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Whose Radar?

March 2023
1min read

In the course of an admirably passionate piece of work about “the Indomitable Churchill” (February/March), William Manchester gives a misleading impression of Frederick A. Lindemann’s role in the development of radar. The struggle between Lindemann and his rival scientist Sir Henry Tizard should be a settled controversy, and Mr. Manchester’s remarks seem to revive it.

Manchester notes that Lindemann had been keeping his eye on the problem from the beginning, and that RDF (Radio Direction Finder, the initial British name for radar) became “Lindemann’s great mission in the 1930s; it will save England in 1940.…” This gives the impression that Lindemann’s contribution was central to the development and deployment of the defenses that won the Battle of Britain. Alas, the converse is nearer the truth.

After joining Tizard’s Aeronautical Research Committee, Lindemann was in fact more critic than champion of radar; he was prescient in pointing out the possibility of jamming, for example. In the main, though, his activities were less than helpful. He was opposed to the stress on radar, pinning his hopes in part on short wire barrages and particularly on the use of aerial mines, an obsession that he passed on to others and which squandered a lot of time and money. He had great hopes for infrared detectors, none of which panned out in time to use against the Axis powers, and he had had a number of fixed and mistaken beliefs about the fragility of aircraft.

In prematurely assuming that the problems of daytime detection and interception had been solved, Lindemann sought to divert scarce resources to the problems of nighttime detection (infrared again). Had his views prevail^, he would most probably have delayed the deployment of the RDF chain and the development of the doctrine and tactics radar made possible. Ronald W. Clark’s scrupulous biography of Tizard puts the issue with admirable succinctness: Had Lindemann prevailed, Britain would have faced the summer of 1940 with a much better-equipped Bomber Command and a fatally weakened Fighter Command. In brief, she would have had an even better chance of losing the war.

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