Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 1 – Introduction

By Richard Taylor

Part 1 – New vehicle, new direction

Scorpion On Display at Weymouth

Scorpion On Display at Weymouth

To introduce myself, I live down in Cornwall and have been playing around with ex military vehicles for the past twenty years. During this time I have had a couple of Land Rovers, a Ferret and I currently have a CVR(T) Scorpion. The Scorpion is great fun – there is nothing like driving through a town in an eight ton armoured vehicle to turn heads – but it is not a practical vehicle. Going beyond about twenty miles requires a low loader and the cost that entails, but even twenty miles requires a crew, planning for possible breakdown and a fair bit of stress. Having discussed it with various friends, I formed a plan to acquire another vehicle that would be easier to drive and maintain and which would be hopefully as interesting to the public at rallies as the Scorpion is.

Motivation

I think that the relationship between enthusiasts and their hobbies is interesting, especially when it concerns ex-military equipment, uniforms or vehicles. Looking around various sites on the web you come across any number of motivators to pursue the hobby. Some do it out of respect for those that have served; some do it to relive a part of their life they enjoyed whereas others, such as me, see it as an engineering thing. I admire the functionality of military vehicles – they are built for a purpose and they have to carry out that purpose in harsh environments and under extreme conditions and they must do it without failing. It is here though that the enthusiast begins to diverge from the professional user. If I can give an example – I use Airwaves at work and have to wear a uniform. I have no idea how Airwaves works – to me it is not the set that is important but the traffic that goes across it. The radio is just a tool that I use to achieve the communication I need. It is the same as the uniform. I have to wear it to a standard, but it is just clothing. It wears out, it gets replaced. If I rip it, I get another one. I am sure that the servicemen who crewed the Scorpion in its twenty year service were not as attached to the vehicle itself as I am – it is again a tool, although not one I would care to come up against.

My Choice

So, let me get back on to the quest for another vehicle. Whereas with the Scorpion and the Ferret I chose them for their presence, engineering and to a certain extent the wow factor, this vehicle was going to be chosen on a different basis. I had set parameters – it had to be wheeled, soft skin, modern and big enough for me to go to a rally and get out of the rain. I did not want to go over my licence, which excluded HGVs, and I had to be able to drive it by myself as a default. More importantly, I wanted it to be fairly bland as I firmly believe that the non-descript vehicles are not being preserved to the same extent as the fancy stuff. The bulk of the British Army runs on soft-skin, and yet to go to a rally you would think that everything was either in the Military Police or had a gun on it. I also wanted something that I would be able to put into some sort of context at a rally, when it was not moving. I find that this is perhaps the biggest problem in exhibiting vehicles. When they move they look pretty good, but when they are just parked up they seem to lose their sparkle. I think that there are things that can be done to bring the lustre back such as wearing appropriate clothing, but it is too easy to become a car park.

Direction

I imagine by now that some of you are beginning to see where I am going. I am looking for a soft skin vehicle that has a function which it can carry out at rest and which will give the impression that it is doing exactly what it is designed to do. You guessed it – a radio vehicle!

C3IS

This linked quite nicely into one of my other interests, which is not radio, but command and control. I am fascinated by how commanders through the ages have been able to maintain the control over their forces during a battle to ensure that the outcome is as they desire and have planned for. The planning itself is a subject so vast that you could almost deal with it as a separate issue – how do you make sure that the right thing in the right quantity gets to the right place at the right time? That can be anything from troops, ammunition and weapons through to fuel and food. The key is of course communication. Plans have to be disseminated, and thereafter messages must pass to and fro as the situation develops and changes are implemented. If you add to this the fact that there is an equally large organisation in front of you that is trying its utmost to destroy you and your plan, you can see the scale of the problem.

Plan

My plan therefore is to try to recreate a command centre and to give an indication of the working of that centre during conflict. In this, I hope to show that the vehicle, as well as the radio gear, is an important part, but as I have said before, they are tools to be used in achieving the object. If I succeed in this, then the public will not necessarily be interested in what type of truck, radio or other communications gear I may have, they will see it more as an overall impression of a working unit.

The RB44

Rb44in service

If only it were that easy! Before you can make any decisions, you have to understand not only the C3 structure, the ORBAT, the systems by which C3 is implemented and then look at what is available. Luckily there is a lot out there in terms of information and also the recent move to Bowman has meant that there is Clansman gear out there which is workable and reasonably priced. I have found a vehicle, a 1991 RB44 with a radio shelter attached. It is ex Artillery, and its last role was as a Battlefield Meteorology System vehicle, capturing data relating to weather conditions that affect the accuracy and effectiveness of projectiles in flight. However, the basic vehicle was built to be adaptive and I may take the odd liberty to gloss over the equipment I cannot source and supplement it with stuff I can.

I will keep you posted!
RB44st2012

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 2 – Radio Considerations

(And Getting Licensed)

So what has this to do with radio?

Having made the decision to start investigating a command vehicle it seemed to make sense to understand what army radio involves. In this regard I am lucky in that a friend is ex REME and was involved in the maintenance and repair of Clansman and Larkspur sets and still works with the MoD on various radio systems. He therefore understands not only the theory but also the practical side and how the equipment was used in service.

