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Making vision into power : Britain's acquisition of the world's first radar-based integrated air defence system 1935 - 1941

By P E Judkins


This thesis represents the first application of a current conceptual model of defence acquisition to analyse the historical process, the 1935 - 1941 British acquisition of an integrated air defence system pivoted upon the innovative technology of radar. For successful acquisition of a military capability, the model posits that balanced attention must be focused acoss eight 'lines of developmen' - not only equipment, but also doctrine and concepts, logistics, structures, personnel, organisation, training and information with an overarching requirement for interoperability. This thesis contrasts what turned out to be a successful acquisition, of radar to achive air interception capability by day in the Battle of Britain, with less successful acquisition, or radar to achieve the same capability at night, where an effective system arrived too late to ward off the Blitz. The results establish the validity of the model and its attendant lines of development concepts, and furnish new insights into acquisition processes and military history. Acquisition lessons are derived for the capability-based involvement of industry, for the experience and personality necessary for key managers at different 'life stages' of an acquisition and for the avoidance of over-rapid 'dysfunctional diffusion' of innovative technologies. Historical insights for the Battle of Britain include the sub-optimal performance, for trivial reasons, of key South Coast radars, and the critical importance of the human elements of the radar-based air defence system. For the Blitz, airborne radar hardware has previously been identified as a key problem, whereas research here exposes the greater need for accurate ground control radar, the sound selection and training of pilots and operators in new tactics, and provision of equipment maintainers and test gear. New evidence illustrates that pursuit of an alternative to radar significantly delayed the optimal solution, and throws fresh light both on personalities and on development process management

Publisher: Cranfield University
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Cranfield CERES

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  329. (1996). Radar: A Wartime Miracle,
  330. (1996). Radar: How it all Began,
  331. (1947). Radial Time Bases: How they were developed for radar’,
  332. (1922). Radio Telegraphy’
  333. (1939). RAF Fighter Command Victory Claims of World War Two, Part I
  334. (1992). Reflections…on a Chain of Events,
  335. (1940). report by Sir J Salmond, Marshal of the RAF. AIR 2/7348 Enemy jamming of RDF stations. AIR 2/7445 Training of AI operators and mechanics. AIR 8/863 Battle of Britain: despatch by Sir Hugh Dowding.
  336. Review concerning the History of German Radar Technology up to 1945’, in
  337. (1948). Rise and Fall of the German Air Force,
  338. (1975). Robert Alexander Watson-Watt’
  339. (1975). Robert Alexander Watson-Watt’ Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society,
  340. (1966). Robert Wright) Years of Command,
  341. (1935). Rowe’s sketch of the radar trace,
  342. (1940). Royal Air Force Beam Benders No. 80 (Signals) Wing
  343. (1940). Royal Air Force Beam Benders: No. 80 (Signals) Wing
  344. (1939). Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War,
  345. (1939). Royal Air Force Coastal Command Losses of the Second World War,
  346. (1936). Royal Air Force experiments at Biggin Hill (radio and sound location0
  347. (1991). Royal Air Force Historical Society, The Battle Re-fought,
  348. (1961). Science and Government,
  349. (1947). Science at War,
  350. (1994). Searching in the Dark,
  351. (1915). searchlights in the First World War faced the same meteorological challenges as those in the 1930s – though useful on clear nights, their beam was diffused by cloud into a milky pool.
  352. (1992). See for example Bill
  353. (1939). Silhouette proceeded under Farnborough’s project management, and with an A* priority, flight trials being completed at Rayleigh by February 7. It is significant to compare this A* rating with Bawdsey’s
  354. (2006). Silhouette sites in Essex were downloaded from, the Essex County Council Sites and Monuments Record, where the sites are misidentified as “floodlights”; the site was accessed on 18
  355. Sir Robert Watson-Watt, op. cit.,
  356. (1961). Sir Robert Watson-Watt, oral history interview,
  357. (2004). Some indication of the variety of aerial arrays tested can be seen from these drawings by Keith Wood. Not surprisingly, the aircraft became almost unflyable. (Keith Wood, Echoes and Reflections,
  358. (1989). Spitfire on m y Tail,
  359. (2005). Staff lists of the Telecommunications Research Establishment were accessed from the Penley Radar Pages,,
  360. (1939). Staffing problems of a different nature occurred with the Observer Corps. Unbelievably as it may seem, at the date of their mobilising for war on 24
  361. (1937). Stanmore: operational reports
  362. (1976). Strategy without Slide-Rule,
  363. (1992). Sweepers,
  364. Table 6: Radar-based day interception capability: summary position at 1.7.1940. The performance of the system under the pressures of battle is now examined.
