Places included on this page.
Afghanistan - Singapore - Borneo - Malaya - Ceylon/Sri Lanka - Gan/Hitaddu - Hong Kong - Christmas Island.
No 90 Signals Unit, RAF Leeming - Antarctica - Falkland Islands - Gibraltar can now be found on the People (& Current Places) page.
The photograph above was taken from a passing Chinook helicopter, the shadow of which can be seen in the foreground of the picture.
The first riggers arrived
as members of the Tactical Communications Wing, 90 Signals Unit alongside the UK Special
Forces in 2002.
In the left hand picture two of the un-assembled radomes can be seen ready for work to commence. In the left foreground is one of the concrete bases along with several ladders. In the right hand picture two of the riggers are checking out the contents of the boxes.
The picture above on the left shows a reflector dish assembled and ready to be inserted into the radome. The picture to the right shows the inserted dish and the air conditioning unit can be seen in the background.
To the left above, the second radome can be seen under construction and to the rear of the picture is the completed first radome. In the right hand picture a topping out ceremony is being conducted as the cap is being put into place. Note the borrowed rickety wooden ladder being used as the metal ladders were too short to the reach the top of the dome from the outside.
The photograph above shows two of the newly constructed radomes at Camp Bastion alongside two of the larger inflatable radomes. In the background are some of the masts and aerial arrays of the communications centre.
The first two radomes were completed, in spite of some initial technical problems, by 2nd February and the team was due to fly to Lashkar Gah on the 5th February but the flight was delayed until the following day. Two Chinook helicopters were used to transport them and all their equipment along with other supplies for the base. Every flight always consisted of two Chinooks, one would land while the other Chinook watched out for any hostile action on the part of the insurgents. Once unloaded the first Chinook would take off and keep watch while the other one landed. Sometimes they were escorted by Apache gunships. Everyone on board flew fully armed in case an emergency landing had to be made.
The photograph above on the
right is distorted due to the vibration of the Chinook while flying. The Chinook is full to
capacity, every available space crammed with kit. The back of the pilot's head can be seen in
top right of the photograph.
The building of the two radomes started on the 7th and was completed by the 12th February. During their stay at Lashkar Gah they were accommodated in an old tent and on the night of the 9th February the camp was hit by a bad storm.
Their tent was badly flooded and they spent most of the night digging a ditch round their tent to drain away the water.
The team's stay at Lashkar Gah coincided with a British Forces Foundation visit by Jim Davidson and Katherine Jenkins. The show, sponsored by BAE Systems, gave its first performance in the cookhouse at Lashkar Gah to an audience of 400 or so troops. The show was described as a "barn-stormer" with both Jim and Katherine on excellent form. Following the show the team were successful in getting a group photograph taken with Jim and Katherine.
Next day the team flew back by
Chinook helicopter to Camp Bastion to build the last two radomes at a new hospital site. The
hospital was a 50 bed field hospital and had facilities for the seriously ill and injured,
intensive care and high-dependency patients, surgery, physiotherapy, dental and mental health,
X-ray and laboratory provisions.
The photograph above shows the team of six riggers and two air conditioning technicians in front of the last radome to be constructed. From the left:- Standing is rigger Cpl Scott Hughes then "Fish" (a/c techie), rigger Sgt Paddy Fagan (NCO i/c), rigger Sac Rob Hall, rigger Sac Steve Wills and rigger Cpl John Mitchell. Kneeling is Cpl "Mick" (a/c techie) and rigger Lee Bolton.
The whole task was finally completed by the 18th February. The team then flew to Kandahar airfield on the 19th and then back to the UK on the 20th February. Job Done.
The last riggers to leave Afghanistan, members of the Tactical Communications Wing of 90 Signals Unit, departed from Kandahar airfield in November 2014.
RAF Changi, Signals Centre, Far East Air Force.
The Signals Centre for the
Far East Air Force was located at RAF Changi in Singapore. The Signals Centre transmitter
site was located at RAF Jurong and the receiver site was located at RAF Chia Keng, both
were linked to the Signals Centre at Changi by landlines. The Changi Signals Centre was
linked via the HF Commonwealth Air Forces network to the United Kingdom, Aden, Australia,
Ceylon, Hong Kong, Labuan (Borneo), RAAF base at Butterworth (Northern Malaya) and Gan
(when Ceylon closed down).
The map above shows the approximate location of Amoy Quee fig 1, the RAF receiver site at Chia Keng fig 2, and the RAF transmitter site at Jurong fig 3. The location of the RAF airfields of Changi, Seletar, Tengah, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm base at Sembawang and the civil airport at Paya Lebar can also be seen. Kallang airfield, Singapore's first airport closed in 1955 as further expansion was not possible due to built up areas surrounding it and the new international airport at Paya Lebar was built.
Corporal John Joseph O'Toole Aerial Erector.
RAF Chia Keng Receiver Site, Singapore
RAF Chia Keng from the air 1958.
RAF Chia Keng was the receiver site for
Signals Centre based at RAF Changi which served the Headquarters of the Far East Air
Force and also the Foreign Office.
RAF Jurong Transmitter Site, Singapore.
RAF Jurong was the transmitter site for the Signals Centre of the Far East Air Force Headquarters based at RAF Changi. RAF Jurong was located in the south western part of Singapore Island and was linked to the Signals Centre at Changi and the Chai Keng receiver station by landline. Jurong and Chai Keng also served as relay stations in the Commonwealth Air Forces Network (CAFNet). Although Jurong was an outstation of Changi much of its administration was carried out by RAF Tengah which was the nearest major RAF airfield.
