Britain and Germany fought a ‘battle of the beams’ in the opening years of World War Two. Chris Goss describes the technological contest.

More than 500 bombers blitzed Coventry on the night of November 14, 1940, starting a firestorm which brought about a temporary collapse of social order. Large sections of the West Midlands industrial city were flattened in the raid, the most infamous of the war so far.

The Luftwaffe had flown some 300 miles (482km) in darkness from bases in northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands to ‘blind bomb’ their target, and achieved great accuracy by ‘following the beam’. Bomber aircrews had earlier relied on good visibility to identify targets and drop bombs, but mass daylight raids had failed during the Battle of Britain and new tactics were needed.

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