Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents were required to keep in touch with London by sending and receiving Morse Code messages on a wireless set. To avoid their detection the wireless sets had to be portable and light enough to be carried by hand or on a bicycle without attracting attention. SOE conceived the idea of placing the wireless transmitter and receiver in an ordinary looking continental suitcase.
The suitcases were produced and ‘aged’ by SOE’s camouflage section and the wireless sets were designed and made at Station IX, ‘Fryth House’ in Hertfordshire – the SOE’s research and development centre. By August 1942 a suitable wireless set had been built that could operate from mains and dry batteries with a range of 400 miles. However, it was large and heavy (weighing 42 lbs) because it used obsolete bulky components.
The Museum’s Type A Mark III SOE wireless suitcase is a later version and only weighs 9 lb (4 kg). Considered by many SOE operatives to be the best version built in the Second World War, it could be carried in a small suitcase and had a range of 500 miles. It also had a feature where with a throw of a single switch, the power could be changed from mains to battery. This was ideal for thwarting Gestapo searchers as they switched off the power to buildings to listen for the transmissions they were monitoring to stop, thus narrowing the search area.
THE SOE WIRELESS SUITCASE IS DISPLAYED IN ONE OF THE SOE EXHIBITION CABINETS IN THE MUSEUM’S TANGMERE HALL.