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Directorate of Telecommunications
PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS
Divers and Diverse Talk (1975-77)



Diving

"............... and sadly, nearly all D.of Tels. R&D Projects stemmed from a disaster or tragedy of one sort or another, as in the case of Police Underwater Communications Equipment. It seems a Police Diver was searching a canal lock where the water seemed calm on the surface but underneath, the gates were not properly closed and he was forced, by the water pressure, against the gap and could not be saved. So, in early 1975, ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) Sub-Committee on Police Diving invited D.of Tels. to consider if Police Underwater Communications could be improved. The Project passed down the Promotion Chain until it ended up on my desk.

Police Diving Teams are not an Emergency Response service. Their usual work is Search and Recovery of bodies or property. There were 28 Police Diving teams in the UK. Only two teams were full time, the others carried out their normal police duties until called upon to dive. Basic Diver training took place at one of the Police full time Diving Teams. Further regular training exercises took place and I attended these to see how communications equipment was used. Usually people think of diving as a holiday sport. Not so in Police Diving. The waters in which they carry out their duties offers real physical dangers in the form of obstacles, snags and entanglements. They are often in water that is freezing, polluted, contaminated or violent. There is often zero visibility and much searching is done by feel of hand. Because of the hostile environment, the diver will always be less efficient in water than on land and good communications can be vital in difficult situations. The safety of the Diver is of prim importance.

The basic communications used by Police Divers are pulls on the safety line, which is mandatory. Some teams had hard wire cables, not supplied by D.of Tels. through the centre of the safety line and used for a type of telephone comms. The main drawback with hardwire systems is the cable, which was difficult to handle both above and below water, and was prone to frequent breakdown. Many divers had lost confidence in hardwire communications. But there are three basic ways to communicate under water, Hardwire, Acoustic Loudspeakers, and Wireless Through Water, at ultrasonic frequencies that travel twice as fast in water as they do in air. I searched the market home and abroad for all underwater communications equipment that was then available. I made contacts with MoD and their opposite numbers elsewhere, to see what underwater comms. were used in the Armed Services.

During Sept. 1975, the various equipment’s then available were Erus (France), Helle (USA), McMurdo (UK), Bendix (USA), Partech (UK), Subcom (Canada), Hydro (USA), Marconi (UK) Grasby (UK). I invited the suppliers of Erus, Helle, Grasby and Subcom , to have their equipment’s demonstrated by the Police Diving Teams from Thames Valley, Surrey, and Metropolitan Police, in the King George VI Reservoir at Staines. These pilot trials enabled Directorate Staff and diving teams to gain experience with varying degrees of success. It was difficult to get agreement on the best type of mask. Some divers were unhappy with the masks supplied with the equipment.

My next step was to purchase samples of each of the systems and when they arrived I made arrangements, through the ACPO Sub-Committee, for as many teams as possible to try the systems and complete questionnaires as to their results. Part of the questionnaire was to ask what they really wanted to do, as far as Underwater Comms. was concerned. This formed the basis of a User Requirement for Police Diving Teams.  The results from the trials and questionnaires showed that there was a wide spread requirement for underwater comms. equipment, but that there was not one system anywhere that could meet all the User Requirements. I went to a number of trials and became frustrated by comments, ie, too quiet, too garbled, difficult to “press to talk”etc. There was nothing for it but, very reluctantly, to try it for myself! I applied for a Police Diving course but was told I needed official approval. The Civil Service decided if I was to be considered as “on duty”, then I needed a “medical”. The Civil Service Doctor in Petty France, after giving me the once over, said he couldn’t find my pulse and that I should go to a specialist RN. Doctor, in Portsmouth. The RN Doctor, after exhaustive tests, approved my diving to a max.depth of 60ft, providing the “standby diver” was down there with me at all times and not on the bank. He also introduced me to Hungarian “Bulls Blood” Red Wine, and very nice too.

