History: The early history of the LEO (1950 – 1955)


From the LEO records (1950 – 1955)

In 1972, an article was published in Roering about the Electronics Development Laboratory (LEO) and the early years of the Electronics Development Laboratory for the Armed Forces (LEOK). Below is a slightly edited version of that article.

The administration

In 1950, the LEO administration was the work of only one male worker. There were not many records to archive, but it was very difficult to retrieve them. The relationship of the administrator with the other ‘technical staff’ was not so good. The quarrel ran so high that he as an ‘administrative worker’ refused to accept anything from the ‘technical engineer’ Van Hutten. To confirm his position, he asked the director Prof. jhr. ir. J. L. W. C. Von Weiler (“the Professor”): “Is it correct that I only need to take orders from you?“. The Professor replied: “It’s best that you take orders from everyone except me!“. But the quarrel continued. When the Professor refused to establish a “Commission of Inquiry”, the administrator resigned in revenge. The resignation letter was drafted in near ministerial terms and was silently deposited at the Professor’s desk. In the afternoon, the administrator probably regretted the submission of his resignation letter. He wanted his letter back. Professor Von Weiler told him that the letter already had been forwarded to the Ministry in The Hague. Then we saw the Professor leaving with great haste. To The Hague?

Soon after, the first female entered the LEO. The interview with Ms. Ammerlaan was conducted by Lieutenant Nijssen, the Professor’s military right-hand (first officer). The interview went flawlessly. Afterwards, she said “Goodbye Sir”. She asked if the title Sir was good, to which Ltz Nijssen replied: ‘Yes, subaltern officers in the Navy are addressed with Sir! ‘.  After the applicant left, the roommates smiled slightly and said ‘Would she have meant Sir or Theo?‘.
One of the new things that she introduced was the use of correspondence folders. That system has been maintained to date.

The security

There were neither steel cupboards nor steel desks. Everything was made of wood. Therefore, the classified dossiers had to be stored in a strong box. The strongbox looked just like our current strongbox at the administration, only a lot smaller, about 1.5 m x 1.5 m. According to the orders of the security officer the door of the strongbox normally had to be closed during working hours. However, we found this too difficult. The door was continuously open. When the security officer made his rounds, the first person to notice him ran straight to the strongbox to slam the door. Then, according to the Professor, he would have “saved” the workforce. If it didn’t work out, a report was filed by the security officer. The Professor did not know what to do with such a report. He was thinking about attaching the reports to the toilet wall. Everyone could see them and they could still be of use in an emergency. The security officer did not agree with this plan.

The phone

The phone was operated by hand. At the main gate, there was an operator with a simple telephone exchange with 40 extensions. The connections had to be made with plugs. Later, a newer telephone exchange was installed on the ground floor of building A. Every phone call was announced only once using an internal broadcasting system. Repeated announcements were only introduced when the Military Electronics Department’s business responsible person was unable to understand a phone call announcement for him. This has remained the case so far.


Coffee was served in the Laboratory using a large coffee pot. There were also biscuits for sale. These servings were not to be paid with real money. One could buy a card for a guilder with boxes of 1, 5, 10, and 25 cents at the human resources department. But the coffee deliverer gave us the service to take the money and buy the tickets. The usefulness of this process was not clear, but suddenly the use of ‘paper money’ was cancelled. Rumours said that several hundred cards went lost. Ordinary money became the legal exchange for coffee (and biscuits).

The “non-smoking” bets

There was a lot of discussion about smoking and its bad influence on health. Graphs to prove that there was a correlation between smoking and lung cancer were studied. Our mathematician calculated that every smoked cigarette nibbled a few minutes of your life. Something had to be done about it. All kinds of bets were placed on not smoking for several weeks. The peppermint and liquorice manufacturers made good money. The regulations were also getting better. There was even a kind of truce period built in; mutual smoking was allowed at the same time. The proverb by Ir. Van Hutten was born: “The choice is between a long sulky life or a short pleasant life“.

