the Good of the Service
Whatever else she might have been doing “behind the scenes” — and
regardless of whatever scorn her marital status may have generated
among Zanesville's gossips — being recently divorced did not keep
Josephine Brown from maintaining an active social life. Judging from
various accounts of her activities that appeared in the local society
pages, Josephine was involved in all manner of community activities
in and around Zanesville.
For example, in the fall
of 1938 “Mrs. Josephine Beale Brown” (the name she used after her
divorce) served on the Bethesda Hospital Junior Assembly Dance Committee;
by the following year, she was the chairman of the hospital’s Junior
League. In the spring of 1939, she was present at the announcement
of the elopement of her sister Sally with Clifford Prindle four months
earlier. In the fall of ’39 she served on a committee to organize
a benefit card party for the Junior League, and then served as chairman
of the League’s New Years Eve Ball.
In April of 1940, according
to the Zanesville newspaper, “a large contingent of prominent Zanesville
citizens attended the Jorg Fasting Annual Dance program in Columbus,
Ohio." Among the mentioned guests were Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Brown
and Mrs. Josephine Beale Brown, the Browns’ former daughter-in-law.
There was no mention of Mr. and Mrs. Brown’s son, or Josephine’s ex-husband,
* * *
About the time that Josephine
and her now-former-in-laws were in Columbus, what some Britons had
been calling “The Phoney War” — the quiet period that followed Nazi
Germany’s invasion and occupation of Poland — ended. On April 9th
1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway; Within weeks, the blitzkrieg
would consume much of Europe.
What few knew at the time
was that even before the “Phoney War” came to its end, the effort
that would eventually become known as the “Secret War” was already
well underway. Winston Churchill — who for years had been trying to
warn anybody who would listen about the inevitable threat of Nazi
Germany — was named First Lord of the Admiralty within days of the
occupation of Poland. Fortunately for Churchill, his position at the
top of the British high command placed him in charge of the Navy’s
considerable intelligence forces, which he immediately began to marshal
in anticipation of the coming conflict.
Less than a week after
taking the position of First Lord, Churchill started corresponding
directly with the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt.
The exchange of letters was both highly personal and highly political
— a unique, unprecedented exchange between the head of one state and
an individual of considerably lesser rank in another. The friendly-but-businesslike
tone of the correspondence no doubt drew on the two men’s common background
as Naval administrators (Roosevelt had been the Assistant Secretary
of the U.S. Navy during the Wilson administration; Churchill had served
as First Lord of the Admiralty during WW I). Though entirely secret
at the time, the correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt through
the fall and winter of 1939/40 laid the foundation for the Alliance
that would ultimately overpower the Nazis.
the end of April and beginning of May 1940, the renewed war was going
so badly that Chamberlain lost all support in Parliament. On May 10
— just hours before German forces launched another blitzkrieg strike
through the Low Countries and into France, Neville Chamberlain resigned.
Shortly thereafter, King George VI — himself only recently injected
into national and world affairs after the abdication of his brother,
Edward VIII — consulted with party leaders in Parliament. Following
their counsel, the King called on the one man he was confident could
establish a National Coalition Government: on May
10, 1940 Winston Churchill, became Prime Minister of
Among the first things
that Churchill did upon assuming the post was dispatch a certain William
S. Stephenson to the United States.
The official record says
Churchill dispatched Stephenson to the United States on June 21, 1940,
with instructions to establish the headquarters of an espionage network
far away from British shores, where it might survive in the event
England fell to a Nazi invasion. In the spring of 1940, Stevenson
established headquarters for just such an organization, to be called
Security Coordination’ or ‘BSC,’ in offices at Rockefeller
Center in New York City.
But the fact of the matter
is that Stephenson’s network was already well established on both
sides of the Atlantic. While “official” accounts will trace the formation
of BSC to the weeks immediately following Churchill’s occupancy of
#10 Downing Street, we know from the “unofficial” account of Townsend
Brown’s voyage aboard the yacht Caroline in 1933 that Stephenson’s
networks preceded the actual onset of the Second World War by at least
a half dozen years.
* * *
Lieutenant Townsend Brown
remained in the Navy through the first years of the war. Unfortunately,
a further examination of the official — i.e. highly redacted — Navy
files gives little indication of just what Brown was actually doing
during that time.
