Oral-History:Ivan A. Getting (1991)
About Ivan A. Getting
Getting received his BS from MIT and got his PhD in astrophysics at Oxford. As a junior fellow at Harvard he shifted towards nuclear physics research. A Czechoslovak, Getting was very anti-Hitler, and was happy to be recruited for the Rad Lab. He worked on radar fire control, and had an unusual amount of responsibility for a young man in getting his project through the military bureaucracy, since his superiors were focused on rushing airborne intercept radars to Britain. Getting portrays the military bureaucracy as more inhibiting than do many other interviewees from the Rad Lab, and in particular says the Navy bureaucracy was just as gummed up as the Army, or even more so. The British air force was fairly flexible, but the British navy was so backward that it couldn’t take advantage of radar properly even if it wanted to.
About the Interview
Ivan A. Getting, An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 11 June 1991
Interview # 077 for the IEEE History Center The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Ivan Getting, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
Interview: Ivan Getting
Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker
Date: 11 June 1991
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Nebeker: Can you tell me briefly your background, education, and experience before coming to Rad Lab?
Getting: I was an undergraduate at MIT. I was a holder of one of the Edison Scholarships which was a highly publicized contest held by Edison in 1929. I did my thesis at MIT under Karl Compton, who was then president. I got a Rhodes Scholarship and went to Oxford. That was in the very lowest part of the Depression in 1933. Although I was the top of my class at MIT, I couldn't get a job. So instead I got a Rhodes Scholarship and spent two delightful years in England. There I earned a doctor of philosophy degree in astrophysics, working with Professor E. A. Milne, at that time one of the three giants of British astrophysics. While I was there, the Eastman Professor was Arthur Compton who was the brother of Karl Compton for whom the Compton Effect is named. He invited me to work with him on the origin of cosmic rays, and we published a joint paper on the effect of galactic rotation on the intensity of cosmic rays. The idea was to see whether you could prove that cosmic rays, the high-energy ones, came from outside of the galaxy.
At that point I was elected a junior fellow at Harvard. When I arrived at Harvard, Harlow Shapley, the director of the Harvard Observatory, expected me to join him at the Harvard Observatory in Cambridge. But my real love was for experimental physics, and I don't like observational physics where you can't work with the things you're studying like stars or galaxies or separate variables or whatever. So I did my work at Harvard as a junior fellow in the field of physics. I started off first by trying to demonstrate whether the effect of galactic rotation did indeed result in a variation of the cosmic ray intensity with sidereal time. I ran into a number of technical difficulties. One of them was accurate counting because cosmic rays arrived at random in a sort of Poisson distribution. In the process I developed the first high-speed binary counter, which was published in the Review of Scientific Instruments. That high-speed counter plus memory plus the software make high-speed computers.
Nebeker: Did you see yourself as working in the community of nuclear physicists at the time?
Getting: Yes. I then shifted from cosmic rays into nuclear physics. About my second or third year, Jim Fisk was appointed to the Society of Fellows. Do you know Jim Fisk's background?
Nebeker: No, I don't.
Getting: Well, as an undergraduate he was at MIT. He was two years ahead of me, or maybe three. He won a fellowship to Cambridge University, and he was at Cambridge when I was at Oxford. Subsequently he came back to MIT to get his doctorate degree, and then he was elected a junior fellow at Harvard. This time he was a year or two behind me. But he came up with the idea that we should build a Van de Graaff accelerator at Harvard. We joined forces, and so while I was doing my cosmic ray counting and doing my developing of the high-speed counter, with E.C. Stephenson, we started building a half-million volt Van de Graaff generator. We wanted to do d on d reactions to get neutrons for interesting physics experiments. Jim Fisk then decided to leave the Society of Fellows. He went to the Bell Labs. He was at the Bell Labs at the time that the Tizard Committee came from England and brought with them the magnetron. At that time I was still at Harvard, using the Van de Graaff generator. I was trying to demonstrate fission at that point, because the news of that had broken out at the Physical Society meeting in Princeton. Unfortunately, I didn't demonstrate fission for the simple reason that the glass that I used for making the cloud chamber was a piece of an old bell jar that I think Benjamin Franklin must have deposited in the attic of the Jefferson Laboratory (the physics lab). Unknown to me at the time, it was loaded with boron. So while I produced lots of neutrons, slowed them down in a huge mass of paraffin, and got a lot of cloud chamber pictures of oxygen being shattered, lots of high-speed recoils of protons that were hit by fast neutrons, and I didn't get any uranium fission. I also got lots of alpha particles from a metallic piece of uranium that Ken Bainbridge had loaned me. But no fission because all the slow neutrons had been absorbed by the boron in the cloud chamber walls.
Nebeker: Would it have worked otherwise?
Getting: I see no reason why it shouldn't. As I said, I got alpha particles, I got oxygen disintegrations, I got lots of recoil protons, and I got lots of little beta particles and electrons. So there's no reason why it shouldn't work. I had uranium because it was producing alpha particles. But it just didn't work. In the meantime, the people down at Columbia who had a cyclotron did demonstrate the fission of uranium. They were the first in this country using a proportional counter detector. When the Tizard Mission came to the United States, John Cockcroft - who was a professor at Cavendish Laboratories at the University of Cambridge - came by to say "hello" to Ken Bainbridge who was next door to me at the laboratory at Harvard. Ken Bainbridge had got his degree at Cambridge maybe five or ten years earlier and had done some very distinguished work in measuring, very accurately, the mass of hydrogen and of deuterium, and the light elements generally, which was all necessary for computing and tracking the direction that led toward the hydrogen bomb. John Cockcroft, who was one of the three senior members of the Tizard Mission, came through. He apparently discussed the radar mission with Ken Bainbridge as a friend. When Rad Lab was set up, Ken Bainbridge immediately brought me into the business. In the literature it says that Oppenheimer brought me in. That's not accurate. It was Ken Bainbridge. I think I was, if not the first, among the first three employees of Rad Lab because I was convenient, I was up the street from MIT. Secondly, as a junior fellow I had no teaching duties, at least not at that time.
