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B2 SPY SET. OWNED BY MAJOR JOHN BROWN.

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B2 SPY SET. OWNED BY MAJOR JOHN BROWN.

The B2 or Type 3 Mk2 spy set was developed by Major John Brown (then Captain) in 1942 and replaced an earlier version, the A Mk 3.

With at least 60ft. of Aerial and a good earth a range of 1000 miles was achievable. One of the features was the power supply, which could operate from 120 or 240 volt mains or a 6 volt car battery. It could be dropped by air in watertight cases (often concealed in rivers or lakes) or worn as a backpack.

This is John Brown's most famous radio set; our example was owned by John Brown himself.

Your comments:

  • Fascinating information. My comments are not from experience with the particular sets ...Why put a serial mumber on a spyset? The most it could tell you was who to whom it was issued or to distract you from the obvious purpose. . I think many of these were given to diplomats but even so.... One might argue that huge serial numbers might kid the Germans these radios were 'everywhere' but the Germans were not dumb, that's why the USA implemented "operation paper-clip' for its 'new order'. If these sets were going to flood Europe after an invasion there might be some point in serial numbers but unlike the bulk of communications and other receivers and transmitters requiring Echelon workshop records, spy sets didn't.

    Secondly on 'poor radio receiver'. Poor could actually be good.....

    The only reason commercial radio was poor in WW11 in Germany and in England was to prevent receiving signals from other than local so you could be kept in the dark about reality (precisely the problem we the people have today).

    In communications receivers especially in receiving essential coded messages on HF, you needed a very good receiver but only good enough to do the job, short transmission paths and narrow frequency bands available to be tuned-across.

    I think this would maybe be the scenario. Transmissions were short duration...or should be...Though never mentioned in anything I have read, a good code would reduce transmission time drastically over using language and also not make it obvious which language was used.

    Signal-detection cars with direction finding gear were common in trying to locate transmitters. You Tx might run up to a 20 second burst then stop to make detection more difficult.

    Your receiver however might be on for some minutes awaiting and receiving signals. A good quality set has IF's from mixers which transmit a low level signal and that could be on for 10 minutes or half an hour making detection more possible though a weaker signal by far than the transmitter.

    That is how vans used to detect 'illegally' used TV receivers when licences were essential (still are in France...you pay higher rates to use a TV!!)

    Regenerative receivers can also transmit a signal though over reaction but are quite sensitive receivers .

    So..some used a-periodic receivers which owing to their broad band were not as sensitive as they would be with narrow RF stages and sharply tuned IF's.

    I think you'll find regenerative receivers were not uncommon and if held below oscillation worked very well. If you had a receiver it had to work other wise it could be a disaster.

    Location was important and also transmission times to use best the ionosphere and in closing don't forget many coded messages came through on BBC broadcasts so a transmitter was not required to get them..it was only in operations/executives that transmitters were required. A moderately sensitive receiver by the way where transmissions from the home country were possibly hundreds of watts could set aside some sensitivity as its operating frequencies would be deliberately made narrow.

    Even transmitting at 5-20Watts from a spyset the very sensitive receivers (HRO's AR88's) used for surveillance along the coastlines and elsewhere manned by specialist men and women and with fantastic antennas would cope very well with low powered CW.With Ham radio off the air in wartime frequencies were much clearer and QRN/M was down.Hopefully this explains differences between "poor" receivers and ones that did the job with the least chance of detection because they were not interested in world wide reception.That was actually a very good receiver.
    .......... Tony Clancy, Sydney Australia, 18th of November 2013

  • I've got one of these radio sets next to me, after having cleaned up an old cottage, yesterday, that my old mother just has sold! My father, who died 10 years ago, was a dedicated Swedish radio amateur (SM5BND) and after the war he received this English suitcase radio from a Norwegian friend, who had been taken, with some other young Norwegians in Bergen, by Gestapo, while training morse signals and radio maintainance, and been brought to concentration camp in Germany, which he survived, however! My father used this radio many times in summertime, for fun - fastening antenna threads way up in the trees. The radio's model 3/II serialnumber is 46020.
    .......... Karl Lundberg, Stockholm, 14th of June 2011

  • Technically, the B2 (and other spysets) are rather odd - "specialised" is probably a better description. They feature a powerful transmitter (which works very well) with a receiver which is rather poor. And this is quite intentional - not a design flaw.

