A Radio Story, of sorts

I am coming up to the anniversary of a 'Posting of a Lifetime'. It is somewhere where those of us lucky enough to get it never thought they would, because most of us thought we were doomed to the BAOR/UK/NI round of postings.

But before I tell you where it was, I would like to say that I am not going to talk about what 'The Posting' was like. No, there you will have to ask those who were out there, or read some very good books that have been written about it. What I want to talk about is more to do with the radio systems that we used.


1960s-1970s BAOR:

Larkspur radios; D11, C11/R210, C42, C45. Turn-and-turn-and-turn the knob tuning to get to the right frequency for the transmitter, then the same thing on the receiver side of the radio - or the other way round, can't remember which. DM box - instead of J1 box - when working secure. On REBROS, NO BID150 in the early days, so all we heard for hour after hour on the working nets, was the Beep/Beep/Beep/Beep from the DM box. To pass the time on the night shift, one counted the Beeps, to see how long it took until they were synchronized and then went apart again. I'm sure there are some operators who became psychologically ill after years on that job!

Then the 27ft masts, that froze in the winter but still had to be brought down every time on changing frequency, so that the rod antenna length could be changed. In winter this could involve a mast hammer, or even a blow torch to get the sections to move! In summer the locking rings did not 'lock' tightly enough, even after using the mast hammer again, and the top sections would cascade down and ram into the skin of your hand between thumb and first finger!

Well lets get 'The Posting' out of the way first and go back to the start of 1971. Great Britain is thinking of pulling out East of Suez. To put it nicely, Australia and New Zealand are not at all happy about it, as they think the “Red Threat” was as bad as ever and - to keep it short - persuade the UK to keep a force available.

The UK agrees, only if Australia is willing to put the equipment and organisation up front, which they agreed to do.

In February, I get called into the Sqn office of 4 Sqn, 7 Signal Regt in BFPO 15, Herford, and the OC informs me that I have a posting to 28 ANZUK Bde. HQ and Signal Sqn. and at the same time says that he had never heard of it himself and had to phone RHQ to find out where the hell it was.

Singapore - 'Posting of a Lifetime'.

At that time it was 28 Commonwealth Bde, run by the Brits, spread over Malay and Singapore. It would become smaller, pulled back to Singapore and renamed 28 ANZUK (another name for 'Commonwealth') Bde and run by the Aussies. ANZUK: (Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom).

Now, we are still at the beginning of 1971 here and the YoS of 4 Sqn is walking around Sqn HQ with glassy eyes and a glossy photo magazine in his hand, stuffing it under the noses of anyone who comes within arms reach of him. And NO it is not one of THOSE sort of glossy photo magazines! It has pictures, yes, of soldiers, wearing 'Camouflaged' combat kit - at that time we all had GREEN combat kit, kneeling down in front of small radios with lots of small knobs and things on them, or sitting in the back of Land Rovers looking at middle size radios, also with lots of small knobs and things on them. On reading the text it turns out that these were to be the new 'Clansman' range of 'Solid State' radios with 'Dial-a-Frequency' tuning, to take us radio operators into a new era of Communications!

Wow!! When?? (Time and date, 'Open')

Lets move on to August 1971. I have been in Singapore now for about two weeks. Meet up with my new found Commonwealth (ANZUK) Royal Signals friends and we are spending most of the day at the moment sitting around playing cards and talking about things UK or Aus or NZ, not knowing anything about the others way of military life as of yet. We have just one (Australian) Land Rover, no radios, no antennas and no other equipment. All the British Army equipment has been sent back to the UK and all the Australian equipment was on a ship coming from Australia. Tom Foody, the troop (Brit) SSgt, or Lt Donaldson (Brit), the troop OC - unfortunately he died much too soon - would stick their heads in now and again and say there was a job to be done down at RAF Changi, or up at the Naval Base, or down to the city and we would all jump up and down to volunteer. Then one morning all the drivers were told to jump onto a 4 tonner and off we went to the Naval Base: the ship had arrived - it's Christmas Time!

We came back with Land Rovers (Australian type). The difference? Australian Land Rovers had a Kangaroo Bar at the front, no tail gate at the back - where our tail gate would have been, was a 10cm raised lip to stop anything sliding out the back, the vehicle voltage was 12V - battery under the bonnet - while the radio systems were 24V.

