A Major Breakthrough

No.10_Wireless_SetA major innovation in communication technology made by the establishment during the Second World War was the introduction of the Wireless No 10 Set (shown here). A project for a centimetre wavelength single-channel radio relay was started in 1941/42 but this was dropped because radar techniques were able to provide a multi-channel system.

Collaboration with ADRDE at Malvern produced a final version and sets were made available for the invasion of Europe called Operation 'Overlord'. The set s were such an effective means of communication that they were used by Lord Montgomery in the invasion of Europe. The sets weredeployed so successfully that Lord Montgomery concluded in a letter he wrote after the war:

"By using a chain of No. 10 Set Stations, I was able to maintain my tactical HQ as far forward as I did and still have contact with London. The value of being able to retain personal contact over my Armies in these circumstances cannot be overestimated."

Improved components suitable for the most adverse weather conditions were developed and greater reliability for the whole range of wireless sets Nos 18, 19, 22, 38 and 62 was achieved. Mobile warfare demanded mobile exchanges and the transfer of trunk routes to radio links. Pioneer work was carried out on carrier telephony on radio links and for long distance links the 5UCO, an electronic device for the immediate encryption of teleprinter messages was developed. The crystal section made quartz crystals for many special operational requirements as well as in-house developments.

Frequency Modulation and VHF for army applications was investigated and experimental sets (No X32) were constructed to be capable of quickly switching from AM to FM and from VHF to UHF, so that four separate conditions could be investigated. As a result FM was adopted for the VHF band.

To cater for the increased mobility of signal units during the war, SRDE had to devise and test the installation of wireless sets in vehicles of all types and the No 19 Set was used in different arrangements. The Establishment was chiefly instrumental in the design and manufacture of the signals installation in the US "White Scout Car" which was made available for the British operational intelligence ("Phantom") units in "Overlord". Mine detection was a responsibility of the Establishment and which was helped when the Radio Laboratories of the Polish Research Institute came to SRDE. The Institute had developed a successful equipment for the detection of metallic mines and to complement these techniques research at SRDE in the 1950s was directed into the nuclear magnetic resonance imaging of “non-metallic mines” with plastic cases.

SRDE prepared for the future

The end of the Second World War was a time of great activity for the Establishment. The staff included a high proportion of young people whose University careers had been either shortened or altered. The problem for the Establishment was to recruit the numbers to match the workload caused by applying its new ideas developed for specific equipments and a programme of work on the exploration of new techniques and devices for the army of the future.

One of the first results of the "new engineering" was the infantry pack-set, the VHF/FM No.88 Set and the "Larkspur" series, of radios which successively replaced the older Combat Radios. This new approach to the construction of equipment was consolidated by a series of specifications produced by Inter-Establishment and Inter-Deparmental collaboration. At the international level the standardisation and inter-operability of equipments was attained by various working parties and many of the meetings were held at SRDE.

The Establishment was split into two sites, the Research Divison located on the cliffs at Steamer Point overlooking the beach and the Development and Engineering Divisions were located at Somerford. Steamer Point had been acquired for the development of Coast Defence Radars but in 1942 the radar establishments at Christchurch and at Swanage (Telecommunications Research Establishment) were judged to be too vulnerable to commando raids and were moved to Malvern.

In 1942 the name of the Establishment became Signals Research and Development Establishment headed by a Chief Superintendent. After 1956 the post was changed to the Director of the Establishment. Initially the staff were recruited from various sources including industry, other departments and the War Office. In 1946 the staff was assimilated into the Barlow system - Scientific, Experimental and Assistant (Scientific) with a minority into the works group Engineers and Engineering Technical. The Fulton Report (1968) was implemented and the professional staff were called either "Scientific Officers" or "Professional and Technology Officers".

I am indebted to Dr.E.Gwynne Jones for some historical material and photographs taken from his notes published in the booklet SRDE 1903-1973 produced by Main Titles Ltd. and MOD PR (PE) Crown Copyright Controller HMSO London 1975 and Printed in England for Her Majesty's Stationary Office by The Curwen Press Ltd. London Dd. 20818 12.75.

In web pages constructed by Barrie Wells, wells@bae.co.uk, historical information is given about SRDE including Steamer Point,the Bure homage Estate and its Manor House which was used as the barracks for the military attached to SRDE and also the Main Establishment at Somerford. A short account is also given of the purchase of the Somerford Site by Siemens after SRDE was transferred to RRE Malvern in 1980, and then later by British Aerospace.

The three establishments (SERL) Services Electronics Research Laboratory, (RRE) Royal Radar Establishment and (SRDE) Signals Research and Development Establishment were amalgamated at a ceremony in Malvern attended by the Queen to form (RSRE) Royal Signals and Radar Establishment.


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