The Untold Story of STRAD and TARE
The Untold Story of STRAD (Signal Transmit Receive And Distribution) System and TARE (Telegraph Automatic Relay Equipment)
This story of STRAD was made possible by CWO Garry Dowd (Ret'd) and his authoring team mentioned below.
The main authors of this article are CWOs (Ret’d) Len Grummett (Ops) and Paul Vaillancourt (Tech). I have just taken their notes and some info from an article written by BGen Martineau (Ret'd) - A History of Canadian Forces Communication System (CFCS) and Canadian Forces Communication Command (CFCC) 1965-1994 - and massaged them hopefully into a story of the most important milestone in the history of Canadian Military Communications.
EXPERIMENTAL ARMY SIGNALS ESTABLISHMENT (EASE)
(In this article Carp will stand for all the various names used for CFS Carp).
In September 1959 under Civil Defence Order 1959, the Army was made responsible for providing warning to the public of attack and the radio-active fallout resulting from nuclear explosions and for the operation of Emergency Communications for the Government. This resulted in the need for an additional 900 RC SIGS personnel.
On 31 May 1960, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker announced a plan to provide each Province with a centre from which a small core of Federal and Provincial staff and facilities supported and manned by Army personnel could direct emergency operations within the province, even in the presence of nuclear fall-out, the loss of communications and possibly the destruction of the federal capital and some provincial capitals. The army became responsible for emergency command, for attack warning, for the prediction of fall-out patterns and for a number of other important services.
Planning proceeded for a network of survivable, underground and hardened shelters for the continuity of operations of the federal government and the governments of each of the provinces. Planners ensured that adequate communications capabilities with enough redundant landline telephones, cryptography machines, teleprinters, transmitters, and receivers were incorporated into the plans. The finalized plans for these federal government shelters reflected compromise and consisted of one large underground building and two widely dispersed antennae farms, one of which contained an underground transmitter facility.
The Federal Emergency site chosen was at Carp, Ontario with Provincial sites at Borden, Shilo, Penhold, Nanaimo, Valcartier and Debert.
State-of-the-art teletype and other associated communications equipment was installed in the Provincial Sites. At the Federal Site at Carp, the first computer operated message handling system called STRAD ( Signal Transmit Receive And Distribution) system was installed to control the flow of traffic through the network. The system provided a much improved service to the network users until it was retired to make way for a more modern system.
The Experimental Army Signal Establishment or “EASE” became the cover name for this facility, perhaps because there was an experimental Signals facility located in nearby Shirley's Bay, just west of Ottawa. The name for the Carp facility - the National Emergency Headquarters - was later changed to the Central Emergency Government Headquarters or “CEGHQ”. The main operating centre at Carp was called the Federal Warning Centre (FWC). It was headed by a LCol, with five Majors on rotating shifts, an Artillery Sgt as Weather and Map Plotter and five rotating shifts (Communication Operators) in the operating centre with a Sgt as the overall daytime Supervisor.
MESSAGE SWITCHING AUTOMATION
In the late 1950s, the British military had developed an automated message switching capability called STRAD (Signal Transmit Receive And Distribution) system and TARE (Telegraph Automatic Relay Equipment) that was based on ACP 127 procedures and which in essence automated the Tape Relay Centre (TRC) function. Messages were received on STRAD, routed by TARE and transmitted by STRAD. STRAD’s core capability was a magnetic drum storage device that recorded and stored messages prior to their onward transmission.
STRAD - INCEPTION
On 22 Jun 1964, the Canadian Army Signal System activated a STRAD / TARE system at EASE in Carp, Ontario. The footprint of the STRAD equipment occupied 204 square meters. Carp’s STRAD was implemented to handle 69 teletype circuits and could be expanded to handle up to 90 circuits, operating at speeds of 60, 66 or 100 words per minute. The STRAD system was easily processing 9,000 messages per day, well below its maximum capacity of up to 83,000 words per minute. STRAD / TARE also saved much of the manpower required to operate the Tape Relay Centre (TRC). This was the first automated message system in the Canadian Forces, where a two or three person shift could do the operating work previously done by an entire TRC shift of a Sgt (shift supervisor) and about five TRC operators – a significant manpower savings. Based on initial success, there were discussions on implementing this STRAD / TARE system at other TRCs.
STRAD - OPERATIONS
The Carp STRAD was a first generation computer designed for use with digital communications systems. STRAD at Carp was the first installation of two similar British systems. The British system was installed at Boddington, UK and a similar system was installed in Australia. In Carp, the STRAD System was used to terminate both HF and LF radio circuits and conventional land-line circuits to all the Provincial Warning and Reporting Sites across Canada.
