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Chapter 1

The 'Y' - or Wireless Intercept - Services have a history almost as long as that of radio itself. Early on, it was realized by intelligence agencies that foreign broadcasts offered rich pickings from the interception and exploitation of. This was particularly true of those serving military and diplomatic communications.

Military Uses

Military exploitation of the communications of hostile, or potentially hostile, powers really came of age around the time of the First World War. It was to play an important part in naval strategy and it was the British Royal Navy that led many developments. Information that was never divulged or publicly discussed at the time made it clear that the British naval success in the Battle of Jutland, and elsewhere, owed much to Wireless Intercept successes.

By the start of World War II the contribution of the Forces had become an essential component of the overall intelligence effort. At the peak of the secret, wartime campaign many thousands of men and women, from the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force were engaged in duties, which for many years they could discuss with only those who had shared their secret. Allied interception work occurred on all fronts, with what is described as ‘strategic intelligence’ collection concentrated on a network of major static sites and ‘tactical intelligence’ collection dependent on a variety of mobile and semi-permanent units.

Public Recognition

The veil of secrecy that had prevailed for several decades finally began to lift in the 1960s. when in 1967 Winterbottom was the first to publish a book1 describing the Allied struggle to break the cyphers produced by the German cipher machine known as Enigma, His was followed by a number of books all releasing a little more information on this secret world. Perhaps, most importantly, the contribution of those who intercepted these l transmissions, hour after hour, day after day, thus providing the raw material for code-breaking work, was finally acknowledged, albeit only lightly.

Due to the sensitivity of the work involved, and it’s particularly demanding nature, a bond, and a strong sense of identity and common purpose, grew up amongst 'Y' workers even though different Corps – even Services, are involved. This remains a feature of Y Service life today. Servicemen and women are still engaged in this work though nowadays in considerably smaller numbers. We are now in the sinister world of overt electronic warfare supporting military operations, nowadays nearly always in a peacekeeping or peace support context.

 1 Secret and Personal Kimber 1969 and The Ultra Secret Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1974.


The first use of Wireless communications was in the Boer War 1899 - 1902 and the possibilities of wireless interception were realized by the military leaders of the time. It was not until the outbreak of the First world war 1914-1918, however, that wireless technology had advanced enough for the military to use it as a really successful tool.

Several separate departments within the War Office had been given responsibility for different aspects of intelligence related work, particularly with maps. Centralisation was first tried out in 1873 when the ‘Intelligence Branch’ was established and this became the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in 1888. In 1904 DMI became part of the Directorate of Military Operations (DMO); it was made independent in 1915 but then re-united with DMO in 1922. The two departments were again separated in 1939.

The various sections of Military Intelligence (MI) and Military Operations (MO) were kept distinct even when under a single head. DMO was responsible for outline operational planning up to the time when an operation Commander was appointed. It also collected information about British forces and the armed forces of close allies. DMI was concerned with the armed forces of enemy countries, distant allies and neutral countries. It was in close touch with military attaches and missions abroad and was interested not only in military details but also in more general historical, topographical and economic information. Until 1940, when a separate department was established for the purpose, DMI was also responsible for censorship. In addition to the departments in London , military intelligence had staff attached to missions overseas and field headquarters.

By 1914, radio communications, or wireless telegraphy as these communications were then known, were used by virtually all of the world's military and naval forces. The relationship between frequency or wavelength, power, directivity and range were not well understood and nor was the possibility and potential of interception, or deception. The troops and sailors of the European nations were soon to bear the costs of such negligence.

On 5 August 1914 , the cable ship Telconia lifted the German overseas telegraph cables from the bed of the North Sea . Thereafter German diplomatic communications had to go by wireless, as did signals to the High Seas Fleet and the U boats. The Authorities appreciated that these could be intercepted and so they were sent encyphered. Cryptography had been subject to a lot of study in Britain before the War, particularly at Naval Intelligence Department (NID), and as a result, specialists at NID were able to read many of Germany 's diplomatic and operational signals in a very short time. The knowledge thus gained gave NID much influence and the work was at times of major significance, leading indirectly, for example, to the entry of America into the War following the interception and deciphering of the notorious Zimmerman telegram.

During the early months of the 1st World War some of the British wireless sections began picking up signals that they calculated were originating from the enemy. They realized from the amount of traffic being intercepted that the Germans were making considerable use of wireless transmissions for their communications. It was also discovered that (as with telegraph line transmissions) they had been enciphered.

Maurice Wright had become a Marconi engineer in England in 1912 (and was later to become Engineer in Chief). In 1914 he was experimenting with the then new triode vacuum tube in a radio receiving circuit, working with Captain H. J. Round. The circuit details are lost, but it was undoubtedly a regenerative configuration, and it ‘made the interception of long range communications possible for the first time’ as later reported by Peter Wright, Maurice's son, (later, a senior official in the British Counter Intelligence and notorious as the author of ‘Spycatcher’)2.

Spy Catcher, the candid autobiography of a senior intelligence officer. Peter Wright. Viking Press 1987.

Two days before the outbreak of hostilities in August of 1914, whilst working at his lab at Marconi at Chelmsford , Wright realized he was listening to the German Navy. He passed the intercepts to Captain Reggie Hall of Naval Intelligence. Hall realized the importance of what he had been given and put Wright to work building a chain of intercept stations for the Admiralty. Wright and Round also developed a periodic direction finding techniques enabling them to track the German fleet, providing sufficient warning for the British fleet to engage it on the high seas. In the process, Wright also established a clandestine intercept station in Norway in 1915.

The intercept stations set up in this effort were to be known as the "Y" stations. Marconi (merchant navy) receiving stations, British Post Office stations and an Admiralty "police" station all provided intercepts to Captain Hall's Room 40 ‘code breakers’. These stations were soon to be joined by enthusiastic amateurs. Barrister Russell Clarke and Col. Richard Hippisley had been logging intercepts of German traffic at their amateur stations in London and Wales. They reported on their efforts and as a result they were invited to work for Hall. New intercept stations went up on the coast. Soon practically all German naval wireless traffic was finding its way to Room 40.