Nebeker: How did Ken Bainbridge describe the job to you?
Getting: I was afraid you were going to ask me that. I don't think he described it in any detail. I'm not sure that he knew what he was talking about at the time. He described it as a new laboratory effort under the NDRC set-up. Of course I knew Vannevar Bush, and I knew about NDRC [National Defense Resource Committee]. I was very anti-Hitler because my forbearers came from Czechoslovakia, and my father had been a collaborator with [Thomas] Masaryk and [Eduard] Benes in World War I and had helped organize the Czechoslovak Legions that fought mostly in Russia at that time on the Eastern Front. He helped establish Czechoslovakia which I considered to be the best example of democratic government in the continent of Europe. When [Neville] Chamberlain came along with the Munich Pact, I was very disillusioned and deeply concerned about what was going on in the world.
Nebeker: Did you still have family in Czechoslovakia?
Getting: I had some cousins, but they were not "kissing cousins." In other words, I wouldn't know them if I passed them on the street. And I should point out that right after World War I my family had moved to Czechoslovakia, and I spent a year going to school in Bratislava in 1919. Also, while I was a junior fellow, I was quite active in debunking a lot of the Nazi propaganda agents who had been sent here to Boston under the direct support of the Nazi government. I worked very closely with the Unitarian church which was quite liberal here in Boston at that time and was with a fellow by the name of [Martin] Deutsch, whose mother was a representative of the Sudetens in the Czech Parliament. Dr. Deutsch is now a professor at MIT now. He was a graduate of Charles University in Prague, and he spoke German and Czech both fluently. In addition to that, there was a Czech astronomer at the Harvard Observatory, Zenik Kopal. Harlow Shapley himself, who was the director of the Harvard Observatory, was also in charge of a nonprofit organization which had two very powerful short-wave radio stations - WRUR and WRUL - with studios in the Copley Plaza down the street from here. Harlow Shapley had invited Kopal to broadcast a news program after the blackout that followed the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis. And Kopal, being a good Czech, realized he ought to have a Slovak on the program as well. And since my forbearers really were Slovak rather than Czech (it's a small distinction), he wanted to have a balanced program with Czech accent and Slovak accent. So every week we met at Harvard Square, bought the Christian Science Monitor (the most reliable news at that time), came here to the Copley Plaza, and we broadcasted.
The point of telling you all this was that I was quite anxious to make sure that Nazism was defeated. About the time of this visit by the Tizard Committee, France had fallen, Belgium had fallen, Norway and Sweden were under the control of the Nazis, and it looked like nothing was going to stop Hitler. So when I was invited to join a task, even without necessarily being told what it was about, I naturally jumped at the opportunity to be of assistance if, in the opinion of Bainbridge and Street, they thought I had the experience, background and capabilities. Curry Street had also been next door to me at Harvard. I did not know what the project was going to be. But I was about as much expert in the country as anybody on pulsed-circuits. I know that I brought my oscilloscope - a little RCA 3-inch oscilloscope - and a 10 kilovolt power supply I happened to have to MIT. They had empty rooms, no equipment whatsoever. And as I say, I think I was among the first three to five members. I was told that the first challenge was to make a pulse which would rise from zero volts to 10 kilovolts at 100 amperes in a tenth of a microsecond, stay flat at the top for a microsecond, and then drop off in another tenth of a microsecond. That was the challenge, and that's all that I knew at that time.
Nebeker: Was that similar to some of this work that you'd done before?
Getting: Well, I had done the multi-vibrator circuit for geiger counters, but not at these high powers. I had done the first high-speed scaling circuits which are pulsed. I had made test equipment to measure short intervals. So as far as I was concerned, my experience was not alien to the task to be done. You must remember that in the period of 1940, practically all radio was CW and low voltage. They were high-power transmitters, but they were still CW. There were no pulsed circuits in use anywhere. If you went to an electrical engineering department in most universities, they considered that 60 cycles was god-given, and there were no transients. There were no higher frequencies of any importance. And radio was mostly amps. So it was an entirely different situation than exists today.
Now let me point out, though, that MIT was rather unique among the universities. Vannevar Bush had left and had gone to Washington. But he was one of the original people interested in transmission lines, power lines, transients, the effects of lightning, and in solving the complete differential equations describing power transmission lines. There was a theoretical, mathematical, electrical engineer, Ernie Guillemin, at MIT, who was probably the world's authority on transients and electrical circuits. Zike Barrow was also at MIT. Zike Barrow probably knew more about microwaves and waveguides and coaxial lines and antennas than anybody else in the country. So MIT was a rather unique institution. It was not unreasonable that when the Tizard Mission suggested to the Microwave Committee, a laboratory of scientists, be set that up, MIT was chosen. The strange sociological phenomenon was that when our physics friends [Lee] DuBridge, [Isidor Isaac] Rabi and Wheeler Loomis came into the action they brought in physicists, and they pushed out these reasonably well-established electrical engineers, including Ed Bowles.
Nebeker: What about Zike Barrow?
