Bulletin: 2nd November 2016

Proposed Changes to C3S Trade

According to Lt Col Stu Brown SO1 RESTORe writing in the Sapper, along with a raft of changes proposed or in progress across a wide variety of trades, the C3S trade is due change.

The corps would like the trade to take on the management and exploitation of information across the corps.  If successful they would lead the army in professionalising this increasingly complex role in a digital army.  In addition the corps are looking to include ME (C3S) soldiers in a trial to go for selection for employment in Cyber Defence in 2017.

Stuart Dixon

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Army Signals in World War One and the role of the Royal Engineers

Introduction
This bulletin is inspired by a series of articles reproduced by the Royal Signals Amateur Radio Society and Published in their journal – Mercury, numbers 172 to 174 in 2016, the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

These articles covered the formation of Military Signalling prior to 1908 during the Crimean and Boer wars as described by the Royal Signals Museum. They focus on the duties performed by Sappers of the Royal Engineers during World War One, with thanks to WAP Weale, GW0WEE who’s introduction is below. This provides links to further accounts of the sappers themselves made available via the world wide web.

Pre World War One – Organisation
14484776_10154135290989751_754980199789314715_nIn 1908 the Telegraph Battalion Royal Engineers based at Aldershot and two companies based in London for telegraph and postal duties formed the nucleus of the Royal Engineers (RE) Signal Service. This organisation provided for the army’s signalling requirements throughout the First World War, it provided motorcycle dispatch riders, and eventually the wireless as it was introduced into warfare however the majority of messages were passed via telephone, heliograph and flags.

 

 

Communications Organisation in 1914
The RE Signals Service, in most cases, was split into smaller units, none bigger than Company size, and attached to Divisions, Corps and Army HQs. As they were attached to the fighting portions of Divisions, so men of the Signals Service saw action and were involved in most battles.

line-laying-team

Line Laying Team

In 1914 each infantry division included a signals company of approximately 162 men, organised into a Company HQ and four sections. No.1 section was responsible for Divisional HQ communications, and Nos 2-4 sections with the divisional brigades.

 

 

 

The normal composition of each divisional company was something in the order of an Officer Commanding (Major), four Lieutenants, one for each section, twenty-five other ranks at Divisional HQ and 132 other ranks spread across the remainder of the division and brigade HQs.

Transportation and Personal Equipment
Signals Companies used horses for transport and had an establishment of about thirty-three riding horses, forty-seven draught horses and four pack horses. Additionally, they had thirty-two pedal cycles and nine motor cycles. With the exception of the Trumpeter, all ranks were armed as infantrymen and carried the Rifle, Short Magazine, Lee Enfield (SMLE) widely known as “the smelly”.

Duties
The most common duties associated with the Signals Service were laying communications wire (over which the telegraph was employed); operating same; repairing same, carrying messages (either on foot or by horse) handling and dispatching of mail (both official and private); constant trade practice and of course the inevitable trench digging and maintenance which they shared with their infantry colleagues. There was also mundane guard duties and maintenance of their horses and equipment.

Artillery Spotting

 

Signallers were also used in forward positions to assist the artillery and provide information on their enemy targets. In these, often isolated, positions the signaller became vulnerable to enemy fire, and many signallers lost their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Further Accounts:

  • A personal memoir and biography describing the duties of Sapper Arthur Haletrap MBE during world war one can be read here
  • B. Neyland served from September 1916 to December 1919 as a Sapper, in a Royal Engineers (Signals), Wireless Section and his account is posted here.
  • An account by Mike Gater of his father, 252696 Sapper Gater RE is given here.
signalscorporaltrenchwarfare

RE Signals Corporal Operating Trench Wireless

Wireless
With the gradual introduction of the wireless as the war developed so the Signals Companies embraced this new technique. But it never replaced the reliability at the front line of the telegraph in this conflict.  It took some time for commanders and signallers to understand what wireless offered them, and its limitations. For example, while intercept of telephone was common it took time to realise that wireless transmissions could be intercepted by the enemy. (However see here for a more in depth view).

 

Alternative Means of Communication
Where landlines were unavailable or broken by shellfire alternative methods of communication were used. Semaphore, using the army’s one-flag system, was also in use in the early part of the war but was subsequently banned in the trenches as its use was guaranteed to attract enemy fire! Out of sight of the enemy, visual signalling was used which made use of light, either from sunlight (the heliograph) or at night using Lucas Lamps. In all cases messages were sent in Morse Code.

officerusing-fullephone

An Officer using the Fullerphone

The standard field telephone used with landlines consisted of a wooden box containing two dry cells, a magnet generator, polarised bell, induction coil testing plug and a hand-held telephone C Mk 1. Towards the end of 1916 these were being replaced by the Fullerphone and by 1918 many divisions adopted them in their forward positions.

