View source for Oral-History:Milton Chaffee ← Oral-History:Milton Chaffee You do not have permission to edit this page, for the following reason: You are not allowed to execute the action you have requested. You can view and copy the source of this page. == About Milton A. Chaffee == Chaffee was an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, working for Ernest Lawrence, and then he helped build x-ray tubes for cancer treatment. In 1942 he moved to the [[MIT Rad Lab|Rad Lab]], working for Microwave Early Warnings (MEW), specializing in power supply. The group got a surveillance [[Radar|radar]] working by Spring 1943, and soon after brought over an MEW to Britain. They had trouble convincing the British (or the Americans) to use it, but after a while they succeeded, and even convinced them that it was superior to the previous British equipment. The MEW helped some at D-Day. Chaffee also helped install related equipment with armies on the continent. == About the Interview == MILTON A. CHAFFEE: An Interview Conducted by [[John H. Bryant|John Bryant]], IEEE History Center, 12 June 1991 Interview # 091 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. == Copyright Statement == This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center. Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: Milton A. Chaffee, an oral history conducted in 1991 by John Bryant, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA. == Interview == Interview: Milton A. Chaffee Interviewer: John Bryant Date: 12 June 1991 Location: Boston, Massachusetts === Educational Background and Early Career === '''Bryant:''' I'm interviewing Milton A. Chaffee on the 12th of June 1991 as part of the Oral History Project of the IEEE Center for History and the History Committee. He has just shown me a photograph of me taken in July of 1945, when we took a driving trip down through Austria into Switzerland. He had visited our 12th TAC (tactical air command) Microwave Early Warning (MEW) radar site west of Munich. Mike, I wonder if we could start by getting you to describe some of your background. You had quite a long work experience before you joined the [[MIT Rad Lab|Radiation Laboratory]]. '''Chaffee:''' Yes. '''Bryant:''' Could you start with your interest in science or physics and what got you into this career? '''Chaffee:''' I think that the reason I went to college was because of my mathematics teacher in high school. I liked mathematics, and I also took chemistry and physics in high school. That made me want to go to college. Although my parents did not have too much money, an uncle, who was a doctor, paid most of my way through college. I went to the University of California at Berkeley. I was very interested in doing things in electronics. I took an early course in physics. They called it "electronics." They talked about things that were the beginning of electronics. Electronics was very young at that time. At the university I became acquainted with Dr. Ernest Lawrence. I wanted to help him with what he was doing. He was new there in physics. '''Bryant:''' Was this the Ernest O. Lawrence at Radiation Laboratory? '''Chaffee:''' Right. He was my star. He was explaining to me all the time, and he helped me a lot. I didn't do too well in some of my courses because I was interested in other parts of the courses — doing things rather than reading things. I did an experiment. My first experiment then was to see that the electrons, their directivity was in the direction of the E-bar vertical. '''Bryant:''' Was this in his experimental cyclotron? '''Chaffee:''' Not in the cyclotron yet. Later on I did some of the work on the cyclotron. The first cyclotron was made from two Pyrex pie plates. It looked like it was feasible to do his scheme of generating very high voltage. But one of the students who was also there, had the same looking ahead that I had, of going into this. He devised a way in which he could produce very high voltage. One of Ernest Lawrence's friends died from cancer. He said, "Look, can't we make a high-voltage x-ray tube for medical purposes?" '''Bryant:''' To treat cancer. '''Chaffee:''' This required a steel tank about 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet tall for a vacuum enclosure. Inside that we generated high-frequency inputs up to a million volts — x-rays. My job was to go build one in the University of California Hospital, which I did. I built it with help, of course. After it was built, I was the only one who knew how to run it. So I developed this thing for about two years, and also I was given the job to take care of the radon system, or radium. We used radon. We put them in little glass tubes, and the doctors took them. On top of that, I would look at: How can we protect? How much protection we can get around this tube? We found about 2 feet of hard cement — was equal to about an inch of lead for a wall. A room was built with 