Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wilbert Smith in Perspective - Part I (the Defence Research Board)

We've seen where Wilbert Smith fit into the scheme of things in the Department of Transport -see, which certainly provides some proper perspective.

It is also important to place Smith's "relationship" with the Canadian Defence Research Board (DRB) into proper perspective as well. This requires an understanding of what the DRB was, and what it did.

The following comes from the Report of the Department of National Defence (for the Fiscal Year ending 31 March 1951):

First, a description of the purpose and activities of the DRB, which was created in 1947:

"The task of the Defence Research Board is to ensure that the scientific resources of Canada and other countries are used to the fullest possible extent in meeting Canada's defence needs. From the first, the Board has recognized that to embark upon a programme of research designed to meet all of the scientific requirements of the armed forces would require scientific resources beyond Canada's capacity. For this reason the decision was made that Canada should concentrate its effort into a relatively small number of fields of research for which we either have unique facilities or special requirements. In this way Canadian defence scientists can be sure of doing first class work which will be of genuine value to our larger partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and acceptable to them as an exchange for the research information they make available to Canada...

The expansion of the armed services and the initiation of a large scale programme of defence production in 1950 was reflected in the increasing tempo of the defence research and development programme. In particular, additional emphasis was placed on development projects which gave promise of being ready for production in the near future." [Emphasis added]

What were the areas of research in which the DRB was engaged?

1. Naval research;
2. Armament research;
3. Telecommunications research;
4. Special Weapons research;
5. Arctic research;
6. Medical research;
7. Operational research; and
8. Aeronautical research.

It was intended, as the report makes clear, that these research efforts would produce practical results that would be of use to the Canadian military and our NATO allies, utilizing Canada's expertise in certain fields in which it had "unique facilities or special requirements." For example, below is a picture of an arctic survival suit that was developed by DRB scientists (the Arctic definitely being one of those areas in which Canada has "unique facilities and special requirements")

As noted above, another of the Establishments within the DRB was concerned with "telecommunications." This is of interest because telecommunications was the area, broadly speaking, in which Smith worked. However, the work of the DRB's telecommunications Establishment was not concerned with flying saucers. Rather, its primary area of concern involved the study of radio propagation in the North. As the Report noted:

"Effort has been concentrated in this field because the auroral belt crosses central Canada and in this belt radio propagation conditions are very different from those in other parts of the world. The study of radio propagation in the auroral belt is therefore of special concern to Canada and we cannot leave it to other countries since none but Russia is in a position to make the observations that can be made in Canada. A thorough knowledge of radio propagation conditions in the North is an absolute essential to conducting even the simplest operations of war there, since the armed forces are more and more coming to depend on radio waves for the transmission of information, for the operation of navigational aids, and in the form of radar, as a means of detecting the enemy." [Emphasis added]

This research was of crucial importance. It was conducted by the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE, created in February 1951 when the Radio Physics Laboratory and the Defence Research Electronics Laboratory were combined; prior to that the work had been conducted by the RPL), which was located in Ottawa, using a network of ionospheric research stations which were operated by the Department of Transport and which stretched across Canada and into the Arctic.

While Smith would have been aware of this work, he was not involved in any significant way. There are two reasons for this. First, the DRTE had a number of their own experts that they could call upon to conduct the work more qualified than Smith. Second, Smith worked in the radio regulations section of the Telecommunications Division of the Department of Transport, which had nothing to do with the work being done by the DRB. This is evidenced by the description of the work done by Smith's section:

"The activities of the Telecommunications Division [of the Department of Transport] may be summarized as follows: -
(1) The administration of national and international radio laws and regulations and of regional agreements: -
(a) The Radio Act, 1938, and Regulations made thereunder; the International Telecommunication Convention and the Radio Regulations Annexed thereto; the Inter-American Radiocommunications Convention; the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement; and those articles of the International Civil Aviation Convention applicable to aeronautical radio requirements. Among the administrative functions involved in the enforcement of the foregoing are - (i) Issuance of radio licenses of all classes except ships. (ii) Enforcement of regulations. (iii) Inspection of radio stations of all classes except ships. (iv) Type certification of aircraft radio equipment. (v) Examination of operators for certificates of Proficiency in Radio. (vi) Allocation of frequencies. (vii) Measurement of frequencies and monitoring of stations. (viii) Collection of revenue. (ix) Preparation and rendering of accounts for domestic and international shipping.
(b) The Canada Shipping Act, 1934, and Radio Regulations for Ship Stations issued thereunder and that part of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea applicable to radio requirements for ships involving: - (i) Issuance of radio licenses for ship stations. (ii) Survey and inspection of radio installations aboard ships of all nationalities.
(c) North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement, 1950, involving the examination of technical submissions and proofs of performance for conformity to above agreements, of new or modified broadcasting stations.
(d) The Canadian Broadcasting Act, 1936, and Regulations made thereunder involving the investigation and suppression of inductive interference to radio reception.

G. C. Browne, the Controller of Telecommunications for the Department of Transport, described the work of Smith's section more succinctly in his testimony before the Special Committee on Broadcasting on 17 May, 1954. He stated that "[it] is responsible for the administration of the Radio Act which covers licensing of all classes of broadcast stations, sound, television, as well as numerous other classes of stations." This was its primary function at that time, which is not surprising, given the rapid developments in commercial radio and television.