Intelligence officers were assigned to study the contents of these intercepted messages and it was realized that it would be an advantage to locate the enemy wireless stations transmitting these messages.

Two Marconi technicians were assigned to this task and conducted experiments on the Wiltshire Downs near to Devizes.  They used modified loop aerials to locate the position of a transmitter, achieving this by taking bearings from more than two different locations. By using these loop aerials the location of the transmitter could be pinpointed with some considerable accuracy. When the direction-finding results were compared with the content of the messages, on occasions the transmitters could be matched with known enemy formations. This enabled intelligence officers to follow the movements of the formations and the positions of their headquarters even when the messages could not be deciphered. This process was later to become known as
traffic analysis.

The War Office realized the importance of this new area of intelligence work and created a new department with the director of military intelligence in charge. The team studied the resulting intercepts and developed the science of Traffic Analysis, This involved many areas of expertise such as the interception of station call signs, tracking operating frequencies, the study of signals in clear and ciphered text, making D/F (Direction Finding} fixes, radio finger printing, the recognition of individual radio operators by the particular style they used to send Morse code messages.

In a military context, traffic analysis is usually performed by a Signals Intelligence unit, and can be a valuable source of information about the intentions and actions of the enemy. For example when deploying to the field on major exercises, the scenario could possibly indicate their likely deployment in War. other indicators and patterns can be very revealing and include:
  • Frequent communications — can denote planning
  • Rapid, short, communications — can denote negotiations
  • A lack of communication — can indicate a lack of activity, or completion of a finalized plan
  • Frequent communication to specific stations from a central station — can highlight the chain of command
  • Who talks to whom — can indicate which stations are 'in charge' and which aren't, which further implies something about the personnel associated with each station
  • Who talks when — can indicate which stations are active in connection with events, which implies something about the information being passed and perhaps something about the personnel/access of those associated with some stations
  • Who changes from station to station, or medium to medium — can indicate movement, fear of interception

All of this is invaluable information particularly when studying the enemy’s “Order of Battle” Although separate, there is a close relationship between traffic analysis and cryptanalysis (commonly called code breaking) and addresses are frequently encrypted requiring assistance in identifying them by call sign recognition and frequency analysis. Traffic volume can often be a sign of an addressee's importance, giving hints of pending objectives or movements to cryptanalysts3.

During the early days of the War the Royal Navy was having more success than the Army in the use of wireless communications and consequently became heavily involved in intercept work. In the summer of 1914 the Admiralty received reports that the General Post Office had picked up German signals from their station at Lowestoft so the Naval intelligence department quickly authorised an intercept station to be set up at Hunstanton to monitor this signal traffic. The coast guard hut there was used to house the equipment and three Radio Amateurs were assigned to man it. Here a secret tradition began since these were to be the first of the Voluntary Interceptors or VI’s, whose work was later to prove so vital in the Second World War.

 3  I acknowledge the unwitting help of Wikipedia in preparing this.

The German high power long wave station at Norddeich provided fodder for the code breakers through the Y stations and soon they turned their attention to higher frequency interception as well. In 1915 these intercepts helped the British to win the naval battle at Dogger Bank, and were to play vital roles in later naval engagements.

The direction finding stations working under Round also provided intercepts to Room 40,The ‘directionals’ tracked U-boats and Zeppelins as well as naval craft. The Y station intercepts were to show that the 1915 sinking of the SS Lusitania by a U-Boat had the approval of the German high command, despite its strenuous denials. By mobilising public opinion in the USA it helped entry into the War ultimately leading to victory. The leading history of the astonishing success of British intelligence in the First World War concludes: "[the] Y stations made it all possible."

Perhaps the most famous intercept of all was the infamous 1917 Zimmerman Telegram that would finally bring America into the war. Briefly, Germany promised Mexico it could have back the territory it lost in the Mexican American War, if it would join Germany against the United States . Plucked from the ether by the British intercept stations and decrypted by Room 40, and passed on to the USA authorities it enraged the Americans. Captain "Reggie" Hall4 of Room 40, never known for his modesty, claimed "Alone I did this.

The British Navy successfully intercepted wireless messages on the high seas as well. In an outstanding feat of code breaking, Signal Officer Charles Stuart of the cruiser ‘Glasgow’ was able to establish that the German cruiser ‘ Dresden ’ would coal at Juan Fernandez Island (Robinson Crusoe's old second home) off Chile , by deciphering an intercept from the Nauen Telefunken station. It is too long to quote here but there is a fascinating contemporary article on the part that wireless played in naval history “Wireless Waves in the World’s War (1916), www.earlyradiohistory.us/1916

Admiral Sir William Hall, Director of Naval Intelligence.

British intelligence also sent Sir Hercules Langrishe and A.E.W. Mason to destroy the German station in Mexico at Ixtapalpa in 1918. This Mason did by smashing its Audions, putting the German agent Herr Jahnke out of business.
There was one other important outcome of the success of British Army signals units in intercepting German wireless traffic. It convinced British commanders that wireless was too dangerous a method of communications to use and the signals units turned almost exclusively to monitoring and intercept work.

Imperial German army interception of Russian wireless traffic.

The Russian Army used wireless to coordinate its campaigns. It took virtually no precautions against interception and did not encode its traffic. In 1914, the Germans won the decisive battle of Tannenberg against the Russians. The Germans had set up wireless intercept stations on all fronts and had intercepted virtually all of the Russian traffic (and it was readable), through the German radio stations at Thorn, and Koenigsberg in East Prussia. Incredibly, the intercepts had originally gone to Hindenberg by motorcycle at the personal initiative of the chief of the Thorn station, and the whole effort had begun as an amateur and even sporting endeavour of the operators with time on their hands.

