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Early Electronic Television

Television During World War Two

United States: Though production of television receivers came to a halt during the war, television continued in a number of ways. In the United States, broadcasting continued on a limited basis throughout the war. RCA provided TRK-12 sets for use in hospitals in New York for injured servicemen, and had programs two nights a week. Both W2XBS and W2XAB broadcast civil defense programs. In 1943, Philco advertised that its Philadelphia station, WPTZ, had broadcast the Army-Penn football game. Don Lee's station in Los Angeles broadcast a regular schedule during the war. Many stations hired women to operate cameras and control panels to continue television programming, including W9XBK/WBKB in Chicago and W2XB/WRGB in Schenectady.

RCA developed a small iconoscope camera system for use in remote controlled glide bombers. Several thousand of these systems were made. Though they were not very effective, the cameras were later used in worn out B-17s that were filled with explosives and remotely guided to targets by remote control. RCA also provided radar systems to the military. Another company that made cameras for the military was Remington-Rand.

DuMont demonstrated a television system to allow remote viewing of battles.  Farnsworth was also involved in television during the war. Lee DeForest and U.A. Sanabria also proposed a television controlled bomb.

Engineers who had been developing television technology put their expertise toward designing radar and communications systems for the military.

Britain: Television transmission was suspended on the day that war was declared against Germany. The Alexandra Palace transmitter was retuned and used to jam German aircraft navigation frequencies, and television manufacturing facilities were converted to make radio and radar equipment. Apparently, toward the end of the war, transmissions were resumed from Alexandra Palace in preparation for full scale production.

John Pinkney writes:

BBC & MoD engineers modified the Alexandra Palace TV transmitter to jam Nazi Luftwaffe RNAV systems and cause bombs to drop harmlessly at sea! Also, when BBC TV resumed, it re-started right at the same point in the Mickey Mouse cartoon where "Plate Off" was punched in 1939.  Then Jasmine Bligh came on and said, "Sorry for the interruption of our programme service.  Our next presentation is..."  As if nothing had happened!

In 1939 John Logie Baird built an airborne television reconnaissance system for the French Air Force. The System used the intermediate film method by means of which a moving picture of the scenery below the airplane was taken on a 16m/m film, which was rapidly processed and transmitted to a ground receiving station.

Germany: When the Germans invaded Paris, they took over the transmitter on the Eiffel tower and transmitted newsreels, and other programming for injured German soldiers in Paris area hospitals. The Royal Air Force actually set up an elaborate receiving system on the coast of England to watch the transmissions. Toward the end of the war, Germany developed a television guided bomb.

Russia: According to an article in the British Vintage Wireless Society Bulletin, television was used to help in the air defense of Leningrad in 1941. A radio detection system called Redut could locate aircraft within 100 kilometers, and displayed their position on an electronic screen. A television camera was located above the screen, the the picture was transmitted to receivers located around Leningrad at anti aircraft sites. The article also claims that the system used the same frequency as an experimental London station used to transmit TV programs to hospitals, and that the receivers in Leningrad received pictures from that transmitter. The Russians were known for exaggerating their technical achievements (see the story of the TK-1  and the 17TH-1), so it is possible that this story is all or partially fiction.