Getting: Well, Zike Barrow worked in microwaves for many years. It was not a field that I was interested in at the time, so I didn't know him particularly. But there was a meeting of the American Physical Society, or some portion of it, at MIT. Afternoon after afternoon, Zike Barrow lectured to groups of these people on waveguides and microwaves and antennas.
Nebeker: Was he recruited there for Rad Lab?
Getting: Strangely enough, he was not. Prior to the war, MIT had a department of industrial cooperation, which was run by a fellow called "Nat" Sage. Sage had established pretty close connections with Sperry. I didn't know this at the time, but I've learned this over years of working in the business. At Sperry they were doing a fair amount of work on microwaves, including trying to develop klystrons with the Varian Brothers. And Zike Barrow was working with Sperry, as far as I know. When the Rad Lab got going, for reasons I don't know, Zike Barrow joined the Sperry effort. Whether he joined Sperry out of loyalty to the associations he had there previously or not, I don't know.
Nebeker: When you started at Rad Lab, did you soon become aware of earlier work that the Army and Navy had done?
Getting: In retrospect, apparently the Microwave Committee was informed. But security was very tight. Nobody at the working level in Rad Labs, to my knowledge, knew of the work that was going on either at Signal Corps or at NRL [Naval Research Laboratory]. After about a half a year or so, after we had gotten the automatic tracking system going on a roof, Louis Ridenour and I went down to Signal Corps laboratory. Ridenour was my boss at the time.
Nebeker: Is this about a year after you joined?
Getting: I would say probably less than a half a year. The Lab started in October 1940. In December 1941 Lee Davenport and I took our experimental truck XT-1 down to the Signal Corps for demonstration. It was between those two intervals that Louis Ridenour and I went down there. We expected to be hung from the nearest tree. We knew nothing about what they were doing, but we were aware by osmosis that they had developed some sort of "radar" nothing formal knowledge, no discussion. We were greeted with the greatest courtesy you can imagine. General Colton was then a colonel, and Rex Corput was then a major or a lieutenant colonel. The early 'thirties - John Markechetti, [Harold] Zahl, who was the inventor of the Zahl tube and Jack Slattery all greeted us, and they were most courteous, instructive, and friendly.
Nebeker: Is this Fort Monmouth?
Getting: Actually, it was Fort Hancock. Monmouth was the headquarters of the Signal Corps labs, and the radar work was done at Fort Hancock. The testing was done at Sandy Hook. So Ridenour and I established the connections with the Signal Corps at the working level of Rad Lab. But I must repeat that the NDRC Microwave Committee under Alfred Loomis had been briefed by the Signal Corps.
Nebeker: Was that the first that you learned about what they were doing?
Getting: Yes. Frankly, I was shocked. After starting the supply room with Ernie Lyman, in what became the Rad Lab, my first job was working with Curry Street on developing the modulators that would produce high power pulse. Between the two of us and a few others, we developed several ways of making such high-power pulses and such fast rise times. Bootstrap was one. We just saturated the triodes that we got from IMAC. Then when Louis Ridenour went down to Belmar, we discovered that the Signal Corps had modulators on the shelves. My first reaction was, ‘Why are we breaking our guts and using valuable time and facilities to reinvent the wheel, when the Signal Corps already had it on the SCR-270 and on the SCR-268?’ It was quite a while later in connection with my work on fire control that I became familiar with the Navy NRL war work, where Page had done a lot of work on what became the fire-control radar Mark IV. So for some strange reason, no one made an effort at that early time to my knowledge, of giving the Rad Lab the benefit of the work of NRL or of Signal Corps.
Nebeker: Is that just the very high security attached to radar at that time?
Getting: There was very high security. I don't believe that NRL and the Signal Corps were cooperating too much either. I think there was security within the Navy and security within the Army. The Microwave Committee was mostly people from corporations like George Metcalf from GE and Shorty Engstrom from RCA and Hugh H. Willis from Sperry. They were all very busy on doing their things.
Nebeker: Was this an oversight on the part of the Microwave Committee - that they knew of this but didn't pursue it?
Getting: I think it was an oversight. In the first place, when the Rad Lab was set up, there was no one from the Rad Lab who was on the Microwave Committee. I don't believe DuBridge was ever on the Microwave Committee. He met with them. The Microwave Committee would come around from time to time and see what was going on at MIT. The compartmentalization and people being occupied in their normal responsibilities did not provide for a continuity or a continuous exchange of views. Now this was also true in the army in my area of the Rad Lab, for fire control. The Army Ordnance was responsible for the fire control and had gotten some radio fuses and all that. The Signal Corps was responsible for radar and searchlights. The two did not communicate at the working level. It took a little time before those of us innocent people who were physicists to find out about all this. On top of that, when NDRC was set up, Section D-1 was under Alfred Loomis, and they were supposed to work on radar. Section B-2 was under Warren Weaver. He was a mathematician, and he was for many years head of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. Section B-2 was responsible for fire control.
