Canberra Radar

January 31, 2013

Good morning Mac,

Ever since I responded to your email there has been something nagging me about Canberra’s radar that I did not mention, but I could not recall what it was. Last night I went back into the files and extracted the attached.

There was clearly something wrong with the organisation of radar reporting in the ship and I’m a bit surprised to be reminded that the command team had asked the Radar Office not to report contacts directly to the Bridge. No arrangements had been made for radar info to be passed to the Tactical Plot – which was not operating on the night anyway. An accumulation of minor issues built up to a major deficiency when you really needed your radar to
be on top line and feeding data.

I’ve checked other files and the radar trials showed Canberra’s Type 271 performing well. Getting reported on 4 July 1942 that the ship was achieving ‘Heavy cruiser 37,000 yards and destroyer 24,000 yards’  It was also ranging to within 100 yards. Imagine if you’d had a fire control solution on Chokai at 37,000 yards! At that stage the IJN didn’t have radar, so your first broadside would have come out of the blue when she entered range.

Unfortunately, the Air Warning set A290 was overheating and thus not available to detect Mikawa's float planes.

Some good did come out of this. Admiral Muirhead-Gould in Sydney got a bollicking from ACNB because communications between Radar Office and Tactical Plot were mandated in the relevant CAFO and should have been fitted when the radars were installed, so I guess he made sure this omission was never made in further installations.

Secondly, ACNB sent the whole sorry story to RACAS Admiral Crutchley ‘for information and remarks’. Victor Crutchley was new in the job, but he knew about radar and he spent the next two years making sure that his ships had the best that was available and that they knew how to use it. Shropshire set up a little training program for US operators so that they could become proficient in using their equipment, but none of them ever reached the high standard ‘Porthole’ set in detecting and directing fighters onto kamikazes.  Lingayen was her finest hour in that regard – and others.

Crutchley’s last battle against the IJN was off Biak in June 1944, shortly before he handed over to Collins. As far as I was able to establish, he commanded this battle using radar, and missed out by a whisker from slaughtering his opponents. They only escaped by being faster than the Allied ships: it would have been a fitting revenge for Savo and the loss of Canberra.

Ian Pfennigwerth


Thank you for your comments.

Radar on its introduction into the RAN was something of a black art.

Canberra was the first RAN ship to be fitted with radar and RANVR Sub Lieutenant David Medley  was the ship's Radar Officer and had installed the two sets during the 3 month Sydney refit.

He held a Master's degree in physics, his Father was the Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University.

David Medley was not senior enough to have any clout for either himself or his radar equipment.

The Southern force at Savo tended to be some what land locked, which was not conducive to efficient performance of the surface radar set.

Captain Getting certainly did not readily embrace this new technology, I believe he just tended to ignore it.

In Canberra communication between the radar office and the bridge was complicated as there was no telephone or voice pipe communication between the the Radar office and the bridge.

Any identification of contacts needed messages to be passed through the compartment where the A 290 radar was fitted, what a mess, is it any wonder that radar warning of the enemy fleet played no real part at Savo.

Even in 1943 the PM and Minister of Defence had commented that radar would not last.

The Type 271 radar had the capability and answer to the IJN night fighting ability but specialist officers such as the Gunnery, Torpedo and Navigating officers had given little or no thought how they might harness radar's tactical possibilities.

As you indicated, by 1944 and early 1945 the air warning radar fitted in Shropshire together with fine operating personnel were operating superbly, approaching enemy aircraft were detected as far off as 100 miles.

It was Admiral Odlendorf who signalled the fleet, take note of Porthole's radar reports- "SHE IS HOT STUFF."


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