 

Command and Control in 1916

It wasn’t until the 1920s that command and control systems developed into what they are today. As mobile warfare using the tank developed so did the use of radio. The most quoted example of modern mobile warfare is the Blitzkrieg in which combined operations were coordinated by the prolific use of radio. But it is noted line, and dispatch riders also play significant roles as alternative means of communication.
Up until this time it is poignant to consider the traffic handling capabilities of the message handling systems in World War 1. Commanders had a daunting amount of written correspondence to sift through, to glean intelligence and plan operations.

The amount and volume of messaging often led commanders to the point of breakdown and when the army moved to attack, it often had no idea about the size and location of enemy troops until it came upon them, such was the situation at the battle of the Somme in 1916.

We will remember them.

Stuart Dixon

The author acknowledges the Imperial War Museum for its creative commons media and is grateful to Mike Collins for his images used in this article.

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Bulletin: 24th October 2016

Incoming Communications

Please view the following links and respond by Monday 31st October for the proposed trip to NMA – this has the makings of a good day out for not a lot of money:

South East Group Annual General Meeting Minutes

Proposed SE Group trip to the National Arboretum 2017

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Bulletin: 20th October 2016

20161013_102701 Radio Branch Flies its Flag at Key Corps Events

During October the Radio Branch attended several key meetings of the REA and were invited to a VVIP Visit.  Read about it here.

Don’t forget 2016 subscriptions are due.

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Bulletin: 8th October 2016

Minutes of the 69th Meeting of the REA Council

These were recently published by HQREA.

Key Points:

  • Funds are available for projects in the coming year and how to apply.
  • Funding the corps memorial at the national arboretum
  • HQ REA Staffing Review
  • Benevolence in the eight months up until August 2016
  • Vote to make a new £3K Grant to Blind Veterans UK
  • Report on Corps Affairs, Finance and projected budget
  • Guidance on legacy donations
  • Funding REVETT – Mapping RE Trades to Civilian Qualifications
  • REA Membership Scoping Study
  • REA Risk Register
  • REA 5 Year Strategic Review
  • Roles of Trustees
  • AGM Agenda
  • Committee Changes (Trustees)
  • Next Meeting in May 2017
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Bulletin: 29th August 2016

Item 1 – Subscriptions

A big Thank You to the twenty branch members who are up to date with their annual subscriptions.

If you are in the majority of members in arrears then would you please forward your £2 Annual subscription? You can use e-banking or send a cheque to Mike Gater, the treasurer.

Item 2 – Active Membership

Paying subscriptions is one way of showing the branch support but it also helps us, and the REA to gauge its active members.  Recently membership of ex-service organisations like us has taken on increasing importance, as the health and welfare of the military community and the services which support the military covenant are under the spotlight.

Veterans Organisations like the REA need to be able to respond with accurate information and must be able to gauge their size, and impact and also maintain contact with the community.

Social Media

Social Media like Facebook is a great way to keep in touch and more and more members and non members of the branch are showing up this way. On Facebook the REA recently called for sapper social media participants to keep an eye out for ex sappers who could be in difficulty and to feed back information.

Not a Member?  If you are reading this via Facebook or have just tuned into this Blog, and are eligible to become a member, the branch needs your support – Please Join Here

Active Membership Information

The difficulty of tracking which branch members are Active within the REA was highlighted this year.  The branch can only contribute sensibly to the annual REA Membership Census if it has reliable up to date information.  This year  the branch concluded it must work to improve its membership information before the next census.

With that in mind, all members are requested to please complete the update form HERE.

This will help to fill a number of gaps and improve communications going forward.

Best Wishes,

Stuart Dixon,

Branch Secretary

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Bulletin: 28th August 2016

REA South East Group RE 300 Celebrations at Brompton Barracks

Arrangements for Branch Members only.

As previously notified, the above celebratory party at RSME costs £8 per head.  If you wish this branch to add you to its list of attenders, then please follow these instructions:

Email members at (@) reasignals.net with the names of members and guests and the vehicle reg, make and colour of the car you will be travelling in.

Simultaneously forward any money to the branch account using the instructions in our admin section  (under the official matters menu) making clear reference to your name and including the reference RE300SEPty.  i.e. FBloggsRE300SEPty

No registrations will be accepted after 16th September.