RAF Jurong transmitter building, 1963. Photograph courtesy Ex J/T Chris Meadows.
A view of part of the
aerial farm with the buildings of Nan Yang University in the background, 1963.
Further information about RAF Jurong can be found by using the link to the RAF Jurong website on the links page.
1003 Signals Unit, RAF Amoy Quee, Singapore.
In the late 1960s the Royal Signals (237 Squadron) Comcan base at Amoy
Singapore which was shared by the Australian Army was taken over by the Royal Air Force
as part of the Skynet project. Following the changeover the Australian Army continued to
share the base.
The Singapore SCAT inflatable dome which housed the 40 ft dish, turning gear and support structure.
Unfortunately prior to the hand over to the RAF an accident occurred during a test tracking run damaging the turning gear and its support structure. The first task the RAF had, along with the Marconi engineers, was to repair the dish support structure and the turning gear. To carry out the necessary repairs the dish had to be lifted clear of the support structure and suspended on three steel staunchions. Once the repairs had been completed dish had to then be lowered back into place.
The picture on the left shows part of one of the stanchion support legs before being put into place. Rigger Jim Turner is posed with his arms outstretched to give an indication of the dimensions of the support for an official RAF photographer. The picture on the right shows Jim guiding one of the support stanchions legs into place using his feet. Part of the dish, with several panels removed can be seen above his head. The temperature up inside the dome used to get up to 110F-120F and he could only work aloft for half an hour at a time.
In the end it took nearly
six months for the repairs to be carried out.
Our thanks to Paul Calthorpe for permission to display the two photographs of the Amoy Quee Receiver site. Although there was a change of ownership most of the buildings at Amoy Quee continued to be used for the same purposes by the RAF. More information and photographs of Amoy Quee can be found at the excellent site run by the 237 Squadron, Royal Signals Veterans at www.comcan237.esmartweb.com or by using the link on the Links Page.
Aerial Installation and Servicing Section.
Radio Repair Squadron, 390 Maintenance Unit, RAF Seletar.
In the mid 1950s and the
1960s the Aerial Installation and Servicing Section was a part of the Ground Radio Flight
of the Radio Repair Squadron based at RAF Seletar in Singapore. Originally the Radio
Repair Squadron was part of the Engineering Wing of the Far East Air Force. In 1960 the
Radio Repair Squadron became a part of 390 Maintenance Unit when 390 MU was reformed from
the Engineering Wing at RAF Seletar for a third time.
Above is a general view of RAF Seletar from the air. The main part of the base, East Camp, can be seen in the centre of the picture. West Camp is across the runway towards the top left of the picture. The old flying boat facilities and slipway are on the right. In the bottom right hand corner is the transmitter site for the Non Directional LF Beacon.
Below is a air photograph of the main parts of West Camp with kind permission of the No 81 (Photo Reconniassance) Squadron Association.
The Radio Repair Squadron was located in West Camp on the opposite side of the runway to the main "East" camp. The much smaller West Camp was largely self sufficient, having two accommodation blocks, G block which housed the Radio Repair Sqdn and other ancillary personnel and H block which housed No 81 PR Squadron and later No 34 Squadron personnel. The camp had its own airmens mess and on the floor above the mess was the NAAFI.There was a small stall, locally run, at the end of the airmens mess which sold books, magazines, batteries, photographic film and other bric-a-brac.
A closer view of the workshops of the Radio Repair Squadron. The Air Radio Flight (ARF) workshop is on the right and the Ground Radio Flight (GRF) workshops on the left. The Aerial Section workshop is marked "AE" and can be seen in the trees beside the GRF workshop. The vague square white building between the two workshops is the Radio Repair Sqdn spare parts, stores and reception building. The building on the right beside the runway beyond the ARF workshop is JARIC, the Joint Air Reconniassance Interpretation Centre. The roof of the NAAFI/mess can be seen at the bottom of the picture.
Some of the riggers of the Aerial Section in 1960/61. Left to right, Sac Joe Reid, (J/T Mike ? a stray Ground Wireless Fitter), Sgt Jimmy Orr, Sac Terry Russell, Sac Brummie Baynham and Sac Ian McKay.
Our thanks to Bob North of No 81 PR Squadron Association for permission to use some of their air photographs which appear along with many more photographs of RAF Seletar on their excellent website. There is a link to their website and to the RAF Seletar Association website on the Links Page.
Joint Air Traffic Control Centre, Paya Lebar (Civil) Airport, Singapore.
Joint Air Traffic Control Centre, 1961.
The construction of a
new civilian airport for Singapore began at Paya Lebar in 1952 and it was opened in 1955.
In the early
1960s the airport had to be enlarged due to greatly increased air passenger
traffic and the communications systems at the jointly run (RAF and Civil) air traffic
control centre were upgraded.
In the left hand picture the
mast sections are being assembled by riggers (left to right) Ian "Muscules" Mackay, Terry
Russell and "Brummy" Baynham. Ian is standing on the end of a mast section to prevent it
sliding while Terry is holding a wooden block in place to stop the end of the centre spigot
from being damaged as Brummy hammers it into place.
