Guns of Muschu
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Equipment used on the Muschu Mission

Essential to the mission were collapsible two-man kayaks known as “foldboats” used for insertion and extraction. Four meters long, with a clip-together plywood frame covered by a pull-on rubberised canvas skin, these were designed to be quickly broken down into a compact bundle for transport or concealment.

Two Z Special members training in Australia with a foldboat in preparation for operation Jaywick in 1943.
Courtesy AWM

These were similar to the types of kayaks that had been used on the successful 1943 Jaywick operation into Singapore harbour. They could carry a load of almost 50 kilograms plus the two occupants.


Communications are vital to all Special Forces operations. Today a huge choice of compact and powerful communications systems are available, ranging from cellular and satellite phones with inbuilt encryption, satellite connected computers complete with video, to personal location beacons built into wristwatches.

During WW2 however, portable radio equipment was still tied to vacuum tube technology requiring heavy batteries or generator power. For a fixed base station this was not a huge problem, however it made portable or man-pack equipment exceptionally bulky and rather fragile. It was this wartime experience that eventually lead to the development of the first solid state device - the transistor - in 1948, however for another twenty years most military radio equipment suffered from the drawbacks associated with vacuum tubes, namely size, weight and a hefty thirst for power.

Handy Talkie shown beside an ATR4

The Services Reconnaissance Department used a variety of radios to support their operations. These included long range transceivers operating in the High Frequency (HF) band and smaller radios intended for short range work.

ATR4 High Frequency Transceiver

For the Muschu Island mission the primary long range transceiver was the ATR4, a vacuum tube AM set originally designed for use by Australian bush fire fighting services. Obsolete by the outbreak of war, many of these radios were pressed into service and used by Australian coast watchers in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. It was a reliable when used as a fixed base station and gave sterling service with coast watchers and other observer organizations.

Operating on a frequency of 4 - 7Mhz this battery powered transceiver was capable of voice or morse. To set up the station a wire antenna was usually strung into the tree tops (a half wave dipole) and oriented with the location of the home station. With a range of up to one thousand miles depending on the antennae and atmospheric conditions it was mainly used as a base station where it could be protected from the elements.

Like many of radios of the era, it was susceptible to moisture, was relatively fragile and was bulky by modern standards. By 1944, the Americans were producing new designs using miniaturized vacuum tubes, however bureaucratic indifference meant that most of these were unable to be obtained by the SRD and they had to make do with obsolete equipment.

SCR536/36 Walkie-Talkie

Also known as Handy Talkies these were an American invention and the first attempt at providing soldiers with small, truly portable radio communicators. In 1941, the Galvin Manufacturing Company, now known as Motorola, using mostly standard components combined a five vacuum tube receiver and transmitter into a single hand-held unit weighing only 3kg. This was something of a revolution for its time, as until then the smallest transceivers weighed in at around 15kg. The small size was acheived by clever packaging and using a complex internal switching arrangement that converted the circuitry from a receiver to a transmitter at the push of a button.

They operated on the AM band at a fixed frequency between 4 and 6Mhz. (selected by changing the oscillator crystal before use). Essentially for line-of-sight work, with a range of 2-3 kilometres depending on terrain, over water this could be greater and under certain atmospheric conditions the signal could be reflected from the ionosphere for hundreds of miles. They were, however essentially a very short range radio.

Early models were notoriously temperamental, somewhat fragile and weren't waterproof. They did however prove their worth and found a wide variety of applications. Later versions used new miniature vacuum tubes developed in the USA and operated in the FM band, giving greater range and far more reliable communications.

Operation was relatively simple. The operator merely extended the collapsible antennae, which turned the radio on, held the handset like a telephone and pressed the side transmit button to talk. Battery life was about 8 hours on receive only. Transmitting used up more battery power, shortening battery life.

Hand Torch
Standard military torch of the era, these were issued to all members of the Muschu patrol. For light signaling and general use, the standard torch was not waterproof - a serious shortcoming for military operations.

Essential to any military operation is a reliable compass. The standard British military compass of WW2 was the MkIII. Intoduced into service in 1930 it was rugged, relatively easy to use and very accurate when correctly calibrated.

MkIII prismatic compass in natural brass finish. Most compasses were painted matt black.

When the lid is opened, the prism viewer can be folded over the compass to function as a rear sight.  Simultaneous viewing of the compass card and the sighted object is achieved by a magnifier located in the prism.  To focus on the compass card, the height of the prismatic viewer can be adjusted.  The lid has a scribed line in a glass window that serves as the front sight, and an exterior guard protects the glass.  A brass bezel is marked off in 10-degree increments and can be rotated, this also has detents so the heading reference can be changed by feel without looking at the compass.

Alcohol damping ensured the compass card remained steady or moved smoothly even when the user was walking or moving erratically. With inbuilt night time illumination (radium phosphor), many were adapted to mills graduations during the late 60s - especially for artillery use. This model compass continued to be used by British and Australian forces until the early 1970s.

Copyright 2006