Interviewee: General Sam Phillips

Interviewer: Martin Collins

Date: February 23, 1988

Place:Los Angeles, California


MR. COLLINS: We'd like to begin our discussions with a sense of your very early background, where and when you were born, who your parents were.

GENERAL PHILLIPS: I was born on February 19, 1921, in Springerville, Arizona. Springerville was then and still is a forestry camp in the mountains of Arizona, some miles out from Flagstaff, which is better known. When I was born, my father was an electrician in a sawmill in Springerville. My father, Clarence Arthur Phillips, was born in Springfield, Illinois, and he was 27 years old when I was born. He was an electrician by trade and had great ambitions to be a Protestant minister, so he was a part-time minister as well as earning a living as an electrician. My mother, Mabel Gertrude Cochran was her maiden name, was born in Nebraska. She also was 27 years old when I was born. I was the first child in their family. My family moved north from Arizona up into Colorado when I was only a few months old. My first real memories go back to when we lived in Denver, Colorado, and this would have been when I was four or five years old. My father still was an electrician, and that was of course how he earned his living. By then he was with the Public Service Company of Colorado. He was a lineman.

COLLINS: That was one of the electrical utilities in Colorado?

PHILLIPS: Yes, it was the utility company that provided electric power, at least in Denver, and I'm sure through much of Colorado and for that matter on up into Wyoming. So my family moved when I was only a few months old from Arizona to Colorado, first I think to Pueblo and then on up to Denver. A little later to Fort Collins, Colorado, and a little later to Brighton, Colorado, and then in about 1928, moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, which is where I really grew up. I grew up then in Cheyenne, went to public school there.

COLLINS: Why was your family moving so much? Was that part of the requirement for a lineman at that time?

PHILLIPS: Well, I don't know that it was a requirement for a lineman, but I think it was a requirement in order to earn a living in those years, to go where there was a need for that skill. I really don't know the details of the economics that caused that migration to occur, but it had to do with where there were jobs. And I'm sure, as he was with the same Public Service Company for many years, that the opportunities were greater further north, up that line, winding up in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

COLLINS: Did he continue as an electrician in Cheyenne?

PHILLIPS: Yes. My father always earned a living as a lineman, an electrician, and as a matter of fact, in 1945, was killed in an electrical accident on a pole, as a lineman. That occurred while I was overseas in World War II. I mentioned that my father had had great ambitions to be a Protestant minister. He had at some point before I was born attended Moody Bible Institute in Denver and had reached a level of education in theology that qualified him for a license to preach. So that during all of his adult life then, his avocation, and what I think he really wanted to do, was to be a minister. I can remember in my youth living in Wyoming, accompanying him on Sundays out to the prairie country, where he was their Sunday minister on Sunday out in the ranch areas in eastern Wyoming.

My technical interests, I think, started with my father, who really was a very capable--he was not an engineer. He was not educated as an engineer but as an electrician he certainly knew how electricity and electrical machines worked. My early technical education largely started as a very young child with learning from my father about how electricity worked, and on from there, electrical machines.

COLLINS: Did he have some kind of a workshop in the house?

PHILLIPS: I had a workshop in our house, in the basement. It was in that workshop that my father coached me and instructed me, as I've mentioned.

COLLINS: So you developed an interest in things like radios back then? Is that where you were directing your interests or were you looking at other aspects?

PHILLIPS: My interests really were always towards radio and what has become the world of electronics and communications. At a very young age I developed a very consuming interest in radio. I can still remember, when I was probably in about the fourth grade, which would have been probably in 1930 or '31, my father brought home our first radio. I remember it was an Atwater-Kent radio, and I remember spending endless hours tuning around and listening to the various stations that we could receive out there.

In that same period, I guess largely by self-instruction and with some coaching from my father, I started to build radio equipment, starting with the typical crystal set. There, too, I can remember spending hours, especially at night, tuning around and listening to various radio stations. I mentioned that I had a workshop in the basement of our house there in Cheyenne, and I did build a number of pieces of radio equipment of that era, radio receivers. I also learned enough, largely through self-instruction, to get an amateur radio license, and then built transmitting equipment and set up an amateur radio station there at our house.

COLLINS: How were you instructing yourself? Were you looking at popular periodicals like Popular Mechanics? Were you relying on the public library? How did that work?

PHILLIPS: I can remember Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, both of which I read regularly as a young boy. Also, I should mention that my father's older brother, my Uncle Harry, lived in Brighton, Colorado, which is 25 miles or so north of Denver. My uncle was also an electrician and also a lineman as was my father, but his interests, many years earlier, had developed along the line of radio technology. He was one of the early amateurs that was licensed, and he was a builder of what in the Twenties and Thirties were advanced technology devices, largely through his interests in amateur radio. He built some of his own vacuum tubes and he made what I'm sure were some of the very first very high frequency tubes, triodes, for use in the amateur five-meter band, I remember. So I spent time with my uncle in the summer. At least in two summers I spent time with him and I learned a lot from him about radios and designing and building them. And I think through him, and acquiring an amateur radio license, I became a member of the ARRL, the American Radio Relay League, which goes back to the early part of this century in the amateur radio business. They'd been the publisher of Radio Handbooks since the early part of the century. So I used their Handbook for a lot of that learning also.

COLLINS: Did your family encourage this interest? Was it something they wanted?

PHILLIPS: Yes, they did. They encouraged it, I know actively on the part of my father. So yes, the answer is yes, it definitely was encouraged.

COLLINS: Did you have any other siblings?

PHILLIPS: Yes, I was the oldest of six children. I had two sisters and three brothers. Interestingly enough, the three brothers stayed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, all their lives, and they still live out in that area. The brothers chose, I guess for their own reasons, to not complete a college education. And well, they've been quite satisfied to follow various trade activities and stay in Wyoming.

I think that brings to mind an important subject. Starting in junior high school, which would have been there in those years through the eighth grade, somewhere, probably in the eighth grade, a teacher--at that time he was a teacher in the manual arts shops or metalworking and woodworking and so on, which I was always very interested in and as I recall did well in--but the teacher took an interest in my development. It wasn't obvious to me at that time but in retrospect certainly was. He was a member of the Kiwanis Club and on a few occasions would take me to the Kiwanis lunch and introduce me at least to that element of life, which was quite different than anything I was used to.

In high school, I was not an enthusiastic student and certainly not one that fell in the category of the intellectual or the high achiever in grades. A person named Paul Albright, who was a teacher, took an interest and did I can recall quite a bit of personal counselling, counselling me to do better in school among other things and to get better grades. But in the end, he took the initiative to get a scholarship for me to the University of Wyoming, without which I probably wouldn't have gone to college. I mention that because it's been a lesson to me all my life, of the importance of the profound effect that individuals can have on other individuals. And by the simple act of those two teachers that I've mentioned, taking a personal interest in me as an individual, and in the case of Albright, taking the initiative to help me get a simple scholarship to the university.

COLLINS: What was Albright's area of responsibility at the high school?

PHILLIPS: He was, I think, what today would probably be called a dean of boys, although it didn't have that title. I think his specialty also was in the sciences and in the manual arts field. But he was more at that time a counsellor, a senior counsellor.

