THE use of radar and wave length technology was pioneered by RAF Helensburgh during World War Two.

Boffins at the Marine Aviation Experimental Establishment (MAEE) at Rhu, under a cloud of secrecy, developed air to sea radar and MAD, the magnetic aircraft detector that scanned the sea for submerged U-Boats.

Retired Merseyside newspaper editor Robin Bird, whose father Bob was an MAEE photographer, tells me that world experts in radar visited Helensburgh as a result.

They included Sir Henry Tizard, Dr Robert Watson-Watt and 24-year-old genius Edward Taffy Bowen. RAF Helensburgh also shared its knowledge with American scientists.

Tizard had headed a Government air defence committee to explore the possibility of a death ray. He enlisted Watson-Watt, but he did not favour the concept.

Instead, Watson-Watt supported the development of radar as a way of detecting enemy aircraft, surface ships and submarines.

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Colleague Bowen conducted the first trial of ASV radar, airborne sea to surface radar in December 1939. RAF Helensburgh then conducted extensive trials of ASV fitted to flying boats and aircraft.

ASV was a major contribution to the defeat of the U-Boat menace which threatened Britain’s survival.

Helensburgh-born TV inventor John Logie Baird was also working in a similar area of technology and continued his own pioneering research during the war.

But there is no evidence that he was involved in radar or asked by the Government to get involved.

“I fully agree!” the inventor’s son, Helensburgh Heritage Trust president Malcolm Baird said.

“The Baird/radar idea was energetically promoted by Dr Peter Waddell in two books published in 1986 and 1990 and many articles. However it has not been corroborated by other researchers.”

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In 1940 Baird was not living in Helensburgh, and he did not come back to the town throughout the war, his diaries reveal. He was in London working on the idea of a secret signalling system via television screens.

During July 1939 Baird’s company, Baird Television Ltd., worked for the French on a television system that located enemy movement on the ground. It was aircraft mounted and images were transmitted to a vehicle.

Baird Television went into receivership soon after the BBC stopped broadcasting television on September 1, 1939 - there would be no market for televisions until post war.

The fall of France was in June 1940, and that put an end to his Aircraft to the Ground Television project.

In the summer of 1941 Baird was hospitalised in London because of a heart attack. He had moved his family for safety to Cornwall, and he was working alone on limited funds and not in the best of health.

While he was recuperating he sought employment, becoming a consulting engineer for Cable and Wireless at £1,000 per year. He was also now living on rapidly reducing savings.

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There is no record of his secret signalling system becoming a reality. But his concept of secret signalling via television, had potential, as the Germans were only trained to listen to voice or Morse.

A Government committee did ask his opinion in January 1944 but this was about his thoughts on post war television. Baird knew his invention had a future.

During January 1945 he set up a new television company as John Logie Baird. Alas, he suffered a stroke in February 1946 and died that June at the age of 57.

His family moved back to Helensburgh where he was buried. His widow Margaret Baird is reported to have said that employees with her husband’s original television company dispersed into war service.

Baird had expected to be called upon to help his country’s war effort, but this never happened - his country passed him by, which hurt him deeply.

Professor Baird tells me that his father developed a system of high-definition colour television in which the subject was scanned by a rapidly moving spot of light projected from a small but very powerful cathode ray tube.

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A patent was applied for in 1940 and the first public demonstration was given in December 1940.

In front of the tube there was a rotating transparent wheel containing two coloured segments, one tinted in blue-green and the other in orange-red. The reflected light from the scanning spot was picked up by colour-sensitive photocells.

Each turn of the wheel gave one picture in each colour. The process was repeated at the receiving end.

The colour wheel made an historic comeback in 1969 when it was used in the lightweight cameras developed by Westinghouse for the NASA moon landing.

In 1942-44, Baird developed the world’s first colour cathode ray tube, christened “the Telechrome”. It had no mechanical moving parts and in its original form it contained a special semi-transparent screen with differently coloured phosphors, blue-green and orange-red, on each side.

Two streams of electrons hit the screen from opposite sides and produced two superimposed pictures which were blended in the eye of the viewer to give colour. A later version employed the three primary colours red, blue and green.

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John Logie Baird’s television research during World War Two was highly productive. Although it received little publicity at the time, it was taken up by other companies including RCA in the United States.

Modern 3-D television, using polarized glasses, can be traced back to the work of Baird over 60 years ago.

Meanwhile, RAF Helensburgh had made a major contribution to the war effort.

The Radar Air to Surface Vessel systems developed there by the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment were extensively used operationally by the RAF.

By 1943 scientists at RAF Helensburgh were working closely with colleagues in America and exchanged visits. A more powerful ASV Mk 11 radar was tested at RAF Helensburgh along with other ways to find and sink U-Boats.

They included depth charges, anti-submarine bombs, a powerful Leigh search light and Hedgehog, a mortar firing 24 bombs used in conjunction with MAD.

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1943 was a turning point in the Battle of Atlantic and the war on U-Boats. March 1943 was another bad month for Allied losses but new technology, such as ASV radar, would save the day.

During May 1943 more U-Boats were sunk with fewer merchant ships sunk. At the end of that month the surviving U-Boats were withdrawn from the North Atlantic.

Pressure was not so intense at RAF Helensburgh. It was now testing new lend lease aircraft, the Consolidated Coronado and Martin Mariner, along with later versions of the Short Sunderland and Consolidated Catalina.

When World War Two came to an end RAF Helensburgh started to ‘shut up shop’ and MAEE returned to Felixstowe.

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