In a fitness report form
filed on June 10, 1940, Lieutenant Brown listed his occupation as
“Materials and processing engineer” for the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft
Co. in Baltimore MD, where his duties included being “…In charge of
inspection and testing of aircraft materials and construction, shop
processes and special research problems.” He also mentions conducting
a “special study of corrosion prevention” for the Navy’s flying boats.
the most important news Townsend Brown’s life was found not in the
Navy records, but, once again, in the Zanesville news, which reported
on September 24, 1940:
of Mrs. Josephine Beale Brown and Lt. Townsend Brown took place
Thursday, Sept. 19, in Alexandria, Va. The Rev. Mr. Ashby officiated,
and the couple will reside at 4447 Greenwich Parkway, Washington
Mrs. Brown has been district supervisor of the W. P. A. housekeeping
aid project of District No. 3. Mr. Brown is with the navy department
of the United States in Washington.
* * *
Another report covering the
period from October 1, 1940 - March 31, 1941 finds Brown engaged in
“Acoustic Mine Sweeping, development and design (1 month); Magnetic
Mine Sweeping, development and design, (5 months)” and lists his permanent
address at 4447 Greenwich Pkwy NW Wash DC.
The subject of minesweeping
is something that comes up in the short autobiography that Brown dictated
to Josephine many years later:
Some way was
needed to sweep mines from the Channel and this required exploding
them where they were to be rid of them. To do this job, one way
was by placing a huge coil on a barge and passing current thru the
coil to produce a magnetic field which spread to the bottom of the
estuary, river Thames. The trouble was, when blowing up the mine,
It was invariably under the barge and blew up the barge and coil.
no way to create a magnetic field and outsmart the Germans.
that if we could trail a wire behind a tug boat (which of, course,
was called a minesweeper), and put current in that wire of several
hundred amperes, that it would do the job.
But, the wire being heavier than water, would sink to the bottom
and become ineffective. A way had to be found to keep the wire at
the surface. Plastic floats were tried. Only, when the mine was
detonated, it blew up all the floats and the wire sank to the bottom.
That is when
I got the idea of putting floats inside the wire. Like sausages.
Wire wrapped around the sausages at a net density of about 9.8 and
therefore, the cable floated on water of density of 1. So the cable
floated. It was 3 1/2" in diameter and conducted 300 amps,
which was more than enough to blow up the mines. When the mines
blew up, the explosion merely tossed cable in air and did not damage
I took out a patent on this idea. It was immediately classified.
I heard nothing more, but understand it is still in use today, still
accepted as the best method of minesweeping.
Given that the minesweeping
work was classified, and that researchers have been denied access
to anything even referring to anything classified that might show
up in Lieutenant Brown’s Navy records, that’s about the extent of
information available on Brown’s minesweeping work.
But there is one other
story, a personal anecdote handed down over the years, that tells
us something about where and when the inspiration came for “the idea
of putting floats inside the wire.”
The precise time and date
may never be known, but Josephine more than once recounted for daughter
Linda the story of a weekend that Josephine and Townsend spent at
the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Perhaps the Mayflower was the
site of their “second honeymoon” — a detail that Linda would have
had no reason to suspect until the story of her parents 1937 divorce
and 1940 remarriage surfaced during the course of research for this
book. In any event, as Linda related,
had been away a lot. Months. Mother simply, outrageously, missed
his company (in and out of their bedroom!). So when they were reunited
she was looking forward to a long weekend behind locked doors at
the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
She admitted they had
already had a pretty good time, so she was surprised when she felt
his hand brush against her hipbone. Mother was fashionably thin
in those days. His hand stopped on one hipbone, and slowly traced
across the flat of her tummy, and then up the other hipbone, where
his hand paused again….
Mother was thinking,
“oh boy….” and then…. “huh? What the heck?”
Suddenly Daddy yelled,
“that’s it!” and threw the bed sheets aside. He scrambled to get
in his uniform on and was out the door with barely another word.
He was gone from her for months more and it was not until years
later that she discovered that her hipbones were responsible for
a breakthrough in mine-sweeping cable design that probably saved
many lives during the war.
* * *
Lieutenant T. Townsend Brown was still on active duty when the Japanese
attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, precipitating the United
States’ active engagement in the Second World War. Oddly, however,
at this time of great peril, Lieutenant Brown’s own active engagement
in the military was nearing an abrupt and curious end.
In the fitness report
that identifies “minesweeping” as his principal activity in the months
just prior to Pearl Harbor, Lt. Brown’s commanding officer commented
is well educated, intelligent, and adaptable. He is well informed
in theoretical and practical electricity and physics. He is particularly
suited to research rather than engineering. His value to the Service
will increase with experience. He is recommended for retention on
active duty during the present emergency and for promotion when
Sometime early in 1942,
Lieutenant Brown was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Radar School at
the Norfolk, Virginia Naval base as a Radio Officer, Ship’s Service
Officer, and Educational Officer. That there is so little reference
to this assignment in the Navy records is no doubt attributable to
the Navy’s policy upon releasing Brown’s service to withhold anything
even remotely classified.
