QSA1 [75 FEET] - QSA2 [70 FEET] - QSA3 [65 FEET] - QSA4 [60 FEET] - QSA5 {Yipee} [55 FEET]


Hello.  The recent [mid June 2004] blowing-up of the GPO [now British Telecom] Rugby Radio station's  820 foot aerials to make way for new projects, lead me to the internet looking for pictures or video coverage of the event. Rugby radio station, callsign GBR was well known to sailors from as far back as the late 1920's as being the source of radio transmission of signals [messages] and of international time signals, which getting on for a decade ago, reached a standard of excellence which most of us would find totally incomprehensible: the stability is such that the clock source loses 1 second every 10,000 years.  If you don't believe me, have a look at this link but if you cant be bothered to read and you are not an RN SUBMARINER, just look at this :

"The original 100Hz time code ceased on 7th October 1998. Today the station has a suite of three standards, two caesium beam and one rubidium vapour. The transmitted frequency and time code are derived from these atomic standards which enable the
transmissions to have a day-to-day stability of better than 2 parts in 10/12 . (Better than 1 second in 10,000 years) Each standard feeds its own programmable clock and drive train."

If you are an ex RN SUBMARINER, I highly recommend a full browse of this excellent site starting on the HOME page of and from it click on COLD WAR NUCLEAR BUNKERS which takes you to the RSG page. On this page scroll down the list [although you will be tempted to read everything - it is fascinating] looking for RUGBY RADIO STATION and below it, CRIGGION RADIO STATION.  In hindsight, it is sad that the Royal Navy didn't build-in a visit to Rugby as part of the our training, for Rugby and the magic of GBR was an icon to us radiomen.  As I mention later on, GBR meant lots to us and we used the letters GBR in many ways. God Bless Rugby was one used when we received signals which bore good news like return to harbour immediately for a brewery visit [or better!! but not for this page], or, for a received signal telling us that our visit to Hollywood was cancelled, Gordon Bennett Rugby. On setting watch on VLF broadcast at the start of our patrol, I used to think Goodbye Beryl [my wife] - I saw that, but I would understand if you don't - although at the end of the patrol and the closing of our watch - my men would joke Get Beryl Ready [for what I wonder - used rather like BURMA on the back of an envelope] or, because they were single, Get Beer Ready.  Coming home and closing our listening watch, or if going to a particularly nice place, GBR was Good Bloody Rendezvous.  So as not to confuse any reader, Rugby acted as a gateway only and all our signals came from Admiralty over GPO/BT leased land lines, routed there by our operational commanders.  A good comparison I think, is that of a favourite and popular newscaster on television who simply passes on the stories [messages] that the back stage journalists have written or gathered from around the world. Seeing or hearing the newscaster is nearly as important as listening to what he or she says. You would have to read my other pages relating to submarines [Cuban crisis for example] to understand that, in a cold war state, simply to hear Rugby's callsign  meant to me that all that I loved back in the UK were still safe, and I well remember moments of excitement on coming shallow to periscope depth after many hours down deep, watching the depth gauge [keel depth] in my wireless office creep slowly past 150 feet, 125 feet, 100 feet and then at 75 feet  faint at first, that most lovely sound started to fill my ears, becoming strong and positive [God Bless Rugby] when at periscope depth, approximately 55 feet. To help you understand depths/distances used by a submarine I have drawn a little picture - click here to see it 'A' BOAT DEPTHS.htm  plus a little map of the world to orientate you RUGBY RANGES.htm  The map shows approximate ranges of global reception from Rugby VLF for a dived submarine at periscope depth and for submarines not at periscope depth using other means.  NOTE  Other pictures later on explain what the LOOP AERIALS are and how they work and are constructed.  Of course I am not going to tell you about how techniques changed in submarines when coming shallow to periscope depth to get the signals was not necessary, enough to mention that by being at periscope depth the boat was in a potentially hazardous position, and my call to the captain that I had finished with Rugby for that schedule was a welcome call for all in the control room just forward of my office which was virtually midships port side. Before I move on, we used to try and get our messages at dawn or dusk, the skipper hoping that he could get a star sight fix through the periscope at the same time especially if the schedule was long and there were lots of messages for many submarines. On completion, we would go deep, relax a bit, and then have breakfast/supper. The coxswain of a boat is also responsible for feeding the crew - the cook [?!] prepared it - and therefore the coxswain was known [apart from other things] as the grocer. On first sailing, the food was reasonable, even fresh, but after a while the food was bloody awful coming mainly from tins with mouldy bread [if we were lucky] - the cook [bless him] making it even less attractive than it might have been - so we radiomen used the callsign GBR as meaning Grocer's Bloody Rubbish.