Well, I guess to get a few more specifics, I went to public schools in Cheyenne, graduating from Cheyenne High School in the summer of 1938. I went then in the fall of 1938 to the University of Wyoming and enrolled as a freshman in electrical engineering, and graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1942 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. The engineering school at University of Wyoming in those years, the electrical engineering curriculum was devoted entirely to electrical power; to my recollection, electronics as a field hadn't yet been identified. And I can remember, I think it was late 1941, when a young professor was hired onto the staff of the electrical engineering school, the professor having come from, as I recall, Ohio. He had been educated in some of the fundamentals of what later became electronics, and he gave lectures in energy levels of electrons and things that were very, very exciting to me, having spent all my education up to that point in the mundane sort of boring elements of electrical machinery and power transmission and so on.

COLLINS: This was one of your first introductions to basic physics in some sense, or advanced physics.

PHILLIPS: Yes. Yes, very definitely. With apologies for skipping around, I should go back to my upbringing there in Cheyenne. I've mentioned my interest in radio. And it was probably while I was in say the 9th grade that I walked one day from the high school up to the airport, which was a relatively short distance by modern standards, and walked into what was then the CAA--Civil Aeronautics Authority--radio station and introduced myself. I said I just wanted to see their equipment and their station. Well, that led to an association that in some ways persisted right up to now. The operators in that little radio station kind of took me under their wing, it turned out, and that had a lot to do with my education and knowledge of radio and radio communications. Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the thirties, and I guess even up into the forties, was a hub or a center of transportation in the western part of the country.


COLLINS: Resuming after a pause.

PHILLIPS: I was saying that Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the early part of this century was a hub of transportation. It was on the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad, and some significant fraction of the payroll in Cheyenne came from the Union Pacific Railroad. It was the east-west-north-south hub for air traffic in those years. And United Airlines had their main maintenance shops there at the airport in Cheyenne, Wyoming. And so Cheyenne was a hub point in the federal airways system at that time and had the navigation aids of that period, which were the very low frequency radio range devices that are no longer used, at least in this country, and had a regular broadcast of airways weather for both the east-west airway through Cheyenne and for the north-south airway through Cheyenne. The north-south airway ran from Tupincary, New Mexico, to Billings, Montana, with Cheyenne being the main hub point for communications. East-west, of course, the weather broadcasts used to go out at least to Nevada and to the east out through Nebraska. Cheyenne also had had a very high frequency CW or continuous wave, Morse Code station that would gather the weather reports along the north-south and east-west airways. That's where I really gained some of my proficiency in Morse Code, with these radio operators, as I say, who kind of took me on as a kid.

COLLINS: This was kind of an informal thing where you hung around, or did they ask you to do little jobs?

PHILLIPS: It started out as an informal thing with them taking an interest in me as a kid who had a great interest. I've forgotten just when it occurred, but somewhere along the way they gave me a job as the janitor for their station. I think I earned something like $10 a week going in there, I guess probably about every day and sweeping the place out, and on weekends waxing the floor and so on, so I in some ways earned my keep there. But there again I guess is an example of how adults, taking some interest in an individual, can pretty profoundly influence their lives. I mentioned that in the case of some teachers.

COLLINS: What was the thing you derived from that experience?

PHILLIPS: A lot of learning about airways, navigation aids, communications, electrical radio communications. I remember I did a paper at the University of Wyoming on how the low frequency range operated, which in terms of the curriculum of the University of Wyoming, which was entirely power, was I suppose contributory and unique. But that was a very sophisticated radio device. Even today it would be. How the course lines are created with radio, using the generation of radio frequency signals and the modulating of those. And how directional patterns are established in the radiation of those energies to create the alternate A's and N's in the Morse Code, which, on the course lines, become solid signals.

COLLINS: What was the significance of the A's and N's in that description?

PHILLIPS: Well, an A is a dot dash, and an N is a dash dot. And if you impose or superimpose the A and the N in the proper way, the dots fill the spaces and you have a solid line. If you visualize imposing A's and N's in a way, dots and dashes, that you create a solid line, in an oversimplified way that's how the generation of radio signals and the transmission of those in a directional sense create the course lines which were the solid signals. And if you were off the course line, you had in one direction an A signal, and in the other direction an N signal, so you knew which quadrant you were in.

But as I say, that element of learning, the opportunity for that came about by my walking into this CAA radio station, and the operators there taking an interest. And over quite a period, quite a number of years then through high school and even on through college, I spent a lot of time in that radio station, both contributing in an informal or in a non-employee sense, and learning. That, being on the edge of the airport then really introduced me to airplanes and to flying, and one of the radio operators there in the station himself had quite an interest in flying. He was the part-owner in an airplane, and so largely through his activities, I then wound up learning to fly, which is another brief story in itself.

COLLINS: This was during high school?

PHILLIPS: Yes, this was during high school. I've forgotten just what year it was but it probably was 1938. As I say I've forgotten just when this occurred, whether it was while I was still in high school or after I'd gone over to the university. The war in Europe of course was already starting to build up, so I guess it would have had to be after I went to the university, starting in, what, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and those eastern countries.

So somewhere in the '39 -'40 period, a program was established called Civilian Pilot Training, and under that program individuals who qualified had the opportunity to enroll in a course of flying instructions. So when that opportunity presented itself, I did enroll in the primary Civilian Pilot Training there in Cheyenne, and through that program had my initial flying training and got a private pilot's license. I followed that primary course up over in Laramie at the university by enrolling in the Advanced Civilian Pilot Training Program which was offered there in Laramie. It was not really a part of the university curriculum, but it was available, and through that program I acquired more advanced skills in flying. Through those two Civilian Pilot Training programs, and then working around the airport to earn, and being paid in flying time, by the time I graduated from college I had probably on the order of 300 hours of flying. In the latter part of that I was beginning to earn some of my flying time by installing intercom equipment in these open cockpit airplanes we were using, and sort of beginning the activities, if you will, of airplanes and communications.

COLLINS: If we could just go back for a second, what was the effect if any of the economic downturn, the Depression, on your family or on your school activities?

PHILLIPS: Profound. My family was really a poor family. The salary of my father with the Public Service Company as a lineman was meager. It was adequate to provide the basics for a large family, which we were, a family of six children and two adults, but there was never anything left over. It was a poor existence. And of course much of that period was during the Depression. I think, probably to my own advantage, I was more or less on my own to earn anything, any spending money, and to some extent even to contribute to the family income, from a pretty young age. My own opinion is that was to the advantage of my development. But with jobs like the one I mentioned, being the janitor in the CAA radio station, which was really a pleasure because it gave me an opportunity to learn and be exposed to the people that I was associated with.

But my summer jobs were also great learning experiences. I was an electrician's helper during the summer there in Cheyenne for an electrical company, Stevenson Electric, I remember the name, which company wired houses and commercial buildings. They were a construction business doing the wiring. And of course I was I guess equipped to some extent because of the knowledge that I'd gained from my father. But I learned a lot during those summer jobs, and interestingly enough over my life, I've probably rewired every house we've ever lived in, including this one.

COLLINS: Was this during the summers during your high school years or your college years?

PHILLIPS: Both. It was both. Pay was not very good in those years. I'm trying to remember just what I got paid. It wasn't more than about $10 a week doing summer jobs. It wasn't very much. I guess I should also mention that I think the last two summers at college, I worked in the electrical generating plant there in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was the same company that my father worked for as a lineman. And so there, too, I learned a lot about power plants and industrial installations, through hard labor of working on these big steam turbines and the steam piping systems and the boilers and the electrical distribution equipment in that power plant.

