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.

Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) was first developed in Britain in the 1930s after the British Government realised that there was a real threat from the German air force. A committee was set up under H T Tizard to consider the problem of air defence and Robert (later Sir Robert) Watson-Watt was asked to advise them on defence systems using electromagnetic waves. The committee's original idea was the development of a 'death ray', but Watson Watt persuaded them that it would be more profitable to concentrate on an aircraft detection system.

Photograph of three radar transmitters

Development work was begun at Orfordness on the South Coast and by 1939 a chain of 18 radar stations covering the east and south coast of England had been erected. This was known as Chain Home and was able to detect aircraft flying in at 15000-20000 feet.

During 1940 a new ground-based radar was introduced to detect low-flying aircraft and ships: Chain Home Low.

Other radar systems developed throughout the war included IFF (Identification Friend or Foe, where friendly aircraft identified themselves using radar signals), H2S (a centimetric Air Interception system which presented a 'map' of the ground on a cathode ray oscilloscope housed in the aircraft) and Oboe (a navigation system for bombers).

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