Understanding the Clansman Radio Systems and Modules and Using the Working Sets

Once I started the research I soon realised that the whole field is much more complicated than I thought, and that it would be much more involved than I anticipated. Identifying the Clansman sets was quite easy as apart from a few rare and specialised sets, they divide between VHF and HF and between portable and vehicle mounted. Not only that, it is possible to mount portable sets in vehicles without too much difficulty and because the system is modular, instructions and mountings are readily available. The problem is knowing when to use any particular set or frequency and that required an understanding of basic radio theory. This involved many hours of research and discussions until it began to dawn on me that the project was feasible and that some of the sets would actually be capable of use in the amateur bands provided I obtained the correct licence. The next step was to dip my toe in the water and see what I could get.

Locating and Testing Radio Kit and becoming a SWL

The answer to the problem appeared to me to be to find an HF set that covered the amateur frequencies and to get it working. As I did not have the vehicle, a battery operated portable would be ideal, and this narrowed the search down to the PRC 320. I saw two at auction on a site and bought them. With hindsight I probably paid too much, but you learn by your mistakes and they were complete to the CES apart from batteries which I found on eBay. They received very well using the whip and I enjoyed sitting on the patio of an evening just listening to anything that was out there. I was surprised by the distances involved – I have heard Brazil, the United States and many parts of Europe just using the 320 as a man pack without any additional antenna, but I still had no idea whether it worked as a transmitter.

That was fairly easily solved. I took both sets to the War and Peace show at Beltring and a friend of a friend set them both up on his FFR and managed to transmit and receive successfully using the harness and a 4m antenna. I had hoped to be able to sell one there but that did not work out, so they came back with me. I am now considering adapting one to LSB but this is still in its infancy.

Antenna Theory and Practical Work

The next step was to look at the antenna. My ex REME friend pointed me in the direction of various sites about antenna theory, and using those as well as the PRC 320 user manual, I attached 40 odd metres of Kevlar wire to it and draped that all around the garden. Needless to say it was a complete failure and I could discern no difference between that and the whip. Back to the manual and to eBay and I bought a 5.4 metre fibreglass mast. After a bit of tweaking this was set up in the field with the whip attached to the top and the set connected. The test was to listen to the VMARS transmission on a Saturday morning, which I could not do with just the whip on the set, and the proof of success would be to receive this in an audible fashion.

I was surprised, but it worked. I managed to hear the broadcast pretty well – the net controller was extremely clear but what was more interesting was that I could also hear some of the responses from other users. One that sticks in my mind was a PRC 320 user from Conway who came across very well indeed.

More antenna theory and research was needed as even with a 5.4 metre lift it was clear that the whip had its limitations and I needed to look at other options. Draping wire around the garden or across the field did not seem to be the best way, even if this was an option shown in the user handbook, so it was back to eBay and the net. I managed to find an 8 metre telescopic mast and kit for a reasonable amount and the plan was to repeat the VMARS test but using both masts with an end feed antenna between the two. Looking at the tables in the handbook and on the set itself, and running a couple of checks using calculators on the net, a 40 metre length seemed to be the desired option. I ran this out using the tags on the antenna wire and then put up the 8 metre mast. I was surprised how well thought out this was and how easy it was to do by myself . If anything it was a sight easier than the 5.4 metre mast which kept flopping around and dismantling itself. Anyway – both masts were set up and the antenna connected and tensioned. Radio connected and switched on; a bit of a whistle whilst it tuned and then the reception was as clear as a bell. Again the net controller was perfectly clear but this time I could hear many more of the contributors and there seemed to be less in the way of background hiss than before. All in all it was a success and quite exciting.

Becoming Licensed

That is about as far as I have gone with the set at present. I have booked a course with the local Amateur Radio Club which I hope will result in my foundation licence in six weeks time. My research in the meantime will be to look at how I can achieve as much as possible from the set and power that I am allowed and this again points towards making the most efficient antenna that I can. I have set myself some parameters in this and that is that I have to use the material and kit that would have been available to the Army at the time. It would be too easy to use better, civilian kit but my aim with the whole set up is to be as tactical as possible and to live with the compromises that this entails. I have been advised to look at NVIS as one possibility, I am researching Dipoles, end fed, ladders and G5RV antennae and once the weather improves I will conduct some tests to see what works in what circumstances. I hope that the members of the forum and the local club will be able to help and that my knowledge will expand. Watch this space!

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 3 – Choosing the Platform

Why an RB44?

I have been looking for way of displaying a command post for a while. As a result I have considered a number of vehicles but there is not one which fits the bill perfectly and does not have a significant drawback. I have considered three armoured vehicles – the Sultan, the FV432 variant and the Saxon – and two soft skin – the Land Rover and the RB44.  At the end of this part there is a short video of the initial inspection of the vehicle.

The RB44 at the the time of Purchase

The RB44 at the the time of Purchase

Armour

Armoured vehicles are in a league of their own and you can imagine the difficulties. These range from transport through road registration to the need for a multi person crew to move safely. Given that I already have an armoured vehicle, I was not dissuaded from this just because it was armoured but the 432 was rejected immediately as they are a complete beast to work on and I have never been a fan of Cletrac steering. For those that have not come across this, it is a system where the tracks are both steered and braked by the tillers and effectively all that is between you and disaster is a friction band in an oil bath that you tighten on one side to steer and together to stop. If you lose steering you lose braking and vice versa. This system is now illegal in road going vehicles and that is one of the reasons the Bulldog upgrade has the Allison box with separate steering and brakes.

