INVENTORS! America Needs You! (Nov, 1941)

<< Previous
1 of 8
<< Previous
1 of 8

INVENTORS! America Needs You!

by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson

Famous Military Expert EVERYBODY has at least one good invention up his sleeve—and now’s the time to cash in on yours!

Remember that idea you had last winter for a device to beat off air-raids? You always meant to get to work on it, but somehow never did. Or maybe you thought of a new kind of searchlight while working on your boat. Or a stunt which you believed would simplify minesweeping.

You’ve probably had ideas like these, or ones similar to them, at some time in your life and put them aside because you were ashamed to talk about them. Afraid your friends would ridicule you, or call you a nut.

Well, men—yes, and women too—now’s the time to resurrect all of those neglected ideas, screwball or otherwise, and turn them in to the government! Uncle Sam is looking for— and examining with the greatest of care— any kind of an invention or idea that gives promise of having any value whatsoever in the war on the dictators.

Take armor, for instance: A year or two ago, anyone who suggested outfitting our soldiers in breastplates, steel visors or other clanking haberdashery, probably would have been chased right out of Washington, and your Congressman would have had a good laugh out of it that evening at the club. But not now! As a matter of fact, one of the things the army has asked inventors to supply is a type of armor suitable for our soldiers to wear into battle!

Military inventions can be divided broadly into two classes—those which improve the technique of war as it is waged today; and those designed to change the character of warfare entirely.

Under the first heading comes a long list of new weapons needed, as well as an equally long list of improvements needed on existing weapons. It will pay the aspiring inventor to scan these lists and concentrate his energies upon evolving something that is badly needed by our armed forces at the moment.

As itemized by the military authorities, they cover all fields of invention. In explosives the search is for some combination of hydrocarbon vapors that will be more effective than the present propellants and explosives. The field of rocket propelled projectiles has scarcely been touched. These would be especially valuable in anti – aircraft operations.

Some experimental work has been done on guns using other than explosives for results, notably air-, centrifugal-, and electro-magnet actuated guns, all of which offer fertile fields for experiment. The nation possessing weapons of this type may be fated as the only nation to survive should some genius work out practically, the present theoretical possibility of touching off enemy munitions dumps, artillery limbers and soldiers ammunition belts by a detonating ray.

While on the subject of “rays” there is a fertile and profitable field for the invention of an infra-red or other radiant-sound or heat actuated range finder, capable of penetrating smoke fog and the blackness of night, with a range of 30,000 yards. Another “ray” being sought (the Japanese claim they have it but this is doubtful) is a beam which will render electrical installations useless on warships, airplanes and tanks. Think what such a beam would do to the fire control apparatus of a great battleship or to the motive power of a great fleet of enemy bombers! The ray already in limited use—remote radio control of aerial and marine torpedoes —needs development to include land motor vehicles and mobile land mines, and fuller and more practical development for both aerial and sea torpedoes.

In the defensive field, there is plenty of room for ingenuity in devising better sea, land and air mines, preferably actuated by automatic means. There is especial need for an air mine. There is one model already in existence which is para- chute-borne and capable of being sown by high flying aircraft just as mines are strewn at sea. This model is suspectible of improvement and there are other principles available. Such aerial mines dropping long sensitive wires like antennae, could tangle up in enemy bomber propellers and drag high explosives into contact with the vital parts of the plane. In the field of land mines there is need for small, highly efficient mines capable of explosion on contact and of being strewn from tank mine layers in the area of the enemy advance.

There also is room for infinite improvement in the speed, hitting power and armor protection of tanks. There is likewise need for designs for amphibious tanks, capable of being unloaded from ships, and carrying troops and weapons to hostile shores. A light, strong tank for airplane transportation is necessary, preferably with facilities for rapid dismounting and assembly on landing. Improved smoke screen devices for tanks are essential, permitting the armored divisions to advance or retire under heavy clouds of smoke just as naval forces do. It might be a good tip to study naval operations, past and present, for ideas on tank warfare as there are many similarities between tank warfare and naval operations.

In the field of anti-tank defense there is, of course, need for quick firing cannon, with armor-piercing shells and flame throwers capable of destroying the mobility and personnel of the charging monsters. Anti-tank hand grenades, of the type extemporized in Spain, are also needed— a type of hand grenade that will adhere to the enemy tank for some seconds before explosion. An extension of the flame thrower idea would be some easily propelled thermite or other devastating incendiary bomb, and there is no reason why a thermite hand grenade should not be evolved for the use of infantry and engineer troops.