The riggers, seen above,
constructing one of the eight-wire cage dipoles are, left to right, Terry Russell, "Brummy"
Baynham and "Mac" McLeod. Terry is separating the eight copper wire elements and is about
to insert one of the spreaders. A second spreader can be seen on the ground nearby along
with a roll of 100lb per mile copper wire from which the aerial is being constructed. Two
pairs of Strainers are being used, one pair to keep the elements under tension and the
other pair to stop the picket being pulled out of the soft ground.The ends of the
elements which will be used to connect up to the feeder ladder can also be seen curling
down below towards the ground.
RAF Labuan, British North Borneo.
Unit Headquarters & Administration building 1959/62.
RAF Labuan was located
on the island of Labuan in the Crown Colony of British North Borneo. In 1963 British
North Borneo was granted full independence from the United Kingdom and shortly after
joined the Federation of Malaysia. The island was captured and occupied by Japan in
January 1942 and recaptured by the Australian 9th Division in June 1945. RAF Labuan
played an important role during the Confrontation with Indonesia.
All signals traffic between Singapore and Labuan was by morse code. The Signals Office and the CO's Office were in the same building seen on the left in the right hand photograph above. The deciphering and encoding of important messages was done in the CO's Office.
In the two photographs above the three wireless operators based at Labuan can been seen sending and receiving messages to and from the Signals Centre at RAF Changi by morse code.The receiver sets and morse keys can be clearly seen on the bench.
In the right hand photograph a 52ft Mast Type 34 is being lowered for servicing by a team of riggers from the Radio Repair Squadron, 390 Maintenance Unit. Once on the ground the mast, guy ropes and other fittings will be checked for corrosion. Any corroded parts will be replaced and the guys will be greased to protect them from the weather and the mast re-erected.
The experimental wide band ¼wave aerial
was designed by Flt Lt Sears. The array has six ¼wave elements each cut to a different
Borneo Airways operated a number of services between small airfields and air strips in the region, such as Anduki, Bintulu, Brunei, Jesselton, Kuching, Keningau, Kudat, Lahad Data, Lutong, Ranau, Sibu, Sandakan and Tawau.
There is now a recently
published book (2014) about RAF Labuan. This excellent book has been written by David
Bale and covers the history of the RAF base on the island and the surrounding area from
pre-World War 2 to 1969. It details the various stages of the airfield construction by
the Japanese forces and the Royal Australian Air Force's 4th and 5th Airfield Construction
Squadrons and the further development by the RAF. It also contains first hand accounts
from many personnel who served there. The book entitled "RAF Labuan Borneo" by David Bale
is published by Book Guild Publishing (ISBN 978 1 909716 04 9.).
Butterworth, Northern Malaya/Malaysia.
RAF and RAAF Butterworth, Northern Malaya/Malaysia.
The airfield is located near Butterworth in Kedah State opposite the island of Penang in Malaysia. The RAF airfield was first built prior to World War 2 and was re-occupied after the defeat of Japan in 1945. The base played a major part in the defeat of the Communist terrorists during the Malayan Emergency. Following the Independence of Malaya, the RAF continued to use the base, sharing it with the Royal Australian Air Force. In 1955 a new north- south runway was built and other improvements carried out by an RAAF Airfield Construction Squadron.
Above is a view of the camp and the airfield taken in 1960 from one of the masts supporting the Non Directional LF Beacon aerial. In the distance the old runway can be seen running left to right across the photograph. In the top/left is the Control Tower located near the junction of the runways. Many of the camp building lie among the coconut trees and the other 220 ft high beacon mast is on the right hand side of the picture.
A photograph taken from the roof of the control tower showing some of the new hangars, workshops and hard standings. In the far distance the two 220 ft masts supporting the Non Directional LF Beacon aerial can be seen.
There were a number of Non Directional Low Frequency Beacons installed and maintained by the RAF, sited around the Indian Ocean as navigational aids to aircraft and shipping. Each beacon transmitter broadcast its own distinctive signal 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The transmitted non directional signal was superimposed with a morse code identifier which could be received by a Automatic Direction Finder on board a aircraft or ship thus allowing to calculate its position when travelling across the vast open ocean. The transmitted signal also helped locate a particular airfield no matter how bad the weather prevailing at the time.
Two views of the 220 ft guyed masts supporting the Non Directional LF Beacon aerial at the Butterworth transmitter aerial farm. One of the mast type 23 guyed masts can also be seen in the left hand picture .
On the left is a view of the base of one of the two 220 ft guyed masts supporting the Non Directional Beacon aerial and on the right, one of the many multi-language warning signs dotted around the perimeter of the aerial farm
As well as maintaining the the Non Directional LF Beacon, the Signals Section at RAAF Butterworth were part of the Commonwealth Air Forces Communications network.
By 1957 the Royal
Australian Air Force had taken full control of running the base although the lease for
the airfield was still owned by the RAF. A small RAF Element remained at Butterworth to
service RAF aircraft carrying out anti terrorist operations along the border with Thailand
and to service RAF aircraft in transit.
The photograph above
was taken from the roof of the Control Tower in 1960 and shows some of the aircraft
engaged in supporting the ground troops fighting the Communist terrorists along the
border with Thailand. Top left are Valettas of No 52 Sqdn (RAF) and a Dakota of the
RAAF Communications Flight. Bottom left are the Sycamore helicopters of No 110 Sqdn (RAF).
centre of the end of the old runway are three Victor Bombers of No 15 Sqdn in transit
from RAF Cottesmore and five Canberra bombers of No 2 Sqdn RAAF.
