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Phantom's Development

Rebuilding and Expansion

During the intense analysis that took place following the withdrawal from Dunkirk, the value of the information that had been provided by Phantom became fully realised; their success at getting vital information under such perilous conditions, to people like Viscount Alan Brook, had been appreciated and did not go unnoticed.  Hopkinson was awarded the OBE and wrote several reports extolling their effectiveness and it was discovered even aerial photographs had not provided sufficient information about the battle.


A Staff Officer at BAFF wrote on 28th May,  “when Phantom, No.3 Mission closed down the ‘main source of information in the North’ was gone! “ Air Marshal Barratt praised Phantom for its contribution to the awareness of the situation in France 1940. He sent the following message:

"Heartiest congratulations on most useful information with which you have kept us supplied. It has been invaluable. Please inform all concerned"


Influenced by that and a memoranda written by Hopkinson, General Paget, Chief of Staff Home Forces, sponsored the issuing of a War Department Establishment Order to reform Phantom with regimental status as No 1 GHQ Reconnaissance Regiment and expand it to 6 times its original size. 

They initially consisted of and HQ and 3 Scout Car Groups (later called Squadrons) each with four patrols. Each Patrol had a Scout Car, a 15cwt Truck and 4 motorcycles. Their Guy Scout Cars were replaced with Daimler “Dingo” Scout cars. They expanded to 48 officers and 407 other ranks, including a pigeon loft and Light Aid Detachment for repairing vehicles. It was under direct command of GHQ Home Forces.

Recruitment and relocation

Hopkinson was tasked with the rebuilding and expansion of the new regiment. Working initially from the sleepy village of Lechlade in Gloucestershire, he was given first priority in choosing officers, men and equipment9 and he selected the best to add to the nucleus of those who had served him in France. Selection was based on personal qualities of intelligence, tact, “dash” as well as knowledge of foreign languages. One Officer remembers; "An adventurous, determined, forceful personality was essential if the right information was to be obtained". NCOs and other men with a diverse range of skill sets were recruited from a wide variety of regiments to compliment Hopkinson’s new composite regiment. Patrol leaders were intelligent and diplomatic Officers and radio operators highly skilled. All men were trained in wireless operation.


Hopkinson was originally located at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, alongside the Commander in Chief of the Home Forces but when he moved to have his HQ at St Paul’s School in London, Phantom established an HQ in nearby St James Park.


Here, they had a generator in case the blitz interrupted the power supply and their pigeon loft with 500 pigeons run by Lance Corporal Starr a prominent Belgian Pigeoneer and Champion Jockey Gordon Richards, so they could be used if the generator failed. They were by all accounts mostly used by units out in the field to signal back to HQ  that they were being inspected.


Through a connection with the Duke of Kent they secured the closed

Royal Park at Richmond as their training base and moved their Regimental HQ to the nearby Richmond Park Hotel. 


It was the ideal location for the rapidly expanding “Phantom.” They were close enough to London to be in touch with the War Office and yet far enough away to be reasonably secure and discreet and safe should an invasion occur. It was also next to Wick House the HQ of the Royal Corps of Signals.


The hotel’s garages became workshops for vehicles and radios and nearby Pembroke Lodge housed the Officers Mess and accommodation7 while further billets were available at the Star and Garter Hotel.  The Park was large enough to accommodate all the men training there and their vehicles and made ideal “mock battle” terrain .

2nd May 1941- The Duke of Kent inspects “Phantom” A Squadron in Richmond Park, escorted by a helmeted Major David Niven with “Hoppy” Hopkinson on extreme left.

The regiment by then included 150 officers and 1,250 other ranks, 3 and then 4 Daimler Ding Armoured Scout Car Groups, the pigeon loft with 500 pigeons in St James’s Park and a Light Aid Detachment for maintenance.

The actor, Major David Niven, who commanded ‘A’ Squadron. He wrote of his time at Pembroke Lodge. “These were wonderful days which I would not have missed for anything.”