  365. (1937). Table 8. Radar-based night interception capability: summary position,
  366. (1938). Table 9. Radar-based night interception capability: summary position,
  367. taped interview for CHiDE,
  368. (1999). taped interview for CHiDE, 17
  369. taped interview for CHiDE, BORCS 2002.229 Fennessey, Sir Edward, taped interview for CHiDE,
  370. (1986). Technical History of the Beginnings of Radar, London: Peter Peregrinus /IEE,
  371. (1986). Technical History of the Beginnings of Radar, London: Peter Peregrinus,
  372. (1939). Tedder’s copy to Tizard of his 8 th
  373. (1926). Test of the Existence of the Conducting Layer’ Physical Review,
  374. (1939). The “Phoney War”.
  375. The 1939/early 1940 Fighter Command Operations Room, converted from the ballroom in Bentley Priory. (Imperial War Museum,
  376. (1984). The Air Defence of Great Britain 1914-1918,
  377. (1920). The Air Defence of Great Britain,
  378. (2000). The area of the Battle of Britain in greater detail. (Roy Conyers Nesbit, The Battle of Britain,
  379. (1986). The Audit of War,
  380. (1989). The Battle of Britain Then and Now, 5 th. Edition, London; After the Battle,
  381. (1940). The Battle of Britain,
  382. (1940). The Battle of Britain, on conventional reckoning, opened on 15
  383. (1946). The Battle of Britain, Supplement to The London Gazette,
  384. (1994). The Battle of Britain:
  385. (1994). The Battle of Britain: New Perspectives,
  386. (1994). The Battle of Britain: New Perspectives, London: Arms and Armour,
  387. (2003). The Battle of Britain: Victory and Defeat,
  388. (1956). The Battle of Britain’
  389. (2006). The Birth of British Radar: the Memoirs of Arnold “Skip” Wilkins,
  390. (2006). The Birth of British Radar: the Memoirs of Arnold “Skip” Wilkins, Reading: Speedwell for Defence Electronics History Society:
  391. (1959). The Bomber’s Eye,
  392. (2000). The Burning Blue,
  393. (1946). The C.H. Radiolocation Transmitters’,
  394. (1933). The Cathode-ray Oscillograph
  395. (1940). The Chain Home pioneers complicated the issue by persisting in trying to make Chain Home interception work as late as October,
  396. (1970). The Challenge of War,
  397. (1942). The Command of the Air,
  398. the Committee, now including Lindemann, agreed to a visual detection conference being held
  399. The Contexts for the Development of Radar: a Comparison of efforts in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1930s’, in Blumtritt
  400. (1947). The Cossor Story,
  401. (1986). The Cossor Story”, London: A.C.Cossor, 1947; Dr. Alfred Price, Cossor Radar: The First 50 Years, Harlow UK: Cossor Electronics Ltd,
  402. (1940). The critical incident of Tizard’s resignation then deprived Dowding of his key scientific resource. Tizard lost credibility during
  403. (1940). The customer requirement for minimum range was not adequately defined, verified or challenged. Dowding was both consistent and emphatic in his demand for a 100 yards or better minimum range. However, no-one appears to have asked him earlier than
  404. (1992). The Day War Broke Out, Bristol: Communications and Electronics Museum Trust,
  405. (1923). The Defence of London 1915-1918,
  406. (1957). The Defence of the United Kingdom,
  407. (2004). The Delineation of Defense Equipment Projects in the UK Ministry of Defence,
  408. (2004). The Delineation of Defense Equipment Projects in the UK Ministry of Defence’,
  409. (1946). The Design and Positioning of Aircraft Radar Aerials for Metric Wavelengths’,
  410. (1939). The development of air interception (AI) radar itself did not seriously begin until
  411. (1997). The Development of Methods of Detecting Hostile Aircraft at Night’; paper presented before the Newcomen Society at
  412. (1997). The Development of Methods of Detecting Hostile Aircraft at Night’; paper presented before the Newcomen Society at the Science Museum,
  413. (1983). The Development of Naval Radar 1935-1945’
  414. The Development of Naval Radar 1935-45’
  415. (1939). The Development of Radar Equipments for the Royal Navy,
  416. (1995). The Development of RAF Strategic Bombing Doctrine 1919-1939,
  417. (1990). The Duel,
  418. (2001). The Dynamics of Military Revolution 1300-2050, Cambridge:
  419. (1961). The Earl of, The Prof in Two Worlds,
  420. (2002). The Early days of Radar in the UK, Swanage: Penley Radar Archives,
  421. (1980). The Enemy is Listening,
  422. (1995). The Enigma Symposium,
  423. (2006). The Essex Sites and Monuments Record website may be accessed by internet at 465 16. Oral interviews with Sir Bernard Lovell, Dr.
