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To: [email protected]
Subject: LF: GBR
From: "Walter Blanchard" <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2003 11:07:59 +0100
Reply-to: [email protected]
Sender: <[email protected]>
Those of you who visited Rugby (and even others) might find the flg short clip interesting.
It comes from the "Friends of the Submarine" organisation magazine.
Interesting theory on the effect of magnetism on ground waves!
Walter G3JKV.
Rugby Wireless Station (GBR)
By John Belton-Perkin
What, you may ask, has Rugby got to do with the Royal Navy Submarine Service? Is it because the game of Rugby was first played here? Is it for the famous Rugby Private School? Or is it possibly the famous Rugby Football Museum? The answer is none of these things. Let me test your memory. Have you ever heard a conversation similar to this?
"Captain, Wireless Office. Fifteen minutes to the next routine."
"Captain, roger. How many have we missed so far?"
"If we miss this one, that will make three. Therefore we must read the next one, which is at 0800, and it will be daylight."
"Captain, roger. We will come up for this one. Let me know when it is readable."
'WIT, roger."
"Officer of the Watch, Captain. Come up to periscope depth and point roughly towards England."
"Officer of the Watch Sir. Roger. Steer 320, 60 feet."
A few minutes later:
"Captain, W/T. Broadcast readable, strength 3. Traffic list indicates no new messages. Routine complete."
"Captain, roger. Officer of the Watch, take us back down to 150 feet."
"Officer of the Watch, roger."
This conversation took place in many conventional submarines, (but of the nuclear boats I have no knowledge). Why point towards England? Well, the loop aerial of conventional submarines, (in particular S, T and A Class submarines, some of which still had a gun and a 'jumping wire' from the periscope standards to the bow,) was fitted to this wire. Pointing the submarine towards the transmitter would improve wireless reception.
On every occasion that a submarine was at sea she would copy the Rugby Broadcast. If she were running in local waters, she would be in contact with the depot ship, but would also copy the broadcast in case of emergencies. The Rugby transmitter could be received over vast distances. I can remember reading it down to a depth of 60 feet in the eastern Mediterranean, during the Suez Crisis. How was this possible when radio waves do not pass through water? Well, on this occasion they did. Messages from Rugby were broadcast on a very low frequency, some 16 kHz, and with tremendous power output from the transmitter, some 350 kW. At that frequency, the Sky Wave would be minimal, but the Ground Wave extremely long; and, because of magnetism of the earth, the Ground Wave would be drawn towards the earths centre, thereby making it readable under water.
After the First World War, communication technology became extremely important, not just for the military, but in every day life also. The government of the day decided that the best way to communicate with various parts of the Empire was via telegraph stations. On the 5th March 1923, it was announced in the House of Commons that such a station was to be built at Rugby. The site was selected by the General Post Office because of its ideal location: a former WW1 airfield with a very high water table, suitable for making good earthing arrangements, which would aid fransmissions; it was also situated on flat land and was 340 feet above sea level. In 1924/25, the twelve main masts were constructed and erected at a cost of half a million pounds. The area covered by the masts is 900 acres and each mast is 820 feet high.
On 1st January 1926, the Rugby site (callsign GBR) powered up. The manufacture and erection of the masts was done so well that not one single part had to be taken replaced once it was installed. The huge guy ropes had to be constructed on site and used over 300 miles of wire, the longest one taking over 100 men to carry it. Each mast had a lift arrangement for the maintenance teams to reach the top in order to carry out maintenance of the lights and insulators. The lift can carry four men and takes just over 12 minutes to reach the top. The aerial is slung between the 12 masts in a figure of eight formation; it consists of 8 wires on 12 feet spreaders and sags approximately 150 feet between masts.
So why the sudden interest in the Rugby Radio Station, now run by British Telecom? The VLF Broadcast to the Royal Navy Submarines will cease transmission at the end of March 2003. The transmitter has served the submarine service for over 75 years and, I'm sure, will be sadly missed. I feel that I too have played part in its history. In the early part of 1958 while serving as a Leading Telegraphist on Talent, undergoing refit in Malta, I was amongst a band of watchkeepers who actually 'keyed' the Rugby Transmitter from the underground headquarters in Lascaris (now a tourist attraction). While serving in Tactician as PO Telegraphist, we were the boat that first read high speed Morse (90 wpm) from a transmitter in Kranji in 1961. Again I was the PO Tel in Tiptoe when we carried out trials with the Rugby Transmitter in 1963. Then, in 1970, I was the Chief Tel. who took a party of watchkeepers to Norway with the First Submarine Squadron. This was the first occasion that Rugby had been 'keyed' at 90 words per minute from another NATO country. The idea of sending Morse at 90 wpm was to cut down on the time the submarine spent reading the routines. The routine was recorded on a tape recorder at that speed and then played back at approximately 30 words per minute. This was ideal from the Wireless Operators point of view. To begin with, he never missed anything; also he was able to set-up any crypto machine and then type the message directly onto the machine without having to make a written copy first.
I understand from the Station Manager, Mr. Tim Slocombe, that some, if not all, parts of the transmitter and aerial system may be made available to a museum if should any one wish to take advantage of the offer. As a technician, I should think that the large aerial tuning coil (a massive structure, which was first installed in 1926) would make a fine exhibit, as would the racks containing the actual transmitter. We shall see!
So, finally, "Goodbye Rugby GBR.... and Thanks a Million!"
John Belton-Perkin joined submarines in 1953. He served in S. T and A class Submarines, retiring as a Chief Radio supervisor in 1975.

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