This section records a little about the scientists, engineers and service personnel who worked on early radar.  A photograph of the organisation chart in the director's office forms the basis for the staff lists - both alphabetical and by Group.  There are also short biographies for a few of the scientists.  

The success of the radar work was characterised by individual people who had the foresight to take initiatives that were often beyond their remit.

At the outset in 1934, AP 'Jimmy' Rowe saw that 'sound mirrors' intended to warn of approaching aircraft did not work.  This led him to go beyond his relatively junior responsibilities and investigate Britain's air defence strategy.  He was so alarmed at what he found, that he raised his concerns with his boss, Henry Wimperis.  As a result, the Tizard committee was formed to find new ways of improving air defences.  This led directly to the Daventry experiment, which demonstrated that radio detection of aircraft was feasible, and heralded the start of the radar development work.

Soon after the start of the radar work, Henry Tizard (who had been a pilot in the first world war) saw the need to guide fighter aircraft to home in on hostile aircraft which showed up on the radar.  This led him to start a special unit at Biggin Hill to work out effective techniques for interception.  Subsequently, well before the war and before the initial Chain Home radar system was operational, he also anticipated that a working system would result in hostile aircraft switching to night attack. He had the foresight to start early work on Airborne Interception radar to help interception at night and in poor visibility.  His foresight proved well founded, and the early start on Airborne Interception radar paid off!

Winston Churchill, the wartime prime minister, identified the key significance of technology to the war effort at an early stage, and in a minute to cabinet on 3rd September 1940 he wrote: "... our supreme effort must be to gain overwhelming mastery of the air ... we must regard the whole sphere of RDF ... as ranking with the Air Force of which it is an essential part.  The multiplication of the high class scientific personnel ... should be the very spear point of our thought and effort."  [RDF: Radio Direction Finding - a precursor to the term radar we use today].

Priority was given to recruit top scientists from Britain's universities to work on radar.  It was Top Secret at the time and referred to with the 'cover' name Radio Direction Finding (RDF).  Scientists arrived at RAF stations and were given the nickname 'boffins'.  While the origin of the name is not clear, it may have had something to do with the makeshift appearance of the Blackburn Baffin biplane - see Wikipedia.

Jimmy Rowe had taken charge of the radar development work in 1938 continuing until the end of the war.  To improve co-operation between between the radar scientists, the military and industry he set up what he called his 'Sunday Soviets'.  These were gatherings where military commanders could discuss operational problems with scientists in an informal atmosphere.  These led directly to the development of various radio and radar navigation systems: Gee, Oboe and H2S.

It is sometimes thought that British radar scientists were superior to their German counterparts.  This was not the case.  What made the difference was the close co-operation between the scientists, the military, and the huge support network which made, installed, maintained and operated the radars without counting the cost.

After the war, many of the scientists went on to eminent careers with some becoming Nobel prizewinners, Fellows of the Royal Society, being awarded knighthoods or becoming peers of the realm.  Browse some of the mini biographies to get a feel for the scientific talent that was assembled and the subsequently stunning careers a number of the scientists enjoyed.


Contents of People Section

Introduction This page!
Director's Chart Director's chart - Purbeck, March 1942 
Staff Alphabetical Alphabetical staff list
Staff by Group Staff list by Group
Biographies Short biographies of a few staff
Biographies of a few staff
Director's Chart - March 1942
Alphabetical Staff List
Staff Alphabetical
Staff by Group

copyright Purbeck Radar Museum Trust 2013  |  |  version 8f - 9 May 2015

Page last updated: 09 May 2015