Still, as late as May,
1942, Lieutenant Brown continued to be held in high regard by his
superiors. Another fitness report, dated June 25, 1942 states
is thorough, energetic and possesses exceptional initiative. Has
performed his duties … in a thoroughly satisfactory manner of excellent
professional and personal character. Is recommended for promotion
However valuable Lt. Brown
may have been to the service, however much that value was perceived
to increase with experience, there would be no further promotions.
Instead, the Navy records contain a letter dated September 30, 1942,
recreated here in full:
NAVAL OPERATING BASE
From: Lieut. Comdr.
T.T. Brown E-V(s) USNR
To : The Chief of Naval Personnel
from the U.S. Naval Service
1. I herewith submit
my resignation from the navy for the good of the naval service in
order to escape trial by General Court Martial.
Thomas Townsend Brown
R. G. Pennoyer, Comander, USN
C.N. Hinkamp, Captain, USN
Five days later, on October
5, Lieutenant Brown received a letter which contained his final orders,
apparently a copy of a mailgram or telegram of the same date addressed
to the Commanding Officer, which said in part:
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER THOMAS
TOWNSEND BROWN EVS USNR HEREBY DETACHED -X- WHEN DIRECTED BY COMMANDING
OFFICER REPORT FOR PHYSICAL EXAMINATION –X- UPON COMPLETION PROCEED
HOME UPON ARRIVAL RELEASED FROM ALL ACTIVE DUTY X CHARGES PSANDT
X FORWARD COPY OF THESE ORDERS BEARING ALL ENDORSEMENTS TO BUPERS…
There is no explanation
for the termination of Brown’s service anywhere in the file. The statement
“CHARGES PSANDT” in the discharge notice above is not an explanation
for his dismissal, but is rather an instruction to the bursar of accounts
to pay the departing sailor his “Pay, Subsistence and Travel” expenses
until he got home.
the absence of any factual reference in the official record, there
is one prominent account of why Townsend Brown’s service to his country
was terminated so abruptly just as the nation was being drawn into
a total war. The most notoriously, oft-repeated grounds are that Lt.
Brown suffered some sort of ‘nervous breakdown.’
This version of the story
first appeared in a pamphlet written in 1962 by Brown’s friend and
colleague, A.L. “Beau” Kitselman. Called Hello,
Stupid, the pamphlet is a polemic broadside aimed
at the mainstream scientific establishment that could not see fit
to take a closer look at Brown’s discoveries and ideas. In his description
of Brown’s naval service, Kitselman wrote that Brown had “worked too
long and too hard, collapsed, and was retired from the Navy in the
That statement seems to
be the origin of a fable that has since taken deep root in the mythology
of Townsend Brown.
For example, in the 1974
Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility —
which includes a lengthy, but wholly unsubstantiated chapter that
tries to connect Brown with the paranormal urban legend of its title
— William L. Moore wrote,
Unfortunately, by December
of 1943, [Brown’s] long and hard work and his personal disappointment
at the failure of his projects to gain proper recognition had finally
taxed him to the limit. He suffered a nervous collapse that sent
him home to rest. Upon recommendation of a team of naval physicians,
retirement from the service quickly followed.
Apart from the fact that
Moore has the dates wrong — a timeline error that conveniently enables
him to fabricate a cause-and-effect connection between experiments
that allegedly took place in the fall of 1943 and Brown’s departure
from the Navy — there is nothing in the actual record that encourages
the conclusion that Brown either suffered a “nervous collapse” or
that a “team of naval physicians” recommended his “retirement.”
But Moore doesn’t stop
there. Instead, he goes on with his fatuous connection between Brown
and the inventions of the so-called Philadelphia Experiment. He quotes
Science founder Reilly Crabb, who…
that the cause of Brown’s breakdown was directly related to the
Philadelphia Experiment. Certain severe repercussions would have
almost certainly followed any disastrous physical or psychological
results of the sort reported to have been suffered by the crew of
and the head of any person responsible for conducting such a project
would undoubtedly have been placed on the block as a result. If
such a thing did occur, it is not too difficult to imagine the mental
pressures that would result. However, in all fairness to Brown,
it should be noted that we have been totally unable to discover
anything at all which would even begin to substantiate such a conjecture.
The italics are added,
as if to raise the painfully obvious question: “If the author(s) were
unable to discover anything that would substantiate such a conjecture,
why then would they bother to write and publish it in the first place?”
If Moore had done his homework, he’d have quickly determined that
Brown’s resignation from the Navy in 1942 made his participation in
— and subsequent difficulties resulting from — any naval experiments
in 1943 a chronological impossibility.
