Destroyer Escorts and the Myth of the Philadelphia Experiment
Claims of top secret experiments have long surrounded the USS ELDRIDGE (DE-173). They have spawned countless websites and even a movie, The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) filmed aboard the museum ship USS LAFFEY (DD-724). While entertaining, they have little basis in reality and can be traced back to the claims made by a single imaginative man.
The story around the ELDRIDGE goes something like this. While docked in Philadelphia on the morning of July 22, 1943, a secret "invisibility" device was tested, causing the ship to vanish from sight. The supposed goal was to make the ship invisible both to the naked eye and radar. But it is said that something went wrong and the ship teleported all the way to Norfolk, Virginia and then teleported back. Crewmen are said to have been made ill, vanished, or “fused” with the steel of the ship.
This incident and the supposed technology surrounding it have been linked to the myth of the "Philadelphia Experiment." It has also been referred to as Project Rainbow. Albert Einstein is even purported to have been involved in its development, using quantum entanglement principles to accomplish the feat. Allegedly, Einstein had completed breakthrough research that was then hushed up after the fact to make this all possible.
A man named Carlos Allende (born Carl Allen) created the story out of whole cloth. When Morriss Jessup published his “The Case for the UFO,” discussing theoretical propulsion systems for space travel, Allende struck up a correspondence with him in 1955 that was later terminated by Jessup. Allende claimed to have seen the events from the deck of the SS Andrew Furuseth as a sailor. Prone to scrawling inventive notes in the margins of books, Allende sent a copy of Jessup’s book to the Office of Naval Research, annotated with claims that a Destroyer Escort was made invisible. Myths sprouted up over the authorship of these strange notations, the interest of the Navy in the whole affair was inflated in retellings and the story caught fire. A “Varo edition” of the book was published, including the annotations, and sold quickly to true believers.
The truth is much less sensational. The skipper of the Eldridge, in a televised interview, says in no uncertain terms that the ship "never went to Philadelphia." Crew corroborate his story. At a reunion in 1999, the crew had a good, if somewhat puzzled, laugh over the whole story and its persistence. The claim that a different crew was used in the experiment prior to her commissioning is contradicted by crew present during the ship's construction in Newark. In 1969, Allende confessed it was a hoax, only to recant his confession when a new author dredged up the old story in a new book. His family confirmed he had a history of erratic behavior.
In the official opinion of the Navy, talk of sailors about the ship's degausser making the ship "invisible to mines" are a likely source of the rumors. Degaussers use electrical current to counteract magnetic mines. While an impressive device, the degausser in no way turns a ship invisible. It is also possible that work to the generators aboard the USS TIMMERMAN (DD-828) know to have created a corona effect was later misattributed to the ELDRIDGE and gave birth to the story.
The truth is the ELDRIDGE had a series of cruises that most DE sailors would find to be common. She was commissioned 27 August, 1943. For the next month she underwent a shakedown cruise and was assigned escort duty in the area of Bermuda. (No, there were no strange Bermuda triangle happenings.) She would go on to escort a series of Atlantic convoys, making for North African ports. On the first of August, 1944 she assisted in repulsing a German aerial attack upon a Mediterranean convoy. On more than one occasion in the Atlantic she made contact with suspected German U-boats, firing depth charges. In June of 1945 she was sent to the Pacific, making contact with a suspected Japanese submarine. She would go on to assist in the occupation, earning the Navy Occupation Service Medal. After a period in mothballs she served in the Greek navy as the Leon (D-54) from 1951 to 1991 much as the Slater served as the Aetos (D-01).
Portions adapted from History’s Mysteries: The True Story of the Philadelphia Experiment, 2002.