Antoine Gazda (1895-1957)WWI Aviator, Inventor, Engineer“…an expert on aviation and armaments, and an inventor of many imp...
3Gazda and his wife Loly, both pilots, flew the deHavilland 60G Gipsy Moth shown here. Gazdaearned his Royal Aero Club pil...
80,000 tooling hours.The American OerlikonGazda Corporation was set upa few days later.. The companywas capitalized with $...
Although Antoine Gazda is best known for his production ofcannon to shoot airplanes down, his first love had always been f...
Gazda had tested aprototype of this anti-subweapon on Lake Lucernein Switzerland in 1939.He built another one andlaunched ...
Postwar photo shows Gazda and his wife Leopoldine (Loly), probably atBeechwood, their estate on Post Road in Wakefield. Th...
It was later learned that his wife’s daughter Rosemarie wasimprisoned by the Nazis along with her two children. The German...
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  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, 19432Gazda with his supercharged racing car at a German glider facility in 1928. This photo, and the oneon the next page, were reproduced from his personal photo album/In the summer of 1940, an energetic45-year oldAustrian aviator and arms dealercame to Rhode Island carrying one of theworld’s most guarded secrets — theblueprints for the much-in-demand anti-aircraft cannon manufactured by theOerlikon Machine Tool Company inSwitzerland. Over the next 17 years hebecame a larger-than-life figure, and to thisday no one knows for sure how much of hisstory is fact and how much is fiction.What is known for certain is that hedid his most important work during WorldWar II in Providence, operating at first fromsuite 1009 of the Biltmore Hotel. The workGazda performed here in Rhode Island wasconsidered so crucial to theAllied 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,rumor and speculation have contributed tothe embellishment of “the Gazda story” overthe years. (One example: it was widelyreported during WWII that Gazda had afactory in Switzerland that moved into amountainside with the press of a button.)In 1946 the Providence Journal madea concerted effort to separate fable from fact.The paper sent its Washingtoncorrespondent, the well-known reporter andinvestigator Harold N. Graves, Jr. to Zurich,Berne and other cities to speak with peoplewho had known Gazda. Other reportersfanned out to New York, Washington andother US locations in search of the facts.At the end of the research, theconclusion was best summed up by EmilGeorg Buehrle, who headed up the OerlikonWorks in Switzerland and was reportedly therichest man in the country. “Some of thestories are 5 percent true, some of them are50% true, some of them are 95% true, butnone of them are 100% true,” said Buhrle.(To be fair, by 1946 Buehrle and Gazda wereadversaries; Buhrle felt that Gazda hadcheated Oerlikon out of some $30 millionin royalties for the guns produced in the US.But since Buehrle had also sold a largenumber of guns to the Axis, his claim wasmet with little support after the war.)Gazda arrived in Rhode Island inmystery, left in mystery and died in mystery.Even if the Gazda legend is only 50% true,there remains a fascinating tale of adventure,intrigue and international wheeling anddealing on a level hitherto unheard of in theOcean State. When Gazda died onSeptember 19, 1957, the Providence Journalreported, “He counted among his friends andassociates the socially, economically andpolitically prominent people of threecontinents.”Antoine Gazda de Suchan was bornin Vienna on June 5, 1895. Early on, hedeveloped a fascination for aviation. “In1912 I saw Bleriot assemble anddemonstrate his plane in a field nearVienna,” he said. “After that I could thinkof nothing but flying.”He built a bamboo glider and flew itin 1913. He built one glider on a bicycle,and a second on a sled which he launchedby sliding down a ski slope. He received hisfirst patent inAustria in 1913, for an airplaneturnbuckle. He won 100 marks at an aviationcompetition that year in Berlin, andimmediately sold the patent to a Germanmanufacturer.His experimentats with an engine-powered plane drew the attention of theAustrian War Department, which providedhim with a 30hp Anzani engine. Gazda sayshe taught himself to fly, then used theproceeds from some early inventions to takelessons at the first Austrian flying school.He flew anAustrian-designed Etrich Taube,which was later built under license inGermany and was in widespread military useat the outbreak of WWI.When war broke out in August of1914, Gazda was not yet 20 years old. “INote ever-present airplane tie pin
