How Microwave Radar Brought the Allies to D-Day and Victory in World War II
by Norman Fine
Potomac Press, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, 2019
256 pages, photographs, illustration, and index
$29.95 plus shipping
Blind Bombing: How Microwave Radar Brought the Allies to D-Day and Victory in World War II by Norman Fine
Silver Medal winner in the 2020 IPPY Awards for World History
On January 1, 1944, after four years of bombing Nazi Germany by the British and nearly two years of bombing by the United States Army Air Forces, Germany’s war-making infrastructure was still functional. Her manufacturing plants, oil refineries, and railroad yards were churning away, and her air force remained a potent threat. The Allies were insistent on staging D-Day that summer, but the pre-conditions for a major land invasion by sea had not yet been achieved.
Just six months later, however, on June 6, 1944, D-Day, the day the Allies put 150,000 men on the Normandy beaches with their weapons, ammunition, and equipment, there was scarcely a German plane in the sky to oppose them. Of the relatively few German planes that were still airworthy, there was no fuel to run them, no parts to repair them, and few experienced pilots to fly them. Most of those men had been shot down.
Considering the previous years of bombing by the RAF and the USAAF and not getting the job done, how was it finally accomplished in just six months? Microwave radar, made possible by a British invention on the very eve of the war—the cavity magnetron—was introduced into the Allied bombing campaign in January 1944. The invention changed all the bombing protocols of the earlier years, and in so doing solved the final obstacle to D-Day, the thick European weather.
All the combatant nations had radar, but it was primitive—too large and bulky to ever be usefully installed in a plane. Only the Allies had microwave radar, and the enemy was mystified by their losses.
For the six months before D-Day, microwave radars sets, installed into a handful of heavy bombers, led the bomber formations to their targets, “saw” the targets through the overcast, and dropped the first bombs and marker flares upon which the following bomber formations dropped their own bombs. It was an act of faith since the bombers behind the lead plane could see nothing on the ground. Yet, in the beginning, there was precious little faith. Veteran airmen and many of the air force leaders despised the new protocols.
The cavity magnetron was the most influential new invention in getting to D-Day and winning the war in Europe. The story of microwave radar as an offensive weapon of war was an unprecedented cooperative effort between a small band of scientists and warriors—British and American—who first had to overcome the apathy and resistance of their own entrenched military leadership before they could finally overcome the enemy.