Each PAeL was painted with their official insignia on their chest. It was based on the Army Air Corp insignia at the time. A red gear with thirteen teeth, inside a with five pointed star, and a blue surround. The thirteen teeth are for the thirteen original colonies. The colors, red, white and blue are the colors of the flag. The basic design shows the US Army original sponsorship of the project. Their vehicles, equipment and even flags and guidons often carried this insignia. Human PAeL troops often, unofficially, wore metal versions as their branch insignia.
While they could not learn how to make the control boxes and sensor units, the assistants did learn how to make some of the sub-assemblies that went into the control boxes and particularly the sensor units. With their help production rates were increased from ten to twelve per day to an average of 36 units per day. Two technicians were also assigned to an on the job training with Dr. Handricksen to begin the years of training needed to make the units on their own. Over 30,000 PAeL units were known to have been produced during the war with some estimates of almost 50,000 units.
They worked five days per week but took off every weekend. The work was tedious and difficult and production fell off after about ten hours. Two full days were required for recovery so the eyestrain and hands were calm enough to resume work for the week. Dr. Handricksen was fifty-five years old when he founded the company and the strain of wartime production was taking its toll on him.
In November, 1941, a provisional platoon was shipped to the Philippines. The unit consisted of four 6 man squads, each with 5 automatons. The platoon headquarters was nine humans, including two technicians from the US Automaton Corporation as advisors. The automatons were still secret which limited what they could do and so initially they were kept at Ft. Frank, on Carabao, one of the fortified islands in Manila Bay. They were mostly employed as stevedores and digging fortifications and filling sandbags.
The automatons naturally did not suffer from disease, but their human counterparts began to drop like flies soon after their arrival in the Philippines. The thirty-three humans were reduced to only fourteen by the beginning of February, 1942 due to disease, wounds and accidents. Since each automaton required a human PAL to operate, the unit was significantly degraded.
As the humans were stricken by disease, the automatons began to fall victim to the damp. The USA Corp. representatives had been sending messages back, almost from the beginning, that the automatons were not able to resist the effects of climate and salt water on the island.
Corporation representatives on the Philippines made some changes and were able to keep many of the automatons running. Dr. Handricksen began redesign of the electrical components to be more salt water and rust resistant. The reports of poor salt water resistance caused both the Navy and the Marine Corp to lose interest in the project.
In an effort to salvage something from the project in the Philippines, the remaining soldiers and automatons were reorganized into one large squad of twelve men and the ten remaining functioning automatons. They deployed to Bataan and there is some evidence that they participated in combat patrols and may have encountered Japanese patrols. After a couple weeks all the troops and automatons were taken back to Carabao and then all the automatons, functioning or not were taken to Army headquarters on Corregidor Island.
General Douglas Mac Arthur himself praised the hard work of the soldiers in the Automation Platoon and requested more such soldiers for the defense of the Philippines. Saying in part in a secret communiqué: “The hard work and dedication of these soldiers and the enthusiasm they have for their electronic charges is truly inspirational. This command would welcome as many of these PAeL teams as can be sent.”
Despite the capture of over 50,000 US Army and Philippine troops all the automatons we evacuated from the island in a US Navy submarine, as ballast! The submarine made a short stop at Pearl Harbor where the automatons were removed, cleaned, crated and then sent back to the Navy base in Long Beach, California. The two USA Corp., technicians were able to return on the submarine with the information they had gathered. Corregidor fell only a week later.
From there they were picked up by USA Corp. employees and taken back to the factory for analysis and repair. Dr. Handricksen was able to make a few adjustments and solve the rusting and corrosion problems. This in turn further delayed the deployment of the automations on a large scale basis.
The USA Corp. sent another representative and twelve additional PAeL units to the Philippines. While enroute there, their aircraft put down at Wake Island with engine trouble. After unloading the cargo and the plane returned to Hawaii. The USA Corp. representative stayed with the PAeL charges, hoping to finish the trip to the Philippines or make use of them in the defense of Wake Island.
The contractor and the PAeL he had with him were never heard from again. There is no record of him being taken prisoner or of being removed from the island by friendly forces. No mention of PAeL soldiers is recorded from the records of Wake Island defenders, but that could be due to wartime secrecy. It is thought that the Japanese may have captured the twelve PAeL units, but there is no record that they captured them or what happened to them.