For sailors not involved with the navigation of a ship, time signals, important though they are for getting it right when meeting a girl for a date, pub opening time and of course, the televising of the big match, were in my time [before the days of GPS and satellites per se] critical to finding out where we were on [or under] the surface of the globe, and one of my biggest responsibilities on a submarine apart from running my  communication department  and my general submarine duties as a middle-manager, was to make sure that the error of our chronometer was known by regularly checking it against an accurate radio time signal. We relied upon this time piece to help us work out our longitude and such was its importance, I and I alone wound the clock up everyday at noon even if it meant that I would be five minutes late for the afternoon watch in the control room.  Again in those days, submarine navigation often meant running on estimated position [EP] or a series of DR's [dead reckoning] for some periods kept us away from the surface thereby denying us a fix let alone a time check. On a surface ship, given the weather of course, the four elements of  astro navigation are always there, namely accurate time, sextant, the visibility of prominent stars and a clear horizon [twilight] on which to place the stars. In a boat, one is guaranteed one of these - the sextant!

Back to Rugby and the world famous callsign GBR. The time checks could be heard world wide and were transmitted on several frequencies ranging from LF [low frequency] to HF [high frequency or short wave] and at this game Rugby was one of several time signal sources broadcasting to the world. Her other duty, naval anyway, of sending messages to submarines was highly specialised, and discounting the Russians which like ourselves and the USA were globe-trotting navies and therefore must have had a comparable system known to our intelligence guys, only the USN and RN enjoyed the facility of VLF [very low frequency] transmissions. At this time [the 60's] most other navies had submarines but their modus operandi was territorial and not to globe-trot so their underwater communication requirement were supplied by employing LF [low frequency] transmitters.  The difference between VLF and LF is that VLF signals penetrate the earths surface down to a goodly depth even at extended range whereas LF signals are soon attenuated [grow fainter] as the distance between the submarine and the land grows and they have limited penetration properties vis a vis VLF. Thus using LF makes life a little more difficult for the submarine even forcing the boat to near surface level with the top of the fin [where the aerials are] just below the waves. I'll mention those aerials which are built into the fin, in a minute. The Americans were the luckiest because they had these VLF transmitters all over the world not just in the States, so a US boat would always be sailed on a VLF broadcast. The Americans even had aerials radiating Mega Watts strung between two mountains, whereas, as you will see on the link above, Rugby made do with an aerial farm spread over a large area of interlinked fields.  We were not so lucky when at great range from the UK.  I have said that the Rugby time signals went right around the world, but her VLF signals had a finite range inside which signals could be read whilst below the waves and outside which signals could be read in excellent sea conditions with the boat hanging just below the surface, which was dangerous, or not at all.  The official range was listed in our communication manuals as being VLF 2000 miles at 22 feet LF 400 miles at 6 foot. In the latter circumstances, we too had to shift to listening to LF transmitters which were geographically placed around the world in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Indian Ocean, Malta as well as the facilities offered by the Commonwealth Navies. In theory, we were operating in their area but at extended ranges it was very difficult to get ones signals especially [as was sometimes the case] when their LF component was in the low hundreds of kilohertz, typically 120 kHz. Add to this the difference in sea temperatures where in cold water sound signals travel much further than in warm or hot sea states and where the signal to noise ratio is often poor because of sound interference from natural phenomenon. It is easy to forget that female singers can easily hit the high AF notes up to 15 and 16 kilohertz  [which is the frequency of Rugby] and any good manufacturer of audio equipment would produce a system which would allow you to listen [we you able to] to the highest human voice notes known to man - this equipment is usually marketed as "high fidelity" - faithful to the voice of say Ella Fiztgerald for example. Creatures living in the sea produce comparable noises, and we were often serenaded  by them on and over our underwater telephone loudspeaker. Interference in or near to the AF band entering the radio receiver in its RF stages and very close to the carrier frequency of on-off morse code might not get filtered out and could pass through the receiver as a bonafide signal sometimes louder than the wanted signal.  Often, while operating away from UK we worked with the USN in foreign parts and we would be switched from our own or Commonwealth navies LF transmitters to USN VLF transmitters where getting signals was relatively easier. You may have gathered that Rugby particularly, because there were other VLF transmitters in the UK but no British VLF abroad, was looked upon by our submarine radio men with affection.  It was all one way and we received her signals but never sent signals to her or talked to her, but just hearing her voice [her callsign - GBR {Great Britain Rules}- Geoff's [that's me] Buzz Room {the navy functions on buzzes} and knowing physically were she was, smack in the middle of dear old UK was a comforting feeling when we were a couple of thousand odd miles away from home, living in a diesel environment made worse by sweaty bodies, rough and cold seas and less than good food.

