March 04, 2011
During the Allied invasion of Sicily, there was a need for artillery spotting airplanes. The usual plane used, the L-4 Grasshopper (better known in civilian use as the famous Piper Cub), didn't have the range to actually fly to Sicily from Allied bases, and aircraft carriers decks were too valuable to ferry them there. Having them transported in a knocked-down state was possible, but it was time-consuming to have to put them back together. Knowing all this, a US Army pilot named Captain Brenton Devol, suggested a solution: put a flight deck on a LST. And lo, was the tiniest aircraft carrier created.
LST-386 was fitted with a flight deck made of timber and pierced metal runway mats. It measured 216 feet long by 12 feet wide, and it took just over 36 hours to build. It could carry four Grasshoppers, plus its normal load of cargo and troops in her tank deck.
However, these LST conversions could not be considered true aircraft carriers. There was no provision for recovering the L-4s after launch; the planes would have to land behind friendly lines after takeoff. Considering the short-field capabilities of the Piper Cub, one could imagine a scenario where the LST would steam backwards while a white-knuckled pilot tried to land on the narrow pitching deck. It could work, but it seems unlikely.
But out in the Pacific theatre, something different was invented... something that was allowed a LST to become a true aircraft carrier. This something was called the Brodie Device.
Generally, the use of LSTs as plane carriers wasn't necessary in the Pacific theater, since there was a huge amount of CVEs available for the job. Throw in the fact that a CVE could easily ferry 50 or more L-4s at a time and it seemed pointless... until one realized that there often weren't safe places for an artillery-spotting airplane to land on many of the islands being fought over. One could easily imagine landing a Piper Cub on a real aircraft carrier, even a CVE, but for some reason this wasn't done. Floatplanes could do the job, but they were Navy, and an Army man would rather speak to another Army man; they "spoke the same language," as it were. Thus was a need for a recovery system found.
The solution to this need was called the Brodie Device. A cable was suspended between two outriggers mounted to the side of a LST. Dangling from the setup was a harness with a loop that could slide down the cable. Simple as that.
The plane would be suspended from the harness, the pilot would climb a rope ladder to the cockpit, gun the engine and the plane would slide down the cable. When it reached the end of the cable, the plane would detach from the harness and (hopefully) take flight. To "land," the pilot would fly the plane into the harness, where it would catch on a hook mounted on the top of the wing. The plane would then slide down the cable until it hit the end and come to a swinging halt. It would then be brought onboard, serviced and be readied for another flight, while the pilot changed his pants and got drunk (I assume). A video of the Brodie Device in action can be seen here.
Two LSTs were converted to the use the Brodie Device, 393 and 776. Each could operate three (maybe four) L-4 Grasshoppers, becoming in effect, the true smallest aircraft carriers. Unsurprisingly, they were phased out almost immediately after the war, a footnote in the grand history of the aircraft carrier.
Posted by: Thomas at March 05, 2011 08:14 PM (2tkjS)
There were also "Hobart's Funnies".
This trick with the LST is right in character, and I really believe that it worked well. But the first pilot to try to land with that Brodie device has to been certifiable...
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at March 06, 2011 01:05 AM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at March 06, 2011 01:36 AM (+rSRq)
Funny you should mention the B-25... I was just reading a book that had a big section on it. The Strafer Mitchells had one shortcoming that they never entirely managed to fix in the field. The extra weight from the nose machineguns screwed up the plane's center of gravity, so they never quite flew right. It was easy for the pilot to compensate, but the plane wasn't the same. The "official" Strafers fixed that.
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 06, 2011 02:06 AM (W8Men)
Thanks for this site! Freaken awesome as I look for more info. on him on this Veterans Day (here in the US).
Posted by: Charles at November 11, 2011 05:21 PM (yw3E5)
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