The photograph above was taken from the roof of the Control Tower in 1960 and shows some of the aircraft engaged in supporting the ground troops fighting the Communist terrorists along the border with Thailand. Top left are Valettas of No 52 Sqdn (RAF) and a Dakota of the RAAF Communications Flight. Bottom left are the Sycamore helicopters of No 110 Sqdn (RAF). In the centre of the end of the old runway are three Victor Bombers of No 15 Sqdn in transit from RAF Cottesmore and five Canberra bombers of No 2 Sqdn RAAF.
The RAF Element also operated the Song Song
Bombing Range on and around Bidan Island in the Straits of Malacca. In the 1960s the RAF
installed a AN/TPS-34 radar unit at Western Hill on Penang Island to assist with the air
traffic control in the area. The AN/TPS-34 was later replaced by the RAAF with upgraded
With the withdrawal of most of the British
Forces in Ceylon following Independence from the United Kingdom it was decided to
move the HF receiver site located at Gangodawila into the perimeter of RAF Negombo.
The HF transmitter site located at Ekala could not be moved into Negombo for technical
Site clearance in progress
The guyed masts used were old ex-Army Mast Type 35A's. These masts were composed of three cigar shaped sections and could be assembled to give three different heights, 92ft high, 97ft high or 102ft high depending on the length of the central spigot used. However the standard size used by the RAF was the 97ft version. The mast sections were joined together with a universal joint between each section of the mast. The masts were erected using a derrick (which was a spare mast section ) and lifting tackle.
The photograph above on the left shows the Derrick being raised into the upright position and the photograph on the right shows the mast with the derrick raised into position ready to erect the mast. Great care had to be taken when moving about the site as the tree stumps had not been removed.
The photograph on the left shows a mast which collapsed while it was being erected. The mast was almost upright when it fractured, one section remains standing and other two sections fell narrowly missing the riggers who were hauling it up. The photograph on the right shows the remains of the mast on the ground after the remaining upright section had been lowered to the ground. The crew were about to dismantle the wrecked mast to recover all the undamaged parts and the post mortem was about to start.
Some of the riggers, left to right,
Once the masts were erected the "Fish Net" aerial arrays were built and the open wire feeder lines were installed and connected up.The fitting party technicians installed all the new receiver facilities and the new system became operational. The go-ahead was then given to close down Gangodawila.
Signals Centre, RAF Negombo 1957.
The Signals Centre seen here in late 1957, the two masts which are supporting the airfield Non Directional LF Beacon can be seen behind the building. On completion of the aerial farm the fitting party riggers volunteered to assist in the demolition of Gangodawila. When that task was completed the Fitting Party was re-designated as No.1 (Singapore) Fitting Party and flew to RAF Changi.
More information about the Mast Type 35A can be found on the Odds and Sods page.
R.A.F. Ekala Transmitter Station, Ceylon - Sri Lanka
RAF Ekala was the transmission site for
the Signals Centre at RAF Negombo, later RAF Staging Post Katanayake and was located
several miles from Negombo beside the Ja-ela to Miniwagoda road. The camp was
self-contained and staffed by 35 to 40 men and was administered by the Signals Centre.
Most of the staff were radio technicians working shifts to provide and maintain
the 24 hour radio relay link with the United Kingdom, some 5,000 miles away.
The station was also part of the
Commonwealth Air Forces Network (CAFNet) which provided world wide signals relay
to many countries including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kenya, Aden,
Cyprus, Malta, Canada and
the United States.
A view of
the Domestic site.
A number of the married personnel lived off camp in hirings.
The Transmitter building was located in the centre of the site with the electricity
generating plant nearby. The Tx Hall housed all the transmitters plus several workshops
and the administration office.The aerial farm consisted mainly of three wire Rhombic
HF aerials fed by a open wire feeder system. The telephone network on camp and between
the Signals Centre and the
Receiver site at Gangodawila was maintained by the Royal Signals 19th Air Formation
Tx building as seen from the south.
RAF Ekala was originally built in the 1940s but was greatly enlarged in the early
50s to cope with the increased signals traffic to and from the Far East created by the
removal of all
the British Forces from India and Pakistan. Once RAF Gan and the Hitaddu transmitter
site became fully operational most of the signals traffic was transfered there.
R.A.F. Gangodawila Radio Receiving Station, Ceylon - Sri Lanka.
RAF Gangodawila was the receiving station
for the Signals Centre at RAF Negombo in Ceylon. Following Independence from Britain
RAF Negombo became known as RAF Staging Post Katanayake.
Viewed from left to right:- RAF Police Dog Kennels, Rigger's Workshop, a Mast Type 32 (known as Snow White), the latrine block(in foreground), Receiver Hall - Accommodation - Office building (Note the watch tower on the roof), the camp flag pole and the Guardroom. A Bedford 3 tonner and a Vanguard estate car can be seen in the camp. In the far background the camp boundary is marked by local housing and the bus to Colombo passing along the road.
In 1957 a new receiver aerial farm was constructed alongside the Signals Centre at Katanayake by the riggers of No 1 (Ceylon) Radio Fitting Party from the Ground Radio Installation Squadron, Radio Engineering Unit based at RAF Henlow assisted by the Signals Centre riggers. The technicians of the fitting party installed new radio receivers within the Signals Centre. Once the new receiver site became operational, the aerial farm was handed over to the Signals Centre riggers. The fitting party then dismantled RAF Gangodawila.
Some of the Demolition
team at Gango.
There is a very interesting website run by Tony Cunnane featuring this RAF Receiver Station and much more including extracts from his diaries written during his stay there.
Signals Centre, RAF Gan.
