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Gazda final

  1. 1. Antoine Gazda (1895-1957)WWI Aviator, Inventor, Engineer“…an expert on aviation and armaments, and an inventor of many important devices for death and progress.” -Providence Journal, March 21, 1943 the embellishment of “the Gazda story” over Ocean State. When Gazda died on the years. (One example: it was widely September 19, 1957, the Providence Journal reported during WWII that Gazda had a reported, “He counted among his friends and factory in Switzerland that moved into a associates the socially, economically and mountainside with the press of a button.) politically prominent people of three In 1946 the Providence Journal made continents.” a concerted effort to separate fable from fact. Antoine Gazda de Suchan was born The paper sent its Washington in Vienna on June 5, 1895. Early on, he correspondent, the well-known reporter and developed a fascination for aviation. “In investigator Harold N. Graves, Jr. to Zurich, 1912 I saw Bleriot assemble and Berne and other cities to speak with people demonstrate his plane in a field near who had known Gazda. Other reporters Vienna,” he said. “After that I could think fanned out to New York, Washington and of nothing but flying.” other US locations in search of the facts. He built a bamboo glider and flew it At the end of the research, the in 1913. He built one glider on a bicycle, conclusion was best summed up by Emil and a second on a sled which he launched Georg Buehrle, who headed up the Oerlikon by sliding down a ski slope. He received his Works in Switzerland and was reportedly the first patent in Austria in 1913, for an airplane richest man in the country. “Some of the turnbuckle. He won 100 marks at an aviation stories are 5 percent true, some of them are competition that year in Berlin, andNote ever-present airplane tie pin 50% true, some of them are 95% true, but immediately sold the patent to a German In the summer of 1940, an energetic none of them are 100% true,” said Buhrle. manufacturer.45-year old Austrian aviator and arms dealer (To be fair, by 1946 Buehrle and Gazda were His experimentats with an engine-came to Rhode Island carrying one of the adversaries; Buhrle felt that Gazda had powered plane drew the attention of theworld’s most guarded secrets — the cheated Oerlikon out of some $30 million Austrian War Department, which providedblueprints for the much-in-demand anti- in royalties for the guns produced in the US. him with a 30hp Anzani engine. Gazda saysaircraft cannon manufactured by the But since Buehrle had also sold a large he taught himself to fly, then used theOerlikon Machine Tool Company in number of guns to the Axis, his claim was proceeds from some early inventions to takeSwitzerland. Over the next 17 years he met with little support after the war.) lessons at the first Austrian flying school.became a larger-than-life figure, and to this Gazda arrived in Rhode Island in He flew an Austrian-designed Etrich Taube,day no one knows for sure how much of his mystery, left in mystery and died in mystery. which was later built under license instory is fact and how much is fiction. Even if the Gazda legend is only 50% true, Germany and was in widespread military use What is known for certain is that he there remains a fascinating tale of adventure, at the outbreak of WWI.did his most important work during World intrigue and international wheeling and When war broke out in August ofWar II in Providence, operating at first from dealing on a level hitherto unheard of in the 1914, Gazda was not yet 20 years old. “Isuite 1009 of the Biltmore Hotel. The workGazda performed here in Rhode Island wasconsidered so crucial to the Allied war effortthat for many months production of his anti-aircraft cannon took production priority overall other war goods. Amazingly, Gazda’s cannonproduction was only the tip of the iceberg.He was an inventor, an Austrian count, adaredevil motorcycle and race car driver, anda World War I combat aviator (on the losingside). He also graduated from the TechnicalInstitute in Vienna, and became a prolificinventor; in his lifetime he claimed 186patents, of which 31 are registered inWashington. Much of what we know of hisbackground came out of a detailed 1943interview with Providence Journal reporterG. Y. Loveridge, who then wrote a lengthyfour-part feature story. Because of thesecrecy surrounding his work, and the lackof accessible records in Austria andSwitzerland, corroborating many of hisclaims is virtually impossible. Without facts, Gazda with his supercharged racing car at a German glider facility in 1928. This photo, and the onerumor and speculation have contributed to on the next page, were reproduced from his personal photo album/ 2
