Report by

Brian Etheridge

         
           
           

This was a JATFOR Exercise scheduled for only a few days but that didn’t include the time to get to the site in Turkey or the set-up/tear-down time. Thankfully the Hercules flights from Lyneham were direct which kept the amount of regulation ‘waiting’ time, loved by the RAF, to a minimum. We arrived at Istanbul Airport and were immediately convoyed to site, some 20 miles to the north-west; a very open and bare hillside. The US Army was already there in large numbers and had completed a lot of the administrative preparation.

The American set up was awesome with gravel roads, rows of huge deep freezers in a line by the cookhouse, hot showers, huge marquees all over the place, plus rows and rows of tents all with lighting. There was even a Doctors tent called “Doc Chow and his medicine show” and “a Clap Clinic”! The GI’s did not have separate tents for girls and some of the conversation we heard was definitely unprintable!

 

The camp was so large we were able to site the transmitter and receiver installations within it which made for easier shift change as no transport was required. The US Admin Team had also built some pretty big latrines sited at strategic places around the camp, all down-wind of the cookhouse tent thankfully.

The actual toilets themselves were very ‘friendly’ – a long wooden box sitting on a huge hole, with ten holes cut into the top (five on each side, back to back, best described as the world’s largest “thunder-box”) and absolutely no privacy whatsoever. This was useful as you could read the paper with the blokes either side! The junior ranks amongst us wondered where and when our officers went as we never saw them partake in a recreational poo!

We had to get used to the American Chow-line but a little like the poor kids at school, we had meal vouchers to exchange for our food. The Yanks all paid for theirs in US Dollars. Also the all-in-one tray/plates where we had to be careful not to tilt or ended up with gravy in your ice-cream, were a bit of a novelty!

We did not have the benefit of a Cabin 3 on this exercise, so had to set up the Comcen in a large drafty tent adjacent to the receiver cabin. There seemed to be cables going everywhere and should have given trouble but the ‘Electron Gods’ smiled on the TE Techs this trip and we were virtually trouble free all exercise. Not so the ED’s and the transmitter bods!

Within the first few hours of setting up, one of the three Houchin generators used to power the transmitter ‘kicked a leg out of bed’ (blew a con-rod through the side of the engine)! As we couldn’t scrounge power from the Yanks, who only use 110v power, the ED’s had to nurse the other Houchins for the whole exercise. (I am sure we never used them again ‘in anger’) and crossed lots of fingers.

Our problem was advertised to the world as the damaged generator was dumped next to the transmitter cabin, right where thousands of Americans could view our misfortune as they walked past! Having finally got relatively reliable power to the transmitter, the unthinkable happened, the transmitter started to play up. There followed much repair and testing to get it up and running; Mick Birney Dave Parr, FofS Paul Cook and others spent 24 hours working on it.

The fault was diagnosed as failure due to the capacitor breaking down. The auto tuning also failed, resulting in the manual tuning of the transmitter using hand drills! As if this wasn’t enough, one of the pins that connected the tuning rods kept breaking due to the high torque required to tune it. Mercifully, the transmitter limped through and we were both pleased and lucky to get to the end of the exercise without any further problems. The US Admin Team was the “Prime BEEF” regiment. ‘Beef’ stands for Base Engineering Emergency Force. These were a cross between the Engineers and Pioneers.

They were a very helpful bunch of guys who liked a beer or two. One of the GI’s trade description was ‘Entomologist’, his job was to spray the camp where there were any mosquito’s and bugs - the Americans think of (and have) everything! They even had a carpenter workshop on site to do all the posh panelling in the HQ. At the end of the exercise they built huge wooden containers to fit all the tents in to ship them back to their unit in Germany. When asked “Where are the boxes they came in”? “Burnt them” was the answer!

 

Seeing how well equipped the American were, even if they were really very poor singers after a beer or two, we thought it a good idea to make firm friends of them. Bartering was rife, we all wanted their high quality, comfortable, camp beds and they wanted our ‘woolly pullies’ and DPM combat jackets. Fair exchange! Several other items were exchanged and one of their trenching tools is still being used by Frank Rogers in his garden to this day!

There were comments back at Worcester QM on so many soldiers buying woolly pullies and combat jackets claiming they had been stolen! Being a JATFOR exercise we had only the most minimal crewing levels so time off was limited and mainly spent in the camp. Here, Ray Heely organised the ‘usual’ card school. He was not as ‘lucky’ as normal and found the Yanks just as ‘sharp’ as him, much to his financial disgust! He did get his own back in the end, as was to be expected. He ‘acquired’ a Flying Jacket complete with patches, but that is another story.

Some of us did manage to get into Istanbul for a shopping trip though. This necessitated catching a local train from the nearest town/village. Whilst waiting for the train, we were under the scrutiny of conscripts from the Turkish Army who were providing security at the station. It was most remarkable to see them in ill-fitting uniforms, next to no hair, carrying loaded rifles and holding hands – different!

Istanbul was thriving at this time and the sights, sounds and smells of the Bazaar will never be forgotten. At the end of the exercise the Americans dug big pits and threw all the cables, wires, light fittings and wooden panels from the general’s tent, into it! When we think of our own miniscule ‘exercise stores’, this was an awesome sight.