Operational Research had its origin at the beginning of the Second World War, and made important early contributions to many aspects of the Air Defence of Great Britain, an activity of monumental significance in the war. Air defence depended for its success on the development of a command, control, communication and information system on a scale that had never been approached before. It also depended on other types of technology, such as high performance aircraft, air-to-air weapons and anti-aircraft artillery, and, most critically, on the new science of radar. All of these offered opportunities for applications of operational research, as did the study of tactics for individual engagements and of strategy for the optimum allocation of dangerously scarce resources.
Of the many technological developments that made advances throughout the course of World War II, radar was the one which saw the greatest improvement in capabilities and had the most significant influence on operations. The contributions of radar to fire control of weapons, and the direction and navigation of aircraft and ships, called for systematic studies of the technical design and performance of the radar, of the weapons depending on its information, of the capabilities of the human operators, and of the design and effectiveness of the entire system of which the radar was one vital part.
This provided a glorious opportunity for operational research. There was an atmosphere of extreme urgency. There were no worries about budgets. There was no time for extensive instrumented field trials or operational evaluation-new equipment was rushed into service. The data on effectiveness under field conditions was obtained from real operations. In earlier years it was possible to find people who held senior positions in organizations conducting important military operations, and could therefore give a first hand account of the critical decisions and results as seen “top down” from the highest level. But if one wants to go back as far as World War II, where operational research was born, it is getting increasingly difficult to find survivors who held senior appointments in the early 1940s. I am not one of these. However, I was fortunate enough to have been able to participate in operational research during World War II at a junior level, and to have spent most of the half century since then in the study and practice of military OR.
I am going to describe a few incidents which occurred in the life of a junior army officer engaged in military operational research on the applications of radar to air defence, during an extremely active period. So what you are going to receive is a bottom up worm’s eye view of operational research during its interesting pioneer period fifty years ago.
Lindsey, George "Some Personal Recollections of Army Operations Research on Radar in World War II." Canadian Military History 4, 2 (1995)