdwardWysocki [ Sun Aug 12, 2012 4:33 am ]

In response to some of Mr. Shuford’s first few paragraphs, if the device had not actually appeared in one of the published stories, there would have been no need for Heinlein to emphasize what occurred before the next issue or installment appeared. So we are definitely looking for something that appeared in a story that was published pre-war.

With regard to the “least hypothesis”, I agree that one must approach the problem assuming A with the expectation that one will probably wind up with some version of C.

Now regarding the various technical points:

1. While there is considerable literature regarding sonar, I have never encountered anything regarding a naval sonic system for rangefinding operating in the air instead of water. Such a system would have to emit very loud sounds at either audible or ultrasonic frequencies in order to get a reasonable echo. In the case of audible sound, I don’t think you want to be blasting out loud sounds all over the place. Might be a bit annoying to people on the ship. Powerful ultrasonic signals might present their own problems. There is also the question of the range possible with a system operating in air. I suppose that a connection with sono-buoys could be made, but no more so than any other particular piece of underwater sound technology.

2. TBS was simply, as you have indicated, a “low power, VHF, line-of sight” radio system. No extra features. No FH, SS or IR. The best of my listed references for this is Gebhard, which I will admit might be a bit hard to find. TBS was only possible when it was possible for the Navy to build reliable radios operating at a high enough frequency (> 60 MHz). Above that frequency, it was definite that they could not be picked up by the enemy some considerable distance away. If the enemy could not pick it up, no need for FH or SS techniques. TBS was just two boxes, one box containing the transmitter (40 watts, 60 to 80 MHz) and the other the receiver. No secret pieces hidden away elsewhere.

3. Regarding your comments on the telechronometer, all I can say is if you can find evidence of such a WW2-era naval system, then I would like to see it. My researches turned up no such system. Regarding its use in frequency-hopping, please note that no FH system was used by the Navy until the 60s (see Frequency Variation in Chapter 13).

4. Proximity-Fuzed AA Shells – What has this to do with anything by Heinlein? It’s a very well documented and interesting technical story, but doesn’t belong here.

5. Tachistoscope – If it was not in a pre-war story, then why mention it here?

6. I have visited the battleship Alabama. I have also visited the ships at Patriot’s Point, which includes the Yorktown (CV-10). As you point out, later modifications in any existing ships make it difficult to known what the exact equipment was at any point in time. I don’t know how reliable any documentation might be with regard to the configuration of equipment.

7. I thank you for pointing out the book by Brooks. How did I miss that one? I have accumulated other works with information on the development of such systems, one being Friedman’s Naval Firepower: Battleship Guns and Gunnery in the Dreadnought Era.

Author:  its1110 [ Mon Aug 13, 2012 10:17 pm ]

Just tossing pebbles into the pond.... :)

Still no conclusions... and my time to do research is ending this week. Fall Semester starting.
But I do plan to reach past Raleigh in October and put an eye on some pieces of equipment on the USS N.C. I've not seen before. (Alabama and Massachusetts will have to wait at least a year and a half. Eyes-on History seems to help the brain perk...)

So... this is probably the last "dump" from me for at least 4 months.

3. Telechronometer - I can't cite a particular device based on this idea as yet, but I do have something one step closer which I did not realize was in use at the time -- but perhaps should have (as it is done today). From some looking I was doing at the NSA's site: WWV, etc. provided not just time sync but also broad-cast a crystal-controlled "national frequency standard" of 100 MHz prior to WW-II. Not sure how well it was absolutely related to the time standard -- but there is clearly room for sub-mili-second accuracy possible.

Oh... I have absolutely _no_ good idea as to why Heinlein would have thought a radio-synced _wrist-watch_ would have been desirable, much less necessary. Very much a throw-away that solved _no_ story problem whatsoever. Taken out later... when it would have been approaching feasibility, but still would have been S-F. But this only deepens _that_ mystery...

Still not closer to a concrete answer, but a bit more of a Tidbit to gnaw on...

4. Proximity-Fuzed AA Shells – Sorry, just left the note to myself and didn't put in the idea I meant to develop.
Proxiimity-Fuzed AA Shells and Fire-Control Radar -- In the scenes of John Lyle (ITGO) "stealing" the rocket he is worried about being tracked and intercepted ("front of closed composite search curve", "police planes"). I don't know why Heinlein would not have thought so far as SAMs...

