Saturday, November 17, 2012

Albert Einstein destroyed 37 Hitler's submarines

Czech high school teacher's idea wouldn't be realized without the top physicist

The top Czech news server iDNES.CZ (CZ) just published a very interesting #3 story of the day, after our defeat of Spain in the doubles of the 100th final of the Davis Cup and after #2 reports from the November 17th anniversary rallies.

We usually consider Albert Einstein to be the ultimate pacifist although we also acknowledge his and Szilárd's abstract letter that contributed to the Manhattan Project. But Einstein's steps strengthening the U.S. military power have been much more intense than we usually admit.

The main other hero of the story is Mr František Navara, a high school teacher of maths and physics in Jihlava, a 50,000-people town on the Bohemian-Moravian border. In the 1930s, he was worried about the rise of Hitler and he was able to predict that the U.S. would be ultimately dragged into the war, too.

He also had an idea how to significantly change the balance of power on the sea. Torpedoes used to be navigated by cables. He designed a gadget that was able to navigate a torpedo according to the sound of the propeller. In 1938, he sent a letter with the plans to Albert Einstein in Princeton.

Now, Einstein was probably getting lots of letters from crackpots but this letter was special. Einstein replied to Mr Navara, admitting that the idea is extremely sophisticated. These two men began to solve some technical subtleties of the proposal together. Einstein wrote that he was convinced that the device may be brought to reality.

Mr František Navara, a teacher of maths and physics

This was far from Einstein's last contribution. Einstein actually guaranteed that Mr Navara had been invited to the U.S. and he met the bosses of the U.S. Navy. In 1941, they developed the technology and in 1942, it was already tested. Mr Navara didn't want a penny for his idea; he only wanted his name to be kept in secret because at home, in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, he would be awarded a death penalty, of course. He survived the war just fine.

At the U.S. side, these sound-navigated torpedoes have been a top classified secret, too. In fact, the pilots with this 309 kg heavy automatic torpedo weren't informed what they were transferring. The torpedoes' range was almost 1 mile, they would circle around the target, and finally get it.

Mr Navara's acoustic torpedo

The first practical successes occurred in 1943. Altogether, Mr Navara's torpedoes whose production was "directed" by Albert Einstein have destroyed 37 German submarines. A prominent target in May 1943 harbored a son of the Imperial Navy General in Chief Herr Karl Dönitz, Peter. Jawohl, der Junge war kaput. Danke Sehr, Herr Einstein. ;-)

Mr Navara who survived the war had worked as a mathematician in Prague and returned to the countryside later. Shortly before he died in 1972, he gave the letters to his son Erik. These letters managed to get to Christie's auction house in 1998 and were sold for $12,650 to an unknown collector.

Moskau by Los Rotopedos, a new hit of imported German music. ;-) It's a Czech remake of a song by a real German band Dschinghis Khan.

As experts add, the concept is no longer relevant in the modern era of advanced electronic technologies. However, at that time, it was revolutionary. Even if it managed to shorten the war by a single day, it deserves our deep admiration.


  1. Not sure, may still be partly classified. ;-) It was probably detecting the sound at some resonant frequencies and readjusted the direction of motion according to some ratio of the strength of the signal of the vibrations at various points. I am just reinventing it... ;-)

  2. It sort of looks like we didn't beat the Germans to it, though.

    A Brief History of U.S. Navy Torpedoes

    The text with the linked Einstein letter says that, "ostensibly," Navara's ideas were used in the MK 24 FIDO torpedo.

    Torpedo MK 24 "FIDO" - Technical

  3. Thank you! I didn't know about these facts until I've read your post!
    Well, maybe this concept is not relevant in the modern era, but it doesn't mean that it will not be relevant in the super-modern era. Here is just one example that I've found recently:

    'Oscillatory Threshold Logic'

    So, it is possible that some day we (or our descendants) will hear Navara's name again

  4. John F. HultquistNov 18, 2012, 7:55:00 AM

    Here is a related torpedo story:

  5. Funny how we went away from cable guided and then right back...

    Mark 48 ADCAP --

    Concept is run them out on wires a mile or so, then turn the active seeking on (The Navara algorithm on). Hard to find the launch source ;)

  6. I just found out there is a Czech connection to founding Jet Propulsion Laboratory, via Frank Malina (whose father was Czech immigrant). He was a Caltech Aeronautical Eng grad student (PhD advisor Theodore von Karman, founder of JPL), who was part of group to start experiments in rocketry. Initially, it drew interest from Military (jet-assisted rocket, hence "jet propulsion lab"/JPL), but morphed into Space Exploration. He was 1st JPL director

    "intensely personal documentary explores the complexities of Malina's life and the profound ramifications his work had on Caltech and the nation. "Though there are many fascinating characters in the American Rocketeer, at its core, this film is a personal story of one man's dreams," noted producer Blaine Baggett, "and how his ideas and idealism put him on a collision course with the world."

    At roots of American space program (JPL & NASA), is an idealistic Czech-American. There is an interesting parallel to R. Feynman (Russian-American), who did military work during WWII, & ended up at Caltech (which runs JPL under NASA contract). More example of American "melting pot" having world impact.

    More info here:

  7. I realize that Navara is a common Czech surname, but is Czech chess grandmaster David Navara any relation? I checked the Czech Wikipedia but they do not mention anything about a family connection.

    (Actually I just wrote the above to produce my own little tongue twister. Try reading it aloud :)... )

  8. An interesting piece of history that I was completely unaware of.

  9. Ahhh... Naval Torpedoes again! See their connection to modern technology - the CDMA in your mobiles, and to the "Most Beutiful Woman in the World" ....

  10. Credit for the US Mark 27 "Cutie" and Mark 24 "Fido" homing torpedoes should go to many individuals and organizations, including, but not limited to Western Electric, Harvard Sound School, Bell Laboratories, and Brush Electric Co. of Cleveland. And the US homing torpedo (Fido) is creditied with more than 120 U-boats according to naval historian Clay Blair!