The Sultan is certainly capable of being run by a private individual, but it too much the same as the Scorpion and would not alleviate the difficulties I have. The Saxon, on the other hand is a strong contender. They are Bedford based, automatic and could at a pinch be driven by a driver and commander. They are not so limited in range as tracked vehicles and whilst they are not the most aesthetic, I think that they have a beauty of their own. The problem is that they are rare and phenomenally expensive. I have seen them going at £35000 but nothing less than about £15000. Most were sold off to a military customer who also hoovered up a lot of the spares so this was also rejected.

Small Soft Skin Vehicles

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Land Rovers are quite easy – they use components that you can generally get in the civilian market and are large meccano sets which you can play around with to repair. They fit in to a garage – at a push you can use them as an every day vehicle and they are readily available as the 110 is being replaced by the Wolf . The drawback to me is that they are small. Even the 110 is cramped in the back and by the time you add the radio kit you are working in a pretty confined space. The weight of the radio puts towing a trailer on the limit and this is not helped by the 2.5 normally aspirated diesel. I am told that you can get out and walk alongside one going up hill and that 40mph with a full load is about the most you will get. The advice I was given was that I would be better to get a 200Tdi engine and swap it. However this added about a thousand to the purchase price and became a project in itself. I saw plenty of 200Tdi Discoveries on eBay, but they had all done 100000 miles plus and would probably need a rebuild if I was not going to store up trouble later on. Another one rejected.

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The RB44

It was my ex REME friend who suggested the RB44, and having looked on the web I thought they looked pretty good. They also had a rough beauty , a bit like a pumped up Transit with a pretty unbustable engine. They came in FFR which meant that suppression and the 24 volt system was already in place, and this would make fitting radio kit easier. I liked the communications shelter, it was big enough to sit in comfortably and also to sleep in should I need to. Some already had map boards, seats and lights fitted and they were designed to tow. Looking on the web, Withams had any number at fairly reasonable prices and the difference between that and a Land Rover was not too great. What could go wrong?

Vehicle Characteristics

Actually, quite a lot. As I started to research in depth it became apparent that it was the most hated vehicle in the British army. I could not find anyone who had a good word for them, and most of the words seemed to be “dangerous”, “lethal” and “crap”. This was not good, and I spent a long time reading every posting I could and discussing the options with friends. It appeared that the initial design had an inbuilt flaw which resulted in a number of crashes as the vehicle had a tendency to veer to one side when braking. The whole fleet was taken off the road and a modification program instigated. There are conflicting accounts as to whether this was successful but it seems to have pacified the MoD. Nonetheless, it remained a cursed vehicle and was withdrawn pretty quickly. What I had to do was to decide whether it was the one for me.

The way I looked at it was that forewarned is forearmed. I was not likely to get into a truly tactical situation where I would operate at the limit of me and the vehicle. A bit of mud or wet grass would be the most off-roading I would do. Similarly as I have said before, there is a difference in attitude to a tool that is given to you to do a job and something that you have paid for and want to keep in as good a condition as possible. Hence I would be less likely to drive at high speed “just because it can” and I can spend as long as necessary to get the brakes adjusted properly. Drum brakes can work very well, provided that you respect them and realise that they are not the same as power assisted discs all round. I drive the Scorpion in the same fashion, and have also experience of the same issues in the Ferret which also relied on unassisted drums. Some of the accident reports indicated that the vehicles were grossly overloaded on exercise – a figure of six tons overweight on one occasion – and this again was not likely to be an issue with me. Overall then, I believed that by conducting a thorough risk assessment and sticking to the safety system I could deal with the RB44.

Source Located

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Finding one was quite easy; Withams had a selection and I found one which fitted the bill perfectly. The company were very helpful and made sure that as much of the original

 

electronics fit was retained as possible, and that I was happy with the vehicle. It is now with another company getting ready for its first registration and VOSA test and even though I bought it in October, I have not had a chance to climb all over it and see what can be fitted.

Original Owners Marque

The Orignal Owners Marque

Link to Video showing the RB44 on Initial Inspection

Coming Up

In part 4 we discuss the C2 and C3I requirements of the vehicle and I sit the foundation licence….

 

 

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 4 – Progress with the Radio Installations as at March 2013

VHF Installations

Following on from my leave, the parts are arriving thick and fast although there is nothing here yet to bolt it to, I now have 2 VRC 353s with most of the ancillaries but no cabling.

...Assembling the VHF Installation...

…Assembling the VHF Installation…

I want to carry out a bench test on the components before I fit them either in the RB44 or the Scorpion. The Scorpion is perhaps more important as access to the turret with the 353 is very difficult and I do not want to do it any more than I have to.

The difficult cables are those from the radio to the ARFAT and TUUAM which are not wired as straightforwardly as they seem.

I will locate and post a schematic so that they can be made.

 HF Sets

I was successful in the Witham’s auction and now have the 321 set up. A friend has collected them for me and says that they look OK, but we have not tested them as yet. Again I probably paid slight over the odds for them, but I keep forgetting the VAT and I really wanted to get them all in one go. Once they are fitted I doubt that they will come out and will probably be sold with the truck anyway, so over the next few years the memory of paying for them will diminish.

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C2 Systems

As well as the radios, I have been thinking about what else I can put into the RB44 to make it look like a command post. It has a map board and I am sure that I can get a sufficiently “warry” looking map that I can draw targets and battle lines on. I can hang some DPM in it and camouflage it up, but there has to be something more. The original was filled with equipment for the BMETS role, and I need something to replace that.

