Anatomy of a Hoax: The Philadelphia Experiment 50 Years Later
By Jacques F. Vallee
From the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume
8, Number 1, Spring, 1994. Copyright 1994 Society for Scientific Exploration
What actually happened in the Philadelphia Experiment has been
highly exaggerated, although it is still very interesting. Following is
a quotation of a section of an article in the "Journal of Scientific
Exploration", Volume 8, Number 1, Spring, 1994. Copyright 1994 Society
for Scientific Exploration. "Articles may be photocopied for noncommercial
usage such as research, teaching, distribution as classroom material, etc."
Address: ERL 306, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-4055. The article
is entitled "Anatomy of a Hoax: The Philadelphia Experiment 50 Years
Later", by Jacques F. Vallee:
What Actually Happened in Philadelphia
In an earlier assessment of the Philadelphia Experiment data,
the author offered the tentative conclusion that the story was, in part,
based on fact: the Navy may have been involved in technically-advanced,
classified tests in the Fall of 1943 (Vallee, 1991). These developments
could have been misunderstood or deliberately romanticized by people like
Allende, just as today we find tests of advanced flying platforms at Nellis
Air Force Base being misinterpreted by believers. Furthermore I hypothesized
that the experiments had to do with a radar countermeasures test. Indeed
a Raytheon advertisement published thirteen years ago suggested that the
corresponding technology was now out in the open (Raytheon, 1980). This
hypothesis, however, failed to explain a few of the facts that highlighted
the story. In particular it did not account for the observed disappearance
of the destroyer from the harbor, for the mysterious devices brought on
board under extreme security precautions, or for the alleged disappearance
of two sailors from a nearby tavern. I called out to any one of my readers
who might have additional information. That is how I came to correspond,
and later to meet face to face, with Mr. Edward Dudgeon.
"I am a sixty-seven year old retired executive. I was
in the Navy from 1942 through 1945," began Mr. Dudgeon's letter (Dudgeon,
1992) explaining his purpose in contacting me (see Figure 3.) He confirmed
that the idea of an actual, secret technical development was correct, but
he said I was wrong about a radar test. The truth, as he patiently wrote
to me, was simpler.
I was on a destroyer that was there at the same time as the
Eldridge DE 173.... I can explain all of the strange happenings as we had
the same secret equipment on our ship. We were also with two other DEs and
the Eldridge on shakedown in Bermuda and return to Philadelphia.
My correspondent suggested a meeting, adding "I am not
looking for any compensation for this or media exposure. I just want someone
to know what I know before it is too late."
A few weeks later I met with Mr. Dudgeon, who produced his
identification and his discharge papers from the U.S. Navy. Over the next
two hours he gave me the details of his story and answered my questions.
"You must realize that in forty three, the Germans had
been sinking our ships as fast as they came out of the harbors into the
Atlantic, which they called "the Graveyard." I was just a kid
then. In fact I falsified my birth certificate in order to join the Navy
in 1942. I was only sixteen at the time, turning seventeen in December of
"What was your training?" I asked him.
"I studied electronics at Iowa State. The Navy sent me
to electronics school after boot camp. I graduated with the title of "electrician's
mate third class" in February of 43, and then I went aboard ship in
"Can you give me the name of the vessel?"
"Oh yes, the DE 50, U.S.S. Engstrom. It was a diesel
electric ship, as opposed to the DE 173, the Eldridge, which was steam electric.
These ships were run by the electricians. Our ship was put in dry dock so
they could install high-torque screws."
"Why the special equipment?"
"The new screws made a sound of a different pitch, which
made it harder for the submarines to hear us. They also installed a new
sonar for underwater detection, and a device we called a "hedgehog"
which was mounted in front of the forward gun mount on the bow. It fired
depth charges in banks of twenty-four to thirty in a pattern, and could
cover 180 degrees as far as about a mile away. That was one of the secrets.
Your book Revelations was wrong about making the ship invisible to radar:
the Germans hadn't deployed radar at the time. We were trying to make our
ships invisible to magnetic torpedoes, by de-Gaussing them. We had regular
radar and also a "micro-radar" of lower frequency. They could
detect submarines as soon as they raised their periscopes or came up for
air. We could pick them up in the dark or in fog as far as one or two miles
away. That's when the Germans began to lose their U-boats."
"How does this relate to the Eldridge?" I asked
"The Eldridge and the Engstrom were in the harbor together,"
he answered. "In fact four ships were outfitted at the same time: the
48, 49, 50 and the Eldridge, in June and July of 1943. The Navy used to
de-Gauss all the ships in dry dock, even the merchant ships, otherwise the
vessels acted as bar magnets which attracted the magnetic torpedoes."
"What was the procedure for shakedown?"
"All four ships went to Bermuda, which as a relay for
the convoys to North Africa. There were several other destroyers there.
They would send us out to train us to convoy. We also had a base in the
Azores. The destroyers would go halfway and return to their respective base.
The shakedown was scheduled for up to eight weeks but we only took five
weeks to become proficient. We were there from the first week of July to
the first week of August."
"What was your exact assignment on board?"
