Robert Watson-Watt

Robert_Watson-WattSir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, KCB, FRS, FRAeS (13 April 1892 – 5 December 1973) was a pioneer and significant contributor to the development of radar. Radar was initially nameless and researched elsewhere but it was greatly expanded on 1 September 1936 when Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new establishment under the British Air Ministry, Bawdsey Research Station located in Bawdsey Manor, near Felixstowe, Suffolk. Work there resulted in the design and installation of aircraft detection and tracking stations called Chain Home along the east and south coasts of England in time for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. This system provided the vital advance information that helped the Royal Air Force win the Battle of Britain.

In his English History 1914-1945, historian A. J. P. Taylor paid the highest of praise to Watson-Watt, Sir Henry Tizard and their associates who developed and put in place radar, crediting them with being fundamental to victory in the Second World War.

izzard as watson

Eddie Izzard as Watson-Watt in the BBC factual drama ‘Castles in the Sky’

In July 1938 Watson-Watt left Bawdsey Manor and took up the post of Director of Communications Development (DCD-RAE). In 1939 Sir George Lee took over the job of DCD, and Watson-Watt became Scientific Advisor on Telecommunications (SAT) to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, travelling to the USA in 1941 in order to advise them on the severe inadequacies of their air defence efforts illustrated by the Pearl Harbor attack. He was knighted in 1942.

Watson-Watt reportedly was pulled over for speeding in Canada by a radar gun-toting policeman. His remark was, “Had I known what you were going to do with it I would never have invented it!” He wrote an ironic poem (“Rough Justice”) afterwards: Ten years after his knighthood, Watson-Watt was awarded £50,000 by the UK government for his contributions in the development of radar. He established a practice as a consulting engineer. In the 1950s moved to Canada and later he lived in the USA, where he published Three Steps to Victory in 1958. Around 1958 he appeared as a mystery challenger on the American television programme To Tell The Truth.

Watson-Watt reportedly was pulled over for speeding in Canada by a radar gun-toting policeman. His remark was, “Had I known what you were going to do with it I would never have invented it!” He wrote an ironic poem (“Rough Justice”) afterwards:

Pity Sir Robert Watson-Watt,
strange target of this radar plot
And thus, with others I can mention,
the victim of his own invention.
His magical all-seeing eye
enabled cloud-bound planes to fly
but now by some ironic twist
it spots the speeding motorist
and bites, no doubt with legal wit,
the hand that once created it

 

Edited from Robert Watson-Watt

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