First, many thanks to long-time FASF member and long-time President of the EAA’s well-known chapter in Las Cruces, NM, Wes Baker, for the idea to post this story!
Some of you who, like your Webmaster, grew up during WWII, believed we had a super weapon in the highly touted Norden Bombsight. We heard about it regularly in the mainstream press, and even heard glowing reports of its “pin-point” accuracy all through the war – right up to and including the two nuclear bombings in Japan of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
However, it seems we were propagandized, because things were not, in reality, quite the way they were described to us. Also, thanks to Maxwell Air Force Base, we have the following story. Here, with the text, you will see some photos of the device.
The enigma of the Norden Bombsight
By Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. — The chief of staff reading list has been updated this year to provide Airmen a guide to further their education and expertise. This year the list includes several TED talks, including “The Strange Tale of the Norden Bombsight,” by Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist, author, and speaker.
The Norden Bombsight is on display at Air War College and Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall.
Photo of the famed NORDEN BOMBSIGHT of WWII – Photo supplied by Wes Baker
The bombsight, developed by Carl Norden, a Swiss engineer, was used by the U.S. Navy and Army Air Forces beginning in World War II until its retirement during the Vietnam War.
Norden believed the device would lower the suffering and death toll from the war by allowing pinpoint accuracy during bombing runs.”The device had an incredible moral importance to Norden because he was a committed Christian,” Gladwellsaid. “What did the Norden Bombsight do? It allowed you to bomb only those things which you absolutely needed and wanted to bomb.”The Norden, essentially an analog calculator, could adjust for air density, wind drift, the bomber’s airspeed, and groundspeed while controlling the bombers’ final run on the target.It was called “the single most complicated mechanical device ever manufactured,” according to Stephan Wilkinson in his book, “Man and Machine.”Despite being highly sophisticated, the bombsight was not as accurate as reported. Even though Army Air Forces information officers claimed the bombsight could “drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet,” reality told a different story, according to Avers Don Sherman, a writer who studied the Norden saga.”The Norden had only a 20-power telescope, so you couldn’t even see a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet, much less hit it. You could make out a factory, but that was about it,” Sherman said. “It was also very easy to defeat the Norden when it was used at high altitudes. Smoke screens worked just fine, ground fog was a barrier and the simple fact was that the year of the most disastrous B-17 raids, 1943, saw an unusual amount of bad weather over Europe.”One of the most famous failings of the Norden Bombsight came in 1944 when the Allies bombed a chemical plant in Leuna, Germany.“This chemical plant comprised 757 acres. Over the course of 22 bombing missions, the Allies dropped 85,000 bombs on the 757-acre chemical plant using the Norden Bombsight. What percentage of the bombs do you think landed in the perimeter of this 757-acre plant?
Ten percent, and of those 10 percent that landed 60 percent didn’t even go off. They were duds,” Gladwellsaid. “The Leuna chemical plant, after one of the most extensive bombings in the history of the war, was up and running within weeks.”The bombsight was heavily guarded and shrouded in secrecy to keep the technology out of the hands of Germany. Bombardiers were required to take an oath saying they would protect the bombsight with their lives if necessary, and the device was loaded with thermite, melting the device into a lump of metal. All these measures proved unnecessary since Germany became aware of the bombsight in 1938, according to Gladwell.“Carl Norden, as a proper Swiss man, was enamored by German engineers. In the 1930’s he hired a bunch of them, including a man named Herman Long, who in 1938 gave a complete set of the plans for the Norden Bombsight to the Nazis,” Gladwell said. “They had their own Norden Bombsight throughout the entire war, which also, by the way, didn’t work very well.“Gladwelluses the story of the bombsight to show how technology doesn’t solve all our problems and often ultimately gives us unforeseen consequences.
“I have not described to you a success story,” Gladwellsaid. “I’ve described to you the opposite of a success story. This is the problem of our infatuation with the things we make. We think that the things we make can solve our problems, but our problems are much more complex than that. The issue isn’t the accuracy of the bombs you have, it’s how you use the bombs you have and more importantly, whether you ought to use bombs at all.”
Norden Bombsight in the nose of a B-17 Flying Fortress
This proved to be true for Norden and his bombsight. On August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber called the Enola Gay used a Norden Bombsight to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.