Tactical intercepts by all belligerent signal services provide important battlefield intelligence, but radio deception can become a weapon in its own right. In early September, 1914 the Russians intercepted a message from German Army Staff Headquarters from which the Russians inferred a threat from a new large force, and therefore held back forces of their own in the upcoming battle. The German Eighth Army staff, however, anticipating interception, had transmitted in plain text from its station at Koenigsberg a completely false message. Radio deception had begun to play its counterpoint to radio interception right at the commencement of the hostilities The Germans were to use radio deception again successfully within weeks.

The Battle of Tannenberg taught the Germans the value of their intercept efforts. The Russian traffic was read from August 1914 to the close of 1915. One Russian General Officer was later to term Russia ’s use of plain text and their failure to take precautions as "unpardonable negligence."

The Austrians had integrated their intercept service into their Chancellery cryptographic section at the beginning of the war. They too regularly intercepted and decrypted Russian traffic throughout the war.

Amazingly the Germans made the very errors from which they had profited in the East, in the West. The French even before the war strove to intercept relevant traffic. At the beginning of the war in the West, the Germans sought to thrust into France to defeat the French armies east of Paris. The French had obtained the whole order of battle, and up to the minute tactical intelligence by radio intercepts. Just as the Russian thrust failed in the East for want of radio discipline, so too did the German thrust in the West turn to defeat at the Battle of the Marne for exactly the same reasons.

Failure to achieve early decisive victories on either side, meant that the war degenerated into trench warfare, artillery battles and gassing, for four horrible years until the arrival of the tank and the Americans. The superior material and manpower of the allies, with the entrance of the United States in April, 1917, finally turned the tide. The United States also joined the war in the ether. In 1918, the U.S. Army Signal Corps established its first long range intercept station in Maine, to listen to Europe, under Lt. Arthur E. Boeder. American "Y" stations (although that was only the British name for them) monitored transmissions to German agents in Mexico and South America. The U.S. Army had used mobile intercept stations as well as land stations as early as 1916 on the Mexican border, and well into the 20s. Army Intelligence brought its pre-war expertise with it in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France. "Radio intelligence firmly established itself as an Army intelligence tool in France. In addition to monitoring U.S. traffic for security violations, Signal Corp intercept stations located all along the enemy front copied enemy traffic and pinpointed the location of enemy positions by goniometric radio direction finding. Intercepted traffic was passed to the radio intelligence sections at General Headquarters and the two field armies, where specialists analysed message flow patterns and attempted to decrypt the messages themselves.

US Army mobile
U.S. Army mobile station in France

US Signal Corps
U.S. Signal Corps Army Receiving Station France 1918

Between the wars

Downsizing was the aftermath of the end of the Great War as it is of all wars. Intercept services and intelligence functions shrank. There were, however, untoward "consequences of the peace" (to use Lord Keynes' phrase). As wireless and radio came to play a part in future events, so did radio interception. By the close of the First World War, the allies had turned their attention not only to the nations of the world, but also to the subversion by the international communist movement. With the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, all of the Great Powers felt that they faced a new threat, revolution from within. The British continued to monitor and decrypt Soviet transmissions throughout the 1920s.

The Germans themselves valued their military intelligence section, which was re-instituted on a permanent basis in 1919. Within Germany itself, the Frei-Corps set up a monitoring station to listen to communists. This was the time of the ‘Red Uprising’ and failed Putsch The official German intercept service concentrated on the international press radio service until 1925, then gradually turned its attention to diplomatic transmissions.

In the estimation of one German authority, ‘the English had the superior radio intercept service between the wars’, devoted not only to military intelligence but also to diplomatic traffic. The French had also maintained their intercept service, as did other nations. By then the Russians maintained the best discipline and were perhaps the most effective. The Poles more than held their own. The Italians ran a lax operation, and other nations had only indifferent success.

In October, 1919 Britain formed the Government Code and Cipher School (GCCS) by amalgamating Room 40 of the Admiralty and Military Intelligence. To support its work, they formed the Royal Corps of Signals ( 28th June 1920 ), which in conjunction with Admiralty monitoring, would provide the messages for the ‘codebreakers’. The British Secret Service also took to putting its agents aboard merchant ships as Marconi wireless operators, when particular ports of call were of interest. With the threat of real looming, only the Poles had made any real progress - far more than the French and the British in understanding Enigma 5. The story of the wartime decryption of the Enigma traffic is well known and this is no place in which to repeat it. It may well have won the war in Europe - it certainly contributed far in excess of its cost. What is not widely known, perhaps deliberately, is that enemy radio operators' errors gave away more secrets of the codes and far more often than even the new electronic computers could break them. This has always been the case.

In 1918 the German inventor Arthur Scherbius & Richard Ritter founded a Company that would eventually lead to the invention of the most fearsome system of encryption in history - at least until the 1950's

Soviet subversion in Britain and Ireland provided GCCS its first important work, with civil unrest widely feared.
The London ‘Times’ ran a story that wireless intercepts showed the Soviets funding subversive activity in August of 1920. Despite a treaty prohibiting domestic subversion, the Soviets kept it up but, by then they were being monitored in detail by the wireless intercept stations and decrypted at GCCS. Various diplomatic initiatives attenuated the subversion for a while but also brought about the use of one-time encoding pads, very difficult, if not impossible to decrypt.

In 1930 an intercept station detected a circuit between Moscow and a suburb of London and it was not until the Spanish Civil War in 1936 that the British turned away from their focus on the Soviets. It has since been speculated that the circuit between Moscow and London ( fully decrypted by GCCS), was left in place in order to monitor the success of Comintern subversion at Cambridge and Oxford, and which would lead to the Philby affair many years later. During the Thirties the Russians had dedicated themselves to the overthrow of the United Kingdom Government and the British were aware of this from intercepts and seized documents; priority, however, had to be given to dealing with the Nazis, who had even more immediate plans, as became clear in 1936, 1938 and 1939.

The British had maintained a "Y" committee since 1925 to coordinate the work of intercepting radio signals. The Army had its chain of stations throughout the Empire, as did the Navy. The Post Office and the Air Ministry ran the domestic stations. Those listening heard and logged the traffic, but understanding it was another matter.

