Chapter 43

For 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, Townsend.

* * *

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.

By 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 Great Britain.

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 ‘British 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.

But 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:

The marriage 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 D.C.

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.

There seemed no way to create a magnetic field and outsmart the Germans.

Someone suggested 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 it.

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,

Daddy 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 that:

This officer 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 due.

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

Lieut. Brown 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 when due.

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:


September 30, 1942

From: Lieut. Comdr. T.T. Brown E-V(s) USNR
To : The Chief of Naval Personnel

Subject: Resignation 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:


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.

Nevertheless, despite 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 early nineteen-forties.”

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 book The 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 Borderlands Science founder Reilly Crabb, who…

…steadfastly claimed 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 DE 173*, 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 collapse.”

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:

This 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 Norfolk.

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 reporting.

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 subtrefuge.

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:

There 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 text]

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