Warren Weaver is a very bright guy. All these people were what I would call a scientific generation older than I was. I was in my late twenties; they were around 40, 42, 45. So there was a stratification of experience and responsibility. Section D-2 contracted with Bell Labs for a radar to do height-finding in support of the Army AA fire control, while D-1 was supporting AA Fire control and work that was under my control for the most part at Rad Lab. When this became apparent, there was a little to-do, and Louis Ridenour and I were appointed ad hoc members of the Section D-1.5, which had two members from Warren Weaver's NDAC Committee and two employees of the Rad Lab. That was strictly not legal because like DuBridge and the rest of us, we were not government-appointed officials; we were employees of MIT. The other two were appointed to D-1.5 from this Division D-2. One was Sam Caldwell, and the other was Thornton Fry. Both were wonderful guys, but they were government appointees. When Karl Compton, who was head of the D division which calculated reactions D-1 and D-2, discovered the irregularity, I was appointed one fourth of my time as an associate professor at MIT, and three fourths of my time as a member of Rad Lab. From then on one fourth of my salary came out of overhead of MIT, and three fourths came out of the money that was under the Rad Lab contract. So you can see that there were all kinds of complications.
Nebeker: What purpose did this division of your salary serve?
Getting: Well, the purpose it served was that there was not coordination between two committees of NDRC. Warren Weaver did not talk to Alfred Loomis - and Alfred Loomis did not coordinate with Weaver. Weaver's committee placed a multimillion-dollar contract with Western Electric for a radar which they knew very little about. It was an "arm's length" contract. MIT Radiation Lab operated under contract of Section D-1 and was doing microwave radar work. Eventually, the radar that Western Electric BTL was developing for Section D-2 was ordered into production as the SCR-547; but the operational Army didn't want it. They thought it was too complicated, too big, just to measure the height of an airplane. When the XT-1 went through its test at Fort Monroe the Coast Artillery Board, which was responsible for anti-aircraft as well as coast artillery, recommended that the XT-1 be standardized as the fire control radar for anti-aircraft, and that it go into production as soon as possible, as the SCR-584. Thus D-2 high finding with the advice of Ed Bowles, the army cancelled the SCR-547. There was another earlier mix-up when we demonstrated the automatic angle tracking radar system on the roof at Rad Lab.
Nebeker: Was this for the XT-1?
Getting: This was before we started on the XT-1. It was just the demonstration of a bread-board system on the roof. We were using a General Electric 50-caliber machine gun turret that was designed for the B-29. Alfred Loomis was very impressed. It was very impressive. You could look through the telescope mounted on the radar mount, and the airplane would go behind a cloud, and you wouldn't see anything but a cloud. When the airplane emerged from behind the cloud, there was the airplane right on the cross hair. It was just like magic. Alfred was so impressed that at a dinner of the Microwave Committee with General Colton, who was the top Signal Corps guy in this whole racket, he made some comment that NDRC could take the unit up on the roof and put it into production in maybe six weeks. Colton knew that was ridiculous, and that started another sort of a struggle. General Colton went right back to the Signal Corps labs and placed a contract with Bell Labs for the SCR-545. In spite of the fact that there had been a gentlemen's agreement that the Signal Corps would continue with the lower-frequency radar sets and the Radiation Lab would develop microwave radar sets, General Colton had earlier ordered that there be a contract set up with Westinghouse to make a searchlight control microwave radar called SCR-541.
On returning from the Loomis-Colton dinner, General Colton immediately placed a contract with Western Electric and Bell Labs for the SCR-545 automatic tracking gunlaying S-band, which was presumably based on what we had been demonstrating. This was before the XT-1 test had been made at Fort Monroe. The using branch of the Army, namely the Coast Artillery, had recommended that the XT-1 be put in production as the SCR-584. So, having gotten rid of the abortive D-2 effort to make a radar to measure the height of airplanes to work with optical-1 tracking directors for anti-aircraft, now suddenly we find ourselves with three AA radars going into production - 541, 545 and 584. By the number sequence you can tell which contracts were placed first: 541 first because that was a copy of the British concept of using Elsie radars to put searchlights on airplanes; 545 because Alfred Loomis had made General Colton mad by saying the NDRC could put something into production in some unreasonable length of time; and then the 584 which was recommended by the using branch of the Army, demonstrated at Fort Monroe.
Now what happened to these three sets? Well, Ed Bowles by this time was in Washington. He was Special Assistant to Secretary Stimson, Secretary of War. He knew the 541 didn't make any sense, and he knew the Army didn't want it. He knew that the Army wanted the SCR-584. General Electric was the favored contractor because they are the ones who had worked with Rad Lab in developing the automatic tracking part and the amplidyne. This was going to be a very, very large program. Ed Bowles and I decided, sitting with our feet on a table, that somehow or other we would get the SCR-541 cancelled and in the process, make sure that Westinghouse, which was the contractor for the SCR-541, would get 40 percent of the production order for the SCR-584.
Nebeker: That's a quid pro quo.
Getting: You could call it a quid pro quo, but you're dealing with people, you're dealing with factories in the middle of a war. You've got facilities. You've got to get things out in a hurry. And the last thing you want to do is get people mad at you. Sixty percent of the SCR-584 order was a big order. And it's not a bad idea to have a second source on critically important things like that. So the Signal Corps went along with it, and in fact Colonel Rex Corput and I met with the Westinghouse and the GE people at what is now Fort McNair. At that time it was the headquarters of the Army Ground Forces. General McNair was the commander of the Army Ground Forces. GE and Westinghouse ran into a bunch of impasses on coming to agreements as to who was going to do what to whom and how they were going to keep their designs coordinated and their procurement parts interchangeable. Finally, when at one-thirty they were unable to come to an amicable agreement, Colonel Corput turned to me and said, "Well, Dr. Getting, you and I should go out to lunch. When these fellows come to an agreement, they'll let us know and we'll come back and settle it." The 541 was cancelled.
