AUSTRALIAN SPECIAL WIRELESS GROUP,
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2
The Australian Special Wireless Group, AIF, was a very secret group. One batch of recruits for ASWG was told:-
"Not only do you not exist, you never will have existed. You will remain for always unknown and unacknowledged. There will be no awards, no glory. There will be no medals for this unit."
The function of the ASWG was to:-
- Intercept enemy wireless transmission
- Monitor Allied wireless transmissions
A small group of signalmen were gathered together to establish No. 1 Special Wireless Section at Seymour in Victoria under the command of Captain Jack Ryan on 19 June 1940. They subsequently changed their name to No 4 Australian Special Wireless Section. After some initial training they left Sydney in late December 1940. They served in Egypt and after some more training moved to Greece where they monitored German and Italian messages.
Despite many successful intercepts, the Germans started to take more ground and eventually No. 4 Special Wireless Section was ordered to withdraw from Sphakia. After a 65kms rugged trek they boarded a commando assault ship, the "Glengyle".
The section went on to take part in the Syrian campaign monitoring Vichy French messages. When Australia had declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the section started to learn the Japanese Kana Code. Staff from the British Sigint base at Sarafand assisted with training in Japanese intercept procedures. The section boarded the British transport ship "Mendoza" and on arrival in Colombo they transferred to the "Orcades" which returned them to Australia.
Brigadier Simpson, the Chief Signals Officer was also on board the "Orcades". During the voyage he developed the model for the Australian Army's Sigint organisation.
The new Sigint organisation comprised the majority of No. 4 Australian Special Wireless Section and some reinforcements which became the newly formed No. 5 Australian Special Wireless Section. The intelligence personnel from No. 4 Australian Special Wireless Section became members of MacArthur and Blamey's new top-secret intelligence unit called Central Bureau which comprised Australian Army, RAAF and US Army personnel. The ex No. 4 ASWS members were one of the groups that formed the new Research and Control Centre to be known as Central Bureau.
The Australian Army intercept portion of No. 4 Australian Special Wireless Section moved to Bonegilla in Victoria and on 18 May 1942 it was renamed as the Australian Special Wireless Group with a War Establishment of 1,000 personnel. Most of the new personnel were recruited from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.
They were trained in Morse Code and Japanese operating methods by the experienced who had just returned from the Middle East. They were assisted by some expert British operators who had escaped out of Singapore. One of the well known instructors was Regimental Sergeant Major Bill Stevenson. He was affectionately known as "The Scot".
After 4 months of training one operational section was sent to Darwin and the other unit was sent to Port Moresby.
Some of the roles of the newly formed ASWG were to:-
- intercept enemy transmissions
- check for possible clandestine stations
- monitor Allied operators to ensure there were no security breaches which could allow an enemy interceptor to identify a unit or its location
- diplomatic work
- press work
From August 1942, members of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) were also recruited into ASWG.
Some operators were involved in what was known as high speed work. Morse signals were transmitted at high speed and were recorded on Edison wax cylinders and replayed later at a slower speed.
The operating site at Kalinga in Brisbane was in a tent, surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Some other sites operated in huts and sometimes in trucks. The operators were usually not aware of the contents of the messages they were receiving or sending.
ASWG used Kingsley (AR 7) sets and some HROs and AWA receivers were also used on occasions. The Kingsley sets were very robust, with a good span, but they were every heavy and thus difficult to relocate. The HROs and AWA sets were too fragile to use in the jungles of New Guinea.
ASWG Sections were based in:-
ASWG comprised 11 Field Sections. One of these was 51 Wireless Section, Australian Special Wireless Group which was based at Coomalie Creek, 80kms south of Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Sigint operations were enhanced when the Australian 9th Division discovered some Japanese code books in the bottom of a flooded slit trench at Sio.
After messages were intercepted by the ASWG operator they went to the decoder/decryptor, then to the translator and then to Central Bureau where the messages were assessed and the information passed out to field commanders as soon as possible.
ASWG scaled down its operations after WW2 and moved to Cabarlah just north of Toowoomba. The unit changed its name to the 101 Wireless Regiment on 3 February 1947. On 22 December 1964 the unit changed its name to the 7th Signal Regiment. On 2 October 1989 the unit joined forces with the 72 Electronic Warfare Squadron to become the 7th Signal Regiment (Electronic Warfare).
Douglas M. Bable of Picnic Point, NSW was a signaller in the largely unknown Australian Special Wireless Group of the Australian Army which was established in May 1945. Prior to this the Australian Army operated various "B" Special Wireless Sections for interception duties in the South West Pacific Area.
Douglas Bable did his initial training at Bonegilla Signals Training Camp in Victoria in 1942. They were taught to interpret Japanese coded radio traffic on receiving sets.
The main ASWG Headquarters was at Kalinga, in Brisbane. There was another large Army Staging Camp located at Kalinga during World War 2.
Various sections were sent to New Guinea throughout the war. Many of the officers in the Group were ex Post Office Telegraph Operators. The large number of enemy messages led to the use of Dictaphone recordings which could be later played back at a slow speed. This work was often done by ex civilian stenographers who had joined the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS).
Marian Kaufman was a serving member of ASWG. at Kalinga in Brisbane.
Were you a member of the
Australian Special Signals Wireless Group?
If you were, I'd like to hear from you
I'd like to thank Steve Mason for his assistance with this home page. Steve joined ASWG at Park Orchards before it moved to Bonegilla. He served in several of the Sections in ASWG from 1942 until 1946.
I would like to thank Pic Berthier for assistance with this web page.
Vetaffairs Newsletter March 2001
"Winning with Intelligence - A Biography of
Brigadier John David Rogers, CBE, MC 1895-1978"
by Judy Thomson
"The Eavesdroppers - The best kept secret of
by Jack Bleakley
"The Intrigue Master - Commander Long and
Naval Intelligence in Australia, 1913-1945"
by Barbara Winter
Can anyone help me with more information?
"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 7 May 2001
This page last updated 02 March 2021