The Secret History of Silicon Valley by Steve Blank (Transcript)

Hidden in Plain Sight: the Secret History of Silicon Valley by Steve Blank.


Male Presenter: Welcome everybody. It’s my pleasure to introduce Steve Blank. Steve Blank is a serial entrepreneur, he is lecturing at Stanford at the Engineering School of Stanford? Berkeley, at the business school of Berkeley, and the business School at Columbia University. He is a long time Silicon Valley denizen, he is into computer history, he was a marketing guru. That’s how I met him, the previous company where I worked at, Epiphany. And he’s here to give a talk which I think will tie nicely into Tom Perkins’ talk which was given a couple of weeks ago and I don’t know whether you have been to that one or not, Tom Perkins of the KPCB fame. And he talked a lot about Bill and Dave Packard and his relationship with them, and them being a mentor to him. And he touched on a lot of Silicon Valley history. But I thought Steve Blank’s talk will open this a lot more. I’ve seen this talk awhile ago and I can tell you it’s really interesting. Steve, please. Please give Steve a warm welcome.

Steve Blank: So I appreciate being here at the center of the universe and as Boris pointed out, I do drive by teaching in a number of universities which is what you do when you actually cash your Google stock when it crosses a thousand.

So the talk today is Hidden in Plain Sight: the Secret History of Silicon Valley. And a few caveats about the talk. I’m not a professional historian, some of this, hopefully not all of it, is probably wrong. And all of the secrets I’m going to share with you are from open source literature. I find history, particularly history of the Valley, kind of interesting because you could never tell where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. And the Valley has several waves of innovation. The defense wave, integrated circuit wave, personal computer wave, internet wave, and it doesn’t mean that every one of these waves meant that everybody in the valley was just doing this. But it meant at that period of time, there was a core concentration of expertise in Silicon Valley, in this local area, on each one of these domains.

And what I want to talk about today, briefly, is an area you probably know very little about. And that’s the area about defense.

Silicon Valley was and in some cases still is the heart and mind of NSA, CIA innovation. And I’m going to illustrate this with five very short stories.

World War II

The first story is about World War II. And a surprise to me is the title. World War II is the first Electronic War. How many of you have ever seen World War II movies? Anyone? Okay. Planes, bombers. Anybody seen, you know, Air Force movies in World War II. Every movie you’ve ever seen about World War II that involved bombers were wrong, every one of them. Not because people were lying, but simply that the directors and the screen writers don’t know and still don’t know what I’m about to tell you today.

Just to set the scene, in September 1939, World War II started in Europe. By the summer of 1940, the Germans had overrun continental Europe. They owned everything from the English Channel and they were moving, starting in June 1941, into western Russia. Britain stood alone. And by December 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the US joined them.

But the only way to affect German power in Europe, in 1941, 1942, 1943, and half of 1944, was the start of strategic bombing campaign to destroy the industrial capacity of Germany. And this was called the Combined Bomber Offensive.

British planes and then American planes, took off everyday to fly from Britain to industrial targets over Germany. The British bombed with four inch of bombers called Lanchesters and Halifaxes, they bombed at night. Their goal was what they called area bombing, or euphemistically to dehouse the population. Unfortunately, if you were in the house, they also had some other effects on you. But since they couldn’t barely see what they were bombing at, this is carpet bombing of cities.

These planes flew at 7,000 to 17,000 feet, carried up to 20,000 pounds of bombs, roundtrip from Britain to Germany to back. And starting in late 1942 and really getting into it in 1943, the Americans started bombing. And their concept was, “We’re Americans. Heck, we could put these bombs down a smokestack.” This is precision bombing, we’re going to take out specific industrial targets. And we used B17s, which you see here, and B24s. These bombers flew somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 feet. These planes were unpressurized. Pilots and crew were on oxygen for six to eight hours per mission. You’ll see some pictures of that in a second.

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The goal was to destroy the transportation infrastructure, the petroleum, the fuel oils infrastructure, aircraft infrastructure and anything else that contributed to the German war economy.

Let me just put this in context about the size of this air strike. This wasn’t Moffett Field, a couple of planes a day. The size of the Allied air war in Europe was a titanic struggle, the likes of which we’ll never see again with manned aircraft. There were 28,000 Allied airplanes at its peak, bombers and fighters. 40,000 planes were lost and destroyed, 40,000.

Just in context, the entire jet fleet, Boeing, Airbus, smaller manufacturers today in operation, 15,000 planes worldwide. We lost 40,000 of them in Europe and just for scale, 160,000 airmen died over Europe. Not got shut down, just died. Half US, half British, and by the way, they were your age. They were all in their early 20s. That’s who manned these crews.

Let me give you an example. Can we get the audio?

[Video Playback]

Notice the oxygen mask. Those little black dots are not new clouds. Those little black dots are something called flak or anti-aircraft shells bursting around the aircraft. Couple of things to note, the crew, pilot, copilot, navigator, radio operator, bombardier, and lots of gunners who you’ll meet in a second.

As soon as they took off from Britain, they were facing the German air defense system and here’s the stuff no moviemaker ever knew. The Germans in 1940 set-up the Kammhuber Line. It was an integrated electronic air defense network that stretched from Northern France all the way into Germany. Its job was to defend Germany from British and US bomber raids to warn and detect German air defense, to target and aim their weapons, and then destroy the bombers before they got to the targets. The Germans could see the British and American planes forming up 200 miles away. These were the air defense radar sites in occupied France. And the air defense radars had 200 mile ranges.

