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Carl Tandberg Milner (b. September 29, 1916, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA - d. October 27, 1999, Pilot Hill, Block Island, Washington County, Rhode Island, USA) was a self-taught electrical engineer. One of his more interesting activities was spending time in northern Alaska especially on the ice islands in the Arctic Sea doing research on sound propagation in those icy waters.
Carl Milner Plucking Sound From Sea and Sky by Keith A. Lewis. Late 1960s: It was a cold winter's day when I walked past the Coast Guard Station and along the road that runs to the beach. Curiosity had impelled me to go out and look at a building recently erected in the dunes. An antenna or two poked through its roof; otherwise the building was nondescript. It was, I had been told, a field station belonging to the Navy's Underwater Sound Laboratory. As I walked, I heard a vehicle approaching, a large truck I assumed by the noise. Suddenly it appeared over the dunes, an old Army vehicle with a large red star on each side. Driving was a stocky man wrapped in a heavy parka, such as one might see in the Arctic or maybe Siberia. Was this the Red Army approaching a Navy establishment? Visions of "The Russians are Coming" flashed through my mind. But no, this was my introduction to Carl Milner, who had recently moved to Block Island and was, in fact, in charge of this building. The story begins in New Hampshire some decades before. Born in 1916, Carl was raised on a 30-acre farm near Concord. It was subsistence farming at its harshest. Originally a dairy farm, the herd was wiped out by Bang's disease. Losing that, they went into the chicken business, with a big hatchery, incubators and so forth. That worked well for awhile, until the business was wiped out by another disease. They then went to raising potatoes and other crops. To supplement their meager income, his parents took jobs off the farm as well. His father worked for the railroad as a machinist at the roundhouse. His mother drove the school bus, an old Model-T beach wagon. Carl remembers the days before the farmhouse had electricity — though the outbuildings had a rudimentary system: an old make-and-break one-cylinder engine driving a 24-volt direct current generator. Along with its battery bank, the unit provided lighting for the chicken house. Unfortunately, lights at the beginning of the string were much brighter than those at the end. But the chickens didn't mind; they had electric lighting though Carl's family did not. Through another belt, the old engine also ran a water pump. Water for the farm came from a brook over the hill, pumped to the farm by hydraulic train, an ingenious device that uses the power of the brook to pump its own water. Carl was a product of the one-room schoolhouse. He attended grades one through eight in such a building, along with 15 or 20 other kids. He went on to attend Concord High School, which rounded cut his education. His curiosity for radio arose while in high school, an interest he shared with his father. He remembers listening with earphones to the Dempsey-Tunney fight. Details of the Lindbergh flight entered their home through a three-tube radio built with parts from Kresge's and RadioShack in Boston. To pull in distant stations, Carl and his father needed a suitable antenna. There was a tall Douglas fir standing in the front yard. It had been brought from the west coast as a seedling years before, and had since grown to a height of 80 or 90 feet. Carl's father climbed to the top and rigged an antenna. They could now hear stations in Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, to make way for the antenna, his father cut off a number of branches. The tree died, there went the antenna. By that time, the family had electricity and a Philco radio. One day, the transformer in the radio burned up. They took it to a guy who said he could fix it. Carl looked over the man's shoulder, watched, and thought to himself, "That's something I should be able to do." He got hold of some books and studied theory. He often went to visit the man, always asking questions. After high school, Carl earned a partial scholarship to Dartmouth, MIT and Lowell Textile. To earn the balance of the tuition, he tried to find work as an elevator operator or something similar, but there were no jobs. It was the middle of the Depression. His parents couldn't help. They were barely scraping by on the farm. With his interest in radio. he sent for a mail-order course from DeVry Institute in Chicago. It wasn't called electronics in those days. It was radio and electricity. Eventually he went to New York and took the exam for a first-class telephone license. Having that, he was able to operate broadcast stations. Carl worked at a half dozen radio stations around Connecticut. "Part of the time I was working the transmitter ... and part of the time I was on the radio announcing, learning procedures, and so forth." Awhile later, he was hired as chief engineer of WSPR, a station in Springfield, Massachusetts. "It was a little 500-watter," he recalls. "I had quite an interesting background. None of it paid an awful lot, but it was fun." Carl later moved to a larger station, WDRC Hartford, serving as transmitter supervisor. When World War II began, he joined the Signal Corps as a civilian. He was sent to Lexington, Kentucky where he taught radio theory. About this time, Carl and Barbara were married. (It was his best decision. Block Island would certainly benefit years later when they settled in the community. Barbara's kindness and energy are much appreciated by the island's volunteer organizations.) The newlyweds moved to Lexington on their government honeymoon. However, the work in Kentucky