Watson-Watt, Sir Robert Alexander.

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Watson-Watt, Sir Robert Alexander, born 13-04-1892 in Brechin, Angus He was a descendant of James Watt, the Scottish mechanical engineer who developed the first workable steam engine.and was educated at Damacre School in Brechin and Brechin High School. He graduated with a BSC (engineering) in 1912 from University College, Dundee which was then part of the University of St Andrews. Following graduation he was offered an assistant ship by Professor William Peddie  who excited his interest in radio waves.

In 1915 Watson-Watt started as a meteorologist at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough with the aim of applying his knowledge of radio to locate thunderstorms so as to provide warnings to airmen. During this period Watson-Watt recognized the need for a rapid method of recording and display of radio signals and in 1916 he proposed the use of cathode ray oscilloscopes for this purpose, however these did not become available until 1923.

In 1924 Watson-Watts work moved to Slough where the Radio Research Station had been formed and in 1927, following an amalgamation with the National Physics Laboratory (NPL), he became Superintendent of an outstation of the NPL at Slough. After a further re-organisation in 1933 Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new radio department at the NPL in Teddington.

About this time, Nazi Germany claimed to have developed a “ray of death”. The claim was that the machine could crush villages, cities and people. To this, the chairman of the air defense committee, H.E. Wimperis, in 1934 visiting Watson-Watt in Teddington. He asked Watson-Watt whether it would be possible to develop such a device himself for use against aircraft. Watson-Watt responded promptly using a calculation from his assistant Arnold Wilkins, which showed that the whole apparatus was impossible and the claims of the Nazis could be sent to the realm of fables.

Following an approach from Harry Egerton Wimperis  of the Air Ministry, who died age 83 on 16-07-1960, inquiring about the feasibility of producing a ‘death ray’, Watson-Watt, with the help of his assistant Arnold “Skip” Wilkins, who died age 78 on 05-08-1985 , drafted, in February 1935, a report titled ‘The Detection of Aircraft by Radio Methods’. This was presented to the newly formed committee for the scientific survey of air defense, chaired by Sir Henry Tizard, and on 26-02-1935 a trial took place using the BBCs short-wave (about 50 metres wavelength) radio transmitter at Daventry against a Heyford Bomber. The trial was a success and on 01-09-1936 Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new establishment under the Air Ministry, Bawdsey Research Station in Bawdsey Manor near Felixstowe. The pioneering work that Watson-Watt managed at this establishment resulted in the design and installation of a chain of radar stations along the East and South coast of England in time for the outbreak of war in 1939. (Did you know). This system, known as Chain Home and Chain Home Low, provided the vital advance information that helped the Royal Air Force  to win the Battle of Britain.

Memorial at the Daventry site of the first successful RADAR experiments.

Death and burial ground of Watson-Watt, Sir Robert Alexander.

Watson-Watt was married on 20-07-1916 in Hammersmith, London to Margaret Robertson (d. 1988), the daughter of a draughtsman; they later divorced and he remarried in 1952 in Canada. His second wife was Jean Wilkinson, who died in 1964. He returned to Scotland in the 1960s

Sir Robert Watson-Watt     here with his wife Margaret left Jean, right, circa 1960 at their second home in Santa Barbara, California. died at Inverness on the 05-12-1973, age 81 and they are buried together in the churchyard of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity at Pitlochryis , Perth and Kinross, Scotland.

 

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