  2. 2. 3Gazda and his wife Loly, both pilots, flew the deHavilland 60G Gipsy Moth shown here. Gazdaearned his Royal Aero Club pilot’s license in 1937 at London Air Park Flying School. They weresponsored in London aviation circles by Lord Sempill, a leading figure in the Royal AeronauticalSociety and a pioneer in British aviation. An admirer of the Japanese, it was learned many yearslater that Sempill had disclosed sensitive information but was never prosecuted to protect MI5operations. It is also likely that he helped Gazda with his sales of the Oerlikon cannon to Japan. LordSempill was one of the founders of the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and remained apillar of the establishment until his death in 1965.was too young to be drafted, but tooenthusiastic about aviation to stay home,”Gazda said. He volunteered with the smallAustrian Air Force, and was immediatelyassigned to flying duty, performingreconnaissance and artillery observationduty on the Russian front.Because of his technical knowledge,he was called back from the front to becomethe production engineer for the firstAustrianaircraft manufacturing plant. In 1916 hisproposal for the mass production of airplanescame to the attention of the famedarmaments kingpin, Baron Karl von Skoda.Skoda hired Gazda to help launchOesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG,another aircraft factory which eventuallydesigned and produced the famousAlbatrosD-III (which Immelmann and von Richtofenflew so successfully).Gazda said that he began to think ofthe concept of dive bombing as early as1918. He demonstrated his idea at anAustrian military airport near Krakow,diving from 3000 feet to drop ten-poundbags of flour (rare and valuable commoditiesin those days of blockade-starved Austria).“The Albatros fighter I used was notdesigned for such tricks,” he later said, “Iwas lucky the wings didn’t come off.”The war ended soon afterward, butGazda was convinced that dive bombingwould become a deadly tactic when the rightairplane was designed for it.After the war, Gazda continued towork for Skoda for a while, but his sense ofadventure sometimes overcame his goodbusiness judgment. He occasionally flew airmail flights out of Vienna; on one such flightto Kiev, he descended into the middle of acivil war. Gazda was taken prisoner, and wasonly released when he agreed to help hiscaptors form a Ukrainian air force to battlethe Poles. When they allowed him to fly ademo flight, he fled to Warsaw instead.Early on it became apparent thatGazda was the unusual engineer andtechnician who was also a superb salesmanwith a charismatic personality. For example,the Skoda Works had a factory full ofAlbatros D-IIIs destined for delivery to anAustrian Air Force that no longer existed,so Gazda convinced the Poles they neededan air force. He traded the aircraft fortrainloads of food, which earned himrecognition from his starving countrymen.He eventually set up his own facilityin the former Vienna Arsenal. He workedon inventions to improve the automobile andairplane, and dabbled in auto and motorcycleracing as well as gliding. He produced asupercharged engine for cars and planes,which he tested in road races and exhibitedat shows in Berlin, Paris and London. Gazdaclaimed he developed and exhibited the firstfront-wheel drive for automobiles in 1923.He built a glide boat, a forerunner ofthe airboat, that carried 48 people and waspowered by three airplane propellors. Aftera few runs its use was banned by theHungarian government, but years later hewas amazed to learn that the boat was stillin service in the Congo.He invented elastic handle bars formotorcycles, and an elastic steering wheelwhich was used in 95 percent of all the autosin America by 1941. He licensed hisinventions to manufacturers all over Europe.He raced autos through the 1920s, givingup the sport after winning two big rallies in1930: the International Alpine Cup, and theItalian Coupa della Venezia.That same year he set up a residenceand laboratory in Paris, and beganrepresenting French interests abroad. Hewent to Japan for six months in 1934,negotiating with the Japanese WarDepartment and private interests, principallyon behalf of the French SociétéAeronautique Lorraine relative to grantinga license for torpedo speedboats.At the sametime he pointed out to the Japanese thedevastating possibilities of the Oerlikonautomatic cannon in aircraft. He advisedthem of the experimental work anddevelopment being done at the Swiss plant.Even his detractors described him asa “remarkable salesman”. He then went backto Oerlikon and persuaded them to make himChief of Sales. Prior to his arrival, theOerlikon Company was in desperatefinancial straits. Within his first year he solda major order for the 20mm aircraft cannonto Japan; he spent two months in the ImperialHotel in Tokyo closing the deal. (It is indeedironic that Oerlikon was saved frombankruptcy by orders from the ImperialJapanese Navy.)The Japanese Army then ordered theanti-tank version of the