COLLINS: So you were getting a pretty basic grounding in the really practical aspects of electrical engineering.

PHILLIPS: Yes, very much so. And with the diversity of electrical power and radio and communications.

COLLINS: As the end of your undergraduate tenure approached, the war had started. The international scene had been in turmoil for a couple of years. Were you in a position to be drafted? What was the situation there among the students who were eligible for the draft as the war started?

PHILLIPS: Well, to answer that question directly, there was not any feeling of pressure of the draft that I can remember among the student populace. It was almost the reverse. It was an enthusiastic willingness and a strong desire to become involved. At least during the period that I was there, the revulsion over Pearl Harbor, which occurred in December of '41, so therefore it was right very near the time when I graduated in the spring of '42, the whole atmosphere was one of revulsion and the desire to be involved. I'm sure later the attitudes changed, but at least while I was there it was almost the reverse of any apprehension over and fear of the draft.

COLLINS: What I was getting at was the possibility, you'd invested almost four years in your education, that the possibility might arise that you might not get your degree. I was wondering whether that was a concern.

PHILLIPS: It turned out that it was not, and it was largely the timing because as I say, December, the Pearl Harbor occurred roughly six months from when I was scheduled to graduate. And for a variety of reasons I and most of the other--at least the engineering seniors, were allowed or even encouraged to finish our work and really to satisfy the requirements for the degree in the spring as opposed to going on through to June.

But this prompts me that I should mention another strong line along my development. The Reserve Officer Training Program, ROTC, was big in Wyoming in those years, and that was a fact even well before any inklings of what became World War II came on the scene. The University of Wyoming was a land-grant college. It was in those years the only university in that state, which is a small state, and one of the requirements of land-grant colleges was to conduct an ROTC program. Now I think that was universally a requirement, but it was certainly my understanding of the requirements there at the university. Now I'll come back to the university, but going back to my high school days, the high school at Cheyenne had a very active ROTC program. As I remember it was mandatory for say freshmen in high school to take ROTC. I was attracted to ROTC and pursued it very vigorously, and so I was active in the ROTC program up through my graduation from high school, and had achieved one of the senior cadet officer positions there in the cadet corps in high school.

So I then became quite active in the ROTC program at the University of Wyoming. At the university I suppose probably in my third year, as a junior, the professor of military science and tactics, he was an Army colonel, Malcolm E. Craig was his name, urged me to take a competitive examination for a regular commission. Although I'd had a strong interest in ROTC, by then I was really looking forward to competing and winning one of the jobs with one of the big electrical companies. I had ambitions to be an engineer with RCA or General Electric or Westinghouse, with my ambitions being largely in the radio or radio-related fields. So I had a parallel interest at that point, and my interests in the ROTC were influenced to some extent by the exposure I'd had to the Civil Aeronautics Authority and the federal airways and to airplanes and flying and to career opportunities I could see as a military officer. I had competing interests at that point.

So it was not difficult for Colonel Craig to talk me into taking the competitive exam, and somewhat I guess to my surprise, I won whatever the competition was and was awarded a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army, as compared with a Reserve commission. So I had a regular commission with still I think a year to go in college. They couldn't award the commission until I reached 21 years of age, which I reached in February of '42, and then of course I graduated in the spring of '42. So with Pearl Harbor occurring, there was never any doubt about what I was going to do when I left the university. It was to go into the Army and to go in under the commission that I had.


PHILLIPS: Well, we were talking about the period when I left the University of Wyoming, having earned a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant of infantry, but I might add, by which time I had a private flying license and probably of the order of 300 hours of flying and a very strong interest in being in the Army Air Corps.

COLLINS: Before we leave your University of Wyoming experience, you mentioned Malcolm Craig as one individual whom you had close contact with. Earlier on in your education, or in other experiences, you mentioned individuals who have an impact on you. Was there any of the faculty of the University of Wyoming that you were particularly influenced by?

PHILLIPS: Oh yes, very much. H.T. Person, who was the head of the civil engineering department, and many, many years later for a brief period was the president of the University of Wyoming. H.T. was as I say a civil engineer and very active in Wyoming developments involving water and conservation and that sort of thing. But he was a mathematical whiz. I can still remember his classes. He would start at the beginning of his lecture on the blackboard, and he'd have that board full, doing mental arithmetic as he went. So I was a great admirer of him and learned a lot from him. The head of the electrical engineering department was a Professor Secrest. He was very much an electrical machinery man and gave very boring lectures, although he knew an awful lot about how electrical generators and electrical motors worked, and I learned enough from him to get by.

I mentioned the young man earlier, a young professor who had joined the faculty just before I graduated, and brought with him lectures on things that were very exciting to me about how vacuum tubes worked and electrons, more the electronics part of electricity. His name was Brown, and I can remember his working with me actually to prepare a paper for an annual meeting of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. Today, this being 1988, there is the IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, but if you go back to the Forties, what is today IEEE was two societies. One was the IRE, the International Radio Engineers, as I remember, and the other was the AIEE, I think, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and it was devoted to power. The point I wanted to make, though, is that Professor Brown was helping me to prepare a paper for presentation in one of those two societies, either the IRE or the AIEE, to do with radio propagation, which was not a course they were teaching but was related to what he was starting to bring to the curriculum there. I can remember his bringing a 40-meter radio transmitter that he had built and setting up behind the engineering building with a variety of antenna devices that I was making, to make measurements of the field radiation pattern of different kinds of antennas. So he had a lot of influence and effect really on my learning.

COLLINS: This was the first attempt by the university to build up some expertise in radio theory and radio engineering?

PHILLIPS: Yes, that was the very beginning of starting to introduce into the curriculum something besides electrical power.

COLLINS: Did you have basic physics courses and basic science courses as part of the engineering curriculum?

PHILLIPS: Yes, basic physics. Physics and chemistry. As I remember back, the physics courses were quite elementary. I suspect that my grandsons today in high school physics are probably studying, in some respects, more advanced things than I was studying in college at the University of Wyoming in the Forties. Just an interesting point of reference, the student body of the University of Wyoming in the year I graduated equaled the year, 1942. The number of us that graduated in electrical engineering was probably like five. Classes were small.

COLLINS: Was there a separate engineering school?

PHILLIPS: Yes. Yes, there was an engineering school. And I wanted to mention the dean of engineering who was, I can't remember his name now, but the thing I remember most about him was his willingness to be a cosigner on a note where I found it necessary to borrow a few dollars in order to stay in school. By that time I'd become quite active in the Kappa Sigma fraternity, which I joined at the urging of a close friend, and wound up being quite active in that fraternity, and wound up being the president of the chapter there while I was in school, and I might add, in later years was the international president of the fraternity. But through that, while the fraternity had an endowment fund which members of the fraternity could apply for student loans, but the applications needed to be cosigned by some responsible person. And I can remember asking the dean of the engineering college to cosign, which he was willing to do.

COLLINS: Did your scholarship continue through all four years?

PHILLIPS: It continued through the four years but all it provided for was the tuition. It did not provide for any of the room and board or other costs, but it did cover the tuition costs, which, though were low by today's standards, nevertheless were significant for me, coming from a family of the means that my family had.

COLLINS: I assume that for the remainder of it you didn't receive any assistance from your family and were essentially relying on yourself for any further support.