Now the 545 was not cancelled, and there was no good technical reason why they didn't cancel it. It was more expensive and more complicated than the 584, but again it served as a back-up. And the decision was made by the government - and I had no part in this - that approximately 2,000 SCR-584s would be ordered and 50 SCR-545s. And the argument I remember General Colton giving was that the 545 from the beginning had been designed to meet Signal Corps specs for shock and vibration and humidity and salt spray and all of the other things. Whereas the XT-1, which had been tested in Fort Monroe, still had to go through a product engineering design. Therefore, they expected the 545 to come out way ahead time-wise. So they might as well get 50 until the 584 came on line. Actually they came on line at about the same time. So there were 50 545s and not quite 2,000 SCR-584s.
Well, this will give you some of the background of the way things were going on. Now you can ask why should a young guy, 29-years-old like me, be involved in this? Why wasn't DuBridge and Wheeler Loomis and the rest of them, and Rabi, wheeling and dealing? Well, the reason for that lies in a phenomenon that when the Tizard Committee came over, one of the members was Taffy Bowen. The British knew that they were in great danger of being bombed off the surface of the earth. The Nazis had shifted from daylight bombing to night bombing, and they badly needed an AI (air-intercept radar). The reason they needed an AI was that they'd been quite successful in destroying Nazi bombers in daylight with the Spitfire and so forth. But at night they weren't. The British anti-aircraft was not very good. They maybe averaged 10,000 rounds for one aircraft kill. The XT-1 down in Fort Monroe, was averaging four to eight rounds per kill, with the M-9, Bell Labs computer. That wasn't an order of magnitude. That was two orders of magnitude more effective. So in the minds of everybody in the leadership of the British delegation - Taffy Bowen, Tizard etc. - anti-aircraft was not ground-based good. It was not effective. Their chief requirement was AI, airborne intercept radars. So DuBridge and Rabi spent all their emotional effort in that. While Project 2 was set up in January of '41, and while they did give support, they never took a personal interest.
Nebeker: Is that because the British put the emphasis on AI?
Getting: On AI. Six to ten months later, after January 1, 1941, the picture had changed in Europe. The Nazis were now feeling the pressure, particularly after Pearl Harbor, of Allied bombing on the part of the British and the Americans. The bombing of London and England went way down, and therefore AI became less important. But other things became more important, like anti-submarine hardware. So, in a sense, I had the blessing that while I had their support in the lab, and when I needed it, I went to them to ask for it. They always gave me support. But I had the initiative.
Nebeker: When did you begin the XT-1 program?
Getting: It was probably in June of 1941.
Nebeker: Was that your full-time activity then?
Getting: At that period of time, yes. MIT had a set of old hangars that had been built behind the main building in World War I, and this was before MIT started building Building 24 or the other buildings on Albany Street. I and a few other young guys like Lee Davenport went into the truck business. We bought a brand-new White chassis and went to an outfit that built truck bodies and had them build a truck body. By this time we were recruiting all kinds of people at Rad Lab many of whom had been unemployed because of the Depression - engineers and physic graduates. We put the XT-1 together in less than six months. We had it down at Fort Hancock, New Jersey the day before Pearl Harbor. We were going to demonstrate it to our friends in the Signal Corps. In fact, I think we had a big beer party Friday night, with Markechetti and Zahl and the rest of them down there.
Nebeker: Was this the Friday night before Pearl Harbor?
Getting: Yes. Pearl Harbor was on Sunday morning. And, as I say, our relationship with the Signal Corps couldn't have been better at the working level.
Nebeker: Did it improve at higher levels as well so that things were coordinated better?
Getting: We never lacked support from General Colton or from Colonel Corput or any of the civilians. We always had their full support. In other words, they weren't envious of our role, we were not envious of their role. Now, the Signal Corps SCR-270 was at Pearl Harbor. That was the radar that spotted the Japanese planes. It was a good radar. It spotted them, I think, 150, 200 miles offshore. But, as I say, they were so busy getting parts, and spare parts, and improvements, and training operators and everything else, that they had no surplus energy left. They were thankful that we took the load off of them in the microwave part.
Nebeker: Wasn't there a duplication of effort?
Getting: There was a duplication of effort in the sense that a modulator which would drive a transmitter tube at one and a half meters wavelength will also drive a magnetron at ten centimeters. You've got roughly the same characteristics of impedance and power.
Nebeker: It sounds like in the beginning, the first year or so of Rad Lab, there wasn't much awareness of work elsewhere.
Getting: It went for six months.
Nebeker: Do you think that was one-directional or was the Signal Corps also ignorant of what was going on at Rad Lab?
Getting: ...Fort Hancock or from the Navy Research Laboratory. Everybody was pretty busy.
Nebeker: Was there a clear enough separation of tasks that that was not a problem?
Getting: It certainly was not a problem. I mean, some of us, for example, went down to the Signal Corps lab to learn about their SCR-268 which was allegedly a fire-control radar. You must remember that these laboratories worked under strict military control. The military had their own views on how equipment should be built and how wars are fought. So the Signal Corps laboratory was both under physical constraint because of the wavelengths of their equipment, but they were also under the constraint of the military doctrines of the time period. For example, on the SCR-268 there were two operators. And they did pip matching, one pair on elevation and one pair on azimuth. They rode around with the antenna to simplify slip-rings and stuff. But they were out there in the rain in the daylight. In daylight can you imagine looking at the blue sky and then squinting at a scope? Or having rain coming down the back of your neck and then your hands freezing? We'd say, "Well, that's crazy." And so we came up with the idea of putting the XT-1 and then the SCR-584 into a trailer, only first it was going to be a truck. War Production Board had said no trucks only trailers. The reason we did that was that we wanted the operators in a darkened room where their eyes got accommodated to the low-level lights so they could look at a scope. We didn't want them freezing their hands off. We didn't want to have rain coming down their necks and snow falling over the equipment. We had to sell that idea to the Coast Artillery Board and get them to change their attitude. All they wanted was low profile. If you're going to fight a war, you crawl in the way the soldier does with their rifle in his arms and then gets behind a little hill or you dig a little hole and put the earth in front of you so that visibility is lower. They asked what we were going to do with a trailer ten feet high and 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. You're going to take that in the battle lines? So we even had that kind of a problem, educating or converting the military into our concepts of how radar equipment should be designed. As I said, we wanted to have it in trucks for quick mobility, but the War Production Board says it takes too many tires, too many engines. Put them in a trailer and have a prime mover move them. That was all right with us.
