The 19 Set -- A History

By Chris Bisaillion, VE3CBK


The Wireless Set No. 19 was in service with the Canadian Army from 1942 to about 1963. The 19 was the Canadian Army's workhorse wireless set during WWII and after. Primarily designed for tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, it was also used as a ground station.


The 19 provided the following communications functions in one compact package:
i) The A-Set for long range communications in the 2 to 8 MHz frequency range
ii) The B-Set for short range communications in the 230-240 MHz VHF frequency range
iii) The Intercommunication Amplifier (Intercom) for communication among crew members of the vehicle.

The manual indicates that the A-Set provided a range of about 10 miles on speech (AM) and about 20 miles on CW (Morse Code), between vehicles in motion, using a simple 8-foot vertical antenna located on the top of the vehicle. Modern propagation software indicates that this is quite practical and has been verified in practice. 

 

The B-Set provided communication on speech only, between vehicles in motion, over distances of up to 1,000 yards over unobstructed level ground. Modern propagation software indicates that this was unlikely and ranges of 300 yards were more likely due to the insensitivity of the receiver. This has been confirmed by interviews with radio operators from the Second World War.  It cannot be vertified in practice now due to the assignment of these frequencies to services other than Amateur Radio.

The Canadian production of the No. 19 Mk II commenced 01 Jan 42. The design was primarily British, with improvements introduced in Canada due to the experience gained at users' trials and in view of admissions by the British manufacturer,  Pye Radio, that certain faults existed. Uniformity between the Canadian and British design was still important for interchangeability of components especially the tubes (valves).

Three Canadian companies manufactured the main No. 19 transceiver:
Northern Electric Co., Canadian Marconi Co. and RCA Victor. Northern Electric had sent four engineers to Pye Radio to transfer the design to North America. The team was divided into two groups of two.
Mr. Sydney Sillitoe (See Obituary) of Belleville, Ontario, who was one of those four engineers (and is the last surviving member of the team) recounted that they were: "...flying in separate B-24 Liberators, as live ballast in the bomb-bays, because of recent disastrous loss of Northern Electric personnel due to enemy submarine activity".

One of the Liberators "almost crashed on take-off because one motor stalled through pilot error". Mr. Sillitoe's Liberator developed trouble with the landing gear and "nosed over on landing at Prestwick, Scotland. Shaken but unscathed they continued on with their task and successfully sent the available drawings and specification information for manufacture and testing back to Canada via Diplomatic Bag for security reasons. The major goal of the team was to modify the technical information to provide the capability of procuring the parts from more than one source.


The design was shared with Canadian Marconi Co. and RCA-Victor which, itself, was a tribute to these companies whose engineers and personnel were in commercial competition a short time earlier. Canadian Marconi and RCA-Victor entered production with the placing of lend-lease contracts, primarily with Russia.

One of the most striking features of the No. 19 is the English/Russian lettering on the front panel. Each manufacturer was challenged with the task of manufacturing about 250 sets per month through 1942. Many other smaller companies supplied raw material and finished parts for the production and many of these companies are still in business today. The total from all three manufacturers peaked at about 1,000 per month in the summer of 1942.


Mr. Sillitoe was assigned the duty of going to Fort Monmouth, N.J. to transfer design and manufacturing information to three American companies: Zenith, RCA and Philco. It is believed that the US Signal Corp did not make extensive use of the No. 19 and relied more on US designs of equipment. No photographic or recorded evidence of US use of the No. 19 is known to the author.


As the Mk II version was being produced in quantity, development of a Mk III version was starting, which incorporated a number of changes and modifications to make operation of the set more flexible. The original requirement for the No. 19 grew out of a desire for a radio that would fit into new designs of tanks, have the size of the Wireless Set No 19 Mk II that was developed early in the war, have the power output capability of the large and bulky Wireless Set No. 9 and be produceable by assembly line techniques of the day.

A high power amplifier followed in the summer of 1942, increasing output to about 100 watts. The combination of No. 19 and High Power Amplifier was likely the predecessor to the large Wireless Set No. 52 also made by Canadian Marconi Company. The 19 was used extensively in the European theatre of war with notable contributions to the communications at the Dieppe Raid and Normandy Landings. For these landings, an innovative 'baby carriage' two-wheeled cart was used to carry the No. 19 and four 170-ampere-hour batteries underneath the cart for communications a the beach head. 

 

At Dieppe the No. 19 Mk II was used in warfare for the first time. Major Gordon M. 'Shorty' Rolfe was in a Scout Car that was being towed off the Landing Craft Tank (LCT) by a tank of the Calgary Tank Regiment.


The original plan called for the tanks to move forward in a straight line without changing directions until the Scout Car was disengaged. The driver of the tank encountered a sea wall, stopped, reversed and started crushing the Scout Car into the shale on the beach.

The Scout Car looked like a derelict but the No. 19 inside was operational and so an impromptu command post was set up that served throughout the operation. Major Rolfe was joined by a Signals Operator Lance Corporal A.G. Wills after his Scout Car was disabled by heavy guns. Brigadier Southam, Commanding Officer of the 6th Brigade, had his 'baby carriage' run over by a tank and therefore lost communications with his battalions and Force HQ.


Major Rolfe told Brigadier Southam that his No. 19s could handle all frequencies required, including communications with the tanks. L/C Wills achieved rapid and accurate frequency changes and was granted a Mention in Dispatches after his release from POW camp. For his actions on that day, Major Rolfe was awarded the only Distinguished Service Order (DSO) to come to the Royal Canadian Corp of Signals during WWII.

The role of the wireless in WW II was essential to the co-ordination of many famous battles and the dedication of the Wireless Operators most assuredly affected the outcome of the war. The No. 19 was called upon again for war purposes in the Korean campaign and was retained for training purposes until retirement in 1963.

Copyright Chris Bisaillion, VE3CBK (Kanata, Ontario, Canada) and R. D. (Bob) Cooke, VE3BDB (Orillia, Ontario, Canada). All Rights Reserved.  Nothing on this page may be copied or distributed without written permission of the author and the owner of The Original Wireless Set No. 19 Group website.  Thanks for honouring this request.


Also see Pye Telecom Virtual Museum