In the 1950's [and before of course] submarines had a jumping wire which was stretched from bow to stern passing over the top of the conning tower on a raised gantry.  This steel wire had the VLF receiver aerial attached to it making as long as possible the length of the aerial. More of that in a minute. When the boat was dived, the skipper used to turn the boat towards the direction of Rugby [or from whence the signal came] and he would maintain that course, altering as necessary to maintain the strongest radio signal,  until the senior radioman would shout "routine finished sir", whereupon, the skipper would resume his operational course. The following picture shows a typical boat in the 1950's. The first picture is of an 'S' class boat, and they plus the British 'U' class boats were never modified by adding an enclosed fin. The fin was added not to make it look pretty [although my wife thought it did!!] but to elevate the men 'up top' above the sea where they would get a little less wet than in a 'S' or a British 'U' boat, which was dreadful. Click to enlarge This is HM Submarine Sentinel leaving Grand Harbour Malta passing a R.N., aircraft carrier. Note her snort mast laying on the casing aft. Also notice the jumping wire starts well short of the bow.  The Mediterranean is very shallow and communications were generally good there listening of course, to GBR. Next comes a 'T' boat in its jumping wire state: this is HM Submarine Teredo [also in Malta] Click to enlarge. 'T' boat had a jumping wire stretching almost right up front to the bow of the boat and since they were larger boats than were the 'U' and 'S' class, they had a longer VLF/LF aerial. This submarine Click to enlarge, HM Submarine 'Turpin' was my first modified 'T' with a fin and streamlined casing where the VLF/LF aerial is built into the top of the fin. 'A' boats were also modified and given the fin treatment plus many other modifications which prepared them to operate over long distances without support. I served in 'A' boats for five years. This is HM Submarine Auriga before modification and 'A' boats had the longest jumping wire of any British boat Click to enlarge. That is followed by Auriga now with a fin and streamlining Click to enlarge. Note the radio aerial [AWO] in the horizontal position [lowered] trailing out at the back of the fin on the starboard side. Those of you familiar to the Mediterranean station and Malta may recognise Rinella Bay on the port side as Auriga enters Grand Harbour. Of the remaining diesel electric boats, the 'P' and 'O' class, they were posh boats and were built with fin and dressed in fine clothing. They were recognised the world over as the finest diesel electric boats ever built and the R.N., had many of them and sold them too to Commonwealth navies. I served in one of them, HM Sub Grampus, a 'P' boat named so after the first in that class, HM Submarine Porpoise. 'O' boats were named after HM Submarine Oberon. Both the 'P' and the 'O' had built-in VLF/LF aerials in the tops of their fin.

