War: Radio tactics

ANGELA CROMPTON
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2014
John Neal
ANGELA CROMPTON/ Fairfax NZ

EARLY TECHNOLOGY: John Neal shows two radios carried by soldiers in World War II, a small ''Set 38'' and the back-pack ''Set 48''.

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War is deplorable but provides a huge boost to technology. The definition is Blenheim radio ham John Neal's.

He admits to having a lifelong fascination with communication over the airwaves. He will speak at the Marlborough Museum next Sunday about the developments that occurred during World Wars I and II.

Two World War II models a fellow collector owns have been brought to John's office at the Church of the Nativity.

He is one of its assistant priests but his interest in communication over the airways started long before he studied for the ministry.

''When I was a kid in high school I built a tiny radio,'' he remembers.

It was the 1950s and his construction was simple and rough. But it worked.

Using a few gadgets he picked up from a radio shop, a block of timber and a ball of wire to connect them to, John had created a radio that picked up a signal: 2YA radio from Wellington.

The old radios on his desk this week weren't built or used to play popular songs and news broadcasts for the general public or amateur radio hams. 

The smaller of the two, named ''38 set'' was ''worn'' by soldiers on their chests and could send and receive signals stretching from 800 metres to 1.6 kilometres. 

The bigger ''48 set'' with shoulder straps was carried on a solder's back. A signaller would walk behind him, ensuring the radio's 8km to 10km reception was maintained. 

Radar had started being developed in the 1930s, John says, and probably changed the outcome of World War II. 

''I don't think we would have won the Battle of Britain if radar hadn't been invented,'' he says. 

The Royal Air Force Spitfires and Hurricanes had been designed as air defence craft and were powerful and highly manoeuverable. But they didn't have a long flight range.

Radar allowed them to sit on the tarmac, saving fuel, until enemy aircraft were detected and they could be scrambled.

John, a chaplain for the Royal New Zealand Air Force for 25 years, has seen the high tech radio systems used by the military today, representing a completely different age to the sets aiding wars used last century.

''Modern fighters have data transmissions and research systems,'' he says.

Pilots can still talk to someone on the radio but important information and data is exchanged through instrumentation, computer to computer.

The Use of Radio in World War I and World War II will be presented by John Neal from 2pm at the Marlborough Museum on Sunday, July 27. Entry by donation.

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- The Marlborough Express

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