Y Sections – Special Wireless Units 1939-1945

Keeping communications secret, keeping the UK safe

Signal intelligence was crucial to the Allied victory. A number of Special Wireless Groups were established prior to and during this period. Little is known about much of the work of these groups but their work played a crucial part in the winning of the war.

The designation of the various types of Special Wireless Sections (SWS) depended upon their allocation: Type A were allocated to Army HQ, Type B to Corps HQ with Type R and Type Z functioning as relay sections.

The groups included:

No 1 Special Wireless Group formed in 1934 as 4 Company War Office Signals. It became 2 Company CHQ Signals in 1938 and was despatched to France in 1939. Following the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk to the UK on 6th July 1940 the unit became 1 Special Wireless Group. This comprised of two companies – one based in Egham UK and one in Radlett UK. In June 1944 the unit went to Normandy with the 21st Army Group to supervise the special wireless sections in 1st Canadian Army and 2nd British Army. In 1945 it became 1st Special Wireless Regiment and later 13th Signal Regiment.

‘Intense inundation and storm. Slight damage to equipment – four men received light shocks.’ 1SWG 15th August 1944*

‘During night 3-ton Fordson truck stolen from car-park, probably towed away. Search no result.’ 1SWG 24th October 1944*

No 2 Special Wireless Group was formed in the Middle East in 1923 as 2 Wireless Company. It was enlarged in 1940 when 2 Special Wireless Company arrived from the UK. It was the parent organisation for all special wireless units in theatre. A mobile section operated at 8th Army HQ and became 2SWS, supervising the special sections allocated to the Corps HQ of 8th Army, another section was sent to Malta.

‘360 messages taken of which 150 Enigma. ‘ 2SWG 11th January 1943*

‘Very full picture obtained of enemy withdrawal on two axes one through Beni Ulid and one along the road, the latter followed by D/Fs as far as Taverna.’ 2SWG 17th January 1943*

‘Much increase in activity at Derna following Italian surrender. 10,000 groups of Typex traffic cleared to hello on W/t link without difficulty.’ 2SWG 9th September 1943*

No 3 Special Wireless Group was formed in Italy in July 1941 with a mobile section deployed to Greece in 1944. Information on the work of 3SWG is sketchy but we know that in January 1942 formation orders were received at Harpenden UK for a Mobile Section. They were sent Delhi and trained for the war against Japan.  Fom 23rd to 30th November 1942 they were employed on operational duties in Calcutta. In December of that year small detachments moved to Tezpur.

No 4 Special Wireless Group is believed to have existed circa 1945 in Singapore. 4 Wireless Group, a training organisation were based at Egham in the UK.

A number of other Special Wireless Group were formed including A Special Wireless Group at Barrakpore India in 1942 which supervised minor units in India and Burma and C Special Wireless Group which later became 310 Indian SWS following its arrival in Rangoon.

‘The creation of a new trade – e.g. Radio Telephone Operator would not necessarily produce the type of man required, viz. bilingual in the language of the enemy on that particular front and of a good class of intelligence.’ Lt Col FW Nicholls 5th March 1940*

*Source: The Y Compendium by Hugh Skillen 1990


The Wireless Group that was but wasn’t – Phantom field Armies

No 5 Special Wireless Group (5SWG) was established by The War Office as part of Op Bodyguard. Op Bodyguard (part of Op Fortitude) was a deception plan designed to mislead German high command as to the location of the imminent D-Day invasion.

With minimum demands on man-power 5SGW would action wireless deception plans. Two such sub-plans –  North and South – involved the creation of phantom field armies, with Fortitude North seemingly threatening Norway and Fortitude South, Pas De Calais. The role of 5 Signal Wireless Group included creating mass fake radio traffic for British land forces as part of Fortitude North, while 3103rd Signal Services represented American forces as part of Fortitude South.

The aim was to divert Axis attention away from Normandy and, following the invasion on June 6, 1944, create the impression that the Normandy landings were a mere diversionary attack in the hope of delaying German reinforcement.