History Friday: Operation Olympic – Something Forgotten & Something Familiar

One of the objectives when I started writing my “History Friday” columns was to improve the public’s understanding about the “cancelled by atomic bomb” November 1945 invasion of Japan. A recurring focal point has been trying to answer the “counterfactual” or “What If” question “How would the American military have fought the Imperial Japanese in November 1945 if the A-bomb failed?” in ways that challenge current academic narratives about the end of World War 2 in the Pacific.

This History Friday column returns to that theme by examining a technology forgotten and a technology familiar and using the combination to challenge the standing academic narrative of “If America invaded Japan in 1945 without the A-bomb, Japan had a chance of winning.” The “Forgotten” is the “Brodie Device” a “cableway” technology for launching and landing small fixed wing aircraft. The “Familiar” are small general aviation planes of the Piper Cub class and television. Early television created in the form of the “Block III” missile guidance seeker of R.C.A.’s WW2 era chief scientist Dr. Vladimir Zworykin. And taken together, they represented the qualitative aspect of the American materialschlacht – battle of material – that was actually on a sharp upward slope in the closing months of WW2. Creating for the cancelled Operation Olympic Invasion of Japan something that looked like a direct ancestor of the 2013 Robert J. Collier Trophy winning MC-12 Liberty. A Hawker Beechcraft King Air “Manned UAV,” which is flying combat missions over Afghanistan today.

This is the Brodie Device in it's land based and alternate se based configurations
This is the Brodie Device in its land based, freighter and LST configurations

Brodie Device
The “Brodie Device” was the invention of one Lieutenant, later decorated with the Legion of Merit and promoted Captain, James H Brodie of the USAAF Transportation Corps. Brodie’s day job was redesigning freighters in the Port of New Orleans to carry aircraft to the front. He saw any number of ships with his work torpedoed and sunk by U-boats, and unlike most, he could and did something about it. He designed a cableway device to give his freighters their own Piper Cub air spotters. With much politicking on his part, he was given $10,000 and designed a 7,000 lbs (3,175 kg) cableway launch and landing system that began testing in April 1943. By July 1943 he was pestering transient USAAF pilots to test fly an L-4 “Grasshopper” Piper Cub into his contraption. Finally he found a B-26 pilot, named Maj James D Kemp, with enough bravery and shear craziness to do both a take-off and landing on 3 Sept 1943.

By Mid-September 1943 Brodie’s project was assigned its first permanent test pilot and he obtained his first cargo ship, City of Dalhart, in late 1943 to conduct sea trials. A series of successful landings and takeoffs were successfully made with a Stinson L-5 in December 1943, vindicating the project.

His invention missed the Battle of the Atlantic and wound up being used in a “Combat test” as a portable launch and landing system to turn a single Tank Landing Ship (LST) into very light aircraft carrier for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The success US Army Artillery pilots — in L-4 Piper Cubs flying from of the USS LST-776 — in spotting Japanese suicide boats for the 77th infantry Division invasion of Kerama Retto Islands off of Okinawa resulted in an order for 24 more Brodie devices. Only eight were installed on ships before the end of the war, but they would have played a great role in the cancelled invasion of the Japanese home islands.

The 40th Infantry Division plus the I, IX and XI Corps would have had a Brodie LST aircraft carriers for spotting Japanese suicide units during the landings. (See photo below).

Annex 6b to Field Order 74 Assignment of Shipping, I Corps (Tentative) pg. 1, Krueger Collection, Texas A&M
Annex 6b to Field Order 74 Assignment of Shipping, I Corps (Tentative) pg. 1, Krueger Collection, Texas A&M

By itself the Brodie Device story is a great one for underlining the American materialschlacht – battle of material – the Japanese faced in November 1945. It wasn’t alone. It was going to be augmented with 1940’s high tech, RCA WW2 Chief Scientist Dr. Vladimir Zworykin’s Block III Television guided missile seeker. And how I found this out was pretty much a complete accident.

The JAVAMAN TV-Guided Boat Bomb
I have been researching a joint US Army Air Force (USAAF) and Operation of Strategic Services (OSS) for some time and along the way have struck up e-mail conversations with the son of one of the USAAF Test pilots who would have flown the modified B-17 controlling the Javaman TV-guided boat missile. Javaman was originally called initially called Project Campbell and that gave me the photo you see below.

