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Technology and Culture 42.2 (2001) 372-373
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A Radar History of World War II: Technical and Military Imperatives
A Radar History of World War II: Technical and Military Imperatives. By Louis Brown. Bristol and Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1999. Pp. xvi+563. £27.50.
Louis Brown, a physicist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., certainly belongs among the connoisseurs of the development of radar technology and the deployment of radar devices and systems in the period up to 1945. In A Radar History of World War II he has written a comprehensive account of the scientific, technical, and military aspects of the role of radar in World War II, covering Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Japan, and the Soviet Union, and also mentioning Australia, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Switzerland.
Brown begins with a look at the development of electronic devices and early concepts of their utility in warfare, laying special emphasis on the efforts of scientists and the effect on their working conditions of political and industrial decision making. The next part deals primarily with the development of the first efficient radar systems in Great Britain and Germany. Brown then turns to scientific and technical developments, such as microwave devices and proximity fuses, and their gradually evolving impact on shipping and aircraft operations. The following chapters switch to strategic and tactical considerations in various battles.
His account to this point is based on the literature describing personal [End Page 371] experiences of scientists and engineers during World War II, amplified by his correspondence with these same people, and on more-or-less popular accounts of various battles, which underlie his evaluations of technical and military imperatives. The strength of the book lies in its attempt to bring together the often simultaneous developments in different countries. Further on, such political considerations as secrecy, offense versus defense, and strategic bombing are correlated to the design and use of radar devices and the development of countermeasures. In its factual aspects and its extensive bibliography the book offers a useful resource, filling a void in the literature on radar development.
The book does not refer, however, to any contextual questions discussed among historians of technology in the last two decades. Its aim--simply to consider whether radar technology was decisive in the progress of the war--seems to impede deeper analysis. In the last chapter, on "the measure of radar," Brown recapitulates the different stages of World War II, speculating on how certain radar techniques determined the outcome of various battles. He concludes, for example, that radar did not win the Battle of Britain, but that this battle would have been lost without the Chain Home. Citing the reminiscences of Hoyt Taylor, Brown eventually comes to the conclusion that "The bomb finished the war, radar fought the war" (p. 465). The considerations underlying such evaluations seem the result of a scientifically and morally oriented political stance rather than historical analysis. Although I agree with the author that delving into the archival materials seems to be an endless task, many more accounts of radar still need to be written.
Dr. Blumtritt is curator at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, responsible for the telecommunications and the microelectronics department.
Permission to reprint a review published here may be obtained only from the reviewer.