He invented WWII radar

Posted: October 05, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. - Lee Davenport, a physicist who developed a radar device that helped U.S. and Allied troops win key battles in World War II, has died. He was 95.

He died Friday of cancer in Greenwich, his daughter, Carol Davenport, said yesterday.

Davenport was among hundreds of scientists who worked at the secret Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory, even before America joined the war in 1941, to develop radar systems that would give the U.S. military an edge. He was credited with developing the SCR-584 - the letters standing for Signal Corps Radio - a microwave radar built into a semitrailer with a parabola on top that tracked enemy planes and helped to direct anti-aircraft batteries.

The radar helped to counter the German air force and aided troops who shot down planes during German air attacks on Italy's Anzio beachhead in 1944.

Davenport went to England to waterproof radar semi-trailers that were to be floated ashore at Normandy in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. After the landing, he was sent to France to continue developing applications for the radar.

"They issued papers for me to be known as a captain in the Signal Corps," Davenport said in a 2010 interview with the Greenwich Citizen, a weekly newspaper. "I had all the dog tags and identification. When you are a civilian and are overseas in a war zone, that civilian would need protection, for if he was caught by the enemy for any reason he would be shot as a spy."

A targeting system developed for the SCR-584 would later help Allied pilots target enemy vehicles in snowy conditions at the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.

Carol Davenport recalled simpler technological lessons from her father, an avid collector of antique cars.

"He was insistent that my sister and I learn to change a tire," she said.

Davenport was born on Dec. 31, 1915, in Schenectady, N.Y., where his father worked as a schoolteacher. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1937 and earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pittsburgh based on the work he did at the MIT Radiation Lab.

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