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British Industrial History

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Harry Egerton Wimperis

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Harry Egerton Wimperis (1876-1960) was an aeronautical engineer who served as the Director of Scientific Research at the UK's Air Ministry prior to World War II. He is best known for his role in setting up the Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence under Henry Tizard, which led directly to the development and introduction of radar in the UK. He is also known for the development of the Drift Sight and Course Setting Bomb Sight during World War I, devices that revolutionized the art of bombing.

1876 August 27th. Born the son of Joseph Price Wimperis (1849-1877), a merchant, and Jemima Wood Samuel (1851- )in London.

1877 A year after his birth his father died at Hackney (2nd February) and his widowed mother went (with him) to live with her brother John Samuel, a Curate at 11 Cromwell Terrace, Hammersmith.[1]

He started his studies at Royal College of Science (part of Imperial College) and then moved to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge as an advanced student in 1898. During this period he wrote a series of engineering books covering internal combustion, road transport and air navigation.

1901 Living at 25 Montrell Road, Streatham: Jemima Wimperis (age 50 born Islington), a Widow and living on own means and her son Harry Egerton Wimperis (age 24 born Stoke Newington), an Electrical Engineer.[2]

1907 September 28th. Married Grace d'Avray Parkin, the daughter of Canadian George Robert Parkin. They had three daughters

1909 Among his many inventions and works was the Wimperis accelerometer of 1909, the first accelerometer rugged enough for use measuring the performance of automobiles. He was directed to Elliott Brothers for manufacture, and this started a long relationship between him and the company. The same year they introduced a gyroscopic turn indicator, and followed this with an optical speedometer, rate of roll indicator, indicated airspeed calculator and his famed bomb-sights.

1911 Living at 28 Rossetti Gardens Mansions, Chelsea, SW: Harry Egerton Wimperis (age 34 born London), an Engineer in the Civil Service (Crown Agents for the Colonies). With his wife Grace d'Avray Wimperis (age 28 born Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada) and their daughter Barbara Parkin Wimperis (age 2 born Turner's Hill, Sussex). Two servants.[3]

1913 Published 'The Principles of the Application of Power to Road Transport'

1915 Wimperis worked in the Experimental Office in the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS). Here he was put on the problem of devising a useful bomb-sight that did not require manual calculations or a stopwatch to estimate the wind speed. The result was his Drift Sight, which used a small bar that was aligned with the motion of objects on the ground to measure the wind.

1917 He then greatly expanded on this design in his Course Setting Bomb Sight (CSBS), introducing the first system to allow bomb runs from any direction, instead of just up or down the wind line. The CSBS has been called "the most important bomb-sight of the war".

From 1918 he also worked for the Royal Air Force, and the Air Ministry as it took over most of the centralized research for both arms.

c.1924 Wimperis was awarded £2,100 by the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors in respect of communication to the US government of inventions, designs, etc in relation to aircraft and aircraft accessories, specifically the course setting bomb sight and the drift bomb sight[4]

1924 Tizard, on the Aeronautical Research Council, convinced the Air Ministry to resume co-ordinating research. In anticipation of Tizard accepting the new post of director of scientific research Wimperis was appointed assistant director.

1925 However, when Tizard declined the post, Wimperis became director with David Pye as deputy director. Wimperis appointed Albert Percival Rowe as his personal assistant. As director, this was his great opportunity to plan, co-ordinate, and fund all ministry sponsored research, including that at aircraft manufacturers and universities. The primary aim over the next ten years was to improve the operational performance and safety of service aircraft, particularly by more use of wind tunnels. Wimperis believed in finding scientific solutions to technical problems, and he had learned to work with the military, and to administer well.

In June 1934, Rowe became concerned about the state of air defence in the UK, and took it upon himself to read every study on the topic published in the UK. The result was a memo stating that "we were likely to lose the war if it starts within the next ten years". Wimperis took the memo seriously and set about creating the Committee for the Scientific Study of Air Defence, placing Henry Tizard in the chairman's position. This group was instrumental in the creation of radar in the UK, and the Chain Home system that was instrumental to winning the Battle of Britain.

