On This Day…

On the 5th June 1977 the first PC went on sale

The first personal computer, the Apple II and was the invention of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. The earlier Apple I had been little more than a board and required a user to supply their own keyboard and monitor. The Apple II was one of three prominent personal computers that came to the market in 1977 and despite its higher price it quickly pulled ahead of the Tandy/Motorola TRS-80 and the Commodore Pet.


64Kb memory

The Apple II had the 6502 microprocessor, ability to do High Resolution and Low Resolution colour graphics and incorporated sound, a joystick input, and cassette tape I/O. It had a total of eight expansion slots for adding peripherals and with Apple’s Language Card installed, standard memory size was 64KB.


Computers in the field operated by RSIGNALS

The Army deployed computers into the field for the first time in the late 1970’s in support of its operations in Northern Ireland. Operation Vengeful, in which these computers were initially used, enabled patrols, checkpoints and police stations to check suspect vehicles against a central database. Over time, the pattern of vehicle movements was used to analyse and predict terrorist attacks. These high performance computers that had been designed for use by banks were operated by Royal Corps of Signals soldiers from 233 Signal Squadron. The computers filled a large room in a specially constructed building in Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn. Initially they had to be operated in a dust-free air-conditioned environment and soldiers were required to wear white coats over their uniforms and clean training shoes instead of boots – except when they deployed across the Province to repair or replace a faulty terminal.


Computer-assisted radio relay frequency assignment CARRFA

In 1980 Computer-Assisted Radio Relay Frequency Assignment (CARRFA) was the first tactically deployed computer system dedicated to constructing a working frequency assignment for VHF, UHF and SHF radios. It was made by Oceonics Systems Ltd and adapted to meet the Corps’ requirements by Captain (Traffic) Jim Ross. It was used to support 1st (British) Corps from 1980 until Frequency Assignment Management Equipment (FAME), which was designed for Ptarmigan, came into service in 1985. A radio relay detachment would obtain its frequencies from a CARRFA terminal at Corps Headquarters. It was a basic computer taking six minutes to load its cartridge from store and 90 seconds to write 40KB from the database but the system worked well enough.


Path profile analysis (PPA)

The Husky Hunter was a hand-held, ruggedised, waterproof and shockproof computer with a battery life that exceeded 45 hours. Major Chris Durham recognised the Hunter’s potential when it was demonstrated to the Army in 1984. He then wrote the code to allow bulk data for a selected geographical area to be downloaded to the computer. Next, he wrote a program that would analyse the terrain data between any two points to determine if a radio relay link would work. This was path profile analysis (PPA) and was used to identify the best siting options for radio transmitters, receivers and rebroadcast stations to achieve reliable communications, taking into account the terrain and the tactical situation. The application was shown to Commander Corps Royal Signals BAOR and eight weeks later it was in operational use in Germany. It revolutionised the PPA work of the Yeoman and Traffic Officers as whereas it had taken anything from 20 minutes to an hour to plot a path manually it now took around just one minute using the PPA application.


A few words from Lt Col (Retd) Jim Ross


Jim says:

While in HQ 1(BR) Corps as a SO3 (Frequency Manager – 1979 – 1983) I actually had to do all the PPA manually using the large Shadow Maps relevant to each radio and the topography of the ground in question until we got CARRFA working properly. CARRFA, of course, held the Shadow Maps and our area in digitised form in its database.

I only signed-on for a six year engagement but actually served in the Corps for 36 years and 4 months. I joined as an adult entry at the age of 18 and served in each rank from Signalman to WO1 (YofS). I had a number of unusual posts such as the YofS at the Royal Navy Signal school as a senior instructor. I was the only person in the Corps to hold the appointment of Warrant Officer I/C British Army Element Nassau (WO i/c BritArmElm Nassau). In 1979 I commissioned as a Captain and went on to break new ground for Late Entry Officers serving as SO1 Signals 36A in the MoD and also SO1 Royal Signals Training Development Team.

More information on Jim’s military career can be found in the Royal Signals Journal 2017/18 (published by the RSI).

YofS = Yeoman of Signals

NCO = Non-Commissioned Officer

WO1 = Warrant Officer Class 1 (the highest NCO rank)

SO – Staff Officer

Late Entry (LE) officer is a term used to indicate those officers who have risen through the ranks prior to earning a commission.

Museum volunteer with 50+ years of service to The Corps

Lt Col (Retd) Jim Ross not only served in the Royal Corps of Signals for more than 34 years but has also been a Royal Signals Museum volunteer for 17 years. He especially enjoys the job of ‘weekend volunteer’ – meeting the public, answering questions, providing tours and listening to visitors stories and knowledge – which Jim says is always enlightening and interesting.

Jim has also been Museum Volunteer Coordinator during a long period when staff were changing and has opened the Museum in the evening for local Rotary Groups or similar organisations in order to give private tours – see event hosting.