Gunnery

Looking around, the artillery was probably one of the first arms of service to use technology to make tasks easier and more accurate. To a certain extent this was forced on them once the ranges of guns increased so that the fall of shot was away from direct sight. If you merely pointed the business end of your cannon at a body of troops and let it off, you could adjust elevation by sight and observe the outcome with your own eyes. As a result, spotting and correction was done by the crew and there was no real need for any other input. However once the concept of indirect fire was introduced, then that brought with it a number of issues that were not previously necessary. The first was that it introduced the need for a mathematical calculation to establish the required elevation to ensure that the shot fell in the right place, and also maps that were sufficiently accurate to measure the distances and to show the topography. It is no co-incidence that the mapping of the British Isles was carried out by the Board of Ordnance.

C3I Systems

The guns also needed to be zeroed, they had to be lined up so that the barrels were parallel and then any corrections in azimuth (the horizontal plane) can be applied to all. Having this fixed point also enabled observers to calculate corrections and express them in relation to the gun line. Added to this you have meteorology, incremental charges, barrel wear, differences in height between the target and the guns and you can see that the calculations become more complex. Prior to the introduction of computers the Artillery used a mixture of mechanical calculators, pre-calculated tables and corrections from forward observers. Nowadays it is all computer controlled and the calculations are much quicker and therefore a higher rate of fire ensues. I found an ex military rugged laptop and data station on eBay which I think will fit the bill and at least look like a fire control terminal.

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This has opened up a number of possibilities on the radio side. I will load some small programs which can calculate propagation predictions as well as antenna calculations so that I can use these when I am out in it, but my REME mate reckons that we should be able to attach it to the clansman radios to run a real time Morse decoder.

That sounds like fun and if anyone has some suggestions about how we do this please let me know.

Radio Amateurs Exam

As far as radio is concerned I have finished the basic course – there is a mock exam on Monday, one revision week and the real test on the 25th of March. I am revising and it’s all beginning to take shape, but I will find out any weak areas on Monday.

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 5 – Progress with Testing

Snakes and Ladders with Radio sets

Now where were we?

VHF ATU and AdapterIn the last instalment I had collected a number of parts which would go towards the radio installation and I was waiting for the cabling which connects the VHF sets and their components together. This arrived last weekend so I thought I would have a go to see whether the 353s worked. There was nothing to suggest that they would not, as they formed half of a batch bought from a dealer and the other two worked fine.

IMG_2850Harness

The first concern was that although the plugs on the cables I had bought matched the sockets on the radio bits, the labels showed that most were in fact designed for other uses. I was slightly annoyed about this as the whole point behind using that supplier and paying the price asked was that he told me he had the correct cables. I could have bought other cables which would plug in for a bit less and been in no worse a position. The bright side was that one pair were actually labelled correctly so I have a known good pair and I have tested the pins to see how they are connected and can then compare those to the others.

Power Supplies

My first test was to power up – the power supply I had was a simple 24 volt charger connected via a made up lead, terminating in the two pin clansman connector. I assembled the parts, connected the power, turned on and nothing. I turned it on a couple of times but with exactly the same result. I could not hear anything moving or working. At this stage I ran out of time so set it aside for another day.

Apparently Dead

My next trial involved another set with the same ancillaries, but this time I set it up indoors. My reason was to see whether any of the set lit up as the first time I did it, I couldn’t see anything. I followed the set up in the user manual to the letter and turned it on. Not quite nothing, but as close as you can get. A few more tests and some close observation indicated that the lights in the frequency selection window were lighting up briefly and then there was a clunk and they went off. They did this within a second or so of the power being switched on so it was very difficult to tell what was happening. When the switch was turned to 28 volts, the meter showed that the power supply was in the green, but at any other position the set appeared to be completely dead.

 Reading The Manual

From the fault finding schematic in the user manual it pointed to the power supply unit in the radio tripping, and the advice was to switch on and off to reset. This merely repeated the process, and the worrying thing was that the next stage on the flow chart was that the set was faulty.

There’s Life Jim…

This is where the Clansman Radio User Forum came in. I posted a request for help and received some very good advice. The consensus was that the voltage from the battery charger was not “clean” enough for the radio. That is to say that there were fluctuations in the voltage that made no difference when charging a battery, but which were completely incompatible when used to power radio equipment. Stuart posted a link which explained the situation perfectly and set me looking for another way to power the set. (see here…) On the good side, it was felt that the radios were performing as expected by tripping when faced with an unregulated power supply.

Testing….

One. As I mentioned earlier, I brought a couple of signals batteries down from the vehicle to try to recondition them so I had these in the garage. I made a better power lead with terminals that connected properly to battery posts and a lead to connect the two batteries in series to give me a smooth 24 volt supply. In the assembly of the set I checked as much as I could and found that I only had eight volts across the two batteries. Whilst I was disappointed I was not surprised as I did not have a lot of confidence in the batteries. However, I connected one to the charger for an hour or so and managed to lift the voltage up to about ten and it was taking reasonable amperage so there is hope that once I get them up to charge they will have enough in them to run the set.

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I did get some life into the batteries and connected everything. Turned the sets on and Bingo – lights where there should be and clicks and whirrs all round. It worked with both sets, so I am fairly confident that I have the basis of a radio fit. Over the holiday I hope to change the components around to test cables and boxes. Plymouth Radio Club are having a 24 hour event on Good Friday, so I hope to receive some traffic on the 50Mhz band just to test reception.

