The Operational Use of Clansman HF Radio during Operation Agila – Southern Rhodesia 1979 to 1980

Pangolin - Emblem of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CWW)

Pangolin – Emblem of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CWW)

Background and References:

This article was produced following a request for information about three years ago.  It is updated following a recent review with cold war warrior (CWW) whose photography surpasses my own efforts and who has kindly allowed me to illustrate this article with material he produced. Operation Agila was world news. Christopher  Wayne, the BBC war correspondent at the time was on the same plane out as our contingent and reported as we arrived at Salisbury Airport and were kitting up.

Mike Subritsky has given an excellent account of the job at Britains Small Wars. For my part, I was the signals corporal at RHQ 22 Engineer Regiment and prior to joining the regimental contingent I trained them to operate the Clansman HF radio net which was being deployed.  We also used kit and training provided by the School of Infantry at Warminster.

Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CMF)

The monitoring force were about 1200 personnel deployed from many regiments and from commonwealth countries, and the role was actually two fold; to ensure that the Rhodesian Army remained in confined areas  during a short ceasefire, and to enable the politicians to bring thousands of guerilla fighters from three separate armies into assembly places, reducing the  potential for further conflict. This was in order to prevent a massacre as the country was completely infiltrated by the guerilla forces – the war had been going on for fifteen years and the ruling power was exhausted. Mike Subritsky reports very clearly as to what it was like monitoring the assembly places and cold warrior has a pictorial archive which adds much detail.

22 Engineer Regiment Group

22 Engineer Regiment Group comprised a number of two man teams of a senior NCO and a Signaller with the task of liaising with the Rhodesian Army.  The regimental group worked across an area known as Sub JOC Chiredzi – in tactical speak.  Sub JOC Chiredzi was a Joint Operation Centre, covering a sizeable portion of the South and East of the country under the command of a Rhodesian brigadier.  One of a number of operational areas under the command of the Rhodesian Armed Forces under General Walls.

Execution

From arriving at Salisbury, Rhodesia and being kitted out and briefed, we subsequently deployed, Bob (my Sunray) and me from Salisbury Airport to Fort Victoria by RAF Hercules.

Hercules at Salisbury Airport - Courtesy of Cold War Warrior.

RAF Hercules at Salisbury Airport (Note aiming mark) – CWW

After a short stay, we moved from there by RAF Puma Helicopter to a place called Ngundu Halt on 27th December 1979.  On the trip out the helicopter dropped off several teams, one at Chiredzi.  We joined Alpha company of 9th Battalion the Rhodesia Regiment late in the afternoon on the day before the ceasefire. The following morning I set up our communications equipment in the Company command post, alongside their signals set up. This Company HQ consisted of an ops truck and a derelict store house.  Their radio set up comprised the less modern, but still state of the art, Racal Syncal TRA 931 portable HF set.  This maintained the rear link back to their Regimental HQ, and they also used VHF radio for the forward company net.

CMF Command and Control

While we had been deployed at company level, one of the other teams deployed at Chiredzi to monitor the Rhodesian regimental headquarters.  Further up the chain of command, our commanding officer and his entourage were deployed at Rhodesian Army Brigade level.

A typical operations room - courtesy of Cold War Warrior

A typical operations room showing 2xPRC320 Manpacks in operation – CWW

Our radio net was completely made up of brand new UK/RT 320s and we carried the full kit together with an 8 Meter Mast.  (We picked this kit up at Salisbury Airport on the way out so this makes me think the regiment had not yet fully Clansmanised by the time it was deployed on this operation).

The way we were deployed meant we could both hear what was happening on the company and regimental nets of our hosts, and respond with our own traffic when required to act or report.

My Only Need Is To Organise Return (MONITOR)

We gave new meaning to the word Monitor.  Ngundu Halt is a way station on the fort Victoria to Beitbridge Road and a vital supply route at the time, to and from South Africa. Life for the A company, who were still at war when we arrived, changed overnight on the day of the ceasefire 28th December.  The evening we arrived they were dealing with some gunshot injuries that had happened just before and which subsequently led to a casualty evacuation.  The following day the action simply died down and a different routine was adopted.  The company was dug in on a hillside and had been operating patrols in the area.  The routine remained tactical all through the week long ceasefire but relaxed during the day time.  Life comprised dry training which we took part in, card games, letter writing and sports, eventually we became better at all these things; Self Loading Rifle, General Purpose Machine Gun, EOD and volleyball which made for a fun routine, plus we made some really good friends over a Castle or Lion Lager at sundown. Snakes were not a problem in this location, but insects and spiders were, including some pretty vicious ticks, some rather novel ants, lizards and some bird hunting, and floor cleaning, scavenging spiders.  Oh and a troop of Baboon who lived nearby.