Nevertheless, this version
of Brown’s termination from the Navy persists. In his otherwise laudable
treatise on classified antigravity research The
Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology,
veteran aerospace journalist Nick Cook repeats the William Moore version
of the story, writing:
In 1942, [Brown] was
appointed head of the Atlantic Fleet Radar Materiel School… in Norfolk,
Virginia, a position that would have made him privy to some of the
most highly classified technical secrets of the day. Whatever work
he was engaged in, it appears to have taken its toll, since the
following year he suffered a nervous breakdown and was discharged
from the Navy.
And almost the exact same
bogus account appears in a biographical sketch of Brown that is included
in Thomas Valone’s 2005 collection of articles and essays, Electrogravitics
II. In this account, writer Jeanne Manning says,
The next year he collapsed
from nervous exhaustion and retired from the Navy on doctors’ recommendations.
More than his hard work caused his health to break down. He had
suffered years of deeply-felt disappointments because his life’s
work — the gravitator — had not been recognized by scientific institutions
which could have investigated it.
But the most egregious
version of the tale appears in the book Lost
Science by Gerry Vassilatos. After offering his
own exhaustive version of the so-called Philadelphia Experiment, Vassilatos
professes to have insights into the inner workings of the mind of
a man he never met. Implying that Brown was experimenting with forces
more lethal than the atomic bomb (which, of course, did not yet exist
when Brown left the Navy), Vassilatos writes:
In his tortured thoughts
he saw the empty cities, emptied in a black flash. He saw the twisted
distorted faces when torment was summoned; the black flash slowly
pulling them apart. He heard the cries, the screams of the innocents
enveloped in the black and not appearing once the inky blackness
had passed. He could not easily withdraw from the experiments now,
though moral obligation impelled that movement. Any such declarations
would be declared acts of cowardice, or even of treason. He was
an officer with officer’s duties and oaths to uphold. The war was
on, and he was helping his own nation develop a power more loathsome
and morally abhorrent than the atomic bomb itself. He had to leave
now or forever live with his conscience. What was he to do?
What we know of Dr.
Brown’s “official” disposition after this time period was that he
knew he was in a state of “complete nervous collapse.” The extremity
of his condition forced him out of the research project. His position
in the Project was now permanently “retired,” his classification
level “demoted,” Dr. Brown returned home to rest and wait out the
time. There are those who accept the story of his “complete nervous
collapse” without question. There are those who speculate on the
true nature of his withdrawal. Had he sacrificed his own rank and
prestige in order to block progress on a most horrid application
of his technology? Was his “condition” the only logical recourse
left to him in order to be prematurely “retired”? Had he obtained
his purpose in this coverture?
Vassilatos is strong on
sensationalism and weak on documentation. For example, in describing
the “official disposition” of Brown’s Navy career, he alludes to “complete
nervous collapse.” But there are no footnotes in the chapter; nowhere
is any specific source cited for the quoted phrase “complete nervous
It's not possible to determine
the source of Vassilatos' account from the bibliography he offers
at the end of Lost Science; However, there is a nod to the
Borderlands Science Foundation in the acknowledgements. So it is no
stretch to conclude that the source of Vassilatos’ claims is the same
as those alluded to by William Moore: namely, Riley Crabb, founder
of Borderland Sciences. And, given their geographic proximity to each
other in Southern California, we're fairly certain the source of Crabb’s
information is the same Beau Kitselman who first floated the “nervous
breakdown” story in his 1962 essay, “Hello, Stupid.”
* * *
Within two weeks of his
discharge from the Navy, the former lieutenant assumed a post as a
“research engineer” for the Vega Aircraft Corporation in Burbank,
California. Readers familiar with aviation history will recognize
Vega as the forerunner to the famous Lockheed “Skunkworks” aviation
laboratory. That Brown would wind up with such an assignment suggests
another angle on the story which starts with no less a source than
the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
After investigating Brown
on allegations of espionage, the synopsis of an FBI report filed in
March, 1943, states:
investigation is predicated upon information received from [blacked
out] advising that Subject, a confessed homosexual, submitted his
resignation from the United States Navy which was accepted for the
good of the service and to avoid general court martial, and that
he was reported to have returned to his home in Los Angeles. At
the time of his resignation Subject was Radar and Educational Officer,
Atlantic Fleet School, and was reported to know more about Radar
detection than any individual in the U.S. Navy.
