Another lesson from History…
When 3rd Rate is Better Than 1st Rate.
In 1940 Hitler’s armed forces had overrun Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and then France, who signed an armistice on 22nd June 1940.
Winston Churchill(the British Prime Minister) had ordered the implementation of operation Dynamo, the emergency plan to evacuate British and allied troops and equipment from the French port of Dunkirk to the British mainland.
By the 4th of June some 338,226 troops (and very little heavy equipment) had been brought across the English channel.
Britain was, in effect, under siege.
In one of his many famous speeches to the British Parliament Churchill spoke these words…
“What General Weygand called the battle of France is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin.”
But Hitler knew that he would need air superiority over the skies of Britain before he could launch an invasion…
It is not the purpose of this post to discuss in detail what became known as the Battle of Britain fought between the German Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Rather, to draw your attention to one particular aspect of the battle that was crucial to its outcome.
Namely RDF (Radio Detection Finding) later known as RADAR
In the years leading up to the second world war Britain had invested heavily in it’s air force in response to the ever growing threat of Hitler’s rearmament. The fighter aircraft on both sides were fairly evenly matched from a technical standpoint.
Although, at the start of the Battle the German Luftwaffe enjoyed a considerable numerical superiority in both airmen and aircraft.
The fact is that the sky is a very big place (more so in 1940, only 37 years after the Wright Brothers first powered flight in 1903).
With aircraft travelling at 350 miles per hour plus, they can disappear into the vast expanse of the sky in seconds
There are literally dozens of accounts from pilots who took part stating they could be in the thick of the air combat surrounded by dozens of aircraft, and only seconds later, having executed a turn, found themselves in empty sky with no other aircraft in sight.
Flight times across the English channel were measured in minutes, aircraft of that era required more time to reach the altitude of the incoming German bombers and fighters.
The RAF needed to be climbing to intercept them long before the attacking aircraft reached the British coast. And of course they needed to know where the incoming aircraft were in the first place.
The advantage in general is held by the pilot who has the greater height.
This problem was fully understood by the man in charge of of The RAF’s fighter command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding.
In the 1930’s Dowding had encouraged the development of RDF (RADAR) and designed a command and control system for it’s use.
He also combined it with a vital low tech element,the ‘Mark 1 eyeball’ some sixty thousand of which scanned the British coast. Better known as the Observer Corps. Thirty thousand service men and women armed with altitude calculators and binoculars.
Interestingly the Germans had helped pioneer the RDF technology but had seen it as having a Naval rather than Airforce use.
One fundamental difference between the German and British approach to RADAR development was the frequency of the radio waves they were using.
The British chose to use relatively low frequency radio waves and the Germans, who were trying to be perfectionist, chose higher frequency waves which give a better RADAR system.
Bearing in mind that RADAR was in it’s infancy and a lot of development was required to perfect it, it was a question of ‘needs must’. The quickest way to having a workable system was all important even if that system was by no means the best.
A better system that was not ready was, in effect, no system at all…
The Radio research board in Slough (UK) was run by a guy called Robert Watson-Watt and he recognized that the quickest way to a workable system was the low frequency radio wave option, and this was to prove crucial in giving Britain a head start…
Sir Edward Fennessy who was closely involved in the early development of RADAR said this…
“The third best gives you what you want today, the second best comes too late, and the very best never comes”
So Watson-Watt started out with the third best to get the job done.
At that point the Germans were reaching out a little too far and as a result had no practical system.
So whats the point of all this?…
I can tell you that the products and processes that my business accounted for when it first started were no where near as sophisticated as those made 30 odd years later…but those early products and systems put us in the game.
look for the solution that works, use the resources you have and realize that delivering is all important, the bells and whistles can come later. (in the case of the British in 1940 it was the new 3rd rate RADAR and the old established mark 1 eyeball)
If you are bogged down in a learning curve, just keep it simple something that works now puts you in the position to invest later.
There are lots of examples of this…Look at some of Lord Alan Sugar’s ‘Amstrad’ products for example.
There is no such thing as perfection, recognize when something is good enough and use that knowledge to move onto bigger and better things.
Acknowledgement: Martin Davidson and James Taylor ‘Spitfire Ace’