World War II: British Scientific Establishment


Figure 1.--.

British science was one of the country's greatest assetts during World War II. Britain had one of the world's most advanced scientific and industrial establishment at the time of World War II. German scientists are generally credited with creating the most advanced weapons of the War, especially jet and rocket weapons. British scientists made major contributions to the War and unlike the well known German weapons probably had a greater impact on the War. A fctor here was that the Germans were primarily interested in weaoons of an offensive nature. And Germany had two disadvantages. First Hitler interfered and made some decisions that seriously compromised the German war effort. And Germany had a limited industrial capacity to actually manufacture the weapons created by its scientists. The Brirish scientists had one great asset the Germans did not have--the United States. Early in the War, Primeminister Churchill decided to collaborate fully with with the United States and share Britains secret weapon programs. This meant that not only could British and Anerican scientists collaborate, but that the British had access to American industry which had the capacity io actually manufacure the weapons developed--and manufacture them in vast quantuties Some of the weapons developed by British scientists included radar, the hedge hogs, the promimity fuse, and many other important devices. Interestingly, much of the advances achieved by Blethcly Park was the work of amaturs and not precisly scientists, but amateurs with scientific and msthematics educations from the country' major universities. The British in many instances did not have the industrial capacity to actually manufacture the devices conceived by its scientists. British scientist played an important role in the Manhattan Project. Other weapons that came out of Brirish industry was the Rolls Royce Merlin Engine that was at the heart of the P-51 Mustang.

British Scientific Establishment

British science was one of the country's greatest assetts during World War II. Britain had one of the world's most advanced scientific and industrial establishment in the world at the time of World War II. This is something thatiscnot fully understood cin America. The United Srates had an important scientific etablishment, but it was not the dominant scientiufic establishment that it would become after the War (in part because of all the refugees from the NAZIs). Students of science know that the British since Issac Newton had been at the heart of the development of modern science. The Germans in the 19th century also develoed a major scientific community. In some areas the Germans had an edge and in other areas the British lead. Hitler after seizing power oriented the German scientific community toward the millitary. The British were slow to react, but by 1940, British science was fully engaged in the war effort and would plat an important role in the eventual Allied victory. German scientists are generally credited with creating the nost advanced weapons of the War, especially jet and rocket weapons. British scientists made major contributions to the War and unlike the well known German wepons probably had a greater impact on the War. A factor here was that the Germans were primarily interested in weapons of an offensive nature. And Germany had two disadvantages. First Hitler interfered and made some major decisions that would adversely affect the Grman war effort. Second, Germany had a limited industrial capacity to actually manufacture the weapons created by its scientists.

S-Branch

Until the first year of World War II, the British Government primarily worked through the various ministries when assessing scientific issues. This changed when Winston Churchill became primenister, in part because of his relarionship with Dr. Frederick Lindemann. Dr. Lindemann was of German ancestry. His father had emigrated to Britain (1870s). Dr, Lindermann during World War I worked on a variety of science-related projects. After the War he became alarmed with political developments in Germany where he had many friends and colleagues. He began advisimg Winston Churchil during the 1930s which he was out of Government. Churchill emerged as a leading proponent of rearmament and opponent of appeasement. Lindemann durung this period assisted several German Jewish physicists, mostly at the University of Göttingen, to emigrate. He found work for them in his Clarendon Laboratory. The University of Göttingen was and continues to be one of the highest-ranked universities in Germany. It is associated with an incredible 45 Nobel laureates. The NAZIs focused on the University as part of a crackdown on 'Jewish physics' (meaning atomic phusics) most famously represented by Albert Einstein. The NAZIs carried out the "great purge" of 1933, dismissed academics including Max Born, Richard Courant, James Franck, Victor Goldschmidt, Emmy Noether, Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner. Most of them wisely fled NAZI Germany while it was still possible. (The ones that remained in Britain provided the expertise which convinced the British Government that an atomic bomb was feasible and that the Germans had the lead. The British recognized that they did not have the industrial capcity to build a bomb during the time-frame of the War and decided to support the American Manhattan Project.) Churchill upon becoming primeminister appointed Dr. Lindemann as the British government's leading scientific adviser. David Bensusan-Butt served as Lindermann's private secretary. Dr. Lindermann became know as the 'the Prof'. He immediately set up a special statistical branch, which was usually referred to as S-Branch. He recruited specialists from many scientific disciplines. Lindermann reported directly to Churchill. S-branch developed thousands of sources covering every aspect of the British war effort and distilled reports and papers producd by ministries, universities, andcother sources. They used the informtion gleaned to produce easily understandable charts and figures that could be presented to Churchill. V-weapons programs.

