Home Forums Modern nato cold war radios?

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    just wondering what were the radios used by nato forces cold war

    those carried in tanks/apc  centurion chieftain fv432

    same for german leopard 1 etc, also french and any other nato army

    could these radios(nato) talk to each other ,what i mean is i was googling ww2 radios, see some were only capable of talking to infantry only, tanks only, artillery only, never mind talking to allies ?


    Who gets talk to who is far more a function of how the radios are netted in than technical characteristics of the equipment. Ie frequencies, callings etc. It isn’t a free for all where anyone can talk to anyone else.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke


    Somebody who is busy can just about manage his subordinates on one net and the boss and his peers on another.  Having him netted in to the entre division is going to result in an unintelligible gabble.  If he’s a TC, he might be able to cope with sharing a frequency with the infantry platoon leaders he’s working with but that’s about it.

    This is why, however well trained they may be, you cannot expect everyone with a radio to become an OP for divisional artillery.  There are often a few distractions in a war.


    This is also why even low level formations have signals staff and staff officers.  Otherwise the unit commander’s job would start to resemble an operator at a helpdesk.

    Darkest Star Games
    Darkest Star Games

    I play a lot of a video game called SQUAD, and in it you have a local voice chat, squad voice chat, and squad leaders also have a SL voice chat.  There is often so much gabbling that it can be almost impossible to make out what is really going on, especially when you have vehicle engines and explosions nearby.  I can easily imagine the insanity if every real life SL was tied into even Battalion net.  Plus, you’d have the brass asking stupid questions to squad leaders and trying to armchair fireteam movements!

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    John D Salt
    John D Salt

    Signals is one of those things wargamers and military enthusiasts seldom bother with, so there is very little reference material to hand when commpared with the exciting warry technolgies like tanks and aircraft. In broad terms, though, the radios used by NATO during the Cold War can be chunked into three generations.

    WW2-era radios persisted in service for some years after the war. In the British Army these would have included things like the 38 set, a manpack set that could be carried in a rifle platoon. These were amplitude modulation (AM) sets working on the high freqency (HF) band, and constructed using thermionic valves (tubes).

    The United States was rather ahead of the game during WW2, and as soon as possible the other NATO nations adopted the US style, which was for frequency modulation (FM) sets working on VHF, which gave clearer speech and tended to be more reliable. This second generation of sets still used valves, but with the new range of radios the British Army adopted a scheme of sealed casings that also made the radios (a term that replaced the older term “wireless”) more reliable and soldier-proof.

    In the early 1960s the new range radios were retrospectively swept up in the Larkspur project, a series of improved radios largely based on US designs, and, as the 1960s went on, incorporating the new transistor technology. I am told by people who know (Phil Barker) that Larkspur radios were a great improvement on the WW2-era sets.

    Having had the misfortune of using a Larkspur series radio (an A41, I believe) on one unforgettable night exercise, I can only conclude that it predecessors were bloody horrible, because the Larkspur wasn’t up to much. Admittedly my training with the set was minimal in the extreme; a 2/Lt had turned up with the set, picked me, and said “You know how to use one of these, don’t you.” He did not use a question mark. He gave me the (heavy) A41 set, showed me which knobs to twiddle to tune it, and handed over a blank Slidex chart (“SECRET when completed”) to work out how to fill in. What jolly fun. Over the course of the weekend, I determined that I was the only person who had even attempted to use Slidex, the UOTC SOP apparently being to file it immediately in the “too hard” bucket. This mattered little, as the frequencies I had been given seemed either not to be the same as everyone else in the unit had been given, or else the set was very prone to drifting off frequency. Rarely did I speak to anyone I was supposed to speak to, although I did pick up a bit of radio Luxembourg, and quite a lot of chat between some cavalrymen with much more powerful transmitters who seemed to be geographically confused. I felt happy that our defensive position for the night was on top of a hill, so we would have a good chance of detecting any lost Chieftains blundering about in the vicinity before they blundered into us. When the planned attack came in, I gave up asking for permission to use illuminants after 20 or 30 minutes trying to get messages past the transmissions of lost and blethering cavalrymen. My lack of fondness for Larkspur was fairly well cemented when, during the night withdrawal, we ran into an ambush, during the course of which I accidentally stepped on a thunderflash. The world dissolved in an orange flash. When I awoke to distant cries of “Radio operator!” from the platoon commander, it took a while for me to realise where I was. Initially I thought I was at home in bed, and there was something bloody lumpy about the bed. I also suspected that the roof had come off, as I could see the milky way. Then I discovered that I had gone to bed with my boots on again, and — what was this? apparently I had an SMG with me, too. Then I recalled where I was, and the lumpiness of the bed was explained by the fact I was lying on the radio. When I got up to rejoin the platoon commander, I discovered that one of the straps had broken. Bugger.

