Helping Stop Hitler’s Luftwaffe written by Air Marshal Sir Arthur McDonald and published by Air World Books – £25.00 – Hardback – Pages 286
‘The bomber will always get through’ was the oft-repeated mantra, first coined by Stanley Baldwin in 1932, which emphasised that the only realistic form of defence was offence. This belief determined the UK’s military strategy, with more attention, and resources, being devoted to bomber production rather than fighters. With bombers able to fly at hundreds of miles an hour, by the time the incoming aircraft had been detected, it would be too late to scramble fighters to intercept them. That was until Sir Henry Tizard and his colleagues first demonstrated that radar (or Radio Direction Finding as it was then called), could detect an aircraft approaching Britain at a considerable distance, allowing fighters to take to the air before the intruders reached British soil.
This was shown in the ‘Biggin Hill Experiment’ when a young Arthur McDonald led three biplanes from RAF Biggin Hill, and which were directed by radar sets on the ground to intercept incoming aircraft. At the time McDonald was told, ‘that the whole future of this country depends on the results which you obtain’. McDonald succeeded and, having demonstrated that bombers could be stopped, Britain turned its attention to building fast, modern fighters, and to developing a radar network – just in time for the Battle of Britain. For this work McDonald received the Air Force Cross.
In this enlightening, and light-hearted autobiography, Air Marshal Sir Arthur McDonald, as he was to become, describes those early radar experiments – the first non-cooperative interception was an unsuspecting Dutch airliner! – and of another of his achievements, the Duxford flare path. This lighting system was so cleverly designed as to be visible to landing aircraft but not to enemy attackers.
A huge reason why Britain won the Battle of Britain against the Luftwaffe was the early radar system because it meant Britain knew when the German bombers and fighters were coming over at the earliest possible moment. It’s been fascinating reading a book about one of the major architects of radar and the complexities or testing and getting it installed and in use. Whilst radar could be seen as an uninteresting subject, this book isn’t that, it’s quite a personable and light-hearted look at. It also has a great photographic part to the book which helps explain McDonald’s career and the men he used to work with. I suppose this book had added interest for me in that I used to live at one of the RAF camps in which he also worked at, Henlow, Bedfordshire which was known for its engineering and communications side of the RAF. Looking at the life of a pilot and early founder of radar, this is an excellent book that comes across like a diary/autobiography. An excellent book that would be really enjoyed by RAF/communications buffs.