gun. Gazda’s contactwas Prince Chichibu, the Oxford-educatedbrother of Emperor Hirohito. (Interestinglyenough, in many interviews during WorldWar II, Gazda vociferously denied thoseJapanese deals ever happened.)In 1935, Gazda came to the US in anattempt to sell a new version of the cannondesigned to be mounted in aircraft wings,but neither the Navy nor the War Departmenthad any interest. However, over the nextthree years many other successes followed.During the Spanish Civil War the Oerlikongained a reputation as an excellent piece ofordnance. He sold the gun to Germany,Japan, Italy, Finland, several SouthAmerican countries, and China. “Eachcountry dealing with Gazda doubtlessthought that it alone was making aviationarmaments most progressive step,” wroteone business analyst. “The world has knownfew salesmen who were his equal.”He also spent considerable time duringthe 1930s in London, where he cultivated anumber of powerful friendships--amongthem Lord Louis Mountbatten, cousin ofKing George VI. Despite his many socialcontacts, however, it took more than 200meetings with the British Admiralty beforehe broke through. He finally landed an orderfor 500 guns from the Royal Navy in Julyof 1939—just two months before the warbegan. By October the order had doubled to1000, and at his chalet in Switzerland, Gazdasigned an agreement to manufacture thecannon in England.Gazda was in England when Francefell, and the GermanyArmy cut off delivery
  3. 3. 80,000 tooling hours.The American OerlikonGazda Corporation was set upa few days later.. The companywas capitalized with $100,000,a quarter of which was Gazda’sown money. Since no companycontrolled by aliens couldengage in armamentmanufacture, the majority ofthe shares Had to be owned byAmericans. With the help ofDillon Reed on Wall Street, thebalance of the issue wassubscribed very quickly—despite the fact that Gazda hadonly a promise of a contractfrom the British to buy theguns, and no contract with the US.Nevertheless,American Oerlikon Gazda was in business, withGazda as a director and vice president. By the time the companywas closed down in 1946, it had done $125 million worth of business.Gazda took over a six-story building at 100 Fountain Streetacross from the Providence Journal, (later the site of the GreyhoundBus Terminal) and leased the Manville-Jenckes textile mill complexin Pawtucket for his assembly plant.Some 14 months before Pearl Harbor, he began the designchanges necessary to convert measurements from the metric systemso the parts could be machined in fractions of inches.Perhaps prompted by their British allies, the US Navy thenagreed to test the gun. Gazda was given notice on a Friday that theNavy had scheduled a firing test the following Monday at DahlgrenProving Grounds in Virginia. Gazda had only the one gun inAmerica, and no way to get it to Virginia that quickly. Putting thecannon on a train was not allowed, and local truckers were notlicensed to go beyond New York. The Army or the Navy mighthave been willing to help out, but there was no way the bureaucracycould process the necessary approvals that quickly.Finally, the State Highway Department offered an old worktruck with flat tires. Mechanics replaced the tires and tuned it up,of the Oerlikon gun parts to Britain. Desperate for the gun butunable to produce it themselves, the British agreed with Gazda’splan to go to the United States—along with the precious productiondrawings--to set up shop. He flew to America on May 26, 1940.His first idea was to get the British to finance construction ofa privately owned production facility in this country. Alreadystruggling to survive the Battle of Britain, the English declined.Plan B was to find an existing plant that was large enough and hadthe necessary equipment and manpower to mass produce thecannons. To put this in context, Gazda was no stranger to America.He had been here eight times previously, and had been a member ofthe Society of American Engineers since 1928. However, he wasstill astonished to find that “inAmerica there was not one armamentfactory organized and equipped in a manner to compare with ourSwiss Oerlikon Works.”In a speech before the RI Society of Professional Engineersin 1947, Gazda described his surprise atAmerica’s lack of capabilityat the outbreak of the war. He commented that we “had the smallestdefense 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 anAmericancompany 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 BritishAdmiralty 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 tostudy the cannon’s parts and decide which ones they could make intheir own machine shops. Public bids were invited on the estimatedRhode Island Governor J. Howard McGrath test-fires the new Gazda 20mmcannon on January 15, 1943. McGrath, later to become US AttorneyGeneral, was a great friend and supporter of Gazda.Silvered octagon pin owned by aworker for the American OerlikonGazda Corporation. .Gazda and his cannon at the test site near Salt Pond, Point Judith. Thephotos on this page (and other Gazda-related images) are from RIAHOF’sarchive of Gazda material.4
