Tizard Mission

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The Tizard Mission, officially the British Technical and Scientific Mission, was a British delegation that visited the United States during the Second World War in order to obtain the industrial resources to exploit the military potential of the research and development (R&D) work completed by the UK up to the beginning of World War II, but that Britain itself could not exploit due to the immediate requirements of war-related production. It received its popular name from the program's instigator, Henry Tizard. Tizard was a British scientist and chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee, which had propelled the development of radar.

Research and development general term for activities in connection with corporate or governmental innovation

Research and development, known in Europe as research and technological development (RTD), refers to innovative activities undertaken by corporations or governments in developing new services or products, or improving existing services or products. Research and development constitutes the first stage of development of a potential new service or the production process.

Sir Henry Thomas Tizard was an English chemist, inventor and Rector of Imperial College, who developed the modern "octane rating" used to classify petrol, helped develop radar in World War II, and led the first serious studies of UFOs.

History of radar aspect of history

The history of radar started with experiments by Heinrich Hertz in the late 19th century that showed that radio waves were reflected by metallic objects. This possibility was suggested in James Clerk Maxwell's seminal work on electromagnetism. However, it was not until the early 20th century that systems able to use these principles were becoming widely available, and it was German inventor Christian Hülsmeyer who first used them to build a simple ship detection device intended to help avoid collisions in fog. Numerous similar systems, which provided directional information to objects over short ranges, were developed over the next two decades.


The mission travelled to the United States in September 1940 during the Battle of Britain. They intended to convey a number of technical innovations to the U.S. in order to secure assistance in maintaining the war effort.

Battle of Britain Air campaign between Germany and the United Kingdom during WWII

The Battle of Britain was a military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom (UK) against large-scale attacks by Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. It has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognise the battle's duration as being from 10 July until 31 October 1940, which overlaps the period of large-scale night attacks known as The Blitz, that lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941. German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard the battle as a single campaign lasting from July 1940 to June 1941, including the Blitz.


The objective of the mission was to cooperate in science and technology with the U.S., which was neutral and, in many quarters, unwilling to become involved in the war. The U.S. had greater resources for development and production, which Britain desperately wanted to use. The information provided by the British delegation was subject to carefully vetted security procedures, and contained some of the greatest scientific advances made during the war. The shared technology included radar (in particular the greatly improved cavity magnetron which the American historian James Phinney Baxter III later called "the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores"), [1] the design for the proximity VT fuse, details of Frank Whittle's jet engine and the Frisch–Peierls memorandum describing the feasibility of an atomic bomb. Though these may be considered the most significant, many other items were also transported, including designs for rockets, superchargers, gyroscopic gunsights, submarine detection devices, self-sealing fuel tanks and plastic explosives.

Radar object detection system based on radio waves

Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.

Cavity magnetron device for generating microwaves

The cavity magnetron is a high-powered vacuum tube that generates microwaves using the interaction of a stream of electrons with a magnetic field while moving past a series of open metal cavities. Electrons pass by the openings to these cavities and cause radio waves to oscillate within, similar to the way a whistle produces a tone when excited by an air stream blown past its opening. The frequency of the microwaves produced, the resonant frequency, is determined by the cavities' physical dimensions. Unlike other vacuum tubes such as a klystron or a traveling-wave tube (TWT), the magnetron cannot function as an amplifier in order to increase the intensity of an applied microwave signal; the magnetron serves solely as an oscillator, generating a microwave signal from direct current electricity supplied to the vacuum tube.

Frank Whittle British Royal Air Force engineer air officer

Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, was a British Royal Air Force air officer. He is credited with single-handedly inventing the turbojet engine. A patent was submitted by Maxime Guillaume in 1921 for a similar invention; however, this was technically unfeasible at the time. Whittle's jet engines were developed some years earlier than those of Germany's Hans von Ohain who was the designer of the first operational turbojet engine.