I can imagine a military officer, on reading this, just musing on the idea of "Now how would _I_ go about trying to take down a rocket plane?" Just an embryo of an idea. Knowing that the US _did_ eventually have Proximity-Fuzed AA Shells (widely in use by USN by Jan '43) and Fire-Control Radar systems... this was just an idea.

The Brits began working on "influence fuzes" in May 40 by one source I saw. It seemed to suggest the US had already independent projects going before information was exchanged upon US entry into the war or even the Tizard Mission in Sept. 1940.

I don't know when the idea to start playing with F-C RADAR really began. Seems a pretty obvious thing to try once you've got RADAR in general. That is, for those who believed in RADAR... and amazingly, for a "technical service", plenty of senior US Navy officers didn't... Result: 1st Savo Island. [It didn't help that Kelly Turner was a egomaniac/bully...] But less than 4 months later Adm. Willis Lee made exemplary use of RADAR; when the night before (under another commander) it was still abysmally employed. So it's not all about the equipment... it takes a commander that understands and trusts it. And can have flashes (or blinding search-lights) of inspiration; from S-F perhaps?


A- This one actually sound pretty good to me:
Another Idea -- The early RADARS used the A-scope. But a jurry-rigged PPI type scope could certainly be something thought up and cobble together by someone of EE-background who used and was basically familiar with the block-level design of RADARS. The Farnsworth long-persistence CRT was certainly available. The idea for a PPI type display could come from the "battle tracker" display translated into an electronic form. (It seems _production_ PPI systems didn't come on-board ships (USN) 'til late 1941.) This circles back around to CIC development.

If I remember some of the WW-II RADAR units I've seen correctly, the main RADAR electronics still had A-scopes (enough to operate the things and keep them adjusted), and even late in the war were still at least 2 or 3 (wide)-rack-cabinets in size, from which the signal was then "repeated" along with bearing information to remote units for PPI display; not requiring a completely re-designed unit. And, indeed, looking at the PPI displays in use in WW-II plot-rooms and CICs, the units installed there were not bigger than to have been anything but repeater displays.

Also -- Apparently Nicola Tesla had the idea for FH quite a bit earlier (1903) than I'd ever thought it to have been conceived: ... -rf-design

' Nikola Tesla, the prolific Serbian-American inventor and radio pioneer, filed a U.S. patent, granted on March 17, 1903 which doesn’t mention the phrase “frequency hopping” directly, but certainly alludes to it. Entitled “Method of Signalling,” the patent describes a system that would enable radio communication “without any danger of the signals or messages begin disturbed, intercepted, interfered with in any way”. '
' "...transmitter and receiver are synchronized and hop between two channels (although the patent notes any number of channels could be used) by altering the carrier frequency..." '

So I don't really understand why (esp. military) use was not made of this sooner than we are told of. Of course, no proof here...

An aside: Just because TBS was line-of-sight and short-range I would not discount the desire for greater security in the system -- by what-ever means. In surface-actions Friend and Foe would each be "in amongst 'em"; well within short-range radio of each other. Before WW-II this was still believed to be the mode in which future naval engagements would be fought -- and several were. (And... used from an air-craft, line-of-sight would be much farther than from ship-board.)

Directionality of such a system would be a desirable and practicable feature, also. Indeed, RADAR was used to ride voice-signals upon. The operators/techs apparently realized this independently and early-on. (i.e. Turn off continuous-training-motor and aim the beam.) (Esp. used with SJ and SV (periscope mounted) submarine units later in the war.)

[Hmmm.... "about" as much (1.5 billion US-dollars to amost-2 billion US-dollars) was spent on RADAR research as on the Manhattan Engineering District...]

Still no smoking guns from the "official" documented histories... but with no definitive answer, as yet, _more_ suggestions don't seem out-of-order -- esp. if this forum-topic can draw a wider participation.

I think I've basically already said such: My greatest wish would be for there to be very many more WW-II vets left. And a sizeable percentage with SF interests. Someone of them to think back and go "Ahhhhh....!" would be of the happiest help.

Basically a complete aside... but quite interesting.
see: L-Band Airborne Early-Warning

Author:  JamesGifford [ Tue Aug 14, 2012 5:01 am ]

The one thing you have to keep firmly in mind in this investigation and debate is that Heinlein almost NEVER told the complete truth in personal stories - I can't think of a one that isn't polished, trimmed to fit, and generally 'improved' to suit his recollections, the audience, and to some extent his ego. (Look, for example, at his self-descriptives in the political book: you'd never know he was an sf writer and that many of the organizing events he discusses were sf conventions...)