  424. (2006). The Evolution of Smart Acquisition in the United Kingdom’, Paper prepared for the International Seminar on Defence Finance and Economics,
  425. The experimental installation of AI, as demonstrated to Dowding, sketched in the Touch memorandum (TNA/PRO AIR 20/1464). 404 Fig.
  426. (1960). The Eyes of the Few,
  427. (1952). The Fated Sky,
  428. The Filter Room, by contrast, is very rarely considered. The room, shown in Fig. 51, is described as noisy and high pressure, in t he attempt to decide upon the correct interpretation of raw data from
  429. (1986). The First 50 Years,
  430. The first of those questions was whether the MoD model, and specifically its lines of development component, is validated or vitiated by the facts of radar acquisition in the 1930s.
  431. (1988). The First Operational Radar’, in Burns, Russell (Ed.), Radar Development to 1945, London: Peter Peregrinus/IEE,
  432. (1992). The First Pathfinders,
  433. (1941). The first six GCI stations to be opened, as at
  434. (1978). The German “Mattscheibe” concept, where loosely-controlled “Wilde Sau” fighters engaged British bombers silhouetted against searchlight-lit clouds – and the burning city.
  435. (1917). The Gotha Summer: German Daytime Raids on
  436. (1939). The Graf Zeppelin photographed from RAF Dyce, Scotland – the station stamp is clearly legible – while on its
  437. (2002). The Growth of Fighter Command 1936-1940, London: Frank Cass,
  438. (1935). The History of Air Intercept Radar and the British Night Fighter,
  439. (1935). The History of Air Intercept Radar and the British Nightfighter,
  440. (2004). the House of Commons Defence Committee was advised on 12
  441. (2007). The Hulsmeyer study by Arthur Bauer in, previously was accessed on 14
  442. (1940). the Impact of Sholto Douglas.
  443. (1997). The Invention that Changed the World,
  444. (1997). The Invention that changed the World, London: Little, Brown and Company,
  445. (2000). The Life and Times
  446. (2000). The Life and Times of A.D.
  447. (1997). The Lion Has Wings,
  448. (2000). The Luftwaffe Fighters’
  449. (2000). The Luftwaffe’s Assault’,
  450. (2000). The Most Dangerous Enemy,
  451. (1991). The Myth of the Blitz,
  452. (1990). The Narrow Margin,
  453. The National Archives / Public Record Office, Kew (TNA/PRO) TNA/PRO AIR 20/1464. 12. Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College,
  454. The National Archives/Public Record Office, Kew (TNA/PRO)
  455. (1995). The Navy’s Type 79 masthead radar aerial. Each of the dipoles is 12 feet long, making the installation unsuitable for small vessels.
  456. (1940). The Night Blitz
  457. (2004). The Official History of British Sigint 1914-1945,
  458. (2004). The Official History of British Sigint 1914-1945, Milton Keynes:
  459. (1940). The Operations Room at Fighter Command HQ, Bentley Priory, Stanmore. This is the earlier “Ops Room”, converted from the original ballroom, and superseded by the purpose-built underground Operations Room (“The Hole”) only in
  460. The Operations Room at Sopley in its 1940 form, housed in a truck. (Penley Archive,
  461. (1940). The organisational transfer of the scientists to Beaverbrook’s Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) as MAP Research Establishment (MAPRE) in
  462. (1998). The Origin and Development of Allied IFF During World War II’,
  463. (1963). The Origins and Development of Operational Research in the Royal Air Force,
  464. (1939). the origins of CHL as a War Office equipment would have unforeseen consequences.