2 feet all the way around it. So it took care of all the radon and reduced it down to safe levels on the outside. And inside this door could close and patients were treated. === Recruitment to Radiation Lab === '''Chaffee:''' Then along came the war. Professor Lawrence was working on nuclear problems. I could have joined him, but some people at MIT who knew me asked me to go there. So I talked to Professor Lawrence about what I should do about this, and he gave me his thoughts and some advice. He said, "Well, what do you want?" And I said, "Well, look, I'd like to go to MIT." He said, "That's what you should do!" '''Bryant:''' When was that? '''Chaffee:''' It was '42. '''Bryant:''' Who at MIT contacted you on this, do you remember? '''Chaffee:''' I think Bill Voigt did because he used to go to Berkeley. I think he probably put my name in. Several people there knew me. Well, so I went to Radiation Lab. I met [[Luis Walter Alvarez|Luis Alvarez]], who had come from California. He said, "I've got a job for you. I want you to get into the high-voltage that we're going to need for our radar." So this way I became a part of the MEW — Microwave Early Warnings. === Microwave Early Warnings (MEW) Group === '''Bryant:''' Who was the project manager at the time? '''Chaffee:''' I don't think we had any. I think we just built it. Curt Powers tried to ask me who it was when Alvarez left. There were four of us. I believe it was a man by the name of Mansur. '''Bryant:''' Larry Mansur? '''Chaffee:''' Yes. And Bragg and other people. We got help from the antenna people. Alvarez sketched one that would work. I worked on the power supply. We developed it for 1,000 kilowatts peak power. We were told we couldn't do that. I just put more power in, and it took it. In terms, it worked very good. But then we had to improve the parts — we call them [[Waveguides|waveguides]]. The receiver group then built us a good receiver. Then we put it together. They put together the first one, a 20-foot long antenna, mounted on a pole so that we had no way to turn it. Larry Mansur and the other people pushed it around and pulled it back. But it was working. Pushing it back and forth was just as good as turning it around because they were going to look out one way from the roof. Then Mr. Griggs did the engineering of the pedestal and the rotary. So we built a 25-foot antenna. He had it built from our diagrams. Up on the roof we could show that it was working quite well. We had airplanes flying down to the Cape and back. We got to the position where we wanted to test them. We went down to Tarpon Springs in Florida. The reason we went to Tarpon Springs was that we had to be outside of the borders of the Air Corps Tactical Air Command. They were hostile to MIT because they had one that was tested down there at Orlando, and it didn't work well at all. '''Bryant:''' Was it an MEW? '''Chaffee:''' No, it wasn't MEW. It was just a surveillance radar. '''Bryant:''' Was it a microwave radar? '''Chaffee:''' It was microwave, yes. A colonel running the place down there decided it just didn't work. The reason it didn't work was they put it up on a 100-foot hill, which is the highest point in Florida. The problem was is that they didn't have enough power to see an airplane radar beyond the ground clutter, so the ground clutter smeared it. He said to take it out, and he said, "They don't want you to come down here." So we went to Tarpon Springs because it was outside of their territory, and put it up. Soon after we got it operating, we called him and told him we had a radar over here and we think he'd like to see it. He said he'd come over. I said if you'll arrange when you're here to have some airplanes flying for us, we can demonstrate it. So he came over and sat down by the tubes. We knew airplanes were going over. After about ten minutes of watching that, he said, "I think you've got something here." He followed the whole thing, and he ended up by saying, "MIT has hit the jackpot!" '''Bryant:''' That must have been in 1943 sometime. '''Chaffee:''' Spring of '43. '''Bryant:''' That was pretty fast work on your part to get that set together and down there. '''Chaffee:''' Yes. We just built it. I can't say how we built it so fast, but everything seemed to come together. We were greatly gratified by some of the optics people, antenna people. '''Bryant:''' The antenna people, the receiver people, the transmitter people, the pedestal people all did a good job. '''Chaffee:''' Well, we did the pedestal ourselves. Bragg did that for us. We copied another one. In fact, I think we copied much of the parts of the SCR-584. We modified it for our job, for steady rotation. '''Bryant:''' You had the GE amplidyne drive system, didn't you? '''Chaffee:''' Well, we didn't have the amplidyne. Just a steady turn. '''Bryant:''' It didn't need to be tracked. '''Chaffee:''' We couldn't go from 4 rpm to 6 rpm. We were all