The ACPO Sub-Committee arranged for me to take a diving course at the full time Diving Teams at Strathclyde Police HQ at Glasgow, under Sgt. (later Insp.) Bob McTaggart . I only needed a short course, just enough to let me try the comms. equipment under water. I completed the initial training in the Police HQ swimming pool and then on to the pier at Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond for the real thing. Kitted up, I went into the Lock with the Standby diver. After a few minutes he indicated, by hand signals, that he had a problem with his air supply and was surfacing. Although the water was reasonably clear I think I must have started to panic as I too tried to surface because the next thing I remember was laying on a slab at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and a Nurse saying “so that’s what you wear under those kinky rubber suits” It seems I had used up all my energy and passed out, but in no real danger.

I was now able to try the Hardwire and “Wireless” comms. for my self. I became aware of the different diving masks, the Admiralty Full Face Mask, used by most Police Divers, which has a mouthpiece within the mask to suck hard to open the air demand valve on the air bottle regulator, which makes quite a noise. Whereas the AGA mask is a positive pressure mask that virtually forces air down your throat, and I much preferred this mask. What with the valve noise, nose clips that some divers wear, “dry suit” hoods which completely covers the ears and the tight face straps that hold the mask on and restrict speech, all make communications very difficult. No wonder many preferred to rely on “pulls” on the safety line. I at last realised just how difficult diving communications are.

I now presented 4 options to the ACPO Sub-Committee.
  1. To accept existing comms. Equipment, which partly meets the User Requirement.
     
  2. To select existing equipment and have it modified to more closely meet the User Requirement.
     
  3. To undertake, by contract, development of a new equipment which significantly matches the User Requirement.
     
  4. As a variant of (3) join with say MoD (Navy) to develop new equipment to meet both our Requirements.


Graph

Graph

John Maloney

John Maloney

Trials

Trials

Trials

Trials

Strathclyde Police Divers

Strathclyde Police Divers

Shoreham Trials

Shoreham Trials

Shoreham Trials

Shoreham Trials

Final Trials

Final Trials

Communications 78

Communications 78

Click on appropriate thumbnail to view the enlarged image




The Committee chose option (2) the Subcom Wireless Communications System, and that the AGA and the Admiralty Diving Masks form part of the system. They also asked that I liaise with MoD (Navy) about the work because a modification was required to the Admiralty Full Face Mask that many divers preferred. The “bite piece” to draw air, needed to be removed so that a microphone could be fitted in a cavity. The modifications to the Subcom were more difficult but many Divers much preferred this system.

In one of the early trials of Subcom, in Swansea Docks, the Diver’s headset, which is basically a set of headphones with a Press to Talk Microphone and Loudspeakers, with a Ultrasonic Transducer on top, was dislodged and fell into a sunken rubbish skip. It took two weeks for the team to find it, by feel. It highlighted the need for a more secure “head fitting” of the equip. I had often wondered why police divers had not worn some kind of head protection in some of the awful conditions in which they work, with the possibility of catching their heads, perhaps on the sharp corner of a door of a submerged car, etc. The idea of mounting the Subcom in a helmet, to make it more secure and give some protection, occurred to me, and I contacted Windak Ltd to make such a helmet. 

It was necessary to go to Vancouver in Canada to check on manufacture and agree modifications, one of which was to stop the water getting into the electronics. Their solution, which I found difficult to accept, was to encapsulate the electric’s in epoxy resin. I said that if this were done it would be waterproof but almost impossible to repair. But it was their only solution having tried many other methods. There was also a need to change the ultrasonic frequency for closer range and higher noise suppression. After modifications, a purchase was made of several systems and we moved into final trials for Sub-Committee approval.

One of the last trials of the final Subcom System was by the Thames Valley Police team and was on the Thames just up stream from Windsor Castle. On the way to the diving site, as we passed Windsor Castle, I was told about the Student Pranksters who had, during the night, painted ladies footprints from the base of Queen Victoria’s Statue at the entrance to the Castle, to the Ladies Loo across the road, and then back again. This had caused a lot of laughter and trouble in removing them before a Royal Procession that was due. But the diving site had been chosen because a member of the public had previously said that he thought he had seen a body floating in the water.