Between wars

American success had borne fruit at the 1921 Washington Peace Conference. Army Military Intelligence (MI-8) code breakers decrypted the Japanese diplomatic code, giving the Americans a considerable advantage whilst negotiating. The Army, on a tactical level, also engaged in monitoring and direction finding, as is illustrated by the 1940 set pictured operating in Hawaii.
The U.S. Navy also focused on the Japanese (as to some extent had the British too). In 1927 (later Admiral) Ellis Zacharias set up a monitoring station in Shanghai , the first of a chain across the Pacific. Zacharias set up his receivers on the fourth floor of the American Consulate. By 1940 the chain of stations included the Aleutians Islands, the Philippines at Corregidor, Samoa, Guam and Hawaii and Bainbridge Island, WA, Winter Harbor, ME, Jupiter, FL and Chelten on Oahu.

The US Army, despite the closing of the Black Chamber, operated the Signal Intelligence Service. The brilliant William Friedman ran the small group, which ultimately broke the Japanese Purple Code, providing the MAGIC decrypts that possibly won the war in the Pacific. It is said that Friedman broke that code without any captured machines or codebooks (unlike the British success with the Enigma codes). Friedman's was an unequalled feat of mind that nearly cost him his life.

The Americans and British traded intelligence information on the Japanese. The British in this period, the thirties, had four intercept stations in Australia, plus a Dutch station removed from Indonesia . It was the US intercept station at Bainbridge that took the communication from Tokyo to the Japanese Ambassador that instructed him to break off negotiations at 1 PM Washington time, or just after dawn in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour.


After the outbreak of the Second World War, MI 8 was formed and was given the responsibility for Signals Intelligence (SigInt), which included the Y Services. By then the Y Services consisted of several different departments; the RAF, Army, Navy, Metropolitan Police, Post Office and the Foreign Office.  Each service was used to listen to the coded signals of their opposite numbers within the enemy's forces.

Also, in 1939, the Government issued the new defence regulations, which altered the licensing conditions under which the Radio Amateurs in Great Britain could operate. These regulations restricted the use of Amateur Radio Transmitters except with the direct permission of the government. This was done to combat the threat of enemy agents operating transmitters from within the British Isles.

The Voluntary Interceptors - RSS

In order to monitor and police this threat MI5 created a new organisation called the Radio Security Service (RSS) which operated as part of the Y Service. This new department was given the cover designation of MI8c and was headed by Major Worlledge whose brief it was to intercept, locate and close down any illicit wireless stations operated by enemy agents or by other persons not licensed to do so under the new ‘Defence Regulations of 1939’.

Early in 1940, from the temporary HQ set up in Wormwood Scrubs prison with virtually no staff, no receiving stations and no skilled radio operators, Major Worlledge in MI8c set Lord Sandhurst the task of finding him the skilled wireless operators that he needed. Lord Sandhurst approached the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) for assistance. Founded in 1913 the R.S.G.B. still looks after and furthers the interests of Britain 's Radio Amateurs.

On their recommendations a secret army of voluntary operators was slowly recruited from the RAF's Civilian Wireless Reserve and the country's radio amateurs. These people became known as the Voluntary Interceptors or VIs and by using equipment set up in their homes they were initially given the job of listening out for traffic flowing between the Abwehr (German Intelligence) base stations and their agents in the field known as "foxes".

The VIs had to sort out the weaker signals transmitted by the foxes from all the other radio traffic which had much stronger signals, but this was easy for the VIs. Being radio amateurs they were used to seeking out weak signals and soon became skilled in this task. Eventually enough VIs had been recruited to cover a 24hr service and those who could send in more than 48 logs a month were excused from other onerous civilian duties such as fire-watching and Air Raid Patrol work.

As a cover it was decided to set up a special branch of the Royal Observer Corps into which the VIs were enlisted and issued with uniforms. After a few months the RSS had out grown its temporary headquarters and moved to Arkley View in Middlesex. Soon after this move it was realised that there were no enemy agents operating from in Great Britain and according to the traffic analysts at Arkley all of the intercepts then being received were from enemy nets operating solely on the continent.

The task of the VIs was now complete, but instead of disbanding them, they were now diverted to monitoring the traffic on the continent. In a relatively short time Lord Sandhurst had turned his army of radio amateurs into a highly professional unit dedicated to their work. The VIs had spent many hours listening on their receivers, never able to tell their families what they were doing.
By late 1940 the growth in the number of VIs was causing difficulties for the ‘Services’, who were finding it hard to recruit enough experienced operators to man their own Y stations. In late 1940 the Prime Minister asked Lord Hankey to investigate this shortfall. On his recommendations a substantial number of VIs were transferred into the military services to man their Y stations. This move was bitterly resented by Major Worlledge, but even so there were still some 1500 voluntary Interceptors working for the RSS by the end of the war.

Experimental Wireless Assistants

In late 1940 when these radio amateurs were sent to be part of the military Y Services they were enlisted as Civilian Operators. They were given the title Experimental Wireless Assistants (EWA's). The EWA's were now very skilled wireless operators and were joined by male staff from the Post Office and Merchant Navy. This helped to fill some of the shortfall in wireless operators that were needed to operate the expanding amount of wireless receivers at Beaumanor Park and other Y Stations around the country.

Special Wireless Operators

This expansion was due to the increasing enemy wireless communications traffic as the Axis forces invaded more of Europe . The Deputy Director of Military Intelligence decided that the solution of the problem of the shortage of skilled operators lay in training military people to fill this role and a decision was made to train women of the ATS, WRENS and WAAF to perform the operating tasks. For the first time these new military personnel would be women and given the title ‘Special Wireless Operators’.