Since there are 6 types of diesel electrics in this period of history [U, S, T, A, P, O], I will now concentrate on the 'A' boat. However before leaving the rest, there was one other type of boat which was neither diesel nor nuclear. There were two of them, the Excalibur and the Explorer and they were propelled with a fuel known at HTP [high test peroxcide] a very dangerous substance which is thought to have caused the explosion in the nuclear Russian submarine Kursk which employed the volatile fuel in a torpedo - read the story of this on my web site. HTP made these submarines go very fast and thus, they were potentially more dangerous to an enemy that a relatively slow diesel boat, although they were always used a test-beds and never operationally. Also for a general read on submarines have a look at this page on my site bits_and_pieces_volume_v.htm and then Section 6, the Mutiny story!

 'A' boats, once modified with a fin, were little changed thereafter except to add bits and pieces as technology progressed. They were worked to death, spent many years at sea all over the world, never saw action as such and one by one they disappeared from the active scene - by todays date 2004, they have been long gone. There were many of them, built to operate in the Far East but were not completed until after the end of WW2. One, the Affray, had a sad ending and was lost with all hands in the English Channel in 1951. The Artemis, sank alongside HMS Dolphin the submarine base at Gosport [Portsmouth], was raised from the sea bed but was never used again at sea. The Alliance is high and dry on top of a concrete block at the Submarine Museum also in Gosport. Perhaps the most famous was the Andrew which was the star in Nevil Shute's book 'On the beach' which was made into a highly successful film. Some broke records and did adventurous things like crossing  the Atlantic dived [I think that was the Andrew again], and my submarine the Auriga actually sank a ship with torpedoes off Singapore in 1965.  Dont worry, it was an old freighter captured in the Korean war [1950-1953] which had been moored off Singapore's Naval dockyard for many a long year. Navy tugs towed it out to sea and we put it to the bottom of the ocean [South China Sea]. The rest are no more and forgotten by all except for those who served in them. They helped to win the cold war but most would not understand that statement so I wont dwell on it.

The radio fit of the 'A' boat really belonged to an era of what is affectionately called "the steam age". Indeed, after I left submarines for the surface navy, I went to sea in a frigate and then a cruiser followed by two exacting jobs at sea with an Admiral as my boss instead of the proverbial Captain, ending up as the senior instructor in the radio communications technical department at the Royal Navy Signal School near Portsmouth. Whilst there and teaching sailors the ins and outs of modern satellite communications etc., I often wondered how I had survived for nearly five years in Auriga alone, working against heat, rough weather swamping the aerial, water in the aerial system, power failures, RF burns, standing waves on the aerial system a mile high [!] and all this just to send or receive a few lines of text, when here, at the Signal School, we were talking about traffic flows which could transmit the contents of a small library in the same time period.  So, lets go back to the "steam age" which of course must include dear old Rugby.

All warships were fitted out so that they could communicate both tactically [at sea in close proximity to one another and to military aircraft/helicopter] and strategically to and from shore, often over long distances. The concept was clear, but the manner in which ships or units did it was vastly different, some employing satellite techniques for example, and others using HF [short wave] to achieve the same end. A further and obvious division was between a surface unit and a sub-surface unit where we infrequently talked to other sub-surface or surface units, and getting and sending our signals to/from shore could be more difficult than for a surface ship. Nearly all surface units had multiple transmitters and receivers covering the full RF spectrum, had efficient based tuned broadband aerial many several metres above sea level and they were using teleprinters operating on real-time-coded 75 baud [100wpm] circuits, so they could communicate rapidly and have standby transmitters in case of breakdowns, whilst 'A' boat radio men had but one transmitter one morse key and a coding machine all done by hand. Although many of us could send good morse at 22 to 25 wpm with a RN service morse key [ bug keys were banned in the RN] and receive it too, the average speed of exchange on real-time circuits was probably between 20 and 22 wpm - very slow when compared to teleprinters. 

