73 Canadian Signal Squadron support to UNFICYP - July 1974
73 Canadian Signal Squadron (UNEF-2) Response to
CAR Loss of Secure-Rear-Link Communications
UNFICYP - July 1974
By - LtCol Mac Savage, RC Sigs
Loss of communications due to enemy activity is not unusual and should always be considered and 'planned-for' by identifying back-ups and alternatives (at minimum as an intellectual exercise), but the relatively stable 'military' situation LtCol D.S. Manuel's 1 Commando Group inherited in Cyprus in 1974 had been on-going for so long that 'crisis communications' was no longer considered necessary in a "European" country.
Looking back, one cannot be anything but amazed at the breathtaking technological advances in the latter quarter of the Twentieth Century; but in the mid-1970s these had not yet been implemented broadly, nor in earnest, across the globe.
That we in Egypt were able to help-out in the Canadian Army's Cyprus communications problems is testimony to the forethought, knowledge, skills and initiative of the junior members of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals whose operational motto is: "Velox, Versutus, Vigilans" (Swift, Skilled, Alert). This is not my story … I am just the scribe. … It is their story!
There are three things about this (hi)story that must be made clear from the beginning.
First. The year 1974 occurred before the telecommunications "explosion" that gave everyone (at least in the west) personal computers and almost everyone in the world phone communication with everyone else around the globe via satellites. Written letters by post were still "de rigueur"; and long-distance telephone calls outside North American and parts of Western Europe required operator-assistance through numerous switchboards; although telegraph and telex connections were pretty good, fax had yet to gain market share, even in big business.
Second. After WW II, the Island of Cyprus became a place beset by continuing ethnic problems of grave concern to NATO because the alliance would be in big trouble 'vis a vie' the Soviet Block if its two southern NATO members, Greece and Turkey, came to blows. Canada and other NATO members provided peacekeepers with the hope that any chance of escalation of these ethnic squabbles into open warfare would be avoided. Unfortunately, in July 1974 the Greek Cypriots staged a coup and on 20 July Turkey invaded to protect the Turkish minority.
Third. It is the responsibility of the higher entity to communicate with the lower entity, especially wrt providing the 'means' of communications. In the Army, communications responsibilities dictate that the higher HQ must provide the communications equipment, frequencies, personnel, and maintenance of the equipment to the lower. The lower entity is basically only responsible to 'feed and water' the communications personnel and provide ammunition and medical care as required. Accordingly, a brigade HQ is responsible to communicate with its subordinate battalion HQs; to be able to do so, it is provided with a signals squadron. Likewise, within a battalion the responsibility is from battalion HQ to company HQ, etc. If communication is lost, it is the higher HQ that must resolve the problem. These rules make sense as the higher HQ has more resources.
UN Communications in Cyprus
For some UN deployments to less technologically advanced locations over the years, the CAF provided a Long-Range Communications Terminal (LRTC) owned by the 1st Canadian Signal Regiment (1CSR). In the autumn of 1973, the LRCT was initially deployed to Cairo for UNEF-2 but was released back to Canada when the Egyptian telephone and teletype circuits proved "acceptable" by the Canadian signal equipment and the rear-links to Canada were satisfactorily operational over these international circuits. 73 Canadian Signal Squadron (73 Sigs) also maintained a secure high-frequency radio teletype link (HF RTT) to Lahr, Germany as back-up.
HQ UNFICYP was the UN "force" HQ in Cyprus composed of the various national battalions deployed to the island, and their various UN communications links are -- for the most part -- outside the purview of this story. These means of communications must be "in-clear" (not encrypted) to prove to the waring parties that the UN is an honest broker with no secrets. HQ UNFICYP was in contact with UN HQ in New York by commercial teletype as well as by UN Radio, and was likewise in contact with its battalions by "in-clear" radio and teletype communications. In Cyprus 644 Signal Troop -- a joint British/Canadian organization -- provided the personnel (70/30) to operate this UN equipment.
However, nations – Canada included – also needed a rear-link 'back home' for purely national communications, i.e., personnel and personal issues, medical issues, national military equipment issues, national equipment spares, military clothing, national food orders, etc. which were of no interest to the UN or the public at large, since at least some of this information was classified as "confidential" and must not be 'broadcast' to the whole world. In 1974 in Cyprus this Canadian link was achieved by utilizing commercial teletype circuits with national security devices and codes.