Following the granting of Independence to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), British forces were being run down and would eventually be removed completely from the island and the bases handed over to the new Sri Lankan government. This would have created a large gap in the Royal Air Force lines of communication to the Far East, Australia and New Zealand. The Signals Centre at Katanayake was as far as the HF wireless signals could reach from the United Kingdom and thus was an important relay point in the communications network. To overcome this problem and fill the gap, work commenced in 1957 to re-activate the secret WW2 Naval base known as Port T which was located in Addu Atoll at the southern end of the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean.
The old wartime airfield
on the island of Gan in the Addu Atoll was repaired, tented accommodation set up and
temporary radio communications were installed to enable full reconstruction of the
facilities to commence. Then a completely new runway and other airfield facilities were
built to cater for the RAF air traffic going to and from the Far East. A signals centre
and receiver site was also built on Gan along with a transmitter site on the island of
Hitaddu to relay radio communications throughout the world wide CAF network. The RAF
staging post and signals centre at Katanayake (Negombo) and the transmitter site at RAF
Ekala remained in use until the Gan facilities became fully operational.
The second of the two groups of the fitting party landed on Gan with a bit of a bump as can be seen in the photograph above. Fortunately no one was seriously injured when the undercarriage of the No 48 Sqdn Hastings collapsed on landing. The photograph was taken by rigger Harry Stanley who was installing aerials on the roof of the new control tower at the time of the accident.
The tents, shelters and radio vehicles of the temporary Air Traffic Control centre can be seen in the photograph on the left and the nearly completed new Air Traffic Control facilities in the photograph on the right.
In the photographs above, on the left, riggers Alan Gascoigne and Dennis Coles can be seen completing the installation of the Eureka Beacon aerials. On the right are the new Receiver and Communications buildings. To the left of these buildings are some of the feeder poles supporting the open wire feeder systems. A 90ft wooden tower with 8 type 24 VHF aerials stands behind the buildings and a steel tower supporting the Passive Reflector link to the transmitter site on Hitaddu island stands in front of the buildings.
Some of the members of the 2nd Group No 8 Radio Fitting Party in the NAAFI. Names now lost apart from Frank Boyle (wearing the dark shirt). Please use the contact form on the home page if you can help identify them.
The map above shows the location of the transmitter site on Hitaddu island and the route of the underwater electricity power cable from the generating station on Gan. In the photograph part of the temporary transmitter site can be seen. In the left background of the photograph one of the 360ft guyed masts for the Non Directional Beacon aerial is under construction.
A view of the Hitaddu transmitter site as seen from one of the two 360ft Beacon masts. The transmitter hall, accommodation and emergency generator buildings are in the centre of the picture. Looking along the shore line, the landing jetty, which due to the very shallow water stretches a quarter of a mile out into the lagoon, is at the bottom of the picture. The curving outline of the power cable from Gan is seen under the water. The ramp for unloading landing craft is also seen near to the jetty. The faint outlines of the masts and feeder poles of the aerial farm which surrounds the buildings, extending over most of the cleared area, are visible.
The left hand photograph above shows the temporary transmitter vehicle and in the other photograph Junior Technician Bill Clarke of No 8 Radio Fitting Party installing some of the new transmitter equipment.
The photograph on the left shows the Hitaddu Jetty, landing point for passengers arriving from Gan. The jetty was just over a quarter of a mile in length and it took roughly 20 minutes to walk to the transmitter site. On the right is Target Towing Launch No 1374, which was well known to all the Hitaddu staff, beached to enable servicing to be carried out by the Marine Craft Unit.
Once all the new masts, aerials and feeder lines were constructed and all the new radio equipment commissioned the temporary field units were withdrawn.
The building seen above, for the personnel doing their one year (later reduced to 9 months) unaccompanied tour of duty was, arguably, the most important part of the Gan communications system, the British Forces Post Office No 180.
On the 1st April 1971 the Communications Centre and the Electrical Engineering Flight on Gan were combined to form No 6 Signals Unit under the command of 90 (Signals) Group at RAF Medmenham.
In April 1971 the Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow dispatched No 11 Radio Fitting Party to Gan to commence the upgrading of the installations on Gan and Hitaddu. One of the tasks of the aerial erectors, led by Sgt Pete Bisset, was the assembly and erection of a Log Periodic Horizontal aerial at the Hitaddu transmitter site. One of the problems encountered was the flooding at high tide of the holes dug for the mast base foundation and the guy anchorage blocks. The 80ft mast and the aerial array had to be constructed on a series of scaffolding trestles up to 4ft high. This was to allow space for the rear part of the aerial array to be assembled and the aerial array to be attached to the top of the mast prior to the mast being erected.
In the photograph on the left Sgt Pete Bisset is inspecting one of the guy anchorage holes which is lined with pressed steel planking to prevent further erosion of the hole. To the right two of the riggers are assembling the aerial array on the scaffold trestles.
In the photograph above the assembly of the mast and the aerial array is completed and is ready to start the erection process. The inverted Y shaped support framework of the aerial array is tilted upwards. At the rear of the aerial array a special trolley has been fitted to prevent the array being damaged by dragging along the ground and counterweights are also fitted to the array to keep it stable as the mast is raised off the trestles.
The trolley and two counterweight blocks can be seen in the left hand photograph. To the right the mast and aerial array can be seen at the point in the erection process where the aerial array has swung into place on the mast head.