Project Campbell B-17 control plane, plus alternate boat bomb missile, configurations
Project Campbell B-17 control plane, plus alternate boat bomb missile, configurations — source: OSS Campbell Project Briefing Paper, CARL Digital Library

After that, I had run into a complete block exhausting all my usual sources. Then I hit upon trying early television hobbyists. The US Military dumped a hug amount of surplus electronics on the domestic market after WW2 and I played that card in my Internet searches. This turned up Dr. Vladimir Zworykin’s television seeker and a 2007 Early Television conference in Cleveland Ohio. (See both photos below)

Dr. Vladimir Zworykin’s Block III Television Seeker Guidance System
Dr. Vladimir Zworykin’s Block III Television Seeker Guidance System
RCA TV-Guided Missiles
Clockwise from the Lower Left, the USAAF VB-10/VB-11/VB-12 Vertical Bomb under B-17; Top Left, the US Navy TDR-1 TV-Remote Controlled Drone; Top center, a B-17 carried GB-4 TV-guided glide bomb; Top Right, the US Navy GLOMB (glider-bomb); and Lower Right, the Project Campbell/Javaman TV-guided Boat Bomb.

Serendipity, Arriving
During that period of research I was also looking through a document on the June 1946 US Army infantry Branch Conference. This conference distilled all the lessons learned from WW2 and provided a “dog and pony show” for all the most advanced weapons that didn’t make it into combat due to the Atomic bomb. In it, I found the following passage:

Purpose. To demonstrate the characteristics, capabilities, and limitations of this equipment.
Organization. The observing group will be divided into two sections, one observing the receiver and the other examining equipment. The sections will change places at the middle of the period.
Description. In the first phase of the demonstration, complete equipment will be displayed and the operator will explain the functioning, range of the set, effects of weather and light conditions on reception, desired development, and possible future uses.
Major components on display will be:
1. The conversion unit, or camera, which “looks” in an area and converts the variations in light intensity into electrical variations.
2. The transmitter, which is an ordinary radio transmitter, sending electrical variations of the camera instead of the conventional voice or code. This unit, because of the high frequency used, has line of sight characteristics.
3. The filter-junction box and dynamotor which supply the necessary high voltage to the conversion unit and the transmitter.
4. The receiver which receives the transmitted radio waves and converts them to a visible image.
The first three units described above are mounted in the L-5 airplane for this demonstration.
In the second phase of the demonstration, observers will see artillery firing white phosphorous shells and will be able to compare the actual firing with the image received on the view screen of the receiver.
Remarks. This equipment (Code name BLOCK gear) was developed for use of the Navy as a homing device for a glide bomber similar to the German V-1. The missile was to be released from a mother plane and its glide path controlled so as to guide it to large targets such as battleships. Since the equipment was developed for a “one way ride,” certain features such as lack of ruggedness make its use limited at present.

The “Remarks” section above refers to the US Navy GLOMB. I didn’t recognize that – I have had this document for literally years – until I ran into that TV hobbyist document.

This connection is hugely important because immediately after the defeat of Germany in May 1945, the Office of Science, Research and Development (OSRD) had told all of its components to either get a weapon to US armed force in a year or shut down. The “Block gear” remote TV camera gear described above met that directive.

The only application, given the number built – three – the timing and the Brodie information in “Annex 6b to Field Order 74 Assignment of Shipping, I Corps (Tentative)” meant that there was going to be one “Block gear” kit for each Brodie LST flying Stinson L-5 Liaison spotter planes for I, IX and XI Corps in Operation Olympic.

This L-5 spotter plane plus Dr. Vladimir Zworykin’s TV Seeker “Manned UAV” combination underlines the qualitative aspect of the American materialschlacht that was on a asymptotically sharp upward slope in the closing months of WW2 for the cancelled by A-Bomb November 1945 invasion of Japan. It was a direct ancestor of the MC-12 Liberty flying over Afghanistan today.

And now you know another reason why I think the current academic narratives about the end of World War 2 in the Pacific are “methodologically flawed.”

Notes and Sources:
T/4 Charles E. Adams, “1 Idea + $10,000” Field Artillery Journal, Vol 36, No. 4, April 1946, pg. 201-203

Annex 6b to Field Order 74 Assignment of Shipping, I Corps (Tentative) pg. 1, Krueger Collection, Texas A&M

A Runway On a Rope
http://www.aerofiles.com/brodie-rig.html accessed 01/08/2013

Infantry Conference June 1946, Demonstrations, Weapons and Equipment, Prepared by the Infantry School, Ft. Benning, Georgia, Demonstration VI, Wednesday 19 June 1946, 0800-1200, Galloway Range.

