Airborne Signals CYPRUS 1974

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Lt J.I. Holsworth

PDF of the original article

In December, the Canadian Airborne Regiment returned from a tour of peacekeeping duty in Cyprus that had witnessed the picturesque island torn apart by a new round of bitter fighting between the Greek and Turkish communities. This left the Turkish Army in control of nearly half of the island. It began for us when No 1 Commando Group was formed from about half of the Regiment, and in early April relieved the Second Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment in the twenty-first Canadian rotation to Cyprus since the UN mandate was established in 1964. The Airborne Headquarters and Signal Squadron thus found itself split in three. With a strength of only 80, we had 16 members serving in Egypt with UNEFME; then 33, including the CO, Maj R.R.C. Samis and the SSM, MWO R.J. Janik were deployed to Cyprus, while the remainder of the Squadron under the Deputy CO, Capt E.S. Hill remained in Edmonton to provide communications for the half of the Regiment that was remaining in Canada. If any unit ever had a split personality, it was us.

The contingent in Cyprus was organized as a small infantry battalion, so a 20-man Signals platoon consisting of radio, line and Signals Dispatch Service sections performed the major communications tasks. Other members from the Squadron found themselves in a variety of tasks, often unusual ones for their trade – a Sgt Rad Tech was the HQ Coy Transport Sgt, the Officers’ mess Sgt was a Rad Op, the District Commander’s driver was a Tel Tech and the line section included a Rad Op and three Infmn – and so it went. The key word was flexibility. Although this article deals primarily with communications, every member of the squadron, be his trade MP, Adm Clk or Sup Tech put forth the same effort and dedication, and together the job was done.

HF and VHF radio communications for the Nicosia District Joint Operations Centre (JOC) was provided initially by C11 and C42 equipments. The most demanding task of all, however, was line maintenance. Normal TA-43 field phones were used within the Canadian controlled UN areas at most of the observation posts along the Green Line. Additionally, the line detachment had the responsibility of maintaining a telephone circuit between the Nicosia Zone JOC and both the Greek Cypriot National Guard Headquarters and the Turkish Cypriot Vice President’s Office. Members of the line detachment were constantly working to maintain existing circuits or to construct new lines. Miles of single and multi-pair cable had been laid by the time hostilities erupted on July 15th. Open warfare finally broke out when Turkish Forces invaded the island, following the Greek Cypriot Group which deposed Archbishop Makarios. It became imperative that the Nicosia District JOC maintain communications with all levels within the UN Force, and also with both Turkish and Greek headquarters. The line crews risked their lives to repair damaged lines; two radio operators were wounded by mortar shrapnel while on duty in Wolseley Barracks. All Squadron members worked day and night to maintain communications. The reward was the knowledge that the fighting could have been more intense and prolonged with much higher civilian and military casualties had the Canadian peacekeepers not been able to liaise directly with the Turk and Greek Commanders during the fighting.

When the remainder of the Canadian Airborne Regiment rapidly deployed to Cyprus at the end of July to augment No 1 Commando Group, the Signal Squadron was reunited. The reorganization had to be done quickly in order to get on with the job at hand – communicating!

The first major task was Project CYPRAD which was the replacement program of the C42, C11 and PRC 510 radio sets by the GRC 106 sets and VRC 12 family of radios. Communications equipment had deployed from Edmonton with the Regiment and additional equipment was shipped from Canada. The logistic problems that resulted only compounded the already existing confusion caused by a $100,000 fire that occurred during the hostilities when a mortar round hit the Signal stores. When the dust had cleared Project CYPRAD had been completed and over 100 new radios were vehicle mounted.

Also arriving on the island in July were three AN/GRC 142 detachments. Secure radio teletype circuits were established to Ismailia, and Lahr. These facilities provided a continual dedicated Canadian message handling capability. The detachment acted as emergency national back-up communications in case of failure of the normal off-island system. Personnel from both 1 Combat Group Headquarters and Signal Squadron and 73 Canadian Signal Unit Ismailia deployed with the Regiment to operate this equipment.

Communications and nerves were again tested when the second round of hostilities erupted on August 14th. The Squadron was responsible for the security of Wolseley Barracks, so communicators found themselves standing sentry in bunkers, or manning machine-guns as well as doing their normal tasks. Stone buildings offered the only reasonable protection, so during the fighting, Squadron HQ operated from Officers’ Mess dining-room, and the remainder of the ground floor of the Officers’ Mess was used as accommodation for the Squadron.

Again lines were shot down and the line section was constantly on the go. On one occasion a lineman was caught at the top of a pole as a Turk aircraft strafed the nearby road. Fortunately, he was not injured and the line was repaired. Another incident occurred when a deployed radio rebroadcast vehicle was fired upon by a nervous group of Greek Cypriots. In spite of all this, the Signal Squadron came through the second round without casualties.

The combatants obviously didn’t get their frequency allocation from the same shop that we did and consequently interference on VHF nets caused operator and users a great deal of frustration. Changing frequency was the only way to cope with the problem, and sometimes even that didn’t’ help. An operator’s only option was Turkish interference or Greek interference.

A ceasefire agreement was finally obtained and that at least, slowed down the hostile activities. Eventually the ceasefire took hold and most normal duties resumed. The next major communication task was the installation of a semi-automatic 10+50 PABX telephone exchange within Wolseley Barracks. This relay and code switching system replace the existing 63 line manual exchange consisting of four stacked SB22 field switchboards. The TA43 field phones were replace by civilian pattern dial telephones allowing direct dial facilities within Wolseley Barracks, and to any extension on the United Nations Headquarters’ exchange. A second identical exchange was installed to serve the rifle company quartered in the Maple Leaf complex at the southwest edge of Nicosia. Although the majority of the technical work was done by the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority, linemen from the Squadron were called upon to install new multi and single pair cable associated with the exchange.

All UN contingents in Cyprus are tied together with several forms of communications. UNFICYP HQ VHF radio is rebroadcast to all areas of the island by a station in the Trodoos Mountains manned by Canadian and British members of 644 Signal Troop. A UN Motorola radio net provides the majority of the mobile communications for UNFICYP rovers. In addition to the inter-contingent line facilities, all district and zone headquarters have teletype communications to UNFICYP HQ. The two operators on duty in the Nicosia District COMCEN were thus manning three radio nets, a telephone exchange and a teleprinter.

All Squadron members in fact, have worked hard during the last nine months. Much has been accomplished by the AB HQ & Sigs Sqn in Cyprus, and rotation time was welcome. Although not all the Squadron members have been away from Edmonton since April, 11 of those who arrived in August had just returned from Egypt, and in some cases were called in off leave to go to Cyprus. We think we had a first, when we had a medals parade in Cyprus to present ten members with their UNEFME medals.

Christmas was special this year for all of us and that first Herc jump is going to feel great.



  1. Originally Published in Communications and Electronics Newsletter 1975 - Edition 3