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Radar Personalities

one of the most difficult bodies to convince of the value of an invention, the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors12:

'At four critical periods of the war, radar made a major contribution to success:

1 in the Battle of Britain;
2 in defence against night bombing on which the enemy concentrated after his defeat in the Battle of Britain;
3 in dealing with the submarine menace in the critical years of 1941-42;
4 in enabling our bombers to reach their objectives in Germany and to drop their bombs with a high degree of accuracy

Let us look briefly at the first two of these, the vital part which radar played in the daytime Battle of Britain and later in our defence against night bombing. They were both essential parts of the early scheme for the application of radiolocation to air defence which Watson-Watt initiated and which I regard as his principal achievement.

The Battle of Britain

In 1940 no target in this country was more than about twenty minutes flight from the coast and the enemy was free to choose when and where he would attack. Given the time it takes for a defending fighter to take off and climb to operational height, it was manifestly impossible to intercept enemy bombers before they reached their targets without maintaining standing patrols of fighters. That was not a practical option; in his 'Three steps to victory' Watson-Watt quotes' the following passage from the official history of the Royal Air Force 1939-45:

"... how could standing patrols, extravagant beyond measure in flying hours, and therefore in aircraft, men and everything else, be maintained at the requisite strength for the requisite length of time round every area to be protected? Only with a gigantic fighter force could this be done - a force so enormous that it would leave us few resources for guns, tanks or ships and none at all for bombers... With the advent of Watson-Watt there occurred, in an incredibly brief period, nothing less than a revolution in the science of air defence."

In the great air battles which were fought in daylight during August and September 1940 the information from the coastal chain enabled our limited force of fighters to remain on the ground until they were actually wanted, and then gave them time to take off and intercept the enemy at the coast. By eliminating the need for standing patrols it increased the effective strength of our fighter force by at least three times. That was a vital factor in winning the daytime Battle of Britain.

The battle at night

As Tizard and Watson-Watt had foreseen in 1936 the Luftwaffe, after failing to achieve their objectives by day, turned to bombing by night. In fact their night raids increased so much in July and August 1940 that,


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Updated 18/12/00

Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 Dick Barrett

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