And then we opened the boxes with the radios in them. Now that was a real surprise. None of us Brits had ever seen anything like these radios, although one did actually look familiar. In fact most of us Brits had seen it at one time or another. In the Vietnam war newsreel films. It was what all the Americans were carrying around on their backs and now we had a name for it: PRC 77. Battery powered VHF manpack set that could also be fitted into a vehicle harness where it became a PRC 160 and of course - here it comes - 'Dial-a-Frequency' settings. Two small chunky tuning knobs, a volume knob, Frequency change knob, to change from high band to low band, a squelch knob and a settings knob - on/off, REBRO, local etc. This small manpack radio had the frequency range of our Larkspur C42 and C45 combined plus a bit more, I think up to mid 70 something Mhz! It may not have been 'Solid State' technology like the 'Clansman system' would be but hey were talking about 1971 here! The vehicle antenna tuned automatically and one did not have to pull the antenna mast down to change the antenna length. What more could you want!

Then came the various HF radios. PRC 47, a low power, sealed, 24V vehicle or man portable system, that had a fan adaptor if working FSK. A high powered HF vehicle mounted radio PRC 106(??). All 'Dial-a-Frequency'. Lastly, and I think this was a NZ radio, a small manpack HF set - similar to the Clansman PRC 320 but, for the early 1970s, oh-so-cool. Camouflage painted - even the whip antenna was camouflaged - a very small bakelite morse key with knee strap and - this really was something to be seen for 1971 - flat, sealed, RECHARGABLE bakelite batteries. There was a charging rack with maybe 8 batteries that one could connect to a charging generator in the field or be plugged into the mains in a building. A teleprinter that had a tape/print system that printed the typed message along one side of the tape - offset by a few rows - to facilitate error finding on the tape.

Thank you to the Australian Royal Corps of Signals for a (1970s) RADIO experience!

One last Germany/Singapore thing here.

Back in BAOR, 7 Sigs, I worked on a REBRO. Land Rover, with NO heaters in the driver compartment and NO hardtop. Driving around the hills of North Germany in winter freezing everything off!

In the first few weeks in Singapore the MAOT team operators were told to go down to RAF Changi and pick up their RAF MAOT equipment which included an RAF (British type) Land Rover. When the guys came back later in the day, we were flabbergasted to find they had a HARDTOP Land Rover WITH A HEATER in the front! (In Singapore!!??). Typical RAF!

It was during my time in Singapore that the Royal Signals decided to change its Operator Trade structure. The then 'Radio Operator Driver' and 'Radio Relay Operator' would combine to became Combat Radioman taking in both Radio Relay and VHF Net Radio, with NO HF radio or CW training. As the time drew near for the change to happen there was a bit of a problem in Singapore. There were no Royal Signals Training facilities, let alone any Radio Relay equipment to retrain on. So, where is the next Royal Signals Training Wing? Well the nearest was over 2500km away in Hong Kong! So in 1973 all the Radio Operators in Singapore were sent to the Gurkha Signals Training Centre in the New Territories in Hong Kong. The only Radio Relay equipment they had was the C41 with the 1+4. All Land Rover mounted with the generator and antenna in trailers. A great time was had by all! And we learnt some Radio Relay procedures at the same time.

Then came the first change over postings. Two Radio Operator Drivers and one RTG out and two Combat Radiomen and a Telegraph Operator in. Worked fine, until the Combat Radiomen were sent up country on a rear link job. Most of the rear links back to HQ in Singapore, were HF voice and CW. The Combat Radiomen were both Ex Radio Relay Operators who did not know a dit from a dah, thought HF might have something to do with a stereo amplifier and as soon as the HF voice transmissions went out in the early evenings and CW had to be used, were left twiddling their thumbs. Needless to say there was a quick change of personnel up country.

And what happened to my Clansman experience? The first time I got to really use Clansman was in 1982 as an RLD Det. Comd. with 1 Bn. Queens Own Highlanders. It was April 1982 and the Bn. had only been back from Hong Kong since the end of December. You wake up one morning and there is a war on! Of course every Commanding Officer worth his salt is shouting as loud as he can to get his Bn down to the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately the 1 Queens Own Highlanders were not quite battle ready. But every morning from April until June, the Signal Platoon boys would say to me, "We're going!", and every morning I would answer, "No we're not, yet". They asked me how I could be so sure. I told them it was very simple: the task force were all using Clansman and we had Larkspur - C42/C45/C11 - radios. Then one morning a signal came through telling us to go down to an RAOC Dept. and pick up our Bn increment of Clansman radios. That's when I told them; "We're going!".

So, for me it was all of 11 years from a glassy eyed YoS with a glossy magazine to getting my hands on these, new 'Clansman, Solid State, Dial-a-Frequency' radio systems, and actually using them.

Don Blacklaw - 25th June 2021