The installation of the STRAD at Carp and the installation of more modern teletype equipment at the Nanaimo, Penhold, Shilo, Borden, Valcartier and Debert Provincial sites revolutionized the narrative message handling for the Army and other services across the nation. Concurrent with many of these happenings came the unification of the Forces with the subsequent changes to the communication system. In addition, STRAD was connected to a sister system in Boddington, UK which provided an important portal for communications to Canadian Units deployed to NATO Europe and other countries since the early 1950s.
STRAD was versatile in that it was always available to accept the input of messages and would then forward them immediately or if the system became too congested, the STRAD controller could place incoming messages in overflow storage, then retrieved and forwarded later. From 1964 until decommissioned in 1981, the STRAD system proved a highly reliable and secure message system.
Prior to STRAD, Canadian military communications consisted of Tape Relay Centres (TRC) and Message Centres (later known as Communication Centres). They were activated and operational throughout Canada and even with our Allies.
With the arrival of STRAD the whole concept of military communications changed. There were still Message Centres but the TRC was gone. No more chad tape to step on and tear. No more an abundance of tape reels to store. The army now had to change the rank structure for STRAD. Shift leaders were no longer Sgts and Cpls but changed to WO1s.
I (Garry Dowd) personally remember working in the CommCen (as a Sgmn) and seeing these Sam Brown Belted Soldiers reporting for their shift duty in STRAD . Among the first of these were: WO1s Bud Mitchell, George Daunais, Harry Weins, Jim Strain, and Gordon Sandall. The Ops WO1 at the time was WO1 Don Buchan. It was definitely overkill because as time went by a Sgt/MCpl was the shift leader.
STRAD - TECHNICAL
In early 1962, four Sigs Techs were sent to Whitehall, North East side of England to Standard Telephone and Cables (STC). They were S/Sgts John Robertson, Rad Tech, and George Dixon, TE Tech, Sgts Donald Dutton, Tel Tech, and Robert Trottier, TE Tech. The STRAD / TARE (Signal Transmitting Receiving And Distribution) / (Telegraph Automatic Relay Equipment) system was a transistorised fixed-program automatic message handling system developed by STC in England.. The common logic part of the system was a fully duplicated and cross wired to its identical twin. The messages received were stored on a magnetic drum. Additional storage capacity was on an overflow, magnetic tape system.
At this time there were five STRAD projects under assembly worldwide. They were British Rail Crewe (A), Royal Navy Mauritius (B), Royal Australian Navy Cranberra (D), Melbourne (D), and the Canadian Army (E). Later there were more worldwide STRAD installations. The letter designation ‘E’ determined if a modification was applicable to our particular site.
In 1961 a team of Technicans (Tel Techs plus one Rad Tech) was assembled and hard at work in 1 Army Signal Squadron in an old wartime “B” building in downtown Ottawa. Teletype Equipment was being stripped down and overhauled by the technicians for shipment to Carp.
Sgmn Paul Vaillancourt, the Rad Tech, worked for Sgt Don Dutton. They were two future STRAD Maintainers. They made several trips out to Carp hauling equipment and installing the equipment, wiring in the Tel Tech Workshop, Message Centre, Crypto Centre and the interim Tape Relay Centre on the 3rd floor.
On 4 January 1962 Carp went operational. All the teletype equipment was in place and the Primary TRC on the 3rd floor and the Message Centre on the 4th floor were fully operational.
In the spring STRAD equipment started to arrive from England along with STC personnel. Donald Davies, Project Leader and his staff of Roy Gillette, Chief Engineer, Colin Buckton, Nigel Brook and Alan Brown came on site. Vic Paquette was a Canadian Installer from Montreal. SSgt John Robertson was an inspector for STC and checked all modifications we carried out. Sgt Don Dutton was responsible for the military installation and modification team. This team consisted of Sgmn Paul Vaillancourt, Ernie Krepps and Doug Hawley. Note at this time Doug Hawley was a Tel Op. Much later after STRAD went operational in 1964 he remustered to TE Tech. He worked for the Canadian installer. Vaillancourt and Krepps were the modifiers. Later Sgmn Bernie Goulet and Doug Nightingale joined the installation group. Sgt Trottier joined us occasionally until STRAD went operational in 1964 as the demands in Toll Test were great resulting in SSgt Dixon never working in STRAD. All the other fore mentioned personnel later became STRAD Maintainers.
In October 1962 Carp had its first lockup. The Cuban Missile Crisis had the USA and its allies very concerned. It made little difference to STRAD personnel except for not going home at night.
