Andrew McNaughton, outsmarting the enemy

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Photograph of Lieutenant-General Andrew McNaughton taken in March of 1942, a few years before he became Canada's Minister of Defence. From the National Archives of Canada - reference number PA-132648.

Daniel Prinn

Algonquin College Journalism Program

During World War I Andrew McNaughton was an artillery specialist and later a counter-battery staff officer of the Canadian Corps. When most thought locating an enemy’s heavy artillery was simply impossible, McNaughton was able to apply scientific methods of artillery warfare to locate enemy guns.

He used methods such as sound ranging, which was a way of locating the enemy guns by using the data from the sound of the gunfire. McNaughton’s dedication in locating enemy artillery led to him creating the cathode ray detection finder, which would become a necessary component to RADAR. He sold the rights to the cathode ray detection finder to the Government of Canada for a dollar. McNaughton’s scientific innovations gave the Allies a significant advantage in warfare and also allowed fewer casualties. Due to his significant contributions, he became commander of the entire heavy artillery and counter-battery forces of the Canadian Corps in 1918.

Besides his military accomplishments, McNaughton was also an engineer who taught at McGill University in Montreal. He was also able to jumpstart Canadian civil aviation, by training and employing thousands of men during the Great Depression.

Among his other accomplishments, McNaughton was president of the National Research Council of Canada from 1935 to 1939 and the Minister of Defence from 1944 to 1945. He was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1992. McNaughton died four years later.

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