  465. (1973). The Origins of Strategic Bombing,
  466. (1990). The Paladins,
  467. (2006). The papers by Russell Burns listed above were accessed from on 14
  468. (1941). The position at the end of June,
  469. (1959). The Prof,
  470. (1962). The Professor and the Prime Minister,
  471. (1991). The Radar Army,
  472. (1989). The Radar War,
  473. (1989). The Radar War; Germany’s Pioneering Achievement,
  474. (1939). The record is quite explicit. In
  475. (2007). The request for so much money for Silhouette had certainly stimulated discussions between Dowding
  476. (1953). The Royal Air Force 1939-45: The Fight at Odds,
  477. (1953). The Royal Air Force 1939-45: The Fight at Odds, (Vol. I of the Official History: The Royal Air Force 1939-1945).London:
  478. (1979). The Royal Air Force and Two World Wars,
  479. (1997). The Royal Air Force Builds for War,
  480. (1997). The Royal Air Force Builds for War; a History
  481. (2005). The Royal Air Force: An Encyclopedia (sic)
  482. The Royal Air Force: An Encyclopedia (sic) of the Inter-War Years,
  483. The scale of the new mast arrangement, 1937. (Imperial War Museum, CH 15173). 177 Fig 27. Cossor Chain Home receiver RF7. (BAE Intsys). Fig 28. MetroVick Chain Home transmitter, power amplifier stages.
  484. (1938). The second need, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), was clearly delineated by Nutting, the RAF Director of Signals, in
  485. (1966). The Second World War 1939-1945: Royal Air Force Maintenance, London; Ministry of Defence,
  486. (1948). The Second World War,
  487. (1986). The Secret Life of
  488. The Secret Radar Factory, forthcoming, 2007; Mr Exton kindly loaned an advance copy for this research. 67. IWM/HTT 32. 68. TNA/PRO AIR 24/507. 69.
  489. (2007). The Secret Radar Factory, Privately published, forthcoming,
  490. (1978). The Secret War,
  491. (1991). The Setmakers,
  492. (1980). The Shadow of the Bomber, London: Royal Historical Society,
  493. The sketch made by Touch of the equipment used on the early flights survives in extremely poor condition, and is reproduced here for the first time.
  494. (1995). The Sky Sweepers,
  495. The stage was set for a major conference on Night Defence on 21 st July 166, chaired by Sholto Douglas and attended
  496. (1985). The Story of IFF,
  497. (1946). The Super-Regenerative Receiver in the Linear Mode’,
  498. (1939). The system which Bawdsey was struggling to install by 1
  499. (1999). The Thames estuary chain as eventually constructed. (Colin Latham and Anne Stobbs, Pioneers of Radar,
  500. The three Bawdsey secretaries whose success as “guinea pig” radar operators led to the recruitment of WAAF for this role. They are, from the
  501. (1974). The Ultra Secret London Weidenfeld and Nicholson,
  502. (1946). The Use of a Common Aerial for Radar Transmission and Reception on 200 Mc/s’,
  503. (1995). The W.O. “Y” Group D/F Network’,
  504. (1931). The War in the Air, Vols. III and V,
  505. (1939). The Winning Edge: Naval Technology in Action,
  506. (1994). The Zeppelin
  507. (1994). The Zeppelin in Combat,
  508. (2002). They Swept the Skies,
  509. (1940). This also failed, and Tizard confirmed Silhouette’s unmourned death on 4
  510. (1939). This minimum range requirement is at the root of a charge levelled by the historian David Zimmerman against Bowen, whom he accuses of “deception” 2 when demonstrating AI to Dowding in
  511. (1994). This photograph of the early transmitter used for both ASV and AI experiments is extremely rare, and has previously been published once only, in a limited-edition work. (Norman Cordingly, Era of the Nocturnal Blip,
  512. (1940). This thesis will illustrate that significant resources were devoted to testing Silhouette, which was eventually discarded only in April,
  513. (1986). Thorn EMI; 50 Years of Radar, Hayes: Thorn EMI,
  514. (1938). Though a clue is in the Official History 227, a further previously unreferenced file 228 sets out the events. An original specification for the insulators had been issued in
  515. (1957). Three Steps to Victory,
  516. (1957). Three Steps to Victory, London; Odhams,
  517. (1957). Three Steps to Victory, London: Odhams,
  518. (2001). TNA/PRO AIR 10/5485, p.26; D.