Beaumanor Army Y Station

In 1941 the Fort Bridgeworks army barracks near Chatham were bombed and some of the women stationed there on Military work lost their lives, so a decision was made to move the Army Y station. The move was to RAF Chicksands in Bedfordshire (now well-known as being the current ‘Home’ of the Intelligence Corps), and was hailed as "the promised land" to the personnel of the newly named Special Wireless Group (SYG). Their stay, though, at Chicksands was both short and unhappy. Shortly after this a second move to the "promised land" took place. This time it was to be their home until the end of the war. Beaumanor Hall near Quorn in Leicestershire was the location prepared for the newly named (again) War Office Y Group (WOYG) and would become the Head Quarters hence WOYG HQ. The RAF personnel stationed at Beaumanor were then moved to Chicksands to combine with the other RAF staff at the base and were given the title ‘Special Y Service’. This was to be their home until the end of the war.

1942 -1946

At Beaumanor in the Second World War the intercept programme was focused on the interception of the Wehrmacht's Enigma coded wireless traffic and this work was largely conducted by the Army personnel stationed there. You should not forget however the work carried out in H Hut by the Civilian EWA's of whom many were originally Radio Amateurs.

During the war some 8000 men and women from the RAF, Army, Royal Navy, Post Office, Metropolitan Police and the Foreign Office were engaged in duties at the many Y stations located in this country and around the world. Their daily task was to intercept enemy radio communications and to provide the raw material for the code breakers at Bletchley Park.

Many Y Stations were located abroad and often consisted of field and mobile units whose work must not be overlooked, as this played just as vital a role as that carried out by the fixed stations located here in the United Kingdom. Many of them were even more at risk as they operated in isolation at locations very close to the enemy lines and with very limited protection. Many of these courageous people lost their lives or were captured by the enemy.

The Y Service was the "ears" of Bletchley Park and without this vital service the Government Codes and Cipher School would not have been able to function. This fact is invariably understated or overlooked in the intrigue surrounding the secret code breaking activities carried out by G.C&C.S. during world war two. It is never given the recognition it is due in any of the vast amount of literature that has since flooded out and for which the appetite of the Public is seemingly insatiable It is perhaps worth quoting from David Kahn’s classic book “Seizing the Enigma” to illustrate the point:-

“Welchman (a Cambridge mathematician who had been recruited to Bletchley at the outbreak of war) quickly perceived that the traffic patterns reflected the organization of the German army “The callsigns came alive”, he said, “as representing elements of those forces whose commanders at various echelons would have to send messages to each other. The use of different keys … suggested different command structures.”

He thought he was independently inventing a form of intelligence called traffic analysis” I do not think any comment is required.

Not all was perfect as far as inter – Service relationships were concerned. It is interesting to read Aileen Clayton’s “The Enemy is Listening 6 . For example, this is how she describes the relationship between the services.

“In the desert, there was a noticeable improvement in the liaison between the RAF and the Eighth Army … and this co-operation was reflected in the attitude of the two Y Services to each other”.

When writing on the fiasco in Crete she writes:

“What is so regrettable is that neither the Army nor the Navy fully appreciated the air situation. They were sceptical of the Enigma warnings, and blamed the RAF for letting them down, which led, not for the first time, to ill-feeling between the Services “.

The ill-feeling between the Army and the RAF had reached such a pitch after the hurried retreat from the Desert in 1942 that Tedder actually warned that ‘he would court-martial any RAF personnel who referred to the Army as ‘pongos’ or ‘The Retreatists’ (With prejudice Cassell 1966). Not everything was harmony between the various Y Services, by a long way.

The Enemy is Listening - the story of the Y Service, Crecy Publishing, Manchester, 1993. It is an excellent history ( as far as one can tell ) of the Royal Air Force efforts, however the Army contribution is barely mentioned and the Naval contribution little more. It is extremely partisan, as a result.

1945 -1970

The Y Service was not disbanded at the end of the war, but many changes took place to enable it to emerge reborn again. Beaumanor became a GCHQ controlled, civilian operated, Y Station, and the technology and the people formed an evolving timeline, through to 1970 when Beaumanor received it's last message and the new owners took over.

This is not the whole story nor is it the end and more will be added. Suffice it to say that we, at Langeleben, played a significant part in the story - way out of proportion to our size.

I hope those who have unwittingly supplied so much of this information, invariably anonymously, through several internet sites will forgive me for having helped myself so freely to their work. ed


The first National Service Acts were passed during the Second World War. However, following the war, conscription was extended as peacetime National Service. This was due in part to an unstable international situation, as well as to Britain 's responsibilities in the commonwealth and empire. The 1948 National Service Act, effective from 1 January 1949 , fixed the period of National Service to eighteen months with 4 years in the reserves. In 1950, the Korean War led to a further amendment increasing the period of service to two years, with three and a half years in the reserves. Men in Northern Ireland were excluded from the National Service under the Act.

Not all were to serve in the Forces. Bevin (or Bevan) Boys were young men who worked "down the pit" instead of serving in the armed forces as coal mining was an important "reserved occupation". The Bevin Boy scheme was set up by Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour ending in 1951, "National Service" or the 'call-up' finally came to a halt on 31 December 1960 and the very last National servicemen left the Army in 1963.

The last National Serviceman was. Private Fred Turner (23819209) Army Catering Corps at the time attached to the 13/18 Hussars. He was discharged on 7 May1963 and had the latest number issued to a National Serviceman. However, Lieutenant Richard Vaughan, Royal Army Pay Corps, left his unit in Germany on 4 May 1963 but because he had to travel back to England was not officially discharged until13 May1963.

In 1951 the Army more than the RAF and Navy found itself in an extraordinary position. There were still a considerable number of Regular soldiers who had either enlisted during the War or who, having initially been conscripted, had signed up to become Regulars and National Servicemen who, on the whole, resented every minute of the time that they had to spend serving their Country. This resentment was fuelled by the fact that the ‘regular’ was paid considerably more than the National Serviceman for doing the same work and had the somewhat dubious pleasure of being able to choose in which Service, Regiment or Corps he wished to serve - within reason. There was only pay parity in the last 6 months of National Service.

