Captured World War II antenna ends long journey at Electronics Museum

German radar lands in Linthicum

November 19, 2007|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun reporter

A 22-foot German radar antenna, once used by Nazi forces to track Allied bombers in Europe during World War II, found a new home yesterday in Linthicum, the latest exhibit at the Historical Electronics Museum.

In a cold breeze, a handful of museum members and staff grinned and snapped pictures as a crew of four professional aircraft movers unloaded sections of the "Wurzburg Riese" (Giant Wurzburg) dish antenna from two flatbed trailers after a two-day drive from Omaha, Neb.

"It's in good shape," said Ralph Strong, a 1991 Westinghouse retiree and former president of the museum's board of directors. "It's got a couple of dings in it, but the metal itself has come through extremely well."

Most of the aluminum-magnesium alloy antenna still shows its original green paint, with a few painted German letters and numbers visible. A modern coat of red has nearly washed away. "Hopefully it will survive as well in Maryland's humidity," Strong said.

The move ended with one unexpected hitch.

Unable to maneuver their trucks close enough to the 20-foot stand the museum had prepared on a side lawn, the movers had to lower the three dish sections onto a gravel bed near the museum's main entrance. In 45 minutes, it rested near several other early radar antennas, including a Baltimore-built SCR-270 like the one that spotted Japanese planes approaching Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Giant Wurzburg dish will stay put until the museum can hire riggers to reassemble and hoist it onto its stand, said museum director Mike Simons.

The nonprofit Historical Electronics Museum, at 1745 W. Nursery Road, is little-known beyond the fraternity of electronics engineers and former employees of Baltimore's defense electronics industry, including Westinghouse and its successor, Northrop Grumman.

It was founded in 1980 by Robert Dwight, a former manager of administration at the Westinghouse plant, with grants from the Maryland Historic Trust, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and others. Its mission is to preserve the industry's heritage of invention and ingenuity.

Dwight, 85, was on hand with his camera yesterday for the arrival of the Giant Wurzburg antenna. "Westinghouse and Northrop Grumman probably built more radars than anyone else in the world," he said.

The museum receives 25,000 visitors a year. "There's no place else in the country where you can see this stuff," said Simons.

Displays range from early radio sets to World War II-era naval, airborne and ground-mobile radar units, jamming devices and modern phased-array radar antennas. It's all housed in 22,000 square feet of display and meeting space leased from Northrop Grumman.

The Giant Wurzburg antenna was developed by the Telefunken Co. and demonstrated for Adolf Hitler in 1939. Hundreds were subsequently built for the Nazis by the Zeppelin Co., with the same technology of lightweight riveted supports used in Germany's dirigibles.

The Giant Wurzburg 44-mile effective range was almost double the 28-mile range of its smaller predecessor. It was used along the occupied coast from France to Norway to track incoming Allied bombers. Each was paired with a second Wurzburg dish that tracked and guided German fighters.

Some Allied planes carried radar jammers effective in blinding the Wurzburg radar, Strong said.

Simons has been unable to learn where the museum's unit was captured. But it was brought to the United States in the late 1940s. It became the red member of a red, white and blue trio used in Sterling, Va., by the Bureau of Standards to conduct solar research.

In 1952, the antenna was shipped to Table Mountain in Colorado, where scientists hoped a quieter radio environment would benefit their research. But the dish was abandoned a few years later and became a nesting site for Steller's jays.

Last year the Department of Commerce agreed to donate the dish to the Historical Electronics Museum. It was moved from Colorado to Omaha by Worldwide Aircraft Recovery Ltd., to await the fundraising and local permits needed to bring it to Baltimore - at a cost of nearly $30,000.

Worldwide's driver, Marty Batura, said the odd-looking cargo attracted plenty of attention from fellow truckers.

"Where you taking that big mosquito net?" one driver asked him via CB radio. "One other fella thought that it was something out of Star Wars." Told that it was an old Nazi radar antenna, the trucker replied, "I'll be damned."

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

The Historical Electronics Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information: www.hem-usa.org.

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