« Revisionist History

Presenting: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

2021-04-27

Season 5 of Revisionist History included four episodes on the rise of air power during the Second World War. Listeners met Air Force generals Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay and heard about the birth of napalm and the firebombing of Tokyo. Malcolm couldn't get that story out of his mind, and so he built an entirely new audiobook around it. The Bomber Mafia.

The Bomber Mafia thought they could re-invent war, in part because of a reclusive genius named Carl Norden. In this excerpt, you hear more about him and his game changing invention, the Norden Bombsight.

If you loved those episodes, you'll be in history heaven with The Bomber Mafia. It features more archival footage, new writing, and enhanced scoring. It's a totally new experience. Purchase the audiobook at www.bombermafia.com, and you'll receive a free Listener's Guide featuring new commentary from Malcolm. Print and ebook editions available wherever books are sold.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, hello, patient listeners, Malcolm Gladwell, here today is a very big day. For me, it is the launcher by newest book, the bomber mafia, a dream, a temptation and the longest knight of the Second World war. You can buy the bomber mafia from audible or apple books or any place. You usually get books and it's available in print and ebook and audiobook. But I heard you to buy the audio directly from bomber mafia com when you do you'll be able to listen in whatever podcast after using now and you'll receive an exclusive listeners guide that includes photos and behind In the scenes commentary from my crack production team, those of you who are devoted revisionist history will emerge.
Where the last season I did for episodes on the fire bombing of Tokyo at the end of the Second World WAR, Curtis Dumay, the birth of napalm, the war over the skies of Tokyo in the spring of nineteen, forty five- it was all prompted by a trip I took to Japan and a visit to a tiny museum on a side street in Tokyo that left me devastated after the season was over. I couldn't get that story out of my mind and I couldn't shake the idea that there was much more to the story and the war,
I've taken that little kernel from last season and built an entirely new audiobook around it. You'll hear a little bit of material that previously appeared in my podcast revisionist history, but in those instances the material has been expanded with more archival footage, new riding, enhanced scoring and a whole new context. If you've heard the episodes of revisionist history, it will feel like when you've read a book excerpt in the new Yorker of Andy, Fair and then gone on to read the whole thing. The story starts back in the nineteen thirties, with an obsessive band of pilots in Central Alabama called themselves. The bomber mafia. Who thought they could reinvent war. They had a leader, a man named Heyward Hansel, a southerner in a romantic, a man who would sing Broadway tunes to his fellow ermine as he piloted his warplanes home from Palmer Missions over Europe Hansel and his fellow dreamers.
Obama woke up one day and realised that they had been given an actual war in which to test their theories. What happened when they put those theories to the test is the story of my new book, the bomber mafia. So what I want to do today, is to play you a little teaser. It's from one of the early chapters of the book about our reclusive genius named Carl Norton, who, strangely to this day, seems to have been largely for
Gotten by history. Norden ran a research program during the years of the Second World WAR shrouded in as much secrecy as the Manhattan project taking place in the same period in the New Mexico Desert Norden invented something called the Norden bomb side, which was the device at the center of the bomber mafia s obsession I'm going to play you a little bit of this chapter on Norden, where I track down the one historian. Who's really paid attention to him. His name is Stephen Mcfarland, and here we are in Nerd Heaven. Let's start with, for a lay person describe why the task of. Dropping a bomb from an airplane is difficult, mean the dumbest possible question: that's not without a care he considered down at all. It's amazing to me, I mean I just assumed you know that you watch the videos and the moon,
and they say just put the crosshairs hairs on the target and the bomb side will do the rest. But there's an amazing number of elements that come into dropping a bomb accurately on a target. I think you about your own car. You know driving down the highway. Sixty seventy miles an hour. You can imagine, throwing out something out the window and trying to hit something. You know. Even if its stationary, a sign or a tree or anything on the side of the road. You get an idea of just how hard that is. If you're trying to throw a bottle into a garbage can from a car going fifty miles per hour, you have to perform a bit of amateur fin the garbage garbage can stationary, but you and the car are moving quickly. So you have to release the bottle well before you reach the can right. But if you in an airplane at twenty thousand feet, the problem is infinite.
