Murray Leinster’s Submarine


It suddenly occurs to me that the story of Murray Leinster’s submarine may well not have been committed to print yet. It’s a slight thing, an anecdote. But you might find it interesting.

I met Will Jenkins, the writer who published science fiction under the pseudonym of Murray Leinster, in 1971 or ’72. Leinster is best known as the man who invented the parallel worlds or alternate history story with “Sidewise in Time.” A professor who knew him took me and a fellow SF fanatic along on a visit to his house, “Ardudwy,” on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Oh, man, was I impressed! Jenkins/Leinster was everything a writer should be. His house was a wizard’s den, crammed with books. He had an experiment-in-progress set up on his kitchen table. (He was an inventor as well as a writer.) He told fabulous stories.

This is one:

During WWII, Robert Heinlein, then working at the Philadelphia Naval yard, formed a think tank of SF writers to solve thorny and unusual problems for the military. Asimov and de Camp were part of the group and I believe that L. Ron Hubbard was too. Heinlein wanted Leinster to also be a member, but the navy brass said no, because he didn’t have a high school degree. (He’d dropped out of school in the eighth grade and gotten a job in a mill, to help support his family.) Nevertheless, the group slipped him a few problems under the table.
One such problem was that submarines were easily spotted from the air by the vee-shaped wake left by their periscopes. The Navy wanted a fix.

So Leinster built a few wooden models, and experimented with them in his bathtub. Eventually, he determined that attaching long flexible strips of I forget exactly what (maybe aluminum) to the periscope would break up the wake. The info was passed back to Heinlein and so up the line.

Shortly thereafter, Leinster received what he characterized as a very polite letter from an admiral, saying that for technological reasons, the problem was now moot. (I. e., everybody had radar now, and everybody else knew it.) But that there was one thing he was wondering about. He understood that Leinster had come up with his method while playing in the bathtub and he wanted to know (and here Leinster paused, for dramatic purposes) just what he had used for the periscope?


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