Nebeker: Were you able to convince the Signal Corps that it was better to have the operators in a tractor?
Getting: Yes. Signal Corps and the Coast Artillery, and then later on the Anti-Aircraft. Command, which was split off somewhere in that time period and set up in Richmond.
Nebeker: Did you encounter resentment of civilian scientists telling the Army or Navy how to do things?
Getting: No, I don't think so. You treated these people like they deserved. They were human people, they were working very hard, they were doing the best they could. The Army had a Colonel McGraw who was Coast Artillery and Anti-Aircraft, and he was just a wonderful person. I would say that he saw the situation the same way we did. So the job of persuasion fell more on him, on Colonel McGraw, than it did on me or my associates at the Rad Lab. Later on, when the Anti-Aircraft Command was split off from the Coast Artillery Command, there was a Colonel Cassevant. He was temperamentally different from McGraw, but from the standpoint of concepts and ideas, he also became the man in the Army who sold the ideas.
Nebeker: In your experience at Rad Lab, how much input was there of specific military needs into the planning of projects at Rad Lab?
Getting: Well, I won't speak for the Rad Lab as a whole. Experiences in the airborne stuff, the Army Air Corps were quite different. There were a lot of bright generals in the Army Air Corp, like Pete Quesada who helped establish requirements. There was no such leadership in the higher elements of the Army. One of the very serious problems was that there was practically no one in the Army cleared to have access to radar. When the war broke out, for example, and Rad Lab had developed the SCR-582 sea coast surveillance radar - with which I had nothing to do - it turned out to be a very good success. The next generation was SCR-682, and by that time Rad Lab was more formally organized, and it was transferred to my division as an Army radar.
But let me point out that in 1940 the requirements for fortifications and seacoast artillery were done by a fortifications board that consisted of over-age colonels who were still living in the nineteenth- or eighteenth century. They knew all about revetments, how to pour concrete, and about disappearing 12-inch rifles. Not one of them was cleared for radar. So they didn't know what to do about it. About halfway through the war Ed Bowles, who had established his reputation and had obtained the confidence of Secretary Stimson, had brought into his office some assistance from Rad Lab people. One of the full-time people in the airborne stuff was David Griggs. Ed Bowles invited me, and I served as Special Assistant to Secretary Stimson for army radar. I would go to Fort Monroe, and I would say, "Well, we'd better write a letter starting this requirement process." I would sit down with them and help them write the letter. That letter would be addressed to the Army Ground Forces, headquarters at Washington, which is now Fort McNair. Then I would go there, and I would meet with General Dean who was the director of requirements, and we'd go over the letter that came from Coast Artillery Board. Then I'd help draft a reply to that. So eventually it came through the system. If you'd just let it go by itself, it would have gotten into the hands of people who weren't cleared for radar and wouldn't have known what to do with it. So they put it from one side of the desk to the other side of the desk. No one can admit in the Army that you don't know.
There were a number of conferences where I deliberately as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War Stimson called meetings. I had different branches of the Army all meet in the same room. I'd lay out the problems and get their views, and then get their agreement. Then we'd write a letter, and everybody signed it. I don't know if the documents helped. When organizations get as big as the Army, and people keep shifting, and security tends to take control to the point where people don't know what's going on, there has to be some lubricant to make the system go. And Ed Bowles supplied that. In the case of the Army I did that not as a member of the Rad Lab, but as Stimson's representative, with letters to General McNair and General Dean that Ed Bowles wrote. He was a very good letter-writer. I got full support and cooperation. This was toward the end of the war rather than in the beginning. But that was essential to make the flow of the developments that were going on in the Rad Lab expedited into that kind of a big organization. Now the Air Corps was different. The Air Corps was perfectly willing to test sets. They would take ten Rad Lab built sets down to the Caribbean and try to see if they could detect the German submarines which were going all around the Caribbean. But the Ground Forces doesn't do things that way. The Army has a table of basic allowances, tables of basic organizations and regulations. They train people by the tens of thousands.
Nebeker: Was it because the Air Corps was a new branch that it had less of this?
Getting: It was an oddball branch. And for special missions a few airplanes could make a difference. In the Army it's millions of people: it has to be organized, you have to have training, you have to have a logistics support line. You have to have all this, and that's different.
Nebeker: Did you have dealings with the Navy?
Getting: Well, let me switch gears. The answer is obviously yes. In the beginning at Rad Lab, when we had demonstrated the automatic tracking on the roof, two Navy commanders came by. I remember one's name was Rivero, he was a short fellow. And the tall one, I've been unable to remember his name for years. Both of them had been assigned by the Navy to go to the Mediterranean with the British Fleet and learn firsthand what the problems were. At that time, you know, France had fallen, and the British had badly beaten the French Fleet that had escaped into North Africa. But the British were losing ships right and left, both to Italian and to Nazi airplanes. Torpedo attacks and dive bombers were the two principal problems when General Mitchell, back between the wars, had raised the issue of surface ship survivability against airplane attack.