Two. That apart there has been some progress with the RB44 and it is now booked in for its VOSA test in the middle of April. I have checked with DVLA and they tell me that the registration process should only take 48 hours before I get the authority to make the number plates which puts it on the road. The V5 will follow, but it will be taxed and insured and ready to drive. Looking at my diary I am aiming to take some time off around the 10th May and bring it home then.

Three. Not only that but I passed my foundation licence exam. I have not been allocated a call sign yet, but will look and see whether TUH is available, TUH standing for Truck Utility Heavy, the designation of the RB 44.

Even the sun is shining here!  Albeit a tad late 😉

 

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 6 – Bureaucracy Bites but the Adventure Begins…

Worth the wait

It has been a while since the last post as I was waiting for something positive to happen so that I could make the transition from planning to working on the radios and the RB 44. When I left it I was arranging leave, getting a date for the VOSA test and trying to co-ordinate the drive back to Cornwall. My target date was the 10th or 11th May and everything seemed to be fitting in with that. However it was not to be as the truck, which had its VOSA test on the 2nd May, failed because a seal in the power steering blew. It was no-one’s fault, but most likely because it had been standing for a while and the seal had perished. It was then booked in for the following week, but this left me little or no time to get the insurance, and more importantly, the registration paperwork completed. I did consider other options – drive it anyway, borrow trade plates or make up a number plate – but was advised by those with cooler heads to leave it and not to take the risk. They were of course right. All it would have needed was to break down in an awkward place, to lose another seal in the braking system or have an accident and I would have been in trouble and could have risked a crushed vehicle, fine or points. Not only that it could have had an impact on the hobby in general and made it more difficult to register or run such vehicles in future.

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We were then on plan B. The procedure is that once you have insurance and the VOSA test, you take these to the DVLA local office and they check it all and after a few days you get a registration document and the authority to make number plates. After that the log book and tax disc comes through in due course, but you can drive it. My local office is in Truro so I took the train down and went to see them. They checked everything and decided that the copy of the disposal certificate was not sufficient and that I had to produce the original. This was in Grantham as it was needed for the VOSA test, so it was sent down. They looked at all the other paperwork and stamped the form. So next week I took another train ride to Truro. I thought I would enjoy the day as it was our thirtieth wedding anniversary and have lunch out in what is a pleasant city. How wrong can you be?

Having got to the front, I submitted the paperwork together with the original cast certificate. The application was rejected this time because the VOSA certificate that I had made no reference to the chassis number. Because of the earlier problems with the test I am now quite an expert on VOSA and know that in cases that have no registration number they allocate a K number. This is their reference number unique to the vehicle until it is registered and can be found on their system by quoting it. It then details all the history, including in my case the failed and missed tests. They can do this over the phone as I have done it with them a couple of times during the lead up to plating. However the DVLA would not accept the K number. They say that they do not have access to the VOSA system and they were not going to ring up and check. It was my problem. I rang VOSA who confirmed that they had a record of the chassis number under the K reference, but that they did not use it. The certificate was competed according to their instructions and that was that. Back to DVLA – they would not budge. I have to admit at this stage that I became quite annoyed with the whole thing. If I could phone up and confirm the chassis number why couldn’t they and anyway why was a properly issued test certificate not acceptable? Two hours later, arguments with the manager and he did sort it out, but by that stage I was really, really annoyed. It seemed the most frustrating type of bureaucracy; an argument between departments with me stuck in the middle and powerless to influence either. I also could not understand why in these days of customer focus, a department would want to turn something that we both want the same outcome into a battle.

After that we did get lunch and the very large bottle of beer that accompanied it seemed a reward for the wasted morning. A couple of days later the registration number came through so we were all set for the weekend.

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For the rest of the week I gathered as much stuff as I could that would be useful and put it in the car. I had a box of oils, greases, fire extinguishers, as well as all the paperwork I had and went via London on the Friday and picked up a civilian transceiver that I bought some months ago. Seemed in very good condition but my mate is not into radio so I just wrapped it up and put that into the car as well. Early on the Saturday I went up the M1 to another friend who lives nearer to Grantham and arrived there just in time for breakfast. The journey and adventure was about to begin.

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 7 – A good Road Test and update as at July 2013

Out on the Road

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Finally everything came together.  The truck was taxed, insured, plated, legal and I had leave. I bundled some emergency stuff in the back of the car ready to set off after my early shift. Overnight with a friend in London and collect a Yaesu transceiver then up to Bedford early Saturday morning. The plan was fairly straightforward – go up to Grantham on the Saturday morning and collect the truck, then to somewhere outside Spalding to collect a Sankey Widetrack that I had bought on eBay and back to Bedford.  At Tony’s we would have a climb around underneath to make sure that there was nothing seriously amiss and that all the oil levels were about right.  I had heard horror stories of the universal joints on the propshafts and steering being neglected and snapping so they were a priority.  We also had a camping stove, tea bags and the means to make a brew so as far as I could see we were sorted.

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Technology Let Down…Usual Summer Hazard

The first problem came about ten minutes after I left work. I had updated my satnav the night before so that we could be sure of avoiding any delays on the way down and for some reason it had got itself into a loop.  It would not get past the opening screen so it was almost as if I was driving blind.  In terms of navigation on the Friday it wasn’t a problem, so I carried on.  When I joined the end of a queue that stretched from Ilminster to Stonehenge I realised that it was going to be one of those journeys.  I do not really mind traffic, there is not much you can do and provided that I have some decent music to listen to I can be quite chilled.  On dual carriageways I tried to spread the love by winding my window down and sharing the music, but there did not seem to be many who appreciated my taste.

