How to test and use your EE-8 field phones
As a little summer project, I bought a set of EE-8-B field phones and put them to the test, following the procedures in TM 11-333. This article covers the bits of it you need to know to test if yours works (even if you only have one). And if it does, you can try finding another one. These phones are really sturdy, so there’s a good chance you’ll have a working one. The main thing you’ll want to check for is that the batteries haven’t leaked (corrosion on the battery springs). I have one like that, so not top-grade, but apparently it still works.
The first step is to make sure the phone is set to LB (Local Battery) mode. This is the small screw next to the lever switch. Test with a screwdriver if it’s turned all the way counterclockwise to LB.
Then insert the batteries. That turned out to be tricky. At first I thought my modern D-cell batteries were too tall. I just couldn’t get them in. In this photo you see how to first place the bottom of the battery on the battery spring at an angle. While still at this angle, press the battery down. You should feel the spring moving down. Then push the battery inside and straight.
Then attach the wire. First strip the ends and then screw them into the line binding posts marked L1 and L2. For the preliminary testing, only connect 1 phone. We’ll get to connecting the second one further down.
Now hold the receiver to your ear and blow into the transmitter while alternately operating and releasing the handset switch. The sound (sidetone) should be heard in the receiver when the switch is in operated position, but should not be heard when the switch is released.
Next, hold the handset to your ear and turn the generator clockwise several times. The generator should turn easily and you should hear pulses in the receiver. The ringer should not operate.
When that works, short circuit the line terminals L1 and L2, for example with a screwdriver, as in the photo. The generator should now turn hard, as if a drag were placed on it, and the bell should not ring.
Finally, after repeating the steps above on the second phone, connect both phones. It doesn’t matter which side of the wire goes into L1 or L2. Good thing too, because you wouldn’t know which side is which after unrolling a mile-long cable. Turn the generator, and the ringer should sound on the other phone! Press the lever on the handset to talk and release to listen.
Now you’re thinking “what’s that big lever switch for?” This has no function in LB-mode. It is used to hang the handset on when connected to a central battery in a switchboard set-up.
Attention: always remove the batteries when not in use! It says so on the top cover, and for a reason. If the talking lever on the handset is depressed when packed inside the case for storage or transportation, this will drain the batteries.
What kind of wire to use
Though very reliable, the main drawback of field phones is the need of long cables and moving the cables as the front moves. As testified in many unit histories, cables could break, thus cutting off communications. A linesman would have to be sent to find where it broke and repair it. All sorts of equipment exists for carrying and laying cables. In the photos above you see the smallest type of reel for about 200 yards of wire, but they existed in various sizes. A mile-long reel could be carried on a chest-harness, and larger reels existed and could be towed by a special hand cart or on a special rack behind a jeep.
For re-enactment it would be a pity to use original wire, but nearly identical military grade field phone wire can be obtained from surplus stores. It is made of 2 strands of copper wire, reinforced with steel wire to prevent breakage. The wire in the photos above is not authentic and only used for testing.
Forget the SCR-536/BC-611 “Handie Talkie” you always see in the movies. These things never worked when you needed them, they require a custom-built 90v battery (!), the range is only a mile or two, and telecommunication laws in Europe prohibit the use of them anyway. For fun re-enactment bring in the EE-8 field phone! It only requires 2 D-cell 1,5v batteries and the range of 11 miles is more than you’ll ever need. And all perfectly legal.
And yes, paratroopers did use them a lot too 😉
This last picture was taken at the Bastogne Barracks museum. At McAuliffe’s headquarters of the 101st, you see plenty of wires coming into the switchboard from all over the Bastogne perimeter. You’ll need one of those if you want to build a communications network of more than 2 phones.