He demonstrated that if you took a battleship and you plunked it in the ocean, and then you flew high-altitude bombers over it, you could sink those ships. So the Navy fire control and our whole approach to the gunnery, as they called it, had been based essentially on this concept of defense against straight flight high-altitude bombing. The responsive weapon system was the 5-38 caliber gun. For fire control, the MK-1 rangekeeper, originally developed for control of main battery guns firing at other surface ships or land targets, was adapted. The rangekeeper, developed by Hannibal Ford during WWI, was a remarkable instrument designed practically to overcome the inadequacies of optical range finders while providing for accurate continuous firing from a maneuvering and rolling and pitching ship. Are you familiar with torpedo planes? They come in a very low, maneuvering course, drop a torpedo and turn around and go, and they often never come within good firing range of the ship. Because of previous reports, the Navy had started two new fire-control systems for use with rapid firing light guns - an electrical one at ARMA in Long Island, an electromechanical one at Sperry, their conventional suppliers. All had been designed for 1.1-inch guns which was a Navy development but which was dropped in favor of the 40-millimeter Bofors gun. These directors had gotten complicated. They needed accurate range and range rate.
So Rivero and his friend came up to Rad Lab, saw what we were doing, and they called a meeting out at the Ford Instrument Company to see whether the Rad Lab could supply a range and range-rate system to go with any of these new directors. Louis Ridenour, John Meade and I were there, but Louis was the head man at that point, and I was his stooge. And we said, "sure we can give you a range and range-rate." That's no problem and fully within the art even then. But Louis, who was a fantastic speaker and very persuasive, interrupted and said, "But, look, for a quarter more we can give you direction, too." We've got the radar, the transmitter, the receiver, the indicator. Put a conical scan on an error indicator, and we'll give you direction, too. Everybody dropped their jaws, but they said, ‘okay.’ John Meade was given the job. We put together not a prototype but a lab model breadboard - brassboard. The Navy was sufficiently impressed that they immediately gave Western Electric a production contract for the Mark 9 radar. That was actually the first radar from Rad Lab that went into production. And the strange thing is that there were hundreds of them produced, but in the meantime the Mark 49 director, the Mark 45 director, and the Mark 50 director, the three that were being designed, were cancelled. So then we had a factory full of radars that had some capability but nothing to put them on. That was the first Navy fiasco.
The second fiasco - Well, the Navy is even more conservative than the Army, and for good reasons. Are you familiar with the Navy ships: destroyers, cruisers, battleships and carriers? In the first place, they're all over the world. The ships come in for major overhaul maybe three or five years apart. The Navy has schools to train their maintenance people; they have schools to train the operators. This becomes an investment which may represent one quarter of the total assets of the whole Navy. They are loathe to make any revolutionary changes. By tradition, for over a quarter of a century, the Navy bought all their gyrocompasses from Sperry. They bought all their stable verticals from ARMA, and they bought all their computers, called rangekeepers, from Ford Instrument. That had been going on since World War I, and every destroyer, every cruiser, every battleship had those equipments made by those companies with spare parts all over the world. If you wanted to change that, you were in trouble.
Besides that, the Navy inspectors at each of these places, usually Navy captains, would then advance to be head of the Bureau of Ordnance which was an independent organization, funded directly by Congress. It was not under the CNO [Chief of Naval Operations]. The CNO was not a statutory position in World War II. But the chiefs of the bureaus were separately funded by Congress. Every successive head of the Bureau of Ordnance had his piece of the action and equipment that was in the Navy, and he was not about to let it change or be improved by any civilians who didn't know anything about war anyway.
So, outside of this first effort by this young Commander Rivero - he became an admiral (he's a Puerto Rican) before he retired - outside of that one effort to break into the loop, it was almost impossible. Besides that, new radar systems developed by NRL had gone to Western Electric. And so Western Electric was making the Mark III radar for the main fire control of the big ships and also the Mark IV, which was for their dual-purpose gun, the 5-inch 38s. And nobody could break in.
Nebeker: Were you part of the effort to sell the Navy on new devices?
Getting: Absolutely. When the war in the Pacific started to get hot, it was clear that the dangers were still dive-bombers and torpedo planes. And then came the kamikaze, which was essentially a suicide dive-bomber that didn't let go. I suggested to the Navy that we add a radar to the Draper right, which was a Sperry-manufactured thing that Stark Draper at MIT had invented. It was a clever gadget, but it was not a sophisticated fire control piece of equipment. But it was relatively cheap. When the Navy cancelled the Mark 45, the Mark 49 and the Mark 50, which I think was in '49, '50, '51, they had nothing to control their 40-millimeter guns. Nothing! In the meantime, Stark Draper invented what was called the lead-computing sight, in which you took a gyro, and you had springs on it, and the springs would precess the gyro, and you'd turn the sight, the gyro would lag behind because of the precession. But the faster you moved, the tighter the spring came, the bigger the angle, which was roughly proportional to the lead angle to hit the target. So it was called a lead-computing sight. The same was true in elevation. And there were two axes, so you didn't have to have an axis-converter from that to the guns, which were always deck two-axis. So the Draper sight was put into large production for one in every ship.