Canada had provided an infantry battalion to Cyprus since March 1964, deployed in the capital city of Nicosia, more or less bisecting the city along the so-called "Green Line" and 12 years later, in the spring of 1974, the provision of a battalion was tasked to the CAB. To carry out this task 1 Commando (augmented) was sent to Cyprus while the remainder of the regiment (including the commander) remaining in Edmonton. Additional Rifle Platoons were added from the other Commandos to beef up the size of 1 Commando while units such as the HQ and Signal Squadron of 80 men, provided the 20 men required for an infantry battalion signal platoon. Where did the rest go? Elsewhere in the commando group, some were selected, and others volunteered, and they fitted in anywhere their skill set was a match; some to the QM stores, some to transport, some to the messes, e.g. a Sgt Radio Operator ran the officers mess. Major R.C. Samis, CO of the HQ and Signal Squadron, became the OC of the "infantry battalion" HQ Company.
Communications were pretty straight forward; one could even say routine. Unfortunately, s*** happens in the real world. During the Greek coup to remove Archbishop Makarios as president, the telephone and telegraph links off the island were cut. Being able to control the communication equipment and radio stations facilitates making "your" truth and "your" activities known vs someone else's reports. When this happened in Cyprus, the CAR lost direct contact with Canada, although they still had some contact with via New York over the UN radio and telegraph networks. A more important view was that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) lost secure contact with a deployed military unit for which it was responsible.
The questions arising back in Canada by those watching the news (and the National Defence Operations Center (NDOC) personnel at NDHQ were watching) were these: What was really happening? What should Canada do? If anything?
Not to downplay the UN intelligence community, but probably the best English or French language "news" available to Ottawa was that of the BBC (which we listened to in Cairo) broadcast over BFBS Cyprus (the British Forces Broadcasting System). The personnel 'reporting-in' to the NDOC at NDHQ included a team led by LtCol Bill Batt, Deputy DGCEO, the CAF electronic communications operations policy people.
Canadian Communications Assets in Egypt
'Colonel' Batt was an Army communicator, knew the CAR and knew that when 1CSR had deployed under LtCol G. Simpson to Egypt in the autumn of 1973 it had taken most of its mobile communications equipment with it into what was a developing situation. The 'Canada-UN agreed' Canadian contribution to UNEF-2 was: a signals unit, a supply unit and an air unit, the latter providing air-transport for the UN force employing three STOL Canadian Buffalo aircraft whose operations included flights between Cairo and Nicosia.
Most of the 1CSR officers, support personnel and many other-ranks initially deployed on UNEF-2 became the headquarters staff for the Canadian Contingent, commanded by a Brigadier General, with the signals unit providing communications being commanded by Major Bill Cowperthwaite. I replaced him on rotation in late April 1974 for a six-month tour of duty. Rotation was in full swing and the squadron received 8-12 new personnel on every weekly Boeing from Trenton and Lahr, with an equal number departing. This was different from Cyprus where all the members of 1 Commando Group were known to each other as all had arrived and would depart together.
After a couple of months of visiting my far-flung detachments (we had a communications detachment deployed with each national infantry battalion situated between the waring nations in the Sinai Desert) as well as at UNEF-2 HQ in Cairo and after settling into my new job, I decided to hop-on a Buffalo over to Cyprus for a quick reconnaissance visit with Major Samis to see the Airborne Regiment deployed on operations and return two days later.
- (I had just received my jump wings in February and was scheduled to attend the one-year Indian Defence Services Staff College commencing in January 1975 at the end of my UNEF-2 tour and seeing the CAR on deployment would stand me in good stead when I returned to Canada, assuming I was posted to command one of the four signal squadrons in Canada: a good possibility … I actually got to command 1 Sig Sqn in Calgary.)