In the photograph above on the left is the mast base and the derrick. A rigger is starting his climb up the partly raised mast to fit the aerial array locking pins/bolts into place. In the picture on the right the rigger is about to fit one of the locking pins/bolts. One of the lined up bolt holes can be clearly seen. The electric motor which rotates the aerial array is top right of the picture.
Above is a view of the aerial array on top of the fully erected mast.
Job done, the rigging team on their way back to Gan.
Thanks to ex-Sgt Mike Farmer, one of the fitting party wireless fitters, for his permission to use his photographs of the erection of the mast and the log periodic horizontal aerial at Hitaddu.
In 1972 the Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow dispatched a second (relief) fitting party to Gan. No 11 Radio Fitting Party aerial erectors continued with the upgrading and re-building of the HF aerials and associated feeder systems on the Receiver site at Gan and the Transmitter Site on Hitaddu. The members of the relief No 11 Radio Fitting Party can be seen below, some of the names are now uncertain or unknown.
Left to right Back row:
In the early 1970s a Satellite Communications Antenna Tracking dish was installed at one of the No 6 Signals Unit facilities to link Gan into the Skynet Military Communications network.
As a part of the rundown of British forces in the Far East a decision was taken in June 1974 to close down RAF Gan by March 1976. On the 31st December 1975 the last regular flight, a VC10, departed from Gan taking with it the last remaining personnel and Skynet equipment of No 6 Signals Unit. The operation of the Gan communications was left to the Gan signals personnel and a detachment of No 38 Group Tactical Communications Wing. All the remaining RAF personnel left Gan by sea on board Sir Percival, a Royal Navy Fleet Auxiliary, on the 29th March 1976. The airfield, receiver and transmitter communications were handed over to the Maldivian Government intact with sufficient fuel and stores to run the base for a month.
My thanks to Harry Stanley, Bill Clarke, Mike Butler, John Finlay, Tony Hawes, Alan "Tug" Wilson and all who supplied photographs and information.
More Information about
service life on RAF Gan can be found in the book written by Michael "Mike" Butler which
is based on his diary kept during his year of service on Gan in 1960 and his return to the
island in 1996. "Return to Gan." Michael Butler, Woodfield Publishing.
Further information about RAF Gan can be found by using the link on our links page which will take you to the excellent RAF Gan website.
Signals Centre, Hong Kong, RAF Kai Tak.
Map showing the location of RAF Kai Tak, 1958.
RAF Kai Tak occupied the area to the north east of the main runway which runs from the north west to the south east of the map and the camp extended beyond the end of the runway almost as far as the dark hatched patch. The approximate position of the Transmitter and the Receiver Sites are marked on the map. The Signals Centre was located in the Station Headquarters Building which is in the cluster of buildings below the Rx site marker. The civilian airport occupied the area on the left of opposite RAF Kai Tak. The new runway, then under construction, can be seen extending out into Kowloon Bay at the bottom left of the map.
buildings, seen above, consisted of a pair of nissen huts linked together by a short
nissen tunnel forming a 'H' shaped building. One of the huts was almost entirely
filled by two rows of SWB and VHF transmitters with a small space in which sat the
duty controllers desk. The other nissen hut contained a toilet, small kitchen and
the radio repair and aerial riggers workshops. Nearby was a shed containing the
standby electricity generator. A ex-USAF UHF trailer was squeezed in between the
nissen huts containing a pair of UHF transceivers.
RAF Kai Tak as seen from one of the 90ft towers.
The water tower which stood near the Station Headquarters can been seen on the left in the distance. The main runway is to the right. Some of the accommodation nissen huts which included the NAAFI and Cpls Club are in the centre of the picture. Part of the aerial farm and the emergency generator shed are in the foreground. The Sgts Mess and some Airmens Married Quarters are on the right of the picture.
The NAAFI seen here in
the left hand photograph was a very spartan place with the usual 1950s NAAFI formica
and steel tables and chairs. Its redeeming factor as far as riggers were concerned
was the price of the beer, a pint of draught Tiger Beer cost just 45 cents. A night
out normally started in the NAAFI drinking the cheap Tiger until closing time at
22-30hrs. Then it was out the camp gate and catch the bus down to Nathan Road and the
bars and clubs of Kowloon. Here the RAF had a distinct advantage as they could stay
out all night. The Army personnel all had to be back in barracks by midnight.
This photograph (above)
taken from the top of one of the receiver site towers shows the main road which ran past
the camp, cutting off the receiver site and Officers mess from the main part of the
camp. Several barrack blocks can be seen as well as both runways. The main runway is
running left to right across the picture. The civil airport buildings and maintenance
hangars are in the distance, top centre of the runways.
RAF Little Sai Wan.
No 367 Signals Unit moved to Hong Kong from its bases in
Ceylon and Burma following the defeat of the Japanese forces.
is the view as seen from the marine craft shuttle launch when approaching Little Sai
Wan across Kowloon harbour from RAF Kai Tak. Some of the aerial farm masts can be seen
in the background.
The 367 Signals Unit
badge can be seen in the picture on the left. The dragon should be shown as two headed,
one head facing left, the other facing right to
RAF Little Sai Wan had its own team of aerial erectors, usually a Corporal and three airmen, who maintained the huge HF aerial farm which surrounded the camp on three sides. Some of the masts can be seen in the photograph above (by kind permission of Andrew Suddaby, 367 Association taken in 1958). The aerial arrays were mostly eight wire caged dipole or quadrant aerials and rhombic aerials. By 1950, as well as the RAF monitoring personnel there was a detachment from the Royal Australian Air Force working alongside the RAF. Much of the monitoring of the VHF frequencies was carried out at RAF Batty's Belvedere high up on The Peak.