Radio Operating

The radio work comprised daily reports about military activity in the area, encounters with the terrorists or guerillas for example.

Reports were transmitted on schedule, on two fixed frequencies – one for day time and one for night time operation.  This work was mostly carried out on SSB and sometimes on CW.

I had with me enough copper wire to construct a dual frequency dipole built using natural supports and the 8 Meter Mast. In the main these skeds seemed to work well on both frequencies and these seemed to have been calculated for NVIS and up to 900KM.

Radio communications didn’t always work or go smoothly.  Some of the time there were problems and it took a while to get through to the operators at regimental level.  This was frustrating.  You could call for five or ten minutes and not get an answer.  We put that down to unreliable frequencies, time of day etc and worked with it.

During one encounter, which occurred immediately post ceasefire it became imperative to resolve this problem by switching onto the higher formation net in order to pass traffic directly.  The incident involved a stick (small band) of four or five “Terrs” (or terrorists), who were still trying to get to an assembly place but found themselves out on a limb when the ceasefire ended before they made it. They had got lost and subsequently found themselves facing up to police and soldiers from our Rhodesian company.  A stand off developed and my Sunray – Bob found himself negotiating between the two parties.

A kilometre away, in the ops truck, I could hear the reports and orders passing up and down their network.  This traffic had become quite excited, and the messages contained orders to end the stand-off by all necessary means, and if necessary this meant by “slotting” them.  As the incident went on, this was becoming more and more insistent, and Bob being in the middle, this was not a good position for him. I think nobody close to the situation wanted this to turn into a shooting match.  Fortunately a particular message ordering the company to clear the way and open fire was not being acted upon immediately. As I was monitoring the situation and trying to keep our HQ informed – communications on our net had dropped out which was causing me a bit of frustration and aggravation.  After I flicked onto the higher formation net, my calls to the CO got the desired response, and subsequent messages were sufficient to gain more time. Tension remained very high for a further ten minutes, and eventually the time came when I had to get a (fictitious) message to Bob which would order him to withdraw to a place of safety without alerting the Terrs to what was going on.

We thought that was it, once Bob was out of the way, the shooting would begin, but just as he withdrew, the Terrs put their guns down and surrendered. They were then lifted out to the nearest assembly place.  After their arms and ammunition were given up it was discovered in their luggage they were carrying enough cannabis to stupefy a heard of elephant.  Maybe that’s why they missed the ceasefire.  This “Dagga” was subsequently disposed of – resulting in at least one NCO losing his stripes.  Not this one, although I did have to justify to my commander going over his head, and to the Rhodesian CO whose orders he thought were being ignored for some strange reason.  He was looking for someone to court martial.  I owned up to intercepting a message which disarmed the situation slightly.

Keeping my hand in

Occasionally when time permitted, I took the opportunity to practice amateur radio using the PRC 320.  I had received my licence just the month before deployment and I legally obtained the callsign G4IYK\M\ZE which was a bit of a mouthful when it came to calling CQ.  I recall this reciprocal licence was quite difficult to obtain so I didn’t mind not being able to operate with a more succinct call.  Calling CQ was a wee bit tiresome and didn’t attract the pile ups quite like the local ZS and ZE callsigns did.  I focussed on making opportunity contacts with “local” stations in South Africa, Rhodesia and Zambia on 20 meters.  I had one very fleeting DX contact into the states.  I very recently confirmed one of these contacts with Brian Austin ZS6BKW – Now G0GSW.

R&R

About half way through the tour we moved back for R&R and A company disbanded, we stopped firstly at Fort Victoria for some regimental duties.  To remind you, this was where we had deployed RHQ together with a Royal Signals Detachment co-located with the Rhodesian Army Brigade Headquarters.

