Both sides used wireless interception to gain information on enemy movements, intent, and structure. The German activity by Captain Seebohm’s NAK621 (formerly 3./N56) is quite well known and lauded. Very little is understood about the activity of Empire listeners in this field.
Special Wireless Sections
101 Special Wireless Section was a radio interception unit working in support of 8 Army, with the task to intercept Axis radio communications and use them for intelligence purposes. It was a mixed Army/Air Force unit. The photo below shows the men of such a unit at work in the western desert.
The War Diary
The war diary entry below covers about two and a half weeks from 26 November onwards, of a radio interception detachment which apparently operated with the New Zealand Division.
I drew this war diary (WO169/1928) in the hope of finding copies of intercepted German and Italian messages appended to it, but no such luck.
A quick glance showed that the two pages I copied are the only thing of interest to me. Otherwise the war diary mostly covers personnel matters. If anyone knows where intercepted messages are filed, please contact me. For those interested in this topic, there are two books, ‘War on the Airwaves’ (I think) and ‘The Searchers’ by Kenneth Machsey, and both are good and provide a lot of information.
A few observations occur on this diary.
First I like the very chatty tone in which it was written, and one wonders what the background of its author was. Second, there is a lot of mention of dive-bombing, but no damage or casualties occur, showing a relative lack of effectiveness, even against soft-skinned vehicles. Corporal Koczorowski may well have been a Polish soldier used by this intercept section because he spoke German. I kept the original formatting as much as possible, down to replacing ‘1’ with ‘I’. Maybe that letter was broken in the diarist’s typewriter?
- 435408 – map reference, location is roughly NE of Gasr el Arid in direction of Gambut aerodrome, on the Trigh Capuzzo.
- A.O.W. – Army Ordnance Workshop, for things the L.A.D. could not fix.
- Bde – Brigade
- Corpl – Corporal
- Div – Division
- Dvr. – Driver
- L.A.D. – mechanics with the formation
- N.Z. or N/Z – New Zealand
- O.C. – Officer Commanding
- Sigs – Signals, a unit whose responsibility is to enable communications.
- U.H.F. – ultra-high frequency
- W/T – wireless transmitter (radio)
The interior of the wireless telegraphy receiving van of an RAF Wireless Observer Unit post in the Western Desert, showing the W/T operators at work. IWM CM2448.
Det. 101 Special Wireless Section
26/II/41 Still being heavily bombarded. I260 Charging engine refuses to go. Must send to L.A.D.
27/II/4I I260 Watt charging engine taken to N.Z. L.A.D. (Hope they can fix it). Wire sent to Section for spare exhaust valve. Prepared to move at I400 hours, but kept two sets in action. Hung around until I830 hours when order to move is cancelled. Owing to shortage of charging equipment decided not to use U.F.H. set (nothing heard so far) until situation clears. Borrowed 250 Watt charger from N.Z. Div. Sigs. Also managed to procure some cigarettes – first for over a week. A very quiet day. Lots of aerial activity, all ours. Also lots of tanks passing. Good show.
28/II/4I A very quiet and uneventful morning, and but very cold and with thin miserable rain. Cylinder head and valves taken by L.A.D. to A.O.W. for repair. At about 1730 hours, as dusk was falling, N.Z.Div.H.Q. became embroiled in a tank battle. We were fired on by rifles and L.M.Gs. but no casualties or damage. Ordered to pack up immediately, the Section prepared to move. All that was left behind being one empty box. Moved at about midnight arrived 4th N.Z. Bde at 435408. Sets open and working at 0200 hours. Find 4 of our batteries being charged by N.Z. Sigs; have gone to TOBRUK; and what about the engine?
