- Luscombe, L.J.
- Naval technology, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1995 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Meanwhile another profound change was in the wind. Tizard had been active in another direction. He made arrangements for the British top secret developments including the Magnetron, to be transferred to America to take advantage of the research and production resources of that country. I was soon fully involved in that effort. From that point onwards the development of centimetre-wave radar by the Allies followed two distinct, but parallel, paths – one in Britain at T.R.E., A.R.D.E. and the Admiralty, and the other in the United States.
The Tizard Mission In Washington – 1940
Through Lord Lothian, Tizard made contact with the top levels of the U.S. Army and Navy. Our main contacts on radar matters were with General Maugborgne, the Army’s Chief Signal Officer, and Admiral Harold Bowen, the Director of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Copies of the British documents and drawings were handed over to Army and Naval Intelligence.
It was then America’s turn and we were shown the radar systems they had developed up to that time. This was done by visits to their principal research establishments – the Naval Research Laboratory at Anacostia and the Signal Corps Laboratory at Fort Monmouth.
Dr. Bowen summarised the Mission’s findings in the following terms:
We are agreeably surprised to find that both the U.S. Army and Navy had progressed a good deal further in radar than we had been led to expect. Although they had been thinking of ship and aircraft detection it was not until mid 1935 that the Naval Research Laboratory had succeeded in obtaining clear, pulsed echoes from an aircraft. This had led to the development of a shipboard radar, the CXAM, remarkably similar to the British CHL on precisely the same frequency.
Similarly the U.S. Signal Corp, a little behind the Navy had developed a mobile air-warning radar.
The principal difference between the British and United States position in September 1940 was that the British air-warning chain had been in continuous use as an operational system since 1938. The radar scientists at both US Establishments had fought an uphill battle for recognition of their work and the need for it to go into service. By comparison the British Government had recognised the need for air warning as early as December 1935 when one million pounds (sterling) had been allocated to provide air-warning coverage of the Thames Estuary. In 1940 the complete British Chain System had been in operation against the enemy for over a year and was providing a decisive factor in the Battle of Britain, which was being won at that very moment. The Tizard Mission was thus able to convince the US Chiefs of Staff that radar was a supremely important weapon of war; once they were convinced of this, production orders for radars, using the American design and for American equivalents of British radar equipment flowed in to industry in great profusion. The US had used radio altimeters for the time but had made no progress with airborne radar for the detection of ships and aircraft. This was a field in which Britain had a substantial lead.
Lastly, in spite of many endeavours, the US had made little progress with high power transmitters on waves of centimetre wavelength. Perhaps the greatest single contribution made by the Tizard Mission was to introduce the resonant magnetron to the USA. It was taken up with tremendous enthusiasm, as a result of which over a million magnetrons of every type were produced in the USA. They were incorporated in hundreds of thousands of radar sets of every description and went into operation in every theatre of war.
Australia’s Role In The Development Of Radar
A section of Dr Bowen’s book deals with Australia’s initial and continuing role in the development of radar prior to and after his arrival in Australia in 1944. The following extracts tell that story in his own words:
“By the end of 1943 the war situation was much more hopeful than it was in the dark days of 1940. In radar itself there had been a distinct change in emphasis; it was no longer regarded as a purely defensive weapon. By mid 1943 most of the radar devices likely to be used had already been thought of or were being worked on. Could any new radar proposal, however attractive technically, be brought to completion and put into service soon enough to contribute to the war effort? In this context it became clear that my task in the USA was drawing to a close. There was little more I could do in the United States – the radar tide was already in full flood. I took advice from several sources and an important one was Tizard himself. He always kept his ear close to the ground and came up with a typical piece of good sense. He said “They seem to need help in Australia, go there young man“. Australia had a relatively long history in radio research. It began in the early 1920s when intensive efforts were made to establish a direct radio link with Great Britain. Interestingly enough, this was entirely an amateur development; it was centred at the Mill Hill School in London and corresponding groups in Australia; they attempted to communicate with each other on what they called the ultra-short wavelengths, thought to be of no commercial value. Their efforts were successful and the provision of a proper service was taken up by the respective governments and by commercial interest. A thriving radio industry grew up in Australia; some companies were indigenous while others were subsidiaries of well known British, European and American companies. The structure of the industry was modelled on that of Great Britain, with a strong Post Office interest and connections to the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force. A Radio Research Board was also formed, based on the British model; using grants from governmental sources, the Board became active in stimulating research in Universities and other institutions.