RAF Batty's Belvedere.
The aerial farm consisted of two 50ft steel towers, one for the VHF receiving aerials and the other, on a nearby peak, for the VHF transmitting aerials. All the VHF aerials were type 24 caged dipole aerials mounted on the towers using the Type 298 gibbet system. The HF aerials were supported by type 23 & 34 masts on the steep northern slopes of The Peak and were mostly eight wire dipole or quadrant aerials. Further information on the eight wire dipole, quadrant and rhombic aerials can be found on the Odds and Sods Page.
Above is a photograph
taken in 1958 which has been divided into two parts so that the tower can be enlarged.
To the left riggers Ian Little and Charlie Langridge (right) are posing for the camera.
On the right one of the 50ft steel towers can be seen supporting numerous VHF type 24
caged dipoles and in the background the black water tank and one of the Nissen huts is
In the left hand
photograph riggers Noel Bollard(back), Ian Little and Charlie Langridge(front) are
posing on the old cannon on The Peak. To the right some of the prefabricated
buildings can be seen. In 1955 rigger (then Cpl) Roy Henderson described the interior
one of the huts thus "The linguists simply sat there like a lot of battery hens
listening and writing up any juicy received transmissions or zapping any particularly
urgent ones direct to 367 by scrambled VHF presumably for onward transmission to GCHQ".
367 Signals Unit also maintained a detachment based at RAF Labuan in British North
Borneo until 1963.
There is now an excellent book about No 2 Mandarin Chinese Course, Joint Services School for Linguists. "Chinese Whispers - Listening to China" has been published by one of the linguists, Jim Wilson, and relates the training and history of the course and their posting to Hong Kong in 1958. The book costs £10-00 + £3-50 postage and packing in the UK. Copies can be obtained by contacting Lance Slater at 31, Rookery Court, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 3HR, United Kingdom, Telephone:- 01 628 484323, Mobile:- 07803 179911 or by E-mail:-firstname.lastname@example.org
More detailed information on the origins and history of 367 Signals Unit and the excellent 367 Signals Unit Association website can be found by using the link on the Links Page.
RAF Mount Davis, 117 Signals Unit, 1945/6-1959.
117 Signals Unit was
located on Hong Kong island in the old 2nd World War gun emplacements on the top of
Davis with a fighter control detachment based at Cape D'Aguilar. The presumed date of
the units arrival is sometime in the late 1945 early 1946. The initial equipment is
thought to have been a mobile AMES type 14 radar/air traffic control convoy. The unit
was partly housed in the old gun emplacements and bunkers and in newly constructed
Nissen huts. The communications with the Joint Services HQ (Force), Cape D'Aguilar and
the airfield at Kai Tak was by land line and HF and VHF transmitters and receivers.
Another photograph taken by Norman Lawson showing the lower part of the site which consisted mainly of Nissen huts used for accommodation and office facilities.
The photograph above shows the communications aerials. Four type 34 masts can be seen,
painted in red and white stripes to make them more visible to low flying aircraft. The
two masts on the left are each supporting a VHF aerial system type 412 which consists
of two type 24 VHF caged dipoles mounted on a spreader. The two mast type 34s to the
right have a triatic slung between them which is supporting three 1/4 wave vertical
In 1956 the site was upgraded by the installation of more advanced radar (FPS3) and the old AMES type 14 set up was dismantled. The equipment, in kit form, was supplied by the United States Air Force from their base at Clark Field in the Philipines and was assembled by 117 Signals Unit assisted by the Signals Centre aerial erectors. The FPS3 radar was manufactured for the United States Air Force by the Avionics Division of the Bendix Corporation.
RAF Mount Davis closed down in January 1959 when the FPS6 and FPS8 radar at Tai Mo Shan in the New Territories became operational. The personnel of 117 Signals Unit were then accommodated at RAF Kai Tak.
More of Norman Lawson's photographs and those of other members of 117 Signals Unit taken at Mount Davis can be found at the excellent "Gwulo : Old Hong Kong" website by using the link on the Links Page.
RAF Tai Mo Shan. (Project Cabbage Leaf.) 1957-58
Project Cabbage Leaf was the construction of a new radar station at Tai Mo Shan in the New Territories of Hong Kong to replace the RAF Mount Davis radar station on Hong Kong Island. The project was carried out by No2 (Hong Kong) Radio Fitting Party from the Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow assisted by personnel from the Signals Centre, Hong Kong and 117 Signals Unit, Mount Davis. The construction of the US supplied FPS 6 and FPS 8 Radar equipment was supervised by staff from a Communications Construction Squadron of the United States Air Force based at Clark Field in the Philippines.
In the photograph above the partly completed FPS 6 tower can be seen on the left and the FPS 8 tower to the right. In the foreground are the kitchen, mess and administration tents and the Bedford 3tonner which transported everyone to the site each day. The jib of the Coles crane used to lift the girders into place can be seen through the framework of the "8". The ramshackle huts in the centre belong to the civilian contractors who did all the groundworks on behalf of the MPBW. All the steelwork etc was delivered to the site from Kai Tak by two short wheelbase Bedford tipper lorries which were the only vehicles able to negotiate the hair-pin bends on the track up the mountainside without shunting.