  2. 2. He raced autos through the 1920s, giving up the sport after winning two big rallies in 1930: the International Alpine Cup, and the Italian Coupa della Venezia. That same year he set up a residence and laboratory in Paris, and began representing French interests abroad. He went to Japan for six months in 1934, negotiating with the Japanese War Department and private interests, principally on behalf of the French Société Aeronautique Lorraine relative to granting a license for torpedo speedboats. At the same time he pointed out to the Japanese the devastating possibilities of the Oerlikon automatic cannon in aircraft. He advised them of the experimental work and development being done at the Swiss plant. Even his detractors described him as a “remarkable salesman”. He then went back to Oerlikon and persuaded them to make himGazda and his wife Loly, both pilots, flew the deHavilland 60G Gipsy Moth shown here. Gazda Chief of Sales. Prior to his arrival, theearned his Royal Aero Club pilot’s license in 1937 at London Air Park Flying School. They were Oerlikon Company was in desperatesponsored in London aviation circles by Lord Sempill, a leading figure in the Royal Aeronautical financial straits. Within his first year he soldSociety and a pioneer in British aviation. An admirer of the Japanese, it was learned many years a major order for the 20mm aircraft cannon to Japan; he spent two months in the Imperiallater that Sempill had disclosed sensitive information but was never prosecuted to protect MI5 Hotel in Tokyo closing the deal. (It is indeedoperations. It is also likely that he helped Gazda with his sales of the Oerlikon cannon to Japan. Lord ironic that Oerlikon was saved fromSempill was one of the founders of the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and remained a bankruptcy by orders from the Imperialpillar of the establishment until his death in 1965. Japanese Navy.)was too young to be drafted, but too to Kiev, he descended into the middle of a The Japanese Army then ordered theenthusiastic about aviation to stay home,” civil war. Gazda was taken prisoner, and was anti-tank version of the gun. Gazda’s contactGazda said. He volunteered with the small only released when he agreed to help his was Prince Chichibu, the Oxford-educatedAustrian Air Force, and was immediately captors form a Ukrainian air force to battle brother of Emperor Hirohito. (Interestinglyassigned to flying duty, performing the Poles. When they allowed him to fly a enough, in many interviews during Worldreconnaissance and artillery observation demo flight, he fled to Warsaw instead. War II, Gazda vociferously denied thoseduty on the Russian front. Early on it became apparent that Japanese deals ever happened.) Because of his technical knowledge, Gazda was the unusual engineer and In 1935, Gazda came to the US in anhe was called back from the front to become technician who was also a superb salesman attempt to sell a new version of the cannonthe production engineer for the first Austrian with a charismatic personality. For example, designed to be mounted in aircraft wings,aircraft manufacturing plant. In 1916 his the Skoda Works had a factory full of but neither the Navy nor the War Departmentproposal for the mass production of airplanes Albatros D-IIIs destined for delivery to an had any interest. However, over the nextcame to the attention of the famed Austrian Air Force that no longer existed, three years many other successes followed.armaments kingpin, Baron Karl von Skoda. so Gazda convinced the Poles they needed During the Spanish Civil War the OerlikonSkoda hired Gazda to help launch an air force. He traded the aircraft for gained a reputation as an excellent piece ofOesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG, trainloads of food, which earned him ordnance. He sold the gun to Germany,another aircraft factory which eventually recognition from his starving countrymen. Japan, Italy, Finland, several Southdesigned and produced the famous Albatros He eventually set up his own facility American countries, and China. “EachD-III (which Immelmann and von Richtofen in the former Vienna Arsenal. He worked country dealing with Gazda doubtlessflew so successfully). on inventions to improve the automobile and thought that it alone was making aviation Gazda said that he began to think of airplane, and dabbled in auto and motorcycle armaments most progressive step,” wrotethe concept of dive bombing as early as racing as well as gliding. He produced a one business analyst. “The world has known1918. He demonstrated his idea at an supercharged engine for cars and planes, few salesmen who were his equal.”Austrian military airport near Krakow, which he tested in road races and exhibited He also spent considerable time duringdiving from 3000 feet to drop ten-pound at shows in Berlin, Paris and London. Gazda the 1930s in London, where he cultivated abags of flour (rare and valuable commodities claimed he developed and exhibited the first number of powerful friendships--amongin those days of blockade-starved Austria). front-wheel drive for automobiles in 1923. them Lord Louis Mountbatten, cousin of“The Albatros fighter I used was not He built a glide boat, a forerunner of King George VI. Despite his many socialdesigned for such tricks,” he later said, “I the