Whereas I would normally expect to reach London by about half past six, it was half past eight before I arrived.  The Yaesu seemed to be in reasonable condition so it was wrapped up and placed in the back of the car.  The following morning I left early and was in Bedford for about nine.  We went to Grantham and had tea with John from Grantham Truck Services.  If I could put in a plug for these guys here, they were terrific all the way through the process and are genuinely nice to deal with.  It was then on to Spalding.  According to the chap from eBay it was about twenty miles from Grantham and dead easy to find. Not without a satnav it wasn’t.  I know nothing abut that part of the world and the names and directions mean nothing.  I was driving a very strange vehicle with marginal visibility behind which all added to the stress.

The Drive

The RB44 is a funny vehicle.  You sit very high up but the controls are pretty much the same as a Dodge 50.  The first thing I noticed was that the speedometer did not work so it was difficult to assess my true speed.  The second was that the gear gate is backwards, so reverse is where first normally is located.  This became a bit of a theme for the next couple of hours.  The brakes, despite all the adverse publicity, are not bad for a truck.  It rattles and bumps and judders but the weirdest thing is that the power steering is very much engine speed dependent.  If you take your foot off the throttle the steering gets heavier, which catches you out on roundabouts.

So, bimbling along the road towards Spalding at about fifty was actually quite relaxing.  The gearchanging was almost impossible until you get to fourth and fifth, but one, two and three was like stirring gritty porridge.  This was livened up for those behind me by random reversing at traffic lights.  We managed to find the trailer out in the middle of nowhere and it went straight on.  We didn’t have the correct electrical connector so there were no lights, but otherwise the brakes worked and it went fine.  To a certain extent you did not notice that it was attached until you caught a glimpse in the rear mirror. Where you did notice it was trying to do a three point turn in between Lincolnshire ditches when we got lost. Boy did we get lost!  After two and a half hours driving we were back at Grantham but heading North rather than South.

Finally we made Bedford. Once we had had a brew we looked as closely as we could over the truck.  Apart from a few strokes with the grease gun it needed very little in the way of preventative maintenance.  All the lights worked as they should, there were no major oil leaks so we felt that we were ready for the following day.

And Back…

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The trip down to Cornwall was remarkably uneventful.  We went down the slower roads at about fifty and watched the world go past.  The engine did not miss a beat and I gradually became better at the gearbox.  The trailer followed along without an incident and apart from a few comfort stops we made steady progress.  All in all by the time that I got to Cornwall I was quite convinced that I had made the right decision about the truck and that it would be exactly what I had hoped.

More to follow…

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 8 – SITREP as at August 2013

SITREP as at August 2013

the truck has been at home for two months. It has been fun so far – I have spent the time getting bits and pieces done, both radio and mechanical, and putting some time in to building a shed for it.

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Reaching Mechanical Stability

After a looking over, very few jobs really need doing. There are a few small oil leaks, although these look more like porous gaskets between mating faces rather than seals. One seal that is weeping is the rear nearside axle oil seal, so this is on the list for replacement. My view generally is that at least when you can see a drip you know there is oil in there. I will need to change the filters and oils, and have pencilled in some time in September to do this.

The heater in the pod is not working and will need some investigation. It runs off the diesel tank but I have not had time as yet to get into the detail of how they work. It is made by a well known form so there should not be a problem. Apart that is from the cost of spares – a replacement controller is in excess of three hundred pounds.

Radio Power Supply Concerns

My biggest concern so far is the signals batteries. There are four fairly large capacity gel mat units that connect to give 24 volts. These are charged either by a separate generator on the vehicle or an external petrol unit. The vehicle charger is working and surprisingly gives a good charge at tickover. The problem seems to be that the batteries are not building up to full charge. I am working on a number of solutions – I tried to charge the pack as a single unit but that did not give the result I wanted. I have given each unit a charge and this has again produced a patchy result so I have now obtained a fairly powerful pulse charger and am bringing them up individually. I have one unit that is showing green and two others which are getting up to 10-11v in stages so I hope that with this and a bit of work, they will recondition.

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Restoring the Paint Work and other Household Chores

IMG_2886There is a little bit of rust in places, mainly on the surface, so I am rubbing that down and painting it. The paintwork is very faded, which is a problem with the infra red reflective green that the Army used at the time. I am using a similar colour without the reflective element, so in future the question of fading should not arise.

 

The major job on the bodywork so far has been cleaning it. I assume that because of the IMG_2891electronic in the back that it was not possible to get into the nooks and crannies, but it was absolutely filthy. I have used about five buckets of a Flash/Dettol mix and each one has ended up looking like a brown pond. On the other hand the whole thing now smells cleaner and is much nicer to sit in.

Getting on Air

IMG_2859The radio side is also coming along. My first task has been to get some form of communication going with the VRC 321. I was lucky in that there was a mounting which took the set, but it was surrounded by a frame which did not allow the Tuning Unit to clamp on the top. This became a problem later. I managed to get power from the distribution board to the set, and connected the set to the Tuner.  I replaced the seals in the mast pump so that I could raise the mast pneumatically, and obtained a junction unit to connect together the two arms of a dipole as well as a 20m coaxial to connect the Tuner Unit to the dipole junction.

Field Trials – Commencing Mobile and Portable Operations from the New Station

IMG_0151One sunny morning a friend and I decided that we ought to go out and see whether we could raise anything on the set, so we drove up on to the Moor. Caradon Hill is about 1200 feet above sea level and apart from the height, the view on a clear day is spectacular. You can see Bodmin Moor, the sea at Looe as well as the northern part of Dartmoor and if line of sight is the key, the propagation should be terrific.

