Posted by: Waring Hills | 14 March 2011

Navy Develops Pulse Radar Technology 1934

On 15 March 1934, Dr. Hoyt Taylor, head of the radio division at Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) , put into motion a project to develop pulse radar for the detection of ships and aircraft. Pulse radar technology was more promising than continuous wave radar as it would provide range and bearing information along with detection and could be installed on one ship. The pulse radar technique would be made possible by the new development of the cathode ray tube, high power transmitting tubes and special receiving tubes. (N

This research by the NRL would lead to the building of the Navy’s first shipboard radar, the XAF. In 1938 it would be put onboard the battleship USS New York. During tests it could detect aircraft out to 100 nautical miles (nm) away and ships out to 15 nm. The XAF was also employed for navigation and gunnery practice, spotting the fall of shot and even tracking projectiles in flight. At the conclusion of these tests, New York‘s Commanding Officer recommended installation of the XAF radar on all aircraft carriers.


Notice the large square radar antenna on the USS New York, 1938.

Radar was a great combat multiplier and arrived just in time for World War II, but future generations would see other developments in the field to defeat radar…watch this technical defense footage below!



  1. The development of radar just in time for World War II is a fascinating account of people who took chances and brought them to fruition in the nick of time. The most critical of those were the decision by the British in 1938 to plunge ahead with the Home Chain Radar Stations. If these were not ready in July and August 1940 the RAF would have been totally dependent on ground spotters to report incoming aircraft and then hope that their fighters would get up and to the enemy in time to hinder their bombing runs. With radar RAF fighters were directed to the enemy much as ground controllers do aircraft today.
    Going hand in hand with this was the adaptation of radar on ships. The liner Normandie supposedly had the first ship board radar in 1935 for spotting icebergs! When the Germans sent the Graf Spee to the South Atlantic in 1939 she had one of the first radars aboard a warship. However, German doctrine differed from US and Royal Navy doctrine in that the Germans used their radar mostly for range measuring to the target knowing how easy it was to detect radar waves at great distance to reveal the bearing of an unseen ship much like a man with a flashlight in a large field looking for someone. Once the flashlight is turned on he can be seen at far greater distances than his flashlight can illuminate.
    Several months after the Graf Spee was destroyed the USN sent a mission to Uruguay to study the wreckage and learn what they could of its technical advances.


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