didn't satisfy him. "I wasn't doing what I thought I should for the war effort." He wanted to be put into something where I'm actually doing some good." The Milners went back to New York City. Carl was hired by the University of New York Signal Corps Training School, where he taught radio and some more advanced courses, "pre-radar" as he called it. "To teach the course, I had to teach some calculus. I didn't know any calculus, but some guy in my class was a math major. He kept me up to date. So I kept ahead of them day by day ... Never did make use of the calculus!" Carl tried to joined the Naval Reserve but was turned down for medical reasons. He went back to New York and was hired as a plant engineer with the Bogen Company, building amplifiers for the Marine Corps: "Big amplifiers that went into the field ... big high-powered amplifiers for talking propaganda. Huge things ... to scare the hell out of guys on the other side!" The company picked up a job from the Underwater Sound Laboratory, to build a sonic amplifier. And that's how Carl got involved with sonar. He came to know the people at Fort Trumbull, and the Columbia University Division of War Research. Eventually he left Bogen and got a job with Columbia University at the Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London. There he set up training schools for sonar operators and maintenance technicians, at Key West, Florida; Manitowoc, Wisconsin; Mare Island, California; Long Beach, California and Portsmouth, New Hampshire]. Mostly he went back and forth between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. U-Boats and Warships. The end of World War II gave the Navy a chance to look at German submarine technology, of which sonar was an important part. U-boats were brought to the United States. Carl had the opportunity to sail on several of the sinister craft. He boarded a number of the type known as the most widely used of the U-boats and the one of popular imagination. He later sailed on the Type IX, a larger boat. He also sailed on the Type XXI, an advanced boat that the Germans developed toward the end of the war. It was capable of underwater speeds of 17 knots. (In comparison, the Type VII-C had a maximum underwater speed of seven and a half knots.) With its snorkel, the Type XXI could remain underwater almost indefinitely. Had this boat been available to the Germans earlier in the war, the outcome might have been different in the Battle of the Atlantic. In riding the U-boats, Carl experienced one of the horrifying effects that plagued their crews. When running underwater with the snorkel in use, waves would often close the ball check at the top of the schnorkel. Outside air was shut off. The diesels would still be running, however, gulping air from the boat's interior. If the check valve failed to open promptly, the diesels pulled a vacuum on the boat, depriving the crew of oxygen. Men suffered bloody eyes and noses along with a tingling sensation. U-boat accounts tell of this, Carl experienced it. In a typical understatement, he says, "It wasn't pleasant." When studies of the U-boats were completed, Carl salvaged some of the sonar gear. The U-boats were later taken to sea and scuttled. Some were used as targets to test America's new weaponry. One U-boat wasn't destroyed however. U-505 now sits on the lawn at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Carl was involved in its preservation. U-505 was captured in mid-Atlantic by the hunter-killer group working with the baby-flattop USS Guadalcanal (a sister ship of the USS Block Island). The U-boat was depth charged and forced to the surface. The crew abandoned ship. Before leaving, they opened a sea strainer to sink her, to prevent the sub from falling into American hands. A Navy boarding party rushed below and replaced the strainer cover before the vessel flooded. In so doing, they saved the boat and its valuable code books. The German crew was interned in a prisoner-of-war camp, their survival and the vessel's not revealed. U-boat Command did not know that the sub and code books had been captured. After the war, the Navy took the boat up and down the coast, visiting various ports as part of a savings-bond drive. Carl made some of the trips. When the decision was made to preserve her, he rummaged through his warehouse for sonar equipment salvaged from other U-boats. He went out to Chicago and helped them install the gear. In so doing, he helped to preserve this museum piece for the education of future generations. U-boats weren't the only vessels he rode. The German cruiser Prinz Eugen had surrendered to the Americans. It was to be taken to the Pacific island of Bikini where it would be anchored with a number of other ships, while an atomic bomb was detonated nearby. Carl rode the cruiser from Philadelphia, through the Panama Canal to Long Beach. That ship, too, had sonar gear that he studied. He was impressed with what he saw and recommended that further studies be conducted before the cruiser was destroyed. At his urging, a number of tests were completed before the vessel left Long Beach, California. The Cold War. Though in American hands, the Prinz Eugen was manned by its German crew. As on the U-boats, few were hardened Nazis. Most accepted the reality of the war's end. Many recognized that the lines had been redrawn, that Germany's worry was not the Western allies but rather the Soviet Union to the east. With the end of World War II, another age had dawned, the Cold War and the nuclear age. Work at the Underwater Sound Laboratory reflected that reality. Carl's assignments did as well. He made a voyage on the Nautilus, on her first attempt to sail under the ice to the North Pole. The compass failed and she was forced to abort that mission. Having made the