One of the most important U.S. task forces of World War IIwhich may do the enemy as much damage as any that the nation sends overseasconsists of several thousand scientists. In complete military secrecy they all work together in one big building at one big scientific institution on one big problem: wartime applications of and improvements on the electron tube.*
The incredible accuracy of U.S. naval guns at Casablanca, which at 26 miles smashed the hull of the French battleship Jean Bart in two salvos, was a triumph for the electron tube. Declared Rear Admiral Stanford C. Hooper last week: "Radio directed and reported the destruction." Even at the very hour that war began the electron tube was the first to serve the nation. On Dec. 7, 1941 the electron tube caught the mutter of Japanese aircraft when they were 132 miles away from Pearl Harbor.
No man can see 132 miles, or even 26, and the men at Pearl Harbor and Casablanca were no exceptions. But the electron tube can. What is more, the electron tube can hear, feel, taste, remember, measure, count and talk. Unable to think and without a conscience, the tube is still less than human. But with proper accessories it far exceeds the human senses (except taste and smell) in keenness.
Its vision, for instance, allows it to "see" beyond the horizon, through fog and clouds, in black dark. It can "see" through stone and steel to detect invisible internal flaws. It can "see" the whiskers on a disease germ that is only a speck in the best microscope.
With electron tubes any combat unit, even a plane streaking across the night sky above the clouds, is in close touch with its command post. Army headquarters in Australia, Iceland, Tunisia, China are neighboring plugs on a single electronic switchboard.
When war ends, the new war-born developments will "go to peace." Already electron tubes of various forms can accomplish miraculous things:
> Count and sort merchandise, match colors and finishes, gauge size and thickness of materials to a millionth of an inch.
> Measure, control and record pressure, humidity, temperature, color, acidity.
> Detect fog, smoke, dust and vapors that are invisible to the eye, and take protective action.
> Control any machine operated by a relay switchmanipulating doors, elevators, conveyors, furnaces, traffic.
> Operate machines by remote controlin lighthouses, electric substations, pumps, planes, ships (TIME, Jan. 18).
> Concentrate heat in small areas even deep within the insides of larger objectsto bake, dry, glue, stitch, anneal, weld, rivet.
> Motivate many medical treatments-by-heat which come under the heading of diathermy.
The electronic industry was no dwarf in the peacetime U.S. Then nearly 150 million tubes, of more than 400 different types, were produced in a year. Radio equipment production jumped from well under half a billion dollars in 1941 to $1 billion in 1942. Plans for 1943 will bring the production figure to $3 billion. Military secrecy cloaks the uses to which tubes are being put but these totals tell the story of their myriad usefulness.