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The situation with the Americans and the cavity magnetron


Differing attitudes towards science between Germany and the Allies
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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We continued making better and better equipment. We reached a stage of mark after mark of equipment, all slight improvements and then, at one stage, we decided to try not a three foot paraboloid under the fuselage but a six foot, a whirligig, and that gave very high definitions and we did demonstrate that to the army and showed that it could detect tanks. But I'm afraid, fortunately the war was coming to an end and I don't think that was ever used operationally. I was... I don't think I have much else to say about the war, except that in the early years of 1945 from a personal point of view I became absolutely exhausted and it was relentless, almost day and night for four years, and I was... I was given leave for a few weeks, and by the time I had got back the war was nearing it's end. And one night Dudley Saward said he wanted to take me to some secret establishment, and it was somewhere in the Home Counties. And I never discovered where this place was until Dudley Saward wrote a book about me, and it turned out that it was a military establishment, highly secret, I don't think it even had a name. And I said to Dudley... I said, 'Why have you brought me here?' And he said, 'Because the Brigadier in Charge... he wishes to thank you because unknown to you he has used some of your equipment for getting special operations executive, for getting our agents in and out of occupied territory.'

So it was there in that establishment that I heard Churchill announce about the surrender of the German armies, and that the war against Germany, the European War had come to an end. So that really is my story of the war, but it had a profound effect on me. And I want to say this, that I... it's often said that the allied scientists were very much better than the Germans and that's why they helped in the scientific war. I don't believe that that's true at all. The reason is the attitude to scientists in Germany and in the Allies was entirely different. Look, we were completely integrated with the operational commands and certainly in the last, when most of the operation and research work had being done, I spent as much of my time on aerodromes as I did in the lab, in the last 18 months of the war. And so we were in complete contact with the operational staff and also with the hierarchy, who completely consulted us and we had free access to them.

Now, this did not happen in Germany. The remarkable case there was that in Peenemünde, Wernher von Braun developing the V1 and V2 rockets, he once gave a lecture on the possibility of using the V2 to get man into space and onto the moon. And one of Himmler's spies reported that Wernher von Braun was not making weapons to help win the war, he was wanting to get a man on the moon, so Wernher von Braun was arrested at a very critical time at the development of these rockets. You see, this sort of thing couldn't possibly have happened in England and America, so I know, and I think most people will agree with me now, that the really vital difference in the scientific war in the Second World War was the extremely close integration of the scientists and operational staff, in the case of the Allies and the complete separation of them in Hitler's Germany.

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: Megan Argo Alastair Gunn

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.

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.

Tags: World War II, British Army, Germany, Allies of World War II, Peenemünde, Space:the Moon, England:USA, Dudley Saward, Winston Churchill, Wernher von Braun, Adolf Hitler

Duration: 4 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008