Oral history of British science

Brett-Knowles, Richard (Part 7 of 14). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's daughter's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Brett-Knowles, Richard, 1924-2015 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 7: Remarks on leaving HMS Vindex: working up in Clyde area; leaving September 1944 to Knokke in Belgium; returning to TRE and posting to RAF Bircham Newton; duties of RAF Swordfish squadron, RBK rank of flight lieutenant; conditions working for RAF; story about fixing an electric motor at base in Belgium, [pause 5:20 phone] RBK modifications to generator. [06:30] Remarks on Knokke: awful sound in cinema; few links with locals; Belgians stealing fuel from PULTO pipeline; airfield at Knokke; RBK duties sorting out radio problems; RBK investigations into an infra-red detector; squadron duties chasing E-boat torpedo boats; RBK flying on testing flights, in Sea Otter and captured Bücker Jungmeister. [12:30] Story about visiting German radar installations around The Hague: photo reconnaissance; driver Norman Chambers; visit to Mammut radar; RBK informing R.V. Jones; use of reflected CH transmissions by German radar; very cooperative Germans; unpopularity of Canadian troops; anecdote about Norman Chambers and RBK being invited back to Belgium for commemorations, RBK using ham radio in 1944 to tell people in UK they were safe, awful Canadian music to dance to. [17:30] Remarks on: German and British Radar equipment compared; German system similar to H2S; powerful Neodymium magnets, which went unused in Radar; anecdote about seeing an Enigma machine; German's expecting to be on same side after the war; British expertise in electronic countermeasures, such as radio navigation beam jammed by RV Jones; German use of British IFF system as a bombing aid, WREN responsible for providing fake German communications to system, jamming methods; [23:45] impressions of German equipment, RBK interview by RV Jones and Robert Cockburn on return; story about RBK discovering Neville Chamberlain's early support for radar from Lord Home; RBK meeting with Robert Cockburn. [27:45] Further remarks on investigating German Radar: RBK stealing generator off a German car to repair his car; T-force pass; visiting large number of sites; Würzburg radar, Göring's high opinion of system, use of Doppler effect; return to TRE after VE-Day via RAF Warmwell; RBK visiting exhibition of German equipment with miss Jones, on approval of M V Wilkes, wire and tape recording equipment. [32:50] Story about installing ASV-XI equipment as a landing system on HMS Pretoria Castle in 1944: RBK borrowing a wire recorder from RAE Farnborough to record conversations during landing; EMI copying German tape recorder; RBK working in a Norwegian Martman-Moe from Admiralty Signals Establishment [ASE]; differences between ASE and TRE; anecdote about ASE almost being renamed Admiralty Radar and Signals Establishment. [36:50] Remarks on trials of landing system: Admiralty staff visiting on day of heavy rain when the system didn't work; capabilities of radar, problems with height finding; effectiveness of system; Navy encouraging bright ideas. [39:10] Comments on return to TRE May 1945: journey back; smuggling Dutch gin back via RAF Warmwell disguised as V2 fuel; RBK assigned to Maurice Wilkes group, before being reassigned to FC Williams; description of FC Williams, career in computing with Tom Kilburn, approachable and helpful, anecdote about one problem Williams couldn't solve involving a barometer, technical practical jokes played on Williams; good atmosphere at TRE. [46:10] Remarks on FC Williams Group and others in it: fellow scientists Moody, Ritson, Marsh, Tom Kilburn and technicians; postwar work on blind landing system; Kilburn working on digital storage on oscilloscope, Moody on pulse transformers, Ritson servo mechanisms; Wellington bomber use of geodetic construction; Ritson's ham radio hobby; Kilburn's interest in digital computing; colleagues interest in thought transference, SW Noble's opinion; building a television set, synchronised with mains electricity, David Pugh involvement with television, description of 405 lines television, contrast with Baird mechanical television; [54:00] RBK learning ham radio from Ritsun, RBK becoming a pirate; colleagues Moody and Marsh, anecdote about Spencer Noble's coffee making being disrupted by bees; self taught, deaf colleague Spencer Noble, career working on loudspeakers at Hartley-Turner, interest in watches. [58:00] Description of blind landing system: designed to give height and position to suction operated auto pilot; Ritsun's work on controls and climbing toy; system designed to land aircraft itself, but trials not getting that far; [1:01:10] flight trails of system; successes of system before being cancelled.

  • Description

    Interview with electronics engineer Richard Brett-Knowles

  • Related transcripts

    Richard Brett-Knowles interviewed by Dr Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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