Interviewee: Donald J. LeVine, P.E.
Date: July 2002
In 1942 I enlisted in the Electronics Training Group of the Army of the
United States Signal Corps as a private in order to avoid being drafted
before completing the last year of my electrical engineering degree from
CCNY. At that time the Army was offering commissions to all graduates of
the ETG program upon completion of the degree. By the time I finished, they
had lost too many young non-military trained officers from this program in
the North African campaign to continue this process. The result was that I
had to attend OCS, which I did not complete, for reasons that make up
another story. Following OCS I was sent to Camp Murphy, Florida, for 584
training. This was completed in Fort Monmouth, NJ, after Murphy closed
The 584-radar equipment was part of a system that included four 90 mm AAA
(Anti-Aircraft Artillery) rifles, a gun director that converted the slant
range and azimuth information fed from the 584 to aim the rifles for
accurate anti-aircraft fire and IFF equipment to make certain that the guns would not shoot at friendly aircraft.
The 584 equipment itself was housed
in a large container on the bed of a 2.5-ton truck. I remember that the
housing had several handles on each side of it that resembled suitcase
handles. The theory was that these handles made the housing and the
included equipment “portable”. The complete battery equipment included a
gasoline powered motor generator set towed by the equipment truck, with
other vehicles to carry spare equipment, personnel and support necessities.
The 584 was a ten centimeter radar with the equipment installed in the truck
housing including a small elevator on which the parabolic antenna was
mounted. The housing interior was large enough for at least two persons on
swivel chairs. In transit, the antenna would be lowered into the housing.
The operations were very hands-on. There were two CRT displays, one for
range and one for azimuth tracking and two distance ranges that I recall.
One was for early warning and the close in one was for gun laying.
This is as good a time as any to point out that I am recounting experiences
that took place almost 60 years ago, so please forgive any errors in
recollection that become evident to those with better memory than I have.
The way the system worked was to locate the equipment near some juicy target
for enemy aircraft and to position it as unobtrusively as possible. First,
the continuously scanning early warning range setting would detect an
incoming bogie that would be tracked until it came into good target range.
The tracking, when I was trained on the equipment, required that we keep the
CRT display blip centered between two closely spaced lines that we rotated
to follow the blips. I do not recall how the status of the required
targeting information was determined to be ready for firing but obviously,
there must have been an artillery manager for this purpose. In any case,
the computer, a vacuum tube device, had the simple job of converting the
slant range and azimuth information fed to it into gun laying data. In
subsequent versions of the 584 the hairline tracking was made more automatic
once a lock was achieved, or so I was given to understand much later.
Our training on the radar was imaginative. In my case, we were broken into
small groups and placed under an experienced, previously trained instructor.
I had a former professional electrician (not engineer) as an instructor. We
had lots of classroom training on the circuitry and equipment and this was
followed by hands-on work with the 584. The instructor would insert bugs
into perfectly operating equipment and require us to find and correct the
bugs. For example, one strand of multi-strand hook-up wire (called gremlin
wire) would sometimes be carefully and almost invisibly wrapped around
several vacuum tube prongs, so that the required flow of signals or
triggering information would be interrupted. Another trick was to
deliberately damage a vacuum tube so that although it still lit up, it was
not working. When these tricks were played often enough, and required to be
corrected in very short time, the repairperson quickly learned how to
maintain the set. This was in addition to the training in operating the
equipment under real conditions. This was done when the school was
relocated to Ft. Monmouth. We would set up the 584 on what was once the
post golf course. In night exercises the school would have a small plane
fly over the post and we were required to learn how to acquire and track it
when it came into early warning range.
I remember that our training instructor had the interesting habit of
checking for power by moistening his fingers and running them over the power
panel binding post strip. When he felt a shock, he was able to deduce that
the power was not a problem, at least, to that point. He would continue
this until assured that at least the power was being distributed properly.
After going thru many school laboratories with high and low voltage power
and electronic equipment, I had experienced enough unexpected, painful
shocks to follow his example so I used test equipment instead.
Unfortunately (?) I had completed my 584 training and was actually walking
over to the IFF course registration office when I was called away to enter
classes on new equipment, the AN/TRC-6 microwave line-of-sight
communications equipment. The Army had attempted to use relatively
uneducated infantry trainees on this equipment and had failed miserably.
The result was to select every available electrical engineer and physicist
in the Signal Corps ranks for training on this very new and complex
equipment that was vitally needed in the overseas theaters. Thus starts
another story. However, I later heard that the radar equipment
distinguished itself in the Italian campaign and made it very unhealthy for
enemy aircraft to sneer at the 584, as they had at our earlier AAA gun
laying radar installations.
Donald J. LeVine, P.E.
Page created August 2, 2002