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Albert Percival Rowe

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Albert Percival (Jimmy or A.P.) Rowe, CBE (1898-1976) was a British physicist and senior research administrator who had a major role in the development of Radar before and during World War II.

1898 March 23rd. Born in Launceston, Cornwall

After attending the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard School went to Imperial College, London in 1918, graduating with a first-class honours in physics in 1921, and postgraduate diploma in air navigation in 1922.

In the Air Ministry he read up everything he could find on the art of air defence, and became alarmed. Working at that time for H. E. Wimperis, he wrote a memo to him that concluded that "we were likely to lose the war if it starts within the next ten years". Wimperis took the report seriously, and in 1934 started the formation of what would later be known as the Tizard Committee which supported the early development of radio-based detection.

1935 he consulted Robert Watson-Watt, the superintendent of the radio research station at Slough, about the possibility of a death ray. His subsequent enquiry about methods of detecting aircraft by radio means led to the successful demonstration using the Daventry transmitter on 26 February 1935 and to the effective birth of British radar. Rowe coined the acronym RDF as a cover for the work, meaning Range and Direction Finding but suggestive of the already well-known Radio Directing Finding terminology.

1938 Rowe succeeded Robert Watson-Watt as Superintendent of the Bawdsey Research Station where the Chain Home RDF system was developed, and later continued to lead the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), which carried out pioneering research on microwave radar.

Putley described him as a complex character with a strong sense of mission and someone who was difficult to live with. But he supports Rowe’s decisions in giving priority and most of TRE’s resources to the completion of the Chain Home and Chain Home Low systems in 1938-39, but also continuing research in 1940 on developing airborne interception (AI) radar and, with the cavity magnetron, centimetric radar, though microwave systems could have been regarded as too long-term to be useful at that time. Despite opposition, he also led in the development of Oboe and H2S. He was awarded a CBE in 1942.

Rowe was worn out and in poor health after the war, and got a less stressful job in Australia.

Recovering, he was the first Scientific Advisor to the Australian government and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide. He retired back to England.

1976 May 25th. Died

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Wikipedia
  • Biography of Albert Percival Rowe, ODNB