Gen. George S. Patton Helps "Repair" a Tank
One afternoon in early 1945, as his glorious Third Army was driving across the Rhineland under rainy skies, Gen. George S. Patton spotted a number of troops gathered around a tank parked a rod or so off the road. Driving up in his jeep, Patton jumped out, and asked what was up. He was told that the men were trying to repair the tank, which was suffering from some malfunction. At that, the general – natty uniform and all – promptly crawled beneath the vehicle to join the two surprised mechanics who were actually working on the problem. After nearly a half hour under the tank, Patton crawled out, his normally splendid uniform torn and covered with mud and grease. Climbing back into his jeep, Patton ordered his driver to press on.
As they drove off, the general’s driver asked “What was wrong, General?”
To this, Patton replied, “I don’t know, but I’m sure that the word will spread throughout the division that I was on my belly in the mud repairing a tank.”
"Plop plop, fizz fizz"
The history of warfare has often been a sort-of Darwinian struggle in which each side seeks a technological advantage over the other. This, of course, leads to the side that finds itself on the receiving end of the innovation seeking its own counter to the new technology.
During the Second World War, the increasing sophistication of Allied sonar technology led the German Kriegsmarine to experiment with a number of acoustic countermeasures. One of the most innovative of these was officially designated the Kobold, "deceiving spirit," the name of a type of goblin in German folklore. Introduced in 1943, the Kobold was a capsule about 15-cm – c. 6 inches – in diameter, filled with 370 grams of a calcium-zinc preparation. If a submarine was being hunted by sonar, one of these capsules – nicknamed the “Bold” by the u-boat men – could be expelled from the boat through a special ejector built into the stern, which the irreverent submariners quickly nicknamed the “Pillenwerfer - pill-thrower.” The calcium-zinc compound was packed in a wire mesh bag, which was in turn inserted inside a waterproof aluminum canister. The canister was provided with a hydrostatic valve that permitted seawater to enter at a controlled rate. When the seawater reached the calcium-zinc compound, the resulting reaction produced hydrogen gas, which would generate noisy bubbles for about 25 minutes. To sonar, the acoustic signature of the bubbles resembled the echo produced by a submarine, or, depending upon acoustic conditions, the sound made by a torpedo.
The Kobold worked moderately well, provided the pursuing units weren’t detecting both the submarine and the bubbles simultaneously. In time, Allied sonarmen learned that the bubbles did not cause a Doppler shift, and thus trained operators were unlikely to be fooled by it.