The first phased-array radar ever built was the Mammoth, peak power of 200 kilowatts, 100 feet across. But the backbone of early warning radar for the Germans was a steerable tower, it actually pivoted, 190 feet high, almost a megawatt, and we’re talking about 1942. 150 of these spread across occupied France.

Now, once these bombers were detected in formation and they started flying, if you remember that video “Have we crossed the coast?”, what they encountered was something called the Himmelbelt, which was the German air defense network, which is local air defense organized by 30X20 mile boxes, and each one of those boxes had an integrated network of radars, flak, which was a German name for anti-aircraft guns, fighters, and for night time search lights.

And what happened was, as bombers started entering the Himmelbelt, they were detected by the Freya early warning radars, that provided warning through a command center that started vectoring or talking pilots of German fighter planes into the bomber stream, and this ground control to intercept technique was invented in Germany right here and directed fighters right into the bombers. And then the fighters, particularly at night, for the first time, had their own onboard radar. German fighter planes had radar that when they got into the vicinity, could lock on to the bombers and target their weapons.

The Freya, which was this local defense radar, 90 mile range, Giant Wurzburg, 1,500 of these were deployed in these Himmelbelt cells, 45 mile range, this thing is 25 feet across, there were a 150 of these. And all of these data for these Himmelbelts were pouring into air traffic control centers, they didn’t call them that but that’s what you should think about them. All the radar data from the short range radars, all the long range radar data, and they even have their equivalent to the National Security Agency who is picking up passive detection of picking up all the radio traffic from the bombers as they formed up, all came into these centers where they integrated all these data. And think of a giant movie theater, and you had fighter controllers looking at a giant map projected on a screen with the controller sitting in theater-like seats. And they would talk the fighters into the vicinity of the targets, the fighters would turn on their radar, and acquire and attack the target.

At night, when the British were bombing, the German night fighters would use their radar and it looked like this, and figured out this time in the war that, gee, you could put a radome, all right, that is a covering around these that would be transparent to radar. So these things looked like deer horns but they were pretty effective. But the weak link was the ground controller communications channel, we’ll talk later about what could happen if you could shut that down. These were the planes that were used for night attack.

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During the day, ground control intercept just had to get these fighters into the general range, then you could eyeball the bomber stream, kind of hard to miss a thousand bombers heading for Berlin once you got into the general area. Again the weak link was the controller communications channel, typical planes were the Messerschmitt BF 109 and the Focke-Wulf 190. Yes?

Audience: [Question inaudible]

Steve Blank: Great question. If you’re flying during the day, you were vectored, if you were flying at night, you’d use your radar. And I’ll show you some more –another example.

Typically, that’s where the bombers would hide, but eventually they had to come out if they wanted to bomb. So I’ll show you an example.

[Video Playback]

Here’s an example of a fighter attack, this is real footage from World War II.

They didn’t have escorts until late in the war when the P51 which actually changed the tide of the bombing war allowed the bombers to have sufficient range to take them all of the way to the target. In 1941, ’42, ’43, beginning of ’44, there wasn’t adequate fighter protection. And when they started using fighters P-47, it didn’t have enough range to take them all the way into Germany.

Couple of things to note, about 60% of bomber losses were the fighters. About 40% were lost to something called–which I mentioned earlier, anti-aircraft or flak. The Germans had 5,000 anti-aircraft radars. If you ever see pictures of anti-aircraft guns shooting, you never once see the fact that they were all radar-directed. Holy cow. And the guns they used, think of cannons pointing up in the air, the shells profuse for a time. There were fragmentation rounds. The shell went off, if you were within 50 feet of that shell your plane was peppered by shrapnel and the odds are, you would either get severely damaged or go down.

The good thing for the Allied, I take this –questions, if anybody is interested. The Germans never had proximity fuses. It could have dramatically changed the result of the air war. Also, Germans had designed a pretty effective prototype of a surface-to-air missile called The Wasserfall. But they also didn’t do that. They put all their resources into the B2 which while great for rocket science, was pretty ineffective as a strategic weapon.

The next thing was the bomb run. They fought their way over Europe, they’re getting to the target, and they’re about to line up the bomb. See all the flaks bursting around them. So, okay. They’re about to make their bomb run and somebody said, “Dark clouds.” There’s only four clear days a month in fall and winter over Europe. Great photos shows a nice day.

How did they see the target? Here’s the other piece you never saw in any war movie about World War II. They show the bombardier using an optical bomb sight. Works great when it’s clear. It’s optical. How do you bomb for a cloud. Great weather, by the way, that’s flak. Dropping their bombs on the target. Perfect aim. By the way, only about 30% of bombs, even at the end of the war came within a half a mile of the target. Precision bombing was an oxymoron.

So, what they finally decided to do and invented, and installed by 1943, was air-to-ground radar. By the end of the war, every US and British bomber had a bombing radar set. It meant for the first time, they no longer needed to cancel missions when it was overcast over the target. These were pretty primitive and all they did was paint an outline, of kind of the major ground features. But it was good enough to develop map overlays, to say, “Well, if you see a feature that looks like that, it’s probably Hamburg.” And so, targets could be over Berlin or, maybe it’s –hopefully not London. Targets could be seen under the cloud and the rain. The British installed this in mid 1943. The Americans took it and improved it a bit, and put it in mass production on every British and American bomber. This will come back in another story a little later on.

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