Published in The Asbury Park Press on May 26, 2003
Page B1 and B2
TAKING A LOOK BACK: A HISTORICAL VIGNETTE
The engineers, scientists, draftsmen and others on the beach that day were celebrating completion of a project that would be crucial to victory: design of America’s first production radar.
Little did they realize how soon their creation would come into play. The attack on Pearl Harbor – and America’s entry into World War II – were only months away.
The team had worked in secret at Fort Monmouth until it was discovered that German spies were observing their radar antennas and reporting the information to Berlin. Then they moved the laboratory to isolated Sandy Hook.
Peter Kennedy of Wall was a young draftsman when he joined Fort Monmouth’s Squire Laboratories in 1940 and found himself in the middle of secret research. Ironically, when it hired him, the government gave Kennedy the choice of two assignments: Go to New Jersey or go to Pearl Harbor.
To create the radar unit, engineers had to make nearly everything from scratch. For example, Dr. Harold Zahl had to hand-build the first 100 vacuum tubes for the first units. The engineers tested the experimental units, modified them, tested them again and operated them for days at a time to be sure they were ready to meet the demands of battle.
A natural gas tower across New York Harbor at Coney Island was used as a target when the Sandy Hook team tested the units, Kennedy said.
Once the director of the laboratory, Roger B. Colton, was satisfied with the prototype, Kennedy and other draftsmen created the production drawings. American industry would manufacture the radars by the thousands based on those drawings.
To mark the completion of the Army’s first production-ready radar, the SCR-268, Colton organized an informal victory parade along the Sandy Hook beach.
A group of around 100 employees towed the radar unit mounted on a flatbed trailer along the beach. Then they enjoyed a barbecue at a nearby beach club.
The radars designed by Fort Monmouth would see action from America’s very first minutes of World War II, and every day to the last day of the war.
A Fort Monmouth radar unit sent to Hawaii detected Japanese planes approaching Pearl Harbor 50 minutes before the attack, but the planes were mis-identified as American and ignored.
After that disaster, no American commander would ignore a radar warning again. Radar would protect Washington, the Panama Canal, every harbor and allied forces in every theater of battle. As the war progressed, Fort Monmouth would design more and improved radar models to meet challenges presented by the German radar experts.
Kennedy, who is now 90, continued to work at Fort Monmouth to advance America’s electronic defense. He would play a part in satellite development, electronic warfare development, drone development and many other classified projects.
Fred Carl of Wall is director of InfoAge Inc., a nonprofit group working to establish an information age learning center using historic buildings at Camp Evans.
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