Amongst the Regulars there were also what were originally called ‘Boy Soldiers’ who had, for numerous reasons enlisted in the Army at what seemed, to the National Servicemen a very young age and were very experienced in all things ‘military’, This all laid the ground for potential tensions and it is surprising in retrospect that it did not give rise to more problems than actually arose.

There was one other problem for the National Service ‘Criminal’. Any time ‘served’ in any of the infamous military prisons was deemed not to count and for some the two years became four.

To the National Serviceman the concept of actually volunteering to serve was almost incomprehensible and to have signed up for ’22 years without the option’ was, to them, verging on madness. Virtually from the first day in the Army the NS recruit counted what was known as ‘Days to do’. These went down daily from 730 to the magic ‘demob day’. On meeting up with a squaddie who was not known to you one of the first questions asked was usually “how many have you got to do?” If it was more than you one had a feeling – even if it was only one day – of great superiority, The daily decreasing numbers were often marked inside one’s locker. What effect this had on the average ‘regular’ is not known but the minimum that they would ’do’ would be 1095 a truly daunting figure.

Perhaps at this point it is worth saying that the Navy enlisted far fewer NS personnel than the other two Services and it was perceived, whether based on fact or not that, overall, the brighter conscripts chose or were chosen for the Royal Air Force. Another aspect of NS that rankled with young men was that it was limited to men even though the women’s services existed.

Service started at the age of18 but it was possible to get deferment to,26 for most of its life. This enabled you to go to University or College before doing national service and to obtain a Doctorate whether it were in Medicine or philosophy. It also applied to those taking apprenticeships or articles, such as Solicitors or accountants. This created what was quite a bizarre cocktail. You could find in an intake an ex-Boy soldier who was fully trained both as a soldier and a craftsman aged 17; someone aged 17 or more who had signed up as a Regular for 3 years with the option to extend his service in 3 year stints and someone who it was seen as ‘signing his life away for the next 22 years’ with the relevant financial reward for doing so. The age range went from 17 via 18 as a National Serviceman up to 26. Even more complex was the fact that there were even those who had re-enlisted not enjoying life in the ’outside world’.

Just to add to the confusion there were those who had barely bothered with any education, those who were coming straight from school and having to mix equally with those who were able to put those magic letters ‘PhD’ after their name, solicitors and accountants. They came from what were still then, the extensive slums of London, Liverpool and Glasgow through to the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge. It should not be forgotten that in those days there were very few University ’places’ and Graduates were held in some awe. Many of the recruits from these poorer areas also suffered from malnutrition. Finally there were still many serving in the Forces who had fought or served during the Second World War. A heady cocktail and one that one had thought would be an inevitable route to disaster on a massive scale. But somehow it was not!

The Korean crisis had ended by 1953 and there was no fear of it erupting again but the Cold War in Europe was beginning to build up a nice head of steam. Although there was no major conflict there were little fire-fights going on all over the world. There was Cyprus and ‘Enosis’, the Communist uprising in Malaya; Kenya and Mau Mau; Aden and, of course, in 1956 the infamous Suez adventure which was to bring down a Prime Minister and have Britain hang its head in shame. It was also one of the few occasions until the Iraq affair when Reservists were to be called back into service – many of them National Servicemen  

In 1960 the last National serviceman started serving his time and there was much relief all round. There was little for them to do. The country needed the labour force and the Military wanted to become a Professional organisation and so it was a popular decision There are still many calling for its re-introduction with many seeing it as the universal panacea to Britain’s ills as if they had never existed before1960. No doubt in many ways in the current climate the Government if not the Military would certainly welcome an increase in numbers. Social observers would certainly welcome the removal of the bulk of the 18 to 20’s males if only to monitor the outcome.

One aspect of N.S. which is frequently overlooked is ‘Conscientious Objection’. Refusal to serve could be based on either religious or moral grounds. Despite ‘coaching’ by such organisations as the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) and the Quaker movement it was not an easy option appearing before the Tribunal where such questions as “what would you do if you saw a Russian raping your sister/Mother/girl friend?” It was not an easy being vilified by all sides.


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The first extract from John Richardson’s Story of Langeleben

On the far side of the world the Korean War was still raging, while in the United Kingdom the Festival of Britain was about to open its gates to thousands of visitors. On the mainland of Europe NATO Forces faced the Soviet Union 's massive army across the inter-zonal border in a desolate and divided Germany . As part of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), Number 1 Wireless Regiment, based at Münster Westphalia, kept an electronic watch on the group of Soviet Occupation Forces Germany, which was poised to cross the border from its garrisons in the Soviet Zone of Occupation.

Opposing BAOR on the North German Plain was the crack 3 Shock Army, with its Headquarters in Magdeburg, while to the north of Magdeburg was located one of the largest training areas in Eastern Germany, the Letzlinger Heide, which before 1945 had linked up with the Lüneburg Heide to form Germany's largest troop training area. As its nearest point lay within fifteen miles of the border, the fear was of a surprise attack which could be launched against the West following on from large-scale Soviet manoeuvres in the Heide.

1 Wireless Regiment's nearest asset was 101 Wireless Troop, stationed in Hildesheim south of Hannover, but it was felt that this was too distant to keep a close watch on activities across the inter zonal border. From their base at Hildesheim 101 Wireless Troop carried out a recce to find a more forward location.
LANGELEBEN was the result.


Langeleben sign CLICK TO ENLARGE

LANGELEBEN is a hamlet situated around nine hundred feet up on the Elm feature, midway between Braunschweig and Helmstedt, some ten miles from the inter-zone border. The site had been occupied by the RAF during the Berlin Airlift (1948-9), and Taff W... remembers that they had left a steel shed with a power source at the top left hand corner. This was not the highest point on the feature, the highest point had been occupied by an American unit (today the site of the British Forces Broadcasting Service Drachenberg radio transmitter).


The honour of possessing the first semi-permanent accommodation went to the gentlemen of the guardroom, who were built a wooden hut. A word about these characters, who belonged to the Mixed Service Organization (MSO), and were mainly Yugoslav, speaking little German and even less English. Syd G....... thought that they were saving up to go to the USA . Those who got to know them from sharing guard duties can confirm that they were real eccentrics. Occasionally they would turn up for duty in a somewhat 'tired and emotional' state which on one occasion required the assistance of the local police to escort one of them home.


