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 Background to the Development of the ZC1

Background Politics
History ZC1
Radar Production
Collier and Beale
Radio Corporation
Radio Ltd



By Chris Underwood ZL2CU

The Background Politics of the ZC1.

In the period between the British Prime Minister Chamberlain signing the pact for “Peace in our time” and the first shots being fired, the British War Office recognised the very limited time available to re-arm the British Military Forces for the inevitable conflict.  It was decided to seek assistance from certain Commonwealth Countries including Australia, Canada and New Zealand (NZ) in the re-armament process.  As part of this process it was determined to invite a small number of leading electronics experts from those countries to the UK to be briefed on the latest secret developments such as Radar.  New Zealand sent the head of the Dominion Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) Dr Ernest Marsden, his task was, in the space of three months, to learn everything he could about Radar, then purchase all necessary components required for the assembly of a system back in NZ.  It was expected that this would stimulate ongoing research and development leading to eventual local production of Radar sets as required. It was hoped that in the event of the fall of the UK this transfer of knowledge would permit the Commonwealth to fight on.  How this impacted on the production of the ZC1 will be seen latter in this article.

A second group of technical experts from the same countries were also brought to the UK; their role was somewhat different. Comprised of military radio personnel and civilian radio engineers their task was to view the latest military radios and hardware that the British wanted to standardise on throughout the Commonwealth. This group was then expected to report back to their respective Governments on the equipment that should be purchased by that country.  A second task of this group was to report on the possible local manufacture of such equipment to boost British production capacity. 

Yet another third much larger group, was comprised of civilian design staff, radio technicians and skilled production staff.  This group was sent to the UK and absorbed into the British electronics research establishment and production facilities to assist in the urgent need to immediately boost production of war materials for the rearming of the run down British forces.  This step while of immediate benefit to the British had the impact of significantly reducing the pool of skilled radio personnel available in NZ.  However, the eventual return of most this group over time brought back many valuable new skills.  Angus Tait founder of Tait Electronics was a member of this group.

All three groups affected the development and production of the ZC1 as follows, although it is the second group from New Zealand that played the greatest part in the events leading to the development of the ZC1.  Included in the material this group brought back to NZ with them were plans and samples of a newly developed British HF transceiver known as the No.19 set  manufactured by PYE.  This set was originally designed for use in armored vehicles but it was considered that it might be satisfactory as a general purpose set for the NZ armed forces.  The NZ Army members of this group, influenced by their Commonwealth counterparts stated intention to standardise on this set, recommended its adoption.  However the civilian members of the group thought it too complex and believed something better and cheaper could be designed and produced locally.   The debate raged on for months with claims ranging from extreme pessimism that such a radio could ever be produced in NZ to extreme optimism that a vastly superior and cheaper set could be by the respective sides.  In the meantime both Australia and Canada adopted the No. 19 set with Canada becoming a major manufacturing country of them.


The argument seems to have reached a stalemate and the frustrated NZ army, who just wanted some radios, attempted to place an order for a number of No. 19 sets itself.  However the Army soon discovered that by this late stage all available production of these sets was now allocated for many months ahead.  This forced the NZ Government and Army to reluctantly agree to industry proposals that a competition for the design of a suitable radio set  that could be produced locally be held.  It was agreed that the design would be based on the general specification of the No. 19 set.  It was perhaps significant that at the time although reluctantly agreeing to the competition neither the Government nor the Army committed themselves to the production of the wining set.

Design and Production of the ZC1.

The outcome of this competition was the ZC1 Military Transceiver designed by a Collier and Beale design team.  Records of meetings show that the Army initially rejected the design; they wanted the No. 19 Radio which by now was in full production in Canada and the UK.  On the basis that the ZC1 was unproven the Army refused to fund its development or pay for any completed sets until totally proven to its full satisfaction.  The Army hoped that this would kill the project and gain it full Government support for the purchase and local manufacture of the No. 19 set.

To break this stalemate the Government agreed to a proposal that the NZ Post Office would supply the required components from its large stock holding of radio components, and that it would also fund the development of the ZC1 including an initial trial production run to be undertaken by Collier and Beale.  As far as I can now ascertain this initial production was for 165 sets and was the only production of ZC1’s to be actually undertaken by Collier and Beale.


The design and performance of the ZC1 MK1 proved to be superior to anything else available to the Army including the few No. 19 sets it had been able to acquire and it was forced to accept the design.  Contracts for the mass production of the ZC1 Mk 1 were then let and the main manufacturers appear to have been Radio Limited based in Auckland and Radio Corporation based in Wellington. 

Collier and Beale, at that time considered by many to be the leading radio manufacturer with the best development and design team in NZ, were not given any of these contracts.  Instead they were required to develop the RADAR designs and components brought back by Dr Marsden into working equipment which was then installed in the Hauraki Gulf, Marlborough Sounds and several other locations around NZ.  These RADAR installations were similar to those used by the British in the Battle of Britain.   Collier and Beale were also required to continue their production and development of high power radio transmitters and also low emission receivers for maritime use.

The maritime receivers in particular were an important development as many of the ships sailing in NZ waters at the outbreak of war used regenerative receivers.  These receivers acted like marker beacons whenever they were turned on allowing submarines to easily direction find and then sink the ships carrying them.  Surprisingly, many of the new “Victory" class Ships being mass produced in the USA were fitted with regenerative receivers.  Also in some instances ships had been placed in service only partially fitted out and lacked any receiver at all.  All these ships had to be fitted with NZ manufactured low emission receivers as they arrived in NZ.  

This important work stretched Collier and Beale’s resources but as so many skilled workers had been sent to the UK recruitment for expansion was impossible and effectively prevented the company's further significant involvement in production of the ZC1.

March 2009