- Luscombe, L.J.
- Naval technology, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1995 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
When the need for radar research arose, Australia was therefore in a good position to forge ahead. This was done by setting up a special laboratory – the Radiophysics Laboratory – in Sydney under the wing of the council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This was itself a government body, modelled on the Department of Scientific Research in Britain. There were also close links with Britain at the university level. Australia’s best young scientists were traditionally given studentships to Cambridge and other universities. Some of Appleton’s best PhD students came from the Dominions. Barnett from New Zealand, and Builder and Pulley from Australia, appear as co-authors in many of Appleton’s basic papers about the ionosphere. One of the lecturers in physics during my time at King’s College was F.C. White from New Zealand and in 1943 he was the Head of the Radio-physics Laboratory in Australia. He was destined to become Chairman of the Organisation. These were all friends of mine when I was a student at King’s College.
I left the United States a few days after Christmas in the bomb bay of a US Air Force B24. After stops at exotic Hawaii, Canton Island and Noumea I arrived in Sydney on the 1st January 1944.
The Radiophysics Laboratory was in the grounds of Sydney University. It was already a flourishing concern with a staff of two hundred people. For its size it was one of the best equipped laboratories in which I had worked up to that time. In spite of the enormous distances and difficulties of wartime travel, it had kept closely in touch with radar research in Britain and America. Members of the staff made frequent visits to Telecommunications Research Establishment, (TRE) Great Britain and (MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and were familiar with the latest technology.
The Laboratory had responsibilities to all three Services, the Army, Navy and Air Force and to the US Forces in the South-West Pacific, which had their Headquarters in Brisbane under the command of General MacArthur. A noteworthy product of the Laboratory was a lightweight air-warning radar, called the LW/AW, which was specially designed for island hopping and could be carried in by troops on landing barges or in transport aircraft. Many hundreds were produced and were used with great effect by both the Australian Forces and the US Army.
This set played a significant part in the success of the island hopping campaign against the Japanese.
Apart from special products of this nature, the Group also embarked on a small production run of ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) and were already producing copies of the resonant magnetron for radars which operated over a range of wavelengths. My task was mostly to provide help with the practical application of the radar sets I already knew so well.
The Impact Of Radar On Post-War Activities
Radar introduced some new and revolutionary concepts into warfare, and in doing so gave birth to entirely new branches of technology; it was inevitable that these would continue after the war and have a widespread impact on many aspects of civilian life like the navigation of ships and the guidance of civilian aircraft. A very simple piece of equipment, specially designed for airline use, was the so-called Distance Measuring Equipment or DME. This provided pilots with a direct measurement of the distance to the terminal airport or the distance from an airport they had just left. My own group at the Radiophysics Laboratory in Australia set about producing such an aid. The Australian version of the DME was first used on the country’s air routes in 1950 and in 1954 it became mandatory equipment in all passenger-carrying aircraft in Australia. It was almost 10 years before similar equipment appeared on the air routes of the Northern Hemisphere.
The ability of radar to measure distance to a high degree of accuracy provided an entirely new dimension to the traditional methods of surveying almost completely based on triangulation. Radar also plays its part in meteorology where ground radars working on wavelengths around three to five centimetres are now in routine use by meteorological services around the world to give warning of approaching rainstorms and they have become an accepted part of any television weather report.
A feature of the last 30 years, in industry, commerce and even in the home, has been the proliferation of electronic computing machines. This is a development that can be traced back not so much to radar itself as to the enormous advances in circuit design which were an integral part of radar research during the war.
Yet another example of radar technology being fed back into fundamental science is found in the postwar resurgence of studies in radio astronomy. In the Northern Hemisphere, giant steerable telescopes were built, the largest of these at the time, was Lovell’s 250 foot diameter instrument at Jodrell Bank. In the Southern Hemisphere I was involved in building a counter part in the form of the 210 foot radio telescope at Parkes, in N.S.W. Construction of the instrument began in the 1950s and was completed in 1961. The Parkes telescope is servo-controlled and when built, was one of the largest devices ever driven this way. It was capable of tracking celestial objects across the sky to an accuracy of 15 seconds of arc – a precision which was quite unobtainable only a few years earlier.
This story began when the vast storehouse of radio knowledge which had accumulated in the years between 1900 and the 1930s was poured into solving the problems of air defence. Interestingly this is not a new phenomenon but a progress which has probably been going on since man first went to war. We know Archimedes helped the military with his fireball and mirrors, and that Galileo tried to improve gunnery by investigating the trajectory of the cannon ball. I have enough faith in the benefits which scientific endeavour can bring to mankind to think that, although there may be occasional setbacks and hitches along the way, progress will continue for the rest of time.