George Reddaway was interviewed by the IWM and he recalled his time at Richmond.  Read more here

Training at Richmond was very tough. Everyone underwent physical training before breakfast and had to be proficient on radio. Hoppy ensured men were accustomed to rise in the middle of the night to begin a complete working day, or to work non-stop for two days and a night or to work all night and sleep in the day conditions they were likely to encounter on active service. He also subjected them to gruelling runs, and icy swims in the park's ponds, and made sure they learnt to transmit and receive Morse messages, with total accuracy, for hours on end at a speed of 30 words a minute. Phantom always used Morse Keys to transmit messages rather than speech. This was much quicker, more secure and enabled messages to be sent over a much longer distance. For example, using no188a sets or AD67.

Hopkinson also “knew how to relax” he was the life and soul of the mess and even persuaded the Astor Family (Michael and Jakie Astor were Phantom Officers) to give the regiment the run of their family home near St James’ Park, where they were fed by Claridges and entertained by actors such as John Geilgud, David Niven and Beatrice Lillie. Hopkinson always ended the evening with the phrase “Well Gentlemen, Charpoy Schlafen”  (“Charpoy” is hindu for bed and “Schlafen” german for sleep)


Once established at Richmond, and with the White P on a black background giving them access to all areas, Hoppy’s Men developed their own unique brand of reconnaissance, focussing on three areas of  reconnaissance ; personal observation and liaison with forward units, by mobile patrols close to the front line and liaison with “people in the know” further back from the action. Information thus acquired would be coded and then transmitted or sent by dispatch rider directly to RHQ to staff who would decode, evaluate and send it without delay to those commanding the battle.

Developing their Reconnaisance Role and overcoming scepticism

During this time,  it became apparent that while orthodox reconnaissance methods were serving lower ranked commanders well with the information they needed,  the people at the top, were neither receiving the information they required quickly enough for the new brand of fast modern warfare, nor were they receiving the breadth of information they needed for effective command. This was in no part fault of the more orthodox methods. Troops directly involved in fighting the enemy had their focus -rightly on the enemy - not on communication. Their allegiances were to their own unit. Furthermore, the increasing volume of traffic generated, cause congestion and needed sifting, collating, editing and directing before it reaches the people best placed to use it.


Phantom had the potential to overcome these difficulties and they were given permission to bypass the normal time-consuming chain of command and their RHQ was in direct contact with those in charge20. They had further advantages; because they were not directly engaged in combat their overview was from a unique perspective; information obtained by Phantom was not limited to operational subjects, they could also support administrative staff, particularly during fluid operations and technical staff such as the Royal Engineers whom they informed about  bridges, bridge sites and bridging operations. They worked rather like high class journalists6 and could develop both a unique overview of a battle and report on a much wider range of issues.  


However, many in authority remained sceptical about these new methods and of Phantom’s presence. This was partly it was thought that intelligence collected and passed on in this way would be “unfiltered” and often unconfirmed and might be at variance other sources. Others were suspicious that so much responsibility was given to young Patrol Officers. There was also concern over whether Phantom’s intelligence duplicated orthodox reconnaissance.  


Montgomery in particular, had doubts and after a meeting with  ‘E’ Squadron Leader, ‘he stressed his chief objections to Phantom in the past were the personal reports of junior officers, the reporting of intentions and the foreign and almost Papal control of RHQ from Richmond’. The result of the meeting was the break-up of this Squadron. These objections were answered by requiring the commanders of patrols to report to the Corps HQ in the zone where they were operating and give them their callsign, frequency, and cipher, so that that HQ could check what information they were sending.


10 August, 1941.

Dear Hoppy,

Thank you very much for allowing the squadrons from your Regiment to take part in our Exercise last week. As usual they did quite excellent work.

As you know, this time we had one squadron on each side and they were not neutral. A nucleus Regimental headquarters formed at the Chief Umpire's Report Centre. From the Umpire's point of view this was not entirely satisfactory, as it meant delay in the arrival of information. The recce detachments reported to their own squadron H.Q. who then sent the message on to Regimental H.Q. This meant delay in encoding, decoding etc., and it was found that information was about two hours late when it reached the Chief Umpire. A delay such as this is negligible in the case of G.H.Q., but it was far too much for the Chief Umpire.