running at 6 rpm most of the time. It was arranged that we send one over to Europe. I was chosen to be the first to go over there. '''Bryant:''' Was the one in Tarpon Springs Serial No. 1? === Mission to England === '''Chaffee:''' That was the first one built. There was only one in existence then. But since we knew we were going to ship this over, they started building another one. I think we had four at the end. I went over to England, and I met the fellow in the embassy. '''Bryant:''' Was this the American Embassy in London? '''Chaffee:''' Yes. He was my leader and directed me where to go. I first went to Strategic Air Command and talked to someone there about the radar to see if he could set it up and use it for his Strategic Command. But he didn't want it. He said, "We have plenty of air defense from British radars." They've got all the air defense they want. I tried to explain to him that ours would go further than that. But he was not interested. Then he said, "We're in the process of forming a tactical air command." They would need it, so we went down there. Unfortunately, the governor there said, "Look, we don't need it." '''Bryant:''' The Tactical Air Command said that, too? '''Chaffee:''' They said that, too. They said, "We're not defense. We're offense." They were only interested in offense. But I tried to explain that we had things they could do with this thing on the offense. The reason that this was put together was that we wanted the British to stop shooting Americans, and the Americans to stop shooting the British. That's a little joke. But we did have a little problem. Some Canadians had some problems with their bombers from the British. And with our help they saved the Americans from fighting the British. I believe they got in touch with the people, and they told me about their air direction centers. They had two of these: one up north and one about. They said, "We'll put you on the one down south." That was Start Point. At first we had quite a few air controllers to be trained. '''Bryant:''' So this is a British air control center. '''Chaffee:''' No, that's an air control center. There's nothing British or American. They used American radar and British helping train people to be air controllers. '''Bryant:''' Is this an MEW system? '''Chaffee:''' Yes. That's right. '''Bryant:''' Where was the MEW located — south of England? '''Chaffee:''' Start Point. That's lower down in England on the Channel. '''Bryant:''' When was this radar set up approximately? '''Chaffee:''' We went over there in December of 1943. '''Bryant:''' So you got an MEW operational in England? '''Chaffee:''' We were operational that January or February, 1944. We reported to the British Filter Center. '''Bryant:''' That's where the radars reported their data to. '''Chaffee:''' All of them reported their data, right. '''Bryant:''' Are these controllers that direct the airplanes? '''Chaffee:''' These people were working on their own set, their own British thing. I got to pick the people I wanted, and I just picked this guy Bicknell whom I liked very well. He was very excited about this thing. They assigned him to the radar here. '''Bryant:''' To the MEW? '''Chaffee:''' The MEW, right. We were delayed a little bit in becoming operational because we were dependent upon the British promise of purging all their communications. They didn't have it in. But this little smart guy got a line over to an airfield in Plymouth. I don't remember the exact name, but it's near Plymouth. About the third day we were sitting in there, these people were training and showing them what to do — getting them acquainted. But on the radar it became a mass of airplanes, and it showed a big swarm of them. He reported to Plymouth Air Base that the Russians are coming at us. Russian bugs. They said, "Well, I don't think it's Russian. We're getting a May Day call from somebody." I said, "That's probably what they are." So Plymouth called them. We had no radios to do that. They said they needed help. I got this car and took General Meredith over about 15 miles. We got out there few minutes before they landed. There were 15 B-17s. They all landed and all hit the ground. In about two days I had a general from SAC coming down. He wanted these radars. I said he couldn't have it. The tactical guy came down, that was General Pete Quesada. He said, "Hey, we've got to have that!" '''Bryant:''' So the MEW sold itself by rescuing B-17s that were off course. '''Chaffee:''' They saw it was worth something, and that it could work. '''Bryant:''' Was that in the spring of 1944? '''Chaffee:''' Yes. It was set up there at the terminus of people; the high power. We stayed there, too. We didn't know at that time, but this was where the invasion place was going to be. We were right next to practice field. They were going to take off from there. This radar operated far better than the British. The British was a much lower