By and large, they were grand chaps, the like of whom we will not see again. Syd G....... remembered that as an experiment, the MSOs were replaced by a county Regiment . This however only lasted a few weeks, and was abandoned after 'disturbances' in Königslutter. The last of this happy band, Stefan W........... retired in 1984.

In 1955 the first wooden huts were erected for living accommodation, cookhouse, etc. Operations were carried out from a complex formed from wagons backed together; later a semi-permanent covering of corrugated iron was added. Accommodation was very basic. Washing facilities came in the form of brown tin bowls, and the single bath stood on a concrete floor. As drains were non-existent, the plug was pulled and the water simply ran over the floor to find its own level. The tin bowls were also emptied onto the floor. An alternative was to get into Königslutter and take a bath for 50pf.


Toilet facilities were definitely not for the squeamish, consisting of tin drums , which were emptied once a week by the Königslutter refuse operatives. After about three days use, one had to be desperate to use them. The same opinion seems to be true of the cookhouse. Poor facilities, poor food for over 100 Officers and Men five times a day prepared by 3 cooks was a recipe for disaster. Fortunately the 'Waldwirtschaft' did excellent meals. The Officers fared somewhat better - being accommodated in the 'Waldwirtschaft', although joining the Senior NCOs for meals in camp. Entertainment was a problem, with no bus service to Königslutter, a 'recreational' service was instituted, which entailed a truck driving the pleasure seekers into town in the early evening and then doing the rounds of the local hostelries late at night. The older inhabitants of Königslutter remember the late night antics with obvious affection, sometimes helping incapable drunks back onto the lorry.  


One less expensive way of letting off steam was to indulge in sports. In 1957 the camp team took over the fixtures of the Königslutter third team so that the team could be sure of regular fixtures. Watch commitments meant that the same team was rarely fielded twice. The most famous member of this side in the fifties was of course 'Yorkie' B...., later of England World Cup 1966 fame, but here as Signalman Driver B....., Bob R..... remembers that during one of the games, the opposition's manager spent most of the game behind Yorkie's goal, trying to sign him up! Apparently 'Yorkie' got a bit fed up with his inactivity in many games, so was occasionally played as centre forward to let the other 'keeper' Ray B...... have a game. Through the years Langy soldiers continued to play in Königslutter. Bill H..., John S....., and Foxy F..... all played for the now-defunct FC during the seventies. Paul T.... was even good enough to be considered for the Lower Saxony Amateur side, although exercise commitments prevented him turning out.


For a night out in Königslutter, according to Derek S......, The 'Deutsches Haus' was favourite, where beer cost one Deutschmark, or if they were hard up, Schumanns' where beer was 50 pfennings. In 1955 the favourite music on the Juke Box was 'Rock around the clock' and ' Yellow rose of Texas '. The beer was usually 'Gala Pils' which remained a favourite through the years until the brewery disappeared in a take-over by Feldschlösschen in the early 1970s.  

Hungarian up rising CLICK TO ENLARGE

During the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the unit was on full alert. One Saturday night instructions were received to call all personnel back to camp. Syd G......., the pay clerk, had the unenviable task of going round town to round everyone up! Eventually this was achieved, and the unit made ready to evacuate, with the cooks and pay clerk defending the road against possible attack from Russian tanks! Fortunately the stand-down was ordered shortly afterwards. Facilities on camp slowly improved. After the first admin inspection, a PRI bar and juke box was provided, and an additional block with baths and showers was built. Four times a week a film was shown.


Pay was doled out at a pay parade every two weeks, a mixture of BAFSVs (British Armed Forces Special Vouchers - for use in NAAFI canteens only) and Deutschmarks. The exchange rate was 12 Marks to the pound. BAFSVs were retained in BAOR until the early 1960s, but continued to be used in Berlin until 1 January 1977 . Syd G....... remembers a pay parade where a BAFSV note was pinned to the table - each soldier counted his pay including the pinned down note and reported 'Pay and Pay Book correct, Sir'. The money collected was given to Sid H....., who as duty driver had been made a scapegoat for a cracked engine on a frozen vehicle, and fined £130.

101 Wirless Troop CLICK TO ENLARGE

Christmas was obviously a special time in LANGELEBEN. One day, shortly before the festivities, the OC happened to look out of his window in time to see a horse-drawn brewer's dray, loaded to overflowing with barrels and crates, struggling up the hill into camp. The office clerk broke the news to him, that this was the troops' Christmas order! After recovering from shock, the OC placed the booty under lock and key until Christmas Eve. Each room was decorated for the festive season, and a bottle of gin awarded to the best. The drayman was Hans K....... of Königslutter, who remembers having to deliver each hut with a barrel of beer, which he then proceeded to tap, and was of course invited to share a drink with the troops. This was repeated in each hut, until the time came for the horse to take him home! Incidentally, Hans did sterling work for Langeleben for many years, eventually becoming the Wolters Brewery representative until the late 1980s, and his daughter married Signalman Dave J.... Travel to Langy has never been easy. In the days before air trooping, the route from UK was via troopship from Harwich to the Hook, and then the British Military Train to Berlin . The RTO on the train was always puzzled when the train stopped off at the Königslutter sidings, where he had to open a door and let two or three bods off, who walked across the tracks to climb over the station wall and onto a waiting truck (if they were lucky, as the truck was more than likely parked outside a pub!).
In 1957 101 Wireless Troop was raised to Squadron status and became No. 2 Squadron, 1 Wireless Regiment, whose RHQ was now in Birgelen. The Regiment shortly became 13th Signal Regiment (Radio).

