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WORLD WAR II - Life As A SCR-300 Operator

World War II, in many ways, was not a separate conflict from World War I. The Great War, the "war to end all wars" had not been resolved. Both sides of the conflict in Europe had fought to a standstill, and neither had been defeated as much as they had run out of living soldiers to throw into the meat grinder. Germany could not continue, when America entered the war, but Britain and France were not in much better shape. The primary contribution America made was meat: more bodies for the meat grinder, when Germany had come to the point there were not enough men to continue fighting. Germany did not see itself as defeated as much as stopped temporarily.

Because there was no conclusive defeat, the Great War overshadowed the resumed war in many ways. On example is the bizarre fact that Hitler (who had fought, as has been well documented, as a company runner in the Great War), had been gassed and because of this never deployed gas in combat, although he had no such compunctions against its use on defenseless civilians in concentration camps. (I also remember that B. D. told me that many soldiers threw away their general issue gas masks rather than carry the extra weight because no gas had been used.)

Yet the continuation of war had one singular difference: portable wireless communications. While the mechanized cavalry (primarily tanks) and air power were part of the Great War, to an extent, the second war enabled them to be used in new ways. Portable, wireless communications was the missing piece to enable these advancements to work together as a lethal force was accurate communications. Because of this, the second war took on a much different style of battle. The stasis of trenches in Europe was replaced by armored, mobile forces.

John Keegan, in his account of the Battle of the Somme in The Face Of Battle, tells of the main problem of the extensive British communications system: "it stopped at the edge of no-man's land." Keegan explains: "Once the troops left their trenches, ... they passed beyond the carry of their signals system into the unknown. ... [T]he cloud of unknowing which descended on a First World War battlefield at zero hour was accepted as one of its hazards by contemporary generals." Information that could be obtained through runners and signaling methods was almost always unreliable, because even if it was accurate, by the time the information arrived at headquarters, the information was almost certain to be obsolete. The popular stereotype is that the commanders, the "chateau generals", were aloof and detached from the battle. They were, but likely this was mostly because the communications of the day gave them little other choice. The American generals of the second war were seen as popular, hands-on generals (such as, especially, Patton) likely because they had mobile headquarters which stayed in constant communication with every unit on the battlefield. The difference was portable, wireless communications.

Wireless communication did exist in World War I, but in the most rudimentary form. It wasn't portable. (Runners still had to bring messages to the station which, although it wasn't as far and as treacherous as recrossing no-man's land, was still not directly with the fighting units.) The book True World War I Stories (a collection of personal experiences by soldiers) has a chapter called "A Wireless Operator" by B. Neyland, in which the soldier describes operating a wireless. He went to France "early in 1917". For the attack that year at Arras, the British were providing each wave with a "wireless station". The station was to be two men and an officer. Neyland relates: "Four infantrymen were to assist us in carrying our weighty apparatus, the set, accumulators, dry cells, coils of wire, earth mats, ropes, and other details." They carried this in addition to ground sheets, unloaded rifles (no explanation for why the wireless operators could not load their rifles was ever given), fifty rounds in bandoliers, gas masks, iron rations, and their clothing. (Neyland further relates the officer's participation in the equipment portage consisted of advancing unencumbered to the station ahead of them.) From the description of the wireless' use in action, communications still seemed to be a true bottleneck, with each wireless station having to wait for a turn to relay messages back to the "Directing Station". The unit's antenna "mast" seemed to have a high profile and be fragile. Many of these sets still exist, and some research about them can be found on the Internet.

In World War II, the situation was different because each fighting unit had its own wireless radio. Mobility was the key concept: artillery, mechanized cavalry, troops in trucks and halftracks, and communications. Technological progress made this mobility possible. The commanders of the second war did not want to fight the first one again, and used the technology they had to build mobile armies.

B. D. McKay, then, was in his own small way the linchpin of the modern concept of mobile war. He carried a tube-based portable radio called the SCR-300. The radio was called the "walkie-talkie", although it is nothing like the tiny devices we know today. At the same time, the device was portable: the unit and its battery could be carried by one soldier. It allowed the company to have instantaneous, real-time communications with headquarters, which in turn had real-time communications with artillery and air support.

The radio operator was issued an M-1 carbine. (The M-1 Carbine weighed about five and a half pounds. The M-1 weighed about nine pounds. Both of these rifles are so well-known, well-collected, and well-documented that research on them is easy and almost inexhaustible.)

Diagrams of the SCR-300

The SCR-300 is described in Technical Manual TM 11-242, published in February, 1945 by the War Department. This is the only copy of an SCR-300 manual I could find, although it is not the one B. D. likely ever read. The publication says it supercedes TM 11-242 of June 15, 1942 and TM 11-242-1 of July 14, 1944. B. D. could have used either or both of these manuals.

However, this extremely simple radio likely changed little during its entire use. (Of curiosity is the fact that this TM was updated in 46, 50, and 55. The SCR-300, in some form, must have continued to be general issue until the advent of transistor-based radios.)

The SCR-300 has two main components: the BC-1000 transmitter and receiver, plus the battery. Ancillary to these are antennas, cases, straps, etc.

What I find most remarkable about the unit is the battery. The battery weighed either 9 or 15 lbs depending on the model. The entire SCR-300 unit would weigh about 30lbs. The radio operator would have to be exceptionally strong and have exceptional endurance to carry this. (Along with the other full field gear.)

I reproduce from this manual only the most interesting pictures of the unit. The entire manual is about 160 pages, and contains dreary Army prose. (Example: "The equipment is mounted on the operator's back as follows: Thrust an arm through one shoulder strap and lift the set onto the back. Thrust the other arm through the other shoulder strap. ..." And: "DESTRUCTION NOTICE ... To prevent the enemy from using or salvaging this equipment ... Smash - Use sledges, axes, handaxes, pickaxes, hammers, crowbars, ... Burn - Use ... flame throwers ...") The pictures and schematic diagrams of the unit are of interest.

The only version of this manual I could locate was a photocopy supplied graciously by a museum.

Diagrams:

TM: cover

TM: frontispiece

TM: first page of manual

TM: diagram of radio unit

TM: diagram of controls

TM: BC-1000 block diagram (transmitter & receiver)

TM: BC-1000 amplifier schematic

TM: Wiring diagram, capacitors

TM: Wiring diagram, resistors and chokes: The lozenge shapes on this diagram and the previous one are where the tubes plug in. The capacitors, resistors, and chokes are between these mounting points.

TM: Complete schematic diagram: Generally, each round circle is a tube. The upper part of the diagram is the receiver and output to the headphones. The middle part is the tuner and amplifier. The bottom part is the transmitter.

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