German Naval RadarUpdated 17 October 1999
Although German radar development was very promising in its early stages it was quickly overtaken by allied technology. One major reason for this was that the German Navy, which was the most conservative of the three services, did not realize the full potential of active radar, leaving the Allies in a favorable position to force the pace of the microwave war. The German Navy had decided that radar transmissions would provide a source from which an enemy could obtain a 'fix' on a ship's position, in the same way that direction-finders could be used to obtain a 'fix' on the source of a radio transmission. Extensive use of radar was therefore discouraged, a decision reinforced by the German belief in the superiority of their optical equipment. It is significant that young officers were taught absolutely nothing about radar and had to learn from scratch about the complex microwave war while on active service, in conditions where any fault could be fatal. It was not until March 1945 that German Naval Command issued Tactical order No 10 entitled Instruction for use of radar aboard surface units.
Thus the story of German naval radar in surface units is one of 'too lates'. The other services, especially the Luftwaffe, the Flak (AA) troops and even coast defense artillery, employed radar skillfully and extensively, while the Navy was tardy in proving information and training in new technology.
Knowledge of high-frequency radio emissions was therefore limited and the quality of the radar aboard German ships depended substantially on the personnel interest of the responsible radio officer. Only a few of these were electronic experts, by virtue of being enthusiastic, and even fewer had good contacts in the electronic industry, thus reducing their chances of improving sets in service. It is not surprising therefore that, under the rough conditions aboard a ship, the sensitive electronic equipment soon deteriorated and became faulty. Many surface units did not have their radar equipment recalibrated during the long periods of their careers! Thus sets became so unreliable that the commander refused to use them - an easy decision, when asked to hold strict radar silence whenever possible.
To counter the superior Allied radar technology,
German surface vessels were fitted with more and more passive sets, the
field becoming so extended that description of the German passive radar-sets,
the Funkmess-Beobachtungsgeräte or FuMBs has been reserved
for a separate article.
This article was published over 15 years
ago in the now defunct British naval quarterly 'Warship'. Basically the
content is still valid today, although some fine details, especially regarding
equipment details in defined periods, are now obsolete as new literature
has been published recently. This article produced a remarkable echo, as
it was the first attempt to describe this widely unknown topic.
German Capital Ships, Patrick Stephens, Cambridge, 1981;
German Destroyers and Escorts, Cambridge, 1982
Das große Bildbuch der Kriegsmarine, Gerhard Stalling, Oldenburg 1972
Bekker, Cajus: Augen durch Nacht und Nebel, die Radar-Story, Gerhard Stalling, Oldenburg 1962
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