By June 1940 an integrated air defense system was almost ready with Bentley Priory, the operational headquarters, at the center. Developed by Dowding, it had three unique mechanisms:
- Sensing — an early-warning system consisting of three lines.
- Decision Making — a real-time environment with tools like executive dashboards and real-time event models and processes for institutionalized decision making.
- Responding — a system feeding information to a hierarchy of Group/Sector operations centers beneath it capable of responding to the threat. ("Decision Making" and "Responding" will be discussed in the final article in this series.)
Bentley Priory aggregated information from the following lines that provided early-warning of incoming raids.
The first line of the early warning system was Bletchley Park, which passed top-secret Ultra information to Bentley Priory. This top-grade intelligence would normally be of a highly strategic nature: the date and time of a raid, its size, the type of planes and possibly the target. It would be passed to Bentley Priory in a very secure fashion, not directly to the operations room, but to a few handpicked individuals through a Special Liaison Unit.
The second line of the early warning system was made up of 50 radar stations. There were two types of complementary radar stations: long- and short-range. The former could pick up high-flying enemy aircraft at 30,000 feet and up to 150 miles away. The latter had a shorter range, but could pick up low-flying enemy aircraft. Both operated on pattern recognition and provided information on incoming raids. Radar information provided with a degree of accuracy enemy position, direction, height and estimated strength. This information was aggregated by radar crews operating both in the low and high-level stations. The aggregated information was phoned directly to a radar operation's command rooms or headquarters. This had a filter room where sightings and detection information could be aggregated, analyzed and organized. The information was then passed by telephone onto the filter room at Bentley Priory for further processing.
The third line of the early warning system was made up by the Observer Corps. It consisted of civilian volunteers, who through binoculars spotted incoming enemy aircraft. They identified and assessed the enemy aircraft strength from 1,000 observation posts, based on the recognition of silhouettes and patterns. Radar was able to provide warning of enemy aircraft approaching the coast, but once they had crossed the coastline the Observer Corps provided the only means of tracking them, and could only track aircraft detected by the radar stations. Observer corps information was aggregated by the Observer Corps headquarters, which in turn was passed by telephone onto the filter room at Bentley Priory for further processing.
Together, the radar stations and observer corps covered nearly 90 percent of United Kingdom's (U.K.) coastline.
In today's world, what can we take away from this lesson-from-history? Dowding made the right investment early on and thoroughly trained his minimal forces, but his preparation was ultimately put jeopardy as the Allied forces collapsed in France. He conserved his resources against strong political pressure to disperse and misuse them, and showed incredible conviction to cause.
Part 4 will look at the completion of real-time event models and institutionalized decision-making, known as the "Dowding System," that helped turn the course of Battle of Britain. With a sophisticated early-warning system it was the first time information had been used on such a scale. The tracking of wastage and the ability to direct Beaverbrook's Civilian Repair Operation was an important part of the recovery operation and the Fighter Supply Chain.
About the Author: Mark Kozak-Holland's latest book in the lessons-from-history series is titled "Churchill's Adaptive Enterprise: Lessons for Business Today." It draws parallels between events in World War II and today's business challenges. Kozak-Holland is a senior business architect with HP Services and regularly writes and speaks on the subject of emerging technologies and lessons-from-history. Kozak-Holland can be contacted via his site www.lessons-from-history.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.