World War 2

Pye employees in their reserve company of soldiers, marching in St Andrews Road, Cambridge

Towards the end of the 1930s the world was on the brink of what was to become known as World War 2. 

Pye was prepared and happy to throw its significant technical and manufacturing resources behind the country's war effort.


During WW2 Pye Ltd applied its drive, enthusiasm and industrial experience in both radio and TV in support of the Allied Armed Forces and made a vital contribution to the war effort in the areas of:

Ground Radar

Airborne Radar

Army wireless sets

 Artillery proximity fuze

Microwave radio-relay

Test & Measurement equipment

Thermionic valve development

1944 Wireless Set No. 10

First mobile microwave radio relay-link

The Vital Component for the War Effort

Pye needed an RF amplifier valve with excellent high frequency properties for their television development. Pye contacted Philips Research Labs in the Netherlands who were developing the EE50 valve. Pye proposed modifications to the design of this valve to improve its performance and it was renamed the EF50.

EF50 Valve

In Spring 1939, government scientists were researching airborne radar for the war effort. They needed to find ways of considerably extending the range of these radar systems.

Visiting Cambridge, they found that the TV receiver Pye had developed was ideal for this purpose and promptly placed orders for this ‘Pye Strip’ as it became known.

The "Pye Strip"

The Pye TV receiver using the new EF50 valves became the key component of all World War Two VHF radar receivers. For instance, between 1939 and 1941 Pye designed, produced and installed 3000 airborne interception radar receivers and indicator units in night fighters.

All manner of communication equipment and radar systems were rapidly developed for the military effort.

The entire Pye TV section was turned over to the development of radar: newsreels of the era highlighted that Pye’s TV valve and chassis were the basis of all radar sets built by hundreds of companies during the Second World War. 

In radio communications, Pye’s radio designs became the design template for radio sets built by the Allies due to their high-quality, low-cost of manufacture and ease of mass-reproduction. 

Other technologies led to proximity fuses for anti-aircraft artillery shells  used in the battle for the skies. The proximity fuse was a miniature radio transmitter and receiver/detector fitted in the nose of an anti-aircraft shell, which detonated when close to the aircraft.


Amazingly the army handset that was developed went on to produce the very first mobile 'phone for the public.

Pye workers using the Sawston Bakery for assembly work

During the war, the Government tried to persuade vital companies to relocate to "safer" areas of the country, such as Wales or the West Country. CO Stanley proclaimed that Pye was "Pye of Cambridge, not Pye of Swansea". 

As a consequence the Village Industries scheme was set up in 1940, with components and sub-assemblies being made in various village locations around Cambridge for final delivery to Pye. This employed up to 14,000 trained workers at its peak and would provide a ready-made workforce following the war years.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Pye formed its own Home Guard unit to protect its own factories and the surrounding areas and inhabitants of Cambridge. 

They are seen here outside the Pye factories in St Andrews Road, Cambridge.

By the end of the war the government rewarded the outstanding work of the Pye company with an award of £200,000 (approximately £8.7M today) and a separate award of £20,000  (£870,000 today) to be shared by the development "boffins". Considerable amounts of money in real terms for the 1940s.