That Smith's work was regulatory and oriented towards the commerical sector is demonstrated by the following exchange during his testimony before the Special Committee on Broadcasting on 17 May, 1954.

"Hon. Donald M. Flemming: Have you had any indications over the past two years of any modifications in that single service coverage policy or are you applying that policy in precisely the same way now as you were before two years ago?

Smith: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Flemming, I can only say this: that we have had a number of enquiries from applicants as to how they might render a better service and still comply with the policy, but so far we have actually applied the policy, to the best of my information, precisely as it was laid down and as we have been doing over the last two years.

Flemming: That policy is directed to keep a signal out of any area now served by a station?

Smith: No, sir. That is not my interpretation of it. My interpretation is that you take the available power that can be put into a station and make it cover as wide an area as possible that does not already receive primary coverage.

Flemming: Quite, but I am going a step further, perhaps, with the effect of that policy. In applying the policy, do you attempt to keep a second signal out of an area which is now served by a signal?

Smith: We try to keep the grade A contour of the proposed new station, or a new application, from overlapping the grade A contour of an existing service and that means only a single primary service within the grade A contour of any station would be provided in any one area."

Important work, to be sure, but it was hardly cutting-edge military research. It was regulatory work, not scientific - Smith was a bureaucrat, not a scientist. It was also work that kept Smith very busy - hence the "part-time" nature of Project Magnet, and the "spare-time" nature of Shirley's Bay. Even with reference to item (d), above, "investigating and suppressing inductive interference to radio reception," Smith's testimony before the Special Committee in 1954 makes it clear that his work in this regard was regulatory in nature, and was targeted at commercial broadcasters. Indeed - when Smith had his infamous meeting with Dr. Robert Sarbacher in 1950, he was in Washington for the express purpose of attending the North American Regional Broadcasting Conference (which, by his own admission, he skipped out on to inquire about flying saucers, and then meet Sarbacher), where the topic of radio propagation was discussed, but specifically as it related to "broadcast allocation" - ie. commerical uses [Source: Department of Transport (Canada) Annual Report, 1950-51, p. 139].

The DRB work being done within the Department of Transport Telecommunications Division was conducted by the other section of the Division - "Construction, Maintenance and Operation of Radiocommunication Stations, and Radio Aids to Navigation," which was responsible for the Ionosphere Measurement Stations that the DRB was using.

Still, the title of Smith's "Top Secret" memo would have caught Solandt's attention, as geo-magnetics was undoubtedly a matter of interest for the DRB. According to A History of the Defence Research Board of Canada (Ottawa: Queen's Printer & Controller of Stationary, 1958), "Radio Communications in Canada are bedevilled by difficulties which are unique. The North Magnetic Pole lies wholly within Canadian territory; the North Geomagnetic Pole on the north-western edge of Greenland is closer to Canada than to any other nation, and the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, has an adverse effect on radio communications throughout most of the Dominion. Each of these phenomena exercises a definite influence on radio waves, tending to make communications irregular and results difficult to predict. The Radio Propagation Laboratory was interested in these problems from the very beginning." [Emphasis added]

However, while Smith's memo might have been of passing interest to Solandt, and to Smith's co-workers in the Department of Transport who were already working with the DRB, it would have been because of the geo-magnetics, which was the practical problem on which the DRB was working, and not the flying saucers (the memo was, after all, titled "geo-magnetics" - not "flying saucers"). Flying saucers were Smith's obsession - not the DRB's, or the Department of Transport's. Smith's Project Magnet was - at best - ancillary to the much more in depth work being conducted by the DRTE itself. Phycisists from the Radio Physics Laboratory were working out of the University of Saskatchewan from 1951 onwards on the ionospheric and geomagnetic problems related to auroral disturbances. The work was conducted by Dr. Raymond Montabetti and was organized by Dr. W. Petrie. Closely connected with this work were the ionospheric propagation studies mentioned above, run out of the various observer stations of the Department of Transport spread across Canada - under the direction of the DRB.
If Solandt and the DRB, or the Department of Transport, had been really serious about Smith's proposals as contained in his Smith's memo, they would have included his work as part of their own ongoing studies, and they would have funded it at appropriate levels.

Smith, however, as I have pointed out elsewhere (see, was at pains in his "Top Secret" memo to note that the monies required for Project Magnet would only amount to a few hundred dollars from existing Department of Transport appropriations (ie. no new monies).

From the DRB?

Nothing - despite the fact that the total expenditure by the DRB in 1950 was $23,415,330.99, and despite the fact that the Department of National Defence provided $2,376,316.85 in funds to the Department of Transport in the 1950-51 fiscal year, which represented 94% of the monies the Department of Transport received from other government departments or agencies.
Obviously, Dr. Solandt, the DRB, the DND and the Department of Transport had more important things (such as pre-existing research designed to secure the defence of the realm) to spend their money on than what ultimately turned into Wilbert Smith's part-time flying saucer research.

As I said, with Wilbert Smith, it's all about putting things in perspective.

To be continued...

Paul Kimball

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