received from the additional radar stations. With the out-break of war apparently
imminent, it was obvious that something new - drastic if necessary - had to be attempted.
Some new approach was needed.
Accordingly, on the termination of the exercise, the Superintendent of Bawdsey Research
Station, A.P. Rowe, announced that although the exercise had again demonstrated the
technical feasibility of the radar system for detecting aircraft, its operational
achievements still fell far short of requirements. He therefore proposed that a crash
program of research into the operational - as opposed to the technical - aspects of the
system should begin immediately. The term "operational research" [RESEARCH into
(military) OPERATIONS] was coined as a suitable description of this new branch of
applied science. The first team was selected from amongst the scientists of the radar
research group the same day.
In the summer of 1939 Britain held what was to be its last pre-war air defense exercise. It
involved some 33,000 men, 1,300 aircraft, 110 antiaircraft guns, 700 searchlights, and
100 barrage balloons. This exercise showed a great improvement in the operation of the
air defense warning and control system. The contribution made by the OR teams was so
apparent that the Air Officer Commander-in-Chief RAF Fighter Command (Air Chief
Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding) requested that, on the outbreak of war, they should be
attached to his headquarters at Stanmore.
On May 15th 1940, with German forces advancing rapidly in France, Stanmore Research
Section was asked to analyze a French request for ten additional fighter squadrons (12
aircraft a squadron) when losses were running at some three squadrons every two days.
They prepared graphs for Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister of the time),
based upon a study of current daily losses and replacement rates, indicating how rapidly
such a move would deplete fighter strength.
No aircraft were sent and most of those currently in France were recalled. This is held by
some to be the most strategic contribution to the course of the war made by OR (as the
aircraft and pilots saved were consequently available for the successful air defense of
Britain, the Battle of Britain).
In 1941 an Operational Research Section (ORS) was established in Coastal Command
which was to carry out some of the most well-known OR work in World War II.
Although scientists had (plainly) been involved in the hardware side of warfare
(designing better planes, bombs, tanks, etc) scientific analysis of the operational use of
military resources had never taken place in a systematic fashion before the Second World
War. Military personnel, often by no means stupid, were simply not trained to undertake
These early OR workers came from many different disciplines, one group consisted of a
physicist, two physiologists, two mathematical physicists and a surveyor. What such
people brought to their work were "scientifically trained" minds, used to querying
assumptions, logic, exploring hypotheses, devising experiments, collecting data,
analyzing numbers, etc. Many too were of high intellectual caliber (at least four wartime
OR personnel were later to win Nobel prizes when they returned to their peacetime