The following is an extract from the American ASA website, well worth a ‘visit’

Königslutter 1954 Summer Encampment
(aka Sollingen, Schoningen, 31Fox)

May 1954 to Nov 1954

I was assigned to 331st Communications Reconnaissance Company (C.R. Co.) 5th Corp located at Giessen. Upon arriving in Giessen, I found out that the 331st C.R. Co. was on detached service near Königslutter in the British Zone of Germany. After loading my gear in the back of a truck, and getting into truck for a three to four hour ride to Sollingen, near Helmstedt, I finally arrived at my assigned company and destination  known as "31 Fox" and which was to be my home until mid November 1954.
"31 Fox" was a communications intelligence intercept site, that is an electronic monitoring location to intercept, copy and decode the Communist Army Military messages. The company was scattered about northern Germany; HQ was at Giessen, "31 Fox" was the main operations monitoring site near Sollingen, and 3 out post DF stations ; 31 Able was at Lubeck, Bahrdorf was Det 1, located near Velpke, I don't recall the site designator for Wesendorf located near Gifhorn. There may have been more outstation sites that I am unaware of being in use at this time. The 331st C.R. Co. was spread out over a distance from Giessen, just north of Frankfurt to Lubeck. I believe that Major Sutherland was C.O .at that time. Being a radio repairman, I had the opportunity to travel to the different out stations. At "31 Fox" we lived in squad tents, and worked in van trucks.
"31 Fox" was located in the Elm Mountains, on top of a hardwood ridge, which provided natural camouflage for a "spy" type of operations. The only open area was along border road between the base of a 187 meter high radio relay tower, that relayed messages across the then Russian Zone into Berlin about 110 miles to our east. This is was where our tent row was located; all of the operations areas were hidden in the woods away from prying eyes.
In the morning you would awaken and hear the Cuckoo birds, look out to an open field and see roebucks feeding. It rained 27 days out of 31 days in July 1955 and, as you would guess, we had mud, mud and more mud. (Just like in the movies).

31 Fox

We had a "Beer Tent" where we could go and have a beer in the evening. There was a British Signal detachment at Kinderheim about a mile away, doing the same job we were doing, they would come over at night and bend a few elbows with us. I got into their operations area and was able to see the old communications equipment that they were using. Strictly ham gear pre WW II vintage, we were using Hammarland SP600's and Collins gear (pre R390 ) state of the art in 1954. I wonder what ever happened to two of the "Brits", Derrick Wakefield and Allen Spurgeon; I visited with them at South Ruislip about 20 miles out side of London in the summer of 1955.
In late August or early September 1954 whilst we were at 31 Fox (Sollingen), we had a scheduled company party, for all personal. Everyone was there except the trick on duty; they rented a hall in Königslutter for the party. We had all kind of foods and beer to consume, about two hours into the party, when every one was starting to get "feeling good"; we had a "red alert" the Eastern Bloc nations went on manoeuvres. The Soviet navy was moving south along the coast of Norway, the Red Army tanks were moving towards the border, and their air force were joining in the games. We were loaded on to vehicles and moved back to 31 fox as quickly as possible. They found four 50's for our "protection" (I don't think anyone saw anything heavier than a 30 calibre in basic and even knew how to load or fire a 50 calibre), we went to work as soon as we got back. Placing all the racks of communication equipment on mattress on the floor of the vans, cutting all runs of coax and ground wires and etc. with fire axes at each vehicle so we would be able to clear out, to where I don't know. It took us about a week to repair all the damage that we did with the fire axes. The only casualty we had that night was one sprained ankle from a guy jumping out of the back of a 2 1/2 ton truck.

31a Fox

"31 Fox" broke camp and went back to Giessen for the winter, we were stationed at the Quarter Master Depot Kasserne.
Dean Slagle
Dear Dean
You mentioned a red alert in '54. I remember it well. The entire company was at the Deutsches Haus, which was pretty much run by my future mother-in-law. Another fellow and I (I forget his name, but was later my best man) were out with a couple of Königslutter's finest. He had torn his pants and we had to go back up the hill for a change. As we were going up the hill, all of our motor pool was coming down, and fast.
When I pulled up, someone in full field, with rifle, told me to get those girls back to town and get back at once. I remember taking the junk out of my backpack and putting the real thing back in. We were gathered inside the second inner wire (where I worked) and Capt? (Sutherland) Told us there were strange Russian ship manoeuvres in the North Sea, and we were on full alert. He mentioned the company's entire armament was nine .50 cal machine guns. He asked if anybody knew anything about them. It didn't take me long to realize no one knew anything. I told him I did (I had just come out of ROTC at Lehigh. I knew the .30 & .50 well, as well as the 1911, M1 carbine and rifle, and BAR. Three of those I had to disassemble and reassemble blindfolded) He told me to choose men and set up emplacements on the eastern side of the camp. I asked him what we should do in case tanks or planes come. He said shoot! The .50s may have made some dents in our armour in WWII, but not Russian. I helped carry a lot of that stuff to the perimeter. It was damn heavy, especially the tripods. I couldn't quite remember the headspace, 7 or 9 clicks, but I wasn't sure. I got all nine set up with two men each. I remember people coming behind us asking for the password. We were scared, especially of tanks which we knew well weren't that far away. Finally, it grew light. I looked around and everyone had gone to bed, so we did too. It just fizzled out. We didn't get much help putting those guns away either. Maybe I should sue the government for my two hernia operations.

I remember when we dropped off the girls, I was thinking to myself we would never see them or the USA again. What was the captain's name? I will tell you more of him at a later date.

Years later I revisited our site several times. I used to run, and my son and I ran all over the hill. There is no evidence of anything being there. The antenna is still there. My wife's sister's father-in-law climbed that thing once to take photos. More guts than I have. Does anyone know Phil Petit or Van Peter Phillips? Phillips left the company in '53, was from Oakland and had gone to Monterey. When we were tested in Fort Devens, my language learning abilities were as good as my code learning. I'll never forget the corporal sitting there on the porch assigning mos's. He said "code school". I begged him for Monterey, I pointed out my scores and told him I had already had five years of French. Naturally, I went to code school.
Jim Tobias

End of chapter 1

Last updated 26 March 2009


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