Here I learnt why we lost communications occasionally with our headquarters.  The Signals detachment were running a rear link comprising a VRC 321 located in the same room as our PRC 320 and this had an Adapter Telegraph Radio and a Siemens T100 teleprinter attached to it.  When they opened up, the radio noise drowned out the weak signals coming in from our locations out in the bush. A quick training session with the operator around how to tune the SURF 25 Watt and why he should do it, curtailed this interference.

We decided to go for a maximal tour of the country in our 72 hour down time.  Nobody wanted to spend time in barracks and the country was reasonably free to travel but there remained a threat from mines and  ambush – you just had to take steps – travelling alone was out. So we went to Victoria Falls for a long weekend, hitch hiking on armed convoys – and in return providing part of the armed escort. We put the radio in stores and headed for the road.  In the three days available we fulfilled a date with friends in Bulawayo, went on Safari in Wankie National Park, and watched the sun go down over Victoria Falls.   As there was a lot to see and do we gave sleep a miss, (instead watching the sunrise on the other side of the hotel, the following morning and visited the falls properly.)

Round Two

After this long weekend we went back into the bush and monitored Bravo Company of the same Battalion, this time near Chipinga, location vague, but much more comfortable –  except for the snakes – much more variety here.

Armoured Mine Proof Landrover (CWW) – (Note aiming mark.)

The role changed to supporting the elections.  Now located nearby to Assembly Places Hotel or Golf – See Mike Subritsky’s map To get there, we had an armoured Landrover to deliver so this time instead of the helicopters being used to deploy us, we had a very interesting 250 mile, mostly cross country, drive.

agila_armdlr320cik

PRC 320 Clip in Kit deployed in Mineproof Landrover (CWW)

This Landrover sported a 320 clip in kit.

As we settled into a different routine, this time round we managed to spend time with colleagues in assembly place Golf.  Our friends there were much worse off than we were, tactically – being virtually surrounded at all times by armed comrades.  Everyone was just waiting for the election to take place.  The guys were on permanent alert – they had Claymore mines and barbed wire entanglements surrounding their positions and were pretty well dug in.

There was some threat to their survival because the Rhodesian Army had a contingency plan to attack these assembly places if the circumstances presented themselves.

Some of the reports coming back from the Police and Army were about intimidation of the population in the build up to the elections – the perpetrators were located in assembly areas.  Many weapons were pointed at the Commonwealth forces deployed in the assembly places and the potential was they could easily have been slaughtered or taken hostage had that particular balloon gone up.  (And yet I noted the guys in the assembly places made the same sort of relationships as we had with our comrades, and it wasn’t all “war, war” while the peace lasted.)

We did a few trips from our base in order to get some rations from the APs.  They were quite rich compared to the Rhodesian Army where there were many supply shortages.  B Company had virtually run out of rations by that time so we did a bit of bartering as a means of supporting them and us.  The assembly place had regular supply runs from South Africa.  We encountered a new use for tampons – as sweat bands.  (Well, you know the supplies boys think of everything).

Organised Return

Eventually just as the election results were being announced, we were extracted from a bush airstrip by Hercules to Salisbury and after de-kitting straight back to UK by VC10.  The rest, they say is history and home in time for tea and medals.  The 320, ammunition and bush gear was handed in at Salisbury Airport and that was the last I saw of the 320 for a while.

I always regret not sticking the 320 in the suitcase and lugging it back when I had the opportunity.  It had been a lifeline throughout this job, and I had grown to cherish and respect its power and usefulness.  Having bought one recently it certainly brings back the memories and is a pleasure to operate.  Nowadays I am very much interested in operating these radios in the spirit of a living museum – and sixty meters is a great place to hear nets with one or more operators taking advantage of the Clansman synthesiser to lock on to an absolutely stable frequency, while using NVIS on less than 30 Watts PEP, working both nationally and on DX it is a very effective set indeed.

OFCOM Allocates More Space On 5 MHz

The UK independent regulator of telecommunications has allocated more space for Amateur Use on 5 MHz from January 1st 2013. To visualise what the new band will look like in the absence of any published UK band plan, the change is summarised in the attached document.  An update on the applications process for the 5MHz NOV is expected and NOV holders are expected to renew via RSGB.  See OFCOMs website for more information.

5mhz Allocation From Jan 13 updated 151212

RSGB News

As at 26th Dec no guidelines for operating specific to this band have emerged. See also

5MHz Newsletter

G4IYK

With thanks to John Mullin, G0TEV for the “heads up”.