IMG_0116We arrived and set up the antenna in an inverted V centring on the 14MHz band. The mast went up to about 25 feet, and all looked good until we came to look inside at the radio. During the trip up the Tuning Unit had fallen off and managed to break the coaxial connection between the transceiver and the tuner. Normally I have a couple of spare bits in the truck but not on that occasion. All we could do was to pack up and go home slightly disappointed.

Expensive Little Fuse Problem

IMG_2840Getting the 321 to work was not as easy as all that. I remade a connection cable and fitted that, but even having done that it did not seem to want to know. The first problem was that a fuse in the front of the set kept blowing. The set showed that there was 28v getting there but as soon as the tuning unit kicked in the fuse blew. Looking at the fuse it was an original 1 amp NATO fuse, so I tried to find another. I did find a supplier, but at a cost of over five pounds each. Given that I did not know the source of the problem, I thought that this would probably be an expensive diagnosis so I bought some cheaper 1 and 2 amp car fuses. A friend suggested that it may be that the relays and capacitors in the set may be stuck through lack of use, so I connected the set to a 12 volt battery overnight. The following day I tried the same with exactly the same result. After about five or six fuses, I realised that I was really getting nowhere. At this point I contacted Stuart who put me straight with regard to the actual fuse rating. Success! The set burst into life and once it had warmed up I was able to receive a transmission from France. That was a really great feeling, as I was beginning to wonder whether I had bought a heap of junk.

Further Exploits

A couple of weeks later I tried again to receive from the top of Caradon and this time it worked very well. I tuned into VMARS and managed very good reception, better in some cases than the net controller. I did try to get on to the net but did not manage to do so.

Fitting the 2xVHF Sets

vhftuningunitThe next stage was to try to fit the VHF sets, but this has proved to be tricky because of the racking already installed. I have not been able to get a mounting plate on the radio table and I do not have any cables that are long enough to get from the set to the units. On the positive side I have managed to fit the TUUAM properly as well as the ARFAT to pre-existing mountings. I have also managed to get the special rubber mountings for the TUUAM. The antenna base fitted onto the outside fittings, and running the cable from the base to the TUUAM was very easy. Because of the problems with the cables I have not managed to fire the set up yet, but a dry run outside the vehicle suggests that there should be no problems once they are properly connected. I have now managed to salvage some cables from within the vehicle which I can use to create the links and this is what I will be doing over the next couple of weeks.

Removing “Surplus” Racking

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I have also stripped out much of the racking and fittings that I will not be using. This revealed the radio tray which I have found is pre-drilled for four radio mountings. I have managed to clean and paint this and am having the base plates to take the shock mounts made. Until then I have bolted the carriers straight to the table to make sure that the radios do not come adrift and to give me the distances to run the cables.

Spoo

I have had one disaster. I bought a Sankey trailer at the same time and it is in reasonable condition. These are very heavy, and have an over-run braking system that is controlled by the movement of the towing eye against a cam which activates the brakes. In order to reverse you have to lock the towing eye so that the brakes are not activated. Guess who forgot to do this? The problem is that the truck has so much power that you just do not notice the resistance of the trailer and I managed to jack knife the whole unit. Unfortunately this pushed the trailer up against the bodywork and the result was a rather large dent in the tub. I am irritated by this as the trailer itself was pretty straight and now I have to work out how to get the dent out. Luckily the body of the truck was not damaged.

Armed Forces Day – Plymouth Hoe

I have also had one outing. We were invited to Armed Forces Day on Plymouth Hoe as part of a small group of vehicles organised by the MVT. I set up the HF set and mast to receive the VOLMETS broadcast from the RAF. This sounded vaguely military and created something going on. At the same time I tested the transmission using the PRC 320 and found that the 321 was not transmitting. Trial and error identified the problem to the handset as swapping the handsets between the 320 and 321 also swapped the problem. I’ve since obtained another couple of handsets.

On Display…

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Success on Air

My final triumph happened a couple of weeks ago. A friend from the radio class has been badgering me to transmit. I have problems with the Yaesu set up and although you can hear it the range seems very limited. To keep him quiet we agreed a time and frequency and I set the 321 up. Imagine my surprise when I managed to get a contact – admittedly only over about 20 miles, but a contact none the less. Given that the antenna was only roughly to size and we are down in a dip using very low power I thought that it was an achievement. At least I have one contact to boast about.

Amateur Licence Upgraded – Successfully

In terms of the radio licence I have now completed the intermediate course and will take the test on Monday. I passed the mock, although the technical questions were a bit of a mare, so with a bit of revision and a following wind I should be 2E0 and able to wind the 321 up to 25 Watts.

Summary of Progress So Far

So two months on there has been progress across a number of fronts. The radio fit is coming on, the mechanical side is under control and the painting has begun. There is a vehicle meeting locally in a couple of weeks which I hope to attend and will take some photos. I have a friend in the area who is also in to military radio so I might be able to set up a net between his Larkspur Rover FFR and the Clansman RB44. That would be fun.

Adding an Artillery Command Post to a Military Vehicle Collection – Part 9 – Clansman Installation Designs – August 2013

The end of a Busy Month by Richard Taylor – 2E0TUH

It’s now the end of August and looking back I am surprised how much I have achieved.  I did pass the Intermediate exam and am now 2E0TUH – thanks to Bob, Chris and Sheila from Plymouth Radio Club for their patience.  This means that I can use all the sets at their maximum power, although whether this will make a difference is moot.