PHILLIPS: Yes, that's true. I'd had a variety of jobs there on the side at the university. For quite some period I worked in the Student Union building, which was newly built while I was a student, and I wound up being a manager of the soda fountain, which provided a certain amount of income but it also provided a certain amount of food.

COLLINS: Not nutritional food.

PHILLIPS: But food nevertheless.

COLLINS: So what were your initial responsibilities and activities when you joined the Army?

PHILLIPS: Well, I was ordered to active duty, to report to Fort Benning; June 11, 1942 was my reporting date, as I recall. My initial assignment was to go through the infantry school there at Fort Benning, which was a three-month course of concentrated training for lieutenants in infantry tactics. So my initial assignment was that, and I can remember it was a very concentrated, comprehensive course in what second lieutenants needed to know to lead a platoon and succeed to company command in the infantry.

As an important incidental, the girl that I had gone with for many years, from Wyoming, I talked into coming to Fort Benning in 1942. We were married there in Columbus, Georgia, at Fort Benning, in August, August 15 of 1942. As I say, that was an important incidental to my initial Army assignment.

I should backtrack and say that before I was ordered to active duty, I had already applied for transfer to the Army Air Corps because of my interest that I've already mentioned in flying. Nothing was heard of that application by the time I got to Fort Benning, and you know, I was obviously very interested, during all my time there, in whether anything had come through on it, and nothing did.

My orders from Fort Benning, completing that course, were to report to the 43rd Infantry Division at Fort Ord, California, this now being in the fall of 1942. So my new wife and I drove across the country to Fort Ord, where I checked in. Fort Ord is up near Monterey, beautiful place. I checked in there at Fort Ord and rather quickly learned that the 43rd Infantry Division was being fleshed out, if you will. People were being added, people and equipment, for them to load troop transports for the invasion of Guadalcanal, which became the mission of the 43rd Infantry Division later on. Because of my education and I guess expressed interest, I was appointed as a regimental communications officer in one of the regiments of the 43rd Division. I'll tell you, at that point I'd learned a lot about infantry tactics and how to fight a platoon or a company and so on. I hadn't learned very much about being a communications officer, in spite of my education. But nevertheless if you can visualize the period, the 43rd Infantry Division, which was a National Guard Division from the Northeast, I think from Massachusetts--it was one of the New England states, had its basic cadre of senior officers. The basic cadre of positions, both officer and enlisted, were filled, but there were a large number of positions to be filled with new inputs. I and many others being those inputs.

I think a couple of significant things about my brief time at Fort Ord. The regiment to which I was assigned had a sergeant in charge of their communications activities, the regimental communications, who had grown up in that business, and he really knew it. So here is this young second lieutenant coming in to be regimental communications officer, and I'm sure that sergeant realized he had a heck of a lot to teach me. So he was very busily instructing me in all the things I was going to need to know. We were confined to the post at Fort Ord because of the preparations for boarding the ships being soon, but I got a pass one evening.

My wife was living, staying in a hotel downtown in Monterey, and so on this pass, we went some place, got something to eat, and we were walking along the street back to her hotel. I passed a Western Union office and I said, "Let's go in, I want to send a telegram." So I addressed a telegram to the Chief of the Air Corps, United States Army, the Pentagon, Washington. You may remember that ten-word telegrams, that was the price package, ten words. I don't remember the exact text of it but it said that I'd applied for a transfer to the Air Corps and if they wanted me in the Air Corps they'd better be moving fast, something like that. Or that I'd applied, hadn't heard; if I was going to make that transfer it had to be soon. Something to that effect. And I signed it and gave the proper military address. Some day I'm going to find the archives of the Pentagon and find that telegram. Well, so I sent that telegram on this evening we were walking the street. It wasn't probably more than a couple of days later that the regimental communications section that I was in charge of was out on a field exercise in the forest there around Fort Ord. Again, as I say, the sergeants were teaching me things I needed to know, when a courier came up and handed me an official dispatch. I didn't know whether this was part of our training exercise or what. But it was an official Army telegram or teletype transferring me to pre-pilot school at Santa Ana, California, and transferring me from the infantry to the Air Corps. So I suppose that telegram I sent from Monterey had some effect.

COLLINS: Kind of a brash act for a new second lieutenant, wasn't it?

PHILLIPS: Well, of course. Of course it was, and probably in some different circumstances it would have been dealt with in some different way. So immediately, as I say, I was transferred by that telegraph form of order. There was then an Army preflight school at Santa Ana, which is down the coast here, and I remember when we got down here and I checked in at Santa Ana for this preflight training. My wife and I got a room over on Balboa Island, which is down somewhere in the Newport Beach, Santa Ana area. To just very briefly outline that, a few weeks there at Santa Ana in preflight and I was transferred to primary flying school at Tularie, California, up in the San Joaquin Valley, which was a contract flying school. In those war years many of the flying schools were operated on contract by civilian companies, with the Army Air Corps providing a cadre of management and check pilot kind of activities.

COLLINS: You were transferred there because you already had a certain proficiency in flying, or that was the normal pattern?

PHILLIPS: That was the normal pattern. The thing that I had had the opportunity to do was to go through flying school in grade as a lieutenant, as opposed to the majority of the class, which were flying cadets who had qualified by other means to be entered as flying cadets. And because I had a large number of flying hours by then, my progress through the Army flying school was very rapid. I was permitted really to elaborate a lot on my knowledge and skills rather than to follow--I had to go through their curriculum of flying, but I had essentially been through most of that, at least for the early parts of flying school. As I remember the primary flying school at Tularie was three months in duration. I was transferred from there to LeMoore Army Air Base for basic flying school, which was another three months, and from there to Williams Air Force Base. What did they call it then? Williams Field, which was an Army Air Corps field near Phoenix, Arizona, for advanced flying school.

COLLINS: Was this a typical progression for a pilot?

PHILLIPS: Yes. In 1942-43 that was standard: primary, basic, advanced. And the advanced flying schools had been categorized in certain respects. Williams was a twin-engine training school, or multi-engine but twin primarily. Other flying schools like Luke, also near Phoenix, were single-engine schools. Williams as I say was twin-engine, and that sort of ordained that the graduates were going to go into bombers or transport but primarily bombers.

For some reason I'd acquired quite an interest in being a fighter pilot by then. Well, Williams also, as part of their equipment, had a version of the P-38. It was called the P-322, and as I understand it, those P-322s had been built for transfer to England under Lend-Lease, before we got into the war. They were the same as the P-38s that were being built for the Army Air Corps except they didn't have turbo superchargers, so they were not supercharged engines. For some reason they weren't transferred to England, and they'd been assigned to Williams as advanced trainers. And so I got an opportunity then to do quite a bit of flying in the P-322, and I was doing everything I could to be assigned as a fighter pilot.

I guess luck broke again, because I was transferred from Williams with my Army Air Corps pilot's wings to Muroc Army Air Base, which is now Edwards, for--what did they call it--OTU, Operational Training Unit. So that was to get operational training in the P-38. And after a very short period there at Muroc, I was transferred to Van Nuys, California, where the 364th Fighter Group was being organized. It was a brand new group that was being just put together from nothing. And so I was one of the first pilots assigned to the 384th Squadron of the 364th Fighter Group. After a few weeks of flying out of Van Nuys, my squadron was sent to Ontario, to what is today Ontario International, but it was a pretty crude airfield in those days.

