Operational Research methods were developed during the second World War as analysts undertook a number of crucial projects 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. The O.R. teams showed that the losses suffered by convoys depended largely on the number of escort vessels present, rather than on the overall size of the convoy. Their conclusion, therefore, was that a few large convoys are more defensible than many small ones.
Throughout the war, O.R. scientists looked for ways to make better decisions in such areas as logistics and training schedules. After the war it soon became evident that O.R. techniques could be applied to similar problems in industry.
For further information, why not take a look at the world's only official national O.R. archive, which is the O.R. and OR Society Archive based at the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick and also available online.