Friday, February 24, 2006
A Driver/Op in Light Ack Ack
Photo shows: The old 19 set, lovingly restored by Keith Yates who generously let me use the photograph
I’ve already covered my training in my article entitled ‘Training to be a Wireless Operator in Wartime Whitby’. What follows is an attempt to explain what it was like to actually do the job in the field.
In May 1943 I was posted out to 84 Battery of the 49th L.A.A Regt. and with two other driver/ops we formed the first communications crew of this particular type of communication within the regiment.
Without getting too technical, in the past every Ack Ack regiment had used dispatch riders known as "Don Rs" to communicate between the troops, batteries and headquarters. Under the new regime each battery had a wireless truck, in our case a l5cwt Bedford Truck, with a crew of three to man it 24 hours a day. And this basically was my life for the next 2l months.
Whether life was easy or not depended on a lot of factors which could be summarised as the weather, the conditions and the shift. For example if the month was August, if we were outside the "line" and if my shift happened to be the O8OO hrs to l6OO hrs then there were worse ways of spending one's time than sitting on the tailboard of the truck with the headphones round one's neck, stripped to the waist and playing cards. On the other side of the coin, if it was December, in the line, under fire and on the 24OO hrs to O8OO hrs shift, then life was far from pleasant.
To add insult to injury, when, later on, in Italy we used to be bogged down for any length of time, it was necessary to set up outposts some considerable distance from the truck, and this involved carrying heavy batteries up and down mountainsides in order to keep communications open.
The wireless truck itself was a 15cwt Bedford and this was home for three men, a No.19 Wireless set, spare 12 volt batteries, all the additional wireless paraphernalia, a petrol driven charging motor (more about this later) all our kit, camouflage nets, and whatever else we could cram in the back when we were on the move.
A typical day would start off with us being on the move from A to B.
When we arrived at our destination the truck would be parked near a tree (if possible) this in order that we could use it as a base for our camouflage nets.
A tarpaulin would be thrown on the ground in order that we could unload the trucks contents ready for action and in minutes it would be cleared for use.
The first job was the “Netting-In” procedure. This was achieved by the control station at RHQ sending out a signal to which we could tune in to. We would then lock our frequencies to achieve maximum receiving and sending strength. It was a very rigid and formalised set procedure. Control would announce “All stations net now” and on our headphones we would listen for a signal that started off as a high pitched whistle and that, as we tuned in, would drop to a low ‘trough’. All sub-stations would then be asked, in turn to ‘Report signal strength’ and after all had reported in the net was officially on the air.
Most of the stuff we received and sent over the net was in code and consisted of apparently meaningless lists of eight letter words. In actual fact these messages were giving command information to all those using the net and the codes would be altered on a daily basis.
We very rarely used morse code, this despite having devoted a lot of time to this form of communication during our training. The sad truth of the matter was that most of us could only receive morse at about twelve words per minute and so we kept morse for receiving in poor radio conditions when it was difficult to hear the transmitting station.
One vital part of our equipment was the charging engine that was necessary to keep all our batteries fully charged. This was permanently chugging away just outside our truck and everybody at BHQ would beg our services to charge their own particular battery. It was not uncommon to have up to ten batteries at a time, all linked up in series, connected to our ‘Johnson Chore Horse’ and later on at night these batteries would provide lighting for the various messes and individual slit trenches.
‘Waffling’ (or chatting un-necessarily) was strictly forbidden, as only one person could talk at a time on the air and the net was monitored so that culprits could be reported.
If reception (strength of signal) was poor we would climb up a few trees and set up a lengthy ‘end-fed’ aerial. The only problem with this was it would take time to reclaim all of this when we moved off again and invariably we left loads of these lines all over Italy!
In December 1944 the use of LAA regiments became un-necessary and I was retrained as a Loader/Operator on tanks. To my surprise and joy I was to find that the wireless set we used was our old friend the No:19 set and it was just like coming home.