The equipment was set out and then started the good-natured backchat from Ch Insp Eric Franklin and Ch Supt Vic Royal and the Diving Team. They said that “if I had just completed a diving course, why didn’t I go in the water first and demonstrate how the comms. equipment should be used”? I had met this team before and we had got on well. They kept on at me until pride made it almost impossible to resist and in the end I agreed and they kitted me up with a suit of a diver that was away that day. I sat on the floating pontoon with the standby diver and we slipped into the water. I went straight to the bottom like a stone while he floated gently down. What must have been part of their joke was that they gave me the same lead body weights, which provide neutral buoyancy underwater, of the absent diver. He was 6ft 2ins and weighed 15 stone and I’m only a little chap, except round the middle and at both ends. It was no wonder that I sank. They pulled me out straight away and had their laugh, and then we got on with the comms. trials. The trials went very well until one of the divers reported, via the comms. equip. that he had found a fully dressed body of a man in the overgrown weeds. Then everything changed. They now moved into their professional police roll and the comms. trials were abandoned.

The ACPO Sub-Committee had asked me to liase with MoD (Navy) and I now contacted AEDU (Admiralty Experimental Diving Unit) in HMS Vernon at Portsmouth. Their initial reaction was “What was this Home Office ‘Oike’ doing in what they considered their special domain”? They considered that they were the Experts and had responsibility for diving standards and equipment, particularly in the modifications to the Admiralty Pattern Face Mask. When I explained, they asked if they could try the equipment and then said they were very impressed. A later informal report indicated that the RN would follow the Police lead in the use of comms. equip. There was a US Navy Diving Team attached to AEDU at that time, which also asked to try the Subcom. equipment. They too were very enthusiastic and asked for full information to send to their HQ in Washington. I took out a Patent, for the Modifications to the Admiralty Pattern Face Mask, in the name of the Home Office and vested in the Secretary of State for Defence, to stop anyone else doing the same thing and holding the Police Diving Teams to ransom.

All the trials were nearly complete and it was time finish the project when, out of the blue, came a “Request” from “HRH the Prince of Wales” to the Home Office to ask if the Police Divers Communications Equipment, which he understood was under development, could be made available to the Mary Rose Trust, of which he was President. The Mary Rose was a Flagship of King Henry VIII’s fleet, which sank in the Solent, opposite Southsea in 1545. A group of enthusiasts were trying to raise her. I was not very keen on getting involved in this because I had served in the Electrical Branch of the RN from 1950 to 1959 and spent most of my time in ships at sea, and I get Sea Sick. But I was not allowed to resist the “Request” and so I took one complete Subcom system, a Surface Attendants Unit and two Divers Units, to Portsmouth and got on a ferry to the “Sleipner”, the recovery ship anchored above the Mary Rose. I showed the divers how to use the equipment and recharge the batteries. They then tried out the system and said it would be a great help in the recovery of the Mary Rose. I then got back to dry land ASAP.

Little now remained but for me to put together all the information, reclaim all the Equipment, and write up the Report. Discussions with Robin Hughes, Head of Field Services, about provision and maintenance of the equipment concluded that, because of the relatively few systems required, about 40 in all, the cost of setting up a special D.of Tels. Maintenance facility would not be viable.  It was decided that Police Diving Teams should purchase or Hire the equipment, with a grant from the Home Office, direct from the manufactures, including maintenance agreements. 

The support and encouragement and friendliness I received from all of those involved in trying to meet the User Requirement for Police Underwater Communications was outstanding. The Chairman of the ACPO Sub-Committee on Police Diving, Bill Ashton, DCC of Cleveland Police and his Committee members, particularly Ch Insp. (later Ch Supt) Eric Franklin of Thames Valley, and every member of the Diving Teams involved in the Trials, were very much appreciated.

I produced the final Report in June 1977.

John W. Maloney
12th February 2008

Acknowledgement: John Maloney

page updated: 19/11/13

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