    As the 70s turned into the 80s, the Larkspur series of radios were replaced by Clansman. It has lately been fashionable to criticise these as insecure and unreliable, and by now perhaps they are, but when they were new they were lovely. Clansman radios were solid-state, light, robust and soldier-proof, and to tune them you needed merely to press the buttons corresponding to any of 128 or so pre-set channels, rather than twiddling knobs and listening to heterodyne screams while trying to find one of the four or so on a Larkspur set. Clansman was also issued on a much more generous scale — instead of a single backpack radio for the platoon, there was a platoon backpack set as rear link, and then dinky little personal radios (PRC-350) for the platoon commander, platoon sergeant, corporals and lance-corporals. Nine radios in the platoon, instead of one! And they worked. Once we got used to them, this made a big difference to platoon attacks. Reliable radio control of fireteams, instead of relying on voice and hand-signal, meant that with a competent platoon commander (not by any means a certainty in a UOTC) attacks went in harder and faster, but more dispersed and making better use of cover. The Clansman family also had various features such as throat-mikes, a variety of antennas, the ability to run lines between sets in a static position, and for many sets an automatic rebroadcast facility.

    Since then the Clansman series have been replaced by Bowman, based on the US SINCGARS frequency-hopping radios, and Bowman is due to be superseded in turn by Morpheus, but these come after the end of the Cold War. Frequency-hopping radios such as Jaguar V were available during the Cold War — I saw one demonstrated in 1982 — but they were likely to be limited to special forces and other exotic uses.

    All the best,



    I too had the ‘pleasure’ of using the Larkspur A40 and A41 sets.  Being a platoon commander though meant that I had someone like Mr. Salt to carry it for me.  The A40 was the section commander’s set, though its range was shorter than the distance you could shout.  Using it also meant that someone in the platoon HQ would also have to carry one too, so they were almost always left on the shelf in the signals store.

    Despite having a dedicated signaller, once in a defensive position I preferred to listen to the radio net myself so that I knew what was going on.  I can confirm that the A41 would drift off tune and would need retuning from time to time.  One side effect we encountered was picking up the transmissions of North Sea trawlers by something called ‘bounce’ or ‘skip’.  Sometimes, when on exercise in Germany, our radio nets would be disrupted by foreign (I assume Russian) language transmissions on our frequencies.  Made life a little difficult.

    I only got to use Clansman once, at Warminster, and it was a delight when compared to the old A41.

    Wargamers - successfully driving the fun out of wargaming since 1780

    John D Salt
    John D Salt

    Attempting to tidy my office in preparation for an office move, I came across my old copy of the RMA Sandhurst Signals Communications Aide Memoire, publised by the Signals Wing, RMA, in September 1978 (and apparently never protectively marked). From this I have collected the following technical details that it gives for the main Larkspur and Clansman radios:

    Larkspur radios:
    SR A40, small manpack radio used by rifle coys and ATk pl:
    Weight 4.7 Kg
    Battery life 15 to 20 h
    Frequency range 47 to 54.4 MHz
    Channels 6
    0.8 km  Counterpoise antenna
    1.6 km  1.2m antenna
    2.4 km  Counterpoise and 1.2m together
    4.8 km  Remote 3m antenna
    SR A41, manpack radio used by unit and coy nets, recce pl and mortar pl:
    Weight 20 Kg
    Battery life 38 to 40 h
    Frequency range 38 to 55 MHz
    Channels 171
    4.8 km  1.2m antenna
    10 km   3m antenna
    16 km   Elevated antenna
    SR C42, vehicle-mounted radio used by AFVs and inf bns:
    Weight 50 Kg
    Runs off vehicle batteries
    Frequency range 36 to 60 MHz
    Channels 241
    4.8-6.2 km  2.4m antenna low power
    16-24 km    2.4m antenna high power
    8-9.6 km    Elevated antenna low power
    24-40 km    Elevated antenna high power
    Clansman radios:
    PRC 350, small manpack radio, replaces A40:
    Weight 3 Kg
    Battery life 12 h
    Frequency range 36 to 57 MHz
    Channels 841
    2 km    1.2m trailing wire antenna
    3-8 km  1.2m folding whip antenna
    PRC 351, manpack radio, replaces A41:
    Weight 6 Kg
    Battery life 18 h
    Frequency range 30 to 76 MHz
    Channels 1841
    4 km    1.2m trailing wire antenna
    3-10 km 1.2m folding whip antenna  

    You can see from these that the Clansman sets were much lighter, and offered ten to a hundred times more channels than their Larkspur equivalents. The bare numbers do not capture the full advantage of the newer sets, because, as mentioned in the previous discussion, you could select a channel on a Larkspur set, and then find yourself listening to trawlers/Russians/lost Chieftains/Radio Luxembourg instead of the station you wanted to talk to, whereas when you selected a Clansman channel (by simply pressing buttons, none of this dreadful knob-twiddling) it stayed selected.

    The aide-memoire also gives details of two tactical codes then in use, SLIDEX and MAPCO. SLIDEX was a complicated code of WW2 vintage, which relied on having a set of vocabulary cards to encode and decode messages. I never used it. MAPCO was a much simpler code, intended only to encode and decode grid references in radio messages (I believe the WW2-era equivalent was called GRIDDLE). This was much more widely used, and sometimes people still made the rookie mistake of sending grid references for contact reports encoded in MAPCO. Not only is this a waste of time, it assists the enemy code-breakers if they are listening because, presumably, they know where the contact is being reported from, as it is their blokes you are in contact with.

    MAPCO and SLIDEX were both replaced, a few years after the aide-memoire was written, by BATCO, another vocabulary-card-based system that was used for everything.

    With the replacement of Clansman by Bowman, things seem to have gone backwards in several respects. The radios are not as useable, and with the exception of the PRR too heavy to be really useful for light infantry. There are a maximum of six pre-set frequencies (although those six can be chosen from a vast selection) per set, but encryption means that the whole fol-de-rol of encoding and decoding things in BATCO has gone away. One BATCOism that I am pleased was eventually carried over into Bowman was the use of SOCs (originally Secure, now Standard, Orders Cards). These were standardised templates for quick battle orders for a number of standard drills. I understand that when people used them well, it was possible to launch a company attack very quickly by passing just a few essential items of data in the standard format — start line, H hour, objectives, targets and quick fire plan. Together with the automatic position reporting embodied in Bowman, which should eliminate the 40% or so of radio voice traffic devoted to position reporting, this might do something to speed operations up. Unfortunately, the general observation seems to be that digitization slows things down, because there are more people to talk to, more data to goof at, and more stuff to futz with.

    All the best,



    Jeez Mr Picky’s snippets are valuable, not thinking of a blog are we?


    For those who want to know about the dark ages of radio communication, I have just finished reading “Dairy of a Desert Rat” by Alex Bowlby.  It’s all fascinating, but the second half of the book he is a signaller at company level, and you get an idea of what radio communications were like pre solid state.  I would guess this was pretty similar to the stuff Phil Barker humped around.

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