Commcen Telegraphy

 
The webmaster - a Radio Ham - G4LXD -was curious to know something of how the Commcen worked and put these questions to Alan Marshall :

"What sort of speeds were you using as routine? One telegraphist In Salalah I do remember using a straight key but with a table knife taped to it to give it some sort of balance. I don't recall any of them using a 'bug' key to give them any extra speed"

I have never held an amateur radio licence but I did operate the call sign VS9MB (please see the two attachments) while I served on Gan Island in the Maldives between Nov 1968 and Nov 1969.

The operating speed of 10 wpm for Amateur radio is correct. The  words as you rightly state were split into groups of five letters.

My final exams at RAF Cosford required a speed of 18 wpm (the minimum) 20 wpm or 22 wpm again no uncorrected errors. The test duration was 2 minutes. Teleprinter typing speed was 45 wpm with no errors. My best typing speed was at RAF Stanbridge (also mentioned under Radio 219 on your website) where I surprise myself with 65wpm on one occasion.

The operating speeds used at Salalah varied. The general rule was that you operated at the speed of the slowest operator to prevent the slower operator missing characters and having to request a repeat.

The operating speeds used were usually between 16 and 20 wpm. However after using Morse code as the main method of communication for two months, my speed had increased up to 22 wpm and a bit more probably if in a good rhythm up to 24 wpm (I never actually measured the speed).

Yes the standard stainless steel mess knife could be used on a standard Morse key to increase the speed. The method was to unscrew the Morse key tapper and put the knife blade between it and the metal bar, tighten up the tapper to trap the knife blade and away you would go. The more of the blade pushed into towards the contacts on the key the faster the speed. The knife was in a way actually used as a spring, it took a bit of training but I only ever used this method on Gan.

When I arrived at Masirah en route back to Cyprus as I stated, I went into the Commcen and worked the link back to Mick Williams in Salalah. One of the Masirah ops was using a bug key and offered me the use of it but I could not get the hang of the automatic dits to the left and then a manual dah to the right. I sent some long messages back that evening and Mick actually sent me a GM for good Morse at the end of the shift and he received the same from me.

On some occasions the frequencies were not good and words twice procedure came into play. Every word or letter group had to be transmitted twice.  A Further procedure was that for long grouped messages you would send the GR group count let us say GR850. You would send the groups in blocks of 50 followed by long break (BT) the number of groups sent 50 followed by B (meaning more to follow) then K the invitation for a receipt.

so BT 50 B K you hoped you would get the response R 50 K
next BT 51 XXXXX and so on and so forth.

To be prepared for receiving messages that were long, I would fill 20 or more message pads with carbons and stack them on top of the Racal RA17 transceiver so after writing 50 groups on the page you could send the receipt pull the next pad onto the table ready to go. When the final QSL was received for the message I would fill in the Wireless Operators log (B/Sigs./1) with the relevant details.

It was imperative to keep the Comms links open as you will appreciate. On one night shift the CW frequencies were very poor so I actually got the Masirah op to plug in the key to the R/T link and it worked a treat.

I last used a Morse key when I was attached to Tactical Communications Wing (TCW) at Brize Norton 1985 to 1989. Morse was mainly used on joint comms exercises for the initial contact before establishing comms on Teleprinter links.

 
In 2011 some messages are transmitted via satellite - as few as 1% - the other 99% go via fibre-optic cable under the oceans where they are very much more secure or so you might suppose.

Bend a fibre optic cable by a little as one degree for enough photons to then escape that the message in the cable can be read with a device attached to the outside of the cable that does not damage that cable in any way.

The original digital message sending system with a morse key, a simple wire antenna, a 100watt transceiver can be set up in a matter of minutes any where at all to transmit its encrypted message.

Do we need satellites and fibre-optics or should we still use old fashioned telegraphists when the chips are down ?  - Webmaster