Tabby Equipment Box

As early as the 1920s the British had been experimenting with infrared to see what military applications could be made with it. The discovery that infra-red cameras could see in the dark was an unexpected off shoot of the development of the Farnsworth TV camera and it was quickly classified by the military as it had obvious military applications. Scientists began experimenting and a number of different scopes and viewers were created, under the generic code name ‘Tabby’ so named because a tabby cat can see in the dark! These devices were still secret into the Korean War, with troops told to bury them rather than allow them to be captured by the enemy.

Sadly I haven’t been able to add any of the actual infra-red equipment to my collection, but I did find a rather nice equipment case for some part of the Tabby system on Tuesday’s market:imageAs can be seen it is a wooden crate, heavily reinforced with wire and metal fixings:imageThese all suggest the original contents were particularly heavy and the box needed to be equally heavy duty. The handles are made of metal rather than the more usual rope seen on wooden ammunition boxes and crates:imageThe front of the box has extensive stencilling including ‘Tabby Eqpt’ and a British Army radio code of ‘ZA23131’:imageThe radio code is a reminder that infra-red equipment was used more for secure night time signalling than as a night vision device in the early days. The back of the crate has more stencilling, although I have not worked out the significance of ‘Gold 0-2-7’ yet:imageThis side also has two hinges that would have been attached to the lid originally:imageI need to find some suitable timber to construct a new lid to finish off the box. The interior of the box has some intriguing wooden runners, a metal hoop and some metal studs on the bottom- presumably these had some significance in the stowing of the original contents:imageFor those more interested in the history of infra-red signalling these articles are very interesting:Tabby Tales Part 1 Tabby Tales Part 2 Tabby Tales Part 3 Tabby Tales Part 4

3 thoughts on “Tabby Equipment Box

  1. Adrian Fett

    ZA23131 appears to be the code for Infra red driving equipment fitted to a range of fighting vehicles. There is a diagram from the manual here which shows how the equipment was stowed in one of the crates and trays that sat within:

    As at least some of the equipment in each set had to be vehicle type specific ‘GOLD’ may perhaps identify the application.

    1. Adrian Fett

      Of course ‘Gold’ was also a beach head on D-Day but that may be clutching at straws. The D-Day code words were such closely guarded secrets that inadvertent duplication of usage was unavoidable. The famous story about cross-word clues springs to mind.


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