Why not write for us?

The blog or weblog exists in the world wide web in order to carry original articles and anecdotes in a reader friendly form to internet users.

Why Blog?

Compared to forums and wiki’s if you are interested in writing up and retaining your experiences, the blog is the more permanent way of achieving this.  If you are like me you’ll probably be alert now to the way the same questions come round and round in a cycle on the forums and you will probably be aware your work can become quite easily trashed on a wiki as other users refine it.  If that’s not for you, the blog offers an editorial format which preserves your original work.

The Clansman Radio User is looking for experienced authors, who can review mods and write about their experience with the Clansman Radio System either as a first user or as the sets become recycled in their second life.

Use the contact form in the panel or subscribe.  We are happy to assist people taking their first steps in blogging.

Ed.

Welcome – From Mel M5ZZR

Welcome to our new on-line community and blog dedicated to second users who preserve and operate the Clansman range of radios.
Thanks for being a part of this. My name is Mel and my colleague in this venture is Stu.  I’m the person that started it but that doesn’t mean I think I own it. It’s ours. If anyone is interested in contributing articles and content or moderating the community we would be most pleased to hear from you.
So, why did I start this when there are so many on-line communities with similar interests?
The Clansman range of radios are becoming more and more popular amongst radio hams both in the UK and overseas, but no dedicated on-line community exists to cater solely for the second life user in the amateur radio community. We hope that this group will focus upon this specific need without the influence of military surplus traders and the like. That doesn’t mean you’re not welcome if you sell a bit of kit now and again, (in fact we would encourage you to advertise here and from time to time we will want to review your products and sales pitches)  but what we do ask is that if you have any commercial interest in any of the opinions you express in this forum, they are declared.  We also intend to become an on-line resource or reference.
I am ex-army although, to be fair, I was never really that keen on it. However it started a lifelong love of all types of army gear and the radios are no exception. I’m not what you would call an avid military radio collector; I’ve actually only had a few. So far I’ve had 2 Thomson TRC-300 HF Man-packs, 2 Racal/Syncal-30, TRA-931s (wish I still had those) and 3 Clansman/Plessey UK/PRC-320s, two of which I still have.
Apart from radios I’ve had an enormous amount of military antenna equipment over the years and at one point was lucky enough to own a South African Army Series 2B forward control Radio truck with a 30 foot mast.
The 320s are the only military radios I have now.
What is it that makes radio amateurs want to own and use radios such as the UK/PRC-320? They have some disadvantages to the typical ham radio operator: for example, it’s not easy to scan the bands. They’re pretty big and heavy for what they do. The Army fill up about a quarter of the space of a land-rover with a load of radio equipment that in total has little more functionality than an FT-817 measuring just a few inches and probably only weighing a couple of pounds including an internal battery.
Ok, they can do some things that typical ham radios can’t but mostly they are functions that most amateurs won’t use, such as remote ops or re-broadcasting. Sure, some people will want to collect them irrespective of their functionality for their aesthetic or nostalgic beauty. Whilst this is certainly part of the reason for me it is the build quality and useability that I love.
It’s true also that in some respects a clansman is a compromise on the functionality of the average amateur radio but in other respects it has much greater functionality. I can chuck mine in the back of my car with a load of camping equipment without fear of damage. I can get it muddy and wet without fear of it giving up the ghost. I use mine “Post Office Bike Mobile” without the need of weather protection for the radio. I can set it up in minutes with almost anything as an antenna and use it almost anywhere. What else can you do that with? Some collector types are opposed to any modification of these sets, considering the original integrity to be the most important attribute. That’s fine, but for me I want amateur radio useability and if that means non-standard mods, so be it. However, for me any modification should not distract from the very strong attributes that this radio has to offer. After modification it should still be able to cope with the rigors that it would confront in its military role.
The UK/PRC-320 is a great piece of kit for the radio amateur but in its original specification it lacks LSB which some may find a bind. I did, because my main bands of interest are 80 and 40 meters. It can however be easily modified to work on LSB.
I think I’ve read all the published mods. Many possible switching strategies have been put forward which can be more than a little confusing to the average hobbyist. We hope through this group however to bring these techniques to the average hobbyist in ways that are readily repeatable.
I got my first 320 `sold as seen in need of TLC’ at a rally about 2 years ago. This has never worked but the front panel is the thick finned version and is in very good condition. I stripped and polished the alloy on this to good effect but never managed to get the radio working. More recently I considered purchasing a full working setup with LSB with a view to swapping the innards into my externally renovated 320. An open and honest transaction with satisfactory buyer protection proved to be harder to achieve than I anticipated. Beware of sellers who offer to exchange non-working radios for another of the same type but stipulate that all post and packaging costs for returns are the responsibility of the buyer. It appears to me that the buyer is being unfairly used as quality control and this could turn out to be expensive.
Anyway, in the event I ended up buying 2 more non-working radios as I considered this to be the safest route and at the very least would leave me with a pile of spares. I have now managed to get two up and running.
We hope that in this group a resource will develop whereby members can acquire 320s and related equipment at a fair price and with confidence.
I look forward to a successful group developing and urge all members to be active contributors to the forum, the files and photographs sections. Over the next few weeks I will be attempting to upload any information I have on the UK/RT320 and would urge others to do the same.
We want this group to be as open as possible and to that end the only other rule at this point is that contributors identify themselves with their name and callsign.
Although the group is dedicated to the 320, it can be assumed that all Clansman or indeed any other military radio gear is fair game.
Thanks for joining. Mel. M5ZZR