They more complicated aircraft were flying. It two hundred three hundred miles an hour, sometimes as fast as five hundred miles an hour. They were been bombed for up to thirty thousand feet. It would take between twenty and thirty thirty five seconds to hit the ground in doing that. All time, you're being shot at your house. To do to look through clouds or not be able to look through clouds and Ireland artillery you're having to deal with factory decoy smoke screens. There's this mother bombs, people, screaming in your ear. The excitement that all these strange things that happen once war begins and get some idea of just how difficult it is the wind to be blowing at a hundred miles per hour. You have to factor that in if it's cold, the air is denser and the bomb will follow more slowly. If it's warm, the air is thinner and the bomb will fall.
Faster than you also have to consider is the plane level is improving side to side or up and down a tiny degree of air at the release. Point can translate to a big err on the ground: and from twenty zero feet. Can you even see the target? A factory might be big and obvious up close, but from that far up it looks like a postage stamp bombers in the early days of aviation couldn't hit anything not even close. The bombardiers might as well have been throwing darts at a dartboard with their eyes closed the dream that the airplane could revolutionize warfare was based on a massive untested, unproven assumption, but somehow someone at some point would figure out how to aim a bomb from high in the sky, with something close to accuracy
He was a question on the ear: is technological wishlist until COM Norden, he had no help, he did it all I himself of his own his mind. He didn't carry notes, he didn't have no pad. You can you know go to his archive. There is no such thing, there's all kept in his head. And for a man to keep that kind of complexity his head. I was just amazed that could be done that way, but engineer refer to something called the mines. I there They see things in their mind, not with her eyes but with their minds I, and that was, the Coral Norton I always dislike, Use the word genius, because I feel like it's thrown around and I always prefer to kind of put an adjective in front of the word genius. What's his adjective, he would tell you that only God invents humans discover
So for him it was not genius. He would refuse to accept that term. He would not she would not accept anyone calling him a genius, he would say he's just one who discovers the greatness of God is what he would tell you the God reveals truths of through people who are willing to work hard and to use their minds to discover God's truth, Norton began working on the bomb site problem in the nineteen twenties. He got a navy contract, although he would later work for the army's air core, which is what the? U S. Airforce was called in those days he set up shop unlawful, yet street in the part of Manhattan, now called Soho and there he began work on his masterpiece. These gentlemen are aerial photographs of enemy held objectives. They are targets, but tomorrow and the next day and the next one Maybe your target you listening to
internal military training film from the Second World WAR, instructing bombardiers in how to use Carl Nortons creation, the Norton bomb site. They are the reason for your being here a reason all the vast equipment assembled in this and other bombardier school. He instructed here to training. The pilots here to fly you on your missions, the bombers that flew in the second World war in most cases, had a crew of ten men Pilot Copilot, navigator, gunners and most crucially, bombardiers the people who aimed and dropped the bombs. If the Bombardier did not do his job than the efforts of all nine? If his criminal were wasted at all Some one of you now sitting in this room will say one of these targets not protected on a screen, bring another crop, Harrowby Obama side and where will live. Those bombed. The oil will depend on how well you you'll talk your fingers and your eyes to match the precision
has been built into your Norden bomb side. Its official name was the mark fifteen, the airman who used it called it the football it weighed fifty five pounds. It sat on a kind of platform, a packing box stabilized by a gyroscope that kept it level at all times. Miss a plane, was bouncing around the bomb sight was essentially an analog computer, a compact finally, machines contraption, composed of mirrors a telescope ball bearings levels and dials the Bombardier peered through the telescope. At the target, from moving plain and made a fantastically complicated series of adjustments, Norden created sixty four algorithms tat. He believed represented every dimension of the bombing problem like, for example. How much does the speed and direction of the way Affected trajectory of a bomb or the temperature of the speed of the aircraft, I want to go out and the boy