Lets look at the 'A' boats communications fit.  We start off looking at the boat out of water as it were. Click to enlarge and here you will be able to pin point the things mentioned in the following table all except for the 609 buoys which are not shown to avoid clutter. Suffice that you know they are there and that they are manually deployed from inside the boat if the boat sinks out of control.














[I can't show you the SHF D/F Mast configuration for security reasons].

Here are some action shots of diving and similar periscope masts. Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

Telescopic aerial like a periscope

Here's a couple of pictures of what we looked like to passing seagulls.

The pictures opposite are of Auriga in the Indian Ocean off Aden in 1966. I have called them going going gone and here I am again - with both 'scopes up. The gun was there because of the Borneo war. Which way are we going? Answer - left. The small scope is the attacking piece and the large scope is for searching for the target. Attack forward - search astern.

SHF D/F aerial plus ALJ [see below].

Depending upon type of aerial fitted the UA3 could cover up the low ten of  Giga Hertz on S, C and X bands


UA3  Click to enlarge for early warning of aircraft radar when snorting at periscope depth and U/VHF listening watch/696 [no picture just a block diagram] Click to enlarge and 86M Click to enlarge.Click to enlargeClick to enlargeClick to enlargeClick to enlargeClick to enlarge[6 pictures]

Forward mast in conning tower fin complex. Astern of it were respectively: attack periscope, search periscope, radar mast, snort mast



[click here to see ALF system]

Built into top of fin. The fin is at the bottom of this picture with the gun hatch lower and more forward over to the right.

Click to enlarge  Click to enlarge

VLF/LF Reception 10 to 550 kHz. The ALF Tuning/Control unit.Click to enlarge


B41 Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

2 loop aerials of immense length built F-A and P-S.


AWO Submarine aerial [click to see aerial drawing] 

Click to enlarge [plus this showing another view of AWO] *

Hinged HF/MF aerial starboard side rear top of fin. Click for a more comprehensive description.

*Picture to left is of us HM Sub Auriga sitting in pack ice in the Cabot Strait Newfoundland.
Taken by a USN Maritime aircraft for the US Naval base in Argentia [ar-gen-ci-a]. Year 1963.

HF/MF 1.5 TO 24 MHz

400 watts


623 - Click to enlarge Click to enlarge [2 PICS]

TCS - Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge [4 PICS]


Raised and used at periscope depth and when on the surface if polarisation was critical, otherwise the radiating element was parallel to the sea. Employs send/receive relay therefore simplex working only.


Click to enlarge
[This is a good picture of submarine Grampus on the surface. Note that her AWJ is rigged and that she is using it to fly her commissioning pennant. Often happened, after all what are emergency aerial for anyway?

Hand erected emergency whip aerial top con fin starboard side forward.

In the picture on the left you can see the big search periscope and aft of it the radar mast - all our masts in Grampus were telescopic.

HF/MF 1.5 TO 24 MHz

400 watts


B40 - Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge [8 PICS]

CHC - Click to enlargeClick to enlargeClick to enlargeClick to enlarge[4 PICS].


As above, but can only be used on surface. Always collapsed before diving.


auriga diving22

[click here to see an ALJ but hurry up or you will miss it]


Stub aerial mounted in centre of SHF D/F mast

100 to 399.9 MHz

20 watts

86M or 696 whichever fitted.

We had both at one time but the 696 was fitted into all boats from the very early 1960's

Had a 360 degree polar diagram when the mast was lowered for surface or harbour communications. Raised when dived to talk on UHF, but the height of the aerial reduced our line of sight communications down to just a few miles only.


Buoys 1 aft and 1 forward built into and secured to the boats casing. Attached to the boat on 600 foot cables.

4340 kHz

Battery powered just a few watts!


Released when the submarine was in big trouble. Buoy floated to the surface, the aerial popped-up and began to transmit the word SUBSUNK in morse code [CW A1]. Used for HF D/F purposes and as a visual marker to show the lay of the sunken boat. Also has cats-eyes and flashing light.