airboat, that carried 48 people and was contacts, however, it took more than 200was lucky the wings didn’t come off.” powered by three airplane propellors. After meetings with the British Admiralty before The war ended soon afterward, but a few runs its use was banned by the he broke through. He finally landed an orderGazda was convinced that dive bombing Hungarian government, but years later he for 500 guns from the Royal Navy in Julywould become a deadly tactic when the right was amazed to learn that the boat was still of 1939—just two months before the warairplane was designed for it. in service in the Congo. began. By October the order had doubled to After the war, Gazda continued to He invented elastic handle bars for 1000, and at his chalet in Switzerland, Gazdawork for Skoda for a while, but his sense of motorcycles, and an elastic steering wheel signed an agreement to manufacture theadventure sometimes overcame his good which was used in 95 percent of all the autos cannon in judgment. He occasionally flew air in America by 1941. He licensed his Gazda was in England when Francemail flights out of Vienna; on one such flight inventions to manufacturers all over Europe. fell, and the Germany Army cut off delivery 3
  3. 3. 80,000 tooling hours. The American Oerlikon Gazda Corporation was set up a few days later.. The company was capitalized with $100,000, a quarter of which was Gazda’s own money. Since no company controlled by aliens could engage in armament manufacture, the majority of the shares Had to be owned by Americans. With the help of Dillon Reed on Wall Street, the balance of the issue was subscribed very quickly— Silvered octagon pin owned by a despite the fact that Gazda had worker for the American Oerlikon only a promise of a contract Gazda Corporation. . from the British to buy the guns, and no contract with the US.Rhode Island Governor J. Howard McGrath test-fires the new Gazda 20mm Nevertheless, American Oerlikon Gazda was in business, withcannon on January 15, 1943. McGrath, later to become US Attorney Gazda as a director and vice president. By the time the companyGeneral, was a great friend and supporter of Gazda. was closed down in 1946, it had done $125 million worth of business.of the Oerlikon gun parts to Britain. Desperate for the gun but Gazda took over a six-story building at 100 Fountain Streetunable to produce it themselves, the British agreed with Gazda’s across from the Providence Journal, (later the site of the Greyhoundplan to go to the United States—along with the precious production Bus Terminal) and leased the Manville-Jenckes textile mill complexdrawings--to set up shop. He flew to America on May 26, 1940. in Pawtucket for his assembly plant. His first idea was to get the British to finance construction of Some 14 months before Pearl Harbor, he began the designa privately owned production facility in this country. Already changes necessary to convert measurements from the metric systemstruggling to survive the Battle of Britain, the English declined. so the parts could be machined in fractions of inches.Plan B was to find an existing plant that was large enough and had Perhaps prompted by their British allies, the US Navy thenthe necessary equipment and manpower to mass produce the agreed to test the gun. Gazda was given notice on a Friday that thecannons. To put this in context, Gazda was no stranger to America. Navy had scheduled a firing test the following Monday at DahlgrenHe had been here eight times previously, and had been a member of Proving Grounds in Virginia. Gazda had only the one gun inthe Society of American Engineers since 1928. However, he was America, and no way to get it to Virginia that quickly. Putting thestill astonished to find that “in America there was not one armament cannon on a train was not allowed, and local truckers were notfactory organized and equipped in a manner to compare with our licensed to go beyond New York. The Army or the Navy mightSwiss Oerlikon Works.” have been willing to help out, but there was no way the bureaucracy In a speech before the RI Society of Professional Engineers could process the necessary approvals that 1947, Gazda described his surprise at America’s lack of capability Finally, the State Highway Department offered an old workat the outbreak of the war. He commented that we “had the smallest truck with flat tires. Mechanics replaced the tires and tuned it up,defense industry, in proportion to size and resources, [of any country]that I had ever come across.” This left Gazda with only one alternative if he was going tokeep his promise to deliver the guns to the British Fleet despite thefall of France. He would have to find a large group of sub-contractorsto manufacture the various components, and establish an Americancompany to assemble the parts. He needed a work force that couldquickly make and assemble precision gun parts. And he neededfactories that could quickly be converted to arms production. Governor William Vanderbilt of RI had heard of Gazda’ssearch, and sent William Allen