Veterans of Secret Unit Celebrate Their War Hero:
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR
From the New York Times, September 10, 2002
Nowadays, radar is probably mentioned most often in connection with
a weather forecast or a speeding ticket.
But to a small group of American World War II veterans who helped
pioneer its use 60 years ago, the word radar evokes their secret
effort to turn radio waves into a system that could detect German
fighter planes and submarines. Their success, besides changing the
course of the war against the Axis powers and saving thousands of
lives, changed the course of their lives, too.
Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Members of a secret World War II radar program reunited last
month in New York. From left: Harrison W. Moore, Howard Hall, Isaac
Blonder, Richard F. Koch, Elies Elvove, Jerry Stover and Joe Mazur.
On a recent summer day in the luxurious surroundings of the Harvard
Club of New York City, about a dozen members of the Electronics
Training Group, formed during the war to put radar to use for the
military, reunited to reminisce about those times and to make their
stories known to the public.
The history of the group, and of wartime uses for detection by
radio waves, traces back to about 1940, when Britain was besieged
by the Germany Luftwaffe, the largest and most formidable air force
in Europe. Though German fighter planes relentlessly bombed British
cities and airfields, the British had one huge advantage that helped
them endure and eventually prevail: radar.
Several years earlier, Dr. Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, then head
of Britain's Radio Research Laboratory, found that reflections of
radio pulses from aircraft might be detectable. A short while later,
England established a chain of Radio Detection and Ranging, or radar,
stations along its south and east coasts to detect enemy planes
Though the nascent technology, which the United States and Germany,
among others, were also trying to develop, was not always reliable,
it often helped the British determine where German planes were headed
so the Royal Air Force knew where to send its planes.
In 1940, military experts for the United States who were posted
in Britain took note of the role that radar was playing in air defense
for the British and sent word back home.
The United States Army Signal Corps and the Navy, sensing possible
future involvement in the war, started to recruit radio and electronics
experts for a top secret program to develop what it called radiolocation
devices. One of the first such training units was the Electronics
"One day I came across an article that said the Army was looking
for recent college grads with science backgrounds and an amateur
radio license for a classified project," said Harrison W. Moore,
who at the time was taking a year away from college to serve in
the National Guard. "It seemed interesting and I had all the
qualifications, so I signed up. They did my interview through the
mail; every two weeks I got a note from Washington. The program
was so secret that they did not use the word `radar' it was
Within a couple of months, Mr. Moore, who is from Bronxville, N.Y.,
was accepted into the program and was put on active duty, in the
process jumping from private first class to second lieutenant. In
December 1941, he arrived at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and it was only
then that he learned his mission: he was to be sent to England where
he and about 50 other electronics specialists, would learn radar
from the British. In exchange, Britain would receive American military
"The British realized how important it was and developed it
faster than anyone else," said Jerry Stover, another member
of the Electronics Training Group. "They won the Battle of
Britain because they used radar to guide their fighter planes, which
essentially allowed them to multiply their forces. The E.T.G.was
part of a reverse-lend lease program. We started training with the
Royal Air Force and our job was to learn and bring radar knowledge
back to the U.S."
Over the several months before the United States entered the war,
it sent about 200 plainclothes E.T.G. officers to England. Hundreds
more would follow after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Richard F. Koch, an E.T.G. officer from Lynbrook, N.Y., who was
sent over in August 1941, was taught to operate and maintain radar
devices by the Royal Air Force. After less than a year in England,
he was sent back to Camp Murphy in Florida, where he wrote some
of the first training manuals for radar technology in the United
"Hitler was arrogant and decided that German radar was A1
and so he shouldn't waste any money improving it," Mr. Koch
said. "Meanwhile, the British and the Americans were charging
ahead with our program."
Some E.T.G. officers were sent to universities like Harvard and
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where they developed
new ways to use radar. Even though the Allied powers had superior
radar technology, Mr. Stover said, the Germans were often able to
detect it so, microwave radar was developed, which the Germans were
unable to pick up. Today most, if not all, radar operates on microwave
frequencies, said Mr. Stover, who lives in Dallas.
Many other E.T.G. officers were dispersed throughout the world
to set up radar devices, known as signal corps radar units, or S.C.R.'s.
In England, Mr. Moore worked on a network of radar stations along
the eastern approaches to the country.
"We had a system set up so that radar would direct a series
of large searchlights to spot German aircraft entering the country,"
he said, adding: "I had to make sure each radar light was operational,
which wasn't easy. They were each a little different because they
were being modified as fast as they came off the production line."
Once a German plane was located, Mr. Moore said, the lights would
frighten it out to the Bristol Channel, where a British Spitfire
plane would try to shoot it down.
In 1942, Mr. Moore returned to the United States and ran a ground
radar supply unit in Ohio for the Air Force. Because the radar sets
that were being used by the Allies were the first ever, he said,
they needed constant servicing and he had to send the supplies needed
to fix them all over the world.
"Part of the problem was deciding whether to ship to General
MacArthur in the Pacific or to General Eisenhower in Europe,"
he said. "They were in such demand from both sides that we
couldn't keep up."
Another E.T.G. officer, Tom Friedman, worked on a locating system
by which aircraft would emit a series of pulses that caused a receiver
on the ground to transmit a corresponding series of pulses, ultimately
providing the pilot with his position. The system, called pulse
navigation, is an early predecessor of global positioning system
After the war ended, many of the E.T.G. officers went on to become
pioneers of radio, television and other fields in the electronics
industry. Mr. Friedman, who now lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif.,
founded one of the first television stations in the country, in
Cleveland, and then went to build and operate others in the early
50's. In the cold war era, he helped equip spy satellites with countermeasure
systems that could confuse Soviet radar so the satellites would
not be shot down.
In 1950, Isaac Blonder of Shrewsbury, N.J., another E.T.G. officer,
became famous when he helped found Blonder-Tongue Laboratories,
one of the first producers of cable television equipment.
Today, many of the remaining E.T.G. officers are reminded of what
they accomplished in World War II when they see the applications
of radar in everyday life.
"A lot of veterans get to see the old tanks and military equipment
they used once a year when they're put on show during parades,"
Mr. Stover said. "We get to see ours on the Weather Channel
every night." Still, many radar veterans feel the crucial role
radar played in the war has been overshadowed by the atomic bomb.
But although the bomb brought a quick, thunderous end to the war
in the Pacific, they point out that without radar, military successes
in Europe would not have been possible.
"Most people don't realize that though the United States may
have spent about $2 billion on creating the bomb, it spent nearly
$3 billion on developing radar," said Elies Elvove, another
former E.T.G. office, now of Scarsdale, N.Y. "Who knows how
the war would have ended without it."