Transport and housing

A parking problem did not exist in 1950. There was only one car on the site: Prof. Dr Von Weiler’s car which he brought with him from England. A large part of the staff lived outside Oegstgeest and Leiden. Many came from Amsterdam. For them, a Navy bus drove daily from Amsterdam to Oegstgeest and back. Housing was even scarcer than now. The LEO with its young, eager-to-marry population had a very difficult time. We were convinced that we were subordinated to the population of the Marine Electronic Department (MEB). During a conversation about housing, one of the engineers commented: “ It is not fair that if you suddenly have a child, you immediately qualify for a house“. The Professor replied: “You will not suddenly have a child; our Lord has assured you nine months to arrange everything“.

The heating

In the winter it could be very cold in the building. On the north side, the temperature hardly rose above 15 C. But we were housed within the MEB and could only complain. Below us, one floor below, we saw open windows because it was so hot. But the MEB heating expert said it was the pipe system. The pipes were too thin to transfer enough heat to the top floor.

The Monday Club

The Monday club consisted of about twenty men, officers, and civil engineers. The atmosphere was very pleasant. Before dinner, we first played poker. The joint hot meal, pea soup, and nasi or bami was the moment when all experiences of the week were exchanged; everyone knew each other well. Once an Army major was a visiting guest taking part in the diner. Some strong stories were told at the table. The major knew a nice story about a Professor who was a captain in the Navy. Our Professor told an even better story about this legendary figure. This went on for a while until it was time to get back to work. After the meal, the Major was asked if he knew who had sat opposite him. When he answered that he had no idea, they said: “That was him, the Professor!“.

Due to the staff expansion in the following years at LEOK and MEB, the Monday club became too big for a communal meal. The drinking party was moved to Friday. If someone was transferred or left the service, a drinking party took place after 5 p.m. Most employees were still single and this drink never ended before 9 p.m. At the departure of Navy Lieutenant Ferwerda, we moved his Volkswagen into the long room. It was quite an event. The distributor was removed from the engine and passed from hand to hand. After Ferwerda collected all the parts and assembled them again into the car, he wanted to try his car. He could only drive a few metres: the petrol tap was still closed.
After one of these drinking parties, a lieutenant who wanted to take the shortest route from the long room to the bus stop ended up in the ditch. This was the reason to build a wooden bridge on site.

There was a distinction between the working hours of the office staff (8.30 a.m. – 12 noon and 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.) and the workshop staff (8 a.m. – 12 noon and 12.30 p.m. – 5 p.m.). When one of the LEO technicians who lived in Amsterdam after a weekend did not arrive with the Navy bus at 8:00 a.m., but at 8:30 a.m., the guard at the gate stated he was half an hour late. The technician disagreed: he was half an hour early every day and therefore now on time. Who was right?
The Navy had no technician ranks in those days, and each technician was ranked on an administrative-technical staff scale. The struggle for working hours started in full force. All kinds of regulations were consulted. What were the director’s rights in determining working hours? The MEB director stated that the LEOK technicians could not start later than his technicians. The Professor believed that a technician at a development lab was very different from a technician at a regular repair shop. The Professor made the decision: the entire LEOK would start at 8.30 a.m. in the future. The difference in lunch break was maintained.
This scheme was immediately introduced awaiting a later formal approval by the Ministry. There was never an answer, but the official at the Ministry who had to decide on the issue has long since retired.
The latecomers’ problem already arose back then. The Professor tried to convince three young engineers to arrive on time in the morning. “One can then experience the beautiful sunrise“. A quick reply followed: “The setting of the sun is also a beautiful spectacle Professor“. This incident happened at a time when the Professor was a regular fellow traveller of the MEB Secretary, who left exactly at 5 p.m. But the Professor’s request was met. And proudly afterwards, the Professor first led early morning visitors to the three’s room, opened the door, and said, “Look how they start right on time “.