Welcome – From Stu, G4IYK

Why this Blog?  Why now?

Like Mel and several million people in UK, I am ex-army, and I was a ham radio operator for most of the time while serving in the forces – in fact, as Clansman was coming into service, I was just newly licensed and within two months of obtaining my licence, I found myself operating a net of Clansman HF sets in quite an exciting situation.  This was in 1979 and during that time I began to operate the Clansman Radios “off net” so to speak, on the amateur bands, partly to relieve the boredom of being located miles from civilisation for long periods, and to enable me to keep my hand in.  This theme continued throughout my time and when I left the army Clansman was still in service.  I enjoyed the experience of radio operating, and in the wee small hours, whenever I was operating the radios, I often wondered if I would ever be able to own any of the Clansman sets.  I couldn’t imagine affording what the army paid for them, the design – being built for the cold war, had a high price tag – a UK/RT 320 was rumored to have cost £13K should you have the misfortune to lose one (and this created a rigorous accounting system).  Imagine how happy I was when I discovered that the HF sets had become the cheapest ever rugged general coverage transceivers available on the market?  This meant I could afford to have a few around and keep them working.

A 320 in the shackNostalgia aside,  I now realise that by keeping the Clansman radios in service – this in itself is a good thing to do because I imagine the resources that were invested in producing the sets and maintaining them to be huge.  As a second user I think by keeping the sets in use as long as possible, promotes social responsibility in amateur radio.

As I understood from reading the press,  the sets began to fail at the end of the systems life – remember the bathtub curve of failure?  But as a piece of history and a feat of engineering the synthesised transceivers have excellent performance and are good to go in less strenuous circumstances – sometimes needing a bit of TLC and restoration – i.e. the man-packs are a highly portable item which can be operated out of the boot of the car or backpacked.  The vehicle sets are heavy and would anchor a boat, well a pocket battleship really 😉 The pleasure of owning and operating the sets is a fantastic tribute to the designer, and the design leads to many claims of outstanding performance at very low power and in less than optimal conditions.

Our blog

The blog and forum is constructed as an observation of the on-line communities which have sprung up to pool resources – these are like minded people, some technical, some beginners and some black box operators both professionals and amateurs, customisers and modifiers and entrepreneurs. The blog is therefore in the style of a magazine – where advertising and articles come together in mutual interest. It is hoped you will feature your mod, customisation. goods, operating anecdotes and questions here.  The unique aspect is; it does not use the fixed format of yahoo and it covers the whole Clansman range for the second user – exclusively.  We hope it will become an on-line reference in its own right – given time.

 

Stu – G4IYK

Authoring and Advertising Policy

This blog is in construction and is aimed for people to share anecdotes about their usage of the clansman radio system.  It fills a unique slot because there is no other such blog.

Readers and subscribers are all welcome.

If you want to become an author you are welcome to apply.

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All ads are placed by the management and unless otherwise stated this is a service in development and chargeable.

Contributions acknowledged from Mel, M5ZZR, Stewart G8YQN, Robin G0GNE and Steve M0SLK

Stuart Dixon G4IYK

4th November 2012