Oral History Gallery

Signalling 9 - Submarine communications 1970s


    Name: Colin Mould

    Service: 1975 - present

    Rate: Warrant Officer / Submariner

    Branch: Communications

    Colin Mould joined the Navy in 1975 when he was 16, as a Radio Operator. He learnt to send and receive signals in Morse code and on teleprinters. He served on one ship, HMS Hecate 1976, before moving to submarines. Although at this time the communications equipment was similar, communicating from submarines relied on being above water. Colin also noticed the difference between communications on diesel and nuclear powered submarines. More communicating took place on diesel submarines because they had to surface more often to charge their engines and so communications could be sent and received. Nuclear submarines are able to stay submerged for months and so less communication activity takes place.

    Colin joined his second submarine, HMS Renown, in 1977. At this time, satellite communications was starting to come in. This made it quicker and easier to send and receive messages and made the role of the communicator very different.

    Colin recalls the communications equipment he learnt on in the 1970s.


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    Extract Text (Duration01.48)

    The stuff we learnt on... well Morse code as I said which is dead now, audio Morse is no longer practiced. But Morse was the driver and we learned to type and it was touch typing then, now that's no longer taught to surface communicators. We still retained it in submarine communications because we have a remit to work live circuits, what they call 'chat circuits', so you're typing teleprinter live, ship-to-ship. But that skill seems to have gone away in the surface flotilla for whatever reason, but we had these - museum piece now - teleprinters up there and we used to try to... if you type quick enough on you could actually jam it and that was always the aspiration of a lad. So I used to use stock phrases like 'of all the fishes in the sea the mermaid is the one for me', or 'the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog' and you typed it as quick as you could to see if you could jam the teleprinter.

    It was all what they call tape relay back then, everything that you produced from the teleprinter cut a tape which you would then run through an auto-head when it was transmitted. And the tape, the perforated tape that came out of the teleprinter was in a code known as the Murray Code and some of us more sort of anoraky-type people actually learned to read the tape. So you could read the Murray Code on the tape. There was no requirement for you to do that, but it just seemed a fun thing to do at the time. It was all slow communications and it was... it was all noisy. You walked into the communications centre of the day and it was all chatter and tapes being fed through auto-heads which were chunking away, and teleprinters clacking away just like the old Grandstand teleprinter on the television with the football scores coming out. It all seems a long way off now because it's moved on so quickly.

    Communications relied on visual signals 1940s

    03.06 mins - mp3 File

    Semaphore flags 1940s

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    No signals if the enemy was watching 1940s

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    Communicating onboard 1940s

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    The bugle call for action stations 1940s

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    A wide range of radio sets 1960s

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    You bounced the radio waves around the world 1960s

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    Transmitting and recieving stations 1960s

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    Submarine communications 1970s

    01.48 mins - mp3 File

    A slow old process 1970s

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    The luxury of 40 words a week 1970s

    05.30 mins - mp3 File