The cabinets carrying the ‘books’ of electronic equipment were approx 3.5 feet square by 7.5 feet or so tall and weighed 1,000 to 1,500 lbs each. This equipment was unpacked in the tunnel and man handled onto a dolly and carefully taken into the site for installation. This was a very difficult and physical job. In total approx 80 cabinets were installed. One shipment arrived in 1963 where all the equipment had been damaged during shipment and a new order had to be made and delivered. This resulted in close to 6 months delay in the project.
Modifications to get the system working were coming in fast and furious. In 1963 Ernie, Paul and Bernie were put on double shifts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We later, on our request, were changed to work till 2100 every weekday. Then during the summer we also worked most weekends. Some new personnel were brought in. After training they were given modifications to be carried out on all the incoming and outgoing line books. They pinched so many wires they were both relieved of the job and we had many hours of extra work to correct the problems caused. President Kennedy's assassination in the fall of 1963 was about the only thing to slow our modification work as we huddled around the radio in the main lounge.
As said above, on 22 June 1964, the STRAD / TARE system went active. Sgt Ross Creed sent the opening message proclaiming a new milestone in the history of the Canadian Army Signal System CASS). This activation was a full year ahead of any of the other systems being installed.
After the installation and acceptance was completed Nigel Brook stayed on for a few years on contract. This was most beneficial as Nigel was the prime fixer and fault finder on the STC team. He wrote 18 training test papers which maintainers used to learn the system.
In 1964 on start up of STRAD the maintenance staff consisted of:
Contractor Nigel Brook
Senior Maintainers - SSgt John Robertson, and Sgts Don Dutton and Robert Trottier.
Junior Maintainers – Cpls Bernie Goulet, Ernie Krepps, Don Medicraft, Doug Nightingale, Paul Vaillancourt and Sgmn Doug Hawley.
Senior Maintainers trained in the 60s were WO2 Mike O’Brien, SSgt Ron Burnley and Sgts Jim Lane, Gerry Cheverie and Jim Letourneau.
In 1970 CWO John Robertson, having returned to STRAD and now the boss, with MWO Don Dutton ran a Senior Maintainers course. WO Don Medicraft returned to STRAD and he along with WO Gord Leroux and Sgt Garry Vanstone were on the course. They completed training as Senior Maintainer and then commenced weekday evening shifts. When the Senior Maintainer covered a week of on call they also did the evening shift. WO Paul Vaillancourt returned to STRAD in July 1971 and went on a self study Senior Maintainer course.
The last training for Senior Maintainers was undertaken in 1978. MWOs Dutton, Medicraft and Vaillancourt rotated as instructors for Sgt McAra, MCpl’s Brian Holden and Dave Chaplin. MWO Don Dutton retired in 1979 after 18 years of continuous and dedicated service working with STRAD. CWO John Robertson followed retiring in 1980. In the final 5 years of operation STRAD had a maximum of 15 hours of downtime.
STRAD personnel on closure of the system were:
Senior Maintainers – MWOs Don Medicraft and Paul Vaillancourt, Sgt Bob McAra and MCpl Brian Holden; and
Junior Maintainers – Cpls Roger Cousins, Arnie Schmidt, Joe Smith, Jim Stevens, Pte Ralph and Clement Ricard.
Attending the parade were several former COs, LCols McNinch and Ellis, and Majs Green, Nottingham, Milne and Nightingale. Maj Green was the first CO and had been at Carp when the first STRAD shipment was received. WO Ross Creed who had sent the first message officially opening STRAD was also in attendance.
Sgt Bob McAra of STRAD Maintenance and Sgt Jack Devenney of STRAD Operations were given the task of coordinating the STRAD closure ceremonies. These were held on 2 July 1981 with a parade and a fly past by Capt L. Koski of 414 Sqn in a T33 Shooting Star. MGen PJ Mitchell (CDLO) was the inspecting officer and Maj Armstrong, CO of CFS Carp was the Parade Commander. WO Pat Murphy sent the final message. After the parade, the STRAD equipment shut-down was carried out by MWOs Medicraft and Vaillancourt with a number of high-ranking Comm Officers and STRAD Maintainers in attendance.
STRAD Personnel Ops and Techs were posted all across the country. There was a two week delay for MWO Vaillancourt and Ptes Ralph and Ricard. They stayed on to dismantle the drums and tape decks to turn them in for destruction.
STRAD / TARE closed 17 years and 61 million messages later, when the Strategic Automated Message Switching Operational Network or SAMSON – a computerized network using modern computers – went active.
- Story courtesy of the Semaphore to Satellite project.