of the RI Industrial Commission toNew York to meet him. Allen invited Gazda to visit Providence. Alarge proportion of the plants and shops in Rhode Island were atthat time idle, especially textile machinery plants, and Gazda sawthey would make an excellent base for the cannon production. TheIndustrial Commission gave Gazda a desk in their office in theIndustrial Trust Building, and he went to work. Just prior to the fall of France, Oerlikon had shipped a sampleof the gun and ammunition to the US for demonstration use. TheGermans captured the shipment in Bordeaux, however, when theyoverran France. Gazda’s contacts with the British Admiralty solvedthat problem; a British destroyer in a Canadian port was armedwith the 20mm Oerlikon, and it was ordered to the New York areawhere the cannon was removed. To avoid any customs problems itwas shipped to Rhode Island addressed to the Adjutant General. In early October, 1940, the cannon was put on display at theCranston Street Armory, RI manufacturers large and small came to Gazda and his cannon at the test site near Salt Pond, Point Judith. Thestudy the cannon’s parts and decide which ones they could make in photos on this page (and other Gazda-related images) are from RIAHOF’stheir own machine shops. Public bids were invited on the estimated archive of Gazda material. 4
  4. 4. The Gazda Helicospeeder--Years Ahead of Its Time Although Antoine Gazda is best known for his production ofcannon to shoot airplanes down, his first love had always been flying “One of the great contributors [to our victorythem. Even at the height of his efforts to produce the cannons during in WWII] was Gazda… he also revolutionizedWWII, he still made time to experiment with new aviation ideas. Dr. aviation when he brought out the first jet-propelledNicholas Alexander, professor of aeronautical engineering at RI State helicopter [in 1944].”College, directed many scientific tests for Gazda in the college labs. -Senator Theodore Francis Green on the Senate FloorOne series of tests in 1942 was for fuel tank gliders Gazda designed tobe towed behind bombers to extend their range. The student lab Left: Hal Lemont and Tonyinstructor was named Hal Lemont, and Gazda hired him part time to Gazda, about 1944. Below: thepursue the concept, which was later deemed to be impractical. Model 100 under construction. A year or so later, Gazda ran into Lemont again at the Providence Center: Governor McGrath sitstrain station. Lemont was working for Sikorsky on the VS 300 helicopter in the helicopter while Gazda (r)project in Connecticut. As it turned out, the helicopter held a particular explains the controls; RIfascination for Gazda, who several ideas in mind to improve the Adjutant General looks on.performance of that type of aircraft. Gazda asked Lemont to design a Bottom: Gazda exits thenew helicopter for him, incorporating those new ideas. Lemont had two Helicospeeder.weeks vacation coming up, and he agreed to spend that time workingon a small 2-place helicopter. If they were both happy with the result,Gazda would offer Lemont a job. Enough progress was made to launch the development effort,and Lemont came to work full time in November on what became knownas the “Gazda Helicospeeder”. This single motor and torque aircraft, the Model 100, wasassembled at the Providence Airport in Seekonk at a cost of $150,000--a huge sum in those days. Few people are aware that this RhodeIsland-built craft incorporated several radical and unique features nowcommonplace in helicopter design. The major innovation was a powerfultail rotor that could be swung 90 degrees to push the aircraft to a higherspeed with its main rotor axis vertical. In that configuration, the craftwould fly as a "gyrodyne," something like an autogyro with a poweredmain rotor. A steering wheel would allow the pilot to control the rearrotor, and pulling or pushing on the wheel would alter the pitch of themain rotor blades, making the craft rise or fall. In a preview of NOTAR (NO TAil Rotor) technology, the two-placeGazda was originally designed to use a primitive "reaction jet," ratherthan a tail rotor to provide the sideways thrust needed to counteract thetorque of the main rotor while the aircraft was hovering. Promotionalmaterials promised a maximum speed of an incredible 300 mph--lightyears ahead of the 70mph then achievable by helicopters. Gazda wasissued a patent for the idea, but this feature was shelved because nosuitable powerplant existed in 1945. Gazda had the right idea--but hewas about 40 years ahead of his time! Popular Mechanics wrote about the helicopter in March and April1945, and several other publications featured it as well. Gazda test flew the Model 100 a few times with varying degreesof success, but Lemont became very concerned that overconfidence inhis helicopter flying ability was affecting Gazda’s judgment. In Lemont’sview, Gazda’s impatience caused damage to the prototype in twoseparate incidents. Lemont quit in August 1945, and the aircraft wasnever developed further. “I did not want to be responsible for killing Mr.Gazda with one of my designs,” he said. To his credit, Gazda realized that learning to properly fly ahelicopter would take more time, energy and effort than he was willingto commit, so he shut the project down. After Gazda’s death in 1957,Vincent Collicci of Copters Unlimited in RI bought the the Model 100 inan estate auction 1958. Two years later Collicci traded it to Carroll Vossof AgRotors in Gettysburg, PA for some crop dusting equipment. After a number of years Stanley Hiller saw the Helicospeederdeteriorating in storage and brought it to his museum in San Carlos, CAfor a full restoration. The Helicospeeder is now owned by the OwlsHead Transportation Museum, just south of the tourist destination ofCamden, Maine. 5
