P 'Jimmy' Rowe studied physics at the Royal College of Science (University
of London) receiving a BSc Hons in 1922. He then joined a defence
science unit of the Air Ministry under Dr Henry Wimperis, which was housed at the
Imperial College of Science and Technology where he also lectured part time.
the early 1930s Rowe visited Germany on holiday where he probably saw the
first signs of German unrest [source Dr Ernest H Putley]. In 1934 a large
scale Air Defence exercise was held to test Britain's air defences with mock
air raids on London. Most of the bombers reached their targets without
Soon after, Rowe arranged a demonstration for
Air Marshall Dowding to see the large concrete sound mirrors on Romney Marsh,
intended to give advance warning of approaching aircraft. Before Dowding
arrived, he saw that the mirrors were rendered completely ineffective by
the noise of a horse drawn milk float. He was so concerned, that he
exceeded his junior responsibilities by reviewing all the Air Ministry files
on air defence. He was so alarmed that he formally wrote to Wimperis to
say that if we were involved in a major war, we would lose it unless a new
initiative could be found. He suggested that the best scientific brains
in the country should be asked to study the problem.
put this proposal to the Secretary of State which resulted in the setting up
of a committee with the chairmanship of Henry Tizard and with Rowe as
secretary. Robert Watson Watt (from the Radio Research Laboratory)
reported to the committee that it may be possible to detect aircraft by the
reflections from radio transmissions. In February 1935 Rowe witnessed a
successful demonstration at Weedon to show the feasibility of this idea using
the BBC's Daventry transmitter and a Heyford Bomber. This secured
funding to start work on Radio Direction Finding (RDF) - later called radar.
started quickly at Orfordness on the Suffolk coast to develop these ideas
under Robert Watson Watt. The work was successful, and in 1936 the team
was enlarged and centred at Bawdsey Manor nearby. In May 1938 Rowe took
over the management of the research when Watson Watt moved to London to manage
he setting up of the Chain Home stations. From that moment until the end of
the war he guided the development of a multitude of radar systems which were
vital factors in the ultimate success of the Allies.
In order to foster good
communications between the military commanders, the research scientists and
industry, Rowe arranged regular 'Sunday Soviets' where operational problems
and scientific possibilities could be discussed freely in an informal
atmosphere. This helped ensure
that scientific expertise was put to the best advantage at solving operational problems.
As a direct result of these meetings, several radio and radar navigation
systems were built to improve bombing accuracy: GEE, OBOE and H2S.
end of the war Rowe was exhausted from the demanding years managing the radar
development. In 1948 he became vice chancellor at Adelaide University.
is unlikely that a defensive radar system would have been working before the
Battle of Britain if Jimmy Rowe had not used his initiative to raise concerns
about Britain's air defences. He also led the radar team both before and
during the war, and his 'Sunday Soviets' were key to ensuring good
co-operation between the scientists and the military.
The concluding words
of Bernard Lovell's obituary for Jimmy Rowe in the Times were: "In
1946 Rowe was awarded the American Medal for Merit for his distinguished
services to the Allied War effort, but beyond the award of the CBE in 1942,
his own country failed to recognise him as one of the critical agents of
survival and victory."
Albert Percival 'Jimmy' Rowe CBE
23 March 1898 - 25 May 1976
Bill & Jonathan Penley Jan 2011