COLLINS: Ontario, California?

PHILLIPS: Ontario, California, yes, which is today a major international airport. So we trained for about three months in the summer of 1943, with our squadron flying out of Ontario. We were doing all kinds of training missions, spending a lot of time on the ranges up at Edwards Dry Lake. They had various targets up there for ground attack training. We did a lot of aerial combat training off the coast along here, off Los Angeles, with towed targets and aerial gunnery and dogfighting training. Some of the fun missions I remember were flying at night as targets for the army antiaircraft here protecting the Los Angeles area. Our job was to train them in the use of their searchlights. On a dark night, you know, we'd be way up above Los Angeles, and the object was for the antiaircraft gunners to get their lights on us. So it was always great sport for us to stay out of their light beams, and them to try to catch us.

COLLINS: What was the typical armament on a P-38?

PHILLIPS: A P-38 had a 20-millimeter cannon in the center of the nose and 450-calibre machine guns around it in the nose. So all of its armament was in that big nose section. There was a good set of armament, all concentrated, and it would punch a good hole in what you were shooting at. We were able to do very concentrated training here for a period of I guess about three months, flying out of Ontario.

Our group was then reassembled up at Santa Maria, California, and put on a train and taken across the country, where we got on the Queen Elizabeth, which was a troop transport in those years. The Queen Elizabeth took us across the Atlantic to Liverpool. Our whole group was on that one ship. So our group fairly rapidly then found ourselves based at a Royal Air Force Base [RAF] that the U.S. Army Air Corps had taken over at Honnington, near Bury-St. Edmonds in East Anglia, north of London in England. We were part of the 8th Air Force, and one of the very first long-range fighter groups in the European theater. The P-38 was the first of the long-range escort airplanes.

COLLINS: What was its range?

PHILLIPS: The longest mission I ever flew in a P-38 was over seven hours.

COLLINS: That was with no stop for refueling.

PHILLIPS: Oh yes, sure, unrefueled. I'd have to do some checking to tell you the miles. I've just forgotten. The longest missions we ever flew in distance were from England over to near the Polish border between Germany and Poland, and return to England. I'd have to look at a map to translate that to miles.

COLLINS: What was your wife doing at this period? Where did she end up while you were going from school to school and then overseas?

PHILLIPS: She was with me up until I went overseas, is the quick answer. It wasn't an easy life but I think as both of us look back on it, it wasn't all that bad either. We got married at Fort Benning. I mentioned that we drove across the country. Somehow I managed to scrape up enough dollars to buy a beatup old Ford coupe from an officer in my class whose orders were to somewhere where he didn't need a car. Since I was being transferred across the country, I could use a car, so I scraped up a few dollars and bought his car. So we drove that 1936 Ford coupe. While I was confined to the post at Fort Ord, she lived in a very inexpensive hotel room somewhere in Monterey. When I got orders to Santa Ana, we gleefully drove to Santa Ana and found a place that we could afford to rent on Balboa Island, and from there to Tularie. We lived in a rented room somewhere there in Tularie. We had a rented room while I was in that flying school. Same thing over in LeMoore, California. Same thing at Williams Air Force Base near Williams Field in Arizona.

Our first, our oldest daughter was born in July of '43. So my wife went to stay with an aunt who lived in San Pedro, and our oldest daughter then was born in the hospital in San Pedro, California. I was still at Williams when she was born. And I guess that child was about six weeks old when I got orders to Muroc Army Air Base for the operational unit training. We had to rent a motel room in Mojave, California, Dwights Motel, I remember. I guess initially we found a place we could rent which was a house trailer. I remember coming home, coming late in the evening from Muroc one day--I wasn't there very long--and finding both of them crying. A six-weeks-old child and a, what, 22 year- old-bride. So life was kind of tough.

From there to Van Nuys, where we also stayed in a motel, but when we went to Ontario we managed to rent a house in Upland, California. We were there about three months in this little rented house. And it was really from there that I went overseas. So my wife and daughter went to Sonora, California, which is up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The reason that she went up there was that earlier on, when she was in college some years before, she had come to know that part of California living with her mother. So, having no better place to go, she went to Sonora and managed to find a small apartment. So she and our oldest daughter spent the years while I was overseas there in Sonora.

And I might add briefly that when the war ended I was still there at Honnington as a fighter pilot. As May, which was the victory in Europe, and then August, the victory in Japan, passed, I was the only officer left in our group that had a regular commission. I've already mentioned the source of that regular commission. And at that time the urgency of getting people home, you know, the millions of men who were all over Europe, there was just a big crush for everybody to get home. Anybody who was still there who had a regular commission couldn't go home. So I was transferred from England over to Frankfurt to the theater headquarters, which was then commanded by [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower, as the beginnings of the Army of Occupation in Germany, this being in the summer of 1945. Very early on there were efforts to get families over for those who were going to be assigned there in the Army of Occupation. And so my wife and oldest daughter were on the first ship that brought dependents over, this being in the spring of 1946. So we lived in what I guess you'd call a townhouse in one little section of Frankfurt that was still standing. That's a long answer to your question, what did my wife do while I was moving around.

COLLINS: I'm sure there were many things, but in relation to our future discussion, what was important about your experiences as a pilot during the war?

PHILLIPS: If I wanted to give you a flip answer, it would be "surviving," I guess. But it was more than that. There were several things that I think had profound effects on me, the majority of which I think would in one way or another relate to technology. The very early days of radar. See, the only communications equipment we had in our fighters was a four- channel VHF set. It had four preset channels and SCR-522 was its nomenclature. It had four preset VHF channels. These would have been in the hundred-plus megacycle range. And I can remember, as we were crossing the Channel or the North Sea and approaching the coast of Belgium or France or Holland, occupied by Germany, hearing these buzzing sounds on the radio. Now those were some of the early versions of radar, putting out large amounts of energy to get reflected waves back. German radar. I didn't know that at the time but later on it was identified as such.

Our early missions were largely bomber escort, escorting bombers. The antiaircraft fire was really murderous, especially for the bomber. And I mention that because very, very late in the war, proximity fuses came on the scene. Incidentally, I did a paper when I was at the Air Force Command and Staff School at Maxwell, in postwar years, about proximity fuses and what would have happened to the Army Air Corps had they been developed earlier. But my memories of the antiaircraft fire, the German 88-millimeter antiaircraft used against the bomber, was a murderous effect. You know, these bombers just had to fly straight and level in their long, almost endless, string of bombers going in on a target, and the German antiaircraft would put up what I used to call--or I guess it was officially called-- a box of flak, you know. They'd just keep that box full as the bombers flew through it and it was really devastating. And as I said, my own belief, which occurred later of course, that if the proximity fuse had been developed and available to Germany, that antiaircraft fire would have been much more devastating, as bad as it was. I'm sure you're aware that in many of those raids, the U.S. would mount 1000 bombers, and it was not uncommon for 50 or more to be shot down on one of those missions.

Just a few brief points about radar, which is what I was really talking about. I can remember when one airplane in each of our squadrons was equipped with some very secret device, which couldn't be talked about, except as pilots we were told when to turn it on and when to turn it off, and under what conditions we could be instructed by the ground to either turn it on or turn it off. I remember it was called the Rosebud, and that was the code name for it, and it was a transponder device being used for early ground radar identification and tracking.