On the other, he never, to the best of my knowledge, made any such stories up from whole cloth. So there is likely an element of truth in the claim, but splitting hairs too finely on his statements is probably not going to lead to a final answer. A looser net and fuzzier logic will be more useful.

Author:  BillMullins [ Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:00 pm ]

JamesGifford wrote:
Heinlein almost NEVER told the complete truth in personal stories

The following may be an example.

On p. 61 of the Virginia Edition Sample, RAH mentions a neighbor. He is an orphan, of Italian descent, who builds subdivisions and lives 1/4 mile from RAH on Mesa. His first name is John. The key detail is that he wrote The Wisdom of Epictetus for the Philosophical Library.

Should be easy to figure out who this guy is, right? Except I can find no evidence whatsoever that the Philosophical Library (or anyone else, for that matter) ever published a work called The Wisdom of Epictetus. Not in Google Books, Amazon, WorldCat, HathiTrust, or the catalog of the Library of Congress.

Author:  BillMullins [ Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:05 pm ]

Okay, figured it out. John Bonforte wrote The Philosophy of Epictetus for the Philosophical Library. And there was a developer in Colorado Springs named John Bonforte -- the area Bonnyville is named for him.

One wonders if RAH knew Bonforte when he wrote Double Star.

Author:  beamjockey [ Wed Aug 15, 2012 4:42 am ]

EdwardWysocki wrote:
1. While there is considerable literature regarding sonar, I have never encountered anything regarding a naval sonic system for rangefinding operating in the air instead of water. Such a system would have to emit very loud sounds at either audible or ultrasonic frequencies in order to get a reasonable echo.

This brings to mind Polaroid's ultrasonic rangefinder, as employed in the classic SX-70 camera, and still pretty popular with the robotics crowd. It represented a practical and effective sonar operating in air. But that's 1970s technology, way beyond the 1940s, and not military.

I concur with Ed's technical points about sonar.

Author:  beamjockey [ Wed Aug 15, 2012 4:57 am ]

JamesGifford wrote:
The one thing you have to keep firmly in mind in this investigation and debate is that Heinlein almost NEVER told the complete truth in personal stories - I can't think of a one that isn't polished, trimmed to fit, and generally 'improved' to suit his recollections, the audience, and to some extent his ego. (Look, for example, at his self-descriptives in the political book: you'd never know he was an sf writer and that many of the organizing events he discusses were sf conventions...)

On the other, he never, to the best of my knowledge, made any such stories up from whole cloth. So there is likely an element of truth in the claim, but splitting hairs too finely on his statements is probably not going to lead to a final answer. A looser net and fuzzier logic will be more useful.

My experience chasing space suits certainly bears out Jim's statement.

1957 U. Chicago talk: "When we got into the war he [Bud Scoles] sent for me, put me in charge of a high-altitude laboratory of which one of the projects was the development of a space suit (then called a high-altitude pressure suit). I worked on it a short while, then was relieved by L. Sprague de Camp, who is an aeronautical and mechanical engineer as well as a writer; he carried on with this research all through the war, testing and developing many space suits."

In folkore, this has become "Heinlein helped develop the space suit," but note the weasel-wording.

De Camp's autobiography-- as Ed notes in his book-- denies that he, Heinlein, or Asimov did any work on pressure suits before WWII ended. It also gives enough detail to shed light on the "projects" to which Heinlein refers.

Author:  EdwardWysocki [ Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:43 am ]

I am pleased to see the number of responses that have been generated.

As several of the responses have indicated, the problem is in separating, shall we say, the wheat from from the chaff.

In some cases, we must ask if we are dealing with faulty memory on Heinlein's part or that he was too liable to simply accept what he was told by others. I am thinking of his statement that the person was not able to obtain a patent on the waterbed because it was described in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. But as my research showed, the waterbed patent was issued.

Mr. Shuford, I was quite pleased to see your interest in the problem. But your responses indicate to me that you are firing in many directions hoping to hit a target. I believe that the problem is that to which I referred at the beginning of Chapter 5 - faulty knowledge of the state of naval technology at the time that the stories were written. Please keep at it, but I think that you need to do your research to a greater depth.

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