The American Congress had many proponents of neutrality for the USA and so there were further barriers to co-operation. Tizard decided that the most productive approach would be simply to give the information and use America's productive capacity. Neither Winston Churchill nor the radar pioneer, Robert Watson-Watt, were initially in agreement with these tactics for the mission. Nevertheless, Tizard first arranged for Archibald Hill, another scientific member of the committee, to go to Washington to explore the possibilities. Hill's report to Tizard was optimistic.

United States Congress Legislature of the United States

The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the Federal Government of the United States. The legislature consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

Robert Watson-Watt physicist

Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, KCB, FRS, FRAeS was a Scottish pioneer of radio direction finding and radar technology.

Moving the secrets

After Churchill's approval for the project, the team began gathering all technical secrets which might have military use. At the end of August, Tizard went to the U.S. by air to make preliminary arrangements. The rest of the mission would follow by ship. They were:

Military Cross third-level military decoration of the British Armed Forces, Commonwealth officers

The Military Cross (MC) is the third-level military decoration awarded to officers and other ranks of the British Armed Forces, and formerly awarded to officers of other Commonwealth countries.

John Cockcroft British physicist

Sir John Douglas Cockcroft, was a British physicist who shared with Ernest Walton the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951 for splitting the atomic nucleus, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power.

The Ministry of Supply (MoS) was a department of the UK Government formed in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three British armed forces, headed by the Minister of Supply. There was, however, a separate ministry responsible for aircraft production, and the Admiralty retained responsibilities for supplying the Royal Navy. During the war years the MoS was based at Shell Mex House in The Strand, London.

All the documents were gathered in a small trunk: a lockable metal deed box, used for holding important valuable documents such as property deeds. Bowen was allowed to take 'Magnetron Number 12' with him. After spending the night under Bowen's hotel bed, the case was strapped to the roof of a taxi to the station. An over-eager railway porter whisked it from Bowen at Euston Station to take it to the train to Liverpool and Bowen almost lost sight of it. Inconsistently, in Liverpool, the magnetron was given a full Army escort.

A deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions, sealed. It is commonly associated with transferring (conveyancing) title to property. The deed has a greater presumption of validity and is less rebuttable than an instrument signed by the party to the deed. A deed can be unilateral or bilateral. Deeds include conveyances, commissions, licenses, patents, diplomas, and conditionally powers of attorney if executed as deeds. The deed is the modern descendant of the medieval charter, and delivery is thought to symbolically replace the ancient ceremony of livery of seisin.

Liverpool City and Metropolitan borough in England

Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough in North West England, with an estimated population of 491,500. Its metropolitan area is the fifth-largest in the UK, with a population of 2.24 million in 2011. The local authority is Liverpool City Council, the most populous local government district in the metropolitan county of Merseyside and the largest in the Liverpool City Region.

The team arrived in Halifax, Canada on 6 September on board the CPR Liner Duchess of Richmond (later known as the RMS Empress of Canada), and went on to Washington a few days later. The team of six assembled in Washington on 12 September 1940.


Tizard had met Vannevar Bush, the chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, on 31 August 1940, and arranged a series of meetings with each division of the NDRC. When the American and British teams met, there was initially some cautious probing by each side to avoid giving away too much without getting anything back in exchange. At a meeting hosted by NDRC's two-month-old "Microwave Committee" chairman Dr Alfred Loomis [4] at the Wardman Park Hotel on 19 September 1940 the British disclosed the technical details of the Chain Home early warning radar stations. The British thought the Americans did not have anything like this, but found it was virtually identical to the US Navy's longwave CXAM radar.

