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The Viscount Cherwell

Born 5 April 1886
Baden-Baden, Germany
Died 3 July 1957 (aged 71)
Fields Physics
Institutions 1915–1919: Royal Aircraft Factory
1919–1940, 1945–tbd: Oxford University
1940[1] 1940–1945: MD1
Doctoral advisor Walther Nernst, University of Berlin
Doctoral students Reginald Victor Jones[2]
Known for Dehousing paper
Lindemann mechanism
Lindemann index
1911: Attended Solvay Conference

Frederick Alexander Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell FRS PC CH (5 April 1886 – 3 July 1957) was an English physicist who was an influential scientific adviser to the British government, particularly Winston Churchill. He advocated the wartime carpet bombing of German cities, and was a strong doubter of the existence of the Nazi "V" weapons programme.


Early life, family and personality

Frederick was the second of three sons of Adolphus Frederick Lindemann, who had emigrated to the United Kingdom circa 1871[3] and become naturalised.[4] Frederick was born in Baden-Baden in Germany where his American mother Olga Noble, the widow of a wealthy banker, was taking "the cure".

After schooling in Scotland and Darmstadt, he attended the University of Berlin. He did research in physics at the Sorbonne that confirmed theories, first put forward by Albert Einstein, on specific heats at very low temperatures.[2] For this and other scientific work, Lindemann was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920.[5]

Lindemann was a teetotaler, non-smoker, and a vegetarian, although Churchill would sometimes induce him to take a glass of brandy. He was an excellent pianist, and sufficiently able as a tennis player to compete at Wimbledon.[6]

World War I and Oxford University

At the outbreak of World War I, Lindemann was playing tennis in Germany and had to leave in haste to avoid internment. In 1915, he joined the staff of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. He developed a mathematical theory of aircraft spin recovery, and later learned to fly so that he could test his ideas himself.[1] Prior to Lindemann's work, a spinning aircraft was almost invariably fatal.

In 1919 Lindemann was appointed professor of experimental philosophy at Oxford University and director of the Clarendon Laboratory, largely on the recommendation of Henry Tizard who had been a colleague in Berlin.[2] In 1919, Lindemann was one of the first people to suggest that in the solar wind particles of both polarities, protons as well as electrons, come from the Sun.[7] He was probably not aware that Kristian Birkeland had made the same prediction three years earlier in 1916.

Lindemann's opposed the UK General Strike of 1926 and mobilised the reluctant staff of the Clarendon to produce copies of Churchill's anti-strike newspaper, the British Gazette. He was also alarmed and fearful of political developments in Germany.[2]

In the 1930s, Lindemann advised Winston Churchill when the latter was not in Government and leading a campaign for rearmament. Lindemann also helped a number of German Jewish physicists, primarily at the University of Göttingen, emigrate to England to work in the Clarendon Laboratory.[1]


World War II

When Churchill became Prime Minister, he appointed Lindemann as the British government's leading scientific adviser, with David Bensusan-Butt as his private secretary,[8] and later to the ministerial post of Paymaster-General. He would hold this office again in Churchill's peacetime administration (1951-3[9]). At this point Lindemann was known to many simply as the Prof.[2]

Lindemann established a special statistical branch, known as 'S-Branch', within the government, constituted from subject specialists, and reporting directly to Churchill. This branch distilled thousands of sources of data into succinct charts and figures, so that the status of the nation's food supplies (for example) could be instantly evaluated. Lindemann's statistical branch often caused tensions between government departments, but because it allowed Churchill to make quick decisions based on accurate data which directly affected the war effort, its importance should not be underestimated.[2]

In 1940, Lindemann joined experimental department MD1.[1] He worked on hollow charge weapons, the sticky bomb and other new weapons. General Ismay, who supervised MD1, recalled:

Churchill used to say that the Prof’s brain was a beautiful piece of mechanism, and the Prof did not dissent from that judgement. He seemed to have a poor opinion of the intellect of everyone with the exception of Lord Birkenhead, Mr Churchill and Professor Lindemann; and he had a special contempt for the bureaucrat and all his ways. The Ministry of Supply and the Ordnance Board were two of his pet aversions, and he derived a great deal of pleasure from forestalling them with new inventions. In his appointment as Personal Assistant to the Prime Minister no field of activity was closed to him. He was as obstinate as a mule, and unwilling to admit that there was any problem under the sun which he was not qualified to solve. He would write a memorandum on high strategy one day, and a thesis on egg production on the next. He seemed to try to give the impression of wanting to quarrel with everybody, and of preferring everyone’s room to their company; but once he had accepted a man as a friend, he never failed him, and there are many of his war-time colleagues who will ever remember him with deep personal affection. He hated Hitler and all his works, and his contribution to Hitler’s downfall in all sorts of odd ways was considerable.[10]