- (I was also aware that UNEF-2 personnel were going to Cyprus or flying to Lahr, Germany on the weekly Boeing or Hercules for their one week's special leave and I wanted to see with my own eyes whether I should invite my wife over to Cyprus for our holiday. Maj Samis gave me the CAR tour and as I was picking his brain wrt bringing my wife over there for a holiday, we visited a couple of hotels in Nicosia and we agreed it was a noted vacation spot. So, my wife and I met up in Cyprus in mid-July for a one-week holiday – and got evacuated in a convoy from Famagusta to Nicosia by soldiers of the Canadian Airborne Regiment and air-evacuated to Lahr Germany by Hercules a/c of the RCAF, but that's another story.)
But Cyprus was not 73 Sigs first "intervention" outside UNEF-2; because on 31 May 1974, before "Cyprus happened", UNDOF was established to supervise the disengagement in the Golan Heights between the Israelis and the Syrians. The Commander of UNTSO - and UNEF2 - now also became the commander of UNDOF. Accordingly, national infantry battalions from the Sinai Desert Buffer Zone – with their Canadian signals detachments – were ordered by road to the Golan; the two national battalions were from Finland and Peru. Canada and Poland were again to provide logistical/transportation and signals support and as a stopgap; until UNDOF signallers and equipment arrived from Canada, 73 Sigs in Egypt were to provide the first Canadian boots on the ground.
Capt. Ron Routledge, with two HF RTT detachments and a number of jeeps, sped across Israel and up the Golan Heights to Quneitra to provide both the UN military rear-link to Cairo and the UNDOF HQ military comms forward to the two battalions who were to supervise the buffer zone. Nothing was heard for quite awhile after their estimated time of arrival (ETA), so we were getting a bit concerned. Finally, the day following their actual arrival, contact was made late in the day, but not by RTT or voice, but rather by Morse code over the HF radio. Sometimes old ways work when all else fails; satisfactory frequencies were sorted out.
My subsequent visit to this far-flung Golan Troop confirmed what I had heard; there was only one building left standing in Quneitra, the UNTSO building, easily recognized by its very high permanent radio masts on which our linemen-riggers subsequently worked. Some 'whit' began calling the place "Camp Roofless", although it had an official Panamanian name. I carried on to Damascus to the UNTSO HQ in Beirut, Lebanon that also became HQ UNDOF with the site in Quneitra developing more or less into a second-line support organization.
Back to my wife's and my holiday in Cyprus in mid-July, I had rented a car for our one-week vacation, and our routine became: sit by the pool at our hotel in Famagusta reading our books for a day and then hit the road and tour the island the next day. One afternoon walking along the street in Famagusta we began to notice lots of car blowing their horns actively and saw "civilians" driving around in cars brandishing weapons (pistols and rifles). Not normal! We went into a travel office and learned that the Greek-Cypriot National Guard apparently had ousted President Makarios in a coup, Turkish Cypriots were going to ground and there was now a nighttime curfew. We returned to our hotel and, due to the paucity of staff (curfew), we (and others) congregated in the hotel dining room and some of the women took control of the kitchen and assisted the manager in preparing the evening meal – from that point on he mainly kept the bar running (smart man). The following morning Captain Normand Blaquière from the CAR whom I had met during my earlier recce came to our hotel room (we had registered with the CAR on arrival) and said that HQ UNFICYP was very concerned about a Turkish invasion and "suggested" that we should pack up and drive back to Nicosia "in convoy" for which he would provide the escort. He further informed us that a Hercules was arriving with "Airborne troopers" who had been on leave in Germany that afternoon and it was highly recommended that we depart the island on the 'Herc'.
After closing the door, my wife asked if I thought the situation was serious. I thought for a moment and replied in the affirmative. On my previous visit to Cyprus, I had noticed that the normal uniform was Garrison Work Dress unless one was actually on patrol or occupying one of the observation posts (OPs). I had noted that Captain Blaquière was in full Combat Uniform and carrying a loaded weapon – a definite escalation. So, we packed up, joined the convoy, dropped off the car and prepared to be evacuated to Lahr.
As we were waiting at the airport to board the Hercules, a Swedish couple that we had met at our hotel (in the kitchen) told us that it must be nice to have a caring government that would send an airplane to evacuate stranded vacationers. I didn't correct her impression, as with all the people crying and making serious attempts to leave the island, I was very proud to be a Canadian and proud of the Canadian Airborne Regiment and the RCAF. As we now know, the CAR took casualties in the fighting; a significant number wounded and two troopers from Quebec killed.