Diagram and Explanation of Bombsight’s Components
“The bomb missed its target by 800 feet, but of course, it didn’t matter, and that’s the greatest irony of all,”Gladwellsaid. “The air force’s $1.5 billion bombsight was used to drop its $3 billion bomb, which didn’t need a bombsight at all. No one told Carl Nordenthat his bombsight had been used over Hiroshima. He was a committed Christian. He thought he had designed something that would reduce the toll and suffering in war. It would have broken his heart.”
COMMENT BY YOUR WEBMASTER:
Although not cited much, if at all, when doing searches using several of the most popular search engines, there is little to no mention of the famous American Engineer and Inventor, Nathan Pritikin, who made some vital engineering contributions to the production of the Norden Bombsight during WWII. He is more well known as a millionaire eccentric and pioneer in the use of natural foods to cure diseases, one who became a largely self-taught and highly respected nutritionist after WWII.
Please let us know if you have any particular knowledge or experience with the Norden Bombsight.
Thanks to the untiring efforts of our 1st VP, Jason Adams, the FASF now has its own local NM State Historical Marker firmly planted near our historic 1916 Airfield, which, as Columbus Mayor Bruce D’Salas’official business card proudly states: is “The Cradle of American Air Power.”
Let’s take a photographic look at the sequence of actual physical events that took place before the two-year long process of obtaining state approval for the Historic Marker was successfully completed.
The entire lengthy process took place under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Department of Culltural Affairs. The Department’s web pages describe the process involved: “The markers happen through a strong partnership among the Historic Preservation Division, the Cultural Properties Review Committee, New Mexico Department of Transportation – and the public.”
All of these agencies and groups must have been queried and counselled in order for such a Historical Marker to be approved, and then finally contructed for the site it represents. As you might imagine, Jasonhad a big task in hand to get this objective reallized, and it took no small amount of patience to weather the long process involved in the achievement. But, today, we now have this marker in place, with its own highway tourist/visitor pull-off parking area so that passing motorists can conveniently pull off state Highway 9, right in the town of Columbus itself, to safely read both sides of the sign’s historical inscription.
Remember: Just click on any photo below to see it in full-size and hi-resolution!
L to R: Miguel Garcia,of Deming, NM, and Baltazar Granados, who actually hails from Columbus, are with the New Mexico Department of Transportation (DOT), and did the original site survey work for the new FASF Historical Marker.
Migueland Baltazarpose by their truck before commencing the survey work. The FASF billboard marking the 1916 airfield is behind them to the left.
Here is Baltazar measuring the dimensions for locating the new Marker Sign. Highway 9, in the forefront, has a steep drop-off shoulder closer to the Airfield, so these men had to find the nearest place where the shoulder was relatively flat, so that passing motorists might easily park their vehicles when they go over to read the Marker Sign. These men began this stie work almost exactly one (1) year ago!
Here we see the men from the P&M Sign Company Team working to erect the new sign, which was made by their firm under contract to the state of New Mexico. P&M makes most of these historical marker signs for New Mexico. They are located in picturesque Mountaiinair, NM. This work was completed by them this past September
Here are the actual text portions of the two-sided Marker, which clearly point out the historical information regarding the location’s importance. This sign is heavy-duty and completely weather proof.
The P&Mteam halfway through to completion. L to R: Larry Archuletaof Las Vegas, NM, Marcos Tavera ,Charles Padilla, and Andrew Lopez, all three from Mountainair, NM
Here is the front side of the sign, with page one of the story facing to the West.
And here, above, is the back side of the Marker, facing East towards El Paso, Texas. You can see by the construction of the Maker that this ediface is both sturdily made – and situated.
L to R: FASF celebrants of the new Sign’s Official Dedication: Columbus Mayor Bruce D’Salas,Airfield Director, Bob Wright; Long-time FASF member and just-retired Manager of the nearby Pancho Villa State Park, John Read; FASF Treasurer, Alma Villezcas; Bill Madden, Airfield Site Chairman; Fritz Wagoner, Airfield Survey & Artifact Team; and Historical Marker Committee Chairman, 1st VP of the FASF, Jason Adams, and his daughter, Chloe. All four of the FASF members on the right side of the sign are from Las Cruces, NM. At the left in photo, TheMayorand Bob Wrightare from Columbus, and John Read and Alma Villezcasare both from Deming, NM.
Organizational Meeting Title on Display Screens at WEAM
The brainchild of two local aviation leaders, Bob Dockendorfand John Keithly,The Rio Grande Aviation Council (RGAC) was put into motion this past weekend at the executive office meeting room of the War Eagles Air Museum (WEAM) at the Doña Ana County International Jetport.