Experiments and inspections

The Professor was always very interested in special experiments. Once a cable was required from the laboratory to a mast in the meadow for an antenna measurement setup. It was suspected that there was an old cable along this route that had previously been used for operating several Navy transmitters that were deployed there. The digged-in cable could be followed from the terminal at the tower with a kind of mine detector. Everything went well until we entered the MEB site. There was a whole mess of cables in the ground. Our cable had to be sawed and routed to the roof of the LEOK. It was a solemn moment when the Professor himself wielded the saw. Everyone held their heart and waited for the entire telephone system to be cut. Nothing happened and everything ended well.
A few months later there was a large PTT activity on the site. Cables were dug out close to the cut cable. The Professor made friendly talks with the PTT men and inquired about their intentions. “Moisture had entered a junction box.” They unearthed a junction box which probably also connected with the cut cable. The old cable was cut by the PTT and expertly tied with tar and insulation. All this was a few meters from our cut. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

In the 1950s, a whole series of naval radars for cruisers and hunters were tested by the LEO. During a trial run on one of the cruisers, ir. van Hutten was on board for radar measurements. At a certain moment, a helicopter flew above the ship. Everyone was watching on the deck, also ir. van Hutten. A somewhat unclear conversation made clear that the helicopter had to pick up a civilian. People pointed to Van Hutten, but he shook his head firmly. Everyone wanted to attach him to the winch, but he didn’t want to leave. It later turned out that the helicopter intended to fly a still-below-deck English citizen back to the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment (ASWE).

On the way to a discussion about inspection results with Philips Telecommunicatie Industrie (PTI) in Hilversum, we had Prof. Dr. Von Weiler in our company. When we got out of the station, a PTI car was already waiting. “That one is for us“, said the Professor, but let’s pretend we don’t see the car and walk to the office in Hilversum (1 km). On arrival, an old Navy colleague was waiting for him. “You could have sent a car to fetch us,” said the Professor. “ But I sent one.” was the answer.

Funny events

In the time of the “Rijkspijker” affair – someone using government property for his own benefits – the following happened at the LEOK. An engineer had bought a Citroen. A very old model. One winter day when he drove to the LEOK, something started to freeze. He was advised to put a heating element in his car for a few hours. As a result, his colleagues made a false bill for the kilowatts supplied by the Government to a private person. The head of the MEB’s financial administration was informed because it was suspected that the victim would obtain information from him. The engineer called and requested specifications and an explanation. Paperwork was produced and could no longer be distinguished from real. The climax of the joke was the moment when the bill of Dfl 3.87 was paid to the official of accounting.
At that moment the Professor decided that the prank had to end. The money was returned. A neat note was supplied stating that it was too difficult to book private deliveries in the financial system. Therefore, it was preferred to undo the matter.
The person concerned commented on reading the letter: “If you didn’t know better, you would think it was a joke … “.

Once when a demonstration of a device made by the LEOK was to take place, invitations were sent to all kinds of authorities. Some young engineers then plotted for free coffee and cake. It was agreed with Ms Ammerlaan to add the sentence in one of the carbon copies: “And for this occasion, I will provide coffee and cake to LEOK free of charge”. The whole thing was set up well. With two engineers we would keep the Professor talking in his room and the letters would be presented to the Professor for his signature. It all went well. The Professor did get suspicious and read all the letters and carbon copies carefully, but after the 20th copy, he believed it. The next day he was shown the letter in question. The treat was presented to all.

During a laboratory tour made by admirers of the setting sun, we noticed that the Professor had left his key hanging on his desk drawer. We agreed to find out at what moment a loss of the key would be noticed. Saturday morning there was always a working meeting in the Professor’s room. The monthly reports were in the drawer in question. To our surprise, the Professor opened the drawer with a key: a spare key. But on the same day, Lieutenant Cramwinckel forgot a bottle of jenever he bought at a discounted price in the long room for taking to home. We put the bottle in the Professor’s drawer and closed it.
The following Monday we were told the story of the missing bottle. Everyone was already questioned but to no avail. Then we gave the tip to take a look in the Professor’s drawer.
We were then told by Lieutenant Cramwinckel that the Professor suspected that the lieutenant had discovered the secret storage place of the spare key (a pocket in his military jacket, which was hanging as a spare on the coat rack) and had it taken out for security reasons. The Professor was astonished when the jenever bottle emerged from his desk. The whole story was told and the bottle was exchanged for the key.
Source: Ir. R.A. Kasper in Roering Jaargang 9 number 2, September 1972.