Mrs. Ruby Barnett was one of 1000 women employed at the Aberdeen Proving ground during World War II. Her job there was to test guns, and she attracted quite a bit of media attention because she was a grandmother and didn't exactly look like the kind of person one would expect to see behind a .50 caliber machine gun.
Apparently she was only 40, but she already had three grandkids.
Grandmother, 40, Tests All Kinds of Weapons, Except Large Cannon, at Aberdeen; is Used to the Noise Now
Mrs. Ruby Barnett, 40, said today as she went about her job of testing all kinds of guns—except 16-inch cannon—that she found nothing inconsistent in gun-firing by day and rocking the cradle of her third and newest grandchild by night.
"Hitler hasn't respected grandmothers or little children in this war and I guess American grandmothers will have to pitch in and fight him any way they can," she said, as she turned from the anti-tank gun, loaded a .50 caliber machine-gun and banged away with nonchalance and a terrific din.
The youthful grandmother, wife of a World War veteran, is employed by the Army, along with 1,000 other women, to test ordnance materiel at the government's oldest and largest proving ground here. Wilmington Morning News - Oct 2, 1942
How, in 1940, a Bell Labs engineer invented a guidance system for anti-aircraft guns in a dream. Source: The Bigelow Society
Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychologist, elaborated the theory that the solution to a difficult problem can somehow suddenly crystallize in the unconscious mind.
A compelling example in favour of this theory concerns an engineer, David Bigelow Parkinson. The time was spring, 1940 and Parkinson was then a young engineer working at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City in the specialized field of electromechanical design. He was working on improving an instrument called an automatic level recorder. A small potentiometer [an instrument for measuring electromotive forces] controlled a pair of magnetic clutches which in turn controlled a pen to plot a logarithm.
Meanwhile, the top story in the headlines concerned the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of stranded Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France across the Channel to England. This news greatly preoccupied Parkinson's mind along with that of his work. And the two ideas came together in a dream, which he later described in an unpublished memoir:
I found myself in a gun pit or revetment with an anti-aircraft gun crew . [A] gun there. was firing occasionally, and the impressive thing was that every shot brought down an airplane! After three or four shots one of the men in the crew smiled at me and beckoned me to come closer to the gun. When I drew near he pointed to the exposed end of the left trunnion. Mounted there was the control potentiometer of my level recorder!
Parkinson realized the full significance of his dream the following morning. If his potentiometer could control the pen on the recorder, something similar could, with the right engineering, control an anti-aircraft gun. At the time, the complex mechanical systems controlling these guns were not very accurate and could not be mass-produced.
Parkinson discussed the idea that morning with his boss, Clarence A. Lovell. They worked for several days writing a report and then met with Lovell's boss. Just before this meeting, on 18 June 1940, Parkinson realized he would need a diagram to explain his ideas so made a quick sketch on a sheet of plain white typingpaper.
The company submitted a proposal for exploratory work on an electromechanical system for directing antiaircraft guns to the Army Signal Corps which was subsequently approved. An engineering model was delivered for testing to the Army at Fort Monroe MD on 1 December 1941. The result of Parkinson's dream began rolling off the assembly lines early in 1943. More than 3000 of the gun directors, designated the M-9, were built.
Many thousands of shells were fired to bring down a single aircraft with the older directors; the M9 brought the number down to around 100 shells per hit on an aircraft.
Thus Parkinson's unconscious revelation led to one of the most effective pieces of air-defense technology in World War II.
The "Caccolube" was a simple but effective device to disable an enemy vehicle. It was a condom filled with abrasive powders and crushed walnuts, and was dropped into an engine crankcase. "After the engine heats up," the OSS manual explained, "the hot oil will deteriorate the rubber sac and free the compound into the lubricating system.
"When circulated through this system, the compound fuses and welds the moving metal parts of the machinery. Slipped into a truck, the Caccolube takes effect after the truck has been driven from 30 to 50 miles. It reacts so thoroughly on pistons, cylinder walls and bearing journals that the vehicle is not only thrown out of service but the engine is destroyed beyond repair."
This lethal "lube job" replaced the original effort using sugar, when it was discovered that sugar actually promoted better engine performance in the vehicles of that era. Source: Jack Anderson, "Rare arsenal used by spies," Santa Cruz Sentinel, Mar 9, 1987.
I'm sure this must have been the strangest day in Norman Carstens' career as an orthodontist:
The boy had apparently asked other dentists in the area to remove his braces before visiting Carstens' Mack Avenue office on Feb 8, "probably because he lives three or four blocks from my office," Carstens said. "He (came) in to see me and said he wanted them off. I said he wasn't finished with his treatment and I couldn't take them off without a letter from his parents and his regular orthodontist.