Incidentally, the above photo is of the actual large LED Display screens that were mounted in the War Eagles’ meeting room, but the Rio Grande part was inadvertantly misspelled, leaving the “e” off at the end of Grande.
The two organizers recognized that there was no central or nexus organization through which the area’s many public-interest aviation groups and organizations might express both their legitimate public interests in their common industry, or to work more efficently to help collectively protect those same interests. In short, the new council would provide a more unified voice for the West Texas and SW New Mexico areas in respect to aviation related issues and interests.
Accordingly, Bob invited the area’s numerous public-interest and non-profit aviation groups to meet together at the WEAM. At least one or more representatives of each of the local (within a 100 mile radius of El Paso, Texas and Santa Teresa, NM) aviation groups appeared on Saturday, the 6th of April, to help organize this new organization.
Boband John recommended that the new organization be somewhat amporphous in nature and purposely not be formally structured, rather that it operate without any specific permanent officers or heirarchy. Its main functions would be to provide a sounding board, brain-storming platform, and a clearing house for the member organizations’ interests. It would, additionally, help provide a unified collective voice for the members’ common aviation interests.
The representatives of each group discussed their particular assets and current principal needs and goals.
Several other aviation groups were invited, but couldn’t make this intial organizational meeting, but will hopefully participate in future conferences. Such future gatherings will be held at the WEAM on a quarterly basis.
The following photos show some of those who attended as representatives of their respective aviation groups:
(Any of the below photos may be seen in full high-resolution by simply clicking on them)
Mrs. Mary Dockendorf registers John Adams of the EL Paso Composite Squadron 215 of the CAP.
President Wes Baker of the Las Cruces EAA Chapter 555 parks his Cessna 140 on the ramp in front of the WEAM.
L to R: Col. Mario Campos (Daedalian Society), Juan Brito (EPAA), Fritz Gatlin (EPRC Club), and Tom Holmsley(AMA)
L to R: Todd Parsont (Franklin HS JAFROTC), Ana Donahue (Drone Pilot for the Elephant ButteIrrigation District-EBID), Squadron Commander, Travis McKenzie and Col. Alan Fisher(CAP Squadron 24) line up to sign in for the meeting.
L to R: Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Presidents Wes Baker (EAA 555) and John Keithly (EAA 1570), Col. Mario Campos (hidden behind) Juan Brito (EPAA).
L to R starting with those sitting with backs to the windows: Travis McKenzie and Mike LeGendre (CAP), Rick King(Santa Teresa Flying Club), Col. Alan Fisher(CAP), Malcolm White (USAFA), John Adams (CAP), Ana Donahue ((EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Wes Baker and John Keithly (EAA Presidents), Col. Mario Campos(Daedalians), Juan Brito(EPAA), Fritz Gatlin (EPRC), Tom Holmsley(AMA), (three people with their backs to camera, and L to R) Elliott Werner (EAA), Bob Dockendorf(WEAM) and Didi Shaffer(Chair of the El Paso Chapter of the 99’s).
R to L clockwise: Rick King (Sta. Teresa Flying Club), Col. Alan Fisher (CAP), Malcolm White (USAFA), John Adams(CAP), Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Wes Bakerand John Keithly(EAA), Mike McGee (UTEP), Col. Mario Campos(Daedalians), Mary Dockendorf (WEAM), Juan Brito (EPAA), and Fritz Gatlin (EPRC).
L to R: Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (RAFROTC) and Wes Baker(EAA)
L to R:Todd Parsont(JAFROTC), Wes Bakerand John Keithly(EAA).
L to R clockwise: Ana Donahue (EBID), Todd Parsont (JAFROTC), Wes Baker (EAA), John Keithly(EAA), Mike McGee(UTEP), Col. Mario Campos (Daedalians), Juan Brito (EPAA), Fritz Gatlin (EPRC).
Clockwise R to L: (only part of his back to camera) Mike McGee (UTEP), Mario Campos(Daedalians), Juan Brito(EPAA), Fritz Gatlin(EPRC), Tom Holmsley (AMA), Tania Privette (LCA), Andy Hume(Las Cruces Int’l. Airport), Didi Shaffer (99’s), Bob Dockendorf (WEAM), Elliott Werner (EAA), Javier Caraveo (USAFA & AFROTC), Travis McKenzie and Mike LeGendre (CAP), and Rick King (Santa Teresa Flying Club).
