APL Archivist Helps To Reignite Memories Of WWII Fuze Project Ben Walker -------------------------------- Applied Physics Laboratory Military historians rank the APL-developed variable-time (VT) fuze right up there with the A-bomb and radar as scientific breakthroughs that helped hasten the end of World War II. The VT (or proximity) fuze was a miniature two-way radio that fit in the nose of an artillery shell. It sensed the target and then detonated the shell when it got within lethal range, thus reducing the number of rounds needed to bring down an enemy aircraft from thousands to a mere handful. Germany and Britain both tried but were unable to build such a fuze. APL scientists turned the trick, and the Laboratory went on to oversee production of 22 million fuzes nationwide by the end of the war. Ralph Baldwin, a former APL engineer who worked on the fuze in the early '40s, is trying to bring back the memory of those hectic days. He wrote The Deadly Fuze in 1980, and recently persuaded PBS station WGVU in Grand Rapids, Mich., to produce an hourlong documentary on the development and use of the fuze. The program is scheduled to air this week on WGVU and will be available to PBS stations this fall. "The fuze shortened the war in Europe by months and in the Pacific by probably a year," Baldwin estimates. His role included converting the fuze from antiair warfare to antipersonnel use-- just in time to help turn the tide at the Battle of the Bulge. Facing the challenge of digging up half-century-old artifacts, records and memorabilia for the fuze documentary, Baldwin turned to APL. He was lucky enough to find an eager and knowledgeable assistant: Gerry Bennett, custodian of film and video archives in the Television Production Section of Administrative Services. Bennett, a former Army ordnance instructor, is an avid collector and amateur historian in American militaria. He took on the job of finding everything he could on the VT fuze--from documents to whole fuzes to tiny Mindlin gauges used by test engineers to measure forces on fuze elements at firing and upon impact. He says he feels he owes something to the project. "My dad served aboard amphibious landing ships in eight campaigns from Guadalcanal to the invasion of Japan. VT fuzes protected his ship from air attack many times," he says. Bennett is quick to give credit to the people who helped him. Eve Mabe searched photographs all the way back, literally, to negative No. 1, and Sandy Hall printed negatives selected by the television producers. Phil Albert and Eleanor Frazier helped retrieve ancient documents, and Glenn Hartong turned over miniature fuze-era vacuum tubes that had been stored by the APL Radio Club. Robert Barry and Bill Tye unearthed a bonanza of fuze artifacts buried in storage trailers near Building 25. And Dennis Miller and Conrad Grant lent fuze artifacts from their personal collections of APL memorabilia. Bennett amassed hundreds of feet of film and thousands of World War II photos and documents as well as 200 pounds of VT fuze assemblies and components. Bennett also helped review the script. Bennett says that APL's dedication to completely solving a customer's problem is a living legacy from the VT fuze days. "Our ability to perfect ... the proximity fuze began APL's role as a central laboratory able to perform a mission from problem definition to implementation of full systems. Total involvement has always been our hallmark," he says.
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