Carrots, Eyesight, and Radar

Speaking of information warfare…

I can’t find a primary source right now, but Google certainly asserts that carrots aren’t as good for your night vision as we’ve been taught.

During the Second World War, the Allies didn’t want the Germans to find out about radar (but see update). They needed a way to explain how RAF pilots could “see” in the dark. Someone came up with the story that the pilots had a diet high in carrots, and this allowed them to see in the dark…

*Update:* Propaganda, propaganda everywhere, and nary a drop to drink :-).

As with all stories, the truth is a little muddier. The Allies, Germans, and Russians all had radar before the war (as Jeff comments). However, for the usual political reasons, only the Allies developed it for tactical use, building a network of radar stations blanketing the coast. Intel from several sources, including the radar net, was relayed “within minutes” to fighter squadrons. This rapid use of intel, combined with a tight command and control structure, is what tipped the balance in favour of the Allies during the Battle of Britain; radar was a relatively small component of this system.

Germany had better technology at the start of the war, but failed to capitalise:

bq. Hitler and Göring disdained [radar] as a mainly defensive weapon. Besides, they harbored a deep mistrust of scientists and engineers. Interservice rivalries and the hidebound traditions of the officer corps also hampered progress. It was not until 1944 that an air defense system as effective as Dowding’s went into operation in Germany.

There are ironies in the situation, too. The Germans tried to determine the purpose of the giant radio towers on the British coast, but since German scientists had discounted HF as “useless for radar”, they never figured it out. On the other hand, the Allies lost far more planes than they should have during the late part of the war. The Germans had finally started using radar defensively, but the Brits continued to deny German radar capabilities, and sent unescorted bomber squadrons straight into German defensive radar…

The fact remains, however, that the whole carrot story was deliberate mis-information to protect the secret of the British use of radar…

Some more references:

* “A Radar History of World War II: Technical and Military Imperatives”: (actually a book review, not primary source material).
* “Deflating British Radar Myths of World War II”:

posted at 12:25 am on Monday, September 29, 2003 in Random Thoughts, Science and Technology | Comments (2)


  1. jok says:

    That’s total and complete hogwash. The Germans were heavily into radar before and during WWII.

  2. jok says:

    If you search for “carrots” you will see that it was a story concocted for fooling Brits, not Germans. There’s probably more to this story, but off to work I go…

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