  4. 4. Although Antoine Gazda is best known for his production ofcannon to shoot airplanes down, his first love had always been flyingthem. Even at the height of his efforts to produce the cannons duringWWII, he still made time to experiment with new aviation ideas. Dr.Nicholas Alexander, professor of aeronautical engineering at RI StateCollege, directed many scientific tests for Gazda in the college labs.One series of tests in 1942 was for fuel tank gliders Gazda designed tobe towed behind bombers to extend their range. The student labinstructor was named Hal Lemont, and Gazda hired him part time topursue the concept, which was later deemed to be impractical.Ayear or so later, Gazda ran into Lemont again at the Providencetrain station. Lemont was working for Sikorsky on the VS 300 helicopterproject in Connecticut. As it turned out, the helicopter held a particularfascination for Gazda, who several ideas in mind to improve theperformance of that type of aircraft. Gazda asked Lemont to design anew helicopter for him, incorporating those new ideas. Lemont had twoweeks 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 (NOTAil 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 andApril1945, 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.5The Gazda Helicospeeder--Years Ahead of Its TimeLeft: Hal Lemont and TonyGazda, about 1944. Below: theModel 100 under construction.Center: Governor McGrath sitsin the helicopter while Gazda (r)explains the controls; RIAdjutant General looks on.Bottom: Gazda exits theHelicospeeder.-Senator Theodore Francis Green on the Senate Floor“One of the great contributors [to our victoryin WWII] was Gazda… he also revolutionizedaviation when he brought out the first jet-propelledhelicopter [in 1944].”
  5. 5. Gazda had tested aprototype of this anti-subweapon on Lake Lucernein Switzerland in 1939.He built another one andlaunched it on Salt Pondin Point Judith. The “SeaSkimmer”carried anOerlikon 20mm cannonforward, a machine gunaft, and four depthcharges. Its inability tohandle heavy seas madeit impractical for huntingsubmarines.and the gun was in Dahlgren on Monday. Navy officials were“favorably impressed”, and in mid-November, 1940, offered to buy1000 cannon and 5000 rounds of ammunition, with the idea ofarming merchant ships crossing the Atlantic.The elections of 1940 also brought a new Governor to powerin Rhode Island. J. Howard McGrath, later to become AttorneyGeneral of the US, thought Gazda was an important economic assetfor the state. He told Gazda to call on him directly if he could be ofany assistance. Gazda said later, “From that time onwards he wasmy keenest supporter in all I did for the Allied war effort.”Over the next few months licensing negotiations went backand forth, and in February of 1941 the military flew Gazda toBermuda, where he executed (on behalf of Oerlikon) an agreementwith the British Purchasing Commission.Gazda then flew to Lisbon to meet with the Oerlikon owner,Emil Georg Buehrle, to resolve one last hurdle. The consent of theSwiss government was required for any licensing agreement, andgetting that consent fell to Buehrle.The Swiss, concerned about the German military juggernauton its borders, never did grant consent, so Gazda decided to produceguns on his own.He returned to Providence and production went full steamahead, with or without Swiss consent. On June 6, 1941 the firsttest-firing of an American-made Oerlikon cannon took place, andlater in the month the first truckload of completed cannon rolledout of the Pawtucket assembly plantAt the end of June Mr. Houston, President of AmericanOerlikon Gazda, advised Gazda that the US Navy had demandedhis resignation, because the Navy was contemplating direct ordersfor the Oerlikon cannon and under law he as a foreigner could notcontinue to act in a management capacity.Gazda did so, but kept his stock ownership. The name of thecompany was officially changed toA. O. G. Corporation. ByAugustthe Navy had taken over the British contract, and what had begunas a small private operation was greatly accelerated.Gazda was certainly not perturbed by the legal maneuvering.A contemporary Providence Journal article reported that heapparently had “…ample funds to live on a lavish scale.”He rented Vinton Lodge on Boston Neck Road in NarragansettPier where he entertained extensively. He was invited to join theDunes Club, and his Chris-Craft Cruiser “Loly”, named for his wife,was based at the Perkins and Vaughn shipyard in Wickford, andwas “…a familiar vessel among yachtsmen