A brief introduction to Hell-80

By Andrew SM6MOJ

The Hell-80 system was devised by Siemens in the 1960s, probably as a successor for the Feld-hell machines used by the Wehrmacht in the 1930s and 1940s. The equipment has a standard Nato radio connector, 600 ohm connectors for 2-wire and 4-wire telephone lines (with a ± 1 Np attenuator pad to increase or cut output levels), and a reader for standard 5-hole teleprinter punched tape.
Unfortunately, the Bundeswehr did not make a decision to purchase any units, so the surviving machines are now extremely rare.

There are two transmission modes: stop/start and quasi-synchronous. The letters are transmitted at the rate of 5 characters/s, which is exactly twice the speed of a Feldhell machine. In stop/start mode, there is a start pulse before each letter, as with Hell-GL. Unfortunately, there is not the rigid timing facility of the Feld-hell machine, so the quasi-synchronous mode produces a tape with letters jumbled up and down all over the place. This could easily be fixed by software in a modern implementation.

Another important feature is the stop signal. When you press the stop button on the transmitting machine, this stops your machine. It also causes a 1260 Hz tone to be transmitted, which stops the receiving machine at the other end. And I can assure you that the operator at the other end will have his work cut out to stop his machine, if the sending machine does not transmit a long-enough pulse. 1-2 seconds is normally about right.

Transmission mode Associated Frequency
Frequency for white value 1625 Hz
Frequency for black value 1925 Hz
Signal frequency 1260 Hz
Bandwidth required from about 1100 to 2000 Hz

The transmitter should always be set to upper sideband, to comply with the convention that the "mark" frequency is the higher rf frequency.

The character set consists of 9 horizontal rows of pixels, and 7 vertical columns, which makes a total of 63 pixels. Two rows and 2 columns are reserved for the frame round each letter, leaving 7x5 = 35 pixels (black or white) for each letter.

There are two starts on the printer helix, which gives two lines of print, as with the Feldhell machine.

Because of the higher print speed, most people will probably prefer to use stop/start operation, or pre-punched paper tape.

I have not had the opportunity of experimenting with different character sets. There is no reason why a Hell-80 should not print any character set in quasi-synchronous mode, but experiments will have to be done to see what happens in stop-start mode.

It may be interesting to note that a Feld-hell machine can receive Hell-80 transmissions, if the receiver is tuned to the mark frequency. As with Fax at the wrong drum speed, alternate pixels are printed high and low on the tape. This means that you get four rows of tiny letters on the Feld-hell tape. Not desperately practical, but amusing to know...