1936 Wimperis gave his attention to the parallel problem of air offence, setting up the committee of air offence to consider how far recent advances in scientific and technical knowledge could strengthen methods of attacking enemy targets. Tizard again accepted the chairmanship with Wimperis, Pye, Rowe, and Professor Melvill Jones as members.

1937 Pye became director in 1937 when Wimperis retired, but Bomber Command were never convinced that any advice from the committee would benefit them and were poorly prepared when war started.

1938 Wimperis served as the Aeronautical Advisor to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of the Commonwealth of Australia, advising them on setting up their own aeronautical research division.

1936-38 He was President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and of the Engineering Section of the British Association, 1939.

WWII During the first year of war he returned in an advisory capacity to the Air Ministry at Harrogate, later undertaking other duties at Australia House.

1941 he published a booklet Defeating the Bomber, and another Aviation in 1945.

From 1946 to 1950 he was a member of the Atomic Energy Study Group, Chatham House.

1960 July 16th. Died in Edinburgh


1960 Obituary [5]

WE have learned with regret of the death of Dr. Harry Egerton Wimperis, which occurred at 46A, Inverleith Place, Edinburgh, last Saturday, July 16, after many months of illness. Dr. Wimperis, who was eighty-three, was the first Director of Scientific Research to be appointed by the Air Ministry. That appointment was made in 1925 and Dr. Wimperis held it until his retirement in 1937.

Dr. Wimperis studied at Cambridge, at Gonville and Caius College, where he gained a Mechanical Science Tripos, after which he went to the Royal College of Science. He became a Whitworth Scholar in 1898, acquiring practical engineering experience in the Brighton works of the former London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. and at the Elswick works of Armstrong-Whitworth.

In the early years of the century, Wimperis served on the engineering staff of the Crown Agents for the Colonies. When the first world war started, Wimperis was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and in 1915 he became an experimental officer in the Royal Naval Air Service.

At the end of the war, he was superintendent of the laboratory established by the Air Ministry at the Imperial College of Science and Technology. His valuable work there undoubtedly led to the Air Ministry's subsequent decision to set up a scientific research directorate and it was fitting that Dr. Wimperis should be appointed to take charge of it. During the years which followed, there were many difficult problems associated with aeronautical developments to which Dr. Wimperis had to find a satisfactory solution. He was responsible, for example, for the formation of a special Air Ministry committee for surveying scientifically this country's air defences. An important result of that committee's work was the erection of the chain of radar stations which were such a valuable factor in this country's air defences during the second world war.

When Dr. Wimperis retired from his directorship at the Air Ministry in 1937, he was invited to advise the Australian Government on the organisation of aeronautical research, and in 1938 he was appointed aeronautical adviser to the Australian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. His years of retirement were very active ones and there were many demands, during the second world war, for the expert knowledge that he was at all times ready to share. Dr. Wimperis was a past-president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, before which he delivered the Wilbur Wright lecture in 1932. He was also an honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, an honorary Fellow and Governor of the Imperial College, a former member of council of the British Association, and a Thomas Hawksley lecturer to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. More recently, he had served on the Chatham House atomic energy study group. Dr. Wimperis was appointed C.B.E. in 1928 and a C. B. in 1935.

For us, the death of Dr. Wimperis brings to an end an association that has gone on happily for many years. In addition to the various books and technical papers of which he was the author, he regularly contributed to the pages of THE ENGINEER. He had an honoured place among those experts upon whom we are able to call for advice and assistance. At all times, Dr. Wimperis was ready to help. We, with many others, remember him gratefully.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1881 Census
  2. 1901 Census
  3. 1911 Census
  4. The Times, Jan 13, 1925
  5. The Engineer 1960/07/22