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The Papers of Sir Robert Cockburn

Reference Code: GBR/0014/ROCO

Scope and Contents

Papers relating to research in radar, atomic energy and guided weapons


  • Creation: 1928 - 1994

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Sir Robert Cockburn was born in Portsmouth, in 1909, and educated at Southern Secondary School and Municipal College, Portsmouth, and the University of London.

He taught science at West Ham Municipal College, 1930-37. He then joined the Scientific Civil Service at Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, 1937-39 (where he led the team that developed the VHF communications system for air to ground communications which played a vital part in the Battle of Britain) and at the Telecommunications Research Establishment in Swanage, and later Malvern, Worcestershire, 1939-45 (where he led the team charged with devising countermeasures to fool enemy radar systems, including "bending the beams" and the development of "window" or "chaff"). He played the major role in planning the spoof attack across the Channel on D-Day that so confused the enemy that they failed to concentrate their forces to overcome the Allied landings of D-Day in 1944.

He remained in the Civil Service after the war, joining the Atomic Energy Authority team at Harwell, 1945-8. In 1948 he returned to Defence work where he held senior positions including: Scientific Adviser to Air Ministry, 1948-53; Principal Director of Scientific Research (Guided Weapons and Electronics), Ministry of Supply, 1954-55; Deputy Controller and (from 1956) Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics, Ministry of Supply, 1955-59; Chief Scientist of Ministry of Aviation, 1959–64; and Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Aviation and Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, 1964-9.

On his retirement he was appointed a Senior Research Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge, 1970-77; and Chairman, National Computing Centre, 1970-77.

He was awarded the OBE in 1946, the Congressional Medal for Merit, 1947, CB in 1953, and KBE in 1960. He died in March 1994.


6 archive box(es)

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

A copy of this finding aid is available for consultation at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge and the National Register of Archives (NRA), London.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were presented to Churchill Archives Centre by Robert Cockburn in October 1971. Certain items were added by Robert Cockburn at various other dates and by his daughter, Sally Cockburn, in 2007.


This collection (fonds) level description and catalogue was compiled by Andrew Riley of Churchill Archives Centre from an existing list in July 2004. A further addition was made by Sophie Bridges in November 2007. Biographical information was obtained from " Who Was Who 1897-1996" (A & C Black).


Cockburn, Sir Robert, 1909-1994, Knight, physicist

2004-07-05 11:25:38+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087