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The Wizard War
June 6, 2014 4:05 PM   Subscribe

WW2 & The Origins Of Radar :World War II led to an explosion of new technologies that would have profound effects in the postwar period. Although advanced Nazi aircraft, guided weapons, and long-range rockets are well known, in reality the Allies led the Germans in many fields, and not only had more resources to draw from but were much better organized to exploit their new inventions. The atomic bomb is the most spectacular example of Allied technical superiority, but just as significantly, the Allies developed radar and other new "electronic warfare" technologies at a rate that left the Axis in the dust. Winston Churchill called the race for electronic superiority the "Wizard War". This document provides a history of the Wizard War.
posted by Confess, Fletch (13 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anyone interested in a thorough historical account of the Allies' victory over the Axis powers should check out Richard Overy's "Why the Allies Won".
posted by anewnadir at 4:08 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Also, the urban myth about carrots being good for eyesight comes from a piece of WW2-era disinformation designed to provide a cover story for the allies' ability to locate German aircraft. It just so happened that carrots were one of the few vegetables in abundance in wartime Britain.
posted by acb at 5:22 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


And don't forget Heddy Lamar!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:47 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


"And don't forget Heddy Lamar!"

It's Hedley!
posted by dfm500 at 5:51 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


The Invention That Changed The World is a good read about the development of Radar and WW2.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:19 PM on June 6


Awesome post - thanks! What an amazing story.

A great biography of Alfred Loomis and the development of radar:
Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II
posted by aturoff at 7:46 PM on June 6


Wow. I am reading through this, so far the most interesting thing is the Proximity Fuse. Johns Hopkins University researchers developed a miniature radar fuse for antiaircraft artillery shells, running off vacuum tubes! Production run during WWII: 22 million fuses.

Building practical circuitry that could fit into an anti-aircraft shell and survive being shot out of a gun, with accelerations of thousands of gees and spinning at hundreds of revolutions per second, was a major engineering accomplishment, particularly in the days before solid-state electronics. A miniature ruggedized vacuum tube, the "T3", was developed by the Sylvania company and put into massive production. A particularly tricky issue was powering the proximity fuze, since conventional dry cells would drain away in storage.

The answer was to develop a battery that was inert until the shell was fired. The shock of firing broke a glass ampoule, flooding the electrodes with an acid electrolyte, which powered up and activated the fuze. The battery only worked for two minutes, but that was well longer than the lifetime of the shell after firing. The fact that the battery wasn't active before firing also provided an arming mechanism, since the shell wouldn't be fully powered up until a tenth of a second after it was in flight, by which time it would be hundreds of meters away.


It appears that the proximity fuse defeated the the V-1 Buzz Bombs.

The straight and level path of the intruders made them relatively easy targets, and after a learning curve, fewer and fewer of the V-1s got through to London. In the end, statistics showed that it took 156 proximity-fuzed shells to kill a flying bomb, which may not sound good except in comparison with the 2,800 conventional anti-aircraft shells required to accomplish the same trick.

And they built 22 million proximity fuses during WWII.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:33 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


acb: "Also, the urban myth about carrots being good for eyesight comes from a piece of WW2-era disinformation designed to provide a cover story for the allies' ability to locate German aircraft. It just so happened that carrots were one of the few vegetables in abundance in wartime Britain."

Can't mention that without mentioning "'Cat's Eyes' Cunningham."
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:38 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Sir Arthur C. Clarke worked on radar during the war and wrote about his experiences in Glide Path.
posted by Rash at 9:59 PM on June 6


Steve Blank's google tech talk Secret History of Silicon Valley is excellent video. Mostly it is WWII radar.
posted by bukvich at 7:34 AM on June 7


This is very good.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:41 AM on June 7


I always thought that they waited a looooong time to start using proximity fuses in the field.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:10 PM on June 7


Yeah, that's all in the document, that's why it's such a fascinating story. They didn't want a dud proximity fuse to be discovered on land by the Germans and reverse engineered, so they only allowed them in the Pacific in naval battles where they'd fall in the ocean. Then Churchill begged for them to battle the V-1.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:34 PM on June 7


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