Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 21, 1995

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

     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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