The History of InfoAge Science & History MuseumsOral Histories - Oral History of Donald J. LeVine, P.E.
Interviewee: Donald J. LeVine, P.E.
Date: July 2002
In 1942 I enlisted in the Electronics Training Group of the Army of the United States Signal Corps as a private in order to avoid being drafted before completing the last year of my electrical engineering degree from CCNY. At that time the Army was offering commissions to all graduates of the ETG program upon completion of the degree. By the time I finished, they had lost too many young non-military trained officers from this program in the North African campaign to continue this process. The result was that I had to attend OCS, which I did not complete, for reasons that make up another story. Following OCS I was sent to Camp Murphy, Florida, for 584 training. This was completed in Fort Monmouth, NJ after Murphy closed down.
The 584-radar equipment was part of a system that included four 90 mm AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) rifles, a gun director that converted the slant range and azimuth information fed from the 584 to aim the rifles for accurate anti-aircraft fire and IFF equipment to make certain that the guns would not shoot at friendly aircraft.
The 584 equipment itself was housed in a large container on the bed of a 2.5-ton truck. I remember that the housing had several handles on each side of it that resembled suitcase handles. The theory was that these handles made the housing and the included equipment “portable”. The complete battery equipment included a gasoline-powered motor-generator set towed by the equipment truck, with other vehicles to carry spare equipment, personnel, and support necessities.
The 584 was a ten-centimeter radar with the equipment installed in the truck housing including a small elevator on which the parabolic antenna was mounted. The housing interior was large enough for at least two persons on swivel chairs. In transit, the antenna would be lowered into the housing. The operations were very hands-on. There were two CRT displays, one for range and one for azimuth tracking and two distance ranges that I recall. One was for early warning and the close-in one was for gun laying.
This is as good a time as any to point out that I am recounting experiences that took place almost 60 years ago, so please forgive any errors in recollection that become evident to those with a better memory than I have. The way the system worked was to locate the equipment near some juicy target for enemy aircraft and to position it as unobtrusively as possible. First, the continuously scanning early warning range setting would detect an incoming bogie that would be tracked until it came into a good target range. The tracking, when I was trained on the equipment, required that we keep the CRT display blip centered between two closely spaced lines that we rotated to follow the blips. I do not recall how the status of the required targeting information was determined to be ready for firing but obviously, there must have been an artillery manager for this purpose. In any case, the computer, a vacuum tube device, had the simple job of converting the slant range and azimuth information fed to it into gun laying data. In subsequent versions of the 584, the hairline tracking was made more automatic once a lock was achieved, or so I was given to understand much later.
Our training on the radar was imaginative. In my case, we were broken into small groups and placed under an experienced, previously trained instructor. I had a former professional electrician (not engineer) as an instructor. We had lots of classroom training on the circuitry and equipment and this was followed by hands-on work with the 584. The instructor would insert bugs into perfectly operating equipment and require us to find and correct the bugs. For example, one strand of multi-strand hook-up wire (called gremlin wire) would sometimes be carefully and almost invisibly wrapped around several vacuum tube prongs, so that the required flow of signals or triggering information would be interrupted. Another trick was to deliberately damage a vacuum tube so that although it still lit up, it was not working. When these tricks were played often enough, and required to be corrected in a very short time, the repairperson quickly learned how to maintain the set. This was in addition to the training in operating the equipment under real conditions. This was done when the school was relocated to Ft. Monmouth. We would set up the 584 on what was once the post-golf course. In night exercises the school would have a small plane fly over the post and we were required to learn how to acquire and track it when it came into early warning range.
I remember that our training instructor had the interesting habit of checking for power by moistening his fingers and running them over the power panel binding post strip. When he felt a shock, he was able to deduce that the power was not a problem, at least, to that point. He would continue this until assured that at least the power was being distributed properly. After going thru many school laboratories with high and low voltage power and electronic equipment, I had experienced enough unexpected, painful shocks to follow his example so I used test equipment instead.
Unfortunately (?) I had completed my 584 training and was actually walking over to the IFF course registration office when I was called away to enter classes on new equipment, the AN/TRC-6 microwave line-of-sight communications equipment. The Army had attempted to use relatively uneducated infantry trainees on this equipment and had failed miserably. The result was to select every available electrical engineer and physicist in the Signal Corps ranks for training on this very new and complex equipment that was vitally needed in the overseas theaters. Thus starts another story. However, I later heard that the radar equipment distinguished itself in the Italian campaign and made it very unhealthy for enemy aircraft to sneer at the 584, as they had at our earlier AAA gun-laying radar installations.
Donald J. LeVine, P.E.
Page created August 2, 2002
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