JF Ptak Science Books
The hint for this WIT? is already given in the title to the exercise--that said, can you figure out exactly what is going on here? It is a lot more complicated than you'd think, but at least part of the answer is pretty much a given when looking at the patent drawings. The tricky part of the answer here is knowing how this thing would be so lethal.
Here's the drawing:
Answer below/scroll slow:
In my limited knowledge of the First World War I have been exposed to various ways in which trench warfare was conducted: there was the infantry charge with guns and bayonettes, snipers, artillery bombardment, aerial bombing and strafing, land torpedoes, tank assaults, underground/sapper bombings (in which mines are laid underneath the trenches via tunnels), and of course gas, among other things. What is displayed in this drawing is the heart of an idea of trench warfare different from all of those: electrifying the air in a trench to "incapacitate" soldiers. And by "incapacitate", according to my reading of the patent for this mode of warfare, I do think that it talks about electrocution. With my limited non-interwebtube sources, I haven't found any other references to this, so perhaps it was anomalous, or outside the parameters of allowable decency of warfare that included the use poison gas.
The work was by John J. Duffie, (US Patent 13029041), which was applied for in 1917 and granted May, 1919 (a yer before the end of the war and seven months afterwards, respectively). It was called "System of Trench Warfare", with the patent stating that "An object of the invention is to destroy or incapacitate that portion of the enemy occupying a trench" and "(a)nother object of the-invention is to provide a system for waging warfare by electricity".
Part of the system of active defense was to fire shells filled with mercury vapor at the trenches, so that the vapor would be suspended in the air for a brief time. The patent continues: "And so according to the patent, "The system of warfare of (the) invention consists in filling or charging the air over and in a trench or a section of trench with finely divided particles of an electricity-conducting substance and then causing a high potential electric current to flash through the conducting atmosphere in the trench. The conductive material may be mercury vapor or flake graphite or other substance which will remain in suspension in the air. This material is dispersed in trench from explosive shells provided either with time or impact fuses and by directing a barrage fire of such shells at the trench, the air will become very heavily charged with the conducting templates attached to opposite sides'of a source of high potential are then fired at the ends of the trench and by closing the circuit, the high potential current will are through the conducting material in the air, producing an are extending for the length of the trench section. The arc will have the effect of incapacitating the men in the trench."
War is war, and Mr, Duffie was trying to figure out a way of killing the enemy before the enemy could kill more of our own soldiers.
The following explains the elements of the patent drawings:
"Fig 1 is a plan view of a trench, with the electrodes forming part of my system disposed at the ends thereof."
"Fig.2 is an elevation partly section of charge 2. This charge may be exploded by a fuse or detonator controlled by the cap 5, so that the explosion of the charge may be timed or may be caused by impact. A sufficient number of shells are fired to completely fill the air in the trench with the conductive material, and then an electrode projectile 6 is fired at the trench at each end of the prepared zone or at suitable distances apart, depending upon the potential employed."
"The electrode projectile may be fired from a Lyle gun, such as is used in marine life saving work. Attached to the projectile is an electric conductor, preferably in the form of an insulated wire or cable 7, which is carried forward to the trench 8 by the projectile. The head 9 of the projectile is preferably formed of a plurality of. overlapping sheet metal leaves 12 covered on the outside with some insulating material and the cable 7 is connected to these leaves.- A small charge 13 of explosive within the head is exploded preferably by the impact of the projectile, causing the leaves to spread out, to present their clean surfaces to the charged air. A switch in the circuit is then closed, or is previously closed, causing the high potential current to bridge the highly-conductive gap in a flash. The cables and the outer surfaces of the electrode leaves are insulated to prevent grounding and the cables are arranged in coils 15, sot readily carried forward by the projectiles."
In closing the patent is described in ten different ways, including
(7) "An explosive shell containing a charge of material which on the explosion of the divided form in the air in shell forms an electricity-conducting zone in the surrounding air. 8. The method of trench warfare, which consists 'in making the. atmosphere in a trench electrically conductive and (passing a high potential current through a conductive atmosphere."
(10) "A system of trench Warfare, comprising a plurality'of explosive shells containing electricity-conductive material adapted to be exploded over the trench to charge the atmosphere therein with said material, electrodes adapted to be fired to spaced points I in said trench and a source of'high potential current connected to said electrodes."
Parts of this sound plausible, and some of it not so. In any event given limited availability to research this and keeping this post to the one-hour time limit for posts on this blog, I can't identify this as a real thing, and I'm pretty certain that it was not "deployed".
1, This comes via Google Patents, https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US1302904.pdf