The treasurer will forward a collective payment to RSME with a list of attendees by NLT 19th September.

 

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Bulletin: 14th August 2016

Medal_for_service_in_electronic_warfare_troopsElectronic Warfare – BBC says No Change despite advances in Battlefield Communications

Following training by the RE and R Signals in electronic warfare during the cold war and watching the draw down of NATO forces following the end of it, I was interested to see this recent article in respect of Russian Technological Advances by the BBC.  This basically states that Ukrainian forces were easily defeated by the deployment of search, intercept, location and jamming during the recent conflict.  The article suggests this should serve as a wake up call to the current NATO deployments in Europe, who are trained to react and respond to a different form of enemy.

SILAR JID

 

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Bulletin: 11th July 2016

Neil Bernard Scales Ben Nevis for Dementia Sufferers

Neil Bernard has now completed his sponsored climb raising over £1000 for the Alzheimer’s Society on Saturday 9th July.  His training and the event were publicised via FACEBOOK so if you missed it, and still wish to contribute here is the URL

Well done Neil.

 

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Bulletin: 20th June 2016

On Net

REA Radio Branch in Joint Military Communications Exercise

air cadetsBesides the regular Saturday net this weekend I made a late decision to take part in exercise BLUE HAM with the UK Air Cadets.  This took place on Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th June 2016, as part of their 75th anniversary commemoration.  The aim of the exercise was to test the cadets ability to communicate using HF radio on a band of frequencies, shared with radio amateurs.  The exercise was nationwide and competitive.

The aim of activating G3RE was to show support for this, have fun and see what I could learn.

Choose your weapons….

2016-06-20 17.46.49 For the day I chose to use the UK\PRC320 and on low power, (5 watts) if it would work.  I reasoned this would be a better test of operating skill both ways.  I knew the approach would have two chances.  Either it would work OK if shortwave radio conditions were good, or communications would be very difficult.  As it happens,  my own schedule was limited to a quick test on Saturday, late in the day.  Also two sessions on Sunday morning (interspersed with shopping at the station commanders request.)

Results for G3RE

  • Radio Conditions:  Not optimal.  The prediction chart was showing the maximum usable frequency for short range communications was depressed, somewhere below five megahertz at the time of day.  This prediction was checked out by listening to the band for stations at various ranges and it appeared true.  See receiving below.
  • Transmitting;  Of the three stations contacted, MRE80, MRE68 and MRE43  – 2 were worked on 5 watts and the last on 100w.
  • Receiving;  On the heard list were two stations in Scotland, MRE24 and MRE25 who seemed to be a touch louder than the nearer contacts which was consistent conditions.  The average power available to cadets ranged from 30W to 100W.
  • Station Organisation:  I had opted to use a more difficult option rather than use a lot of power or a more sensitive radio set, one with a rotary tuning knob and digital display for example.
    The easy option

    An easier option

    If you are familiar with the PRC320 you will know how difficult it is to tune across a range of frequencies and locate a signal.  (After a few minutes your fingers will probably be sore and bleeding.  (I exaggerate :).As it was, the cadet stations were spread across the entire band.  I concede – the easy option would probably have increased my chances of more contacts, however to counter the problem of sore fingers, as an aid, I used a spotting receiver, the Software Defined internet Radio located at Hack Green in Cheshire. This also helped me to overcome local noise which has a deafening effect on my radio.

    To report locations, both cadets and amateurs used the amateur maidenhead locator system  (or QTH Locator) to send a grid reference.  On the web I found a very interesting digital map to help me to decipher and pinpoint the stations I heard.  So I also used that, as well as the usual websites, an aid.

Summary of Activity

For a potential total of 99 cadet stations I sensed cadet participation was quite low compared to what it could have been.  I could only see a few stations active at any one time by reading the exercise website.  G3RE was just one of a fair number of amateur stations on the air, and the data from their combined results – published here will make an interesting snapshot of the Five megs amateur band at the time.

The exercise web site made imaginative use of mapping to display locations and data to provide a running score but I felt this was one aspect that had more potential.

Overall this brief period of activity was a bit of fun and I learnt some lessons, especially about log keeping, spur of the moment decisions, station organisation, raising the standard of my receiver and putting up more power.

I am sure the Air Cadets and amateurs involved enjoyed it.  My effort didn’t win any certificates, but my final comment is that contacts with military radio stations are quite rare these days, probably due to a move to UHF secure communications.

G3RE remains open for communications exercises on 5Mhz for both amateur and military training.

Thanks to the air cadets for the opportunity.  If this exercise runs again I would be happy to participate for the duration.

73 de Stu

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