frequency, 600 megacycles, something like that. We were up to 3,000 megacycles S-band. We ran many fighters across there. They kept us busy. === D-Day and Other Combat Support === '''Bryant:''' You're talking about the D-Day preparations. '''Chaffee:''' We didn't go across until June. '''Bryant:''' Did you cover the Normandy? '''Chaffee:''' We covered the lower end of the gap. '''Bryant:''' Do you remember [[Oral-History:Ernest Pollard|Ernest Pollard]] visiting the site at the time? '''Chaffee:''' Pollard didn't stop, I don't believe. '''Bryant:''' Do you remember what serial number radar MEW that was in England? '''Chaffee:''' That's the first one we built. We had no others at the time until we started showing people what we could do. Then they started building them. SAC immediately wanted one of them, and the British SAC wanted one. '''Bryant:''' Well, you eventually got one in the Mediterranean Theater and two in England. Were there two in England before the Normandy Invasion? '''Chaffee:''' We had one in Corsica. Only Corsica. The second one was over there. It was there supposedly, but we didn't know at the time or why they picked that, but they had planned on an invasion into Southern France. It turned out they didn't need it. We took that out and brought it up and gave it to Quesada. '''Bryant:''' On the continent? '''Chaffee:''' On the continent. We brought it up, and they took it across right away to be sure to have it in there. '''Bryant:''' Was one of these under the Eighth Air Force Strategic? '''Chaffee:''' Yes. '''Bryant:''' Then Nineteenth TAC had one in Holland. '''Chaffee:''' They did a fancy job there. '''Bryant:''' We're looking at a lot of photographs here. '''Chaffee:''' Oh, yes! This picture of an air missile, this is tactical, Strategic Air Force brought that. After the invasion took off, they moved over to Holland. Grayfriars, was the name of the place where they had a setup in England. '''Bryant:''' That was history-making work then, wasn't it? '''Chaffee:''' Oh, yes. '''Bryant:''' The MEW had two transmitters, one for high and one for low beam. The beams were stacked up, one on top of the other. Then you eventually put them back to back to make it lower profile. Is this a photograph of a control center? '''Chaffee:''' Yes. That's in a tent. Let me bring up one more thing: What happened during the invasion, we didn't really control, but we advised. Other officers were watching up there. High-up people were looking at what we were doing. When D-Day came, they cancelled a date and moved it up. Then the next date, the weather was still bad. We showed them what they could do watching the weather. About every five hours they had a change in the weather. We had a group of storms go by and then fair weather. Then a group of storms and fair weather. So it was historic that we could advise the Air Corps, both American and British. As they came down, we could say, "Look — One's coming down the hill within 15 minutes, it'll close down on you." Then as they'd go away, we'd call them within about 10 or 15 minutes to come on, to come back in. So we were able to have our airplanes in there in time and not when the weather closed down. In bad weather you can't do anything. '''Bryant:''' That was a new understanding for the Air Corps people. '''Chaffee:''' Well, things just kept happening. For the technical side, our PPIs, as first came, were not very satisfactory. We got better ones that were 8-inch instead of 12 inches. Then we had a man attached to us from the group that built the indicators. He was one of the indicator people. He was a very smart guy. He advised. He did it over there for us. He was our PPI help. '''Bryant:''' The off-center PPI? '''Chaffee:''' The off-center PPI. He also showed us how to beam a mapping. So this was a great advantage. '''Bryant:''' Did you install any of the systems that were on the continent? '''Chaffee:''' No. There were other people that did that. I spent most of my time on things that we needed to improve, such as these indicators. When people ran into problems, I was called in. I was running the whole thing. '''Bryant:''' Was your title "project engineer"? '''Chaffee:''' I really was the project engineer. '''Bryant:''' On the MEW? '''Chaffee:''' Yes, on the MEW overseas. '''Bryant:''' <p><flashmp3>091 - chaffee - clip 1.mp3</flashmp3></p> Who was your immediate supervisor? Who did you report to in this case? '''Chaffee:''' We had a telephone and told people in other areas, this is what we need. Ed Snyder came over. He was essentially appointed. He was the one who did the weather thing and did all the work to get it going. He made a film of most of these invasions. I don't know what became of the film. It showed the weather thing. From there it ran itself. As soon as one came over, the people would give this to us. Wait a minute. We missed one step in this thing. This one we did, it started pouring, it