COLLINS: We were just talking about some of your introductory knowledge gained during the war. Proximity fuses.

PHILLIPS: Yes. Well, I was talking about some of the influences on me that occurred during the war, many of which are related to technology and its application, although I wouldn't necessarily have categorized it that way at the time. The beginnings of guided missiles. There was a program in the Army Air Corps that went under the name, as I remember it, of Weary Willie, which was to convert war-weary B-17s to being flown as drones. Those airplanes were equipped with radio control, these being relatively simple radio control transmitters and receivers, hooked through servomechanisms to the autopilots of that era. The B-17 so converted was loaded with, my memory says, 20,000 pounds of very, very high explosive. It was called Torpex, which was a very potent TNT explosive. The airplanes were fused in a variety of ways so that they would explode that big charge under impact, and there were other devices on the airplane to cause the explosion besides just impact fusing. The technique was for a pilot to take the airplane off and set it on course, and to transfer control to the accompanying airplane, which was going to fly it by radio to its target. The pilot would then jump out with a parachute, and the drone would be flown on to its target then by an accompanying director airplane.

COLLINS: Now did this happen towards the end of the war or after the war?

PHILLIPS: This was during World War II. I don't remember exactly when they were introduced, but my introduction to them was, my squadron was assigned to escort more than one of these missions. We were, as P-38s, to escort. One mission I remember in particular. We were at a rendezvous with, as I recall it was a pair of drones, with an accompanying pair of directors each controlling a drone, so there were four B-17s. Their mission was to fly at very low level just off the surface of the North Sea. We rendezvoused with them somewhere on the coast of England, and their target was submarine pens on an island up in--it was called Hellova Land. I might have to look at a map to remind myself exactly where it was, but it was somewhere up in the Denmark, Norway, Sweden area, way up there, I think in the Baltic. And the terminal guidance system on those drones was something I'd never even heard of at that time, by then, was television. They had a television camera in the nose of the drone transmitting its picture back to the director, and the director, for its terminal dive on the target, would keep the television image of his target right in that screen until he flew it right into the target. I well remember, first of all, the length of that mission. It was more than seven hours up there and back, escorting these. But I also remember when they flew those drones in. Their target was the entrance to this underground submarine pen installation which was in some rocky area, and they flew those drones right into the doors of that pen, and there was just a tremendous explosion as a result. I never did see the post-attack reports, but it had to have accomplished its objective of devastating that submarine base.

COLLINS: That kind of attack and direct placement of explosives on a target would have been difficult with a typical bombing mission, I assume.

PHILLIPS: Virtually impossible. It would have been, I think, impossible to have penetrated into an underground submarine installation in any other way that I knew of at that time. Well, that was my first direct exposure to guided missiles. Now I think probably history would say that these B-17 drones had their origins as a counter to the V-1. By then the V-1, the German buzz bomb, was being used, and my exposure to B-1s or buzz bombs was I guess in two or three different ways. One is that one of the tracks that those buzz bombs flew was over our base. They had to have been launched from somewhere in Belgium or Holland to come over because we were north of London, and in the main these buzz bombs were headed for London. On more than one occasion at night we'd have an air raid siren, which was very unusual up until buzz bombs, for our base to have an air raid alarm. We'd go outside and be near the bomb shelters that were underground. You'd listen to these things, and if the engine ever quit, why, you wanted to get downstairs in that bomb shelter, because the way they worked was, when the engine quit it dived and exploded. So that was one exposure to those. Another exposure was on infrequent leave passes for a visit to London, with London being the target. I was never close to where one hit but there were a lot of them that hit in London.

The way the missions were divided between the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Corps in those days, the Royal Air Force had the air defense mission so their job was to do whatever airplanes could do to defend against V-1s. And I remember the RAF used their Hurricane fighter. Their defense against those was to fly up, fly formation with it, get alongside it and tip it, get a wing under it and tip it, which would spill its autopilot, and it would spin in and crash in the ocean. The option of shooting at it was dangerous because if it exploded it would be dangerous to the fighter. Of course they were also intercepted as they came across the coastline by the British antiaircraft guns.

Now the launching ramps that were being built in large numbers along the North Sea and Channel areas were very long launching rails. It was apparent what they were once you got a good picture of them, and for reasons that are probably obvious, whenever there was a bombing mission set up against one of those launching areas, it was called a No-Ball Target. I guess the reason is fairly obvious, with this very long launching rail as the target. Well, at that period of the war those launching ramps were fairly commonly set as targets for sizeable bombing raids, to try to suppress them. And I think, although I wasn't involved, but something I've picked up since, I believe that the origin of the B-17 drones was to attack those V-1 launch ramps. And then they were used for other purposes, like for example the submarine pen attack that I've described.

Now another exposure to early days of guided missiles was the German V-2. And my exposure to that, besides what limited publicity it received were the intelligence reports that were available to us in our fighter squadron, plus infrequent visits to London when those unannounced explosions would do pretty considerable damage in populated areas. Of course, since, I've learned an awful lot more about V-2s and its history.

Now another category of technology was observing as we were escorting bombers, observing airplanes that virtually flew vertically. This was the ME-163--that number is somewhere close- which were the vertical piloted rockets that were launched from the ground to fly up through a bomber formation and be able to make a firing attack as it went through on the way up. Then as its propulsion ran out and it was gliding down, then they'd be able to make another attack on the way down. I observed probably two or three events as we were escorting bombers where this was being used. So there's another sort of category of technology.

Another one that I was more directly involved in was the introduction of jet airplanes. The Luftwaffe had been virtually obliterated by a combination of U.S. and British attacks, so for some period our missions of escorting bombers, our orders usually were to accompany the bombers to a certain point, and if there was not any fighter action, for a significant part of our fighter force then to be assigned to go down and attack ground targets. So there was quite a long period of time in which the Luftwaffe was incapable.

I don't remember exactly but it must have been in the spring or early part of 1945 when reports started to come up of again, German fighter attacks. It was the introduction of the ME-262. What the Luftwaffe had done was to identify sections of the Autobahn, generally down in the southern part of Germany, in Bavaria and down towards Munich, and they'd carved out areas in the forest along the Autobahn where they built revetments and parking places for the airplanes. They would use the Autobahn then to take off and to land. The ME-262 was equipped, I think, with either four or six 30-mm cannon, and they were located in the wings, and so it had considerable firepower. It also had a lot more speed than our airplanes. By then my group had converted to P-51s, from P-38s, so we were flying P-51s at that time. We were, as other fighter groups were assigned, when the ME-262s appeared, again to bomber escort and particularly to try to deal with the ME-262s.

Fairly quickly after the appearance of the ME-262, our Air Force's counter was a fuel additive. The fuel that we'd been using was 100 octane, and I remember the maximum power setting, military power in the P-51 was 3000 RPM and 65 inches of manifold pressure. I've forgotten exactly what it gave but that's somewhere in the ballpark I guess of 2000 horsepower on that engine. At full military power the P-51--I'd have to go back and check to get numbers--but at low altitude the air speed had to have been somewhere getting up around 300 miles an hour, but it was still well short of what the ME-262 could do. So with the fuel additive that was provided at our bases fairly quickly, we could go up to 85 inches of manifold pressure, and that increased the horsepower output of the engine by a lot. One of the penalties was that the engine had to be changed after each mission, because it would virtually burn up the engine to run it very long at those high powers. But the speed difference was not so great. The P-51 chasing an ME-262 couldn't catch it. In other words it was short of the 262 speed. But there was more than one ME-262 that were shot down by P-51s in that period. I don't know the statistics, but I guess I was impressed in retrospect with the speed with which fuel additives were provided, so the knowledge of how to do that had to be there. And with the performance increase that that provided. But it was still well short of the jet engine.