  5. 5. for the Oerlikon cannon and under law he as a foreigner could not continue to act in a management capacity. Gazda did so, but kept his stock ownership. The name of the company was officially changed to A. O. G. Corporation. By August the Navy had taken over the British contract, and what had begun as a small private operation was greatly accelerated. Gazda was certainly not perturbed by the legal maneuvering. A contemporary Providence Journal article reported that heGazda had tested a apparently had “…ample funds to live on a lavish scale.”prototype of this anti-sub He rented Vinton Lodge on Boston Neck Road in Narragansettweapon on Lake Lucerne Pier where he entertained extensively. He was invited to join thein Switzerland in 1939. Dunes Club, and his Chris-Craft Cruiser “Loly”, named for his wife,He built another one and was based at the Perkins and Vaughn shipyard in Wickford, andlaunched it on Salt Pond was “…a familiar vessel among yachtsmen along the bay.”in Point Judith. The “Sea In addition to plenty of money, he had a number of highly-Skimmer”carried an placed friends—to include Lord Louis Mountbatten, cousin of KingOerlikon 20mm cannon George VI, who visited the Gazdas in Narragansett that headyforward, a machine gun summer of 1941aft, and four depth He quickly enamored himself to local (and national) militarycharges. Its inability to and law enforcement authorities. He drove a 1939 12-cylinderhandle heavy seas made Lincoln Zephyr --“Well above the speed limit,” according to oneit impractical for hunting detractor, who believed he was “…covered by being a member ofsubmarines. the Police Chiefs Association.” Interestingly enough, Gazda was also made an Honorary Captain in the Arizona Highway Patrol. This lifestyle came to an abrupt halt, however, after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declarations of war against Japan and Germany. Overnight, Gazda and his wife became enemy aliens. Despite the fact that he was working on an initial Navy order valued at more than $27 million for the Oerlikon cannon, he and his wife were arrested on December 9, 1941 on a Presidential warrant. This was part of the sweep designed to scoop up suspected enemy saboteurs and fifth columnists. They were taken from the luxury apartment they maintained at the Waldorf-Astoria and were detained at Ellis Island. Newly-elected Governor McGrath called on the Attorney General of the US to release Gazda. “Not only was the Gazda gun being manufactured and assembled here,” wrote McGrath, “But Gazda also proposed several other ideas of considerable importance, all of which would have been to the benefit of the country and toand the gun was in Dahlgren on Monday. Navy officials were Rhode Island in particular.”“favorably impressed”, and in mid-November, 1940, offered to buy It took the FBI, the Army, the Navy and other departments of1000 cannon and 5000 rounds of ammunition, with the idea of the government three months to decide that he was of more benefitarming merchant ships crossing the Atlantic. than harm to the Allied cause. In March, 1942 he and Loly were The elections of 1940 also brought a new Governor to power released into the custody of the Commanding General, First Servicein Rhode Island. J. Howard McGrath, later to become Attorney Command in Boston, who was ordered to keep an eye on them.General of the US, thought Gazda was an important economic asset Taking that charge literally, an Army captain, lieutenant andfor the state. He told Gazda to call on him directly if he could be of ten enlisted men were sent to Providence. Gazda and his wife wereany assistance. Gazda said later, “From that time onwards he was living in a suite on the 10th floor of the Biltmore, so the soldiersmy keenest supporter in all I did for the Allied war effort.” moved into the hotel as well. For the next several months, the Gazdas Over the next few months licensing negotiations went back were guarded 24 hours per day. (One report says the soldiers had toand forth, and in February of 1941 the military flew Gazda to get special pistol carry permits from the Governor, because theyBermuda, where he executed (on behalf of Oerlikon) an agreement could not tell local police who they were or what they were doing.)with the British Purchasing Commission. A