Monday, May 19, 2008

War Magic

The Secret Strobe Lights of WW2 describes an interesting weapon of war. Strobe lights.

It might have been the greatest lost weapon of World War II. Major-General JFC Fuller, the man credited with developing modern armored warfare in the 1920s, called failure to use it "the greatest blunder of the whole war." He even suggested that British and American tank divisions could have overrun Germany before the Russians -- if it had been deployed, that is.

I've been looking at a new range of strobing weapons, which use flickering lights to subdue criminals and insurgents. But it turns out that the disorienting power of such lights was discovered decades before.

The secret weapon Fuller was referring to was the Canal Defence Light -- a powerful searchlight mounted on a tank, with a shutter allowing it to flicker six times a second. The 13-million candlepower searchlight -- intended to illuminate the battlefield and dazzle the enemy -- was described in a fascinating article on the CDL Tanks of Lowther castle...
I first read about it in a book about Jasper Maskelyne, The War Magician.
Another use of flickering lights in World War II was the proposal by Jasper Maskelyne, a stage magician employed by the British military. (A very colorful account of Maskelyne's role is given in the book The War Magician - reading it you might think he won the war single-handed.) The magician was given the task of making the Suez Canal invisible to enemy bombers. When the idea of constructing an illusion using mirrors was rejected as impractical, another plan was formulated, as this site on Maskelyne describes:
Maskelyne came up with the unorthodox idea of constructing 21 'dazzle lights' along the length of the Canal. These powerful searchlights, containing 24 different spinning beams, projected a swirling, cartwheeling confusion of light up to nine miles into the sky. A barrage of light to confuse and blind the enemy bombers, which Maskelyne dubbed Whirling Spray.
Fisher claims that this radical defensive shield of light was highly effective and was a major reason why the Suez Canal remained open for the duration of the war.

However, in spite of the book's claims, the dazzle light were never actually built (although a prototype was once tested). Is the power of strobe lights just an illusion based on hype, like Maskelyne's whirling spray? Or a significant new weapon that will be ignored or shelved because people are either ignorant of it or don't believe...?
I had read the story of the Canal Defense lights in the "The War Magician" about Maskelyne's exploits against the Axis Powers in North Africa and had always wondered what they were about. Now I know.

I came across this article through the following links: starting with Classical Values to Chicago Boyz to Zen Pundit to Wired

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