The Americans then described their microwave research done by Loomis and Karl Compton earlier in 1940. The British realised that Bell Telephone Laboratories and General Electric both could contribute a lot to receiver technology. The Americans had shown a Navy experimental shortwave 10-centimetre wavelength radar but had to admit that it had not enough transmitter power and they were at a dead-end. Bowen and Cockcroft then revealed the cavity magnetron, with an amazing power output of about ten kilowatts at 10 centimetres. [4] This disclosure dispelled any tension left between the delegations, and the meeting then went smoothly. The magnetron would enable the production of radar units small enough to be installed in night fighters, allow aircraft to locate surfaced U-boats and provide great navigational assistance to bombers. It is considered to be a significant factor in the Allied victory in the Second World War. [5]

Britain was interested in the Norden bombsight. However, President Roosevelt apologised and said that it was not available to Britain unless it could be shown that the Germans had something similar. Tizard was not unduly dismayed as he thought there were other US technologies more useful to Britain than the bombsight, and he asked for the unit's external dimensions so that British bombers could be modified to take it, if it became available at some future date. [6]

Bowen stayed in America, and a few days later, at the General Electric labs in New Jersey, he showed the Americans that the magnetron worked. The Bell Telephone Company was given the job of making magnetrons, producing the first thirty in October 1940, and over a million by the end of the war. The Tizard mission caused the foundation of the MIT Radiation Lab, which became one of the largest wartime projects, employing nearly 4,000 people at its peak.

The Tizard delegation also visited Enrico Fermi at Columbia University and told Fermi of the Frisch–Peierls concept for an atomic bomb. Fermi was highly sceptical, mainly because his research was geared towards using nuclear power to produce steam, not atomic bombs. In Ottawa, the delegation also met a Canadian, George Laurence, who had secretly built his own slow neutron experiment. Laurence had anticipated Fermi's work by several months.

When they returned to the UK in November 1940, the delegation reported that the slow neutron researches being conducted by French exiles in Cambridge, Columbia (by Fermi) and Canada (by Laurence) were probably irrelevant to the war effort. But since nuclear boilers could have some post-war value, they arranged for some financial support for the Canadian fission experiments. George Laurence later became involved in the secret exchanges of nuclear information between the British and the Americans. The British did not realise the atomic bomb was a serious possibility until Franz Simon reported in December 1940 to the MAUD Committee that it was feasible to separate the isotope uranium-235.

Tizard met with both Vannevar Bush and George W. Lewis and told them about jet propulsion, but he revealed very little except the seriousness of British efforts. Bush later recalled: "The interesting parts of the subject, namely the explicit way in which the investigation was being carried out, were apparently not known to Tizard, and at least he did not give me any indication that he knew such details". [7] [8] Later, Bush realised that the development of the Whittle engine was far ahead of the NACA project. In July 1941 he wrote to General "Hap" Arnold, commander of the USAAF, "It becomes evident that the Whittle engine is a satisfactory development and that it is approaching production, although we yet do not know just how satisfactory it is. Certainly if it is now in such state that the British plans call for large production in five months, it is extraordinarily advanced and no time should be lost on the matter". [8] Bush recommended that arrangements should be made to produce the British engine in the United States by finding a suitable company. [8] This company turned out to be General Electric and the US Whittle engine would emerge as the General Electric I-A and subsequent production General Electric J31.


Although the Tizard mission was hailed as a success, especially in radar, it is possibly significant that on his return to London on the 8 October 1940, Tizard found that his job no longer existed.

Although the German bombing of the UK was largely over by the time that the new radar systems were in production, the technology such as aircraft radar and LORAN navigation greatly helped the Allied war effort in Europe and the Pacific. According to James Phinney Baxter III, Official Historian of the Office of Scientific Research and Development: "When the members of the Tizard Mission brought one cavity magnetron to America in 1940, they carried the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores". [9]

The main success of the mission had been the transfer of radar technology, but the mission also opened up channels of communication for jet engine and atomic-bomb development and is seen as one of the key events in forging the wartime Anglo-American alliance. However, the UK was in a desperate situation and was compelled to release technology that had immense commercial impact after the war.

See also


  1. "Radar". Newsweek. 2 December 1997.
  2. John Cockcroft would receive a Nobel prize in 1951
  3. Brown, Minnett & White 1992.
  4. 1 2 Conant 2002, pp. 168–169,182.
  5. Hind 2007.
  6. Zimmerman 1996, p. 99.
  7. Zimmerman 1996, p. 120.
  8. 1 2 3 Dawson 1988, Chapter 3.
  9. Baxter III 1946, p. 142.

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