Achievements

British scientists made a range of very important contributions to the war effot. Some of the weapons developed by British scientists included radar, the hedge hogs, the promimity fuse, and many other important devices. Several individualsin the early 20th century noted what we now call radar. It was the British in the inter-War period that developed radar as a practical method of detecting incoming aircradt. This effort was supported by the British Government because if the great concern about aerial bombardnent in any future war. Three British scientists, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, A F Wilkins and H E Wimperis along with Sir Henry Tizard were involved in developing the Home Chain rdar network that played such ban important role in the Battle of Britain. The British also developed a range of refinements that developed radar into an increasingly effective system. The very basic early sets were eventually minaturized so that even small planes could be equipped with sets. And by the end of the war, Allied ASW units could detect even small periscopes at considerable distance. British and German scientists vied with eavh other in the Battle of the Beams tht began during the Battle of Britain. ASDIC which the Americans called SONAR was developed during World War I. SONAR proved wanting at the begunning of the War against more advncd submarines. British scientits worked to improve SONAR which was also vastly improvd duting the War. The British also was develped a variety of other devices and weapons that proved important in the Battle of the Atlantic. One of the most important was the hedgehog which supplement fepth charges in destroying submrged U-boats. Another major achievement was the proximity fuse which significantly imprived theceffectiveness of naval gunfire in the Pacific. It was considered such a dangerous device that it was at first only used at sea least it fall into eneny hands. It was eventually used in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge and caused enormous casualties against German infantry. The achievements of British crytologists are legendry. 'Interestingly, much of the advances achieved by Blethcly Park was the work of amatuers and not precisly scientists. Alan Turing was a matematician as were others. There were peoole at Bletchy, however, with widely varied backgrounds. Dilly Knox was, for example, a classacist. British scientists worked on jet aircraft. British scientists and refugee scientists tken in by the British also played an important role in the Manhattan Project. Allied strategic bombing campaign in 1944. >

Radar

Several individuals in the early 20th century noted what we now call radar. It was the British in the inter-War period that developed radar as a practical method of detecting incoming aircraft. This effort was supported by the British Government because if the great concern about aerial bombardnent in any future war. Three British scientists, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, A F Wilkins and H E Wimperis along with Sir Henry Tizard were involved in developing the Home Chain rdar network that played such ban important role in the Battle of Britain. The British also developed a range of refinements that developed radar into an increasingly effective system. The very basic early sets were eventually minaturized so that even small planes could be equipped with sets. And by the end of the war, Allied ASW units could detect even small periscopes at considerable distance. Fortunately for the British, the Luftwaffe did not fully understabnd the importance of Chain Home Nerwork. They did ty to bomb the towers, but did not make it a priority. A British reader writes, "The General Public knew little about what was going on in 1940-45, as much of the back-room activity was classified. There were three iconic 'radio towers' on the cliff tops at Dover. They are still there, and are now used as telecommunication towers, but originally they were part of Chain Home Network. The three towers have satillite dishes on them now. They are tthe only remaing towers of the Home Chain Radar Sytem." The original system only alerted the RAF fighters to incoming aircraft. Once they passed over the coast, the British had to rely on spotters. Even so, the Netwirk nplayed a critical role in the Battle of Britain.

Hedgehogs


Proximity fuse

Another major achievement was the proximity fuse which significantly imprived theceffectiveness of naval gunfire in the Pacific. It was considered such a dangerous device that it was at first only used at sea least it fall into eneny hands. It was eventually used in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge and caused enormous casualties against German infantry.

Battle of the Beams

British and German scientists vied with eavh other in the Battle of the Beams tht began during the Battle of Britain.

ASDIC/SONAR

ASDIC which the Americans called SONAR was developed during World War I. SONAR proved wanting at the beginning of the War against more advncd submarines. British scientits worked to improve SONAR which was also vastly improvd duting the War.

ASW

The British also was develped a variety of other devices and weapons that proved important in the Battle of the Atlantic. One of the most important was the hedgehog which supplemented depth charges in destroying submrged U-boats.

Cryptology and computers

The achievements of British crytologists are legendry. 'Interestingly, much of the advances achieved by Blethcly Park was the work of amatuers and not precisly scientists. Alan Turing was a matematician as were others. There were peoole at Bletchy, however, with widely varied backgrounds. Dilly Knox was, for example, a classacist.

Jet aircraft

British scientists worked on jet aircraft. This effort was led by Air Commodore Frank Whittle. He was was a Royal Air Force pilot and engineer. He vurtually single-handedly inventrd the turbojet engine.

Atomic bomb

British scientists and refugee scientists taken in by the British also played an important role in the Manhattan Project. President Roosevelt ws alerted to the danger of the NAZIs working on an atomic bomb by Albert Einstein (1939). Actualu Leo Silard wrote the actual letter. Little actual work endued. The inclusio of ao atomic bomb concept in the material brought by the Tizard Mission (1940) gave new impetus to the effort.