29/II/4I Saw 0.C. L.A.D. quite by accident. Fixing up engine so can breathe again. ABOUT NOON. Came under very heavy shell fire and ordered to proceed to TOBRUK. Held up by 6th. N.Z. who say road is closed by heavy shell fire. ·Stay with 6th Bde until I700 hours when toddle back to Div. H.Q. to find our old spot riddled with shell holes. What an escape we’ve had. Had the privilege of seeing remains of ARIETE DIV well and truly smartened. Drew food and water and hope we have quiet night to end day full of experiences
30/II/4I A fine bright morning. Saw a large body of tanks and M.E.T. on the escarpment about 3 miles away. Proved to be our old friends ARIETE again. N.Z. artillery opened up und gave them a headache. About IOO0 hours N.Z. Div. came under very accurate and heavy shell fire (shrapnel and H.E.) Very annoying as operators had to be taken off watch to take cover. Shelling continued unabated until noon, when received orders to join I3th Corps at TOBRUK. Packed up under fire andleft for TOBRUK at about I330 hours. Road under shell fire and each vehicle in turn had to run the gauntlet at one particular spot. Luckily none were hit and the only damage sustained is one broken window and a punctured roof. Joined I3th Corps about I8OO hours, sets opening up immediately. All sets 0.K. though ‘fraid we’ve lost our I260 engine and 4 batteries.
I/I2/4I A fine bright day with very little shelling. All equipment in good working order. Personnel dug in and well settled down. Met 0.C. L.A.D. again who says ready to fix up engine tomorrow. Got German set for inspection. Fixed up with food and water. So ends first day in TOBRUK.
2/I2/4I A very cold, wet and windy day. Thoroughly miserable. Found N/Z Div. Sigs. and recovered our 4 batteries. Charging engine being repaired so hope soon all will be well. German set tested out with excellent results. Will be invaluable for search and stand-by set. Water rations reduced today.
3/I2/4I Weather much better today, albeit very cloudy and cold. Recovered I260 Watt charger, only to find the charging relay coil is burnt out. So what? Made enquiries about getting another vehicle and hope we shall be successful. Replaced complete spare wheel for Bedford and fixed up tye and tube for Morris W/T van. All sets in good working order and personnel in excellent spirits and health. No enemy activity to report.
4/I2/4I Nasty storm blowing; everything covered in dust. Slight bombing activity during evening, Fixed up I260 Watt charger at last by pinching cut-out from old 550 Watt board. Situation now well in hand. All sets and equipment O.K. Losses for campaign to date – one empty box.
5/I2/4I A fine cold day, but heavy rain during the evening. Managed to get a clothing exchange and drew leather jerkins for troops. What is more got beer and cigarettes for all. Returned 350 Watt charger to N.Z.Div.Sigs. Bombed and machine gunned during the night but no casualties or damage.
6/I2/4I Very little activity to report today. Bombed during the night; but no casualties or damage.
7/I2/4I Visited SIDI REZEGH battle field to salvage W/T sets. Saw some horrible sights. Salvaged one U.H.F. Tank receiver. Slight bombing activity during the night.
8/I2/4I Visited GAMBUT area and salvaged 6 W/T sets which are being sent; to 8 Army. Very heavily dive bombed about I700 hours. No casualties or damage.
9/I2/4I A very quiet day, except for dive bombing at 0845. Very quiet night with no bombing.
I0/I2/4I A very bad dust storm blowing all day. Visited EL ADEM aerodrome. Recovered one R.F. 2. Slight bombing during the night. No damage or casualties.
II/I2/4I Visited GAMBUT area. Captured 3 Germans in a wadi and took to P.O.W. camp. What is more found some wine and liqueurs. Good show.
I2/I2/4I Det. visited by Major Meers who expressed himself pleased with our work. Dvr. Anstead joined Det. (minus vehicle). Left TOBRUK for position west of ACROMA. Very heavily bombed soon after arrival (about 1700 hrs). No damage or casualties for which we are very thankful.
I3/I2/4I A very quiet day with very little air activity. All in good spirits, and all sets and equipment O.K.
Corpl. KOCZOROWSKI admitted to hospital during afternoon with suspected Appendicitis
Troops well dug in and dispersed.