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Lindemann, Frederick Alexander, 1st Viscount Cherwell

churchill germany atomic lindemann’s

(1886–1957) British physicist: personal scientific adviser to Churchill in the Second World War.

Lindemann’s background, talents and position were all unusual. His father, a prosperous engineer, emigrated to the UK from Alsace rather than become a German citizen after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Lindemann studied physics in France and Germany, took a doctorate with in 1910 and in the First World War worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough on the problem of how to take an aircraft out of an uncontrolled spin, a situation often fatal for the pilot. He learned to fly, despite poor sight, and personally tested and proved his theory on the spin problem.

In 1919 he became professor of physics at Oxford and head of its run-down Clarendon Laboratory, which he built up to effectiveness and a leading position in low temperature physics. Although he made valuable contributions to the theory of specific heats (he proved that the melting point of a crystal depends on the amplitude of the atomic vibrations), to several laboratory instruments and even to pure mathematics and chemical kinetics, his attitude to science was that of a keen amateur.

As an amateur tennis player he had to leave his first prize behind after the European Tournament in Germany in July 1914 in order to return hastily to the UK. He competed at Wimbledon while he was an Oxford professor. His Rolls-Royce cars formed a travelling office, and his aristocratic friends included Churchill from 1921. The novelist Vita Sackville-West wrote in 1925 that at a large house-party at Blenheim she sat between Churchill and ‘a scientist called Lindemann who is absolutely thrilling’. When Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, Lindemann became his independent scientific adviser, at times in conflict with his old friend H Tizard (1885–1959), the government’s senior scientist. With the advantage of hindsight, it is clear that Tizard was right to give very high priority to radar in air defence, and Lindemann’s opposition was wrong; the latter was probably in error also in his belief that heavy bombing of Germany was a direct route to victory (Tizard believed that air defence of Atlantic shipping was more valuable).

Churchill frequently preferred ‘the prof’s’ advice, including for example Lindemann’s enthusiasm for heavy area bombing. He was a minister (Paymaster-General) from 1942–5 and 1951–3, and he largely created the UK Atomic Energy Authority in 1954, having been involved in the decision to make the atomic bomb. He became Baron Cherwell in 1941, resumed his professorship in 1953 and was made a viscount in 1956.

Lindo, Delroy (1952–) [next] [back] Lindblad, Bertil

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