Phantom’s origins can be traced back to November 1939, when Lieutenant-Col George Frederick ‘Hoppy’ Hopkinson was sent as a Military Observer to the No 3 British Air Mission in Belgium. There, he pioneered new methods of reconnaissance operations which utilised small mobile patrols using new wireless communications, to provide radically improved reconnaissance, in real time, from the front line. The collective codename for these Missions was ‘Phantom’ and this became the codename for a newly formed regiment.
Following the withdrawal from Dunkirk, Hopkinson’s unit reformed as No 1 GHQ Reconnaissance Unit but in early 1941, they were re-designated as GHQ Liaison Regiment to avoid confusion with the newly-formed Reconnaissance Corps. They were based at Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park, London and consisted of 150 officers and 1,250 other ranks.
They carefully recruited men with various specialised skill-sets; linguists, drivers and mechanics, from a diverse range of units. Recruits undertook rigorous training in many fields of expertise including wireless communication and cipher, to enable them to develop their unique brand of reconnaissance. They learnt how to listen in to the wireless “talk” of the battlefield, gleaning every scrap that was of interest and wove this into a running commentary, so that out of the fog of confused battle they could present to headquarters, a clear outline of the progression of the battle.
Developing their Reconnaisance Role
Messages were sent from under the noses of the enemy, some by means of very small and special wireless sets, some invented for the purpose by Phantom's own Peter Astbury. These “scrambled” coded messages, if intercepted by the enemy, were unintelligible. Transformation to sense came only at the other end where Phantom decoded and redirected them to the commander-in-chief. Beating the speed of normal communications by hours, patrols of the Phantom Regiment worked with, and sometimes in advance of, our front-line troops, keeping Army, Army Group and Base H.Q. informed almost minute-by-minute of all that was happening. In no other way could such complete and speedy “picture” of operations have been presented to those immediately responsible.