REH5 A tape recorder Click to enlarge Click to enlarge - VLF systems ALF/B41 To record high speed morse received from Rugby and other VLF/LF stations.
If you are interested in submarine aerials, then, here on this page, I have continued with the story which supports amplifies and builds on the detail in the Table above. Click here to see it OTHER SUBMARINE AERIALS.htm

  In my article about the Aden withdrawal ADEN {of comparable radio communications interest is also SUEZ WAR 1956 [second edition]] both of which are published on the site under ADEN and SUEZ respectively, I give some indication about the difficulties of communicating ashore from a submarine which has spent long periods dived with very little [if any] maintenance. This instance was not uncommon even when maintenance had been done, because a boat's transmitting aerial [in those days] was just a few feet above the water when dived, and then as now, sea water, and lots of it, formed a connection between the radiating element of the aerial and the support mast, thereby short circuiting the insulator.  The result was that we were trying to boil the sea with our RF power, and although the morse code left the wireless office perfectly, the poor guys reading it ashore, received in intermittently, necessitating a re-send and extra time hovering at periscope depth. Moreover, we tuned the transmitter into a 600 ohm dummy load which was but a few feet from the transmitter itself, and of course achieved a near perfect transfer of power with a VSWR of approximately 0.9. When it was time to transmit for real, I would throw the switch from dummy load to aerial [send receive relay] and try to drive 400 watts of carrier power [morse code only in those day with the odd, though rare, mcw transmission] into an unforgiving aerial with a severe impedance mismatch which above all other things, didnt exactly do any favours to the PA stage of the transmitter.  To try and put this right [and breaking all the rules of submarine transmission and HF D/F] I would screw down the morse key then attempt to tune the transmitter to the aerial [which was anything but a 600 ohm load] resulting in abnormal transmitter reading but at least a few watts dropping off the end of our aerial. The subject deserves a web site of its own and is immense and profound, so please understand the 'ice berg' approach here.

Finally therefore, lets finish up on what GBR did for us, remembering of course that all the information came to Rugby or Criggion from Whitehall Wireless it having received it from other submarine operating authorities.  If either Whitehall Wireless, Rugby/Criggion [and to a lesser degree Anthorn and Inskip for transmitters and Portishead Radio, Forest Moor etc for receivers] had been knocked out, we, the submariners, would have been rendered virtually useless such was our reliance on information by radio. However, the Commcens [communication centres] were always duplicated though not exactly, and they could continue supplying the necessary data, but the loss of Rugby and Criggion would have been  the 'withdrawal of stumps': they, and others less well known, were our life blood.

Schedules, though SKEDS or ROUTINES were the commonly used word, were time periods when Rugby would transmit radio messages to submarines reading 16kHz and Criggion [GBZ], if Rugby was down for maintenance or had a breakdown in service, on 19.6kHz, and all of it  morse code, in fact high speed morse code. They were run every four hours carrying new traffic, and if the loads were not too high, repeat traffic from previous ROUTINES.  If one had a VLF receiver, a suitable aerial and a tape recorder, one could have listened in and transcribe the plain language [P/L] bits, but the secret bits were coded and appeared as blocks of five letters. The idea was to circumvent the time a submarine would have to remain at periscope depth to get its signals, by transmitting the morse signal at high speed, approximately 40 wpm which would effectively halve the time required bearing in mind the limitations of a tape recorder and the normal speed of transcription for trained operators, that of approximately 18-22 WPM by hand and up to 30WPM by typewriter. This is a PDF showing a machine which transmitted high speed morse code HIGH SPEED MORSE TRANSMITTER.pdf.  Also, I would have thought that the keying of the Rugby transmitter would have a finite limitation in those days because it would have been carrier on-off keying, rather than tone-keying used later on to generate CW [A1] which we in the R.N., called A2J. This involved using the transmitter in the SSB mode, suppressing the carrier [fc] which had been offset 1kHz down to 15kHz and the LSB [14 kHz], and then keying a 1 kHz tone oscillator which mixed in a balanced mixer to produce inputs, sums and differences etc. The sum element was in the USB so what left the transmitters was 16kHz.  Naturally, the skipper would try to get every  ROUTINE, and would not miss more than two consecutive ROUTINES if at all possible [8 hours]. 