After a bit your Regimental H.Q. cut out one link in the chain. I am not clear which this was, but I imagine it was the Squadron H.Q. The result then was that information reached the Chief Umpire in about twenty minutes after the happening reported, and this was far quicker than any other method the Umpire had. It was really quite excellent.

Both sides in the Exercise expressed anxiety beforehand as to the presence of a squadron of your Regiment, which was not under their command and might therefore be expected to be awkward on the road at critical times. I told them that they need not worry, but I know they did! Both sides now admit that they never even saw anything of your detachments, much less find them in the way. In view of the difficulties experienced in dealing with vehicles in this Exercise, I think this is the highest tribute your fellows could want. They were not noticed, but they were there, as is obvious from the information sent in.

Thank you very much - both you and your squadrons - for playing with us on this Exercise. I can assure you that it was a real pleasure to us to have your fellows. I hope you will be able to let them know this.

Participation in training exercises continued and scepticism and doubts about their presence on the frontline were gradually dispelled as shown in correspondence to Hopkinson following exercises and as the imminent threat of German invasion declined, they were deployed overseas.

In 1942, patrols replaced their No1 sets with 19 sets. Even with these higher power sets, the strain on operators was immense and the need for even higher powered sets was clear.


One of their Officers Peter Astbury, a brilliant engineer, designed new innovative equipment including amplifiers to solve the problem.


 Astbury was educated Cambridge University where he became a member of the intellectual society The Cambridge Apostles. He joined the Communist Party in 1936 and was monitored by the security services because of his connections with known suspects and 1940 he was believed to be passing information to the Russians. Despite this he managed to join the Army and gain a commission before the Service could intervene, joining  GHQ Liaison regiment in 1941. He was monitored throughout his time with Phantom, but his commanding officer maintained the only secrets he had access to were about machines he himself had invented. 


Astbury invented powerful amplifiers that enabled signals to be transmitted over longer and longer distances. During exercises, his group tested their use by sending messages from the “front” and moving their  receiver further and further back 10 miles at a time. Astbury also went on to invent advanced coding machines such as “fumf” and MORSEX which could automatically code and decipher messages.  Morsex was manufactured at GPO factories at Dollis Hill and was first tested successfully on a major exercise ‘Blackcock’ which took place in October 1943 at Great Driffield.

Initially, communications were established over ten miles and messages which by normal means took 14 minutes from originator to receiver took only five minutes by MORSEX. Its security was tested by Government Cipher Service.


Astbury went on to take part in Operation Market Garden and was captured at Arnhem on 17 September 1944. After his release, gave press interviews detailing his involvement with Phantom. In 1947, he joined Professor BLACKETT at Manchester University to work on atomic energy and cosmic rays at the Jungfrau High Altitude Laboratory in Switzerland. He was strongly linked to the Springhall and Cambridge spy ring and a letter from him to Guy Burgess was found after Burgess defected. Despite a close watch being kept on his activities, no evidence emerged.


Meanwhile, Hopkinson was transferred to the newly formed Airbourne Forces as Commander of the 1st Airborne Division. He was killed on September 12th 1942 at Massafara near Taranto, Italy.

The most important role was that of the patrol officer.  At Corps level these were captains but at division level they were lieutenants. In either case they had to win the confidence of the General Officer Commanding and be able to obtain information from senior staff officers without interrupting important work or otherwise making a nuisance of themselves. For this sort of work, officers did not need to be regular army but were what Monty called ‘bright young chaps’. They came from many regiments including:



Seaforth Highlanders
Royal Armoured Corp
Royal Tank Regiment
Royal Artillery
East Surreys
Reconnaissance Corp
12 Royal Lancers
Somerset Light Infantry
Lovat Scouts
Welsh Guards
Sherwood Foresters
Rifle Brigade
Durham Light Infantry
Royal Engineers
Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

There were of course many more units represented in Phantom; The Commanding Officer was from the 11 Hussars, The commander of F squadron was Major the Honourable J. J. Astor was from the Life Guards, as was the Regimental Sergeant Major.

By this time, Phantom had already deployed in what would be the first in a series of deployments that would take them to all theatres of warfare, except the far East, (just) during the remainder of the war.....

Find out more about their deployment here  

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