along the bay.”In addition to plenty of money, he had a number of highly-placed friends—to include Lord Louis Mountbatten, cousin of KingGeorge VI, who visited the Gazdas in Narragansett that headysummer of 1941He quickly enamored himself to local (and national) militaryand law enforcement authorities. He drove a 1939 12-cylinderLincoln Zephyr --“Well above the speed limit,” according to onedetractor, who believed he was “…covered by being a member ofthe Police Chiefs Association.” Interestingly enough, Gazda wasalso made an Honorary Captain in the Arizona Highway Patrol.This lifestyle came to an abrupt halt, however, after the attackon Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declarations of war against Japanand Germany. Overnight, Gazda and his wife became enemy aliens.Despite the fact that he was working on an initial Navy order valuedat more than $27 million for the Oerlikon cannon, he and his wifewere arrested on December 9, 1941 on a Presidential warrant. Thiswas part of the sweep designed to scoop up suspected enemysaboteurs and fifth columnists. They were taken from the luxuryapartment they maintained at the Waldorf-Astoria and were detainedat Ellis Island.Newly-elected Governor McGrath called on the AttorneyGeneral of the US to release Gazda. “Not only was the Gazda gunbeing manufactured and assembled here,” wrote McGrath, “ButGazda also proposed several other ideas of considerable importance,all of which would have been to the benefit of the country and toRhode Island in particular.”It took the FBI, the Army, the Navy and other departments ofthe government three months to decide that he was of more benefitthan harm to the Allied cause. In March, 1942 he and Loly werereleased into the custody of the Commanding General, First ServiceCommand in Boston, who was ordered to keep an eye on them.Taking that charge literally, an Army captain, lieutenant andten enlisted men were sent to Providence. Gazda and his wife wereliving in a suite on the 10th floor of the Biltmore, so the soldiersmoved into the hotel as well. For the next several months, the Gazdaswere guarded 24 hours per day. (One report says the soldiers had toget special pistol carry permits from the Governor, because theycould not tell local police who they were or what they were doing.)A connecting door to an adjacent suite was bricked up andplastered over so that there was only exit and entrance, making iteasier to guard. Anyone visiting Gazda at his office also had to bevetted by a soldier.The captain in charge of the detail told the Journal after thewar that the arrangement was bizarre—on the one hand the Armywas guarding Gazda as a suspect, but when he went to Washingtonto visit the War Department, all doors were open to him. At thesame time the Navy was sending him top secret plans anddocuments. “The Army couldn’t guard Gazda with a division oftroops,” marveled a close friend. “At the end of two weeks, it wouldbe Tony Gazda’s division.”The Gazdas were paroled from this custody to the BostonOrdnance District in August, but it would be another year beforethey were totally free.Meanwhile, Rhode Islanders who worked at A. O. G.headquarters experienced a top-secret culture. "I was like a bit player6
  6. 6. Postwar photo shows Gazda and his wife Leopoldine (Loly), probably atBeechwood, their estate on Post Road in Wakefield. They married in 1926;it was the second marriage for both. She was his mechanic when he road-raced in the 1920s, and he bragged that she could change a tire in 42seconds flat. She was also a pilot and the daughter of an Austrian 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.Although many accounts described Gazda as the inventor ordeveloper of the 20mm cannon (and Gazda did not contradict suchassertions), he had nothing to do with its invention or development.Records show that Oerlikon had been working on this cannon in1924, some 11 years before Gazda joined the firm.In Gazda’s defense, Oerlikon designed and built the gun asan aerial cannon, to be mounted on aircraft for aerial combat. Gazdamay well have played a pivotal role in converting the gun for use asa ship-mounted anti-aircraft weapon.As mentioned above, Gazda severed his operational ties withOerlikon (and A. O. G.) because aliens were not allowed to holdmanaging positions in any company with defense contracts.He branched out on his own by establishing GazdaEngineering and opening a two-room office in the Industrial TrustBuilding.Two Swiss designers from Oerlikon, Leopold Lammeranerand Walter Hofmann (who had helped him set up the productionand assembly operation), came with him.They first attempted to design and market a new 23mmcannon, but the military saw no need to change caliber, and thatproject was shelved. Instead, Gazda modified the Oerlikon cannonand tried to sell what he