COLLINS: Did you feel confident as a pilot that you were going out there on nearly full footing with these ME-262s, or did you feel at a distinct disadvantage?

PHILLIPS: A distinct disadvantage in terms of speed. And therefore the feeling of disadvantage was, you know, how could you set yourself up to be able to catch the airplane? We had by then such an overwhelming numerical superiority that I think probably history would show that the ME-262 was little more than an irritant at that period when it was introduced, because we had such overwhelming superiority. So you know, once they were identified, how they were operating was identified, then again military mass could suppress them rather quickly. For some period they did some damage to bombers. They were able to make some missions where they did some damage. Here again, you know, if they had introduced them significantly earlier, the technological advantage would have been very considerable. Their advantage, not only in propulsion but in armament, with those 30-mm cannon. I saw an ME-262 at Bovington, right as the war was ending. I had the opportunity to go down to the Royal Air Force test base there at Bovington, by which time they'd captured an ME-262 intact. I got to look it over, and it was impressive, its armament as well as the engines, which, you know, that's the part I'd never heard of. I couldn't quite conceive even how they would work.

COLLINS: Was there a sense in yourself and among your colleagues that these various developments, the V-1, the V-2, the jet engines, were going to have a profound impact on military activity in the future?

PHILLIPS: Yes. Very, very definitely. I guess the reason that I've mentioned the incidents and the events that I observed or was involved in was just for that very reason.

COLLINS: In retrospect, it's obvious they were important, but I wonder at the time, if they were strongly felt as well?

PHILLIPS: To me, it had a strong effect. You know, the strong belief that had these developments occurred earlier, that the outcome of the war could have been substantially different. That had considerable influence on my desire to be involved in the development side of activities. I'm not saying it very succinctly, but the point is that it was clear to me that for the United States to maintain a state of military preparedness, that we had to put a lot of emphasis on technological development, really to catch up with what we were seeing coming out in Germany as the war was drawing to an end. And of course you recall that fairly rapidly after World War II ended, the tensions with Russia were increasing pretty early and pretty rapidly. Many events that were the beginnings of the tensions, the increasing tensions and the Cold War, made it apparent to me that for the United States to be able to maintain a military position vis-a-vis Russia, that we had to put a lot of stress on technology development. The general thought of the time, and to some extent I think it's still true, was the need for technological superiority to counter the numerical superiority that was available on the USSR side.

COLLINS: You mentioned earlier that at the end of the war you received another assignment. As a commissioned officer you weren't allowed to go back to the United States but were required to stay on. You were assigned to theater headquarters, General Eisenhower's staff. Were you involved to any extent in the effort to extract some of the knowledge that the Germans had acquired as part of the scientific and technological effort, in Fiat and some of these other enterprises that went on, to draw some of this information out?

PHILLIPS: No, I was not. If I had had the perception and the perspective that I had a little later, I would have worked hard to try to find an opportunity to be involved. But no, I was not involved. As a matter of fact when I was assigned to the theater headquarters, I was assigned in G-1, which is personnel in the Army system, completely unrelated to any of my background, but I was assigned in G-1. That may have been because in that Army headquarters, the G-1 section was headed by an Army Air Corps major general; his name was Jim Bevins, on Eisenhower's staff. It may have been that I, as an Air Corps officer, was assigned to G-1 because the boss was an Air Corps person. It certainly wasn't because of any other reason. It was later, much later that I learned of the many efforts to acquire the German technology of that time. I wasn't even really aware of it in my period there in the Army of the Occupation.

COLLINS: You were located where?

PHILLIPS: At Frankfurt. Yes, the Theater Headquarters, United States Forces, European Theater. That headquarters was in Frankfurt, Germany. One of the staff sections was headed by General [Lucius] Clay, which was the beginnings of the military government portion of the Theater Headquarters. I was not directly involved in that, but that was part of the headquarters activity.

COLLINS: During the war time you progressed in rank up from first lieutenant through major towards the war's end. Did this result in increasing--I don't know what the proper word is-- command responsibility, oversight of a larger group of junior officers?

PHILLIPS: Yes. Yes. I went through flying school as a second lieutenant, and, as a matter of fact, I was still a second lieutenant when I was in the beginnings at least of the 364th Fighter Group. I've forgotten when I got promoted to first lieutenant, but I was a second lieutenant for quite a long time. As I got promoted to first lieutenant, to captain and to major, I moved up in responsibility from just being a pilot, fighter pilot, to being a flight commander. In our World War II squadrons a flight would have a dozen or so pilots, and typically we would fly with a flight of four airplanes, but we'd have a dozen or so pilots that were assigned to that flight.

In the latter part of the war I was a squadron commander, commanded the 384th Squadron, which would have, oh, 48 or 50 pilots, and a typical mission would fly 16 airplanes. As a squadron commander the responsibilities embraced not only the pilots and the flying aspects, but also the supporting aspects of the squadron: engineering, communications, supply, and all of the support that has to occur. Now up until you're in command, at least in those years, in command of a squadron, all that other stuff was just taken for granted, you know, the communications and the armaments and everything else. That just happened. But of course the support organization that makes it possible for a squadron of 16 fighter airplanes to fly an effective mission requires a lot of management, too.

COLLINS: That's what I was getting at, was when you began to gain experience in that area.

PHILLIPS: That was the latter part of World War II.


COLLINS: Resuming after a brief pause.

PHILLIPS: A couple of other subjects that I think are of some significance, that I think affected me during the war, have to do in some part at least with the importance of decentralization, or allowing initiative. After D-Day and the ground forces occupation progressively of continental Europe, although we, in the 8th Air Force, continued to have the long-range strategic missions, including us fighter pilots--in other words, our mission was not generally the close ground support which was the mission of the 9th Air Force. Nevertheless, as the ground armies advanced east across Europe, our squadrons were assigned alternate missions in the event that we would be required to move over to the Continent. The base that my squadron was assigned was a base that the ground army had just passed by, had just captured, near Castle in Germany. So very shortly after the Army had advanced beyond Castle, I took a couple of other pilots and we flew over there to look the place over so we could make some plans. If we were ordered to move over there, for whatever reason, we could do so effectively.

Among the needs that we had were navigation aids. And our group communications officer, a major, I remember his name was Pook, was really a very innovative person. As a result of a little conversation and seeing what the need was, he, with the small little technical group that he had there as communications people for the group, with their supporting maintenance shop, were able to convert a belly tank, a fairly large one. If I remember, the tanks on a P-51 were probably two and a half or so feet in diameter and maybe ten feet long, so they were fairly large, what, 250 gallons I guess comes to mind. So they did the work to split the tank and put on hinges and clasps and make it sufficiently strong and secure, and then to build into it the radio devices, including a collapsible directional antenna, which they could hang on the belly of a P-51. The job then was to get it over to this forward base, and to open it up and set it up. With that then the directional antenna was able to provide in a rudimentary form the same kind of navigation aid we had at our own base there in England, a directional DF system.

