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Using H2S operationally for the first time

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The Americans' reaction to the magnetron
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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Churchill didn’t get his two squadrons by the autumn, but he did pretty nearly get them by the end of the year, and in December of 1942, it seems incredible that all this happened in that one year of 1942, we had quite a lot of my staff at Whitten near Huntingdon which was the headquarters of the Pathfinder force, and the duty of the Pathfinders was really to drop flares, to light up the target with the main force coming behind and bombing on the flares, and I had a code, O’Kane who was one of the originals I mentioned, who flew the original equipment. He was, I stationed him at Whitten, the headquarters of the Pathfinder force, at the aerodrome at Whitten and he was there maintaining the equipment, which was difficult to maintain because of the high altitude in which the planes were flying and the Secretary of State ruled that although there were seven Halifax in one squadron of the Pathfinder and seven Stirling aircraft in another squadron, they were not to be used over enemy territory unless or until the Russians held the line of the Volga. Now, I must say that in that autumn a most extraordinary situation developed with the Americans. They regarded- although they had nothing to do with the invention of the Magnetron, they were astonished when the secret was given to them in the Tizard Commission in the autumn of 1940, and they believed it was a war winner, and that if we lost it, if we lost the secret to the Germans it would be used against us. In fact, in one awful time a high level deputation was sent over from America, including Purcell and Rabi and we had a very unpleasant meeting in the division leaders’ office, in Dee’s office, and they were quite unpleasant. They said, Look we’ve tried to repeat your equipment in the United States and it will not work, and we had- it happened that some of the TR people had been sent over to help the Americans and they also said it could not work. Well you see it was all the difference between living at reasonable peace and being at war, and so it was because of that I think and because of the worry of the Americans that this sort of attitude was taken by the Secretary of State.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Alastair Gunn Megan Argo

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Tags: Pathfinder (RAF), Huntingdon, Handley Page Halifax, Short Stirling, Volga, Aeronautical Research Committee, USA, World War II, Henry Tizard, Edward Mills Purcell, Isidor Isaac Rabi

Duration: 3 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008