trip, Carl became intrigued by the Arctic and volunteered for research expeditions planted on ice islands drifting around the Arctic Ocean. He served on three islands over a period of four-and-a-half years. He served on Fletcher's Ice Island and another known as T-3. He was also involved on two of the Arctic Research Laboratory Ice Stations, known by their acronym ARLIS. He served on ARLIS I and helped set up ARLIS II. As their names suggest, the ice islands were huge blocks of ice that had broken free of the Ellesmere Island Glacier and were slowly drifting around the Arctic Ocean. Some were almost as big as Block Island. They provided a useful platform for studying Arctic phenomena. Carl generally stayed for three months each trip. Though winter was a time of perpetual darkness, he nevertheless preferred it to the warmer months. The surface of the ice melts in summer; reams of water run down the slopes. "Summer is slippery and wet and miserable," says Carl. "Winter is cold and windy ... but you can get around. It was an adventure." The effect of these conditions was obvious when they first went to Island T-1 It had previously been used by scientists participating in the International Geophysical Year. Thereafter, the island lay abandoned for several years. When Carl's team arrived, the shuttered buildings were all elevated, perched on ice pedestals. The surrounding ice had melted during the summer months, but ice beneath the structures remained frozen. It took some doing to get the buildings down off those pedestals! There were generally 10 or 15 people on an island at a time, scientists from various universities. Carl was doing sound-propagation studies for the Navy. "In case we went to war up there, we wanted to know what type of sound propagation we were getting. The bottom of the ice is a rough surface ... a landscape turned upside down. The sound reflects from it. It's a diffraction type of thing ... We were setting up explosive charges. And we would have P2V's fly out of Alaska and come out and drop charges into openings in the ice. We would record the sounds and get an analysis of what the sound propagation was." Airplanes provided transportation to the islands. Large planes such as DC-3's or C-130 transports were used for major support. Small planes, Cessna 180's, were also used, flying out from the base at Point Barrow, Alaska. When the ice was mushy, the planes were rigged with skis. When the ice was hard, a bulldozer packed it down and leveled it, so the planes could land on wheels. Fuel was often delivered simply by dropping 55-gallon drums out the doors of planes overhead. "Just kick it out the tail of a C-130," says Carl. Block Island. One summer, while Carl was in the Arctic, Barbara and their two sons vacationed on Block Island. They rented Bill and Laura Dunn's house and stayed the entire summer. Later that year they bought a small sailboat and often sailed from New London, Connecticut to the island, anchoring in Great Salt Pond. They fell in love with Block Island and soon bought land. Meanwhile, back in New London at the Underwater Sound Laboratory, Carl wanted to investigate shallow-water sound propagation from one point to another. The lab had a station on Fisher's Island, so that there was a place to terminate the signals. There were lines from Fisher's Island back to the lab. Carl couldn't let the moment pass. Stepping forward, he said, "The thing to do is go over to Block Island and transmit back to Fisher's Island, then into the lab where we can process it" The location would be useful, furthermore, because of submarine traffic in the area. Their sounds could be recorded and analyzed. It was all part of the study of under-water sound. A couple of old trailers were shipped to Block Island. Carl set up the field station near the breakwater at New Harbor. Its capabilities were later improved by sinking a special barge offshore. The barge had a tower mounted with underwater sound projectors that were arranged logarithmically. The tower penetrated the surface by perhaps a half dozen feet. A light on the tower marked its location. Carl's field station on the beach was functional rather than fancy. But it was a great place to work, out there on the dunes overlooking the sea. He bought a big 4 by 4 to drive to work; a surplus Army vehicle, one of those big no-nonsense things the Army loves. "It was good for beach travel, " he said. "We called it the Jug the Juggernaut. Painted it blue. Changed the large white Army star to red. We had a great time! Planes flying overhead thought they saw a Russian truck with a red star on it." Carl also had an assistant, a seagull that hung around the lab. When the gull got hungry, it picked up a rock or shell in its beak, flew up over the hut, and dropped it on the roof. Hearing the thud overhead, Carl knew it was time to feed his feathered friend. Eventually the, station accomplished its purpose. The Navy then decided to close it. Carl had enjoyed working there; he didn't want to move. And so he retired, along with his field station. Though no longer involved with the sea, Carl still plucks sound from the sky; keeping in touch with the world via his ham radio. His eyes have dimmed some-what, but a Japanese lady inside the radio recites the frequencies and signal strength. "We were lucky," says Barbara. "He could bring his work here. We've been fortunate. We've got a couple of good kids; we're reasonably happy. What more do you want? It may have had something to do with coming to Block Island and staying. We both like it here." That says it. all, Barbara. What could be more meaningful?" (Source: Block Island Times on November 28, 1999. Transcribed by Richard Arthur Norton on June 7, 2016)
He was buried in a cemetery on Block Island, Rhode Island.