didn't go immediately overwards. The buzz bombs were starting to follow it. I was called to a meeting about these buzz bombs. They call them divers. They got Ridenour in there, too. They discussed the problem and what to do. The buzz bombs were at about 25 launching areas across the English Channel. The Germans would use different ones different times. The first thing they wanted to do was to have radar where we could keep track of what they were doing there. The discussion was what radar should we use. The leader of this thing might have been [[Robert Watson-Watt|Robert Watson-Watt]]. He was there, but I'm not sure who was leading this meeting. He asked the British how long it would take them to get a radar moved to overlook the Channel during the Normandy invasion. He said it'd take six months. They asked me how long would it take the Americans to bring that one up? I said, "Twenty-four hours." Of course the British people just collapsed. So I went back down to Start Point. They said, "Okay, we want you to start up there. We'll tell you on the way up." Well, we came part way up, and we rang. I had somebody to call. I said, "We're here. Where are we going?" They said, "We don't know yet." We got clear to Hastings, and over the cliff we just stopped there. They hadn't chosen yet, but I said, "Look, we're at Hastings. It's a good place." They said, "Okay, put it up there." So we put a radar up there. We only took two indicators. We stripped it down. But everything we needed was there. They had their own power; they brought power for it. At all our places they furnished power. At this meeting I was talking about, they asked the British guy, "What range can you get?" I can't remember what he said, but pretty good range. They asked me what I knew. I said I couldn't say. We'd have to do a cross section of the targets. But I do know we have about 30 percent more range than the British radars. I had a great time there. We reported to the . They said, "Well, look, keep track of how many divers are reported to the British, and how many for the Americans." One day several officers came out and visited us. He watched this, and he wanted to see it. These two people down on the PPIs were using the off-center so they didn't need directionals. And he said, "Do you have any divers?" "Yes. We've got one on the tube there. There's a diver right there. That's a diver." And the signal officer saw it and said, "Well, how do you know it's a diver?" "Because it came out of the pen." We had a smart kid telling him about this thing. They learned what to look at, and they were real good. So Sir Robert then got on the telephone to the filter center and said, "Do you have any divers?" "No, we don't have any." And he called them again. He didn't know what to say to them. They know he set the speed. He had no doubt it was a diver. He called them again, and they hadn't seen it. The third time they called them, he said, "You don't see them yet?" "No. We don't have any." About two minutes later, there was a terrific explosion. I told Sir Robert the one they were following was going to come over in a minute. But the thing went to pieces. They'd just flop about a quarter mile from the filter center. So Sir Robert called them up again. He heard it and said, "Have you got the diver on the board?" He said, "No. We missed it?" But then I said, "Look, that rule that you put on to have counted more than we have wasn't fair because they only counted a diver that the British identified." They were coming across, and they weren't seeing any. So Sir Robert was very pleased at what he saw here, being as good as it was. And very angry at the people there. === Serial No. 66 === '''Bryant:''' Could we switch to where I first met you in northern Alsace? You installed a Serial No. 66 for 12th Tactical Air Command. It was about March of 1945. '''Chaffee:''' What TAC was it? '''Bryant:''' Twelfth TAC. '''Chaffee:''' Oh, yes. We had the 29th, General Wayland, the 19th, General Quesada, and the 12th. I don't know whether I can separate what I knew about that or not because I was across all of them. All I remember of it was that each one got in. I saw they got in, but I left lots to Larry Mansur. He could tell people what to do, and they'd do it. '''Bryant:''' When you visited us down near Munich, who was the man with you when you came down there? I think he was on the staff of ''Radar Magazine''. '''Chaffee:''' I've been trying to think of his name, but I can't. '''Bryant:''' He was a civilian. I sent you a picture of your van, your truck, and he was the driver of it. Did I send you the picture? '''Chaffee:''' Oh, yes, you did. Well, when I saw the picture, that's when I first started seeing in my mind now I can now remember. You were there, and we did things. But we did so many things, [Chuckling] and we didn't write anything down in the books. 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