Thanks to a collaboration between local museums and the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Manatee County will have an exciting joint exhibition on Powel Crosley Jr., an American inventor, industrialist and entrepreneur.
Here at the Palmetto Historical Park, we are focusing on Crosley's military contributions. We would like to share with the public a few items he and his brother built to help the U.S. government during World War II.
The War Department immediately looked to Crosley Corp. for its expertise in electronics. It was one of only five contractors chosen to build proximity fuzes for anti-aircraft artillery shells. The ordnance was fitted with a small radio transceiver that triggered the fuze when it detected the shell was near enough to a target to destroy it. In modern military parlance, the proximity fuze was a force multiplier, greatly increasing the effectiveness of anti-aircraft gunnery.
We will have two examples of these types of fuzes on display during the exhibit, one showing the internal components. Production was centered at Crosley's main Cincinnati offices, and the project was so highly classified that, as Crosley chronicler Mike Banks put it, the WLW radio station was forced to move out because military intelligence fretted entertainers visiting the studio could pose a security risk.
Crosley also built the Mark II sight for the 20mm cannons that fired the proximity-fuzed shells (which will also be on display). A total of 87 firms using 110 factories were engaged in some phase of production work.
Crosley's involvement began in late October 1941, when they were contacted by the Bureau of Ordnance and told
they would be contacted later that month concerning a "top secret, top priority" project. Lewis M. Clement, Crosley's vice president in charge of engineering, recalled Crosley had been selected because they had the required background in electrical and mechanical engineering and in mass production.
The letter of intent from the U.S. Navy came in late November 1941 and a contract for 500 fuzes arrived in December. The first accepted fuzes came from the production line in September 1942.
On Jan. 5, 1943, Lt. "Red" Cochrane, commanding the aft 5" battery on the light cruiser Helena, shot down a Japanese Val dive-bomber with the second of three salvos of VT-fuzed shells, near Guadalcanal. The fuzes were manufactured by the Crosley Corp. and this was the first kill of enemy aircraft.
Crosley also manufactured the Signal Corps Radio sets. One of the first radio sets is the SCR-284 that consisted of the BC-654 A and associated support equipment (such as the pictured hand-crank generator). The BC-654 A was introduced in Africa during Operation Torch and was the first radio set used for communications from the beach to the U.S. Fleet to coordinate naval gunfire and beach radio networks. More than 50,000 BC-654s were produced and delivered in support of Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy. More than 150,000 units were eventually produced in total.
After the war, many BC-654s were sold as surplus for $15 each. Today, many are restored and operated by vintage amateur radio enthusiasts.
In the Military Museum at the Palmetto Historical Park, we will have a Crosley field phone and hand-crank generator on display. Not only can visitors get an up-close-and-personal look at this technology that was critical to WWII, but they can even have a chance to try it out! Bring a friend and you can tell each other your own highly classified information through 75-year-old-technology. So make some time to stop by the Palmetto Historical Park this summer to get your hands on some of the items produced by Powel Crosley Jr. that helped us win World War II.
Steve Ahern, maintenance technician at the Palmetto Historical Park, is responsible for all things maintenance and is known as the CEO (Chief Everything Officer). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-723-4991.