The development of radar was key to the success of the UK in the Battle of Britain and continued to swing the balance in World War II until the allies were ultimately successful. Talented scientists were recruited from top universities to work on radar, and many ideas were developed which went on to form the basis of the electronics industry we take for granted today.

Radar defended Britain by giving early warning of approaching hostile aircraft. Fighter aircraft could then be scrambled and guided to intercept them.

Radars were also installed in aircraft. These helped to intercept hostile aircraft at night, and to detect ships and partially exposed submarines. This proved a trump card in the Battle of the Atlantic, combatting the threat from German U-boats to convoys from the United States.

Later in the war, airborne radar and radio navigation aids helped bombers locate their targets more accurately. Developments in jamming and fooling German radars played an important rôle in D-Day. Linked to a supply of false intelligence, this helped mislead the Germans about our invasion strategy and saved many British and US lives.

In the early 1930s it was widely known that radio waves were reflected by aircraft and ships and could be detected. However, it was in the UK that concerns about air defence were acted on by making a major investment to develop a radar warning system. This, together with breaking the code of the German Enigma machine at Bletchley Park, undoubtedly tipped the balance of World War II in favour of the UK and its allies.


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Page last updated: 10 March 2011