Radar research in Australia during World War II – Fact sheet 125

The successful use of radar by the Allied forces altered the course of World War II. Much of the initial research into radar technology was conducted in Britain, but in an effort to boost the Allies' defences, research findings were shared with other Commonwealth nations and the United States. These countries then began their own research. Australian scientists successfully developed new radar techniques and advances upon existing theories which ultimately played a significant part in the Allies' victory.

The Radiophysics Advisory Board

Research into radar or radio location technology in Australia was coordinated by the Radiophysics Advisory Board established within the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The main series of correspondence records created by the Board which document this research are held in the Archives' Sydney Office. These are listed below.

The Board's activities are also documented within the records of the CSIR and its successor, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Some examples of relevant series, held in the National Office, Canberra, are listed below.

Canberra – Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CA 486)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrrespondence files1916–27A8510
SeriesCorrrespondence files1927–81A9778
SeriesVolumes of minutes of the Council1926–49A10090
SeriesCollection of files relating to the Radio Research Board and the Radiophysics Advisory Board1926–71A10762

Sydney – Radiophysics Advisory Board (CA 488)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesWartime radar files1939–45C3823
SeriesCorrespondence files1939–45C3825
SeriesCorrespondence and meeting files1939–45C4672
SeriesFolder of minutes1939–45C4968
SeriesMinutes of the Technical Committee1942–45C4969

Sydney – CSIR Division of Radiophysics (CA 4374)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesWartime radar research files1939–45C4634
SeriesRadiophysics Laboratory drawings1939–96C5133
SeriesRadiophysics Laboratory sketches1941–68C5135
SeriesRadiophysics Laboratory sketches (experimental)1942–88C5134

Other significant records about radar research

Additional information about radar research may be found in the records of a number of other agencies. The most important of these was the Prime Minister's Department, which was the parent department of the CSIR. Information is also held in the records of Sir Frederick Shedden, the wartime Secretary of the Department of Defence, and the Australian High Commission, London. Some examples of these records, held in the National Office, Canberra, and the Australian War Memorial, are listed below.

National Office, Canberra

Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesCorrespondence files1934–50A461
ItemRadio Physics Laboratory1939–43A461, Q398/1/5
ItemCSIR employment of scientists during wartime1940–41A461, L398/1/1
SeriesCorrespondence files1939–47A1608
ItemRadio-Physics Investigations1939–40A1608, W25/1/2 part 1
ItemRadio-Physics Investigations1941A1608, W25/1/2 part 2
ItemRadio-Physics Investigations1941–44A1608, W25/1/2 part 3

Department of Defence (CA 46)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRecords of Sir Frederick Shedden1937–71A5954
ItemDespatch of officers to the United Kingdom for course in RDF work1940A5954, 677/2
ItemRadar a report of science at war1945A5954, 2064/29

Australian War Memorial

Department of Defence [III]

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemRadar and other electronic devices – development – an account of the development and use of radar in the RAAF1946AWM54, 810/2/2

Individuals associated with radar development in Australia

The Archives also holds information about some of the individuals associated with the development of radar in Australia during World War II. These include Sir John Madsen and Sir Daniel McVey, who both served as Chairman of the Radiophysics Advisory Board, Professor Frederick White, who was Deputy Chairman of the Radiophysics Advisory Board and chaired its Technical Committee, scientists Professor David Martyn and Dr John Piddington, and Noel Brodribb, who, as Controller-General of Munitions Supply, had responsibility for the production of radar equipment.

Biographical information about these individuals and hundreds of other Australian scientists is available on the Encyclopedia of Australian Science.

Locating additional records

Search the collection to locate additional material of interest. Use the series and item numbers listed in the tables above to scroll through lists of items held for those series. Or you can use the surnames of the individuals listed above as keyword searches, as well as terms such as ‘radio’, ‘radar’, ‘RDF’, ‘radiophysics’ and ‘CSIR’.

For further information about records relating to radar production see our fact sheet on Radar production and use during World War II.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018