Industry

Developin a weapon is only part of the war process. To be of any valie,the weaon has to be manufctured and manufactured in great numbers. The British in many instances did not have the industrial capacity to actually manufacture the devices conceived by their scientists. Here there were two basic problems. First, so much of British industry was focused on one area--the air war. And here the primary objective was to build Lancs in large numbers. Second, Britain had a substantial industrial capacity, but after the fall of France not equal to matching the German capacity. The same limited industrial capacity was also true of the Germans who did not have the industrial capacity to fully utilize the work of their scientits, although the early German victories substantially increased their capacity. The difference between Britain and Germasny was United States. America did have the industrial capacity to produce many of the devices conceived by British scientists. America as late as Pearl Harbor had not harnassed its industrial capascity for war and had done even less wth its scientists, although some prepartory steps had been taken. This of course changed with Pearl Harbor. Many of the major technnological advances made during the war by the allies were first conceived by British scientists, including the atomic bomb. American scientists and technicians in many instances improved and refined the devices and American industry than produced them in massive numbers. The British first concluded that a nuclear weapon was both feasible and practicable. They also concluded the timeframe and scale of the the project was beyond the industrial capabilities of Britain. Only the United States had the capability to do this. America, Britain, and Canada signed the Quebec Agreement to cooperate in this endevor which would be conducted in the United Srates (1943).

Collaboration with America

Both Britain and Germany had very substantial scientific establishments. NAZI rearmament policy suceeded in mobikizing its establishmrnt for war at an earky point. While the British Government was slow to react, it was by the time the war broke out lrgely mobilized. And while behind the Germans in many areas, the Brirish scientists had one great asset the Germans did not have--the United States. The importance if the Anglo-American alliance can not be overstated. President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill married the two countries to the hip even before the UnitedcStates entered the War. This was done formally with the Atlantic Charter, but actually began a few nonths earlier after Churchill became primeinister. Early in the War, Primeminister Churchill decided to collaborate fully with the United States and share Britains secret weapon programs. This meant that British and American scientists could collaborate. One of tge impediment on working in sece=ret is tge inability to bounce ideas off others and share research findings. The Anglo Amrrican lliance meant Britush scientists could collaborate ith aider group of researchers. Also vital was the fact that the British had access to American industry which had the capacity io actually manufacure the weapons developed--and manufacture them in vast quantuties. Primeminister Chamberlain had been dismissive of the Americans before the War, convinced that he could prevent a War. Even after the War began, he was not inclined to embrace the Americans and did not have a good relationship with President Roosevelt. This changed with the appointment of Winston Churchill as primeminister (May 10, 1940). He had since his appointment to the Admiralty (September 1939) been corresponding secretly with the President. Churchill was anxious to secure American assistance hoping eventually for American entry into the War. He did not have a great deal to offer the Americans, especially as Britain was rapidly going bankrupt. One thing he could offer the Americans was advanced military and scientific technology that could assist America in its rearming effort. And a colalary concern was security. British Abassador Lord Lothian wrote President Roosevelt suggesting an exchange of information (July). "Should you approve the exchange of information, it has been suggested by my Government that, in order to avoid any risk of the information reaching our enemy, a small secret British mission consisting of two or three Service officers and civilian scientists should be dispatched immediately to this country to enter into discussions with Army and Navy experts ... His Majesty's Government would greatly appreciate it if the United States Government, having been given the full details of any British equipment or devices, would reciprocate by discussing certain secret information of a technical nature, which our technical experts are anxious to have, urgently." President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill shared a fascination with secret operations. Mrs. Roosevelt saw it when they later got together in the White House as a kind of Boys' Qwn mentaility. The President was immediately attracted to the idea. He even dismissed the objections of General Marshall and other senior commanders. This showed the level of his commitment to cooperation because General Marshall was probably the individual among all otghers that he relied on for militaey advise. A British team led by Sir Henry Tizard, a British senior scientific adviser, arrived in America (late-August 1940). He met with American officials and brought with him a range of advanced military technology--radar technology was among the items. The 'Tizard Mission' was the beginning of the two-way exchanges that would play a vital role in the Allied victory. This should be compared to the reluctant Axis cooperation. What Tizzard did not bring was the Ultra secret. Churchill did not think the Americans including the President had a "need to know" and was very concerned about maintaining the Ultra secret. Soon after, Churchill learned that the U.S. Army SIS had cracked the Japanese Purple cipher machine. With the Americans produced a Purple analoge machines able to read diplomatic transmissions in real time(October 1940). He probably also learned that the Americans were also working on the JN-25 naval codes. This made the prospect of cooperating with the Americans much more enticing because of the increasing Japanse agreesivenes and the signing of the Axis alliance. British cryptologists were also working on Japanese codes. Top secret discussions followed quickly leading to an agreement (November 1940). The two countries agreed to provide for "a full exchange of cryptographic systems, cryptoanalytical techniques, direction finding, radio interception, and other technical communication matters pertaining to the diplomatic, military, naval, and air services of Germany, Japan, and Italy."







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Created: 3:24 AM 5/12/2012
Last updated: 6:07 AM 9/28/2015