Standard Types of Mobile Signals Units

Standardisation of Mobile Signals Units

The need for standardisation of Mobile Signals Units in all theatres was evident by 1943. Only by adopting this system could the necessary training be given to persons before going overseas. Basic training was not enough; it was most important that special training should be given to airmen who were to be employed on this type of work, and such training could only be given satisfactorily if they were crewed up as complete units before despatch overseas. The difficulty was that MSUs were built up of component vehicles, the contents of which had hitherto been determined to some extent by local requirements. Some of the units in use at Home were not necessarily suitable for general adoption.

However, it was possible to agree many existing types as standard, and special vehicle types were referred to the Air Ministry who allotted the new vehicle a type number and published it to all concerned.

The Tactical Air Force which was being prepared in the United Kingdom for operations on the Continent, was the prototype for the mobile signals unit system and was planned to include advanced and rear air headquarters, base signals units, two composite groups (fighter and close support bomber), one light bomber group and one reconnaissance wing. The base signals units (BSU), mobile signals units (MSU), and mobile signals servicing units, (MSSU) together comprised a complete signals organisation for an air force in the field. Provision was made, with the addition of advanced landing ground signals sections (ALGSS) and field force headquarters signals sections (FFHQSS) for the preliminary assault stage. With slight modifications to establishment, the BSU could become the keystone of a static signals establishment.

The signals facilities for Advanced and Rear Air Headquarters and for all groups were provided by MSUs. Composite groups included a mobile operations room unit (MORU) and a mobile air reporting unit (MARU) complete with their own mobile signals sections, wireless unit screen and AME stations. Composite groups were allotted MSUs to meet the requirements of their own advanced and rear headquarters, airfields, air stores parks (ASPs) and repair and salvage units (RSUs); an MSSU; and one or more FFHQSS and ALGSS. The light bomber group was allotted MSUs in accordance with its requirements. The policy was to allot a BSU to a formation of three groups, as was the case with TAF.

The terms of reference of the BSUs were:

a) The receipt and testing of all signals and radar equipment consigned to the theatre prior to issue to units in the field.
b) The servicing of equipment returned to base as beyond the capacity of the MSSUs.
c) The holding of reserve signals and radar units.
d) The installation of fixed signals and radar stations.
e) The fitting of approved modifications.
f) The development and manufacture of apparatus to meet special requirements.
g) The examination and analysis of technical reports from units and the transmission of summaries thereof to the Air Ministry.

A base signals unit was formed at Chigwell, fully mobile as part of TAF (Tactical Air Force). It was employed from June 1943 on the task of assembling and training mobile signals and radar units for despatch overseas , either immediately (as for “Husky”) or as part of TAF.

The MSSUs were intended to move into an operational theatre at as early a stage as possible. They held three months’ spares for MSUs and mobile radar units, and constituted the sole servicing and holding unit for such technical equipment until the BSU was established.

The work of preparing and despatching mobile units at Chigwell was carried out in three sections, the first for assembling, testing and issuing technical gear; the second for servicing, testing and issuing MT and motor cycles, and the third for issuing barrack pack-ups. Training was given in Morse and procedure, and in practical work, carried out in a hangar in which were mounted, side by side, the chassis of all types of signals vehicles. Crews were assembled, equipped and trained as a team, every effort being made to fit them for overseas conditions and for mobile operations. Instructions were given to officers on the task of administration in the field.

By the middle of 1943, a total of 16 types of mobile signals unit had been laid down by the Air Ministry, each providing standard signals facilities according to its type. The types were designed to fit together, like building blocks, into any likely total of requirements. Not all these types had been formed by June 1943, but a large number of standard types of MSU were in use by 1944, each providing different facilities. The units were numbered in four series, according to their function, as follows:

a) MSUs type “A” to “Z”. These constituted the first series of MSUs to be formed. The signals equipment used was the same as that used for the transportable units, with a number of additions. The units were allocated identification letters consecutively in the order of their function, as:

“A” – 8 low power HF W/T channels.
“B” – 4 low power HF W/T channels (reinforcement).
“C” – 4 very low power HF W/T channels.
“D” – 2 low power HF W/T channels.
“E” – 4 low power HF W/T channels (reinforcement).
“F” – 2 very low power R/T W/T channels (reinforcement).
“G” – 2 very low power HF W/T channels (reinforcement).
“H” – 4 VHF R/T point-to-point channels.
“J” – VHF R/T point-to-point channel.
“K” – 1 very low power HF W/T channel.
“L” – 1 HF D/F channel.
“M” – 1 MF beacon.
“N” – 1 Radio Track Guide.
“O” – 4 VHF R/T channels.
“P” – 2 VHF R/T channels.
“Q” – 1 VHF D/F channel.
“R” – 1 high power HF W/T channel (reinforcement).
“S” – 1 10 watt simplex VHF channel.
“T” – 1 50 watt simplex VH.F channel.
“U” – 1 50 watt duplex VHF channel.
“W” – 1 500 watt duplex speech plus teleprinter channel.

On the completion of this series, it was decided to sub-divide additional types of units into three double-letter series, as listed in b), c) and d) below:

b) MSUs type “CA”… “CZ”. This series comprised units designed to provide communications facilities.

c) MSUs type “RA”…”RZ”. This series comprised mobile radar units other than AMES.

d) MSUs type “SA”… “SZ”. This series comprised units designed to provide special facilities (eg RCM) outside those covered in types “CA” to “CZ” and “RA” to “RZ”.

By the end of the year, double letter types already formed included “CA” (high power speech plus teleprinter twin channel relay units); “RA” (mobile Eureka “H” beacons); “RJ” (enemy jamming investigator units); “SJ”, “SM” and “SR” (RCM units); and “SS” (mobile signal security units). Other miscellaneous units formed included heavy mobile automatic W/T units, light automatic W/T units, mobile air reporting units etc., (MARU). The units were formed at Chigwell.

The existing policy regarding the supply of equipment and the production of mobile and transportable stations was changed in April 1944, when a new unit, the Radio Vehicle Storage Unit, was established at Bowlee. A restatement of the functions of the units concerned was then made. Briefly, the Signals Depots were responsible for installing and testing radio equipment prior to issue to the Radio Vehicle Storage Unit, for executing all major modifications, and for the prototyping of new installations. The new unit was responsible for the storage of, minor modifications to, and testing and completing to scale of new equipment, the servicing and storage of service equipment and the despatch of stations for home and overseas; Chigwell was responsible for the training of units composite mobile and transportable signals units.

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