On the truck I am working towards a plan.  I have looked carefully at the construction of the pod, and worked out how it goes together.  It is basically a double walled aluminium box, which was predictable, but all of the fittings are supported by a spreader plate riveted to the wall, with rivet nuts in the plate spaced to take the fitting.  This makes it less adaptable than for instance a Land Rover which has Dexion Racking and can take almost anything.  Having said that, there is nothing to stop me copying the spreader plate idea and using it to fit additional pieces.

IMG_2993The plan I am working to is fairly similar to the Clansman fitting seen in most land Rovers.  I have one 321 set and two 353’s mounted across the front radio table. At the moment I have it set up as 353, 321, 353 – the reason being that there are plates on the right and left of the front wall for the TUAM/ARFAT combination.

 

These link through to the two antenna bases on the front outside of the pod.  I only have one of the 353 sets linked up properly (the RHS one) as the plates on the LHS have been used to mount a filter unit and I need to work out how I can remove this without spoiling the feed to the distribution box. The 321 is connected to the power, but at present I run the antenna from the large co-axial out of the back door of the pod to the junction fitting which is raised to the top of the mast at the rear. I can then run the two arms of the dipole from the junction out to the ground in an inverted V.

Operating in a Sealed Environment

My aim is to be able to run the complete set up with the door closed.  Mainly because winter is approaching and as I found out last January, Caradon in the snow can be a bitter experience.  In order to do this I have decided that I will run cable around the inside of the pod to connectors that allow me to connect the inside to the outside. I already have some BNC connectors in a panel which sits under a canvas flap in the LHS.

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Fitting New BNC\C Type Coaxial Feed Throughs

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My first task has been to fit a BNC/C type connector in to this panel.  I have chosen this combination because most of the external antenna coaxial is fitted with C type plugs and most of the radio output is fitted with BNC. (Apart from the TURF that is).  As I am trying to use as much original cabling as possible, this seemed the answer.

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Using these two connectors I will have the choice of feeding either HF or VHF out on the LHS to a mast set up outside.  The HF can be set up in any way and the VHF can use the pineapple (Elevated Wide Band Antenna) or the ground mounted monopole.  Both do not need the TUAM/ARFAT to operate so a direct cable out will suffice.

Having an exit that way will also help with the HF antenna in that it will enable me to use the length of the truck to take up some of the antenna length and that will give me a smaller overall footprint, which is something that can matter at shows.   I will also fit up the same at the rear of the truck, so that the rear mast can be used with the door shut, although I am not sure yet whether I will enable VHF this way.

I already have the map board, and by chance picked up a military map of the Dartmoor training area from eBay.  Whilst we do not feature on it, it is sufficiently local to make it interesting and as it is the real deal should look the part.  I am now looking for a thin clear cover to go over it to allow me to scribble signs and things without spoiling it.  I have also picked up two field telephones (surprisingly cheaper than one!) and will fit one to its place next to the board.  There is pre-existing cabling going from there to two connectors outside on the rear which accept Don 10.

Planning the Final Mounting for the the HF Sets

I will probably mount the PRC320 towards the rear right of the pod, with an additional TURF which will be connected to the HF whip.  My problem is that unless I do it this way I cannot get the run from the TURF to the whip short enough.  It would either be that or have the TURF a long way from the set.  I am not sure of this at present, as not only do I need to mount the 320, I would also need the DCCU mounted as well.

I still have to fit in the rugged laptop and its data handler and possible a DMU to make it look the part. I would like to be able to carry out rebroadcast as well as having some facility to charge the portable batteries.  I think that there is space, I just need to get some of the remaining racking out.

Meanwhile Back on the Moors and fault finding the 321…

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That apart, I have tried to speak to VMARS from Caradon using the VRC321 again.  Once again without success, but at least I found out why.  I thought this time I would approach the matter more scientifically and not only would I be more accurate with the dipole length, but I would take up a GPS to work out the bearing between me and the VMARS controller so that I could align the antenna for best effect.  That went quickly to rats when I realised I did not know how to put another co-ordinate in to the handset and I had not manual with me.  Not only that I did not know how to switch the thing off, so ended up taking the batteries out.  I made a quick guess on the location of Stoke on Trent and banged the pegs in.

Despite my best efforts I could not get it to receive anything.  It seemed to be tuning fine, but all I could get was mush.  I did not think that this would be down to atmospherics as it seemed a glorious morning, so I fiddled with the cabling and it burst into life.  The problem was fairly simple.  Since the last time I had tried the set I had fitted the SURF above it.  Having been told that this stood for Small Useless Radio Fitting (except see here, – ed.) and as I only had one set in use, I by-passed it and connected the 321 straight to the TURF. This seems to have put a strain on the cable and it was not making a good contact. When I held it together the reception was excellent, but transmitting made it fail completely. So, another cable to make.

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That afternoon I took the Yaesu over to a friend and we set about seeing why it was not receiving properly.  Two hours of logical investigation showed that the attenuator switch was sticking on (sorted by switch cleaner) and the reject filter knob had been fitted out of alignment so that it was full on when it showed off.  Now it receives very well and I have heard transmissions very clearly.

 

 

 

Moving on…

September promises to be an expensive month, so I doubt whether there will be any great additions, but I plan to use the cables and fittings I have assembled to make the installation a little less bodged and a little neater.