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The Signals Museum RAF Henlow


Signals have been an essential part of warfare since prehistoric tribes first discovered that collective violence offered a viable and generally more exciting alternative to starvation poverty and subjugation. In the early days communication was limited to verbal signals supplemented by hunting horns, beacons and drums. Later on the development of writing permitted the exchange of more complex information, but the rôle of signals remained essentially the same; the communication of intelligence about the enemy and the dissemination of orders to friendly troops.

The advent of the telegraph in the 19th century represented the most significant advance in signalling for over 4,000 years, but its dependence on fixed infrastructure limited its utility to strategic communication. However, the development of wireless in the later part of that century offered the possibility of mobile communications suitable for use on the battlefield. Powered flight became a practical reality at about the same time and the two technologies, signals and aviation, were soon brought together over the bloody battlefields of the Western Front and the story of RAF Signals began.

With powered flight, the necessity for communication from the air became a reality with the introduction of the Stering Spark Transmitter in 1915. This allowed the reporting of strategic enemy positions back to British Artillery units whereas previously, streamers with a message attached were dropped over British lines by the spotter aircraft. Radio, albeit one way, by using Morse Code, speeded this process up considerably. But these were crude and not very reliable and it wasn’t until 1918 that more sophisticated valve equipment was installed and with this came two way communication

View of the Museum showing some of the Telegraphic and Telephone exhibits

One of the many pictures on show. This one shows Wireless Operator training at Cranwell in 1930

A Revophone Crystal Set Receiver from World War I to the 1920's

Some early signalling equipment - Semaphore Flags and Morse Signalling Lamps

The first type of aircraft transmitter used by the Royal Flying Corps in 1915. the Sterling Spark Transmitter

The TF Receiver and T21c Transmitter were introduced in 1918. These were used for many years, even at the start of WW2