A few months ago, I watched a film on TV about the work and life of Sir Robert Watson-Watt, often called the father of radar.
Watson-Watt and his team developed a system of radar stations throughout the east and south coasts of England which were to play a key role in the Battle of Britain in WW2. These gave early warning of an incoming German Luftwaffe attack enabling a fast, timely and positive response to be made. In the future of course, radar was to have a major impact in many areas, but to us as seafarers it added greatly to our navigational tools in aiding safe navigation when used properly.
In discussion with my golf partners after seeing the film, I found that one of them had a family link to the great man. Sir Robert had been born in the City of Brechin in Scotland in 1892. On a recent visit to the north of Scotland, we called in at Brechin and I was delighted to view the fine memorial (designed by Alan Herriot) to Sir Robert Watson-Watt situated in St Ninian’s Square – opposite the old, beautiful Caledonian Steam Railway station.
Captain E M Robb (Radar Robb)
All this talk of Sir Robert Watson-Watt got me thinking of the fairly basic radar set on my first ship when I went deep sea in 1960. It also reminded me that in Blue Funnel we had a Captain E M Robb, known throughout the company as ‘Radar Robb’. He took a great interest in radar and did much to encourage and optimise its safe use. I did not have the pleasure of serving under Captain Robb, but remember that he wrote several books on radar, radar plotting etc. I managed to track one down entitled The Application of Radar to Seamanship and Marine Navigation. The foreword to this book was written by no other than Sir Robert Watson-Watt. His words made good sense then and would, I am sure, today, whenever new navigational tools are being introduced. I quote a short extract below.
“The value of radar in reducing the perils of collision and grounding was obvious enough, but no instrument can do more than add to the information which must be interpreted and wisely used by the navigator. The radar developer and his uniformed colleagues learnt in the school of war the lesson that the technical provider could not usefully provide until he knew intimately what the operational user really needed, and that the user could not extract from the instrument, and wisely apply the information that it could give unless he knew – at least in broad outline – the technical and natural limitations of the instrument. They learnt too that only intimate discussion of experience in actual day to day use could bring the instrument to a moderately satisfactory form.”