He has been described as having "an almost pathological hatred for Nazi Germany, and an almost medieval desire for revenge was a part of his character".[11]

Strategic bombing

Following the Air Ministry Area bombing directive on 12 February 1942, Lindemann presented the dehousing paper to Churchill on 30 March 1942, which advocated area bombardment of German cities to break the spirit of the people.[12] Lindemann also played a key part in the battle of the beams, providing insight on how the Germans were using radio navigation to increase the precision of their bombing campaigns.[2]

Lindemann also repeatedly made arguments against V-2 rocket evidence, such as inaccurately claiming "to put a four-thousand horsepower turbine in a twenty-inch space is lunacy: it couldn't be done, Mr. Lubbock" and that at the end of the war, the committee would find that the rocket was "a mare's nest".[13] p. 159 A pivotal exchange where Churchill rebuffed Lindemann occurred at the Cabinet Defence Committee (Operations) on 29 June 1943 and which was dramatized in the film Operation Crossbow.


Lindemann enthusiastically supported the controversial Morgenthau Plan, which Churchill subsequently endorsed on 15 September 1944.[14]

Following his 1945 return to Clarendon Laboratory, Lindemann created the Atomic Energy Authority.[2]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir William Jowitt
Succeeded by
Preceded by
The Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor
Succeeded by
The Earl of Selkirk
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Viscount Cherwell Succeeded by
Extinct (no male heir)[2]

References and Notes

  1. ^ a b c d Thomson, George; William Farren (1958). "Fredrick Alexander Lindemann, Viscount Cherwell". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (London: Royal Society) 4: p. 54,56,63.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Blake, R (2004). "Lindemann, Frederick Alexander, Viscount Cherwell (1886–1957)" (html (subscription or UK public library membership required)). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.  
  3. ^ Berman, R. (June 1987). "Lindemann in Physics". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 41 (2): 181 – 189. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1987.0004.  
  4. ^ Crowther, J. G. (1965). Statesmen of Science. London: Cresset Press. pp. 339 – 376.   - See especially p. 343.
  5. ^ "Lists of Royal Society Fellows 1660-2007". Retrieved 2008-12-21.  
  6. ^ Alexander, Robert Charles (2000). The Inventor of Stereo: The Life and Works of Alan Dower Blumlein. Oxford, England: Focal Press. p. 238. ISBN 0240516281.  
  7. ^ Lindemann, F. (December 1919). "On the Solar Wind". Philosophical Magazine, Series 6 38 (228): 674.  
  8. ^ Fort, A. (2004). Prof: The Life and Times of Frederick Lindemann. Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-4007-X.   - See p. 237.
  9. ^ Fort, p. 318
  10. ^ Ismay, General Lord (1960). The Memoirs of Lord Ismay. Heinemann.   - See especially p. 173
  11. ^ Wheeler-Bennett, J. W. & Nicholls, A. (1972). The Semblance of Peace. London. ISBN 0-333-04302-2.   - See p. 179
  12. ^ "Blitzed by guidebook". BBC News. 27 March 2002. Retrieved 2008-06-19.  
  13. ^ Irving, David (1964). The Mare's Nest. London: William Kimber and Co. p. 159.  
    NOTE: Macrae's 1971 p. 170 absolute claim that "Prof certainly never suggested that nothing need be done about the V weapons; on the contrary he was always urging us to try to think up some brilliant counter measure against it which we were unable to do." differs with the official records (meeting minutes, etc.) that indicate otherwise.
  14. ^ Irving, David (1986). "Introduction". The Morgenthau Plan. Focal Point. Retrieved 2008-06-19.  

Further reading

  • Furneaux-Smith, F., Earl of Birkenhead (1961). The Professor and the Prime Minister: The Official Life of Professor F. A. Lindemann Viscount Cherwell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.  
  • Harrod, R. F. (1959). The Prof: A Personal Memoir of Lord Cherwell. London: Macmillan.  
  • Macrae, Stuart (1971). Winston Churchill's Toyshop. Roundwood Press. SBN 900093-22-6.  
  • Snow, C. P. (1961). Science and Government. London: Harvard University Press.  
  • Wilson, Thomas (1995). Churchill and the Prof. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-34615-2.  


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