Just before the start of a ROUTINE the boat came shallow to periscope depth and we prepared our aerial, receiver and tape recorder.  The ROUTINE started off at hand speed morse code giving a list of all the signals to be sent and a list of the addressees.  One could tell immediately whether there were any new messages for the boat, but also the series of numbers would tell you what signals the boat had missed [by missing ROUTINES] but yet which were still being re-run, and those signals [which may have been for you] which have had their re-runs and are no longer broadcasted. A quick sight of this list told me roughly how long we needed to stay at periscope depth and I would advise the skipper accordingly. Boats in the Mediterranean has serial numbers beginning with MS and other boats, deemed "home station" had HS serial numbers. Certain codes were used for  messages - 'ZBO' followed by the boat's radio or coded callsign for new messages; 'ZFL2' following message[s].... was/were addressed to you [callsign] as serial number......;  'ZFJ' messages.....not transmitted on this routine are no longer needed, and 'ZRR'  messages.....will no longer be broadcast but are effective and of interest to [callsign].  For other requested re-runs, a boat had to ask for the message, thus breaking radio silence to do it.   If the hand speed traffic list showed that there were no new messages for us and all other numbers were accounted for whether for us or not, we would slide back to the murky depths and to a safer position away from shipping and detection - even in those days VLCC's [Very Large Crude Carriers] were ships with 40 and 50 foot draughts - look again at this to remind yourself about the damage that would do to us sitting at periscope depth with the top of the fin just 15 foot below the surface- 'A' BOAT DEPTHS.  If we had new messages or required re-runs to complete the numbered series we would wait for the start of the high speed transmission, record it on our REH5 [see table above], wait for the signal, again made at hand speed, that the routine had been completed, then disappear!  The quality of the play back could be pre-judged by the strength of the original signal [QSA] measured 1-5 and the readability of the hand speed morse [QRK] 1-5 which took account of interference and static. A weak signal but with little or no interference was preferable to a strong signal with strong interference.  One of the advantages of VLF as opposed to LF is the incidence of interference although neither are free and the boat itself produces noise. MF/HF of course, though not used in boats as the incoming traffic channel are particularly prone to interference of many kinds, but the shorter the wavelength the better the signal to noise ration, so when up at UHF, SHF and Satellite working interference is much less of a problem. Often the play-back involved many stops and re-starts and one had to almost fight to get parts of the text which had been swamped by interference.  For plain language signals there was always a chance for an educated guess as to what the missing letters or word might have been, but for coded signal, missing three or four five letters groups could make the remaining decyphering an impossible task, even throwing the process into total corruption.  On these occasions, we would need to get a 'second bite of the cherry' by reading the next ROUTINE, and if we were unlucky enough to have it taken off by Whitehall wireless because it had already been transmitted several times, we would have to transmit a message asking for it. All the signals were transcribed by hand and then I would take them to the skipper.  If it was to be kept without action, it was filed as a manual transcription, but if it had to be actioned by other officers, it was typed and distributed against signature, then filed down for posterity.