James BRODIE — Portable Airport — Cable-rigged launch-landing apparatus — Article & 4 US Patents
http://www.rexresearch.com/brodie/brodie.htm#2435, accessed 01/08/2013

Irwin Kappes “PACIFIC WAR SECRET WEAPON: The Brodie System,” Sea Classics, Vol. 41, No. 7, Copyright July 1, 2008

John C. Kriegsman, “THE PIPER CUB AND THE LST AIRCRAFT CARRIER” (A WWII POOR MAN’S CARRIER), Liaison Pilot Air Officer, 77th Infantry Division Artillery

MC-12 Project Liberty Team competes for aviation’s ‘Greatest Achievement’
http://www.acc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123339451 accessed 1/5/2014

Andreas Parsch , Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 1: Early Missiles and Drones, VB Series, Copyright © 2003
http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/app1/vb.html accessed 1/5/2014

Maurice Schechter “How RCA’s WWII Military Television Development Shaped Modern Warfare,” 2007 Early Television Convention, Hilliard, Ohio, 4-6 May 2007
www.oldradio.com/archives/hardware/TV/rcamiltv.pdf accessed 1/8/2013

Nick T. Spark, “The Secret Arsenal: Advanced American Weapons of WWII” Wings magazine in October 2004, Text copyright ©2004 https://web.archive.org/web/20120213083051/http://www.mugualumni.org/secretarsenal/page9.html accessed 1/8/2013

http://www.vectorsite.net/twcruz_1.html#m4 accessed 1/8/2013

16 thoughts on “History Friday: Operation Olympic – Something Forgotten & Something Familiar”

  1. I love the series and think again Mac deserves another book.

    The narrative should be challenged.

    BUT…how does our material superiority overcome the need for a lot of [dead] infantry… a lot , and the increasing lack of money? Look at the defense of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Had both the determined deeply dug in entrenchments and suicidal warrior ethos stayed where they were never mind continued the upward trend we still would have been forced to grind the Home Islands to a paste.

    We did and should have used the bomb and all methods at our disposal to destroy their will and means to fight using infantry last.

    A lot of us wouldn’t be here.

  2. VXXC,

    The big killer on Okinawa and Iwo Jima was Japanese Artillery, not small arms. And the Imperial Japanese Army bragged to US Military post-war investigators they had hardened their artillery positions to take direct hits from 8-inch (200lb) shells.

    Consider that each of the three Army and one USMC Corps going into Kyushu had it’s own six-gun 240mm howitzer battalion for counter battery that threw a 330lb HE shell per barrel per trigger pull.

    Over the time it took for a round trip from Guam to Japan, each of these guns could deliver more destructive tonnage than several B-29s.

    And as howitzers they could reach the backside of hills that US Naval guns could not.

    How important is “live” battle damage assessment for the use of those guns in their intended role?

  3. TMLutas,

    In 1944, we Americans were able to field a non-suicide bomb boats.

    It is 70 years later, so what the heck is up with Al Qaeda (See: USS Cole) and your example of Iran, anyway?

  4. We used the bomb.

    We should have and did.

    You have built the blog. You should have and did.

    Now you should write the book, it will be dah bomb.



  5. Nice research, i take it the cut aways of disguised boats were some thing the japanese were working on.

    How much weight and volume did all that deceptive camouflage weight? It strikes me as these become not very good river boats nor useful civilian boats?

    Were they meant to be suicide boats?

    I’m curious to see what you had on the Planned Japanese invasion, I suspect the Japanese would have put up way less of a fight, they were losing their taste
    for this thing by may 45.

    The Atomic Bomb on one hand was a game ender, but, we were putting together 1000 B-29 sorties, and with the russians coming in, we could have launched
    out of valdivostok or korea.

  6. While on the subject of alternate WW2 histories, especially ones with the constraint that the Bomb didn’t exist or didn’t work… what if the US followed up the invasion of the Philipines with an invasion of China or Vietnam instead of an invasion of Okinawa or Iwo Jima? Taking Haiphong and Hanoi would have allowed supply lines into Yunnan to be reopened and large-scale material to reach the Kuomintang forces there.

  7. ” I suspect the Japanese would have put up way less of a fight, they were losing their taste
    for this thing by may 45.”

    I would be interested in the evidence for this. The plans for the civilian suicide participation on the Kwanto Plain sound realistic to me. They had thousands of planes although only suicide pilots.

  8. pat b,

    >>Nice research, i take it the cut aways of disguised boats
    >>were some thing the japanese were working on.

    Other way around, the disguise are ones the OSS put together for Project Campbell/Javaman operations the Burma theater.

    The war ended in Burma before they got Admiral Lord Mountbatten to approve their use.

    The Javaman most emphatically was _not_ a suicide attacker.

    I have been in e-mail correspondence with the son of one of the WW2 Javaman OSS team. He sent me a video of an interview of his father taken about 10 years ago for a video documentary project that never made it.

    Facts picked up —

    1. The Javaman remote control boat bomb had active infrared search light TV for a night attack — I strongly suspected this but it is now confirmed.

    2. The Javaman had a limited, tight beam (15 degrees), high bandwidth TV com-channel in addition to a unidirectional radio control link — I didn’t know this limitation.