    This is explained by the way these sets were used. From occupied France, Yugoslavia, etc, the SOE operator would typically work back to the UK, to a very special radio station. The UK station would feature a very powerful transmitter (probably several thousand watts output) - so the spyset receiver didn't need to be particularly good to pick up the signal successfully.

    The spyset transmitter was powerful (the B2 output was 20 watts) which was a lot for those days in such a small package. Even so, with the ranges to be covered and with the need for high reliability (given that the operator's life was at severe risk, every extra moment that he/she had to stay on the air) the UK receiver would typically use an aerial the size of a small farm! Also the aerial would be designed to pick up signals exclusively from Europe - the last thing you wanted was Radio Peking (or similar) popping up and swamping your agent's signal!


    .......... Richard Hankins, Ross-on-Wye, 8th of June 2011

  • I saw one of these sets, whilst I was living in SW France. Here is an article I wrote about it. Sadly, shortly after I saw it the museum was burgled, and all the sets were stolen.

    A Clandestine Mission

    “But you are young!”

    For someone very conscious of the fact that he had recently qualified for a Senior Citizens’ Railcard, this was a nice way to be greeted.

    “I am eighty seven,” my host confided. Among his many active appointments, M. André Rudelle is the President of the regional water authority and a local body councillor. He is also the President of ‘Les Compagnons de Villelongue’ – the small group who maintain the modest Musée de la Résistance at Villelongue. This is why I had come to see him.

    “Come in. I know all about you.” He ushered me to a small crowded office, the walls of which were lined with books, photos and paintings. “Mme. Carles tells me that you were at the museum yesterday and that you are interested in the radio." He was well informed. Mme. Carles had arranged a visit to the museum for me and a small group of friends, and had she given me M. Rudelle’s phone number when I had expressed an interest in taking a closer look at the ‘suitcase radio’ on display there.

    A man of extraordinary presence, M. Rudelle was dressed in the style of another era. He wore an Edwardian-looking jacket (the sort with bias binding around the edges), a matching buttoned waistcoat and a white shirt with a stiff starched collar, a gold stud just visible above a large-knotted silk tie.

    During our long conversation, I told him that I had once been an officer in the Royal New Zealand Signal Corps and that I had since retained a keen interest in military radio equipment. I went on to explain that I now belonged to a small group in UK dedicated to the research of old military radios, that I had seen the ‘suitcase radio’ in the museum, and that I would like to examine it thoroughly, to photograph it and to record details of it.

    “Well,” he said, “I would give you a key to the museum, but I haven’t a spare one at present. But I will phone Mme. Carles, and you can borrow her key. She will explain to you how to get the radio out of its security case.”

    I was dumbfounded that they were placing so much trust in me. But maybe they had done more homework on me than I knew of. After all, I had owned a house in the region for twenty-five years, and it had been the job of maquisades like M. Rudelle to know who was who on their patch. As I left, he said, “Do drop in again whenever you are passing. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any difficulty with the ‘local administration.’ I’ll sort them out for you.”

    The road into Villelongue is steep and winding as it follows the ridges and deep valleys for which the Rouergue is known. It narrows to little more than a car’s width and you cross an old iron bridge, turn along an even narrower road to reach a point where you can drive no further. You still have a further 500 metres of steep track ahead of you.

    Villelongue appears to have been there for many centuries. It is now little more than un hameau (a hamlet) with only about 5 or 6 houses still habitable – some as holiday houses. A low, newly-constructed concrete bridge crosses the quietly trickling Lézert as you approach it. A little way along the path is a simple memorial in local schist with an inscription that tells you that here, in April 1944, Lucien Bousquet, Antoine Pech and the résistants of the Aveyron and the Tarn set up the first unit of Marquis Vény which participated actively in the liberation of France.

    Perched on a knoll above the village, the museum is quite hard to find, giving not only a sense of how a résistance hideout might have been located in 1944, but also some of the atmosphere that must have existed at that time. Almost instinctively, I looked behind to see that no one was following me. Glancing down at the steep path I was following, I noticed that it was an ancient roadway hewn many years ago out of the solid rock of the slope that plunges to the stream below. Who knows how many people had passed this way even before the maquis?

