73 Canadian Signal Squadron (CE Newsletter Article)
THERE ARE STRANGE THINGS DONE 'NEATH THE SINAI SUN
Communication is the backbone of any large organization and this is particularly true of the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East (UNEFME) where contingents from nine nations are spread out over four countries. These contingents must be able to pass information concerning activities in the Buffer Zones quickly and reliably. In addition, the daily logistics support for such a complex organization requires constant and accurate communications at all levels.
The responsibility for the operational and logistical communications in UNEFME falls to 73 Cdn Sig Unit. The unit to a large degree was formed originally from components of the 1st Canadian Signal Regiment with additional personnel being provided from other Canadian Signal Units. Today, we have now blossomed into one of four major units in the Canadian Contingent United Nations Emergency Force Middle East (CCUNEFME). We have members from all across Canada, not only communications but a healthy mix of other trades helping to relieve the personnel strain on the C&E community. The other units making up CCUNEFME are 73 Cdn Svc Unit, 116 Air Transport Unit and the Canadian Contingent Administrative Unit Middle East (CCAUME).
Our unit is not unlike a conventional Canadian Signal Squadron, although you will notice that there are a few peculiarities. The Unit Headquarters is comprised of an Operations Section which is responsible for the control of resources and daily operational requirements, QM Stores, small Transport Section and the usual Orderly Room. Unlike a Canadian Sig Sqn there is no Support Troop of any sort and all our maintenance is done by 73 Cdn Svc Unit.
The sharp end of the unit is broken down into three troops, two functional and one geographic. These are Radio Troop with 70 men, Operating Troop with 70 men also, and UNDOF Signal Troop with a total of 27 men. We also have it on good authority that several females will soon be joining our ranks to add a little couth to what is now a somewhat ribald group (unofficial).
As its name implies, Radio Troop is responsible for all radio communications within UNEF. The principle means of communicating to the Battalion Headquarters, whose subunits are in the Buffer Zone, is a Motorola commercial pattern VHF/FM radio system.
In addition an HF/SSB voice net using the AN/GRC 106 has been established which provided communications to our movement control detachments and also acts as a backup to the Motorola at certain locations. Radio communications of a purely Canadian nature also come under the Troop’s jurisdiction. As you may have guessed, Radio Troop is very dispersed with detachments in various corners of Egypt, Israel and Syria.
Rabah, one of the main troop locations, is situated in the Israeli occupied Sinai Peninsula and 5 kms in from the Mediterranean Sea. Ten communicators are located in this area and they are responsible for providing VHF/HF communications for the Swedish Contingent at El Negila and for the UNEF Office at Rahah itself. A casual drive across 5 kms of sandy “beach” brings you to the world’s largest private beach and the off-duty home for everyone in Rabah. The weather is usually very pleasant although only the bravest go swimming in January. Rabah is a self-contained mini-community with all the comforts of home --- well, almost. Moving to the southern tip of the Suez Canal we come to Suez City, where 12 members of the Troop provide communications service for the Finnish, Indonesian and Senegalese Contingents. Our Sigs Sr NCO in Suez is the senior Canadian on the ground and as such, he supervises the “Suez Penthouse”, the home of all other Canadians in the area (such as the Maintenance and Ration Depot personnel). The small canteen and nightly movie as well as first-class Canadian meals serve to complement the terrific view of the Gulf of Suez and the nearby range of mountains.
Travelling north approximately 60 kms along the Suez Canal we come to the small town of Fayid and our communications detachment with the Ghanians. Life at Fayid is pleasant enough because of its proximity to Great Bitter Lake and the fact that beautiful downtown Ismailia is only a short one hour drive away.
Two of our more attractive and sought-after locations are Cairo and Alexandria. Cairo is the heart of Egypt and being twice the size of Montreal, there is always something to do. As most everyone knows, it is also the home of the Sphinx and the Pyramids. Alexandria is quite a hop away on the eastern tip of Egypt however, the view of the Mediterranean is superb and the beaches are probably the best in the country. It’s no wonder this is the vacation spot for the wealthy of the land. The detachments in both these locations provide HF communications for UN Movement Control and Ration personnel.
Finally we come to Ismailia halfway down the Suez Canal on the shore of Lake Timsa, and the six-month home for most Canadians in the Middle East. Downtown Ismailia houses UNEF HQ and the control station on the HF/VHF net, while the Canadian Logistics Component (CANLOG) is located at the Ismailia Airfield Camp (El Algala) on the edge of town. Here we have the CANLOG Radio station and the AN/GRC 142 detachments which pass RATT traffic to Nicosia, Cyprus and Lahr, West Germany. Our Air/Ground/Air station is located adjacent to the airstrip and communicates to our Hercs and Buffaloes as well as to the UN Fokker aircraft. Last but not least is the Amateur Radio station and our link back to families in Canada thanks to the phone patching done by Canadian Armed Forces Amateur radio stations and other Canada based hams.
Accommodation at all the detachments is good with plenty of room for that personal touch. Personnel sleep on beds and are quartered either in permanent buildings, Polish-provided tents, or prefabricated units brought in late November on HMCS Preserver.
There are plans afoot to establish two additional Air/Ground/Air stations in Beirut, Lebanon and Damascus, Syria. These detachments will provide HF communications to regularly scheduled UN flights to those locations.
It’s 0300 hrs local: the Lahr landline circuit has just gone out, the Ottawa landline is still out, local power is so low that the air conditioners won’t condition, it’s 100F inside and you’re on a double shift because your replacement is down with proverbial “Gut”. Welcome to Operating Troop.
