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The development of telecommunications during the Second World War is a subject on which little attention has been paid in the history of technology. The Wireless Set No.10 was essentially a tactical telephone exchange that could be in position and operating within 30 minutes of an advance, linking troops at separations of up to 50 miles with the the battlefield headquarters. Captain RC Coles recalls clearly the use of this set. Click on the icon to listen.Click to listen



For the period, the WS10 was a particularly advanced piece of equipment and unique due to the use of a magnetron in the modulation of radio pulses. Unlike technologies of today which are limited by their fragility, the robustness of the WS10 played to the advantage of the operators who , on occasion were required to fashion 'homemade' components in the absence of spares. The key to the success of the WS10 was the combination of two factors. As a concept, the WS10 was a simple piece of equipment, requiring little additional training than that already given to army radio operators. Secondly, personal accounts of using the set record infrequent technical problems suggesting that it was a radio which could be relied upon to support battlefield operations.Click to listen



A further important factor which determined the success of the WS10 was its mobility; the positioning of WS10 stations were planned before an offensive so that a link could immediately provided back to the main headquarters. The developments which have since occurred in telecommunication make it difficult to understand how, only 60 years ago, this equipment was the most flexible form of communication available. The reality is however, the the WS10 is a technology that could be regarded as the forerunner to the mobile phone.


Wireless Set No.10 relay station, Northern EuropeIt is often the case that new technologies are regarded with suspicion by those who are unfamiliar with them. The WS10 was no exception, doubted not least by Field Marshall Montgomery as he oversaw the Allied offensive but it was quickly realised what this new medium of communication might be able to offer. This photograph shows one of the four relay stations that formed a chain across Northern Europe between 1944 and 1945. Note that the aerials of each set are aligned on different bearings.


It was only in retrospect that Montgomery fully appreciated what the WS10 had to offer. The WS10 proved itself by providing up to eight reliable channels for the relay of information between the front-line and battlefield. In its role, this transmitter/receiver offered access to accurate information on how the battle was developing and when supplies and reinforcements would be forthcoming. Though, for the day this technology was seen by those who used it as extremely reliable, the nature of the environment that sets were operated in sometimes caused problems. This account recalls the chaos that was caused when one wireless station become temporarily cut-off from the headquarters of 21 Army Group.

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