you siding line when you started remember how the sites made into parts underneath as the stabilizer and in that there's another gyro. Only it has a horizontal axis to be properly trained on the northern took six months. Above that is your site. Stabilizer is fixed in the longitudinal axis of the airplane, but you can keep turning aside so that it's always pointing at the target, but the site is also connected to the stabilizer by rod Poli Deer to pilot to level. By these, the direct control of the position of the side, no matter how much. They are plain yard aside, will always- in the same direction: novel bombs away all this. Bombardier could know exactly when to shout bombs away. In addition, Norden even created one of the sixty four algorithms was now results that are compensated for the fact that when you drop a bomb takes thirty seconds did the target date
Those thirty seconds the earth actually moves it spends on its axis, so we actually created formula that it was going to take twenty seconds for the bomb to hit the target, then the would move make up a number twelve feet. You therefore had to adjust Peter to say. Well, the targets now moved wealthy. If you're twenty thousand feet it might take, might move twenty five. And all of these then had to be put into this computer. Eventually, almost every bomber that flew missions for the United States over Europe and Japan during the Second World WAR, had a Norden Bombsight on board
The army bought thousands of them before every mission. The Bombardier would retrieve his device from a vault with an armed escort. Carry it out to the plane in a metal box in the event of a crash landing, the bombe deer was instructed to destroy the bombsight immediately lest it fall into enemy hands legend has it that bombardiers were even given an eighteen inch, long explosive device to do the trick and, as a final precaution, the Bombardier had to take a special oath. I solemnly swear that I will keep inviolate the secrecy of any and all confidential information revealed to me
In full knowledge that I am a guardian of one of my country's most priceless assets do further swear to protect the secrecy of the american bomb site, if need be with my life itself. In the midst of all this drama and secrecy was call Norton, maddening eccentric Norton, while he was still perfecting his invention. He would sometimes led Manhattan and returned to his mothers, in Zurich. He would drive the military, crazy. The army was just up in arms, the ice and agents within to try to protect him. There was great here that the British supposedly thought that he was working for the Germans, Germans, a spine, they're afraid the journey, the British would try to to capture him, and so but he actually exist example and Switzerland there's nothing. You do to stop me and, of course, the
laws of war. Time were not yet in effect, because the United States was it in the wars of legally. There was no way they could stop him. So why did the military put up with it, because the Norton Palm Sight was the holy GRAIL Norton had a business partner named TED Barth, he was the salesman public face and he claimed the year before the. U S joined the war that we do not regard of fifteen foot square as being a very difficult target to hit from an altitude of thirty thousand feet The shorthand version of that which would serve as the foundation of the northern legend was it. The bomb site could drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from six miles up to the first generation of military pilots. That claim was intoxicating
The most expensive single undertaking of the Second World WAR was the b twenty nine bomber. The super fortress, the second most expensive, was the massive, unprecedented effort to invent and build the world's first atomic bomb, the Manhattan project, but the third most expensive project of the war, not a bomb, a not a tank, not a gun, not a ship, no, the Norden Bombsight the fifty five pound analog computer conceived inside the exacting imagination of Carl L, Norton. And why spend so much on a bomb side, because the Norden represented a dream, one of the most powerful dreams in history of warfare that, if could drop bombs inside pickle barrels from thirty thousand feet. We wouldn't need armies anymore. We would,
need to leave young men dead on battlefields or lay waste to entire cities. We could reinvent war, make it precise and quick and almost bladeless. Almost regarding terrific. Thanks for listing too, that accepted by new audio book, the bomber mafia, all of it lovingly machine tools here in the audio factories of Pushkin industries. If you want to hear More- and you should you can get it at Palmer, Mafia Doc, come after your purchase, you can download it and listened to it in your favorite, podcast app and yes season. Six.
Business history is in the works? It's so good launches in June. Until then, thank you for being such great listeners I really mean it when I say that this show, and, by extension, this new audio book would not exist without all of your encouragement over the years. Seize him.
Transcript generated on 2021-05-20.