connecting door to an adjacent suite was bricked up and Gazda then flew to Lisbon to meet with the Oerlikon owner, plastered over so that there was only exit and entrance, making itEmil Georg Buehrle, to resolve one last hurdle. The consent of the easier to guard. Anyone visiting Gazda at his office also had to beSwiss government was required for any licensing agreement, and vetted by a soldier.getting that consent fell to Buehrle. The captain in charge of the detail told the Journal after the The Swiss, concerned about the German military juggernaut war that the arrangement was bizarre—on the one hand the Armyon its borders, never did grant consent, so Gazda decided to produce was guarding Gazda as a suspect, but when he went to Washingtonguns on his own. to visit the War Department, all doors were open to him. At the He returned to Providence and production went full steam same time the Navy was sending him top secret plans andahead, with or without Swiss consent. On June 6, 1941 the first documents. “The Army couldn’t guard Gazda with a division oftest-firing of an American-made Oerlikon cannon took place, and troops,” marveled a close friend. “At the end of two weeks, it wouldlater in the month the first truckload of completed cannon rolled be Tony Gazda’s division.”out of the Pawtucket assembly plant The Gazdas were paroled from this custody to the Boston At the end of June Mr. Houston, President of American Ordnance District in August, but it would be another year beforeOerlikon Gazda, advised Gazda that the US Navy had demanded they were totally free.his resignation, because the Navy was contemplating direct orders Meanwhile, Rhode Islanders who worked at A. O. G. headquarters experienced a top-secret culture. "I was like a bit player 6
  6. 6. in a large production and didnt realize how important it was until Istarted to work there, to do the work with no questions about why Iwas doing it," Dorothy Smalley McKenna told the ProvidenceJournal many years later. At its peak in 1943, A. O. G. employed some 800 people.They did no manufacturing, but they assembled parts producedelsewhere into cannons. The workers at 100 Fountain Streetperformed the design and engineering tasks. Survivors in 1999recalled a special bond “because of the secrecy of the project, thelong hours they put in each day, and the sense that they were makinga big contribution to the war effort.” Parts were made in small machine shops around Providenceand the Blackstone Valley, including the Taft-Pierce Company inWoonsocket; Pantex Pressing Machine Company, in Pawtucket;Liberty Tool & Gauge Company, in Providence; and LincolnMachine Company, in Pawtucket. Gazda also helped setupproduction in the Pontiac Division of General Motors in Detroit. By the end of World War II, nearly every vessel in the Alliedfleet - up to and included the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth, whichcarried 80 of them - was armed with Gazda’s antiaircraft guns.Between December 7, 1941 and September 1944, the Oerlikon wasresponsible for 32% of all identifiable anti-aircraft kills in the fleet.About 26,000 of these cannons were assembled at the Manville-Jenckes complex in Pawtucket and at other factories Gazda set uparound the country, especially at Hudson and General Motorsfactories in Michigan. The U.S. government had spent about $2.8billion developing the Oerlikon-Gazda gun; some $187 millionworth of the cannons were made in Rhode Island. "It was in this little state of Rhode Island that I had the privilegeof transforming idle workshops and textile-machinery plants, in theshortest time, into important participants in the foundation of whatwas to become a gigantic United States armament industry," saidGazda after the war. Postwar photo shows Gazda and his wife Leopoldine (Loly), probably at Although many accounts described Gazda as the inventor or Beechwood, their estate on Post Road in Wakefield. They married in 1926;developer of the 20mm cannon (and Gazda did not contradict such it was the second marriage for both. She was his mechanic when he road-assertions), he had nothing to do with its invention or development. raced in the 1920s, and he bragged that she could change a tire in 42Records show that Oerlikon had been working on this cannon in seconds flat. She was also a pilot and the daughter of an Austrian general.1924, some 11 years before Gazda joined the firm. In Gazda’s defense, Oerlikon designed and built the gun as difficult for subs to detect. This was a derivative of the concept hean aerial cannon, to be mounted on aircraft for aerial combat. Gazda had first used on the Danube in the 1920s; he also successfullymay well have played a pivotal role in converting the gun for use as tested a prototype on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland in 1939.a ship-mounted anti-aircraft weapon. The South Kingstown Town Council rented him land on Salt As mentioned above, Gazda severed his operational ties with Pond, behind South County Hospital and next to Hanson’s BoatOerlikon (and A. O. G.) because