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Mauritius A Brief Communications History (Part 2)

Mauritius A Brief Communications History (Page 2)

Originally published in the Spring 1976 Communicator Magazine

With the advent of the Defence Communication Network (DCN) and the rationalisations of all three service communication networks in 1969, Mauritius took over an ever greater importance and, together with Gan, became the hub of the DCN network to and from the East of all three services. As the requirements of Government were altered our communications commitments altered too.

A circuit to Majunga was opened during the early days of Rhodesia UDI and the Beira Patrol and the service to Salisbury was closed at the same time! Bombay and Karachi were TARE terminated and after some initial procedural difficulties worked very well. Aden, Bahrain, Diego Suarez and Asmara were closed but circuits with KAF Eastleigh and Diego Garcia were opened. Technical progress also altered the scheme of things. RATT Ship-Shore was introduced and the CW Ship-Shore, very quiet after the closure of the Area Scheme, reduced to just 8 and 12 MHz. Broadcast VR, under the unwieldy title of B11V, became TARE controlled and the MRLs also eventually TARE terminated. The increased use of TARE for the circuits which had previously been at bays high-lighted the need for a review of the complement and TARE outage procedures. A revised MAUOUT procedure was devised and the complement of the station drastically reduced.

Perhaps the writing on the wall for stations such as Mauritius came not only from the defence cuts imposed by successive Governments, but also by the passage of HMS Intrepid through the Indian Ocean in July/August 1970. HMS Intrepid fitted with Skynet, no longer required the traditional communication facilities of Broadcast and Ship-Shore (except when her satellite equipment became defective). Be that as it may, the final withdrawal from the Far East ordered by the Labour Government in early 1975 finally spelled out the demise of HMS Mauritius. Mr. Roy Mason, the Defence Secretary, visited the island in April 1975 to negotiate the termination of the Defence Agreement with the Mauritius Government and the final date of 31 March 1976 was decided upon. Commcen Mauritius closed at 302359Z November 1975 and ended a period of some 13 years of constant communication. By the time of closure our daily traffic load had dropped to under 3000 transactions a day.

In the early 1950s it became apparent that the communication station in Ceylon (GZP) which had served the old East Indies Fleet and the merchant ships of Area III so well for so long, would not be able to continue forever in the newly independent Ceylon. It was therefore necessary to find an alternative location to cover the requirements of the Indian Ocean area and to act as a major relay station for communications between UK and East of Suez. Hitherto all communications between Whitehall, Singapore & Australia had been direct circuits (FX6 and FX22 respectively) and they had suffered a great deal from propagation problems. It was quite usual for FX6 to revert to Morse for long periods during the night. This was obviously not good enough, so a ‘mid-way’ station was sought. I understand that several locations were considered including Nairobi, already the centre of army communications in East Africa. Presumably political considerations plus an acceptable setting eventually led to the choice of Mauritius in 1957. Building of the new station commenced in 1959 with the transmitter site at Bigara where the 1945 site had been, the receivers at Tombeau Bay and the Commcen itself on the site of the old Commcen and Army HQ at Vacoas. The three stations were linked by landline and by VHF link, the alter being particularly notable as it used the edge of one of the mountains as a reflector.

The first naval personnel arrived in 1960 under the title of Naval Party 1212 (NP1212). AFO 2147/60 decreed that NP1212 would be administered by the Superintendent of Navy Works under CinC SASA. The Wireless Station took over from Ceylon on 28 February 1962 and was commissioned as HMS Mauritius on 19 March 2962 under the command of Cdr D.L. Syms, with Lt Cdr R. B. Keogh as the Executive Officer and Lt (SD)(C) A.E. Howells as the communicator. 

HMS Mauritius chief claim to fame at the time of commissioning was the then brand new TARE installation, the first to be fitted in any naval Commcen. This new machine was capable of doing work previously done by any number of operators. However, it was not until much later that it became a great manpower saver as the station had to be complemented to allow all circuits to be terminated manually at bays should the TARE develop faults. Nevertheless it was one of the very first steps in the modernisation and automation of our communications systems and saved a lot of work if not personnel. >

In these early days Mauritius was an extremely busy station. Circuits to Singapore, Gan, Canberra, UK, Cape, Aden and Bahrain were TARE terminated while contact circuits were run with Mombassa, Ceylon, Karachi, Bombay, Asmara and Diego Suarez. In addition a RATT Broadcast (VR) was radiated for suitably fitted ships and a CW Broadcast (VA) run on a time sharing basis at 25 wpm for HM Ships and it would of course be wrong to write about a Wireless Station without mentioning the personnel who have served there and made it such a success. A look through the records shows that RS Jack French, DSM, of Amethyst fame was an RSOW in 1962 while the CRS at the same time was CRS Bill Malaburn who had served in the old cruiser HMS London during the Yangtze incident to try and recover HMS Amethyst. FCRS Parkes, then an RS was also one of the first commission.

The first Wren sparkers, ten in number, arrived on the scene in May 1966. These girls, together with the Nursing Sisters and Naval Nurses provided a touch of glamour to the scene as well as doing a very good job. The local civilian operators, three of whom had done their initial training in Ceylon, also did a first class job. Some of them served in HMS Mauritius throughout the whole period of the establishment’s existence Met communications, previously handled by the Commcen, were taken over by the Mauritian Government and continued to operate on the old B13V and Ship-Shore frequencies under the root call sign 3BA – 3BZ using equipment left behind in good working order at Tombeau and Bigara. 

Some signals received on the closing date of the Commcen were as follows:
From : Cincfleet
On this the last day of your radio support of the fleet you can look back with satisfaction on a fine record spanning the last 15 years of RN owned HF communications in the Indian Ocean. There are many fleet communicators with fond memories of Mauritius WT derived from both ends of your circuits and rumour has it that there are still one or two to be found at the reunion who remember the original 1916 stations spark horse. In gratitude as we remember Ceylon West so we will remember you. 
From : Commcen Whitehall
The final closure of the last ‘RN’ major overseas trunk will be felt most strongly by ourselves and all those whom you have served so well. The friendly co-operation provided by your station has been much appreciated. The very high standard of expertise achieved may be emulated by others but will never be surpassed. Good luck to you all and a safe journey home.
From : CDCN
As you cease to be a DCN Commcen and pack your bags we send our appreciated for the important part you have played in the network for many years.