Operational Research: During World War- II

Operational research (OR) encompasses the development and the use of a wide range of problem-solving techniques and methods applied in the pursuit of improved decision-making and efficiency, such as simulationmathematical optimizationqueuing theory and other stochastic-process models, Markov decision processeseconometric methodsdata envelopment analysisneural networksexpert systemsdecision analysis, and the analytic hierarchy process.  Nearly all of these techniques involve the construction of mathematical models that attempt to describe the system. Because of the computational and statistical nature of most of these fields, OR also has strong ties to computer science and analytics. Operational researchers faced with a new problem must determine which of these techniques are most appropriate given the nature of the system, the goals for improvement, and constraints on time and computing power, or develop a new technique specific to the problem at hand.

World War- II

The modern field of operational research arose during World War II. In the World War II era, operational research was defined as “a scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control”.

During the Second World War close to 1,000 men and women in Britain were engaged in operational research. About 200 operational research scientists worked for the British Army.

Patrick Blackett worked for several different organizations during the war. Early in the war while working for the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) he set up a team known as the “Circus” which helped to reduce the number of anti-aircraft artillery rounds needed to shoot down an enemy aircraft from an average of over 20,000 at the start of the Battle of Britain to 4,000 in 1941.

In 1941, Blackett moved from the RAE to the Navy, after first working with RAF Coastal Command, in 1941 and then early in 1942 to the Admiralty. Blackett’s team at Coastal Command’s Operational Research Section (CC-ORS) included two future Nobel prize winners and many other people who went on to be pre-eminent in their fields. They undertook a number of crucial analyses that aided the war effort. Britain introduced the convoy system to reduce shipping losses, but while the principle of using warships to accompany merchant ships was generally accepted, it was unclear whether it was better for convoys to be small or large. Convoys travel at the speed of the slowest member, so small convoys can travel faster. It was also argued that small convoys would be harder for German U-boats to detect. On the other hand, large convoys could deploy more warships against an attacker. Blackett’s staff showed that the losses suffered by convoys depended largely on the number of escort vessels present, rather than the size of the convoy. Their conclusion was that a few large convoys are more defensible than many small ones.

The “exchange rate” ratio of output to input was a characteristic feature of operational research. By comparing the number of flying hours put in by Allied aircraft to the number of U-boat sightings in a given area, it was possible to redistribute aircraft to more productive patrol areas. Comparison of exchange rates established “effectiveness ratios” useful in planning. The ratio of 60 mines laid per ship sunk was common to several campaigns: German mines in British ports, British mines on German routes, and United States mines in Japanese routes.

Operational research doubled the on-target bomb rate of B-29s bombing Japan from the Marianas Islands by increasing the training ratio from 4 to 10 percent of flying hours; revealed that wolf-packs of three United States submarines were the most effective number to enable all members of the pack to engage targets discovered on their individual patrol stations; revealed that glossy enamel paint was more effective camouflage for night fighters than traditional dull camouflage paint finish, and a smooth paint finish increased airspeed by reducing skin friction.

On land, the operational research sections of the Army Operational Research Group (AORG) of the Ministry of Supply (MoS) were landed in Normandy in 1944, and they followed British forces in the advance across Europe. They analyzed, among other topics, the effectiveness of artillery, aerial bombing and anti-tank shooting.

Thanks and Regards

Prof. Dr. Praphull Chhabra,
Department of Mathematics and Statistics,
University of Engineering & Management (UEM), Jaipur



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