aliens were not allowed to hold Yard. He built a small office and workshop in what used to be amanaging positions in any company with defense contracts. summer cottage near Point Judith and went to work reproducing He branched out on his own by establishing Gazda the airboat. Despite making the cover of the February, 1943 issueEngineering and opening a two-room office in the Industrial Trust of Popular Mechanics Gazda had no luck selling his "Sea Skimmer"Building. Two Swiss designers from Oerlikon, Leopold Lammeraner to the British or the US Navy, primarily due to handling problemsand Walter Hofmann (who had helped him set up the production in anything other than a calm sea. (In 1947, he almost drownedand assembly operation), came with him. when one of his pontoons caught a wave at the Dunes Club in They first attempted to design and market a new 23mm Narragansett and flippped the boat, momentarily trapping him.)cannon, but the military saw no need to change caliber, and that When one idea failed, he always came up with two or threeproject was shelved. Instead, Gazda modified the Oerlikon cannon more. Some of his less spectacular innovations were moreand tried to sell what he called the “20mm Gazda Automatic successful, especially in the automotive field. He patented the self-Cannon” as an alternative to the Oerlikon. The primary improvement canceling directional signal switch, as well as various forms ofwas absence of recoil; he used to test-fire the gun with a glass of superchargers. He invented a device for setting the hands on a watch,water sitting on the receiving block behind the barrel. a self-winding auto clock mounted on steering wheel, and a truck Governor McGrath attended the well-publicized launch of pontoon. He even patented a “shaving cream applicator”.this initiative, test-firing the gun himself in January of 1943. A photo In 1943, expecting (correctly) a post-war boom in Brazil,of Hitler was the target. The headline in the paper the next day Gazda also set up the “Amazonia Transportation and Explorationread, “Governor in New Role - Aerial Gunner.” Company” to speed development along that great river. Despite his salesmanship and powerful friends, he was unable Gazda was also a protege of Otto of Hapsburg, pretender toto interest the US military in the new gun. “We have two 20mm throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and during the war he heldguns right now and I certainly don’t think we’d ever want a third many meetings in Rhode Island concerning the possible post-warone,” concluded Colonel D. J. Martin of Army Ordnance. restoration of the Austrian monarchy. He openly claimed that he Undeterred, Gazda continued with his other ventures. One was “Working to unify Austrian factions opposed to the Nazis.”was an airboat that he proposed as an answer to the submarine Archduke Otto himself visited the Gazdas in Narragansett on Labormenace. Powered by a 6-cylinder aircraft engine, the “Sea Skimmer” Day weekend of he called it had no underwater propulsion, arguably making it Continued on page 26 7
  7. 7. GAZDA Continued from page 7 The RI State Police were one of his first customers, and he set up a separate company to produce and market these devices. Less successful despite its great name was the “derusticator”, a magnetic radiator cleaner and water softener. Domenic DeNardo, who worked as a designed for Gazda starting in 1948, remembers “a flamboyant man who always stood erect. He usually wore a long black overcoat, which added to the mystique. By then he was driving a“fancy Lincoln Continental”. DeNardo marveled at the man’s vision. One product he drew up for Gazda was an illuminated side view mirror that contained directional signals -- more than fifty years before they actually appeared. He also became the Citroen distributor for New England, and operated a dealership on Reservoir Avenue that eventually became Scarpetti Oldsmobile. By the end of the 1940s Gazda still faced a major problem. Despite the time he had spent in this country, and despite his contribution to the war effort, he and Loly were, for all practical purposes, stateless. When efforts with Immigration failed, his old friends stepped in. Supported by J. Howard McGrath, (US Attorney General under President Truman); Senator Theodore Francis Green;Gazda points to the rotor assembly he designed for the B-36 bomber. and Thomas Dodd, Nazi war crimes prosecutor, legislation was It was later learned that his wife’s daughter Rosemarie was introduced into Congress to authorize their naturalization.imprisoned by the Nazis along with her two children. The Germans Congress granted them citizenship, and the Gazdas took thereportedly shot her first husband in front of her, then tortured her in oath in Providence in February, 1951. “We are very proud andan attempt to get to Gazda. happy,” Gazda told reporters. “We have been looking forward for a Through all of this, Gazda’s first love was aviation. In addition long time to this…”to his flying during World War I, he formed the Austrian