called the “20mm Gazda AutomaticCannon” as an alternative to the Oerlikon.The primary improvementwas absence of recoil; he used to test-fire the gun with a glass ofwater sitting on the receiving block behind the barrel.Governor McGrath attended the well-publicized launch ofthis initiative, test-firing the gun himself in January of 1943.Aphotoof Hitler was the target. The headline in the paper the next dayread, “Governor in New Role - Aerial Gunner.”Despite his salesmanship and powerful friends, he was unableto interest the US military in the new gun. “We have two 20mmguns right now and I certainly don’t think we’d ever want a thirdone,” concluded Colonel D. J. Martin of Army Ordnance.Undeterred, Gazda continued with his other ventures. Onewas an airboat that he proposed as an answer to the submarinemenace. Powered by a 6-cylinder aircraft engine, the “Sea Skimmer”as he called it had no underwater propulsion, arguably making itdifficult for subs to detect. This was a derivative of the concept hehad first used on the Danube in the 1920s; he also successfullytested a prototype on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland in 1939.The South Kingstown Town Council rented him land on SaltPond, behind South County Hospital and next to Hanson’s BoatYard. He built a small office and workshop in what used to be asummer cottage near Point Judith and went to work reproducingthe airboat. Despite making the cover of the February, 1943 issueof Popular Mechanics Gazda had no luck selling his "Sea Skimmer"to the British or the US Navy, primarily due to handling problemsin anything other than a calm sea. (In 1947, he almost drownedwhen one of his pontoons caught a wave at the Dunes Club inNarragansett and flippped the boat, momentarily trapping him.)When one idea failed, he always came up with two or threemore. Some of his less spectacular innovations were moresuccessful, especially in the automotive field. He patented the self-canceling directional signal switch, as well as various forms ofsuperchargers. He invented a device for setting the hands on a watch,a self-winding auto clock mounted on steering wheel, and a truckpontoon. He even patented a “shaving cream applicator”.In 1943, expecting (correctly) a post-war boom in Brazil,Gazda also set up the “Amazonia Transportation and ExplorationCompany” to speed development along that great river.Gazda was also a protege of Otto of Hapsburg, pretender tothrone of theAustro-Hungarian Empire, and during the war he heldmany meetings in Rhode Island concerning the possible post-warrestoration of the Austrian monarchy. He openly claimed that hewas “Working to unify Austrian factions opposed to the Nazis.”Archduke Otto himself visited the Gazdas in Narragansett on LaborDay weekend of 1944.Continued on page 267
  7. 7. It was later learned that his wife’s daughter Rosemarie wasimprisoned by the Nazis along with her two children. The Germansreportedly shot her first husband in front of her, then tortured her inan attempt to get to Gazda.Through all of this, Gazda’s first love was aviation. In additionto his flying during World War I, he formed the Austrian GliderAssociation and was its first president in 1923. He continued flyingthrough the 1930s, and obtained a Royal Aero Club pilot’s licensein 1937 at London Air Park. By 1938, according to the Britishmagazine Flight, Gazda was the UK representative for the USaircraft manufacturer Fairchild. Late in 1939, he and his Oerlikonboss, Emil Georg Buehrle, founded the Pilatus Aircraft Works inStans, Switzerland--an enterprise that continues to this day.He was also never without his airplane stickpin, which showsin all his portrait photos. As the Providence Journal reported in1943, “He always wore a small silver tiepin in the form of anairplane…He never went anywhere without it.”One of his first US patents (filed in 1939) was for arevolutionary form of fighter aircraft based on a hydroplane concept,and he was fascinated by the helicopter concept. He hired HalLemont, a designer from Sikorsky, to work on a project he calledthe Gazda "Helicospeeder". (See page 5.)Gazda considered rotary wing experiments on a DC-3, usinga two-bladed rotor that could be retracted lengthwise into thefuselage. He extrapolated the concept to the B-36 bomber,calculating that the additional weight in a B-36 from the rotor andthe mechanism required to lower it into the fuselage would be only1550kg. He received a patent for a retractable wing system designedto enable heavy bombers or airliners to take off and land in limitedspace. At one point he also worked on a twin-engine amphibianwith rubber treads instead of wheels for landing on the ground.By 1946 he was continuing to pursue military technology,but he also turned to the applications of such technology to thecivilian world. Gadgets and models