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WW2 RADAR DEVELOPMENT IN NZ

 
 

Arriving back in NZ towards the end of 1939, Dr Marsden brought with him complete plans, and key parts, for a high power 5 Metre set known as the Navy type 279SA.  He also also carried plans and parts for an experimental model ASV (air to surface vessel) set.

Administrative responsibility for RADAR was held by the Radio Development Board.  As the Post office had the best resources and largest number of staff skilled in radio technology, RADAR development and production was initially made it's responsibility.  The early development work was undertaken on the 7th floor of the Wellington East PO Building.  This building is located near the bottom end of Cambridge Terrace and close to Courtenay Place.  In 1939 the upper floors of this relatively new building had recently been  taken over by Radio Section.

Initial work was carried out using NZPO Radio Section staff and resources working with seconded personnel from the DSIR.  The project was under the direction of Dr Marsden.  By early 1940 this preliminary work was completed and contracts were given to Collier and Beale for the manufacture of a complete installation based on, and similar to, the type 279SA

An experimental copy of the ASV design was made in Radio Section and, operating from the 7th floor Laboratory, demonstrated the potential of the technology to "interested parties".  The decision was made to develop this unit into a "Gun Ranging" unit and it was renamed as a "CD" set.  The first installation located in the Hauraki Gulf on Motutapu Island was ready for trials by June 1940.  A joint Army Navy exercise proved the potential of the set.  Development of these units continued at Radio Section, including the installation of a set in a "Waco" aircraft stationed at Wellington Airport.  In 1941 responsibility for ongoing development and manufacture of these ASV based sets was transferred to Dr White at Canterbury University.

Responsibility for RADAR development was transferred from the Post Office to the DSIR on the 31 May 1941 after the rapid ramp up of staff and equipment outgrew the facilities at Radio Section.  After this date, much of the development work on RADAR was now distributed across a number of different sites.  Although RADAR work continued at Radio Section throughout the war, after August 1942, when the DSIR established it's own laboratory in Majoribank St, Post Office involvement rapidly diminished.

An indication of the progress being made can be seen in the performance of an early experimental 279SA type installation installed on Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf, which by October 1940 had been improved to the point that it could track a Trans-Tasman flying boat out to 100 miles.  The following year this unit was relocated to Mokohinau Island becoming part of the early warning system being established for the Auckland area.

 

Wellington East Post Office Building c.1939  Home of Radio Section     and location of early development work on RADAR in NZ

 
     
 

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                                                                  March 2009