Operating Troop, although not nearly as dispersed as Radio Troop, provides message centre facilities at two major sites in Ismailia as well as small detachments at Cairo and Tel Aviv. At the UNEF HQ complex there is a message centre and switchboard. The message centre has a pony teletype circuit to the main Canadian Contingent message centre over which all UN traffic to and from the Airfield Camp is passed. Interface with the UN radio system is also done at the UNEF HQ location. Needless to say, the staff at the UNEF HQ message centre are busy. New arrivals quickly learn the need for five copies of this and ten copies of that. Procedures at this message centre differ significantly from the conventional Canadian static and field operation.
The UNEF HQ switchboard is an antique that should be operated from the Museum of Science and Technology. It is a Standard Electric Model 50/10 that literally must be operated to be appreciated. Fortunately, the technicians are able to repair it about as fast as it breaks down. The majority of the Troop is located at the Airfield Camp where we find the Troop Headquarters, the main message centre, the Airfield switchboard, the line crew and the Dispatch Riders.
The message centre is housed in a pre-Second World War RAF bunker-like building. Its original use remains obscure but it was obviously made quite solidly as it is still intact. Terminated here are the Lahr and Canada Landline teletype circuits and the UNEF HQ pony circuit. All circuits are duplex using two hot wires and an earth return. The requirement for an excellent grounding system in this land of textbook poor grounds has been the source of many a migraine. Currently the main ground rod is driven 10 feet into the bottom of a perpetually “damp” sewer sump.
The switchboard system uses ganged SB-86s with approximately 100 locals at last count. The big problem with the telephone system is the cable plant. Local Egyptian sources indicate that the plant dates back to the mid-thirties and inherent in this fact lies the line crew’s main headache. To complicate matters, no-one really knows the exact location of the cables. A local front-end loader has, however, been reasonably successful in finding buried cable while trenching and as there are no splicing resources within the Troop, such work must be arranged through the Egyptian Army Signal Corps.
The line crew also has the responsibility for erecting towers. As previously mentioned, the primary UN communications system in the field is VHF/FM radio (Motorola), and in order to reach all parts of the Buffer Zone, tall antenna towers are required. The crew has several fifty footers already to their credit as well as a 200 foot mammoth in the Golan. The crew is currently erecting a 120 foot tower on top of one of the UNEF HQ buildings in Ismailia.
Operating Troop also maintains regular Signals Dispatch Service services for the Force with 12 Dispatch Riders providing scheduled runs to all components of UNEF, ranging from Movement Control in Alexandria to the UN Office in Rabah. The Dispatch Rider jeeps are fast becoming tired and do not adapt well to the low octane fuel available. Fortunately things are starting to look up as commercial pattern UN station wagons are slowly starting to come in to replace the warhorse jeeps.
As can be imagined, Operating Troop is kept permanently hopping doing their best to give first-class service under considerably less then first-class conditions. Incidentally, we have the dubious distinction of having the greatest number of requests for extensions with the unit!
UNDOF Signal Troop
Geographically separated from the rest of the unit is our small troop of 27 with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). UNDOF is a separate force from UNEF and is responsible for the Buffer Zone between Syria and Israel, in the area commonly known as the Golan Heights. Communication and logistics support for UNDOF is provided by CCUNEFME and hence our Sig Tp.
The Troop HQ is located in Damascus where UNDOF HQ is also situated. A small message centre is provided at UNDOF HQ to keep track of all their traffic. We also rotate our men through the UN civilian radio room to help ease their workload and also give our chaps a chance at something a little different.
As in UNEF we provided operators for the Battalion HQ link with UNDOF HQ, again using VHF Motorola. There are only two battalions in UNDOF and they are provided by the Peruvians and Austrians. Our final UNDOF location is the Qneitra area on the Israel/Syria border. On the Syrian side right in the flattened city itself, is Quebec House and another small message centre, while on the Israeli side we have an HF/SSB detachment with the Canadian Logistics Company (CANLOG Coy). This detachment is the only dedicated Canadian link with the rest of the Canadian Contingent in Egypt. Linking all these locations is the ever reliable Signals Dispatch Service again provided by UNDOF Sig Tp.
Personnel in UNDOF are breathing a little easier since the extension of the mandate on 1 Dec 1974 and are now enjoying their shopping trips to Damascus considerably more. The bargains in handicrafts, ornamental costumes, tapestries and especially jewellery are among the best in the Middle East.
73 Canadian Signal Unit is quite an organization with a truly unique role. Naturally there are the daily crisis which are inevitable in any operation of this nature; however, the professional and competent manner in which members at the unit conduct themselves daily prove out our motto:
MORE FROM 73 CDN SIG SQUADRON
73 CDN Sig Unit gained Squadron status early in the spring of 1975. Maj J.A. Dicker, who wrote the article “There are Strange Things Done ‘Neath the Sinai Sun” for our 1975/1 issue returned to his post at the Combat Arms School Gagetown with a collection of coloured slides which he used for briefings on UNEFME. Maj Dicker forwarded some of these slides for publication in the Newsletter. Space prevents us from using them all, but thanks to Maj Dicker and the CF Photo Unit at Rockcliffe, several are presented for the benefit of those of our Branch who served, are serving or will serve with UNEFME and 73 CDN Sig Squadron.
- Originally Published in Communications and Electronics Newsletter 1975/1
- Originally Published in Communications and Electronics Newsletter 1975/3