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The mass production and success of H2S


A secret report by Hackenberg on the cavity magnetron
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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Now, I'm going to break off the continuity of this story there, to tell you something quite remarkable. Many years later in peace time, when we were well established at Jodrell Bank which I'm going to talk about later on, I went over to see our German colleagues who had built a radio telescope near Effelsberg near Bonn and the director of the station said that my equivalent there was Hackenberg. Now, Hackenberg... he and one or two of my Jodrell staff had got jobs there and he was very pleased with the help they'd given him. And Hackenberg took us out to dinner one night, and to my embarrassment the conversation turned to the war, and Hackenberg turned to me, and he said, 'Of course, I know what you did'. I said, 'How would you know that?' He said, 'Because I was a young man working in Telefunken in 1943 and I was sent to pick up the bits and pieces of your bomber'. They called it Rotterdam. Well, I said, 'Weren't you surprised at it?' And he said, 'Not particularly'. He said, 'We knew, we worked out what you... what it was being used for and we knew about the Magnetron'.

Well, I didn't take much notice of this because I was then completely immersed in Jodrell Bank, an entirely different subject, but about ten years ago and I'm really right ahead on a different part of my story I received a message at Jodrell Bank from Wiebelinski, who had... Hackenberg had died and Wiebelinski had taken over from Hackenberg and he had gone through all Hackenberg's papers to try and sort them out, and he said would I be interested in seeing a report marked Most Secret which Hackenberg had written in 1943? So I said I'd be delighted to do so. So I received at Jodrell Bank I think three years ago, I'm talking about 2003 or 2004 from Wiebelinski this report which Hackenberg had written in February of 1943, in which he had written a complete description of this equipment. And you know, when he reached the story of the Magnetron, I just... I could hardly believe it. I'm afraid I nearly fell out of my chair. He said, 'It may be interesting to note that the Magnetron is a copy of a Russian patent'. So I found this unbelievable.

Well, I'll just complete that little bit of the story. I eventually got the original Russian papers on this astonishing story and it's perfectly true. In Leningrad, in... I think in early 1930's they had a complete Magnetron working on the same frequency that we were using and giving the same sort of power. Now, the remarkable question is: why didn't the Germans develop that Magnetron and use it against us? Well, I... the answer is most... there are two answers to that question. First of all it was one thing to get the Magnetron working on the bench. In 1940... in February 1940, in England, a Randall and Boot when they got theirs ready, they got GEC to do a lot of extraordinary, brilliant work on it in the matter of sealing and making it into a vacuum tube, which could be carried and used in an aircraft, and presumably the Soviets at that time had no reason for doing that.

The other question was this, that I asked Hackenberg when I met him in the 1970's why they didn't use the Magnetron, and he said, 'Oh' because we were ordered by Hitler to disregard it and carry on with what we were actually using. And the amazing thing is that the same thing nearly happened in England. In 1940, when we were busy on the very elementary centimetre in Worth Matravers in Dorset, the Germans who were marching across Europe and approaching Paris and Rowe had an order from the highest level that he was to divert all his staff onto what... onto that which actually existed, to make it work operationally. I don't think anyone at that time, neither in England... and it looks as though we would never survive and Hitler, it seemed incredible that he would not be the victor, they both had their reasons for getting on with whatever existed and not worrying about the future.

Fortunately, Rowe had appointed WB Lewis, one of Rutherford's people as his deputy, before the war began, and Lewis persuaded Rowe to let this small group of us who were working on this enterprise carry on, and we did that as General Dowling, Air Marshall Dowling, the CNC Fighter Command was brought down to see us. He preached to us about getting on with the 1.5 metre stuff, and there we were quietly getting on with the centimetre gear, so there are those two reasons why I think we in the end, we developed and used the Magnetron effectively and the Germans did not. Anyhow, that's the story of our crashed bomber, and that... I did write a paper on that, by the way, which I might refer to later on. It was published only two or three years ago and probably the last paper I shall ever write.

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: Jodrell Bank, Effelsberg, Bonn, Rotterdam, Telefunken, Leningrad, General Electric Company, England, Soviet Union, Worth Matravers, Dorset, Europe, Paris, World War II, Harry Boot, John Randall, R E Hackenberg, Adolf Hitler, Albert Percival Rowe, Ernest Rutherford, W B Lewis, Air Marshall Dowling

Duration: 6 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008