L to R: John Keithly (EAA 1570), Dr. Mike McGee (UTEP), Col. Mario Campos (Daedalians), and Juan Brito(EPAA).
L to R: Andy Hume (Las Cruces Int’l. Airport), Tania Privette (LCA), and Didi Shaffer (99’s).
Didi Schaffer(Chair of El Paso Chapter of the Ninety-Nines).
Meeting Chairman, Bob Dockendorf, principal organizer of the Rio Grand Aviation Council
RGAC Organizational Meeting Representatives – L to R: John Keithly, Ric Lambart, Travis McKenzie, Mario Campos, AlanFisher, Mike LeGendre, Mike McGee, Rick King, Elliott Werner, Tania Privette, Andy Hume, Didi Shaffer, Ammber Valverde, Ana Donahue, Javier Cavaveo, Juan Brito, Wes Baker, Todd Parsont, Tom Holmsley, Fritz Gatlin, John Adams, Malcolm White, and Bob Dockendorf.
Ms. Villezcasjoined the Las Cruces CAP Squadron 24 a year ago with the intention of learning to fly with the CAP, which is a full-fledged Auxiliary of the United States Air Force (USAF) – (see Air Force photo above with the two USAF Aircraft: A CAP Cessna and F-16 Jet Fighter), which supplies all of the facilities and equipment, including costly modern aircraft, to each Squadron throughout the U.S. For this reason the CAP uniforms are based upon the USAF’s.
Mission Pilot, Dave Bjorness (L), and Scanner Trainee, Alma Villezcas (R) in the process of conducting their Preflight Inspection of the CAP Cessna Skylane prior to the Mission . . .All photos in this story may be seen in full resolution by simply clicking on them.
The origins of Civil Air Patrol date to 1936, when Gill Robb Wilson, World War I aviator and New Jersey director of aeronautics, returned from Germany convinced of impending war. Wilsonenvisioned mobilizing America’s civilian aviators for national defense, an idea also shared by other aviation activists.
In Ohio, Milton Knight, a pilot and businessman, organized and incorporated the Civilian Air Reserve (CAR) in 1938. Other military-styled civilian aviation units emerged nationwide and helped train pilots for defense of the homeland.
In 1941, Wilson launched his perfected program: the Civil Air Defense Services (CADS). That summer, tasked by Fiorello H. LaGuardia (New York mayor and director of the federal Office of Civilian Defense and also a World War I aviator), Wilson, publisher Thomas H. Beck and newspaperman Guy P. Gannettproposed Wilson’sCADS program as a model for organizing the nation’s civilian aviation resources.
Their proposal for a Civil Air Patrol was approved by the Commerce, Navy, and War departments in November, and CAP National Headquarters opened its doors on Dec. 1, 1941, under the direction of national commander Maj. Gen. John F. Curry. Existing CADS, CAR and other flying units soon merged under the CAP banner. Public announcement of CAP and national recruiting commenced on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor..
CAP Personnel in military formation in front of one of their Stinson Patrol Aircraft in 1942.
L to R above: Mission PILOT, Dave Bjorness, Mission Commander and Flight OBSERVER, William Benzinger, and Alma Villezcas, Mission SCANNER Trainee,briefing about their tasks and esponsibilities before their Mission.
Above, Ground Team Personnel, Mike Legendre, (L) briefing Communications Officer, Joe Parea, at right. Each mission, whether a practice exercise operation, or a genuine emergency mission, requires numerous ground based personnel working closely with, and in constant radio communication with the CAP aircraft “eyes in the sky.”
Above, Alma readies for the Mission, which will entail scanning for a downed aircraft and taking hi-resolution color photographs of it and the surrounding terrain for ground rescue agencies’ guidance.
Above, Alma checks out her Intercom equipment, as flight crew readies for engine startup. She has already opened the side window’s Camera Port. The High Resolution Professional Digital Camera must shoot all photos through this open window so that no window reflections nor glare interfere with the photo’s high quality.
The aircraft has started its engine and begins to taxi out for take off. The CAP Squadron’s main hangar is in the background above.
Alma and her crew returned safely from their successful 2 hour long SAR Mission Exercise, having finally located the simulated downed aircraft and also it’s ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) radio signal.
The following 7 minute video gives a moving glimpse into what Almaexperienced during her very first CAP Training flight.