"I had him in the chair and he leaned over and pulled the gun out of his pocket and said, 'Would this make you change your mind?' and I said, 'Yes,'" Carstens said.
(click to enlarge) Central New Jersey Home News - Feb 16, 1985
Seeking a way to use technology to win the tunnel warfare in Vietnam, Nelson Frost of Byram, Connecticut invented the "Holie Terra." Although in the write-up for the patent he received (No. 3,395,641), he referred to it more formally as a "remotely controlled tunnel exploration and destroying means."
From his patent:
In certain types of warfare, for example, insurgency as practiced in Southeast Asia, enemy infiltrators and insurgents resort to extensive tunnel networks to hide from the established forces. The tunnel system in any one area may be elaborate and may traverse several levels and numerous branches with the arrangement being such that the insurgent forces are disposed in the system in such a position that a high explosive detonated at the tunnel entrance will have little effect on those hiding in the tunnels because of their labyrinthine construction whereby the direct force of an explosion is screened from the occupants. Because of the danger of booby traps or ambush it is not practical for attacking forces to enter the tunnels with the result that heretofore there has simply been no way to kill or dislodge insurgents hiding in the tunnels and the broad object of the present invention is to provide means for exploring tunnel networks by a self-propelled device which can be safely controlled from a remote position outside of the tunnel network.
More particularly, it is an object of the invention to provide a tunnel exploring device which may be maneuvered from a remote position deep into the tunnel network and there be detonated so that there is a much higher kill probability of the enemy forces with greater safety to the attackers than has been possible by any means employed heretofore.
In 1976, King Dixon of Miami was shot five times at close range in the head during a bar fight. Not a single bullet penetrated his skull. He was hospitalized overnight for observation, and then released the following day in satisfactory condition.
Alexandria Town Talk - May 10, 1976
Casper Star-Tribune - May 12, 1976
It seemed at the time like he must have been bulletproof, but a follow-up by Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan, in her book Never Let Them See You Cry, reveals that he was affected by bullets after all:
Dixon was treated at a hospital and sent home, where I talked to him the next day. "My ears are still ringing," he said. "The gun was right at my ear. Those shots were really loud." Other than that, he felt fine. "I guess you have to ask the good Lord why I'm still alive."
But the bullets did kill him. I found King Dixon at the morgue eight years later. Since the shooting he had suffered seizures, and one of them killed him.
The medical examiner blamed the old bullet wounds and ruled the death a homicide.
King Dixon became Miami's only murder victim in 1984 killed by bullets fired in 1976.
Before the atomic bomb, other "super bombs" were dreamed up and invented. One of the more notorious was Lester Barlow's Glmite Bomb. Barlow claimed it could kill everything within a 1000-yard radius, but when the U.S. military tested it in 1940, exploding it in a field surrounded by goats, it failed to kill, or even injure, a single goat.
Glmite also has to be one of the worst names ever for an explosive. It was created by combining the words 'Glenn' and 'Dynamite'.
Mr. Lester P. Barlow, an employee of the Glenn L. Martin aircraft factory, submitted to the Senate Committee on Military Affairs a bomb filled with liquid oxygen. Called "glmite" in honor of Mr. Martin, the explosive was said to give off violent vibrations of the air waves that would kill every living thing within a radius of a thousand yards. Senator Gerald P. Nye was so impressed that he called in reporters to watch while minutes of the committee meeting were burned—"so great was the military secrecy of the subject!... an explosive so deadly it might even outlaw war!!!"
Tests of the Barlow bomb took up a good deal of the time of Ordnance planners in April and May, extending down into the most anxious weeks in May. When the newspapers announced that goats would be tethered at varying distances from the bomb to determine its lethal effects, Congress and the War Department were deluged with letters of protest from humane societies and private citizens. All the concern turned out to be wasted. At the first test, the bomb leaked and did not go off; at the second, held at Aberdeen Proving Ground in late May, the explosion occurred, but the goats, unharmed, continued to nibble the Maryland grass.
Barlow supervising the set up of the Glmite Bomb.
The Algone Upper Des Moines - June 18, 1940
Explosion of the Glmite Bomb at Aberdeen Proving Ground Note the goats in the right foreground, unharmed
Dr. Antonio Longoria claimed that he had invented a death-ray. In tests it demonstrated the ability to kill pigeons at a distance of four miles. However, he destroyed his machine and vowed never to build another, insisting that he was “interested now only in doing something to help civilization.”
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.