1941 - 1945

MIT Rad Lab

U.S. National Archives

The National Archives at Boston is home to records documenting the development of radar in World War II (NAID 5019100). Hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rad Lab was America's response to impending war.

In June 1940, Vannevar Bush, MIT President Karl Compton, and Harvard President James Conant, jointly presented a war-effort plan to President Roosevelt for the research and development of new technology. From this effort, the National Defense Research Council was formed. As part of this effort, Compton was chosen to oversee the Committee for the Development of Radar (a Navy acronym for radio detection and ranging).

The committee was housed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) newly-formed Radiation Laboratory (nicknamed “Rad Lab”); the name disguised the lab's real work, as people thought nuclear physics was too immature to impact the war. To find the right staff, MIT hosted a conference on applied nuclear physics, with an emphasis on microwaves. Attendees noticed many private meetings, and by the end of the conference, the core staff had been hired. By the end of that fall, early radar testing was ongoing on the roof of Building 6.

The Army Air Corps supplied a B-18 aircraft for flight tests of Rad Lab's airborne radar. The plane was modified to have a special Plexiglas nose transparent to hyper-frequency radiation. The system began early testing in March 1941.

H2K testing, which was supposed to radar images with a better resolution, was used in aircrafts to produce images like this one. Taken at 2,000 ft, you can see the Charles River Basin at 9 to 11 o’clock, MIT at 10, Boston Common at 12, and Commonwealth Ave running into Boston Common.
H2K radar showing New York on August 30, 1944. Because water vapor interfered with H2K, the equipment was limited to low-altitude bombing and production was ultimately curtailed. However, these studies on water vapor were the start of a large part of postwar experimental work on molecules.

After Pearl Harbor, Rad Lab had a squadron of B-18s equipped with laboratory equipment. One of their tasks was to hunt submarines in Jacksonville, Florida.

Rad Lab ran for five years and contributed to the development of radar and anti-radar technology during the war.

Other Rad Lab inventions were airborne bombing radars, shipboard search radars, harbor and coastal defense radars, gun-laying radars, ground-controlled approach radars for aircraft blind landing, interrogate-friend-or-foe beacon systems, the long-range navigation system, the microwave early-warning radars, and air-to-surface vessel radars.

December 3, 1944 - The 71st AAA Operations Detachment in an American anti-aircraft room in Loiano, Italy, a combat zone. Pictured here are 1st Lt. Francis A. Rash (center), a gun control officer, broadcasting to all anti-aircraft units all radar plots received; and Sgt. Walter B. Hennigan (right, foreground) of Hudson, Massachusetts, contacting air corps radars through the sectors operations room. The operations room were usually installed in two and one half ton trucks.

Private Alfred D. Clodfelter of Watson, Missouri, operating the radio in contact with the radar unit

Sgt. Harrel D. Crawford of St. Louis, Missouri, operating the operations radio and telephone switchboard

The inside of a traveling operation room.

These operations rooms were installed, for mobility and efficacy, in 2.5 ton trucks and trailers.

In the last year of the war, soldiers mounting APS-15 radar in a 1½ ton vehicle for sitting use in airborne searches.

Rad Lab scientists invented almost half of the radar deployed in World War II and also launched a new era of collaboration between government, industry, and academia. Many of these technologies had a lasting impact on the war. In November 1942, U-boats claimed 117 Allied ships. Less than a year later, in the two-month period of September to October 1943, only 9 Allied ships were sunk, while a total of 25 U-boats were destroyed by planes equipped with radar.

When Rad Lab formally closed on December 31, 1945, MIT shared its research with the world in a monumental publishing effort called the MIT Radiation Laboratory Series. Comprised of twenty-eight volumes, this series encapsulated a huge amount of knowledge generated during the war and influenced postwar engineering.

Credits: Story

NAID: 5019100
From: National Archives at Boston
Record Group 227: Records of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, 1939 - 1947

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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