During World War II, a small group of British and American scientists worked tirelessly to defeat the German U-boats that were wreaking havoc on allied commerce. Armed with a dogged determination and a fair amount of mathematics, physics and probability theory, they forged the new field of operational research and forever changed how wars were fought and won.
At their head was Patrick Blackett, a former naval officer who would go on to win the 1948 Nobel Prize for physics. Today’s guest, Stephen Budiansky, chronicled Blackett’s efforts in his new book titled Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare.
In March 1941, German submarines — the infamous U-boats that were first utilized to such devastating effect in World War I — were sinking dozens of freighters in an effort to bring Britain to its knees. In an attempt to turn the tide, the British War Cabinet hired ardent socialist Blackett to wage (and ultimately win) a massive defensive push using tactics ranging from changing the color of bomber wings to reconfiguring the size of ocean convoys.
Budiansky is the author of 14 books about military history, espionage, science and the natural world. A graduate of Yale and Harvard, his writing has appeared in many national publications. In 2011, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship to complete his biography of the American composer Charles Ives, which is being published by the University Press of New England.
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