    A small disused stone Norman church houses the museum. Possibly 500 years old, it has been well maintained over the years. To guard against possible theft, heavy steel grills have been fitted to the door and to the windows. The inside floor area is only about 8 metres long and 5 metres wide, and the display comprises mainly maps, photos, documents, enlarged newspaper cuttings and wartime posters. A yellow supply parachute hangs from the ceiling in one corner, beneath which are two supply containers and an ammunition box. What I was seeking was in a heavy glass display cabinet near the altar.

    In this atmosphere, as I opened the case, I felt rather like a spy on a clandestine mission. I was conscious of the fact that I might be interrupted at any time by the arrival of other visitors. Although I was authorised, it would be difficult to convince any stranger that I was not in the process of stealing the equipment. So I worked quickly and systematically - just as a secret agent might do.

    First out of the display case came a Type 3 Mark II transmitter/receiver – the ‘suitcase radio’. I was immediately struck by its weight – 14 kilograms. Its suitcase, measuring 45 centimetres by 29 centimetres by 12 centimetres was in pristine condition. It seemed odd that putting a radio into such a new suitcase had been considered as disguising it. New suitcases would have been almost unknown in wartime rural France. It brought to mind a story, told by an ex-SOE agent, and recently been passed on to me. SOE, having been made aware of how conspicuous a brand new suitcase would be, had adopted the practice of consigning the suitcases (filled with ballast) on a return trip from London to Edinburgh. It was considered that after such a trip, they would appear well enough used to pass off as ‘normal’ in France. They must have mislaid the ticket for this suitcase.

    I noted the set’s serial number as 15399. With it was a set of four changeable coils, four crystals, a Morse key and a pair of headphones (the latter still in cardboard packaging). Among the spare fuses, power leads and other bits and pieces was a small (10-centimetre) screwdriver with a neatly turned wooden handle. On its blade was stamped “W.H. Clan Ltd, Sheffield, 1943” This, too, would have been dangerous for anyone found in possession of it.

    Also in the display case were two receivers. One was the famous ‘biscuit tin radio’, of which many hundreds were dropped into France to allow resistance workers to listen in to coded messages broadcast by the BBC. It had a set of four changeable coils, a headset and three dry battery packs. These latter bore the date of manufacture as 28th April 1944, indicating that they would have been air-dropped in as part of the plan to co-ordinate resistance activity with the Normandy landings on 6th June 1944.

    The other receiver was a Type CEX 10172, bearing the makers name as “Emerson Radio and Electronics” and a serial number 15891. Designed in two watertight boxes, each 7 centimetres by 5 centimetres by 20 centimetres, it had a neat khaki webbing carrying case. Its headset was fitted into a light canvas cap similar to a pilot’s helmet. This set would have been used by the maquis to listen for the signal from an approaching supply dropping plane. On hearing the signal, they would light flares to guide the plane to the dropping zone.

    Having taken details of this equipment and photographed each piece, I quickly returned it all to the display case. I had just secured it, when the sound of voices signalled the approach of visitors. From the questions they asked me, I took it that they had assumed that I was the duty guide. Using an adopted maquis bluffing approach, I gave a creditable performance in showing them around the museum. I was rewarded by one of them, a lady d’un certain âge, who described how, as a young girl, she had seen a parachute drop in a field only about 500 metres away. “We all cried: ‘Les Anglais! Les Anglais!’” she said, “We thought that they were coming to liberate us, but it was only matériel that was dropped.” She recalled it as being early May 1944, which, for me, brought the story of this cache of radio equipment neatly together.

    “Did you achieve all that you wanted to?” asked Mme. Carles as I returned the key.

    “Even more, Madame. I was able to show some visitors around the museum.”

    “Thank you. Welcome to our fraternité.”

    I accepted the honour most reluctantly. I know that I must do more for the museum in future to deserve it.

    © Bernard Redshaw 2001

    .......... Bernard Redshaw, Tasman, Nelson 7173, New Zealand, 20th of February 2009

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