British Radar in World War Two

Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) was first developed in Britain in the 1930s. This online exhibition looks at the scientists and engineers behind the development of radar during World War Two.

The first primitive radar system was patented in 1904 by a German engineer, Christian Hulsmeyer. His system was based on principles first discovered by Michael Faraday, and the mathematical work of James Clerk Maxwell who predicted the existence of radio waves and formulated the electromagnetic theory of light. 

In 1886 Heinrich Hertz tested Maxwell's theories in a series of experiments which proved the existence of radio waves. By the 1930s scientists in several countries began to tackle the problem of developing what were later called radar systems.

Detail from the Identification Friend or Foe report on radar beacons


This online exhibition looks at the development of radar during World War Two and the work of the scientists and engineers involved. Please click on the links to discover more about radar during this period:

  • British Radar during WW2 Introduction- During 1940 a new ground-based radar was introduced to detect low-flying aircraft and ships: Chain Home Low.
  • Detail from Harry Boot's cavity magnetron blueprint
    The Cavity Magnetron- The early Chain Home radar system was based on wavelengths of 15 to 30 metres. It was obvious that if shorter wavelengths (i.e. below 1 metre) could be used then radar could be far more effective.
  • Magnetron Development-The cavity magnetron became the preferred source of very high frequency radio waves in radar devices. In fact it is still in use today: as the key component of a microwave oven.
  • Alec Reeves
    Oboe and Alec Reeves- The Oboe system was based on the detection of radio signals from ground stations. Alec Reeves developed the Oboe navigation system which was to have such an impact on the outcome of the war.
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