On the first morning in Lahr, I found out that a Hercules was departing in the afternoon for Cairo as all UN soldiers were being recalled from leave. So, I left my wife in the care of Capt. Gerry and Mrs. Loraine Lathrope, DCO of 4 Sig Sqn, who ensured she made it to Frankfurt, and her Visa card ensured she was able to fly home to her mum and dad's to pick up our small children. I mention VISA because her return ticket was from Nicosia – not Frankfurt – and although she tried, there was no way they would honour her ticket. (Apparently, they had never heard of the invasion by Turkey, nor did they seem to realize that the airport in Cyprus was closed to commercial traffic.) Accordingly, she purchased a return ticket – there is just no reasoning with some people. I flew back to Cairo on the Hercules with a number of other Canadians on leave in Europe 'called back to duty'.
Back in Cairo our main activity was our impeding move from Cairo to Ismailia on the Suez Canal where the Canadians (and the Poles) would share the old RAF Desert Airforce HQ. Someone came to the Sqn HQ to get me and took me to the "secure room" in the back of the COMCEN where I was told 'Colonel' Bill Batt wanted to "speak" with me.
After a couple of attempts at dictating my side of the "PRINTED IN UPPER CASE LETTERS conversation" to the teletype operator, I sat down and "hen-pecked" my part in the TTY conversation, which went something like this.
- Was I aware of the situation in Cyprus? – YES, I had just left there. In fact, I had in effect conducted a recce of the entire island, knew where 'people, places and things' were, and I had a map of the island. GREAT!
- Did I have an HF RTT detachment (better yet two) that was not tasked to a UN role? – YES!
- Note: 1CSR had arrived in Theatre in time to provide communications from the Km-101 Disengagement Talks between the Egyptian and Israeli generals chaired by Lieutenant-General Siilasvuo (Finland) the commander of UNTSO and UNEF-2 back to his Cairo HQ. The Regiment brought as much equipment as they expected to need in accordance with the principles set forth at the conference on establishing UNEF-2 organization with two subordinate brigade HQs that had taken place at UN HQ in New York. After the disengagement was completed and both sides wound up facing each other in the Sinai Desert across the UN maned Buffer Zone, the two UN brigade HQs disappeared and some of the equipment became surplus to operational requirements but was retained as back-up for equipment that could be used to immediately replace non-serviceable equipment, as well as 'developing' situations; that is why 73 Sigs had four HF RTT Detachments available in Spring 1974, two for UNDOF and two for UNFICYP on 24 hours notice.
- If a C-130 was sent from Lahr to Cairo did the Canadians have any personnel to assist in loading the vehicles and trailers for air transport to Cyprus? – YES … MY TRANSPORT SERGEANT WAS AN MSE OP.
- OK said 'Colonel' Batt, consider this a Warning Order – get cracking!
I gathered some of my Cairo officers and Radio Operator Sr NCOs, and with my DCO, Capt. Ron Aiken, explained the task and discussed solutions, and came to the conclusion that the best detachment commander for this job was probably MCpl Paillé from QGET in Valcartier. And it turned out that he was just the man for the job as he clearly demonstrated initiative and tenacity in getting his detachments to the CAR location, getting set up and 'operating'. In fact, in retrospect, it pains me that neither I, nor anyone else in a position of authority, ever considered his feat worthy of any recognition, and I must blame myself for that gross oversite.
An hour or so later, NDOC sent a "Tasking Message" to the Canadian Contingent and 73 Canadian Signal Squadron to this effect:
- 73 Canadian Signal Unit is tasked to provide two CRATTZ dets (HF RTT) (complete with 3-man crews), to be self sufficient for up to three days in food, water, petrol, and ammunition. Their task: to provide rear-link comms to Lahr for the CAR serving in UNFICYP; with a back-up link to 73 Sigs in Cairo. The detachments to come under command the CO AB Sig Sqn, Major RC Samis, upon arrival in location. Two C-130 aircraft from Lahr will arrive at Cairo International Airport at ____Z hrs tomorrow __ July 1974 and will transport the two radio dets and crews to the RAF airfield at the Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area in Southern Cyprus. The dets will then make their own way to Nicosia by road and RV with Maj Samis. Frequencies and codes were identified.