"I was electrican's mate third class petty officer. Our
job was to make the ship speed up, slow down or reverse according to the
bridge signals. Eight months later I was promoted to to second class. Eventually
we were sent to the Pacific. I served on that ship for a year and a half,
from June 1943 to November 1944. Then I was sent to a special school at
Camp Perry, Virginia."
"Whatever happened to the Eldridge?"
"We separated with her after the shakedown. The DE 48
and the Eldridge stayed in the Atlantic, based in Bermuda until early 1944,
then they went to the Pacific theater too. The DE 49, which was our sister
ship, and the DE 50 headed through Panama mid-September 1943 and were in
the Pacific theater thereafter. Ther was nothing unusual about the Eldridge.
When we went ashore we met with her crew members in 1944, we had parties,
there was never any mention of anything unusual. Allende made up the whole
"What about the luminous phenomena he described?"
"Those are typical of electric storms, which are very
spectacular. St. Elmo's fire is quite common at sea. I remember coming back
from Bermuda with a convoy and all the ships being engulfed in what looked
like green fire. When it started to rain the green fire would disappear."
"Did you hear of Einstein being involved with Navy experiments
at the time?"
"No. I believe that Einstein worked with the radar development
group, but he wasn't involved in running actual tests. At least I never
heard of it."
"How were the classified devices actually installed?"
"After the Navy commisioned the ship and we were ready
to go to sea, the National Bureau of Standards brought a master compass
in a box that looked like a foot locker and we made several runs a sea in
different directions to calibrate the ship's compass against the master.
That's the mysterious "box" that various reports have mentioned.
"Who was Allende? Did you ever meet him?" I asked,
showing Mr. Dudgeon the various letters I had received from the man.
"I never did meet him. From his writings I don't think
he was in the Navy. But he could well have been in Philadelphia at the time,
serving in the merchant marine. He could also have been aboard a merchant
ship we escorted back to the Philly-Norfolk area during a storm."
"What about the claim that generators were placed into
"Aboard all diesel-electric and steam-electric destroyers
there were two motors that turned a port or starboard screw. Each motor
was run by a generator."
"What was the procedure when the Navy de-Gaussed a ship?"
"They sent the crew ashore and they wrapped the vessel
in big cables, then they sent high voltages through these cables to scramble
the ship's magnetic signature. This operation involved contract workers,
and of course there were also merchant ships around, so civilian sailors
could well have heard Navy personnel saying something like,"they're
going to make us invisible," meaning undetectable by magnetic torpedoes,
without actually saying it."
"What about the smell of ozone?"
"That's not unusual. When they were de-Gaussing you could
smell the ozone that was created. You could smell it very strongly."
"What security precautions were taken?"
"Our skipper warned us not to talk about the radar, the
new sonar, the hedgehog, and the special screws. But you know how it is,
information will always leak out. Another classified device we had was the
"foxer," which we immersed in the sea off the fantail and dragged
half a mile to a mile behind the destroyer. It gave off signals resembling
the sound of a merchant vessel's screw. This attracted the German subs which
fired acoustic-seeking torpedoes at it, giving away their position and wasting
"How long had all this secret equipment been available?"
"About six to eight months, as far as I can tell. By
the time we sailed out, submarine warfare had turned in our favor along
the East Coast."
"This doesn't tell us how the Eldridge disappeared into
thin air, or what actually happened in the tavern in early August 1943."
"That's the simplest part of the whole story," Mr.
Dudgeon replied. "I was in that bar that evening, we had two or three
beers, and I was one of the two sailors who are said to have disappeared
mysteriously. The other fellow was named Dave. I don't remember his last
name, but he served on the DE 49. The fight started when some of the sailors
bragged about the secret equipment and were told to keep their mouths shut.
Two of us were minors. I told you I cheated on my enlistment papers. The
waitresses scooted us out the back door as soon as trouble began and later
denied knowing anything about us. We were leaving at two in the morning.
The Eldridge had already left at 11 p.m. Someone looking at the harbor that
night have noticed that the Eldridge wasn't there any more and it did appear
in Norfolk. It was back in Philadelphia harbor the next morning, which seems
like an impossible feat: if you look at the map you'll see that merchant
ships would have taken two days to make the trip. They would have required
pilots to go around the submarine nets, the mines and so on at the harbor
entrances to the Atlantic. But the Navy used a special inland channel, the
Chesapeake-Delaware Canal, that bypassed all that. We made the trip in about
"Why did the ships have to go to Norfolk?"
"Norfolk is where we loaded the explosives. Those docks
you see on the aerial photographs are designed for ammunition. The Navy
loaded ships twenty-four hours a day. They could load a destroyer in four
hours or less. I know that's where the Eldridge went, and she wasn't invisible,
because we passed her as she was on the way back from Virginia, in Chesapeake
"In other words, the process was: out of dry dock, down
the canal, loading ammunition in Norfolk, back to Philadelphia, out to sea
to set the compasses and test radar and sonar gear?"
"Exactly. The Eldridge never disappeared. All four ships
went to Bermuda in July 43 and came back together in early August. During
that time we were also caught in a storm that created a display of green
fire accompanied by a smell of ozone. The glow abated when it started raining."
End of quotation
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