The ingenuity of inventors could very profitably be exercised on means for engineers, equipped like the German Bahnbrecker, the “Way Breakers” or Pioneers, to overcome pill boxes, enemy gun emplacements and other fixed fortifications. These Bahnbrecker carry long poles upon which are affixed charges of high explosive which they shove into enemy gun turrets and it would seem that a more effective and less crude method could be evolved for our troops. Improved pontoon equipment and collapsible boats for river crossings are needed, as well as types of light collapsible floats for the ferrying of tanks and field artillery across streams.

Our field artillery, as well as our anti-tank, and anti-aircraft artillery, is badly in need of self-propelled mounts capable of carrying guns up to four inches caliber, with their crews at the breech of the piece, behind armored protection and ready instantly to go into action against similarly equipped enemy artillery and against speedy enemy tanks and swift dive bombers. Improved and less cumbersome detector and fire director devices for mobile anti-aircraft artillery would be a boon to our army.

The artistically inclined inventor can exercise his talents in the field of camouflage. It will be noted that the Soviet army has carried defensive concealment to a high degree, judging by the numerous Nazi reports of innocent looking farm houses, hay stacks and hill sides which erupt suddenly into a hail of well-directed fire after the passage of the German columns. Camouflage protective ideas for the use of troops in column, along the roads, could be the means of adding to the efficiency of our armed forces.

The wideawake inventor will study the trend of future warfare, especially that pertaining to air borne troops, as a field of research.

It is probable that air borne infantry, artillery and tanks will assume an increasingly larger share of importance time goes on. Devices and ideas that will add to the effectiveness of these troops, both in landing and in going into action, will be welcomed. Improved parachutes, improved signalling devices from ground to airplane and back, lighter and more deadly weapons, including hand weapons as well as air borne tanks and artillery, all are needed in this arduous service.

In the realm of aircraft proper, there are pressing needs for such things as better aircraft brakes; improved lubrication systems for dive bombers; better aircraft propulsion and better aircraft engine pumps; lighter turbine engines; catapults and retarding devices; aircraft ice-prevention means and equipment for refueling; lighter and more powerful aircraft guns; recoil mechanisms for aircraft guns of 75 mm.; improved bomb release devices; and flat, streamline, air-cooled engines for mounting on airplane wings. There is pressing need for improved two-way radio devices for communication between airplanes and tanks which have to work in such close cooperation today.

In all these spectacular new methods of warfare, tanks, aircraft and air borne troops, the old, foot-slogging doughboy should not be forgotten, for he follows up, seizes and occupies the ground won by the faster and more modern means. His comfort should be studied and anything that will decrease the weight of his load and increase his fighting efficiency will be welcomed. He needs a lighter, more deadly, short-range heavy caliber, “in-fighting” weapon to replace the present Tommy gun. He could use improved types of hand grenades. His safety would be increased by adding light, protective armor which at least would stop the long range, half spent bullets and shell fragments which make up some 80% of his wounds. Improved two-way portable radio telephone and other communication means would add to his efficiency. A more durable field service uniform than the present cotton khaki should be provided for him.

Even in that humble but vitally important question of food, and food supply, for the soldier is susceptible of improvement, with more modern and less cumbersome gadgets for getting hot and tasty food to the weary man on the firing line. Nor must it be forgotten that the problem of getting food and ammunition to the front is enormously complicated today by the immense amount of transportation used by modern armies. One of the causes of the French defeat was the lack of any scientific system of military traffic control, which prevented food, fuel, ammunition and reinforcements from getting to the vital spots when needed. Ideas and equipment for better traffic control behind the lines would fill a long felt want in our army.

It is essential to remember that ideas for improved technique in military matters are just as essential as inventions, and that, strangely enough, it is civilian brains that have advanced the technique of warfare to a far greater extent than professional, military brains. It was the American frontiersmen and hunters who evolved the open tactics of battle afterward used in European armies. American ingenuity has been as prolific in evolving new methods of carrying on war as it has been in inventing new means. The civilian is more apt to blaze out a new trail than the military man going through his habitual routine. For this reason we should make it a point to send in to the military chiefs any ideas that seem worthy. If they are good they will get a hearing.

