Crosley's Secret War Effort

Ed Jennings

Three critical secret projects were pivotal for the Allied victory in WW2. Two of these were the development of the atomic bomb and radar. The third was the development of the proximity or VT (Variable Time) fuze.

Prior to the war two types of fuzes were used: the timed fuze was set to explode at a predetermined time after firing and the contact fuze, used in smaller caliber weapons, exploded on contact with an object. Neither was effective against the highly maneuverable airplanes that had been developed since the end of the First World War. The British began the development of a projectile which would automatically detonate in close proximity to the target in 1939 and the American effort began in early 1940.

The US Navy was particularly concerned with the vulnerability of surface ships to aircraft attack. It was clear that the problem of fleet protection demanded a drastically more effective means of destroying enemy air power than either the timed or contact fuze provided.

Section T of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, under the direction of Dr. Merle A. Tuve, was assigned the task of developing and overseeing the production of a proximity type of fuze for the Navy's 5" guns which were their primary long-range anti-aircraft weapon. The theory was simplicity itself: the fuze would contain a miniature radio transmitter-receiver which would send out a signal. When the signal reflected back from the target reached a certain frequency, caused by the proximity of the target, a circuit in the fuze closed firing a small charge in the base of the fuze that detonate the projectile.

The theory may have been simple, but the problems encountered in all steps of development and after the fuze was released for use by the fleet were formidable. Consider, that the components in the fuze, including tiny glass vacuum tubes, had to withstand the shock of being fired from a 5" gun. This set back force of 20,000 g's is instantly generated by accelerating the projectile to a 2,800 foot per second muzzle velocity. In addition, the shell's brief trip through the gun's rifling grooves starts it spinning at 25,000 revolutions per minute. Safety features had to be built in to protect the men handling the ammunition in transit and aboard ship. Additional safety features were necessary to prevent the shell from exploding too soon after firing which would endanger the gun crews and nearby ships. A self-destruct feature was also necessary to prevent dud fuzes from falling into the hands of the enemy. Moisture was an ongoing problem that had to be dealt with and there were many other problems that are too numerous to mention here.

The Crosley Corporation was one of five companies that assembled proximity fuzes. A total of eighty-seven different firms using one hundred ten factories were engaged in some phase of production work. Crosley's involvement began in late October 1941 when they were contacted by the Bureau of Ordnance and told that they would be contacted later that month concerning a "top secret, top priority" project. Lewis M. Clement, Crosley's vice-president in charge of Engineering, recalled that Crosley had been selected because they had the required background in electrical and mechanical engineering and in mass production. The letter of intent from the Navy came in late November 1941 and a contract for 500 fuzes in December. The first accepted fuzes came from the production line in September 1942. On January 5,1943 Lt. "Red" Cochrane, commanding the aft 5" battery on the light cruiser Helena, shot down a Japanese Val dive-bomber with the second of three salvos of VT-fuzed shells, near Guadalcanal. The fuzes were manufactured by the Crosley Corporation and this was the first kill of enemy aircraft.



Cruiser USS Helena CL-50

Although primarily a supplier to the Navy for use in the Pacific and the Mediterranean theaters, Crosley fuzes were used with great success by the British against the V-1 buzz bomb, by the U.S. Army on the European continent in the defense of Antwerp against V-1 attacks and in the Battle of the Bulge.

In a post war interview, Lewis Crosley said that fuze production reached sixteen thousand five hundred units per day. The Crosley Corporation employed ten thousand people and worked around the clock, seven days a week. Mr. Crosley said, "We enlarged until . . . we were the largest employer and produced more than anybody in Cincinnati, including any of the other big companies located in Cincinnati at that time. We had some very, very secret and wonderful products that we produced in volume for the Armed Forces and we got a lot of credit for doing it." Bureau of Ordnance figures show that Crosley produced 5,205,913, or 24%, of the slightly more than twenty-two million proximity fuzes manufactured during the war.

The importance of the proximity fuze to the successful outcome of the Second World War is best stated by those who witnessed it's effectiveness.

James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy said, "The proximity fuze has helped blaze the trail to Japan. Without the protection this ingenious device has given the surface ships of the Fleet, our westward push could not have been so swift and the cost in men and ships would have been immeasurably greater."

Prime Minister, Winston S. Churchill was quoted with "These so-called proximity fuzes, made in the United States.., proved potent against the small unmanned aircraft (V-1) with which we were assailed in 1944."

And Commanding General of the Third Army, George S. Patton said, "The funny fuze won the Battle of the Bulge for us. I think that when all armies get this shell we will have to devise some new method of warfare."


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