In 1934 the Royal Air Force tested Britain's air defences with practice raids.  This led AP 'Jimmy' Rowe to raise concerns about Britain's air defences, and the following year work began to develop a radar warning system [radar story], with talented scientists coming from top universities to work on it [people].  Radar is able to detect aircraft by detecting echoes from a pulse of radio waves [what is radar?], and defended Britain by giving early warning of approaching hostile aircraft [radar in World War II].   

Just before war was declared in 1939, the Germans sent an airship to spy on the radar work, then at Bawdsey on the Suffolk coast [*see below].  The radar scientists were evacuated from Bawdsey, initially to Dundee.  In May 1940 they moved again, this time to Worth Matravers in Purbeck, Dorset UK [radar in Purbeck].  While in Purbeck, the scientists developed many new technologies.  These included the now familiar rotating aerial and map like radar display (Plan Position Indicator) and the cavity magnetron which was able to produce powerful radio signals at short wavelengths.

The Germans had also built radar defences and in February 1942 British paratroops raided one of their radars at Bruneval on the French coast.  They brought back key pieces of the radar to understand better how it worked and how it might be countered.  After this there were fears that the Germans might raid Worth Matravers, and the scientists hastily moved to Malvern in May 1942.  A working RAF radar station remained at Worth, and the last tower was not taken down until 1976.

After the war, many of the ideas developed in Purbeck went on to form the basis of the electronics industry we take for granted today [legacy].  Radar is important for keeping ships and aircraft safe, and is key to manage aircraft in flight (Air Traffic Control).  Radar has gone on to find applications as diverse as weather forecasting, ornithology and speed traps for cars!

The cavity magnetron, developed for radar, was Top Secret in Word War II but now provides the source of unseen heat in microwave ovens around the world!  Short wavelength radar technology was also behind the growth of microwave communications links after the war, supporting telephone, television and satellite communications.  

The Purbeck Radar Museum Trust was set up in 1991 by a few people interested in keeping a public record of the wartime work on radar.  To raise the profile of the early radar work, the Trust has sponsored various exhibitions and publications [milestones].  A memorial to commemorate the wartime radar work at Worth Matravers was unveiled in October 2001 [radar memorial].  An historical radar exhibition was opened in Worth Matravers in July 2006 and moved to the Swanage Museum & Heritage Centre in April 2007 [exhibition].

The Trust also published this website [] to co-incide with the exhibition opening.  There are also references and links on where to go for more information [more..].  In July 2008 the Trust also opened an historical radar reference library in collaboration with the Swanage Museum.

If you have photographs, papers, items or memorabilia relating to early radar development the Radar Trust would be delighted to hear from you [contact]. The Trust would also be keen to hear from anyone interested in helping assemble educational material about this significant part of our heritage [study].


*Geman airship sent to spy on the radar work.
After the war it emerged that the German scientists in the Graf Zeppelin airship did in fact detect radio signals from the Chain Home radar system, but failed to identify them as radar pulses.  Watson Watt chose to use the 50Hz cycle from the electricity distribution network to synchronise radar pulses from different Chain Home radar stations.  This was a simple method to avoid interference between radar reflections generated from neighbouring stations by linking each to a particular point in the 50Hz cycle. Scientists in the airship misinterpreted the signals they detected to be noise from the overhead transmission lines for electricity distribution (such as arcing at the insulators).  As a result, at the start of the war, the Germans did not take the threat from British radar seriously.  It has been suggested that this single failure resulted in the Germans losing the war.

Individual pages of interest

Contact Contact the Purbeck Radar Museum Trust.
Publications Purbeck Radar Museum Trust publications
Staff List March 1942 staff list & chart for TRE
Library Historical radar reference library in Swanage
Study Education page.
Chain Home aerial masts - click for radar story.
Meeting with 'Jimmy' Rowe


Site at Worth Matravers
Radar exhibition at Swanage Museum & Heritage Centre
Radar Memorial

Purbeck Radar Museum Trust



Frequent Questions

PRMT publications



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

Page last updated: 21 February 2013