Glider Gazda left for Europe on July 12, 1957 on a two week trip,Association and was its first president in 1923. He continued flying which was extended by the condition of his ailing mother, Mrs.through the 1930s, and obtained a Royal Aero Club pilot’s license Anna Gazda. He died unexpectedly on September 19, 1957 at hisin 1937 at London Air Park. By 1938, according to the British mother’s estate near Vienna. No cause of death was ever announced,magazine Flight, Gazda was the UK representative for the US giving rise to speculation that he may have been murdered, or thataircraft manufacturer Fairchild. Late in 1939, he and his Oerlikon he had killed himself over some major business reverses he hadboss, Emil Georg Buehrle, founded the Pilatus Aircraft Works in recently suffered. The workshop on Salt Pond and all its contentsStans, Switzerland--an enterprise that continues to this day. were sold in an estate auction on May 31, 1958. The diverse list of He was also never without his airplane stickpin, which shows items to be sold included his experimental helicopter, the Seain all his portrait photos. As the Providence Journal reported in Skimmer…and even an Oerlikon cannon.1943, “He always wore a small silver tiepin in the form of an According to neighbors who knew Leopoldine after Antoine’sairplane…He never went anywhere without it.” death, the story about financial losses was probably true. Loly sold One of his first US patents (filed in 1939) was for a much of her jewelry over the years to make ends meet, and woundrevolutionary form of fighter aircraft based on a hydroplane concept, up working as a seamstress in Wakefield. Loly, who had been bornand he was fascinated by the helicopter concept. He hired Hal in Krakau in 1896, died in 1978.Lemont, a designer from Sikorsky, to work on a project he called Trying to resurrect the Gazda story has been difficult, becausethe Gazda "Helicospeeder". (See page 5.) the current whereabouts of any descendants he may have had are Gazda considered rotary wing experiments on a DC-3, using unknown. The last reference to Hans Otto, the son from his firsta two-bladed rotor that could be retracted lengthwise into the marriage, was in Gazda’s 1949 citizenship application; he was lastfuselage. He extrapolated the concept to the B-36 bomber, known to be residing in Turkey.calculating that the additional weight in a B-36 from the rotor and After Leopoldine’s daughter Rosemarie was released fromthe mechanism required to lower it into the fuselage would be only prison, she met her future husband at a US Army PX in Paris. Friends1550kg. He received a patent for a retractable wing system designed of Loly recall that Rosemarie came to Wakefield to be with herto enable heavy bombers or airliners to take off and land in limited mother for a while, but then moved to Seine-et-Oise outside At one point he also worked on a twin-engine amphibian Much data about Gazda and his companies were lost in 1954with rubber treads instead of wheels for landing on the ground. to Hurricane Carol, which destroyed Gazdas South County retreat, By 1946 he was continuing to pursue military technology, and in a later fire that claimed the home of one of his engineers.but he also turned to the applications of such technology to the Former RI Governor Bruce Sundlun, himself a B-17 pilot incivilian world. Gadgets and models of new products he was WWII and an industee into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame,developing covered his desk, which was also adorned by a was introduced to Gazda by J. Howard McGrath. “I saw quite a bitmanufacturer’s model of the P-80 jet fighter In addition to the office of Tony in the years right after the war,” Sundlun wrote. “ I spentin the Industrial Trust Building, Gazda Engineering operated at four hours talking with him about his experiences in Germany andother sites, and was supposedly setting up a London branch. The Switzerland, and his moving to Rhode Island, and his delight in“jet-rocket” division on Reservoir Avenue in Cranston was being a resident of this state.”reportedly developing a rocket with “unusual stability”. His Sundlun concluded,“If the opportunity ever comes to“armament division” on Salt Pond continued experimental work recognize Antoine Gazda, please do so, and record myfor the Navy, and was the base for his Sea Skimmer, which he still overwhelming support for such an action. Tonys contribution todrove around the Bay. He also had an “aviation division” at the United States military during World War II was substantial andHillsgrove. By the late 1940s, however, his most active operation unique.”was at 111 Main Street in Pawtucket. There he was producing the “octanator”, the civilian version Special thanks to Eric Ethier, Carrol Voss, Frank Crook Long,of water injection used to increase performance of fighter planes-- Andrew Lemont and Ethan Yankura of Owls Head Transportationa “humidifier for carburetors” as he called it in his patent application. Museum for the assistance they provided in this research. 26