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and the Story of Airborne Radar

with Tim Barney

Not a lot of people know that the first radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) device was patented by German physicist Christian Hűlsmeyer in 1904 in order to detect shipping in fog on the Rhine.


This was one of the fascinating items of information provided by Tim Barney in his talk to the Society on the evening of 29 February.  The British, however, led by Robert Watson Watt, were probably first to develop radar as a workable nationwide system.  At the start of WWII, radar research led an itinerant existence before a move to Malvern College in May 1942.  Meanwhile the airfield at Defford itself became operational in September 1941, and initially acting as a training base before the "boffins" at Malvern decided they needed an airfield to test radar systems.  Almost all the navigational radar used by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, throughout the war and afterwards, was developed at Malvern and Defford.

Tim tackled a highly technical subject in a readily accessible way, dealing with developments in Worcestershire and the countermeasures taken by the enemy with a certain amount of humour (as well as some pretty grim statistics, mainly about British losses in Bomber Command).

RAF Defford reached its maximum size in the middle of the war, when it housed about 2,700 staff including 600 women, many employed in a technical capacity. (It was interesting to learn that one of the latter was the mother of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Internet.)  The airfield boasted two on-site dance bands as well as a gymnasium and squash courts.  Water supply was a problem, however, with staff having to rely on a weekly bath at RAF Pershore.

Radar systems developed at Defford played a critical role in the battle of the Atlantic in enabling the detection of U-boats, as well as in aircraft navigation and the location of German targets for British bombers.  But the work was hazardous: 26 personnel from the site were killed over the course of the war.

Defford continued to operate during the Cold War.  The first jet to land there was the Gloster Meteor, in September 1945.  Its first helicopter airlifted food and supplies during the exceptionally harsh winter of 1947.  But in September 1957 all facilities were moved to Pershore: the last take-off from Defford occurred on 28 March 1958.

This was a really interesting talk. Many people hadn’t realised what an important role their local airfield played in WWII and an extensive discussion took place afterwards.


There is a small museum about the history of RAF Defford, located by the National Trust property at Croome Park. You can find our more here

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