posted on 09/02/24
The series will begin with the First World War, in which there was nothing less than a scientific revolution. In the cauldron of ideas that emerged during the Second World War, new inventions ranged from jet engines to roll-on roll-off ferries, from flying wings to floating tanks, from miniature radios to guided missiles. The talks will explore the development of radar, the science of aerial photography and the worlds of Intelligence and Deception. Throughout Churchill immersed himself in the work of his engineers and inventors, his soldiers, sailors and airmen, imprinting his own personality on the machines that were created in his name.
They take place every Thursday from 11th April to 9th May at 4.30pm (GMT+1) and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (4th July 2024).
The First World War is usually seen as a war dominated by mud, trenches and pointless slaughter epitomised in the work of the War Poets. However, less well known is the incredible advances in science during the conflict, from aviation to medicine, and from chemicals to communications. For the first time ever, the scientific community was mobilised for a total war.
Churchill was very aware of Britain’s sometimes flagging military effort in WW2 and wanted to encourage anything and anyone that could provide a marginal advantage. So he gave immense support to scientists, mavericks and inventors, from developing floating tanks to bouncing bombs. The webinar will also explore Churchill’s relationship with his controversial principal scientific adviser, Professor Frederick Lindemann.
In the mid 1930s, Robert Watson-Watt and a team of scientists at the isolated strip of land in Suffolk called Orford Ness began to develop a system of radio detection finding, later known as radar. A Chain Home system was rapidly created around the coast and was ready just in time for war. The prevailing view was that the Germans did not have radar but it soon became apparent that they had a sophisticated form that operated very differently to British radar. To understand how it worked, a plan was formulated for a group of Paras to capture a German radar in occupied France, dismantle it and bring it back for the scientists to examine. Encouraged by Churchill, this is the story of scientific advance and a daring raid on the French coast.
In WW2 the RAF almost invented a new science for the interpretation of aerial photographs and it was estimated that 80 per cent of all intelligence came from this source. A country house on the Thames to the west of London known as RAF Medmenham became the centre where eccentric academics and people from all walks of life gathered to interpret photographs. It was arguably as important to the war effort as the far better known Bletchley Park. Churchill’s daughter worked at RAF Medmenham and the PM became fascinated by the work of the Photo-Interpreters.
On the eve of the 80th anniversary of D-Day this talk will explore the world of Intelligence, double cross and Deception. It will focus on the unusual characters who became some of the great Deceivers and developed what was both a science and an art. Churchill was an enthusiastic supporter of plans to deceive the enemy as to where, when and how the invasion of Europe was coming.
Taylor Downing read History at Cambridge and worked at the Imperial War Museum and then Thames Television for many years before establishing his own independent production company, Flashback Television. Here he produced more than 300 historical documentaries that have been shown in Britain, the US and around the world, many of which won prestigious awards. For the last 15 years he has concentrated on writing. His publications include Cold War (with Sir Jeremy Isaacs), Churchill’s War Lab, Spies in the Sky and 1983 – The World at the Brink. His latest book The Army that Never Was: D-Day and the Great Deception is published in May. Taylor regularly appears in radio and television documentaries, and in podcasts.
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