The next day the C-130s arrived, Signals detachments and signalmen were loaded aboard, last minute advice was given, and the two a/c took off into the wild blue yonder heading North East to Cyprus. Having heard nothing to the contrary from then on, we assumed everything was "A-OK"; except that the HF RTT link to us was not operational when it should have been.
I later learned that once they arrived in Nicosia, one HF RTT detachment was set up on the sports field at Wolseley Barracks (1 Commando's HQ) and the other at Blue Beret Camp (Support Company HQ) adjacent to UNFICYP HQ at the Nicosia airfield where the Canadian Contingent Commander, Colonel C. Beattie, was located as Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) to the Force Commander.
Hindsight is always perfect. Thus, after three months in the UN, I probably should have foreseen difficulties in the two detachments being able to simply drive up the highway to Nicosia (a distance of about 45 Km), locate the Canadians (fairly easy since they were the UN force policing the city), and find Major Samis. If something can go wrong, it will, and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. By the time the two Hercs had landed in Cyprus the invasion was in full swing and Turkish airborne soldiers were on the ground in Northern Cyprus.
Additionally, in dealing with other nationalities, an officer is required. On one hand things are often sorted out in the officers mess at coffee break or lunch, but more importantly, foreign soldiers are often not held in very high regard by their own officers, and this translates into disbelief that our well trained and highly respected Sr and Jr NCOs know what they are talking about; accordingly, they do not get a fair hearing. The situation was that the RAF wouldn't let MCpl Paillé depart on the road to Nicosia because of the fighting. Additionally, the RAF would not let him erect any antenna to communicate back to us in Egypt due to concerns about interference with aircraft comms.
After two days of reconnaissance around the airbase MCpl Paillé found a deserted, remote location, was able to erect his antenna and made brief HF radio contact with us in Cairo. He advised that he had made contact with a British Recce Sqn which was going up to Nicosia the next morning and the two detachments were welcome to join the armoured convoy. He would contact us upon arrival at HQ CAR, reported to Major Samis, and set up.
If I had to do it over again, I would have sent a Captain or Lieutenant who may have been able to convince the RAF authorities that the HF RTT detachments had to contact us to let us know what was going on; but we have no idea what operations the RAF was engaged in. Nevertheless, an officer might have been able to circumvent the 'Assistance Request Rejection' and worked something out, as MCpl Paillé successfully did with the British Army's Recce Sqn.
I informed the NDOC of the details concerning the delay and its inherent reasons; and stated that they could be there by noon Cyprus time the following day. MCpl Paillé made it to the HQ CAR the following day as expected and the Canadians defending the airfield and the Green Line bisecting the city very quickly had communications to NDHQ and Edmonton thru Lahr (and also back to us in Egypt). These links continued in operation as long as I was in Theatre.
Two major lessons
In wartime, even if it seems simple, it probably isn't … or won't be!
Always send an officer; NCOs – even excellent, highly trained Canadian ones – face rejection from foreigners not accustomed to the professionalism and knowledge of our NCOs and are thus misunderstood and dismissed by most other nationalities. This was perhaps especially evident in former colonial powers.
As I said in the beginning, I am only the scribe. This is not my story, although I do appear in it! This (hi)story was a compilation of the individual stories of many members of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals past and present –– another of our family stories –– in which everyone did his or her part, not only to the best of his/her ability and training, but –– especially in MCpl Paillé's case –– performed well beyond his rank/appointment, but not beyond what I had been taught that a junior NCO in the Signal Corps could, and would, do. As always, he did what had been asked of him, and got the job done … he established communications as swiftly as possible, displayed his skills as a leader and as a radio operator and was alert to what was possible to solve his problem of being denied departure from the air base!
Thanks to all ranks in Egypt, Cyprus, Lahr and Ottawa for a job well done.
|1975 – After UNEF-2||Retirement Dinner – 1995||Remberance Day - 2015|
Lt Col (Ret'd) Mac Savage
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals
Velox, Versutus, Vigilans
- 1 Commando was a "light infantry battalion" of the Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) which was in effect an airborne infantry brigade, with supporting combat and logistic units.)