It was stated
that Subject, in addition to being cognizant of existing radar detection
technique, had been engaged in independent research work concerning
radar detection and had concerned himself with techniques and theory
more advanced than that in present use. He had his own laboratory
and had purchased equipment from his own funds for use in his experimental
work, and this equipment was taken by Subject when he was detached
from the Fleet Service School.
The first obvious question
is “what commander in his right mind let go of the man who knew ‘more
about Radar detection than any individual in the U.S. Navy’?” Of course,
the part about “techniques and theory more advanced than in present
use” is the really intriguing proposition, and may be the clue that
gives the lie to the whole to the other dubious allegations. Note
also that prior to his departure, Brown had “purchased equipment from
his own funds,” which equipment was “taken by” Brown when he left
Perhaps that explains
why a “confessed homosexual” who had resigned “for the good of the
service and to avoid general court martial” — i.e. an obvious security
risk — would wind up in a sensitive position with the Vega Aircraft
Corporation in Burbank within weeks of his detachment from the service
— in the middle of a big, bad a shooting war.
That curious confluence
of events compels the question: If one suddenly needed to be separated
from the service to pursue research in a civilian environment, what
better way in the 1940s than to feign homosexuality, or even stage
a homosexual encounter? In that period, even the suggestion of homosexuality
was the equivalent of an instant “get out of jail free” card. Such
an allegation was conceivably the only way that somebody who knew
"more about Radar detection than any individual in the U.S. Navy"
was going to be released from the service.
However, other than the
allegations in this 1943 FBI report, there is nothing that suggests
that Brown was anything other than completely devoted to Josephine,
even during the period when they were divorced. Furthermore, the FBI
report itself appears somewhat inaccurate and contradictory. In the
final paragraphs, the report asserts that after his divorce “in 1938…he
traveled with a group which did considerable drinking and that he
himself had gone out with other women while married.” Anybody who
knew Townsend Brown knew he was never much of a drinker. And just
why this “confessed homosexual” would be going out with “other women
while married” lends further doubt to the credibility of the Bureau’s
Thus, it seems safe to
conclude that the story about the nervous breakdown, which Beau Kitselman
started spreading 20 years later, was deliberate misinformation intended
to steer researchers away from the “official” reason for Brown’s sudden
departure. And even that “official” factor was its own kind of deliberate
What we find then is not
one, but two layers
of misinformation, and the beginnings of a complex and recurring pattern,
where everything that is “known” about Townsend Brown is actually
camouflage for something unknown (and perhaps unknowable): The “nervous
breakdown” construction has effectively concealed the “homosexual”
allegation revealed in the FBI files, producing 40 years in which
those allegations have been effectively suppressed. It’s harder to
say that was indeed the pretext by which Brown arranged his "detachment"
from the Navy, or if he might have been deliberately playing a uniquely
powerful “get out of jail” card. The best clue no doubt lies in the
combination of Brown’s almost immediate reappearance at Vega — which
itself was a very secretive operation — and the fact that the equipment
he had purchased "from his own funds" was "taken"
with him when he left Norfolk.
In any event, while the
exact reasons for Brown's departure from the Navy remain a mystery,
the notion that there were any justifiable misgivings with regard
to Brown’s character is dispelled in the final paragraph of the FBI
synopsis, which concludes:
was no information of a derogatory nature with respect to Subject’s
Americanism and inasmuch as Subject started to work for the Vega
Aircraft Corporation very shortly after he returned to California
and no more than a month after he left the Navy, there is no evidence
which would indicate that Subject has been using his knowledge of
radar operations in any way which would be detrimental to the best
interests of this country.
* * *
As far as “official” Navy
records go, there is only the final Navy fitness report, dated October
5, 1942, as mandated in the aforementioned mailgram confirming Lieutenant
Brown’s detachment from the Navy. The final fitness report is almost
completely blank. Instead of the usual details, the page is struck
through with a single pen-stroke, above which is hand-written “See
remarks.” And on the second page, in the “remarks” section that in
previous reports had displayed so many glowing assessments of Lieutenant
Brown’s character and service, Captain Hinkamp writes,
In view of the
circumstances under which this officer was detached, I desire to
make no comment.
Despite all the allegations
and the history of misinformation, that statement is the only
truly indisputable public record that exists to explain how and
why Lieutenant Brown’s career with the Navy that he loved so dearly
ended so abruptly in the fall of 1942.
So readers, take note:
That rustling sound you hear is the sound of a curtain drawing closed,
and the apparition you see behind the curtain is the vanishing figure
of Thomas Townsend Brown.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
DE 173 is the Bureau of Ships designation for the U.S.S. Eldridge,
the Destroyer Escort that was supposedly transported into another
dimension, with disastrous consequences for the crew, in the alleged
"Philadelphia Experiment." [return to
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