In the lefthand picture above, the steel framework for the FPS 8 is almost completed and the crane is about to move down to the lower level. In the righthand picture the FPS 6 has had the outer cladding, doors, windows and the catwalk fitted. The equipment lifting gantries are in place. The crane can be seen in the bottom left corner where it came to rest after the brakes failed as it was being backed down to the lower level. Fortunately no-one was injured in the accident.
The Tai Mo Shan Construction Team 1958.
Left to right -
Standing:- Slim Greenslade, Ground Radar Mechanic(117 Signals Unit). - Cpl Eddie
Edwards, Aerial Erector(Signals Centre, Hong Kong). - Bert Faraday, Ground Radar
Fitter(117 SU). - Cpl Johnny Johnson, Cook(RAF Kai Tak). - Ernie Heagren, Ae/E(RFP).
- Bennie Fox, Ae/E(SCHK). - Curly Chalcroft, GRM(117 SU). - Frenchie Smith, Ae/E(RFP).
- Lennie Newbit, Ae/E(RFP). - Brian Smith, Ae/E(RFP). - Hank Wilkinson, GRM(117 SU).
In the left photograph above the construction of the Operations/Administration building has commenced. Across the road, tracks lead round the mountain to old observation posts facing the border with China established by the British Army prior to the Japanese invasion. During the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong the Japanese Army built a crude radar post on the mountain which is thought to have been destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945. The various tracks on the summit were used by the RAF Regiment(Malaya) to establish a barbed wire perimeter around the site. They also built a sandbag guard post which was replaced by a proper guardroom as seen in photograph on the right. The RAF Regiment laid a field telephone cable to another guard post at the base of the mountain where the track joined the Twisk Highway and it was used to control the traffic using the rough narrow track up to Tai Mo Shan.
In the left hand picture the RAF Regiment(Malaya) guard post at the junction of the track and the Twisk Highway can been seen and in the background are rows of tree seedling in a Forestry Department nursery. On the right, the new, shorter, surfaced access road to replace the old rough meandering access track up the mountain to the site can been seen under construction in the distance.
The completed FPS6 and FPS8 Radar Towers as seen in 1973. Photograph courtesy of Cliff Dawes.
RAF Sek Kong Airfield as seen from Tai Mo Shan on a cloudy day.
Christmas Island 1956-57.
In the summer of 1956
the Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow was ordered to form a radio fitting party which
was to go to Christmas Island (Kiritimati) in the Pacific Ocean as part of the build-up
to Operation Grapple. Operation Grapple was the code name for a forthcoming series of
British nuclear tests. The Atomic Weapons Establishment had carried out a survey of the
island in January/February 1956 and in March work commenced clearing and repairing the
runways which had been built by the United States Air Force in World War 2. Initially
personnel were landed from the troopship Devonshire which shuttled between Christmas
Island and Fiji. By the end of September a large tented camp had been set up to house
all the service personnel and the runways were able to receive aircraft.
No.7 (Christmas Island) Radio Fitting Party, under the command of Flt Lt E. A. Curchin, left the Radio Engineering Unit in October 1956 and was flown out to Christmas (Kiritimati) Island. The party flew by British Overseas Airways Stratocruiser via Gander in Newfoundland to New York. The party was then flown by United Airlines across the United States to California and on to Hawaii. They then continued on from Hawaii on board a chartered Qantas Airlines Super Constellation to Christmas Island.
No.7 Radio Fitting Party 1956.
photograph of the fitting party prior to their departure in 1956.
The Aerial Erector team, led by Sgt "Matt" Harper, spent six
months building the transmitter and receiver aerial farms. The masts erected consisted
of a mix of mast type 23s and mast type 35As. The concrete anchorage bases for the
masts were installed by a team of Royal Engineers due to problems encountered by the
high water table. The aerials installed were mostly rhombics, eight wire caged dipoles
and quadrants fed by the RAF's standard open wire feeder systems. A number of VHF type
24 dipole aerials were installed on the airfield control tower and as part of the island
The Aerial Erector team, led by Sgt "Matt" Harper, spent six months building the transmitter and receiver aerial farms. The masts erected consisted of a mix of mast type 23s and mast type 35As. The concrete anchorage bases for the masts were installed by a team of Royal Engineers due to problems encountered by the high water table. The aerials installed were mostly rhombics, eight wire caged dipoles and quadrants fed by the RAF's standard open wire feeder systems. A number of VHF type 24 dipole aerials were installed on the airfield control tower and as part of the island communications system.
photograph above some of the riggers are relaxing with a mug of tea at the Tx site.
Left to right:- Dennis Cook, Pete Miles, Matt Harper, Brian Hart, Pete Allen plus two
Ground Wireless fitters, Jim Bharucha and D. Lumb.
On completion of the work most of the fitting party riggers returned to the United Kingdom. Five of the riggers remained on the island to service and maintain the aerials, masts and feeder lines.
In April 1957 the five remaining fitting party aerial erectors were given a new task. They travelled 200 miles to the south of Christmas Island on board HMS Messina to Penrhyn Island (Tongareva), one of the Cook Islands. There they stayed in the camp which had been set up in Omaka village near to the airfield.
The camp, seen in the photograph above, housed a group of scientific personnel who were to monitor the effects of the nuclear tests. The riggers erected a number of communications aerials and masts at the monitor/weather station on the island.
Four of the five riggers working on Penrhyn Island.
On completion of this task they were collected by a Shackleton of 240 Sqdn and taken back to Christmas Island. They returned to the Radio Engineering Unit at RAF Henlow in the United Kingdom in August 1957.
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