The 40-millimeter guns were controlled by the Draper site, and 5-inch 38s were controlled by the Mark I rangekeeper, and the Mark 37 director, and a Mark IV radar. I said, "let's see if we can convert the Draper sight, since it was obvious that you're not going to be able to just get rid of them, and see if we can marry it to our radar.” Our radar points at the present position, and in the Draper sight, nothing except on optical path points to the present position. The sight is the future position, and there's a set of mirrors that are halfway between that and the present. At the same time the Applied Physics Laboratory, established by Merle Tuve for designing radio fuze was running out of work. Do you know who Merle Tuve was?
Getting: Well, you know Vannevar Bush was head of the Carnegie Institution in Washington and one of the chief honchos there with Merle Tuve. Merle Tuve had done a lot of brilliant nuclear physics type things with accelerators. He had also measured the ionosphere height, using radio pulses. But he had gotten it into his head that the whole trouble with anti-aircraft were the fuzes. In a conventional anti-aircraft artillery, the computer not only computed the lead angles but computed the time that it would take the bullet to get from the gun to where the target was going to be at impact. Before you put the shell into the automatic gun, you stuck it into a fuze-cutter, and that automatically set the fuze to the right time. But there were inaccuracies of various kinds, like the muzzle velocity varied with temperature and the erosion of the gun. So Merle Tuve came up with the idea of making a proximity fuze. Instead of setting the time, it would go off when the shell went by the target. They had pretty well finished that development, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory decided to go into fire control. So I met with them, and I said, "Look. Why don't we tackle this job jointly - that is, modify the Draper MK-51 sight to an all-weather fire control system for the 40mm guns. We'll make the radar, and we'll make the angle-converter. You modify the gun sight, put in another set of mirrors."
So we did all that, and in fact we were going to use the SCR-584 antenna mount, which was in large production, and just slap it on the deck. Take the Mark IX radars that were in the warehouse, convert those, and have a smorgasbord combining four different things that were in production. Well, we built one, and we had it tested at the Navy Chesapeake Bay Annex. I was in England with the British Fleet at the time with a special mission trying to straighten out the relationship between Navy fire control in Great Britain and the United States. In fact, I was head of a follow-on mission to the so-called Compton Mission when the report came in through my channels that the modified Draper sight was just as accurate when you couldn't see anything as it was when you could see in clear weather, and it was simply that in clear weather you saw the airplane, and with this radar modification the airplane had a little red circle around it. If it went behind a cloud or the smoke from guns came in between, you couldn't see the airplane but you could still see the red circle. You could always track the airplane or the red circles; you didn't have to train new operators. Well, Commander Travis wrote across the report: "Of Academic Interest Only - Project Cancelled." Now he's the same Travis that became involved with the computers at the University of Pennsylvania after the war.
So that project was killed, and I then rushed home on the highest priority I could get - this was after the North African invasion - and laid out a scheme for the first fully-integrated radar fire-control system that was not restricted by history or by prejudices. I laid it out. We took it to Admiral J.A. Furer who was the Navy liaison with OSRD [Office of Scientific Research and Development]. He took it to the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, and they authorized the development of the gun fire-control system Mark 56. By that time I was also head of the Navy fire control for OSRD. So with millions of dollars of Vannevar Bush's money in contracts with the old stand-by companies, General Electric, Ford, and ARMA plus some new radar at GE, we put together a team, and we designed the MK-56 at Rad Lab. We had it built, and we had two of them on hand ready to go when the war was over. Admiral King, the head of CNO, broke all tradition and wrote a letter to the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, Admiral Hussey, ordering him to buy 50 production units.
Now you can ask, “Where was DuBridge? Where was Loomis?” I'm not considering Rabi. By that time Rabi was halfway in the atomic bomb project. They always gave me full support, and I kept them informed. But they had other political things that they were following. They were loaded to the hilt. So in fire control and Army radar and Navy fire control I was essentially the merchandiser and the politician. And I held these separate appointments in the government - OSRD and Secretary Stimson.
Nebeker: I wondered if you could see that things were different with the English military? Or was it the same problems?
Getting: Well, it varied. Sir John Cockcroft was head of the Army establishment in Great Malvern. When we brought our first SCR-584 over I met with him. He was so impressed that, as far as they were concerned, they were going to buy SCR-584s. They got 300 of them. As far as the Navy was concerned, the British Navy was way behind the U.S. Navy at practically everything. You just don't order a 584 and put it on a ship. You have to integrate it with the ship, and with the hydraulics, and with everything else. British cruisers didn't even have a stable vertical. A British cruiser, if it wanted to fire its main guns, had hydraulic controls, but they weren't servo controls in the sense of feedback. They were just valves that the operator on elevation and azimuth opened and shut. They fired only when the cross hair went by the horizon. So they had to wait for the roll and pitch of the ship before they could fire. Our guns, with stable vertical gyro, gyrocompasses and computers, could fire as fast as you could load them. It didn't make any difference whether you were in the bottom of a pitch or the top of a roll. Well, that makes a big difference in accuracy and fire rate.
Nebeker: I'm sure it’s also difficult for military bureaucracies to move rapidly enough when technology is changing.
Getting: I wouldn't want to undertake it. We did give the British some Mark 37s directors, and they did install them. But that wasn't enough. They needed a lot more.
Nebeker: Well, thank you very much.
P.S. This interview did not cover other experiences at Rad Lab i.e. the SCR-598, the battle against Nazi V-1 and V-2, the radar control of tactical fighters and bombers, counter mortar location, etc.
Nor does this interview cover the contributions made to the programs described above by various individuals at Rad lab and, in particular, Division 8 of the Rad Lab.
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