The Best is Enemy of the Good – John Ridd G8BQX

Congratulations are due to John, G3BDQ, for his masterly dissertation on wartime radar equipment. One of his comments about an item of equipment leads to a certain amount of philosophical enquiry (not argument, which can sometimes tend to be acrimonious.) I can remember an occasion on which one of the early pioneers of VHF operation got extremely overwrought, by the suggestion that his receiving converter for 2 metres, with a free-running oscillator to define the frequency to be received, was inferior to another contemporaneous converter with a crystal controlled means of frequency selection. The best is enemy of the good. The man’s free-running converter enabled him to get very good results on 2 metres: would a crystal controlled converter have done him any better, in terms of communication success given his expertise?

John preferred the American Rebecca display to the British version. One must certainly agree that items of US origin were very much more photogenic than the equivalent UK devices. John’s experience was that the American devices were much less prone to failure.  One cannot gainsay experience. He also says that he did not have a heavy duty load in keeping the American equipment going.  Other sources have suggested that British produced equipment (if backed by an adequate resource of technicians) had an edge over the American equivalents as regards technical performance. One would imagine that the number of technicians allocated to a unit would be based upon the workload to be expected, and it would be invidious to discriminate between various equipment nationalities.  So, a Rebecca equipped squadron would have an adequate number of Rebecca trained technicians, whatever the source of the equipment.

It should be remembered that conditions in the United States and in Great Britain at the time of the inception of the majority of radar systems were very different: Great Britain was struggling for its very existence, whereas the United States had the facility and experience in the mass production of the most disparate types of machinery, without danger of invasion or bombardment.

Great Britain had the genius to devise equipment to fulfil operational requirements. The US had the resources to mass produce and engineer in reliability with the minimum requirement for maintenance personnel. To compare the quality of American technicians with the British would be equally invidious.

John’s squadron had the primary role of re-supplying troops in the field, way beyond the conventional lines of communication. At the time, the ground forces stemmed from the Chindit operations, with formations up to Brigade strength (of the order of 1500 all ranks,) dotted all over Burma, behind the lines in Japanese held territory. The supply drops to any formation would require several aircraft to supply sufficient tonnage, and it could be assumed that up to 50% of the tonnage hit the ground in the jungle. So, John’s aircraft (of American construction,) would have one or two targets per squadron airdrop sortie. It could be presumed that at least one Rebecca/Eureka set-up, even of British construction would still be serviceable over each target. One has no reports about the Eureka serviceability record.

The best is enemy of the good. The genius of Sir Robert Watson-Watt and his team, the leading devisors of radar, in deciding just when to cease development of an equipment,  (even in the face of imminent promised improvement,) and to concentrate on production and operational use, was paramount in the Allies’ successful deployment of electronic aids.  We have to be grateful that America had the resources to mass produce perhaps more easily maintained technical equipment in very large amounts, so large as perhaps to inhibit post-war development. This last proposition is not, of course, too significant in contrast to the maintenance of the aim of winning the war! And of course it cost us! But that is another matter.

And now something a little more up to date. Referring to the equipment issued to our forces n Iraq, one source says “Good enough!” Another says “Better than it ever has been!” Which statement is the product of political ‘windbaggery,’’ and which is a considered assessment, albeit in crude form?

I wonder if experienced operators would care to respond to the following questions:-

Was the R1155 inferior to the BC348 receiver? In what way(s)?
Was the W/S53 inferior to the BC610 transmitter? In what way(s)?
Was the CR100 inferior to the AR88 receiver? In what way(s)?
Was the W1190 inferior to the BC221 wavemeter? In what way(s)?
Was the R1132 inferior to the BC639 receiver? In what way(s)?
Was the T1131 inferior to the BC640 transmitter? In what way(s)?


73 John Ridd G8BQX May 2008.

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