So far, we have enumerated only those inventions which would improve the technique of warfare as it- is waged today. The equally important field of inventions designed to change the character of warfare entirely has been only briefly touched upon in ideas for new methods of propelling projectiles, unknown “rays” and beams. But this field is as big and as important as the other. Americans have revolutionized sea warfare by inventing the iron-clad ship and the submarine, have taken war into three dimensions by inventing the airplane and have released armies from their age-old dependence upon roads and rivers by inventing the caterpillar tread. With the aid of chemistry, improved metallurgical methods and radio, there are still greater fields to explore. Out of this nation, from some obscure inventor’s bench, will undoubtedly come the new method that will revolutionize warfare as it is being fought on the plains of Russia today. We have always done it and we will do it again.

A tip as to how to do it. Remember there is nothing new under the sun. The weapons of today, in the majority of cases, have had their forerunners in the weapons of yesterday and the methods of yesterday. Study ancient weapons and their uses—the ballistae, the catapults, the armor and arms and the various ways in which they were used. It will be found that very often the new weapon is simply a new method of using an old one. The tank existed in the World War—but it followed, the infantry instead of preceding it. The airplane was used in the World War—but it took the present day use to convert it into aerial artillery of enormously enhanced range. And so it is that, unseen by the ordinary observer, some weapon in present use can be converted to new efficiency by change in the method of its employment.

American inventors—you can be the most valuable element in national defense today.

American inventors—your country needs you!


Hydrocarbon vapors as an explosive.

Rocket-propelled projectiles.

Air-, centrifugal- and electro-magnet guns.

Automatic mines for land and sea.

Searchlights, mobile landing field flood lighting.

Special automotive equipment for simplifying servicing of motor vehicles, aircraft, etc., and improved motorized repair shop equipment.

Improved tank design.

Better aircraft brakes.

A lubrication system that will keep an aircraft engine lubricated during the first few minutes of a dive.

An aircraft turbine engine that will be lighter than present engines.

More efficient aircraft propellers.

Improved aircraft engine pumps.

Lighter hydraulic power equipment.

Aircraft catapults and retarding devices.

Ice-prevention devices.

Refueling equipment.

Remote-controlled aerial and marine torpedoes, land vehicles and ships, and remote control for other combat weapons.

Improved gun- and bomb-sights, optical and otherwise.

Devices to locate objects by sound, heat, radiant energy, or other known or unknown rays.

Spring motors or other prime-movers.

Destructive chemical compositions and high-power explosives.

Minesweeping devices.

Aircraft-engine automatic valving devices for heat-exchange and intercooler units.

Anti-aerial bomb protection for cities, buildings and ships.

Light, protective armored clothing.

Improved automatic anti-aircraft guns and small arms.

Effective gasoline-injection equipment to serve as an improvement over carburetors.

Metal extraction and refining processes to use some of the low-grade ores which abound in the United States.

Satisfactory welding of sheet aluminum alloy, and other improved machinery for fabricating these alloys.

  1. Christoph says: February 18, 201111:52 am

    Fascinating how all these things now exist!

  2. Jari says: February 18, 20114:32 pm

    Christop: Nope, I haven’t seen a viable air-, centrifugal- or electromagnet gun, no spring motors so far. Not sure about low-grade metal extraction if it’s used in US. In Finland bacteria based extraction is used in Talvivaara mine.,

  3. Eamon says: February 18, 20115:57 pm

    Centrifugal guns have worked for a very long time but they don’t have any advantages over regular ones.…

  4. Toronto says: February 18, 20116:24 pm

    Jari: Low grade extraction techniques are used to “re-mine” tailing piles of gold mines, etc, with reasonably good results (although they’re sometimes rather brutal environmentally – and sometimes illegal.)

  5. Stephen says: February 19, 20117:27 am

    Invisible “rays” for range-finding in dark or smoky conditions of course already existed – in the form of radar – but were extremely secret.

    The model on the cover of “Good Photography” magazine has a navel but apparently no nipples.

  6. Jari says: February 19, 201112:25 pm

    Eamon: The emphasis on a word viable with centrifugal guns. As far as I know, they haven’t been taken in service anywhere. A big rate of fire is a plus, but they have really poor accuracy due to pellet rotational axis, when they leave the barrel.

    Toronto: True, especially if mercury is involved. That’s why I stick to the bacteria. Talvivaara nickel mine is a good example due to a low concentration of nickel in the ore. I recall, that in Australia there’s also a mine, that extract metals using bacteria.

  7. Repack Rider says: February 20, 201112:26 pm

    This is the November, 1941 issue, which meant it went on the stands a month or even two before the United States entered the war, and was commissioned and written before that. Apparently by mid-1941 American participation was assumed.

Submit comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.