    3. There were seven late production model B-17’s converted at the Douglas Aircraft plant in California into unarmed Javaman control platforms for the mission. They and the PB-17E Cadillac II airborne early warning radar platforms would be the only B-17’s in the entire Pacific Theater if the invasion of Japan happened.

    4. The video confirmed an operations plan of having a US Navy submarine trail the four OSS crewed Javaman craft until they got close, when the OSS cover crew would jump over the side and be picked up.

    5. The OSS worked out that Japanese channel buoy’s could act as a precision targeting system for attacking the Kanmon tunnel. The buoys were consecutively numbered through the Shimonoseki straits between Honshu and Kyushu. The OSS knew the buoy number of the one directly over the Kanmon Tunnel on the north eastern shore of the Shimonoseki Straits, and the Active IR camera could read the Japanese buoy number at night.

    6. Due to #2 above, the B-17 control planes flew a race track orbit at 30,000 feet inside the high gain data link cone. This was higher than Japanese fighters could reach and the plane had been stripped of armament, had an air crew of four and two naval ratings remotely operating two separate Javaman boats for the time after the OSS cover crew bailed on the boat.

  9. Even under the best of circumstances, I doubt that the army would have heavily adopted the weapon systems you described as it seemed to be geared up for a brute force approach that had yet to fail them – despite the casualties.
    Your diagrams reminded me more of the Japanese attempt to transfer the German ME-163 into a kamikaze type weapon. I have a very hard time finding this information, though there was certainly a transfer of technology from Germany. It’s like trying to find information on Unit-731. Nobody is yet willing to talk details – despite the years.

  10. RonaldF,

    You are lacking a little context for the importance of the “Block gear” because of the limits of space and time for a column vice long sourced article or a book.

    MacArthur’s field commanders were very photographic intelligence oriented because MacArthur was. This had a cumulative effect on SWPA operations during the war.

    In the final months of the Luzon campaign the US Army artillery L-4 and L-5 liaison planes of the 6th Army had been outfitted with “surplus” 5th Air Force “K” series photographic cameras and both Division and Corps artillery had the photographic laboratories to process and deliver those photographs to front line regimental and battalion commanders.

    The average time lapse between battalion commander request for a photograph and their delivery was 12-hours. There were two photographic sorties a day in the morning and evening.

    These photos were used for infantry attack planning, artillery spotting and for briefing forward air controllers on what ground commanders wanted struck in support of their attacks.

    Live beats 12-hour delay.

    MacArthur’s ground commanders would have used “Block gear” not only for operations as I described up-thread, but as a tool to influence MacArthur’s command decisions over his air commander General Kenney.

  11. >>There isn’t anyway to take dug in Infantry except by brute force.

    Ahem, please see persistent lethal chemical agents.

    Infantry will only last as long as their life support “slime suits,” which is far less than a persistent blister of nerve agent.

  12. “Ahem, please see persistent lethal chemical agents.”

    As long as you’re happy with denying the same terrain to yourself, fine. If you’re not physically there to keep the enemy from rotating units in and out of the area before their suits/filters fail, then you really haven’t done anything at all.

    Well, I guess you would have killed all the civilians in the area so there’s that.

  13. Richard,

    The attacker knows when he is going to be attacking. The defender does not.

    And the attacker is watching the defender when he tries to rotate units…it is a good time to call down artillery.

    Such was the level of dehumanization between the USA and Japan in the Summer of 1945 that when the bio-weaponieers of the US Army Chemical Warfare Service were trying to convince Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, commander of the US Army Service Forces, to let them do a ‘demonstration strike” of sweet potato blight in Kyushu in the closing days of WW2.

    His reply wasn’t damning them for suggesting it to him. It was something to the effect of:

    “No. You don’t have enough agent to be decisive. If we can’t use your sweet potato blight decisively to win the war, it isn’t worth doing it for the president it would set for later.”

  14. Mr. Telenko – I’m looking forward to your book more than ever as I still cannot figure out who MacArthur was in WWII. I don’t doubt the technical ability of the devices in your article, but who were the men to coordinate, collate, decipher, and distribute the information gathered? Tarawa was still not completely understood, and the navy consistently underestimated the amount of ordinance needed to knock out such obstacles as 8 inch reinforced gun emplacements. The Air Force still doggedly believed in strategic targets and only the Marine Corps seemed to realistically understand the immediate ground problems at hand.
    Sorry for a late and lengthy reply; however, the status of General MacArthur has always perplexed me and I’d love to know the intricate dealings of his inner circle. GET THAT BOOK OUT!
    Oh – We were almost certainly to spray defoliant on Japan’s rice crop in the Fall of 1945. I think that alone may have ended the war at the cost of 30 million Japanese.

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