of new products he wasdeveloping covered his desk, which was also adorned by amanufacturer’s model of the P-80 jet fighter In addition to the officein the Industrial Trust Building, Gazda Engineering operated at fourother sites, and was supposedly setting up a London branch. The“jet-rocket” division on Reservoir Avenue in Cranston wasreportedly developing a rocket with “unusual stability”. His“armament division” on Salt Pond continued experimental workfor the Navy, and was the base for his Sea Skimmer, which he stilldrove around the Bay. He also had an “aviation division” atHillsgrove. By the late 1940s, however, his most active operationwas at 111 Main Street in Pawtucket.There he was producing the “octanator”, the civilian versionof water injection used to increase performance of fighter planes--a “humidifier for carburetors” as he called it in his patent application.The RI State Police were one of his first customers, and he set up aseparate company to produce and market these devices. Lesssuccessful despite its great name was the “derusticator”, a magneticradiator cleaner and water softener.Domenic DeNardo, who worked as a designed for Gazdastarting in 1948, remembers “a flamboyant man who always stooderect. He usually wore a long black overcoat, which added to themystique. By then he was driving a“fancy Lincoln Continental”.DeNardo marveled at the man’s vision. One product he drewup for Gazda was an illuminated side view mirror that containeddirectional signals -- more than fifty years before they actuallyappeared. He also became the Citroen distributor for New England,and operated a dealership on Reservoir Avenue that eventuallybecame 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 hiscontribution to the war effort, he and Loly were, for all practicalpurposes, stateless. When efforts with Immigration failed, his oldfriends stepped in. Supported by J. Howard McGrath, (USAttorneyGeneral under President Truman); Senator Theodore Francis Green;and Thomas Dodd, Nazi war crimes prosecutor, legislation wasintroduced into Congress to authorize their naturalization.Congress granted them citizenship, and the Gazdas took theoath in Providence in February, 1951. “We are very proud andhappy,” Gazda told reporters. “We have been looking forward for along time to this…”Gazda left for Europe on July 12, 1957 on a two week trip,which was extended by the condition of his ailing mother, Mrs.Anna Gazda. He died unexpectedly on September 19, 1957 at hismother’s estate near Vienna. No cause of death was ever announced,giving rise to speculation that he may have been murdered, or thathe had killed himself over some major business reverses he hadrecently suffered. The workshop on Salt Pond and all its contentswere sold in an estate auction on May 31, 1958. The diverse list ofitems to be sold included his experimental helicopter, the SeaSkimmer…and even an Oerlikon cannon.According to neighbors who knew Leopoldine afterAntoine’sdeath, the story about financial losses was probably true. Loly soldmuch of her jewelry over the years to make ends meet, and woundup working as a seamstress in Wakefield. Loly, who had been bornin Krakau in 1896, died in 1978.Trying to resurrect the Gazda story has been difficult, becausethe current whereabouts of any descendants he may have had areunknown. The last reference to Hans Otto, the son from his firstmarriage, was in Gazda’s 1949 citizenship application; he was lastknown to be residing in Turkey.After Leopoldine’s daughter Rosemarie was released fromprison, she met her future husband at a USArmy PX in Paris. Friendsof Loly recall that Rosemarie came to Wakefield to be with hermother for a while, but then moved to Seine-et-Oise outside Paris.Much data about Gazda and his companies were lost in 1954to Hurricane Carol, which destroyed Gazdas South County retreat,and in a later fire that claimed the home of one of his engineers.Former RI Governor Bruce Sundlun, himself a B-17 pilot inWWII and an industee into the Rhode IslandAviation Hall of Fame,was introduced to Gazda by J. Howard McGrath. “I saw quite a bitof Tony in the years right after the war,” Sundlun wrote. “ I spenthours talking with him about his experiences in Germany andSwitzerland, and his moving to Rhode Island, and his delight inbeing a resident of this state.”Sundlun concluded,“If the opportunity ever comes torecognize Antoine Gazda, please do so, and record myoverwhelming support for such an action. Tonys contribution tothe United States military during World War II was substantial andunique.”Gazda points to the rotor assembly he designed for the B-36 bomber.GAZDA Continued from page 7Special thanks to Eric Ethier, Carrol Voss, Frank Crook Long,Andrew Lemont and Ethan Yankura of Owls Head TransportationMuseum for the assistance they provided in this research.26