  519. TNA/PRO AIR 2/2202, Rowe to Watson Watt,
  520. TNA/PRO AIR 2/2615. 23. Sir Robert Watson-Watt, op. cit.,
  521. TNA/PRO AIR 2/2918; TNA/PRO 41/12 pp.63-4; AIR 10/5485 pp.35-6. 122. Derek Wood, op.cit, p.58. 123. Sir Robert Watson-Watt, op. cit.,
  522. TNA/PRO AIR 2/2946; IWM/HTT 10/19,
  523. TNA/PRO AIR 2/2965; AIR 20/2272: AVIA 7/3269. 256 159.
  524. TNA/PRO AIR 2/3404. 22. Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College,
  525. TNA/PRO AIR 20/1464. 35. See Chapter III, p.87. 36. Sir Bernard Lovell, Foreword to David Zimmerman,
  526. TNA/PRO AIR 20/181. 90. Ibid. 91. Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College,
  527. TNA/PRO AIR 20/189; IWM/HTT236 is the copy of the RAF Review of RDF Stations contained in Tizard’s papers.
  528. TNA/PRO AIR 20/222. 44. TNA/PRO AIR 2/3377.
  529. TNA/PRO AIR 20/2267;
  530. TNA/PRO AIR 20/2268. 36. E.G.Bowen, op. cit.,
  531. TNA/PRO AVIA 10/47; AVIA 7/3590;
  532. TNA/PRO AVIA 10/47; AVIA 7/3590; AIR
  533. TNA/PRO AVIA 15/218. 225. Unpublished research paper by S/Ldr.
  534. (1957). TNA/PRO AVIA 46/46. 251 18. Sir Robert Watson-Watt, Three Steps to Victory,
  535. (2006). TNA/PRO AVIA 53/301; also Sir Robert Watson-Watt, op. cit., p. 81 153. TNA/PRO AIR20/195; Sir Robert Watson-Watt, op. cit., p. 81; Colin Latham and Anne Stobbs, The Birth of British Radar; the Memoirs of Arnold ”Skip” Wilkins,
  536. TNA/PRO AVIA 7/3177. 395 56.
  537. TNA/PRO AVIA 7/396; AIR 10/5485 pp.28-9. 252 43. TNA/PRO AIR 2/2201, Woodward Nutt to Rowe,
  538. TNA/PRO CAB 21/1101. 22. E.G.Bowen op. cit.,
  539. TNA/PRO ZHC 2/821 Col. 1398 Hansard: House of Commons Debates.
  540. (1935). to 45: personal recollections of the early days,
  541. (1935). to CSSAD, reproduced as Appendix E of S.S.
  542. to October 1940: The Battle of Britain.
  543. (1940). Today’s MoD acquisition model has interoperability as its “overarching line of development”, and in this area the day interception system was
  544. (1996). Top Secret Exchange,
  545. (1990). Townshend, The Battle of Britain,
  546. (1994). Tracking the History of Radar,
  547. (1939). Turning to the question of Bowen’s “deception” of Dowding at the
  548. (2000). Twentieth Century Fortifications in
  549. (1992). Understanding Radar,
  550. (1956). United States Army in World War II: The Signal Corps. The Emergency, Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History,
  551. (1991). unpublished Ph D thesis,
  552. (2006). Using the contract to maximise the likelihood of successful project outcome,
  553. (1976). V: The Prophet of Truth,
  554. (1983). VI: Finest Hour 1939-1941,
  555. (1988). Video and DVD The Secret War, a documentary originally made for BBC TV (BBC TV Enterprises,
  556. (1939). Vol. V Fighter Control and Interception,
  557. (2004). Warfighting and Disruptive Technologies: Disguising Innovation,
  558. (1993). Watching the Skies,
  559. (1959). Watson-Watt, The Pulse of Radar,
  560. (1940). When night interception radar is considered, the over-rapid introduction of AI
  561. where Wilkins records his amazement at the ADRC decision
  562. (1925). Winged Defense: The Development and
  563. (1976). Winston Churchill Vol. V: The Prophet of Truth,
  564. (1998). Within the DPA “supplier” area, there was after
  565. (2005). Within two years, this list had been expanded to eight by the inclusion of Organisation and of Information, and was in
  566. (2000). Without Enigma,
  567. (1990). Wood with Derek Dempster,
  568. (1963). Years of Combat,
  569. (1966). Years of Command,
  570. (1984). Zeppelin dirigible: the scale of the airship and its slow speed caused this target to be easily acquired and held by searchlights.
  571. (1967). Zur Geschichte der Radartechnik

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