Although wireless radios were becoming ever more common on the battlefield in the Second World War, there was still extensive use of field telephones as these were often more secure and more reliable for relaying quick messages in the melee of battle. Field telephones rely on lengths of wire, laid by signals engineers and often over distances of a mile or more. The standard telephone cable in use at the time was the D3 and a mile of this weighed 44lbs which in the rapid movement of an assault was bulky and heavy to carry and lay for the signallers. From mid-1943 two new types of telephone cable were introduced known as ‘Assault Cable No 1’ which weighed 14lbs a mile and ‘Assault Cable No 2’ which weighed 20lbs a mile. This cable was issued in 1000 yard lengths on small wooden drums:
The cable itself was coated in PVC rather than traditional insulation and was a single mild steel wire with a copper coating for conduction:
The front of the cable drum is stencilled in white and indicates that this drum contains 1000 yards of assault cable PVC:
Although it does not specify it, I am pretty certain the cable is the Assault Cable No 1 as indications are that the No 2 cable would be thicker than the wire on this drum. The drum itself has its markings in black on the opposite side:
From January 1944 this new lighter cable was issued to signal platoons in the form of 16 drums, equating to six miles worth of cable. The new cable was certainly lighter, but much more prone to breakage so the older, heavier D3 cable was preferred by most signallers wherever possible. The cable itself was designed to be disposable and rather than being rolled back up when no longer needed, it would be abandoned in the field.
The Assault Cable No.1 is the solid mild-steel wire with very thin insulation coating on it, and single use. Assault Cable No.2 was a stranded wire (7 steel, 1 copper) with PVC insulation, supplied in a sacking-wrapped ‘donut’ for use with Reel, Cable, No.4 (a lightweight aluminium split drum) and ACL No.10 (a ‘J’ shaped hook with a spindle that could be carried over one arm). The No.2 cable was reusable and intended for recovery. The ‘donuts’ could be air-dropped without a parachute and straightened up before being fitted to the reel – remove the hessian wrap, split the reel and drop it in, then reassemble the reel before removing the string that kept it in a coil and it was ready to lay.