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Supremacy in the skies: Technical innovation helped win the war

In the aftermath of the Second World War, backroom boys who helped make victory possible were led, blinking, from their laboratories, studies and workshops and out into the limelight. For the first time in history boffins were cool and the likes of Barnes Wallis and R.J. Mitchell were portrayed as quiet heroes in such movies as The Dam Busters and The First of the Few

In his new book the American-based British historian Paul Kennedy broadens the category to include a host of characters who were instrumental in solving the major operational challenges confronting the Allies as they forged their victory strategy. The "engineers" of the title are not only boffins, though there are plenty of scientists among them. He uses the word in a wider sense, as someone who "carried through an enterprise through skilful or artful contrivance".

Most people will never have heard of John Randall, Harry Boot or Ronnie Harker. After reading this book you may believe that their part in defeating the Axis was possibly as great as that of some military commanders who are household names.

Randall and Boot miniaturised radar sets so they could be carried by aircraft hunting U-boats and thus contributed vitally to victory in the Battle of the Atlantic — the crucial struggle in the West's war. 

Ronnie Harker was the RAF test pilot who, after taking up an unpromising American-designed fighter, the P-51, perceived in it the potential for greatness. The P-51 became the Mustang, the long-range escort that allowed American bombers to range far into Germany and cripple the Luftwaffe — an essential prerequisite before the Normandy landings could go ahead.

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