  A large ROUTINE with many coded signals could take several hours to process because having written down the groups from the REH5 recorder, one had to type them into a decoding machine, stick the pre-glued machine paper tape down on to a sheet of paper, show that to the skipper, then retype the stuck down version as a file copy for distribution on a normal piece of paper. As soon as that process was finished, the skipper [or other officer] would write an answer signal which first had to be coded into five letter groups and those stuck down on a piece of paper so that their logic order was not disturbed.  Ideally a second operator, would type it all back into the decoding machine to check that is was properly coded before it was approved and made ready to send, but nothing is ideal in an old diesel boat so the decoding process was usually checked by the coder and the mistakes, were they there, could be missed or even multiplied. There can be nothing worse [believe me] than processing a confidential signal, transmitting it by an up and down naval morse key [no bug keys] on HF [short wave - with the attended problems of a submarine already mentioned] to anybody listening around the world [it is called propagation and much too involved for this little story], telling the skipper that his signal has gone, lowering the hinged main aerial, diving deep, leaving the wireless office to resume my submarine duties in navigation or hydroplanes in the control room, hours passing - sleep and food in between - to be forewarned by the skipper many hours later that in 30 minutes he intends to come shallow for a ROUTINE and the first signal is for us, telling us that our VERY IMPORTANT signal is being held UNDECYPHERABLE - it cannot be decoded, and why?, because it was not check-decoded by an independent person. I wonder, who amongst you would like to be a 'fly on the wall' when I knock on the skippers tiny cabin door to tell him?  It only happened once in all those years. On another occasion and after an extremely dangerous and bumpy ride in a gale force 8 gusting storm force [it is VERY rough down below in these sea conditions and horrendous at periscope depth] we got the ROUTINE [we had already missed two consecutive ROUTINES] with fittings and sailors being thrown in every direction, oil, sea water, sewage and everything else nasty awash around our feet, my voice telling the skipper that the ROUTINE was successful and complete raised a loud cheer in the control room as the skipper fought with the sea and its adverse affect on our giant fin to take us below safely without doing a roly-poly. The very first signal I played back, now in the relative comfort of 250 feet, was a telegram from my wife to say that her mother had died suddenly at the tender age of 53.

Well thats it! A little fun story about life some 45 years ago at a time when life wasn't easy, but we didn't know that then. You may be remotely interested to know that life in 'A' boats [and of course other types too] was in some ways more difficult for us than for sailors in WW2 in as far as fresh water was concerned. The boats were designed to have a crew of 60 and had a goodly split between range [diesel tanks] and fresh water tanks, and for deployment in the Far East against the Japanese.  We [in the same physical space] had a crew of 69 [extra, to man and operate all the technical equipment fitted in the 1950's/60's] and had lost some fresh water tanks in favour of diesel tanks done that way to extend our operating range. Still,  given the choice of a depth charge or two or a smelly body, I think that B.O, was much more preferable.

Now dear old Rugby has gone and its symbols of greatness destroyed by those who perhaps never knew what those tall elegant aerial did for the country and the world.  The aerials and the station were as vivid to us who rarely [if ever] saw them as to those who passed them in their cars when transiting south to north on the adjacent motorways.  As I lament not being able to visit Rugby in its prime during my formal naval training, I wonder just how many Rugby Station employees ever went to sea in a submarine to witness first hand the other end of the production line?

Thank you Rugby for all you meant to us, and I hope that the object[s] made from your scrap metal stands as high [perhaps not literally] and as proud as you once did and if its usefulness is only a fraction of what yours was, then your spirit will live on recycled: who knows, perhaps we will see you Greeted [G] Back [B] Reincarnated [R].

 See also this interesting and very relevant file A_CLASS_BOAT_RADIO_FIT_1945_TO_1970s


  PS. It is now July 2011 and all these many years have not seen me returning to give an update to my story. Today, John MAYO an ex BT employee who worked at the Rugby Station kindly got in touch with me to tell me that media was available to show the downing of the Rugby Masts and the Rugby site the morning after as it were. Many thanks John for this contact and for the information therein. John has pointed out the following sites which are of great interest, and I commend them to you.  However, sometimes they appear to misbehave and do not respond to a click on the link.  When that happens simply RIGHT click on them and then select OPEN They are for video's: for stills.  He adds, "

For the records, the 4 remaining masts at Rugby transmitted the VLF atomic time signals used by radios etc.

I drove up the A5 in Jan 2009 and something wasn't "right" - I eventually figured out the remaining masts had gone!


From Wikipedia:-


The remaining four 'tall' masts were demolished on the afternoon (around 1500 hrs local time) of August 2, 2007 with no prior publicity of this end of an era.


I remember going to Rugby on an open day - being shown around the enormous cabinets with huge  mercury arc rectifiers was like something from a sci-fi movie.

Anyways the beauty of the internet means that there's other material around regarding the station.

Here's an example:-  Now sadly withdrawn and does not respond!


A bygone era of massive power and lots of copper!