Outlines the political background in Europe in the mid 1930's and, in
particular, explains why the defence of Britain (especially from aerial
attack) became an increasingly significant issue.
1935 was a pivotal year in Britain for the development of radar and there were four men in particular: A.P.Rowe, H.E. Wimperis, Robert Watson Watt and Arnold Wilkins who may be considered the key players at this time. What did they do and why was their work so important?
The British government needed to be convinced that the new technology was worthy of investment in terms of men and money. The Daventry demonstration in February 1935, convinced them all that radar was going to be an invaluable tool in the defence of the British Isles and instantly, earlier detection methods such as acoustic mirrors etc. became obsolete.
After the Daventry demonstration the decision was taken that a chain of detecting stations should be built all along the east coast of Britain. The idea was that some sort of 'early warning' capability should be provided. Robert Watson Watt was appointed as superintendent of the new research establishment based at Bawdsey Manor in Suffolk where this research could be carried out.
The CH system became a reality just as war began in September 1939. The Germans did not realise what the capabilities of the system were. However, they did send an airship across the North Sea in August 1939 on a spying mission .but it returned home none the wiser.
For 3½ years, Bawdsey Manor was the focus for all radar research and development in Britain. The main task was to get the CH system operational and make sure that it was accurate, far-ranging and reliable. The beginnings of airborne radar were also conceived at Bawdsey. When war broke out, it was considered to be a vulnerable to German attack and so everything had to be moved to safety ..
The teacher training college at Dundee University was wholly unsuitable for the work at hand. There was little space to work and travelling to and from meetings in London was inconvenient. Nevertheless the first airborne radars [AI] for detecting other aircraft and ships at sea [ASV] were completed here. What was really needed was a purpose-built location where all the necessary personnel and equipment could work effectively ..
A farm near Worth Matravers (in Dorset) was chosen as the ideal location.
Work continued here apace during the long hot summer of 1940. These were
dark days for Britain
.the evacuation of Dunkirk in May was followed
by the Battle of Britain in the skies over southern England through June
and on until September. These terrible events seemed to spur the scientists
at Worth to excel themselves. New aerials were developed, shorter, more
effective wavelengths were employed (using the newly-developed Magnetron)
and special navigational and bomb-aiming aids were rapidly conceived.
The Telecommunications Research Establishment [TRE] was to remain at Malvern College for the remainder of the war. The 'OBOE' and 'H2S' systems were perfected here along with other specialised units for the Army and the Navy. Many of the staff were directly involved in getting these vital systems installed in planes and boats as quickly as possible.
The development of the Magnetron in 1940 meant that much higher pulsed power outputs could be achieved from transmitters and this was essential if the benefits of the shorter centimetric wavelengths were to be capitalised upon. One year later, it was technically possible to direct a fighter plane, at night, to intercept the German bombers heading for London. The German losses were soon unsustainable. The new centimetric systems also meant that the allied bombing accuracy (hitherto, quite unacceptable) could at last be improved.
This is a large topic that begins by exploring some of the reasons for
the unprecedented co-operation that prevailed in 1940 between the senior
military staff, the research scientists and the British government. Without
this cooperation it is unlikely that the rapid technological advances
that are discussed here would have occurred.
If the wavelength of a transmission is known, it is quite possible to transmit another signal on a similar frequency to interfere with it. The Germans often 'jammed' the Allies' frequencies and the Allies did the same in return. As D-Day approached, it became increasingly important that the Allies had secure and accurate navigational and bomb-aiming equipment if success was to be assured. Similarly, it was necessary to deceive the enemy into thinking that the landings would be somewhere other than the beaches of Normandy. A number of clever deceptions were instigated .
One of the main purposes of this site is to bring to life many of the
personal stories of the people who were involved with the development
The majority of the images used on this site were from the Douglas Fisher
collection. Douglas Fisher was an RAF photographer during the war and
his wonderful collection of images (over 10,000) are now safely archived
at Bournemouth University.