British Army Cable Drums

Today we are looking at a pair of different British Army cable drums that date from the 1970s:

The example on the left is a Cable Reel, No1, Mk 1 which was the standard reel for cable used on field telephones and for demolitions. A range of cables could be carried; D3 was a red single core cable, D2 was yellow and D8 black whilst D10 was a plastic covered cable. The reel on the right is most likely a supply reel- this was the drum the cable was received from the supplier on and only used in stores normally before it was rewound onto the No1 Mk 1 Cable Reel.

The No1 Mk1 Cable Reel is very well made and would be used with a frame for rapid laying of cable. The two side pieces are made of pressed metal, whilst the centre is of wood:

The central spindle is hollow with room for a square winding rod to be fitted:

This cable reel is dated 1970 and has an NSN number on it:

By contrast the storage reel is much simpler in construction, being mostly made of plywood that has been painted NATO green. the central spindle is hollow and three metal tubes are pressed through to help reinforce the reel:

A store’s code is stencilled on one side in white paint:

I haven’t been able to positively identify what this store’s code relates to, so if anyone has access to the records and can fill me in, please get in touch. These cable reels are the sort of finds I really enjoy- they were cheap, they are interesting and I now have a huge pile of field telephone kit to collect to go with them…finally it was very nice to rescue them from a seller who suggested I might wish to convert them into table lamps!


  1. I suspect your unknown reel might be for electrical cable. Known I think as flat twin and connected from mains outlets or generators to power prick through light fittings with bulbs to illuminate field hospitals and tented HQs. I have a length of cable and some light fittings.

  2. If memory serves these cables on plywood drums were part of ‘Lighting Sets’ and known as 90 foot branch leads. We used them in the 1980s at Divisional HQ on deployment in BAOR. Electrical safety was dependent on the earthing of the generator!

  3. I think you’ll find the there’s a brass terminal hidden in the wooden core of Reel, Cable, No.1 – covered by the non-screwed down metal strip. This connects to an ring on the outside of that end of the reel, and (if the cable is connected to the terminal) allows a connection through the cable layer for communication (and testing) while actually laying the line (using earth return). It fits various cable-laying kit, the wooden frame ACL No.2, the backpack ACL No.6, and so on. Later drums has a larger axle hole, I think to standardise with the bigger kit such as the drum barrow and various powered cable layers that could also lay multicore cable in longer lengths.

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