The lesson to me there was how innovative a small group of competent people can be. When there's a need, they can very quickly satisfy that need by creating something. You know, in a system that would provide less opportunity for innovation this sort of thing would never occur. To a large degree in a peacetime establishment, with the structure of discipline that exists, you don't find as much of that in a normal peacetime environment.

But that compels me also to mention, related again to technology, the navigation aids that we had as fighter pilots in World War II were virtually non-existent. I mentioned earlier that our airplanes, both the P-38s and then the P-51s, were equipped only with these four-channel VHF sets. They didn't have radio compasses or anything else. It was strictly those four- channel VHF sets. The weather in England on a large percentage of the occasions was pretty bad, and low clouds and low visibility were very common. The way we would get back to our base, coming back from these very long raids over in Europe, was, whenever we got within communication range, to start calling for DF bearings from our own control tower. With the short transmission and the directional antenna that were on the ground, they would give us a steer, which was the heading to fly toward that base.

When the weather was really very bad, and it was fairly frequently, the technique for getting down was to, as you got closer to the base, which you could tell by the loudness of the signal for one thing, as well as whatever dead reckoning you could do, was to call more frequently until you got a reverse bearing, which meant you'd passed the base. You usually wanted to confirm that quickly. But remembering that much of that part of England, East Anglia, is relatively flat, the technique once we got a reverse bearing was to make some estimate of how far out you'd gone from the base, and usually to turn back and get a steer toward the base, and then start down through the clouds. It was not uncommon to break out with only a few feet to the ground and fairly poor visibility, and relying on those DF steers to guide you to the base. The final navigation aid was, start calling for flares. So they had a mortar out in the middle of the field and airmen or soldiers out there who would fire off these flares, and each base had its own color. I've forgotten what color ours had, but other bases had different colors.

COLLINS: To make sure you had landed at the right base.

PHILLIPS: Yes. But now that, believe me, was our navigation aid. Now somewhere in the latter part of the war, low frequency radio compasses came into being. We never got them. I think a lot of bombers had them. But another thing I just have to mention has to do with air traffic control. A typical raid out of England went on for months and months and months. It was a thousand bombers escorted by a thousand fighters, and those thousand bombers would be flying off of their number of bases around East Anglia and forming up their lines, usually above the clouds. These thousand fighters were all taking off from our bases, and later in the day they were all coming back. And when the weather was bad, we were all getting down through the clouds on our own. Now the frequency of collision had to have been very, very low. I don't remember any of our airplanes being lost in our squadron or our group to collision during all this. I've wondered many times since about all of that. There was surely some intelligent planning done by the 8th Air Force in issuing all their orders every morning, in terms of the general areas and tracks that these different squadrons would use. But still in all I think about that little island, relatively, and 2000 airplanes going up and down through those clouds, and the number of collisions being so small.

COLLINS: Were you conscious of, or do you recall desiring at the time, some improved methods for getting up and down?

PHILLIPS: In a word, yes. But it was not born of fear. I don't recall having any sense of great apprehension and fear, and as a matter of fact there really wasn't much else that was known or available. So it wasn't that we didn't have something that was well-known and available, and we just didn't have it. In the main my own awareness was that it didn't exist. I mention all that for its own reasons but for another reason.

In the latter part of 1944, I began to have some resurgence of technical interest and started to in the off-duty time from flying our missions, try to do some inventing, if you will. The base that we were located on was called Honnington. It had been a permanent RAF base before the war, before the U.S. Air Force took it over, and our squadron, our fighter group, was one of the main activities on the base and the only real flying activity. But also on that base was a fairly large depot of the Army Air Corps. It was a B-17 overhaul depot, and our group really had not much to do with it.


PHILLIPS: We were talking about the base, Honnington, and the tenant on that base being a B-17 overhaul depot, which was very, very well-equipped with machine shops and very fine facilities for depot maintenance on B-17s. So in some of my off-duty time I started to prowl around that depot, which kind of re-energized some of my interests in engineering and technical matters. I've forgotten now just what my technical sources were in the way of documents or manuals. I just don't remember what they were. But I'd learned enough about radar and the existence of cathode-ray tubes and found out basically how they worked, I guess largely by prowling around that depot and being so aware of the primitive navigation systems that we had, that I conceived a system of transmitting on about 400 megacycles in which a ground station with a directional antenna was sweeping a narrow energy beam at a fixed rate and transmitting in a particular direction a reference pulse. With the concept involving two of these ground stations, say, one in the northern part of England on the coast and one in the southern part, for the purpose of providing navigation on the European continent, with the energy sweeps of these two stations on slightly different frequencies, transmitting in a way that a receiving point, being in an airplane, would be triggered off these reference pulses in terms of time synchronization. And would then be able to plot on a cathode-ray tube on which a map grid was imposed, the intersection of these two signals, which would then be the point where the airplanes that were receiving these signals were. So with a little bit of design and some voluntary cooperation from some people in that depot, I built-- and somewhere out in one of these boxes I haven't opened in years, some of this hardware exists--I created a device to provide the sweep on this cathode-ray tube, using magnets that were rotated mechanically around the tube to both create the beam and to sweep it. I also built there with that depot help a highly directional antenna, what's called the IAGI design, which is typical of beam antennas, you know, with the directors and reflectors. I've still got parts of that back here in a box somewhere.

Well, I mention that incident partly because we're talking about some of my history, but it was motivated I guess by interest and my educational background, but also by such an obvious need, that we had such an urgent need for navigation aids. I reached the point of creating some engineering models of these pieces and of at least trying out the basic concept there on our base. Then of course the war ended, and I managed to keep a few pieces of it to play with later. But later navigation systems that were developed out of Wright Field really perfected that same kind of sweep and synchronization technique later on. I didn't have anything to do with them.

COLLINS: This is a hypothetical question. If the war had continued for a while longer, how would you, located at a base that was primarily responsible for providing support for bombing missions, have moved a device like this, a piece of hardware that would have aided the navigation capabilities of the squadron, into the attention of the Air Force? How would that have happened? How would you have been able to bring this to someone's attention and perhaps implement it?

PHILLIPS: Oh, I think that that could and would have occurred in the structure that existed, if it had occurred enough earlier to make it worthwhile. I guess the thing I visualized is that the interest of my superiors on that base, in the earlier years my squadron commander and the group commander, who themselves were daily flying missions and knew all of these needs, if I had presented to them an idea and enough convincing discussion, I'm sure they would have had me on the way quickly to what I learned later was the RAF experimental base called Bovington. I learned, as the war was ending, that the U.S. Army Air Corps had a contingent that was working there with the Royal Air Force in their experimental and development activities, which is where, as I told you, I saw the ME-262. And it's where Kelsey, Ben Kelsey, brought one of the first P-80s that was a very early version of the P-80 over right at the end of World War II, what I think of as the first really practical U.S. jet. Off the subject, I am convinced that I would have been rapidly sent to Bovington, and that the people who existed there with their connections to Wright Field would have very quickly had me involved. I'm just convinced it would have worked that way.

COLLINS: Okay. This goes back to your earlier statement that this was a fertile environment for people who wanted to take initiative and tackle some problems.


COLLINS: Unless you want to add anything further about your wartime experience, why don't we call it a session?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think we've rambled over a variety of subjects which maybe is enough for today.

COLLINS: Okay. Thanks.

Phillips 2 || Table of Contents

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem