Chapter 14: Global Communications Late 1942–Mid-1943)
The Design for ACAN
During World War II American and Allied command became as wide as the world and required signals on a global scale. Global communication suggests messages circling the world, clicking neatly through automatic apparatus in well-organized and well-equipped signal centers, replies to inquiries returning in an unbelievably short space of time. It is that. But military communication during World War II involved much more than that. Its modes varied from manual telegraph to automatic teletype. Its safeguarding required the utmost in codes, ciphers, and cipher machines. Its nets serving the Army’s administrative and tactical communications fanned out from Washington in all directions to reach to the Army unit farthest out, sometimes a unit no larger than a single soldier dropped in a remote spot to observe and to report. The very smoothness with which the vast system worked tended to divert attention from it and from its vital purpose, except among the Signal Corps men who planned, engineered, installed, and operated it. They could say, and did, with justifiable satisfaction, that “although Congress can make a general, it takes communications to make him a commander.” With this General of the Army Omar N. Bradley agreed.1
From Washington, the heart of the Army Command and Administrative Network (ACAN), direct wire and radio circuits enabled the Army’s command headquarters to communicate quickly and, if need be, secretly, with all the major field commands, whether continental or overseas. Through the terminals of the primary command circuits it was possible to relay messages to subordinate administrative networks, to connecting tactical networks, and to the Army Airways Communications System, which constituted an independent net serving solely the needs of the Army’s airways. After Signal Corps men established Army communications in an area, they strove to maintain the link back to Washington, no matter how far the troops penetrated or how many headquarters intervened.
Such was the basic intent underlying the orderly design of the Army’s communications system. Essential elements of the design were dependability, flexibility, security, and speed. It was flexibility that permitted the small peacetime system to expand to war size without change in the basic pattern.
Throughout the war the hub of the pattern turned on the War Department Signal Center (designated as the Message Center prior to mid-1942) in Washington. Its radio station bore the appropriate letters WAR. Thence the command network of radio and wire circuits radiated out like the spokes of a wheel to all the main headquarters of the field forces in the United States and overseas, to which new circuits were added as need arose. Then, from the outer terminals of the spokes, which in turn became the hubs, each of a separate wheel, other circuits in like fashion fanned out to field headquarters and supply areas, to tactical units right up to the front lines, even to Army transports plying the seas. Nor was ACAN limited to Army facilities. It had connections with the Navy’s circuits and with the civil systems of Allied and neutral lands. And of course it utilized large portions of the private communication systems at home. Truly a gigantic communications network served the United States Army in World War II, its administrative and technical operation directed by the Signal Corps from Washington.2
The great civilian communications systems of America, severely taxed though they were with the transmitting of war-related civilian communications, solidly buttressed the Army’s administrative signals. ACAN supplemented its own radio and wire design wherever possible with facilities leased from the Bell System, RCA Communications, Inc., Postal Telegraph and Cable Company, Mackay Radio and Telegraph Company, Western Union Telegraph Company, Press Wireless, Globe Wireless, and so on. For example, the Signal Corps had leased the entire communication system of Globe Wireless in order to supplement its own installations within the United States and in Hawaii. It had leased, effective 1 August 1942, Mackay and RCA stations near Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
What commercial facilities the Signal Corps did not put to use or lease for outright Army operation it included in plans for use in an emergency, in order to provide secondary circuits upon which the Army could fall back in the event that existing nets suffered damage. Thus the Signal Corps had arranged early in the war to operate the facilities of RCA and Mackay in order to provide emergency communications between WAR and the more important corps area headquarters. This was accomplished by means of control circuits which linked the War Department Signal Center and Governors Island with the stations of those companies in New York. Early in October 1942 the Signal Corps had drawn up a plan to consolidate both military and commercial facilities in the San Francisco area. The plan provided for normal, and for first- and second-alternate operation. A similar plan was implemented in the Washington area.3 Yet, valuable though these civil facilities proved in wartime, they could not provide one of the essentials of the ACAN design, namely, that
degree of security and secrecy which must safeguard military messages.
Security was the reef which eventually wrecked one leased experiment, an innovation called the Army Full Period Telephone Network. This was a top command domestic net intended to serve the highest Army commanders at Washington and elsewhere throughout the country when urgency demanded overriding priority of communication. Early in 1942 the sudden need for military telephone service had so overtaxed commercial long-distance trunk lines, including the long- and short-haul circuits which the Signal Corps had leased, that delays of hours in getting a telephone call through sometimes occurred. In February 1942 the Signal Corps had begun organizing the Army Full Period Network. By 1943 the system sprawled along some 32,000 circuit miles and interlaced staff offices in Washington with military commands the country over, with connections to Montreal and to points in Alaska. Heavily used and somewhat abused for the year and a half that it existed, Army’s Full Period Telephone Network helped greatly to alleviate a severe military telephone problem at home during the early months of the war. It got out of hand eventually through wide and undiscriminating use by subordinate commanders. The voice scramblers employed in the net did not provide as much security as the users were prone to assume.4
Security, like flexibility, always remained an important element in the ACAN design. Wire therefore remained preferable to radio and, thanks to the large existing commercial wire nets within the country, ACAN traffic at home moved increasingly over wire circuits, as its radio channels within the states were gradually closed down in order to cheat the enemy of opportunities to eavesdrop.5
But radio remained essential to link WAR directly with overseas terminals. By the beginning of 1943 the circuit to Fort Shafter in Hawaii was converted to landline operation as far as San Francisco and to radiotype from that point. Army communication links eastward were building up heavily. Several efficient radio channels to London had come into operation. The War Department Signal Center utilized two commercial transatlantic cable circuits to the British Isles as well. Radio channels now reached from WAR directly to Algiers, to Cairo, to Casablanca, to Accra on the Gold Coast of Africa, and to Asmara,
well down the east coast, opposite southern Arabia. Not only did WAR personnel transmit and receive, encode and decode, military messages moving directly to and from such distant terminals, but the station served also as the relay point for radio traffic between other ACAN stations which did not have direct connections. Relaying was often necessary because the demands for direct point-to-point circuits were always greater than the possibilities of providing them. For example, messages between Miami and the Caribbean area flashed first into WAR and from WAR to the destination : to Miami by way of a link from Washington to Atlanta, extended on to Miami through the facilities of the subordinate network; and to the Caribbean area by the direct channel between WAR and Panama or between WAR and Puerto Rico, which had forked connections to Trinidad.6
Centering also at the War Department Signal Center was a smaller local network made up of wire circuits which during 1942 linked the Signal Center, located in the old Munitions Building in Washington, with various tributary terminals, with the transmitting station at Fort Myer, Virginia, and with the receiving station at Battery Cove, Virginia, several miles to the south. But these transmitting and receiving locations soon became inadequate for the expansion required to handle the growing volume of messages. A 450-acre reservation was accordingly acquired at La Plata, Maryland, and the Battery Cove receivers were relocated there. The Battery Cove plant was then utilized as a second transmitter site complementing the Fort Myer installation. Each was capable of independent operation and included transmitters ranging from 1 to 40 kilowatts in power. By 1943 an ultrahigh frequency radio system provided the control circuits between the Signal Center, newly relocated in the Pentagon, and the remote transmitting and receiving stations.7
Networks whose spokes radiated over the continents and spanned the seas were becoming commonplace. In the autumn of 1942 WAR added a novel spoke to the wheel—a channel to Radio Station WTE. This was a terminal which moved hither and yon over the United States aboard the President’s private train. Signal Corps soldiers from WAR had installed the equipment in a railroad car. As President Roosevelt traveled across the country in the fall of 1942, inspecting Army camps and installations the length and breadth of the land, for the first time in the nation’s history a President could communicate almost instantly with the White House through official communication channels. WTE had access to WAR circuits at any time, whether in motion or at stops, through any one of six War Department net stations with which it maintained schedules. It had access to the
White House by way of a private loop from WAR and with Army commands anywhere in the world through the ACAN network radiating from WAR.
The White House station, in turn, served as the hub of a unique Ultrahigh frequency network embracing, at first, five fixed and thirty-one mobile terminals. The fixed equipment was placed at strategically located points in the city of Washington. The mobile sets were installed in automobiles used by the President, the Secret Service, the Military Police, and the White House signal detachment (under Col. William A. Beasley ). The Engineer Corps used one car in this radio net. Subsequently the White House network added other fixed stations, such as a terminal at Lee, Massachusetts, the temporary home of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, to whom was extended the protection of the United States Secret Service. Still other terminals sprang up along the routes which the President traveled frequently as he went back and forth between the White House, his home at Hyde Park, Warm Springs, and his Shangri-la on Catoctin Mountain in Maryland. At the main terminals of the White House network, private (PBX) telephone networks supplemented the radio system. Thus, the President was never out of touch either with the White House or with WAR, no matter how far afield he traveled.8
ACAN installations were extending widely as they kept up with the spreading theaters of the war. Army’s radio channels and wire circuits rapidly increased to the east and the west, ultimately linking together completely around the world. Before the end of 1942 some forty-six overseas radio and cable links had come into use between the Signal Center in Washington and the primary terminals alone.9 As American soldiers occupied lands where electrical communication was mediocre at best, or nonexistent, they nevertheless demanded good communications service immediately because they scarcely knew how to live without it. This the Signal Corps tried to provide, whether in the active theaters, or in quiet areas which soon might acquire greater strategic importance, or in areas which the war might bypass altogether. In 1942 the path the conflagration would take had not been well marked. Therefore, universally good service was the only safe objective. But there were many obstacles to achieving it, such as the shortage of equipment, the effects of latitude and ionospheric conditions on radio operation, and the lack of skilled manpower.
In peacetime the demand for fixed radio station equipment had been fairly stable. Until the nation’s manufacturing capacity could be increased, it could not produce enough big transmitters, power units, antenna equipment, and associated items to enable the Signal Corps to provide point-to-point service throughout the world. While manufacturers tooled up quickly for greater production, the Signal Corps used commercial standard equipment in its expansion. Although some of the items were not entirely satisfactory, they served, with modifications, to place vital circuits in operation. Meanwhile, until commercial equipment could become available in
quantity, the Signal Corps plugged the gap in supply with three million dollars’ worth of equipment obtained from amateur radio operators. By the end of the war, the Signal Corps’ administrative network, the worldwide fixed ACAN facilities, would build up to a value of 163 million dollars, three times the cost—an estimated 57 million dollars—of the entire international plant of all American commercial communication companies.10
An initial obstacle encountered in providing satisfactory world-wide radio service was magnetic absorption in the polar regions, which reduced the reliability of direct channels between WAR and some of the more strategic ACAN stations overseas. There then was no known means of overcoming this effect. But the polar regions could be bypassed. Therefore, the Signal Corps designed a belt line of communications circuits which circled the world in the vicinity of the equator. The eastward equatorial route from WAR sped by way of Asmara in Eritrea, Africa, New Delhi in India, Brisbane in Australia (later Manila was substituted when the Philippines were retaken), and San Francisco, thence back to WAR by landline. Terminals at strategic points to the north and south tapped into the equatorial belt line with secondary circuits. Thus from any point served by Army circuits, messages could be sent to any other point around the world. If ionospheric conditions in one direction were bad, traffic could readily be routed in the opposite direction to reach its destination. This around-the-world belt line was a happy solution which not only evaded the difficulty of communicating by radio over the polar regions but also facilitated communication in the event of failures or interference anywhere.11
Radio circuits were unpredictable at best. The British in Libya had found that at times units forty to sixty miles apart could not communicate with each other by radio, regardless of the power output they used, yet each could communicate with London. Therefore, while the condition lasted, traffic between the nearby points had been relayed through London facilities.12 Similarly, in the continental United States, there were times when an antenna built and beamed for communication with Chicago, for example, transmitted a stronger signal to San Francisco. The operators confessed they did not know why it was so, but they found by experimenting that when signals were bad over authorized channels they could often be bettered by an unorthodox hookup. The improvement might last from minutes to weeks and months.
To correct situations of this sort was just a part of the radio operator’s job, and therein lay another of the obstacles to providing good communications service on the fixed networks: the length of time required to convert a recruit into an accurate, speedy, sensitive technician capable of coping with such happenings. Training time could not be avoided or reduced. But might it not be possible to substitute automatic equipment? Indeed, the Signal Corps had already begun searching for a means of transmission that would reduce the requirements for skilled technicians. The use of Boehme high-speed equipment was the first step, but
that was only partly an automatic process. Radiotype, another experiment in “semiautomatic” equipment, proved to be not completely satisfactory. ACAN combined, discarded, and improvised until a rapid, secure automatic system suitable for military use on the command network was achieved. This system, radioteletype, involving automatic teletype and tape relay, was incorporated in the ACAN design as quickly as possible, beginning in early 1943.13
In theory the Signal Corps was the sole provider of administrative military communications service. But the wide expansion of communications facilities, which the increase in the Army during the first year of the war made necessary, was not accomplished without duplication, overlapping, and division of authority. Crisscrossing the orderly design of the Signal Corps’ ACAN by late 1942 were numerous independent military networks. There were the Army Air Forces Ferrying Command Network; the Air Service Command Teletypewriter Network; the Army Air Forces Statistical Control Network; the Intelligence Network; the Second Air Force Tactical Network ; and the telephone and telegraph full period private line service (Army Full Period Telephone Network) of the Eastern and Western Defense Commands, the First and the Fourth Air Forces, and the Third Army. Within the Signal Corps itself was an independent system, the Storage and Issue Teletypewriter Network. In addition, the Army was consuming a vast amount of commercial circuit and channel time on a toll basis by telephone, telegraph, and TWX (Teletypewriter Exchange). The Office of the Chief of Ordnance alone was receiving and dispatching almost ten million words of message matter a month and its long-distance telephone conversations were consuming almost 1,500 hours monthly. Not all the communication arrangements were efficient. For a while the chief of one service was paying, in effect, $608 for each message which passed between his office at Washington and a field office in San Francisco, so light was the traffic on his private line in comparison with the rental cost of the circuit.14
Early in the war there was no central authority in the Army to coordinate and control leased facilities. Eventually, more than seventy-five communication installations were integrated into one network. But this integration affected only a fraction of all the domestic Army circuits. Not until late in the summer of 1943 was action taken to centralize appropriately in the Signal Corps the control of the many independent military communication systems, and then the War Department applied only a halfhearted remedy, dividing responsibility between the Chief Signal Officer on the one hand and corps area commanders on the other.15
This dual control was the best that could be achieved. Also, by then there developed pressure for new communications networks, such as an antisubmarine network, and an administrative communications system to be used entirely by the Army Air Forces, aside from the Army Airways
Communications System, which everyone conceded to be a necessary exception to the orderly communications design. At places the AACS paralleled the ACAN; at others it diverged as it followed the routes of the Air Transport Command. But the priority of the traffic it carried was such as to preclude the integration of its channels with those of the ACAN even where the circuits ran parallel. The AACS was in reality a tactical network which crossed many a jurisdictional boundary. Where the routes converged and traffic was light, the trend was to integrate the administrative into the airways system rather than the other way around. Often Signal Corps men operated administrative channels in the AACS stations; sometimes they operated the AACS tactical circuits too, although officially that was the function of the AAF. Similar coordination existed between the Army and the Navy where circuits ran parallel or where joint facilities existed. And paralleling circuits, in these circumstances, did not usually mean duplication. If traffic volume warranted two circuits in the same area, as it frequently did, it appeared preferable in many respects for each service to operate its own circuit. Eventually considerable standardization was achieved between the systems of the Signal Corps, the Army Air Forces, and the Navy.16
Speaking in mid-1943 of the relation between the AACS and ACAN, General Stoner, Chief of Signal Corps’ Army Communications Division, said “It is all on a cooperative basis. Everything that has been done has been done on a cooperative basis.” But cooperation sometimes failed. In military situations Stoner had no doubt that coordination should be attained by command.17
Organizing and Implementing ACAN
ACAN took form out of the trials and troubles of the early days of the war. Maj. Gen. George V. Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff G-2, testifying in mid-1943 before a board of officers investigating Army signals, recalled: “In March, 1942, I was directed by the Chief of Staff to look into the Signal Corps and straighten out the matter of Army Communications, where there was a terrific backlog of messages.” The Chief of Staff and his staff officers, Strong noted, were encountering delays of hours and days in getting messages to field commanders and in receiving answers. “I called down General Stoner.” he said, “who at that time was in charge of the War Department Message Center, and gave him a very specific mission. ... I told him what was required and I wanted his recommendations as to how that was to be accomplished. He gave me a set of recommendations and on those, we got out a plan for the development of Army Communications.”18
Thereafter, the Chief Signal Officer’s responsibility for providing communications channels for the Army, including those for the expanding air routes, was lodged in the Army Communications Division, which in July 1943 became the Army Communications Service. Upon General Stoner, who remained the efficient chief of the activity throughout the war, the huge task devolved. The division had but one purpose—to
extend the Army’s wire and radio networks to service all the elements of the Army, wherever they might be, down to the point where the tactical communications troops of the ground and air forces took over. From that point on, communications became the responsibility of the field commanders under whom Signal Corps units served.
Signal Corps’ Army Communications Division early in the winter of 1942-43 consisted of three units, each concerned with one of the three main essentials of military communications service: (1) the installation of the fixed wire and radio plants, (2) the movement of message traffic over the networks, and (3) the safeguarding of the content of military communications transmitted—by either military or commercial means. These functions were the responsibilities, respectively, of the plant, the traffic, and the security units, headed in that order by Colonel Parker, Colonel French, and Col. Frank W. Bullock.
On 1 January 1943 the Office of the Chief Engineer, Signal Corps, came into being to assist in determining policies and formulating plans to coordinate the operations of these units. The Chief Engineer, Col. William C. Henry, concerned himself with plans for extending ACAN, for installing and maintaining the AACS, for providing submarine cable facilities, for manufacturing and supplying equipment for the overseas and the domestic stations of the networks, and for constructing wire and pole lines in deserts, tropical jungles, and the frozen north where a permanent Army telephone line was being built along the route of the new Alcan Highway. Equipment was scarce, so scarce that Colonel Henry had to dismantle some domestic stations and rearrange facilities in order to provide essential items overseas. For example, Boehme high-speed telegraph equipment was removed from installations in the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Service Commands, not because those areas did not need it, but because the needs of task forces were greater. Yet it was difficult to retrench anywhere, in view of increased demands everywhere, unless the post commanders and field signal officers cooperated. Securing agreement in such instances became another task for the new engineering unit.19
The equipment situation was tight—tighter than officers overseas realized. Far removed from the administrative problems at home, they knew only how meager was their supply of even the bare essentials for good communications, and they chafed at the delays in receiving what they desired. Colonel Grable, in the Southwest Pacific, nettled by his unfilled requisitions, wrote to Colonel Parker in Washington: “We have no civilian corporations across the street that we can run to in case of emergency.”20 But all the manufacturers together could not immediately produce the vast quantities of equipment needed.
In 1943 as troops moved out to overseas bases and theaters in ever greater numbers, the Army Communications Division faced tasks unprecedented in communications history. For a while the War Department gave thought to a plan for unifying the control of administrative and airways circuit in a more powerful “Army Communications
Command.”21 The plan was not adopted. But a reorganization of Colonel Parker’s Plant Branch did take place.22 The branch had encountered much woe in carrying out its mission of getting fixed-station equipment to overseas destinations. The usual supply agencies were swamped by the task of sending large quantities of T/BA signal equipment to troops and could not be expected to give special attention to assembling the conglomeration of material required for fixed stations. In many areas even the commonest items of hardware were unobtainable, and shipments accordingly had to include everything that would be needed, down to the last bolt and nut. Moreover, field offices often requisitioned materials which did not accord with the engineering plans, or which could not be used with the power available, or which duplicated that being supplied by Plant. By instituting a careful review of such requests with an eye to conserving critical materials,23 Plant had been able to reduce the items on some requisitions from Australia, the Fiji Islands, and New Caledonia by as much as 75 percent.24 Further, special shipments, some large and some small, often became hopelessly hidden in transportation snarls unless they received special handling. It therefore fell to the lot of Plant Branch to follow through on fixed-station supply and eventually on entire engineering projects, from inception to completion.25 All this meant expansion and reshaping of the Plant Branch.
Another circumstance which compelled a reorganization of the Plant Branch was its responsibility, recently restated, to supply, install, and maintain point-to-point and air-navigational communications equipment for the vast chain of navigational and communication stations which constituted the AACS, whose extent would soon exceed ACAN itself. A special part of this special system for the Air Forces pertained to meteorology. As air routes circled the earth, weather stations from the icecap of Greenland to the jungles of the tropics provided the meteorological data required for safe flying over the globe. All this particularized work to be done for the Army Air Forces made it desirable to detach the plant organization from the Office of the Chief Signal Officer and move it to Philadelphia, where it was established by February 1943 as the Plant Engineering Agency (PEA), an exempt installation—under the direct control of the Chief Signal Officer and still supervised in its operations by General Stoner.26
Philadelphia was selected for several reasons. There PEA would be near the big
Philadelphia Signal Depot and eastern manufacturing sources. Better coordination toward filling requisitions might be expected. Further, the Directorate of Communications of the Army Air Forces had proposed to establish an office in Philadelphia and, for that reason especially, the city had seemed the logical place for the headquarters of the Signal Corps’ AACS activity. Ironically, after the Signal Corps had committed its Plant Engineering Agency to Philadelphia, the AAF decided to transfer its Air Transport Command headquarters with the attendant AACS to Asheville, North Carolina.27 This example of poor cooperation separated the PEA and its working partner, the Technical Division of the AACS, by some 600 miles. The transaction of PEA-AACS business required the writing of four to five hundred letters a day.
The Signal Corps wrote a strong complaint, which General Somervell vigorously endorsed and sent on to General Arnold, asking that the Technical Division be moved back to Philadelphia. “That shows you,” Stoner told a board of General Staff officers who investigated Army communications in the spring of 1943 that “without any control from the top ... these three networks [ACAN, AACS, and the Air Transport Command net] can just be operated any way they want.”28 He regretted that the coordinated operation of the several almost independent networks in the Army had to depend upon voluntary cooperation. “There is no command control [of Army communications] at the top,” he lamented. General Stoner preferred a strong over-all control of Army signals, a Signal Corps aspiration which was never attained during World War II.29
From its Philadelphia office the PEA operated through four field headquarters serving the four wings of the Air Transport Command at Presque Isle (Maine), Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco.30 Procedures were experimental and experience led to changes. At first the radio engineering work for all installation projects was done at Philadelphia. A request from the Air Forces in the field for a certain type of AACS installation went to the headquarters of the Air Transport Command at Asheville for approval. Then PEA received the approved request with a directive to install the equipment. The engineers at Philadelphia usually lacked knowledge of local conditions at the site, such as its altitude, its accessibility, its position in relation to the power supply, mineral deposits in the ground which might affect operation, and so on. Maps, if available at all, were often inaccurate and incomplete. The best the engineers could do in their ivory towers at home was to produce some sort of drawing, which did not always fit the far-off situation. The Army Communications Service, hoping to correct this defect, soon redistributed PEA’s engineering personnel to sector headquarters, and even farther out, to the regions into which the sectors were subdivided. With closer cooperation accomplished in the field, guesswork was reduced and delays were shortened. Plant assembly points, to be
established later in the various regions, were to bring about a further improvement, although defects continued to abound.
As PEA came to be engaged practically full time in work for the Army Air Forces during 1943, the burden of Signal Corps planning toward its own ACAN remained with the Washington organization, specifically with the Office of the Chief Engineer and the Traffic Branch, which was wholly responsible for Station WAR and the multiplicity of activities centered there, including technical supervision of the domestic wire systems and the overseas radio and cable circuits. That supervision had been somewhat curbed by a reorganization which had given Army commanders greater control over the domestic communications agencies within their domains, including strategic terminals of overseas radio circuits. The Chief Signal Officer wanted the control of such stations centered in the Army Communications Branch of his office rather than in service commands. But General Somervell, head of the Services of Supply, declined to make an exception of even these until it could be shown that conditions were unsatisfactory and that corrective action through commanders had failed.31
By the turn of 1942 the amount of commercial service required by the Army was increasing rapidly. Arranging for, and to an extent controlling, this activity became a sizable Signal Corps chore. Early in 1943 a Commercial Service Branch was established in the Army Communications Division, and within two months this branch also became a field operating agency, the Army Communications Commercial Agency at New York City.32
Particularly trying for PEA and the Army Communications Service (which the Army Communications Division became) were the needs of encampments at home. The rate at which Army camps mushroomed in population made it imperative that efficient telephone service be supplied quickly, indeed almost overnight. Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, provided a typical picture of a telephone plant serving a camp of many thousands of men. The plant consisted of a rented 12-position, type 605-A Western Electric switchboard with 800 lines and 17 city trunks to the Cataumet central office, 4 city trunks to the Falmouth central office, and 4 tie lines; 558 lines and an additional 137 bridged instruments served a total of 695 stations. It was estimated that the existing 12-position board allowed 770 of the available 800 lines to be utilized and 962 stations to be served. But cables to the Cataumet central office were already congested and any relief could come only through the release of cable pairs in use by the civilian population of the community or by the curtailment of pay-station service for soldiers.33
At each camp and post the situation differed. The Plant Engineering Agency had constantly to survey and revise the wire systems to keep them in balance and to conserve such materials as were in critically short supply. By redesigning the construction plans for the outside telephone plant at the Navajo Ordnance Storage Depot, Plant engineers found it possible to reduce the requirements for scarce copper by 7,700 pounds; lead-covered sheathing by 46,800 feet; jute protection by over 67,000 feet; and telephone instruments by 68.34 At Camp Devens, with 30,000 men, the ratio of working lines to total stations was much higher than at Camp Edwards and engineers were endeavoring to reduce telephone facilities there also.
There was no general policy for the assurance of wire facilities in case of damage or overloads. In some areas alternate routings were provided. The basic need was for a prearranged system of call controls fully coordinated with the local telephone companies, which would implement emergency plans in the event of disruption of the regular facilities.35 Until a situation arose in Biloxi, Mississippi, which suggested what might happen in a major emergency, no arrangements had been made with the telephone companies to keep circuits open in times of stress for headquarters calls. All the soldiers stationed there had been called to duty by spot announcements over local broadcasting stations. As a result, so many of them had telephoned the camp for information that central office trunks were overloaded and there had been no possibility of making important outgoing calls.36
Toll service, too, suffered from unthinking use. The holding of a connection from a camp near Lincoln, Nebraska, to Los Angeles for an hour and forty-five minutes caused the War Production Board to recommend a three-minute limit on private calls. But General Stoner was reluctant to curb a soldier’s conversation to that extent except as a last resort, and he declined to concur in the recommendation.37 Control of commercial communications in the United States relied in the main upon the good faith of the individual citizen. The Board of War Communications, of which the Chief Signal Officer was a member, established a system of priorities for telephone calls essential to the war effort or to public safety, with penalties for violations, but there was no monitoring or listening in to detect violations. The success of the system depended upon the conscientiousness of the persons calling.38
One of the largest single telephone projects inside the United States with which the Signal Corps was concerned was not at an Army camp. It provided communications for the Hanford atomic energy site, a large area under the Manhattan District in the state of Washington. Because a number of independent telephone companies, as well as the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, normally operated in the area, it was considered necessary that the Signal Corps furnish the telephone service
in order to avoid any confusion which might focus attention on this highly secret plant “for manufacture of materials.” So read the directive to the Chief Signal Officer. This project, launched in January 1943, called for 600 telephones in the administrative area, another 300 for plant operations, and 90 pay stations; also 100 individual lines and 950 two-party telephones to serve the population of the town housing the workers.39
This order alone would make a big dent in the nation’s stockpile of telephone equipment. Even the use of interoffice communicating systems was cutting into the low supply of telephone instruments to such an extent that the War Production Board clamped down on these.40
The War Production Board’s restrictions on commercial communications applied to services for the military, just as they applied to the usual service for the civilian population. The installation of automatic telephone exchanges of over 100 lines was forbidden. Companies were required to estimate and report to the board the costs of any needed materials and to locate old equipment for use if possible. If new equipment had to be used, permission to install it had to be obtained from the War Production Board. For months the Signal Corps corresponded with the board, seeking to relax the restrictions as they applied to military necessities under which telephone or teletypewriter systems might immediately, day or night, have to be relocated, supplemented, or rebuilt. A situation in the First Fighter Command was cited as an example. The command planned to move a unit to Windsor Locks, Connecticut, and asked ahead of time for the installation of a teletypewriter circuit to that location, but not until four days after the unit arrived was the communications link provided. The telephone company had new equipment on hand, but no old. Before it could use the new, it had to secure the permission of the War Production Board. The Signal Corps pointed out that if an air raid had occurred in the interim, there would have been no sure means for alerting the unit. General Stoner proposed that the commanding generals of the defense commands be given broader authority to act in such instances, but the board was rather apathetic to his proposals.41
The Traffic Branch of the Army Communications Service, under Colonel French, the officer charged with the War Department Message Center on Pearl Harbor day, continued to handle ACAN operation, centering in radio station WAR. Message loads, “traffic” in the terminology of the communicator, soared—radio, wire, teletype, and then radioteletype, both over Army facilities and over leased commercial lines. Leased facilities alone, which handled some 853,644 words at the Message Center in the first week of June 1942, carried double
that load by the last week of October, an estimated 1,727,960.42
Teletypewriter traffic in particular multiplied again and again. TWX, Teletypewriter Exchange, a service provided by the Bell System, was an application of telegraph, or more precisely, of the teletypewriter. It had long served commercial interests and it now served the Army increasingly. On 1 July 1942 TWX military stations within the United States numbered 408. By the spring of 1943 they numbered 1,776. During the same period of time, leased-line teletype and voice circuits multiplied from 167 and 1,055, respectively, to 440 and 2,268.43
Radio station WAR and the associated Message Center provided more than simply a communications office for the War Department and a center for the entire ACAN system. It also served as a proving ground, a place for testing new projects, new equipment, and new methods touching communication operations. Concomitantly it provided a training ground for many of the men who manned the wire and radio nets. New developments in methods and in equipment had their tryouts there. Improvisation continued, as in the days of prewar poverty. Suitable equipment was still scarce and extraordinary demands were made on the makeshifts. WAR had the task of integrating into the primary command network the many signal centers which sprang up faster than they could be adequately supplied and faster than men could be trained to operate them.
From the time of the establishment of the radio network in the 1920s, one of its primary purposes had been to train operators and maintenance men in their wartime duties. The necessity for doing so did not abate with the building of big training centers in World War II. At best, school training stopped short of work experience. Yet General Somervell had been emphatic that only men who were experienced in operating the domestic network should go into the more important fixed stations on foreign soil. Thus, as messages transmitted by ACAN increased many times over, the provision of experienced communications cadres for the overseas fixed stations was a consistently increasing drain on WAR, and on the other stations of the domestic network, to which only a small nucleus of highly skilled enlisted and officer specialists was permanently assigned. At WAR, where the message volume was exceptionally heavy, operators newly graduated from the schools, lacking experience, were unable to pass the traffic along live circuits at a satisfactory
pace, even under supervision, and were therefore unable to gain the experience they needed. Some other means of developing speed and assurance in the fledglings had to be resorted to. WAR and the 17th Signal Service Company accordingly set up training courses for the operators who, when they became able to stand the pace, would be assigned to stations beyond the Atlantic.44
Similarly, the big ACAN station, WVY, at San Francisco conducted a comparable school for operators destined for the Pacific area. The courses consisted of approximately three months of training for radio operators and six weeks for code clerks and IBM radiotype technicians. The actual time the students remained in the schools depended, as at other training centers, upon the demands of the theaters for specialists. The graduate students first went through a period of operating under supervision and under actual working conditions but on simulated circuits. When a student gained proficiency on such practice lines, he was given a live circuit to work, under the close supervision of the regular operator. When he had mastered that and attained a satisfactory speed—just when he was becoming of some value to WAR or WVY—he was ready for assignment to an overseas station. Speed, however, was not the only qualification required. There were joint and combined radio procedures to be learned and radio discipline to be observed.45 Some reports from the field placed speed as a requirement secondary to a thorough understanding of net procedure—the knowledge of how to set up radio communications with other stations in the field and of how to transmit and receive accurately and surely under combat conditions. The reports pointed out that the field operators in tactical nets, with whom the fixed-station men would communicate in Morse code, were usually in the 15- to 20-word-a-minute class anyway. But neither speed nor knowledge of radio procedures could be acquired without experience. Field station operators badly needed practice in code and training in tape transcription. Yet they often lacked the equipment upon which to practice after they arrived overseas.46
There were also complaints that fixed-station operators who had been taught net procedure frequently did not route the traffic; it was done by message center clerks, who had had no training in net procedure at the training centers from which they had come.47 Complaints differed according to the viewpoint of the commander or the inspector and according to differing local situations. General Olmstead noted during his inspection trip to the overseas theaters in the spring of 1943 that manual radio operators insisted upon transmitting with unnecessarily high signal strength, which caused needless interference to other radio stations, while they themselves were unable to receive signals through even moderate interference. He wanted all communications units taught to depend to a greater extent
on radio in case wire failed during intensive bombardment by the enemy.48
But somehow, with surprisingly few failures, the Army’s communicators accomplished their jobs despite initial inexperience and shortages of facilities. They became skilled through working the circuits under seemingly unworkable conditions. They came to believe that only by eternally plugging at the job through static or man-made interference could an operator learn to recognize under stress the tone of the signals intended for him as surely as a baby recognizes its mother’s voice. Necessity accomplished what training could not.
By 1943 replacement training centers and schools in the United States, as well as Station WAR, had initiated more intensive training for fixed radio station teams. Practice circuits extended from WAR to Fort Monmouth and to Camp Crowder. Radio operators, code clerks, message center clerks, and message center chiefs were receiving highly practical training through this means.49 Officers to be assigned to fixed stations overseas also were receiving practical experience in their duties at WAR. Most of the students were fresh from Officer Candidate School. WAR taught them the rudiments of all phases of signal center operation, including a smattering of cryptography and traffic security. Beginning with groups of 20 in October 1942, the program soon expanded to accommodate classes of 110.50 But even with these extra measures of practical training, both officers and men still lacked seasoning in net operations as they scattered over the world to become individually responsible for the important links in the command chain of communications. The stations of the even more extensive AACS were no better off for seasoned men. Although the operation of these latter stations was the responsibility of the Army Air Forces, in many places Signal Corps men and airmen worked side by side and often interchangeably on the administrative and air operational circuits with the odds in skill going to the Signal Corps men.51
The functions of the third of the main subdivisions of the Army Communications Division, the Army Security Branch (which supervised the Signal Security Agency, a field installation shrouded in secrecy at Arlington Hall and Vint Hill Farms, Virginia) were, in brief, to preserve the security of the communications of the United States Army through the compilation and distribution of codes and ciphers (one security system in use, one in reserve, and one at an isolated point on the way to each holder of a system at all times) and to acquire as much enemy information as might be gleaned by piercing the enemy’s security defenses. Throughout the war a weak point in maintaining the secrecy of messages was the number of persons who saw practically every one of them. A survey in the War Department showed that number to be from
300 to 500. In General Stoner’s opinion, it was this fact which constituted the “big leak” in secret information.52
Aside from the compilation and use of codes, there were many other aspects to communications security and many opportunities for the unknowing or careless violations which were chargeable to military men of all ranks. Message senders frequently were unaware of what constituted breaches of security. A radiogram sent to a newly occupied area in the Pacific, for example, although in code, carried the address in the clear, thus revealing the presence of troops moved secretly to the island.53
Also, security required that the enemy’s radio traffic be constantly analyzed for the cumulative picture it might give. Against enemy analysts, the Signal Corps security organization effectively used deceptions in American transmissions, such as padding traffic, setting up dummy stations, and other radio camouflage. Such radio forgery was an art practiced by the enemy also with great energy. Wire communications were likewise subject to interception and under certain circumstances the use of codes, ciphers, and authenticators was as necessary on wire circuits as on radio channels.54 Telephone privacy equipment, or voice scramblers, were in great demand by commanders but they did not completely safeguard conversations. Since they gave users an unwarranted assurance of safety, they constituted something of a risk and their use was sometimes frowned upon.55
Verbose messages were a constant concern. They gave the enemy intercept service too much material to analyze, thus jeopardizing codes, and they cluttered up radio channels unnecessarily and overburdened the operators. The Signal Corps continually urged users of the networks to cut down verbiage. But the brevity of “We have met the enemy and they are ours” was seldom achieved.
The Army’s monitoring activity gained greater headway in September 1942 with the opening of the Vint Hill Farms station, a part of the Signal Security Agency, located near Warrenton, Virginia.56 The Federal Communications Commission also had an elaborate monitoring and intercept system in operation. In February 1943 Admiral William D. Leahy, acting for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, questioned the usefulness of the Federal Communications Commission’s
activities in this field, and sought the transfer to the Army of FCC manpower and equipment employed in radio intelligence work. He assumed that FCC was duplicating work being done better by the military services, and that its system was endangering the security of military radio intelligence. No decision was reached until early fall when President Roosevelt, apparently with the concurrence of the Chief Signal Officer, declined to order the cessation of FCC’s radio intelligence efforts.57 Before the landings in North Africa, when it was essential that the Army know immediately of any hint from enemy or neutral countries that a counteroffensive was on the way, signalmen in the security organization monitored all major foreign broadcasts—those emanating from Algiers, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, Stockholm—translated them, and had the information they contained in G-2’s hands at Gibraltar in a matter of minutes.58
There were many aspects to safeguarding the Army’s message traffic which entailed continuing and constant vigilance to see that safe means of transmission were employed. The Atlantic submarine cables, for example, were suspected of being an unsafe means of transmission. The largest concentration of them lay in shallow water along the eastern seaboard and to the south, waters in which the greatest volume of sinkings of Allied vessels occurred. The area of the Caribbean was important in 1942. To the Navy it was the scene of U-boat attacks upon vital coastal shipping and of possible threat to the Canal; to air transport, it was the first leg of the long ferrying route to the east and north, and to defensive and offensive planning alike, it was the first zone of communications.59
The interruption of submarine cables had been a matter of concern to Colonel Sadtler soon after America’s entry into the war and he had directed Maj. Clinton B. Allsopp of his office to study the possibility that they might be tapped by induction methods. Major Allsopp’s report had been skeptical of the results that interceptors might obtain. His opinions were shared by engineers and officials of the commercial cable companies, who had felt that although eavesdropping might be tried, the possibility of intelligible signals was remote.60 Therefore, as long as the cables remained uninterrupted, the users put aside concern about their security.
A break in a commercial cable in the Caribbean area in August 1942, however, had brought the matter to the fore again. By autumn it was conceded that perhaps the cables had not been cut because they were serving the enemy too well. The overseas messages of commercial shipping and marine insurance concerns, by government decree, had been confined to submarine cable transmission on the assumption that underseas wire provided greater security than radio circuit.61 But now it seemed possible that the enemy had not cut the cables because the Germans and Japanese found them valuable sources of intelligence. So reasoned the Signal Corps, and in October, with the assistance of the Navy, Signal Corps engineers conducted tests off Long Island which
revealed that there was not a type of submarine cable signal which could not be detected and recorded. Thereafter cable users were required to encode all messages.62
However, postwar investigations in Germany and in Japan failed to uncover any evidence that the enemy ever intercepted messages passing through deep sea cables. In fact, the cables were rarely cut because of the difficulties involved, according to Maj. Gen. Francis L. Ankenbrandt, a Signal Corps officer who transferred to the Air Forces.63 Furthermore, submarine cables were devoted principally to commercial, not military, use. The Army depended upon its ACAN radios, whose transmissions were protected from enemy Cryptanalysts by Signal Security Agency’s highly complicated and foolproof cipher machines. In these the Signal Corps took special pride. “There isn’t anybody else that has got automatic coding that we know of at the present time,” General Stoner told a board of officers in Washington on 24 May 1943, adding with understandable pride that the ACAN “is the finest network in the world.”64
From the Caribbean to the Middle East
The invasion of North Africa gave impetus to communications all along the South Atlantic routes—to the long-established ACAN stations as in Panama and Puerto Rico, and especially to the very new AACS stations. For air transport was vital. And vital to it were ever more airfields and ever more radio and navigational aids. By the end of 1942 the estimate for airfields stood at 900, to be built within a year and a half. As the Air Transport Command mapped its sky routes, Signal Corps’ Army Communications Service charted chains of fixed radio stations. Greater distances than ever before were involved. Whereas transmitter powers of 100 to 400 watts had previously sufficed, now outputs of 3 to 10 kilowatts became necessary. To handle large traffic loads signalmen were now installing more and more radioteletype and automatic enciphering equipment. These very new devices required better antenna systems. Space diversity, frequency diversity, and polarization diversity of antenna arrays became standard in order to eliminate fading effects at high frequencies over long-range radio circuits which depend upon sky waves reflected from the ionosphere.65
In general, commercial equipment of every description eked out the meager stocks with which the Army Communications Service met AACS needs. Last minute changes in Air Forces requests, improper marking of shipments by manufacturers, conflicting instructions from the Air Forces and the Signal Corps, the inability of manufacturers to produce on schedule, scattered supply sources, substitution of items—all these complicated the supply of equipment. There were organizational complications also. Col. Francis L. Ankenbrandt, Signal Officer of the United States Army Forces
in the South Pacific Area, touched upon a central problem when he commented in June 1943 that “all of the dealings with the AACS all the way back to Washington have a tinge of the old ‘Air Corps-Signal Corps’ battle,” which resulted in “lack of complete understanding ... and considerable petty wrangling.”66
Evidently the arrangements of Signal Corps’ Plant Engineering Agency, under Colonel Parker in Philadelphia, were somewhat unrealistic. For example, PEA’s engineers, accustomed to peacetime commercial practices and remote from the AACS stations for which they were prescribing, sometimes returned requisitions to their sources with a high, wide, and handsome authorization to buy locally, when the installation for which the items were needed stood hundreds of miles away from a dealer’s shelves. To draw an illustration from the Pacific area, PEA’s field headquarters at San Francisco, which was intended to look after AACS needs in the Pacific through Hawaii, was still too remote. “The fact that your office,” Ankenbrandt wrote to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, “persisted in handling all of our projects and the engineering concern from Hawaii, 4000 miles away from where the work is actually being done does not help matters, either. Hawaii, San Francisco and Washington are all too far away to be able to do the detailed projecting and engineering which is required at each site.”67
To avoid as many complications as possible, PEA initiated the practice of assembling fixed-station equipment for overseas, shepherding it to the assembly point and to the dock, and then actually supervising its loading on the vessel. Equipment for one remote but vital station was gathered from supply sources scattered throughout the eastern portion of the United States. Officers and civilian engineers, who were flown from PEA to the various locations, personally convoyed the entire shipment to the port of embarkation and saw it on board—all within thirty-six hours—“not properly handled but it made the boat.”68 Even then, General Stoner was to complain that Colonel Parker’s organization lacked one thing, a “whip cracker” to get things done.69
In setting up the fixed stations for the AACS, the Corps of Engineers did the preliminary work—cleared the ground, dug holes, anchored poles and guy wires, and erected the shelters and antenna towers—either with their own troops or with labor secured through local contracts. The Signal Corps installed the communications equipment and the Air Forces operated it, a division of responsibility which had been vigorously debated and finally confirmed during the course of 1942.70 But in practice this division of labor was not always followed. There were places in which the Signal Corps had to do the construction work because the Engineers were not there. There were times when the Army Air Forces helped. Sometimes the Signal Corps even operated the installations.71
A most difficult task for the signalmen, when the Engineers were absent, was surveying the antenna layouts, where any appreciable error in computing the great circle courses could nullify the effectiveness of the whole antenna array by misdirecting the radio beam.72 The Engineers had their troubles, too. Signal Corps engineering plans for installations in faraway places seldom anticipated the extent to which conditions varied in the different areas, even in the same part of the world. Along the South Atlantic ferry route, for example, soil ranged from sand dunes at Atkinson Field in British Guiana to swampland at Waller Field in Trinidad; from rock that had to be blasted at Ascension Island to areas of level, well-drained clay land along a part of the northern coast of Brazil. To anchor poles in the sandy soil of British Guiana, the Engineers cut the tops and bottoms from steel oil drums, welded two drums together, set the pole in the cavity, and filled it in with cement to provide a strong footing.
Transporting poles was a knotty problem and never-ending. They took up so much cargo space that wherever possible they were obtained locally. Those for the Brazilian stations were floated down the Para River from the jungle. The 70-foot poles for the rhombics were especially hard to get and to transport, and their weight of about 3,000 pounds called for heavy lifting equipment. Because it was so difficult to transport the unwieldy antenna supports, either locally or from the United States, the Signal Corps often resorted to the use of substitute wooden antenna towers. The variety in poles used for communications installations throughout the world was probably greater than that in any other item of equipment—steel poles and wooden poles, the latter ranging from light bamboo to hard mahogany. Even live trees were used. Inside equipment for the stations also comprised a variety of components, but every effort was made to standardize the transmitters and receivers. Everywhere, from 1943 on, Signal Corps teams from the Plant Engineering Agency provided radioteletype facilities for the world-circling stations of the AACS.73
Like Signal Corps’ own ACAN system, the AACS chain suffered not only from the general scarcity of equipment but also from the hazards of shipping. Consignments from the United States often arrived minus important pieces, with generator castings smashed, shafts and dials jammed, and wires severed. The breakage of ceramic insulators was heavy. Crystals, roughly handled in transit, reached their destinations in poor condition. And because the AACS was a new project, the assignment of frequencies for the system, even in areas contiguous to the United States, necessitated months of negotiation, experimentation, and revision.74 In areas beyond the Atlantic the problem was further aggravated by a complexity of international interests.
The flying route of the South Atlantic Wing of the Air Transport Command (the area in which the Southeastern Sector of PEA operated) began in Miami. Following down along the Antilles chain of island bases over the Caribbean, it skirted the northern coast of Brazil: Georgetown, Paramaribo,
Belem, and Portuleza, to Natal, the easternmost point of South America. Across the ocean on the Gold Coast of Africa, Accra provided a logical terminus for planes flying the southern route at a time when Dakar was held by the Vichy French while the Axis nations controlled most of northwest Africa. Between the Brazilian bulge and the Gold Coast, however, stretched the South Atlantic, which few planes of those days could span without refueling. Strategically located midway, tiny Ascension Island provided an airbase where Signal Corps units installed AACS radio, navigational aids, and search radar.75
As the plans for communications along the South Atlantic route were changing before they could be implemented, the Africa-Middle East Wing of the Air Transport Command extended the air ferry overland in Africa, and the RADME (Radio Middle East) network began to take shape. It connected with the RADNESE (Radio North-East South-East) at Marrakech, French Morocco, and it continued on across North Africa to Abadan, Iran, and thence to Karachi, India. Karachi marked the end of the RADME network and the beginning of another which would take the line of AACS stations on to Calcutta, Chabua, and Kunming, and eventually, by 1945, back to Manila. When completed, the AACS would possess a world-wide radioteletype network, paralleling the ACAN system.76
The fluidity of war caused many changes in plans. Often the fixed installations of the AACS lagged far behind the fast moving air ferry, which in the interim used whatever communications facilities it found along its routes—frequently the systems of the commercial airlines, such as Pan American Airways in Africa, and equipment installed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the high frequency direction finding systems of the Federal Communications Commission. In British territory, the AACS made use of the systems of the Royal Air Force.77
Initially the ferry route across Africa to the North African theater extended from Accra to Oran, via Kano. The first flight on this link had been made on 13 November 1942. Three days later the Air Forces directed that equipment for an AACS station be installed at Kano. But the Kano-Oran hop was a long one, and when Dakar was opened to the Allies in December, that point replaced Accra as the terminus of the southern route to North Africa and the United Kingdom. Until arrangements could be made to land there, Bathurst in neighboring Gambia was used. Then the bulk of the travel from South America was switched from Accra to Dakar, and the Kano-Oran link was abandoned in favor of a route along the west coast to Marrakech.78 General Arnold’s headquarters pointed out that the single kilowatt Pan American Airways transmitter at Accra could communicate with Oran, and with Casablanca too, provided sufficiently powerful radios were installed
at those places to complete the circuits.79 The facilities of the 830th Signal Service Company were therefore diverted to establish the network from Accra up the coast to Marrakech. The change in the boundary line between the North African theater and the forces in central Africa, placing Dakar in the North African theater, made it advisable to organize two separate companies because they would work in separate commands. The 830th was therefore reorganized, and some of its men were used to activate a second Signal Service Company, the 976th. Later the same source provided the nucleus for a third unit, the 977th Signal Service Company.80
In December 1942 the Air Forces established the India-China Wing to transport men and materials to China over the high Himalayas, where the lofty peaks and strong air currents added to the dangers of flying over enemy-held territory. By early summer of 1943 planes were making 325 round trips daily over the Hump between Chabua and Kunming. In January the European Wing was created from the segments of the North Atlantic route of the Air Transport Command which lay in Great Britain. By then, Allied victories permitted the extension of the southern route from one corner of North Africa to the other and the opening of a new route to the Orient. Later these routes became the domain of separate
North Africa and Central Africa Wings.81 The Plant Engineering Agency followed the Air Transport Command into all these areas with its installation teams and its shipments of fixed-station equipment. Installation projects for the Air Forces exceeded anything envisioned when the PEA organization of Army Communications Division had undertaken the overseas expansion of the command and airways networks.82 Meanwhile, Signal Corps troops were flown into these areas—a team here, a team there—and they set up initial communications systems, hardly knowing whether they were working for the Air Forces or the Signal Corps.
Thus the provision of the AACS facilities across the South Atlantic and Africa constituted a new and difficult task for PEA, breathtaking in its sweep and speed, unorthodox and exasperating in the welter of Air Forces interrelations. Much more orthodox and germane to Signal Corps’ central concern were the ACAN stations over these same areas of the globe. In the fall of 1942 communications plans for the administrative radio network had called for some 950 additional stations throughout the world, with Africa high on the priority list.83
It was to be expected that direct radio channels from WAR would reach the Dark Continent soon after the North African invasion. Expected, too, was the establishment of supply activities there and subordinate networks to serve them. The first direct ACAN circuits from Washington to Africa had opened during the month of the invasion—WAR to Accra, to Cairo, and to Casablanca—followed in December by radio circuits to Algiers and to Asmara. From the time of the move to Allied Force Headquarters from Gibraltar to Algiers on 25 November 1942, WAR maintained communication with that headquarters through a commercial station at Algiers while an installation team in the charge of Maj. James A. Greene, Jr., Signal Corps, put in a big 40-kilowatt transmitter. It provided six duplex teletype channels between WAR and Algiers, with automatic enciphering and deciphering. Regarding this first single side-band multichannel Army installation, General Stoner said: “It is going to revolutionize radio because you don’t have to da-da-dit on the damn thing. It is just a radio printer, and there is no commercial circuit that I know of that the United States has under its control that has such type of transmission.”84
Equipment for the station arrived directly after the North African invasion. Contained in some 1,000 boxes and crates weighing from a few pounds to 20 tons, it was put ashore at half a dozen ports along the coast, after it had already undergone several reshipments. Bad breakages had occurred. Vital small parts were missing entirely. In
order to get the transmitter working on local power before completing the installation of the heavy diesel power equipment, the signalmen had to find a suitable transformer. The only one available stood in a sugar factory at Oran, several hundred miles away. It was painstakingly transported to Algiers over a difficult road. Then the men found that the transformer was too big to fit into its vault and they had to knock out a wall to make room for it.85 Power, like poles, invariably constituted a large source of trouble for Signal Corps installation men overseas. If an electric power supply could be had locally, it was generally inadequate, unstable, or different from the American standard of voltages and cycles.86
Despite all difficulties, the powerful ACAN transmitter at Algiers went on the air by December 1942. The reach of its 40-kilowatt output was necessary to cover the great distances required by the ACAN design. Plans called for procuring a total of only fifteen commercial sets of this power, not enough to justify the time which would have been involved in developing this sort of equipment to meet Signal Corps specifications, had that measure of time been available. And it was not.87
By March 1943 the capacity of the high-speed multichannel circuits at Algiers permitted the Signal Corps to allot one channel exclusively to the Office of War Information for sending press matter and psychological warfare material. Speaking of this ACAN channel General Stoner told a group of officers in the Pentagon in May 1943, “We are handling between ten and twenty thousands of words of press now. You can go upstairs and see it roll in. ... It has given our press associations in this country fast service. Formerly the traffic was routed via cable and radio to Gibraltar and cable and radio to the United Kingdom, and then the British would hold it until they released the press. ...”88 Another channel of ACAN’s new efficient Algiers transmitter was utilized for testing wire telephoto equipment to discover if it could provide radioed news pictures (also secret weather and tactical maps, provided equipment arrived to scramble them). The first radiophoto or facsimile released to the news agencies, picturing a gun crew in action in North Africa, was sent on 18 March 1943 through the Algiers station. The picture was reproduced in WAR within seven minutes.89
To serve AFHQ further, the Signal Corps set up an alternate installation and added a highly secret radioteletype conference circuit.90 The Algiers transmitter was located at Radio Eucalyptus, site of the fixed station for French empire operations, about 10 miles east of Algiers, and the receivers at Boufarik, the French receiving station, about 20 miles southwest of the city. The voice-frequency teletype and cipher equipment were installed in the basement of the Hotel St. George. In addition to this large ACAN station at Algiers the signalmen operated the French Radio Eucalyptus part time, together with a number of transmitters at Beni Messous, which were remotely controlled from the St. George and which were used also by the British Corps of Signals, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy to communicate with the United Kingdom, Cairo, Casablanca, Constantine, Oran, Malta, and other places. These transmitters employed both directional (rhombic) and nondirectional antenna arrays, widely dispersed as a precaution against bombing.91
The Accra station (WVNI) was installed late in 1942 by a detachment of the 830th Signal Service Battalion with the aid of some piano wire and valve springs from a Ford car to mount the equipment. Though it employed only a ten-kilowatt transmitter designed for Boehme high-speed operation, the station became one of the most useful in Africa. Even after Dakar virtually replaced Accra as a ferry stop, the latter continued to handle all administrative traffic in the area, relegating its short Dakar channel to a smaller one-kilowatt transmitter.92
ACAN’s Casablanca station, equipped with radiotype, had gone on the air late in November. Two months later, in January 1943, its operators received a surprise when they fell heir to a flood of communications during the Casablanca Conference. Additional facilities were also provided solely for conference use.93 On Christmas Day 1942, Col. Elton F. Hammond, the signal officer of the I Armored Corps, received orders to have local and long-distance circuits in readiness for the meeting. Planning the system and gathering its equipment consumed more time than the actual work of installing it. Begun on 7 January, the conference network was ready for operation three days later; an alternate system, farther inland, three days after that. Additional radio links were established from Casablanca to Britain, to other points in Africa, and to dignitaries en route to the conference. The telephone system employed 23 trunk lines and 148 local lines. A two-position BD-100
switchboard had connections to ten stations, including message centers, airports, and the terminals of radio and cable circuits. During the sixteen days the facilities were in operation the radio channels carried 450 encrypted messages totaling 60,000 groups, and the telephone lines received constant use.94
The direct WAR to Cairo (WVNV) circuit, after barely two months of service, was discontinued on Christmas Eve 1942 in favor of relay of the Cairo traffic by way of Asmara (WVNT) But the Cairo station remained active in the local network. It. even continued to communicate directly with WAR, upon occasion, by means of a British 2-kilowatt transmitter.95 The bulk of Cairo’s traffic to WAR, however, sped by way of Asmara until June 1943, when the Cairo terminal was provided with a high-speed Press Wireless 15-A transmitter and associated equipment which could be depended upon to reach Washington directly.96
Toward completing a powerful ACAN station at Asmara, the Signal Corps had shipped a big 40-kilowatt transmitter manufactured by Press Wireless, Inc. But the valuable cargo had been lost at sea. A second transmitter, embodying a multichannel single side-band system, arrived in October 1942.97 By the end of November men of the 209th Signal Depot Company had tallied in all the items for the station only to find that they had not enough to get it in operation without the aid of British and local purchases.98
The emergency power setup at Asmara required supercharged diesel motors and these were so scarce in the United States that only a part of the units required had been sent. Here, too, poles were a problem. The desired heights of 75 to 90 feet were not to be had locally.99 A dozen steel poles were ordered but they could not be expected in time for the initial installation. Steel towers were fine once erected but they had to be put up in sections, which necessitated expert cutting and welding. The 75-foot poles for the Asmara station, therefore, had been shipped from the United States. Then it was feared that the road to Asmara from the port of Massawa on the Red Sea was too narrow and the turns too many and too sharp to permit transporting the poles overland. Moreover, they arrived unmarked and no one at Massawa was sure of the use for which they were intended. Nevertheless, they eventually reached Asmara by rail, anchored to a flat car with the ends projecting over a car to the front and one to
the rear, with only a few poles damaged in transit as they brushed against the sides of tunnels on the sharp curves.
Despite all obstacles, the 40-kilowatt Asmara station, like its counterpart at Algiers, went on the air in December 1942. When General Olmstead visited the station in the spring of 1943, he considered it to be one of ACAN’s best overseas installations. By then radio intercept equipment had been added at Asmara and in June 1943 men from the 2nd Signal Service Battalion left the United States to establish that specialized service.100
The unit charged with the Asmara station was the 850th Signal Service Company (later, a battalion), whose men arrived in driblets all through the last months of 1942. Further increments arrived in January. The less experienced of them were assigned to Cairo to work the local circuits which stretched out from there. Most were in the 15- to 18-words-per-minute class, but long periods of inaction en route had tended to make them lose the speed they had acquired. Under the supervision of more experienced operators they worked eight hours a day, seven days a week, 1st Lt. T. J. Larabee working the more heavily loaded circuits because of his ability to operate at higher manual speed. The ten operators at Cairo handled about 400,000 groups manually in the month of April 1943, but the ten at Asmara did better. Their score was 620,000 groups in February and 840,000 in April. Until second-priority troops arrived in April, thirty-two operators kept the five stations at Asmara, Cairo, Tel Litvinsky, Bengasi, and Tripoli in operation.
With their ranks increased, the signalmen of the 850th helped the Office of Strategic Services to install a station in Africa. Others scattered to assignments in the Suez Canal Port Command, the Delta Service Command, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and as far away as Ankara, Turkey. Some went to Addis Ababa to set up communications for the newly authorized United States Legation in Ethiopia, despite the reluctance of the Army Service Forces to accept what it considered to be a nonmilitary project.101 Until the Signal Corps men installed this radio station, the only telegraphic communication with the Ethiopian capital had been provided by the British, who maintained an Army station there and a station in the legation compound. The Addis Ababa-Asmara circuit, its equipment ferried in by air, was to open 1 October 1943 with alternate routing by way of Cairo.102
Throughout Africa and the Middle East new stations were opening, others closing, as situations changed. The United States Military North African Mission, which had planned the initial installations, had necessarily taken into account only the immediate requirements in men, material, and service. But after the arrival of United States
troops in November 1942, the fixed administrative network stations faced almost as fluid a situation as did the tactical networks. Men and materials were moved from area to area to provide service under the changing conditions.103
Communications in the Libyan area were made possible only by the transfer of signal men from the Levant Service Command and by the use of British equipment or American equipment borrowed back from the British. The first radio installation in the Delta Service Command, which embraced Egypt and such adjacent territory in the western desert as might be occupied by the Allied forces, consisted of a 1,200-watt Pan American Airways transmitter borrowed from the signal officer of the Air Transport Command at Accra and operated by the 40-kilowatt team of Company C, 850th Signal Service Battalion, on detached service from the Eritrea Command.104
The Bengasi station and the Tripoli station, both in the network which centered at Cairo, went on the air in February and March 1943, respectively, using SCR-188 and SCR-299 sets supplied by the British. Bengasi received an SCR-299, also from the British, about a month later. The Tripoli station obtained a complete BC-447 fixed station assembly in April, only to be closed down finally in October. A high-speed channel between Algiers and Cairo opened in March.
Radio was regarded as the primary means of communication in Africa because of the great distances, the scarcity of civilian wire systems, and the poor roads. And in general it was fairly dependable, although subject occasionally to erratic performance over long desert distances. Nevertheless, whenever the American Army went into an area, telephone lines became indispensable. After the North African invasion, the Allies took over for military use about three fourths of the 40,000 circuit miles of existing wire plant, assuming responsibility for its maintenance and rehabilitation. They added another 5,000 miles of open-wire line, including carrier and repeater equipment. The maintenance of these circuits was in itself a stiff task. The communications systems had been built up independently, by naval, ground, and air units—British, French, and American. Methods and equipment differed and much coordination was involved.105
The wire system in the Africa-Middle East area—the Sudan, Eritrea, and extending to and including Iran—could be compared to nothing in the United States except possibly a few remote farmers’ lines. There were exceptions—a number of superb lines which the Italians had built over difficult mountain terrain. The poles were of steel or of reinforced concrete because termites quickly damaged untreated wood. Otherwise, such switchboards as served the lines of the Egyptian States Telephone and Telegraph System were antiquated and badly worn. Repeater stations did not exist. Contracting with the Egyptian company for extensions of its service was a slow process requiring considerable supervision by
Signal Corps men, often through a civilian interpreter of doubtful ability. Eventually even the contracts which had been entered into were canceled, and the Signal Corps took over the building of such additional lines as might be necessary.106
In January 1943 the Signal Corps agreed to provide emergency repair parts for the main Eritrea exchange maintained by the British at Asmara. But by the time the list of what would be needed was received—it amounted to a major overhauling of the entire installation—the diminishing need of the United States troops there for telephone service led to a decision that the British must supply the equipment if they wanted to rehabilitate the system. By the spring of 1943 central Africa no longer figured large in military plans. As the southern ferry route was virtually abandoned, the administrative radio circuits planned for central Africa were not developed and the AACS stations took over the small amount of administrative traffic that remained.107 Work shifted to the north, where the 435th Signal Construction Battalion (Aviation) would build an eight-wire telephone pole line from Bengasi to Tobruk to serve the British Eighth Army and the Ninth Air Force. The 95th Signal Battalion would take over the telephone service in Iran and relieve the British signal units there.
Beyond Africa, detachments of the 833rd Signal Service Company had already arrived in the Persian Gulf Command in order to extend the administrative radio network along the new and safer supply route to Russia. Between Russia and Iran, communication was entirely by radio. The first radio station installed by the 833rd in the Persian Gulf Command was that at Basra, in Iraq, a link in the great equatorial belt of ACAN stations: Asmara, Cairo, Karachi. Other stations followed at Andimeshk, Ahwaz, and Tehran. During December and January, ports along the Persian Gulf were linked into the network—Bandar Abu Shehr (Bushire), Khorramshahr, Abadan, and Bandar Shahpur. A separate network was established for the Motor Transport Service and semi-fixed stations were set up along the supply route for emergency use.108 Main stations of the British radio network were located at Baghdad and Basra, with terminals in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iran, and India. The only other radio installation was a commercial station operated by Iranian Posts and Telegraphs at Tehran, which communicated with London and New York. Later, in 1943, Tehran and Ahwaz obtained broadcasting stations planned and installed by the Signal Corps for the Office of Technical Information.
Radio traffic in the area increased rapidly. From about 20,000 groups in November 1942, the count rose to 180,000 two months later. By April 1943, with practically no increase in equipment or trained operators, more than 800,000 groups a month were passing over the network, although not without worrisome delays. These would decrease only with the provision of better equipment and the arrival of additional operators. With the later installation of teletypewriters, wire would become the primary means of communicating within the command, and radio the means for
long-distance communication and a stand-by for emergencies.
When American forces arrived in the Middle East, two telephone trunk lines, a part of the civil system taken over by the British Army, provided connections to Haifa, Palestine, and from there to Syria and Egypt. The equipment included American, British, and Indian types, with some German desk-type telephones. Poles were of steel tubing, with tapered sections eight feet long, of different diameters, so that varying heights and strengths might be reached. Telephone wires were copper pairs; telegraph wires, single iron-strand.109 The British were operating a net of four teletype machines on the railway circuits, the printers installed at Tehran, Dorud, and Andimeshk, with physical relay at Dorud. Only the lines of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to the south employed carrier equipment. There was one bright spot in the picture, however. The steel pole line supporting the poor railway circuits was capable of supporting also the high-grade carrier circuits which Col. Samuel H. Thomas, Director of Signal Service, Persian Gulf Command, proposed to install from Ahwaz to Tehran, and from Ahwaz to Bandar Shahpur, Khorramshahr, and Cheybassi. In this one place, at least, poles would be no problem. But other needed equipment, in particular a C-5 carrier system, could not be expected before September 1943.
Meanwhile, the signal detachment which had come with the December 1942 contingent of troops, using its own BD-71 and BD-72 switchboards and borrowing equipment from the British, provided telephone service for Khorramshahr, Basra, Ahwaz, and Andimeshk. With the movement of the headquarters of the command to Tehran in January 1943, British Signals came to the rescue with a 40-line German magneto switchboard and all the Swedish handsets they could spare.
In March 1943 the 95th Signal Battalion arrived, but not its organizational equipment. Ten EE-97 teletypes, three BD-100 switchboards, and other items of organizational equipment scheduled for January shipment and due in April would not reach the unit until September, along with the carrier equipment requisitioned by Colonel Thomas. Moreover, the shipment had been short a number of items when it started out and these were not shipped until still later.110 Nobody knew when they would reach Iran. Although the Chief Signal Officer had urged that Signal Corps troops be “unit loaded” to prevent just such separation of troops from their equipment, many other units as well as the 95th arrived at their destinations minus equipment and had to borrow and improvise and do the best they could with what they had.111 Actually, the idea of unit loading conflicted with the facts of shipping. Men were carried by transports, which could not also convey equipment in Army bulk. The latter had to go in cargo ships. The manner of shipping, even of issuing T/BA signal equipment, was frustrating from many points of view. The priorities of units, before they were assigned to task forces, were so low that the men received little of the equipment they would use overseas. Then when priority was raised
to permit a unit to move with a task force, it was too late to train men on the equipment even should it be received. When it was shipped separately, the men and their working tools sometimes did not meet for months, and then they were entirely unacquainted.112 Thus the 95th Signal Battalion in the Persian Gulf Command had little of the equipment it needed when it took over communications from the British. There were 700 miles of copper wire to be strung, when it should be received, along the existing route of the railroad, which wound its way up the mountains to Tehran through 130 tunnels in eighty-four miles. Insulated tree wire was requisitioned because it was feared that electrical leakage from bare wire in the tunnels would be too great for satisfactory carrier operation. But since the Plant Engineering Agency could not locate eighty-four miles of such wire line, it was therefore decided to use bare wire and to offset the transmission losses by inserting repeater stations at Sultanabad and Dorud. Luckily, General Olmstead was in the area in April 1943 and he directed his office to hurry the shipment of the wire for the Basra-Tehran line.113
Summer was coming on then. The men newly arrived from a temperate zone endured such climatic conditions as they had never encountered before. In the port areas of Iran summer temperatures soared, humidity was high, and insects swarmed. It was the custom of the natives to work only from six to eleven in the morning and from four to six in the afternoon, but the nature of the signalmen’s operations permitted no such lull. Temperatures high enough to kill mosquitoes and sand flies drained human energy rapidly, and men less able to stand conditions in the low areas were stationed in the mountain districts in summer. Others were rotated to Tehran for a two-week tour, with light duties, to enable them to relax and replenish their physical reserves. The 95th Signal Battalion, which represented over half the signal troops in Iran, and the 833rd Signal Service Company were fortunate in having most of their men stationed in the mountainous parts where temperatures ranged from below zero in winter to a mere 110 degrees in the summer and where the humidity was low all year around. The 231st Signal Operations Company which arrived in June, drew the hot, humid central and port areas.114
The weather was quite as hard on the equipment as on the men. Lubrication maintenance checks had to be made at 150-hour intervals, instead of the normal 500 hours, and dust and sand in the port area wore out movable parts at five times the normal rate.115 All these things added to the difficulties inherent in circling the world with modern communications installations.
From India to Australia
Between the Persian Gulf Command in the Middle East and the Pacific area, where military communications lines were reaching out from the Western Hemisphere, lay the vast expanse of the China-Burma-India theater (CBI), much greater in size than the whole United States and cut apart by
enemy occupation and a barrier of lofty mountains. As originally set up in the spring of 1942, the theater consisted of India, the extreme northern tip of Burma, and the interior portion of free China. The Japanese held practically the entire coastal region almost to Calcutta, thus controlling both water and land routes into China. The air provided the only path of supply to the Chinese allies. And what a path it was, from upper Assam in India over the wild Himalaya Mountain system. Communication installations and installation practices reflected the bleak supply outlook and the strange and unusual local conditions. They also reflected, more brightly, the stamina, ingenuity, and skill of the men responsible for the communications networks. The men caricatured the CBI initial letters as “Confusion Beyond Imagination.” But they nonetheless carried out their mission with American ingenuity and drive. General Marshall had promised an increase in the effectiveness of the air ferry116 which meant that airways, airways communications installations, administrative radio systems, wire systems, and aircraft warning systems would all be extended in the CBI theater. The story of the extension of these networks is a story of improvisation and of individual Signal Corps men who made up the theater’s few signal units.
For a long time the CBI theater possessed the barest minimum communications needed to support air activities. Signal equipment consisted of little more than items in the tables of basic allowance. Lend-lease in reverse helped. British, Chinese, and Indian authorities filled 36 Signal Corps requisitions late in 1942 and another 279 during 1943. Over half the requests were for poles, crossarms, and pole line hardware. Local facilities for manufacturing most types of communications equipment were wretched, and the aggressiveness of the British and Russian delegation often resulted in exceedingly low priorities on American equipment for the Chinese Army.117
In areas of China where poles were scarce, linemen strung excessive quantities of field wire onto the crossarms, thirty pairs to an arm. Insulators, patterned after the standard IN-53, were made of uncured wood; then they were immersed in oil to reduce moisture absorption, and the knobs were insulated with tape at critical points. Lines laid in the early months combined lengths of iron wire, bare copper wire, and field wire. Terminal strips and distribution boxes were improvised from scrap lumber and parts salvaged from wrecked aircraft. There were times when overhead-type cable had to be used for underground installations because it was all the men had, and times, too, when underground cable had to be strung wastefully on poles for the same reason. Transportation of supplies was by any means available: planes or barges, parachutes or donkeys, barefoot porters, camels, elephants.118
In installing and maintaining pole lines, signalmen found elephants useful both to handle the poles and as elevated platforms from which to string the wire. They made similar use of native canoes at high water during the monsoons. Their main job was to provide ACAN facilities, both small local stations and the two larger ones at New Delhi and Karachi which communicated by means of medium-power Boehme equipment with Brisbane and Asmara, respectively, thus tying Africa, Asia, and Australia together and connecting with the circuits crossing the Pacific. And they did considerable AACS work also, not only installing airway radios but operating them too, before AACS units arrived.
Another assignment that fell to the Signal Corps in CBI was aircraft warning duty in Assam and Burma, serving the Tenth Air Force. At first the duty was without benefit of radar. Working as ground observers and radiomen, the men signaled sightings of Japanese aircraft. They served in groups of two or three, constituting a station outpost in the jungles, to which they traveled elephant-back or where they were dropped from airplanes. There they stayed for months at a time, supplies being parachuted to them. Throughout free and occupied China native observers and radio stations were added to the irregular pattern. Some of the stations used types of equipment discarded in the early 1920s by amateurs in the United States as obsolete, but the results attained with them were incredible. Their alerts could be depended upon to give twenty to twenty-five minutes warning of the approach of enemy aircraft. Some 200 spotter stations were scattered through the Shan states, in the Delta country, and in the upper Salween River region.119
The 679th Signal Aircraft Warning Company (Visual) commanded by Capt. John G. Haury, also maintained a visual warning network in the Patkai and Naga Hills overlooking Burma. Some of these stations, too, were a several weeks’ trek from civilization, in the midst of tribes of heathen headhunters, and in areas which British troops entered only in military force. But the natives treated the small groups of American soldiers very kindly. Colonel King, who later became signal officer for CBI, attributed their friendliness to the foundation of good will that American missionaries had laid.
In regions such as these, older types of radar were impractical. Even the lightest radar set, the SCR-602, weighed well over 1,000 pounds and the only way it could have been transported over the almost invisible trails would have been to break it down and have natives hand-carry the various parts. Even then, it would not have been effective because the advanced positions confronted hills, which would have prevented a radar sweep of the Chindwin Valley. A test in these mountains of the much heavier SCR-516, a medium-range version of the SCR-268, proved disappointing. The ponderous components, transported elephant-back after months of grueling road-building labor, served only to give radar a bad repute in these lands because wide-beam long-wave sets were unsuitable for use in such country. So many echoes from the hills smeared the oscilloscope of the SCR-516 that airplane reflections were lost in the glow. Except for the radars in the Assam Valley, the only others in the theater were four SCR-270-B’s which the 675th Signal Aircraft Warning Company (Radar) operated in connection with the British fighter net around Calcutta.
Airborne IFF equipment, transponders, had been flown in and installed on airplanes in the area. But the transponders were useless because there were no ground IFF sets, interrogator-responsors, to challenge the aircraft. Only one radar maintenance officer was known to be in the theater, 1st Lt. John M. Edwards of the 1036th Signal Company, 305th Service Group, at Ondal. The quality of third and fourth echelon maintenance varied from one depot to another, depending upon the resourcefulness of the men who made the repairs without the spare parts that were needed and often with ancient tools which no technician in the United States would touch. Electronic equipment was often unaccompanied by instructional literature because its “secret” label so limited its distribution that even the men who needed it were unable to get it.120
The veteran signal unit of CBI was the 835th Signal Company, teams and detachments of which performed all manner of ACAN radio, wire, aircraft warning, and AACS duties from one end of the sprawling theater to the other.121 As the Allies sought to open up a land route into China, the Ledo Road, early in 1943, a detachment of the company, Team 6, provided communications. Two officers and 71 enlisted men moved up to Ledo, a small town in the jungle at the foot of the Naga Hills, the headquarters of SOS CBI Base Section No. 3. The British had made a start and General Stilwell had taken over the task of building a road from Ledo to Myitkyina which would connect with the Burma Road into China. Only 120 miles away from Ledo lay Burma and the Hukawng Valley, held by the Japanese. But the intervening terrain was such that Merrill’s Marauders spent seven days hacking their way through three miles of it to reach the enemy’s flank. Soon the team established its radio station and waited for supplies for the pole line, which would parallel the road. Although the radio station they set up was a simple one, installing it was no simple matter. The transmitter and receiver positions perched on ledges of the hills, which rose in steep steps and which were reached only by jungle trails. Couriers ran the messages back and forth between “Radio Hill” and the message center established in a bamboo basha, or native hut, near the headquarters of Base Section No. 3. Each piece of equipment had to be laboriously hand-carried up these rough trails; then the station had to be supplied the same way.122
All equipment was extremely scarce at Radio Hill. Spare parts were unobtainable and power units a prize item. When a new one-kilowatt transmitter was expected by the men at the station, they sent a repairman to the distant port to conduct it safely through the hazards of an Indian railway trip.123
In addition to keeping the radio channels
working in the administrative network, radiomen from Ledo accompanied the construction crews who were pushing through the jungle to create the Ledo Road, the road Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek later named the Stilwell Road. They followed the pioneer bulldozer in a radio-equipped command car and the portable equipment often got as far as twenty miles ahead of the widening and grading crews. Another team at road headquarters maintained communication with the forward set and back to Base Section No. 3.
At the same time other teams, with the aid of soldiers of the Indian pioneer troops, were building the pole line from Ledo out. The Americans understood no Hindustani and the Indian troops no English; yet six weeks saw twenty miles of poles and crossarms set. The working day was ten to twelve hours long, with two or more hours a day consumed in traveling back and forth from camp to the working area. Copper wire was strung on the new poles with the lines on the lower crossarms phantomed for two talking circuits to Ledo. In the absence of antiaircraft installations along the route, one of the physical circuits of the phantomed group was used to provide air raid warning. Trouble shooting became a 24-hour-a-day job.124 Later these men would have the satisfaction of being on hand at Myitkyina to furnish communications for the drive that would clear the Japanese from that area.
Back at Ledo, others of the detachment were providing the telephone service for that locality. In April 1943 Ledo had two trunks to Tinsukia, two to the Margherita dial exchange, four to the 20th General Hospital at Margherita, five to Lakhapani, one to combat headquarters three miles beyond that town, two trunks to Hellgate and 55 local subscribers. After working all day in the radio station, the Signal Corps men spent many of their nights repairing the battered 40-line common battery switchboard obtained from the civil exchange through reverse lend-lease for installation in the rapidly expanding hospital at Margherita. As service increased, the native operators became less able to cope with the circuits and Ordnance and Quartermaster men were pressed into service as operators. One, a cook, became so skilled that he was made assistant to the wire chief.
At the turn of 1942 the signal officer of the Tenth Air Force, Col. Samuel S. Lamb, returned to Washington to obtain decisions from the War Department General Staff, the Signal Corps, and the Army Air Forces on CBI signal matters. He succeeded in getting equipment for five additional fixed radio stations—three of 1 kilowatt and two of 300 watts. He won recognition for the 835th Signal Service Company, recommending that it be redesignated the 835th Signal Service Battalion and include the five fixed radio station teams, a message center detachment, a telephone and telegraph detachment, and a wire-construction detachment. Both General Stilwell and the Operations Division, General Staff, favored the inclusion as well of the 235th Signal Operations Company and the 281st Signal Service Company, Aviation, thus continuing under one headquarters the administrative communication units of both the Air Service Command and the SOS. The 835th Signal Service Battalion, which grew out of the pioneering company, was officially activated in the theater on 1 April 1943, with its headquarters at New Delhi. Actually the new battalion, authorized 49 officers and
980 men, included two companies formerly assigned to the Tenth Air Force—the 235th Signal Operations Company and the 861st Signal Service Company.125
The battalion’s detachments, widely dispersed, comprised nearly half of all the Signal Corps men in CBI and the organization was as well known in China and India as the old 51st Signal Battalion had been in peacetime maneuvers in the United States. It remained the signal operating unit for the administrative systems of the entire theater, providing radio communication and maintaining telephone systems for administrative headquarters from western India to China; at Karachi, Services of Supply Base Section No. 1; at New Delhi, headquarters of General Stilwell’s rear echelon and of the Tenth Air Force; at Agra; at Bangalore; at Chakulia; at Chabua, take-off for the route over the Hump; at Gaya, headquarters of the Air Service Command; at Barrackpore, headquarters of the India Air Task Force; at Calcutta, Services of Supply Base Section No. 2; at Ledo, Services of Supply Base Section No. 3; at Kunming, headquarters of the Kunming Area Command; and at Chungking, the forward echelon of the United States Army Forces in CBI.126
Wire circuits thinly penetrated the same areas. Two long distance circuits, a teletype line from New Delhi to Agra, and a teletype and speech connection between Barrackpore and Ondal in the Calcutta area, were among those in operation. In late spring 1943 a carrier circuit for teletype was made available for ten hours a day between New Delhi and Calcutta. The growing amount of Air Forces activity in the Kharagpur and Chakulia area was met by a carrier circuit between Calcutta and Kharagpur which later was extended to Chakulia.127 Other circuits terminated at Lahore, Bombay, Bangalore, Tinsukia, Jorhat, Kinjikhoa, Dinjan, Borhapjan, Ramgarh, Peishiyi, and Chungking. The telephone systems in China were probably as frustrating as anywhere on earth. Native repairmen often sought to cure short circuits in twisted pair wire by shoving a stick or rock between the conductors or by propping up sagging line with a bamboo pole, clothesline fashion. Thus a call over the local lines was something of a gamble; the connection might be completed or not and, if completed, the caller might or might not be able to hear well enough to carry on a conversation.
By early summer of 1943, in addition to the units with the Air Forces and the 835th, the CBI theater had a radio intelligence company, the 955th, and a few V-mail detachments. Radio traffic was growing heavier and operations were becoming more interwoven.128 For one thing, the increasing complexity of the radio nets, coupled with the necessity for frustrating enemy
reception intensified the importance and the difficulty of controlling and changing frequencies, which first had to be approved by a board sitting at Washington and then by the appropriate authorities of India. Thus problems wider in scope developed as the networks in that land became more effective, taking the place of the individual problems which the early arrivals had met and conquered through individual ingenuity.
The globe-circling equatorial ACAN belt line came to earth at two points in India, at Karachi and at New Delhi. In its next jump, the belt line had first touched Australia at Melbourne. But in mid-1942 station WVJJ, Brisbane, replaced Melbourne, WTJJ, as the hub of ACAN nets in Australia and the Southwest Pacific. Brisbane also became the terminus of the direct circuit from WAR, by way of San Francisco. It would remain a key station until late in 1944 when the focus of military activity shifted farther north. Before the Papua Campaign late in 1942, Brisbane traffic had averaged only between 80,000 and 100,000 groups a day. Even so, the circuits had been so overloaded that traffic classified as routine and deferred had to be sent by officer couriers. The work load grew as the campaign progressed. Then, in February 1943, the pressure was somewhat relieved when the Army’s single side-band multichannel sets became available on the Brisbane-San Francisco link. Traffic volume rose to 250,000 groups a day, 80 to 85 percent of its administrative business.
In March ACAN established an emergency link, Brisbane to Karachi, and replaced it a month later by a Brisbane-New Delhi channel. Soon 40-kilowatt equipment at Brisbane strengthened the links with the United States and with India. Belt line traffic from the West and the East passed through this main Australian terminal and on to other subordinate networks in Australia, New Guinea, and islands to the north. By the early summer of 1943 eight command and administrative circuits radiated from Brisbane: 10-kilowatt circuits to Honolulu and San Francisco, a 1-kilowatt circuit to Nouméa, 800-watt circuits to Adelaide River and Port Moresby, a 400-watt general headquarters circuit to Townsville, and 300-watt circuits to Townsville and Sydney.129 Thus, as new conquests were made, the Signal Corps spread its radio and wire over widening areas, drawing outlying stations and subordinate networks into the flexible design of the administrative system, which changed to accord with strategic plans affecting island after island.
Before the end of 1942 the administrative communications situation had altered greatly in the Southwest Pacific. On the Brisbane-Sydney-Nouméa net, Sydney had become merely a stand-by station; little traffic went there and that little by way of Brisbane. The 832nd Signal Service Company, organized from the various radio teams and base communications detachments in the theater, with headquarters at Sydney, was already operating the communications facilities at the advance base on New Guinea. Signal Corps men had gone into both Darwin and Port Moresby to set up the hubs of outreaching subordinate networks before the main bodies of combat troops arrived.
In the rear areas, Base Section 5 at Adelaide and Section 6 at Perth had practically been closed. Section 4 at Melbourne was
dwindling although it would be retained because of the importance of the civilian agencies there. At Sydney, the 832nd maintained the radio, teletype, and telephone facilities for the Services of Supply headquarters and for Base Section 7. At General Headquarters and Base Section 3 in Brisbane, the company was responsible for the large radio installations, including the construction and maintenance of the intercept station under General Headquarters and the radio stations working the United States, New Caledonia, and Hawaii, and for the telephone and teletype facilities required by headquarters and base as well. That section controlled one of the most important ports and the majority of the general depots, as well as the staging areas for the I Corps and the 32nd and 41st Divisions supporting the Australian forces. The company’s radiomen also operated and maintained floating radio stations used by task forces. In December 1942 one such vessel was anchored at Port Moresby, another was at sea. The Buna area, as soon as a supply base was set up there, needed signalmen, and the officers and men for these details came from the 832nd Signal Service Company also.130
Other units meanwhile extended and improved military wire lines in Australia and in New Guinea. By planning and improvisation, under the spur of necessity, communications men pushed wire lines through the sodden, mud wastes of New Guinea in the rainy season, through the heavy jungles which stood like solid walls along the watercourses—all in the short space of days and weeks and months instead of years.
Island Hopping Networks in the South Pacific
Island hopping in the Pacific placed new burdens on Army communications. When the military objective was a dot of land separated from other dots by vast expanses of water, the first communications need when an island objective had been won was a command channel to another island base. Obviously point-to-point radio was the only quick solution. Then, after the Army captured an island, the men had to make it a base for operations against the next enemy outpost. Any base requires an extensive wire system, in addition to radio channels, and the need for these wire networks had not been anticipated to the extent that radio had. Colonel Ankenbrandt remarked early in 1943 that the War Department apparently had “the impression that the South Pacific Area was a bunch of little tiny islands requiring no particular long wire lines; just put up a field switchboard, string a few locals, and there you are.”131 Instead, in some island bases, lines hundreds of miles long had to be built, generally over pathless mountain and jungle terrain.
Communications in the Pacific isles thus fell into three phases: assault, consolidation, and development. Assault communications were the responsibility of communications units serving with the combat troops. Theater signal officers were therefore concerned primarily with communications in the two latter phases. As soon as a tactical commander declared an island secure and free of organized enemy resistance, control passed to the island commander for consolidation and development. During the
second, or consolidation phase, airfields were constructed, harbor facilities installed, and other fixed defensive installations built. All these demanded an extremely rapid buildup of internal communications.
To meet the requirements signal troops laid a temporary wire net, using rubber-covered cable or field wire and a field-type telephone exchange. To supply -army airfield facilities mobile airways communication equipment was landed at the earliest possible moment. The matter of frequency assignments, always critical, had to be considered at once. Therefore, as soon as the senior commander went ashore, a joint Army-Navy communications center was set up, where all point-to-point administrative and operational circuits terminated.132 All cryptographic facilities, those of the tactical troops and of the Air Forces excepted, were established at the joint center. Message traffic intended for local distribution went out over landline teletype circuits or in the hands of messengers.
Often a captured island became a base for further operations. Thus the third, the development phase, soon overtaxed the temporary communication system and required that more stable and more extensive networks be provided. A base needs airfields, weather stations, airways terminals, warehouses, repair and maintenance depots, docks, and tons upon tons of equipment to supply troops.133 Without the adhesive and integrating powers of a suitable communications system, this tremendous gathering-together of command, operations, and supply activities would have fallen apart. It was the function of the Signal Corps to provide the glue, unobtrusively but surely. The demand was expressed by the 41st Division commander in the Southwest Pacific theater: “The chief of staff and myself have a limited knowledge of Signal Corps equipment. ... When the signal communications function properly, as we expect they will, expect no praise, but should they fail, expect plenty of hell.”134
In the wake of the northward advance to push the Japanese from Guadalcanal, the headquarters of the South Pacific theater had also moved north, in October 1942, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Nouméa, New Caledonia. There the headquarters signal detachment (it had just arrived the month before) provided all communications until the 230th Signal Operation Company entered the scene in December. To its credit, the small detachment met and conquered at least some of the communications obstacles it encountered, although many remained. In this area the administrative networks were very closely integrated both with the tactical nets and with the communications systems of the other services. The men here, as in the China-Burma-India theater, had to improvise in order to overcome equipment shortages, turning a hand to many a task not taught in training
a closely knit joint Army, Navy, and Marine pattern in which their individual installations were vitally important to the functioning of the whole. Net procedure was paramount. The codes they used came from both Washington and Hawaii, and until a central code-issuing office was established in the theater early in 1943, the coordination of these was difficult. Both Washington and Hawaii assigned frequencies, but often the operators could use the assignments of neither because of radio interference from Australian stations employing the same wave bands. Additional interference came from installations located on other islands and on the Asiatic mainland also, which radiated over un-coordinated channels. The channel back to the United States was overloaded with reports which Washington required be sent by radio. Gradually these difficulties diminished as communication coordination and control improved.135
In the South Pacific, as in the Southwest Pacific Area, wire needs presented an immediate requirement which was not met as readily as the need for radio networks. When Colonel Ankenbrandt sought supplies for more telephone, more telegraph, and more teletype circuits, especially to serve the airfields, the Army Communications Division in the Washington headquarters of the Signal Corps sent Maj. Allen E. Wharton to the area in November 1942 to get firsthand information on what was needed and to help plan the telephone systems for New Caledonia and Fiji. Wharton’s survey accented the inadequacy of T/BA equipment—inadequate, that is, to provide for island after island, where each new occupation demanded a wire system which had to be installed before the systems in the rear areas could be ripped up and moved, if they could be released at all under plans for occupying the bases. Some equipment could be leapfrogged for a second forward movement. But, at best, Pacific-island warfare expended communications equipment extravagantly, especially wire. Forward movements were contingent upon the tactical situation. The long shipping time from the United States precluded waiting for the development of a plan before requisitioning the communications material to support it.
Following the general communications design, administrative radio networks went into these islands before the wire systems could be built, and equipment was scarce for even these. Colonel Ankenbrandt pointed out to Major Wharton, “We have rebuilt every piece of equipment available in this area for use on these networks and are woefully short.” Transportation vagaries contributed to the shortage. For example, a shipment of some 14,000 pounds of equipment intended for a station on Espiritu Santo was delivered at Plaines des Gaiacs in central New Caledonia. In March 1943 Ankenbrandt reported supply incidents “to make your hair curl.” A ship which had arrived 22 December, containing 800 miles of wire and other items sorely needed, was not moved to a discharge point until 2 March. Another vessel arrived the day after Christmas with an SCR-511 and seven radio sets. For six weeks it sat in the harbor still loaded; then it was sent on to Espiritu Santo where it remained a while, and finally it was ordered to sea again with its valuable cargo still on board. Under such circumstances, shipments became hopelessly lost and were not discovered for months. And before depot companies arrived in the area
to care for the signal equipment, even what had been unloaded was not always available to those needing it.136
A prevailing practice of grabbing whatever equipment might be acquired without regard to the consignee was rampant, and it worked to the advantage of nobody. Even material that had been placed in depots was not always readily available. The administrative organization placed island supply under the service commander, not the island commander. Hence the island signal officer had no real control over his signal supply except through coordination with the signal supply officer. Colonel Ankenbrandt emphatically expressed the opinion that setting up a complete services of supply in the Pacific, in the form it took, greatly complicated rather than simplified the supply problem. Getting material for airways systems was even more complicated, because the Hawaiian Department was responsible for its supply. Further, the requisitioning of items common to both the administrative and airways systems, such as telephones and field wire, produced another area of confusion.137
Not all the supply troubles were local. Some stemmed straight from Washington. Upon a first look at the power situation, Ankenbrandt had requisitioned twelve electric power units, 25-kilowatt capacity, capable of 24-hour operation. Skeptical Signal Corps officers in the Washington headquarters wanted to know exactly what purpose the power equipment was to serve. By that time a second look had convinced Ankenbrandt that the need for such units was immediate and widespread. Yet it took an exchange of six telegrams to convince Washington. In this connection he affirmed that the SCR-299’s “paid for themselves many times over ... even though they are not always used by the unit that brought them down.” The sets were invaluable not only because of the usefulness and popularity of the radio itself but especially because of its excellent power unit PE-95. Its size made it usable in many places and it was durable enough to provide steady 24-hour operation for most of the small radio stations. The smaller PE-75 power units soon landed on the scrap heaps, completely worn out, Ankenbrandt complained. “We have found ourselves behind the eight-ball,” he said, “every time we count on the power plant [being] shipped with a radio station ... and we end up with a power unit less a radio station, or a radio station less a power unit.”138
Plans for administrative communications in the South Pacific contemplated that when the Army and the Navy operated in close proximity, both would use either the Army or the Navy station already in the area, setting up cross-channel links as needed. However, Colonel Ankenbrandt really favored four major radio channels to link the main bases: a complete Army administrative net, a complete Navy administrative net, an Army airways net, and a Navy airways net—these in addition to the various local tactical air and ground communications required. He noted, “It is good in theory to combine facilities and use the same
channels for multi-purposes, but in actual practice when the chips are down ... then the need for all these facilities becomes readily apparent. ...”—as it had during the fighting on and around Guadalcanal. He also noted that where “the regular tactical channels are used for airplane traffic, it is the rule rather than the exception to have the plane get in before the message, often to the embarrassment of all concerned—such as AA fire and pursuit attack!”139
Although the Navy’s circuits were better manned, in numbers and in quality, than those of the Army, they were crowded with the Navy’s own traffic. The Army’s administrative messages had to wait. Comparatively, from the standpoint of both communications men and equipment, the Air Forces on New Caledonia were better supplied than the Ground Forces, Ankenbrandt asserted, although, in setting up troops for the island air commands at New Caledonia and Fiji, the Air Forces had made no provision at all for communications troops and had to borrow from the tactical units or from the island commanders.140
Originally the plans for the South Pacific administrative radio network had called for a 15-kilowatt station at Nouméa to work Auckland and Brisbane, and four 300-watt stations, one each at Nouméa and Efate and two at Espiritu Santo. Equipment for the stations had arrived in Australia on 10 December 1942. But the headquarters had already moved north. The plan no longer applied in its entirety, and makeshift stations were in operation. Nouméa replaced Auckland as the pivot of the administrative radio networks in the area and became the South Pacific terminal of the WAR circuit by way of Hawaii.141 Circuits from Hawaii also terminated at Auckland and Tutuila. Direct circuits were in operation from Nouméa back to Brisbane and Sydney, and other circuits radiated to Auckland, Suva in the Fijis, Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, and Efate.
The Nouméa-Espiritu Santo-Efate triangle was maintained by a commercial Hallicrafters set, an HT-4, rebuilt to operate above eight megacycles. The Navy provided housing and power for the Nouméa installation and used it jointly with the Signal Corps. Efate used Navy equipment exclusively until Army equipment could be received. At Auckland, the Signal Corps men operated a Navy TCC (Collins 10-channel) transmitter, located at the Navy’s station. In December the station got an HT-4 modified to transmit on three Army frequencies with directional antenna. At Suva also the Army and Navy combined their facilities, the Navy supplying the power. Suva used a rebuilt SCR-299 transmitter until its 300-watt equipment be received. The Guadalcanal station went on the air in December 1942, using an SCR-197. Espiritu Santo, headquarters the Thirteenth Air Force, was linked into the Nouméa-Guadalcanal circuit, as well as into the Nouméa-Efate-Espiritu Santo network. On 1 February 1943 Nouméa opened a 15-kilowatt manual circuit, changed to Boehme high-speed operation, for joint Army-Navy communication with San Francisco.
There had been a little coolness, according to Ankenbrandt, between the Nouméa and the San Francisco ACAN operators because the San Francisco radiomen were unwilling to work the island station
manually. When they could not clear traffic automatically, they “dumped” it on Brisbane for manual relay to Nouméa, thus delaying the messages and creating a larger margin for error.142 In the early summer of 1943 an additional 1-kilowatt transmitter was installed at Nouméa to provide an extra tactical channel between that point, Brisbane, and Port Moresby. As more and more equipment began dribbling into the South Pacific theater, fixed Signal Corps facilities, including the new radioteletype, gradually replaced the mobile SCR-197’s, 188’s, 299’s, Navy radios, and old commercial sets which had been pressed into service to establish the first ACAN nets in those quarters of the Southern Hemisphere.143 Meanwhile officers in the field had learned to modify their demands, and inexperienced technicians had trained themselves in the use of the equipment they had at hand and had accomplished more with it than either they or anyone else had thought possible.
The installation of AACS stations in the South Pacific theater had been very slow, partly because there were so many factors not under the control of the Signal Corps. The buildings, as in other places, were constructed by the Engineers from materials provided by the Services of Supply in the area. Like other service troops, the Engineers available were few. It was impossible
for the Signal Corps to install equipment with speed. A score of Army Airways Communications System installations under way in the 20th Region, AACS, were put up by a small group of officers and engineers loaned by the Hawaii Signal Office.
It was the old story of compromise between the users who wanted the equipment on the air at once and the radio engineers who wanted to do a thorough fixed installation job, such as they had done in peacetime. Early in 1943 the Signal Officer of the South Pacific Command established a section in his headquarters to handle all AACS communications, following the general desires of the Air Transport Command, but catering particularly to the needs of the local cargo planes engaged in moving emergency supplies and evacuating the wounded. Stations were then in operation on Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, Efate and at Plaines des Gaiacs, Tontouta, and Nandi. Other Pacific stations, controlled directly out of Hawaii, were operating at Samoa, Aitutaki (Cook Islands), Bora-Bora (Society Islands ), and Penrhyn (Tongareva), most of them using makeshift equipment. Gradually, however, the improvised facilities on the AACS network were replaced with standard fixed radios and navigational aids such as homing stations, radio ranges, radar beacons, control towers, and ground direction-finding and instrument-landing equipment.144
Radar equipment was on hand at most of the air bases, but there were too few skilled crews to install it. The theater wanted no more SCR-271’s. An SCR-270 could be installed in a week or ten days by the operating company but it took months to put a 271 on the air, and there were enough of the 270’s on hand, including those supplied by the Navy and the Marine Corps, to provide aircraft warning service. New Caledonia had three SCR-270’s in operation and three SCR-271’s on hand awaiting the arrival of the 673rd Aircraft Warning Company to install them. The Coast Artillery was operating five SCR-268’s along the southeast coast of the island. Fiji had three SCR-270’s in place, with five SCR-271’s on hand for installation by the 672nd Aircraft Warning Company when it should arrive. On Espiritu Santo two reporting platoons of the 674th Aircraft Warning Company were awaiting water transportation for their two SCR-271’s, the only means of getting them to their sites. So it was at other points.145
Radio and radar needs in the South Pacific had been at least partially anticipated. But wire nets had not. Telephone construction slowed almost to a standstill during the winter of 1942-43 for want of switchboards, field wire, open wire, insulators, construction troops, teletype machines—practically everything needed for telephone systems. Colonel Ankenbrandt said in February 1943: “Circuits do not exist and my guess is they will not for six more months.” He borrowed from the Navy and the Marine Corps in an attempt to make wire ends meet. He managed also to get 1,000 miles of heavy field wire of Australian make, hard to handle and hard to ship, but satisfactory once it was installed. Even the full amounts of T/BA equipment seldom accompanied the signal troops who made the long journey down under from the United States. The 905th Signal Company, Depot, Aviation, for example, arrived without switchboards or teletypewriters. The theater signal officer
pleaded: “Surely production is increasing all the time and you should be able to meet some of these requests, at least partially, soon.” Even more than wire equipment, Colonel Ankenbrandt needed wire-construction units.146
The fact that he himself, during the preliminary planning at Washington, had shared the common view that wire communication would be relatively unimportant on the island bases did not ease his anguish. On Fiji the division signal company organized a provisional construction unit out of tactical troops and set the men to building a pole line to connect Suva and Nandi. Defense strategy called for the defense of the harbor at Lautoka and added another area to the list of places desperately needing wire networks. It would have been easier to build the Suva-Nandi line along the road, paralleling the commercial line, but Signal Corps officers chose a more difficult inland route, half the length, in order to conserve the small stock of wire and protect the line should the enemy land along the coast. On Guadalcanal nearly 1,000 miles of open wire had been unloaded by the end of February 1943 and Signal Corps men began construction on a tenpin crossarm line from Koli Point to Lunga. A similar line was still needed on Espiritu Santo.147
In February 1943 Ankenbrandt painted a dark picture of the wire situation and of the code situation, too. But about radio he was more hopeful. To improve the code situation he and his Navy colleagues took a few risks frowned on by Washington. They placed cipher machines in the forward areas—with appropriate safeguards—and brought about at least a 200-percent improvement in communication with Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, and Efate.148 It was April, however, before the first repair kit and two trained repairmen arrived to service the sixteen cipher machines employed at message centers on the various islands in order to supplement the strip cipher systems and M-209 equipment.149 Meanwhile cryptographic officers arrived from Washington to supervise code activities and to serve as itinerant inspectors and instructors in code procedures, thus further improving the situation.
By spring 1943 the administrative radio net had been rearranged to serve existing needs and to provide for extensions to the north. The Suva-Hawaii channel was discontinued except as a stand-by, after an analysis of the traffic revealed that only about 1 percent of the messages it carried were addressed to Hawaii. Over one third were relayed back to Nouméa. By discontinuing this channel and establishing point-to-point links from Suva to Nouméa and Nouméa to Auckland, it became possible to cut down the traffic on the air and to operate the main network much more efficiently. Aitutaki and Penrhyn were then linked to Suva. A channel from Guadalcanal reached out to the 43rd Division, which had landed on the Russell Islands late in February. Traffic to Tongatabu and Bora Bora in the South Pacific continued to pass over the Navy’s circuits.150 Equipment was on hand for a semi-fixed station on Guadalcanal and the station was expected to be in operation by the end of April. Although the Japanese were still bombing the island occasionally, the strategical outlook there was so bright that Ankenbrandt decided against dugouts to house the equipment. “Camouflage and a
few sand bags,” he felt, would do just as much good, “except in the case of a direct hit, then nothing would be any good.”151 Meanwhile, as plans for projecting fixed ACAN systems into newly occupied islands took form, tactical signal troops were moving forward with the advancing XIV Corps.
The corps had no organic service troops, and Col. Evan D. Cameron, the corps signal officer, used detachments from the 26th Signal Company of the Americal Division and from the 25th Signal Company of the 25th Infantry Division in order to establish headquarters communications until other troops should arrive.152
The 26th Signal Company under the command of Lt. Col. Robert B. H. Rockwell had landed on Guadalcanal in December 1942 with the Americal Division and had taken over communications from the marines.153 The wire lines serving the division headquarters extended also to naval headquarters, to naval construction and service units, to Marine service units, to other Army service units in the area, and to Air Forces units. The initial radio installations consisted of a message center in the trailer of an SCR-197-C at Americal Division headquarters, with machine cipher equipment. The transmitter was housed in a truck located nearby, both installations being set against the south side of a steep ridge. They were well camouflaged by trees and nets. The radio intelligence platoon was formed from men of the radio and telephone sections of the company who had had no previous training in that work. They had three obsolete SCR-206-A direction-finding receivers, but no plotting boards or other equipment usually associated with an intelligence company. An infantry officer, well grounded in radio engineering, took over the training of the unit and, by checking its data with a Navy direction-finding station equipped with an Adcock DF, he was able to provide at least the direction-finding aspect of Radio Intelligence duties.
In December and January the aircraft warning system consisted of two SCR-270’s located south of Henderson Field, Radar 1 and 2 operated by the Marine Air Wing, and one located at Koli Point operated by Marine antiaircraft forces. The marines had laid a telephone circuit from Koli Point to Radar 2 and shared with the 26th the duty of maintaining the line. The Ilu River served as a convenient dividing line to apportion responsibility between the two services. The 26th laid the circuit between Radars 1 and 2 at Henderson Field and wing operations. The Australians operated valuable coast-watching stations on Guadalcanal and on other nearby islands.154
Following the 26th in a few days, the 25th Signal Company, with the 25th Infantry Division, filled to strength in Hawaii from other units and supplied with such T/BA equipment as the Hawaiian Signal Officer could spare, landed on Guadalcanal a week before Christmas to install wire
circuits and set up radio networks for the attack on 10 January 1943.
The soldiers in the wire-construction platoons, having no carbines, were armed with rifles, the drivers of their jeeps with Tommy guns. Jeeps and trailers carried all the wire they could hold. In the forward positions the signalmen, without bolos or machetes to cut the trails, pulled the wire by hand through the mysterious and malevolent jungle, moist and stifling with its stench of vegetable decay. They strung wire on trees across miles of water-covered bog where the mud was too deep for a man on foot and the water too shallow for a boat. But somehow they managed. Then, as frequently happened, after the wires had been laboriously strung, the Engineers, opening roads, chewed them to pieces. Near the fighter strips, particularly, Japanese bombs cut them up. Then the crews went out to repair the lines, often under fire from snipers hidden in the dense undergrowth. At night the signalmen worked in the dark, by feel, climbing trees to locate breaks in the lines, using test telephones on each line in turn, then circling about, trying to find both ends of a broken wire, sometimes working all night long without success. They coveted one feature of the Japanese wire equipment for their own—but only one—the bright yellow color of the field wire which made it visible in the dark, dank jungle, even at night.155
Neither civilian experience nor Army training in the United States, at its best or at its worst, had prepared men for maintaining communications under conditions such as these troops found on Guadalcanal during 1942-43. In training camps they had griped at the rigors of basic training, but now they found that physical fitness was their greatest asset. Anything that had taught them endurance paid dividends as they cleared the jungle or dug foxholes in coral.
In January 1943 the 69th Signal Service Company arrived to augment the Signal forces on Guadalcanal, bringing with it a pigeon detachment. Lacking officers, the detachment acquired an infantry lieutenant to take command. The men established lofts for the birds on Guadalcanal and on Tulagi Island, about twenty miles to the north, and flew the birds back and forth with fair success. Training the pigeons to fly from ships at sea to their lofts was more difficult. Most of the pigeons on hand were old birds, slow to learn new tricks, and there is no record of their performance in competition with electrical communications.156 Meanwhile Lieutenant Van Ness’s unit of the old 162nd Signal Photographic Company had arrived on Guadalcanal to make its first combat pictures.157
Although the 69th did not land until 17 January 1943, the company nonetheless saw considerable activity before Japanese
resistance collapsed on 9 February. It installed a tactical control telephone circuit for the 2nd Marine Air Wing at Henderson Field; helped the 26th to construct field telephone lines for the Americal Division; and augmented the communications of the 31st Bomber Squadron.
Finally, a detail of seven men stepped into a boat for the opposite, or southwest, side of the island, aiming, first, to establish a radio station at Beaufort Bay which could transmit warnings of enemy ships and aircraft detected by a radar already functioning there; and, second, to provide communications for the 132nd Infantry, moving from Lavora Pass up the southwest coast toward Cape Esperance.
Arriving at Beaufort Bay on 26 January, the detail split to accomplish its double mission. One party installed the radio equipment, laid a telephone link to the radar station, and established a channel with the radio station at Henderson Field. The second party, equipped with a portable radio, continued on toward Lavora Pass, about thirty miles up the coast. On the way, the man in charge fell ill with malaria. Learning of this from a native messenger, the noncommissioned officer charged with the new radio station at Beaufort Bay had no choice but to leave it in the care of the operators, who now worked as long as thirty-five hours at a stretch. Traveling for three days and nights on foot and in native canoes, the sergeant joined the second party. Their boat was strafed by unidentified airplanes, but without casualties. The radio was water-soaked, but repairable. After patrols had cleared the beach of enemy machine gun nests, the Signal Corps party went ashore, set up the radio and maintained it.158
For such actions, the laconic credit line the Signal Corps men received read something like this: “Rations, water, wire and communications were brought forward promptly.”159 At the end of January a detachment of the 26th embarked for Cape Esperance to provide communications for to 2nd Battalion of the 132nd Infantry whose mission was to attack the Japanese from the rear. Other men of the company, who had been assisting the Australians in the operation of an interisland aircraft warning and coast-watching net, returned to join the organization in February, and on 19 February the 803rd and 807th fixed-station radio detachments arrived to develop the permanent network in the conquered area. Then the 26th prepared to withdraw to the Fiji Islands, and on 6 March the first echelon landed on Viti Levu. Joining the 37th Signal Company there, the men began establishing a communications system for the Americal Division, also withdrawn from Guadalcanal. The work was not heavy, however, and training courses were set up, as much to occupy time as to develop technicians.160
From Guadalcanal, other Signal Corps troops advanced to the Russell Islands. A detachment of the 43rd Signal Company and one platoon of the 579th Signal Battalion went ashore with the first waves of the 43rd Division. The Russell Islands were strategically located between Guadalcanal and New Georgia, the latter occupied by about 15,000 enemy troops. Active enemy airfields, naval bases, and troop concentrations throughout the northern Solomons, New Britain, and New Ireland made antiaircraft
and shore defenses urgent in the Russells. On the day of the landing, an hour before even the field kitchens were functioning, the Signal Corps men established telephone communication to all major elements of the landing force in order to augment air, warning, and command radio, which had been available since the moment of landing. Five days later, the 579th Signal Company, Radar, was in position on high ground on Pavuvu, the second objective of the occupation. But radio silence precluded the operation of its radar until 6 March, when the Japanese launched their first air assault, inflicting damage to supply dumps and buildings. Radio silence was lifted then and the company began operating. Within a few days a Navy SCR-270 entered the warning network, which thereafter regularly picked up planes 80 to 90 miles away and frequently at distances of 140 to 150 miles. In all air attacks except the first the troops were alerted in time to get fighter planes from Guadalcanal.161
Guadalcanal imposed the first severe and extended testing of the Pacific’s communications equipment. The sound-powered telephone and the familiar EE-8-A field telephone were excellent. The switchboard BD-71 was too heavy; battalions needed something lighter like the old World War I BD-11. The assault wire was good but too fragile and easily damaged. Dampness attacked tremendous numbers of batteries, corroding the terminals and decomposing the paper containers. The old-type walkie-talkies, SCR-194 and 195, were a disappointment. These radio sets gave poor results because the jungle blocked the line-of-sight transmission, which their very high frequencies required. But because the Navy’s type TBY gave somewhat better results, Colonel Ankenbrandt was unwilling completely to dismiss very high frequency radio for jungle operations.162
The long-range vehicular SCR-193 was best when put to use for air-to-ground and regiment-division-corps communications. Several sets had been installed in Engineer half-tracks. The SCR-511 fell a victim dampness all too often, but when it could be kept in operation it was far better than other small portable radios. Infantry communicators liked the SCR-245, especially for spanning the frequencies between 2 and 6.5 megacycles. Nobody liked the SCR-284, which was neither light enough for the men to carry with any ease nor rugged enough to be carried in jeeps. Further, its hand-cranked generator made such a noise that it invariably drew Japanese fire.163 Nevertheless, some of the users considered this set highly dependable, if unpopular. Altogether, only a relatively small percentage of the signal equipment was rendered useless during the campaign, perhaps 20 percent at the point of greatest action. During the 10-25 January offensive a detachment of the 175th Signal Repair Company, serving with the 25th Signal Company, put seventy radio sets in operating condition and returned them to the users, usually within twenty-four hours.164
By February 1943 Colonel Ankenbrandt was able to report that after a “very slow” start (the italics are his) the Signal Corps had done “a good job” for the Army troops in the South Pacific Area. He felt that the Army was keeping up its end of the joint operation despite the Navy’s obviously higher “standard of living.” He listed the six main categories of signal activity in the area in the order of their excellence, as follows: radio, units, codes, supply, personnel, and telephone.165 A month later so many complicating factors had arisen that he could no longer attempt to rate the activities comparatively, he wrote to Lanahan, but he thought that the theater was at least beginning to better a situation wherein it had been merely “getting by.”166 Finally, early in June 1943, he felt sufficiently encouraged about the ACAN system in his area to write: “Our Army Administrative Net has shaken itself down operationally ... it is working very well indeed in my opinion.” He took particular satisfaction in the fact that “several of the Junior Navy Officers and Radiomen who are familiar with our labors through the various joint stations we are operating down here have stated privately to us that our circuits are working better and more efficiently than their own!”167
By now, in mid-1943, Signal Corps men in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas, and their communications equipment as well, had undergone the tests of jungle warfare. Many Signal Corps units not mentioned here were undergoing the same experiences and meeting them with the same fortitude. The remarks of Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins, commander of the 25th Infantry Division, concerning the performance of the soldiers of the 25th Signal Company on Guadalcanal, could truthfully be applied to many others: “Practically all of the critiques of maneuvers that I have heard have damned the Signal people. We did not have that here, which is a tribute to the Division Signal Company and the communications personnel throughout the division. Personally, I don’t believe that any men in the Division worked as hard as the signalmen, particularly the linesmen. I have always taken my hat off to them.”168
Alaska and the Aleutians
The South Pacific island approach toward Japan had its counterpart in the north, where the Signal Corps was providing Army communications through the northwest reaches of the North American mainland and outward into the Aleutian Islands chain. All the military activity going on in the area had a twofold purpose: to lay foundations for strong permanent Alaskan defenses and to provide facilities for American landings in the Aleutians to dislodge the Japanese entrenched there. Toward the first of these objectives, the Signal Corps was devoting special effort to complete the telephone pole line which paralleled the Alaska Military Highway (or
Alcan, as it was popularly called) across Canada to the Alaskan subcontinent.
Alcan Highway Pole Line
The telephone pole line project had got off to a slow start. Building the line was not considered to be a tactical project and, in any event, the Signal Corps had too few construction troops available to handle such an assignment.169 Therefore the Corps of Engineers had contracted with a civilian construction company to build the line on a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to be administered by the Engineers, with the Signal Corps’ Maj. Ora F. Roberts, as resident engineer, to supervise the technical aspects of the work. The Signal Corps felt that this arrangement left it without any effective method of enforcing its standards of workmanship and complained of unsatisfactory progress and poor quality of work. The construction company retorted that it was Signal Corps changes in plans and specifications which accounted for much of the delay, and that Signal Corps methods of procurement had added excessive costs to the project.170
It was certainly true that delivery of materials was long-delayed, but not all the difficulty was due to Signal Corps negligence. All the materials were purchased through the Office of the Chief Signal Officer and the Plant Engineering Agency. Requirements for the pole line were superimposed upon a mountain of communication equipment needs for other areas, and it was very difficult to force through the priority ratings necessary to get material. Furthermore, the initial plans had failed to include electric power supplies. The planners had assumed that the Corps of Engineers would provide them, but by February 1943 it was plain that the Signal Corps would have to accept full responsibility. Trucks, too, had been almost impossible to get in adequate numbers. On at least one item, the Signal Corps’ own procurement procedures had been at fault. In August 1942 all the requirements for crossarms and hardware had been filed with the Philadelphia Signal Corps Procurement District, with a request that the entire job be turned over to the Graybar Electric Company, which possessed the necessary raw materials and could begin deliveries within thirty days. In the course of placing the contract, the Office of the Chief Signal Officer’s Purchase Branch, anxious to spread the work, let the contract to six separate companies, including Graybar. None of the other five had the necessary material on hand. New orders had to be let, and practically no pole line material was available by November, when it was to be used.171
Thus amid a number of initial fumbles, the pole line project got under way. The line was built in three sections, each subdivided into smaller segments. The first 500-mile section from Edmonton, Alberta, to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, probably offered the most difficulties. The administrative pulling and hauling was still going on, and the supply situation had not yet
shaken down, when on 10 November 1942 the Office of the Chief Signal Officer informed Major Roberts that this first section of the line must be finished by 1 December. Some 400 miles of poles were set, but they lacked crossarms. Almost no hardware had yet arrived. The War Production Board’s disapproval of the amounts of copper necessary for all-copper wire had compelled substitution of copper-coated steel wire. Since the substitute wire could not provide the same long-distance transmission characteristics, the builders had to provide more amplification, relocating the repeater stations and placing them closer together. Actually, though, none of these stations had yet been built. The civilian contractor had the plans, but the lumber, though on order, was not yet delivered.
In the next few days, everything went wrong, engendering one frantic emergency after another. A heavy snowstorm closed the lumber mills, and no lumber for the repeater stations could be obtained. But just then, the contractor received some Yakutat huts, and started placing them at the repeater station sites. Washington flew temporary repeater equipment in by air, and speeded special shipments of hardware by express. The Northern Electric Company of Canada sent ten of its best men to install the repeater equipment in the Yakutat huts. They were to be assisted by enlisted men assigned from the 843rd Signal Service Battalion. But when the soldiers arrived from Seattle on 17 November, there were no quarters for them and hurried arrangements had to be made to house them in Canadian barracks. Meanwhile, the contractor (the Miller Construction Company) continued to set poles. Then fifty of its workers were isolated north of Peace River when a chinook (a warm wind) broke up the ice in the river and swept away the bridge, and two days later a heavy snowstorm further ensnared the men.
All hands agreed to emergency measures: the pole-setting crews would set only every other pole, and place crossarms on every second pole only. Instead of stringing wires one and two, nine and ten, the men would string wires three and four because of the fewer transpositions required on the latter circuit. Special crews of American Telephone and Telegraph Company men from the United States would string the wire, and ten crews of ten men each from the Canadian Bell System from Montreal would be sent to reinforce them. Roberts asked Washington to send 100 miles of twisted-pair copper wire to close the gaps where poles were not set, and he obtained permission from the Northern Alberta Railroad to place this wire on its poles. It was now 19 November; more than 500 circuit miles of wire had to be strung, and there remained but twelve days in which to do it.
Then came another order from Washington: radio communication between Edmonton and Dawson Creek must also be activated by 1 December. That meant more crews, more housing, more supplies, and more transportation. The whole route from Edmonton to Dawson Creek became a bloodless battlefield, with more than 500 soldiers and civilians fighting local engagements against time and the elements. Men drove three-ton trucks over half-frozen rivers and felt the ice dip and sway under them. They floundered in five-foot snowdrifts, drove cars over roads that were sheets of glassy ice, put on crossarms and strung wire by oil lamps, flashlights, and automobile headlights in temperatures thirty degrees below zero. They slept and ate when and where they got a chance. In
the early hours of 1 December trouble shooting crews were still at work along the pole line making emergency repairs and tests.
Finally, at 1940, Washington time, a call came through from Dawson Creek to Edmonton and thence by commercial telephone systems to Washington. General Stoner in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer talked briefly to Col. Heath Twitchell of the Corps of Engineers at Dawson Creek. The deadline had been met. When the conversation was completed, the line went dead, and stayed out for two days while weary crews tried to put it in more orthodox working order. As for radio communication, it too met the deadline with only a few hours to spare. The transmitting equipment for the radio stations at Edmonton and Dawson Creek had been delayed in transit from Seattle. It arrived in the rail yards at Edmonton on the night of 30 November. Signal Corps crews unloaded it and had it in operation in the stations by the next morning.172
The telephone line so hurriedly “finished” to meet the deadline was but an improvised circuit. The real task lay ahead: first of all to make it into a reliable telephone line, and next to extend it through the wilderness to Fairbanks. The work lagged during the next three months. Civilian workers and the extra telephone company crews went home for Christmas—and stayed there. Of the 500 men on hand 1 December, there were now only 150. The schedule called for completing the line as far as Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, by 1 May. Correcting defects in the original line and pushing it 50 miles beyond Dawson Creek took until the middle of February. The Miller Company had subcontracted to the Onan-Smith Company the portion of the line between Fairbanks and Watson Lake, and crews worked toward each other from each end of the line. The work progressed slowly.
By the last of January Colonel Henry, Chief Engineer of the Army Communications Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, who had been sent to Alaska as a trouble shooter, was warning that the only way to meet the deadline was to use Signal Corps construction troops after all. A Signal construction battalion to take over approximately 300 miles of pole line construction would be necessary, he thought, and it would have to be on duty by 1 March.173 The 255th Signal Construction Company got the assignment, leaving San Francisco on 1 March. Since the 255th would arrive in Alaska somewhat behind Colonel Henry’s schedule, 300 Engineer troops were pressed into temporary duty to clear the right-of-way, dig holes, and place poles in the section between Whitehorse and Watson Lake, until the Corps of Engineers required their services.174
There had been repeated delays in locating and building the repeater stations, a responsibility of the Corps of Engineers. On 5 March Colonel Henry reported that only about half of the stations had been built, and in these the floors would not be able to support the heavy load which the equipment would impose. The equipment and the crews to install it, provided by the Western Electric Company, were due to
arrive the very next week (between 8 and 17 March). This was but one of many points of disagreement which caused strained relations between the Signal Corps and the Engineers on the Alcan project. Partial relief came in the form of an agreement by the Commanding General, Northwest Service Command, and the Officer in Charge, Army Communications Service, which allowed the Signal Corps to deal directly with the construction contractor on engineering questions.175
On 31 March Colonel Henry was forced to tell the Chief Signal Officer that the completion date of 1 May for permanent construction could not be met, mainly because the repeater stations were not ready by the dates promised. He urged that the completion date for the pole line be advanced to 21 May.176 Already the enemy was changing from winter to the spring thaw which melted the frozen rivers and turned roads into quagmires. As soon as each repeater station took form, crews of Western Electric men were waiting to swarm over it, installing the repeater equipment. Civilian and soldier crews set poles and strung wire. On 22 May 1943 a second call went through to Washington, this time from the chief of staff of the Northwest Service Command in Whitehorse to the chief of staff for the Army Service Forces in Washington, and to General Olmstead.177 The line was not yet complete, but already it served a valuable military purpose: linking the headquarters of the Northwest Service Command directly with Washington.
In early summer the contractors swung northward in the final phase of work that would bring them into Fairbanks. The weather was favorable, daylight lasted 18 to 23 hours, and the work progressed rapidly. The civilian workers bypassed one particularly bad fifty-mile stretch of line just east of the Canadian border, leaving it to a twenty-man detachment of the 255th Signal Construction Company to string twisted-pair wire to close the gap. Engineers had graded the highway in that section in the winter when the ground lay perpetually frozen beneath a protective two-foot layer of muskeg. It had been possible to scrape away the muskeg, and grade the icy ground into an excellent road. But when the thaws began in the spring, the ground that had been frozen for centuries thawed, for it was no longer protected by an insulating blanket of muskeg. The road became a bottomless bog over which no vehicle could travel, and which sucked bulldozers down like quicksand. With two Indian guides, twenty pack horses, and a supply of K rations, the detachment of the 255th started into the swamp. It took four weeks of dirty, muddy, fatiguing work to put in that section of the line. By the middle of October 1943 the whole job was finished—more than 2,000 miles of gleaming copper wire stretching across the Canadian and Alaskan wilderness, a vital link in the westward movement of the war.
The telephone system served three purposes: (1) it provided a direct and secure line of communications between the United States and the armed forces in Alaska; (2) it provided telephone and teletype
communications between the principal military airfields and weather stations on the northwest staging route, thus permitting up-to-the-minute weather service and better control of air operations; and (3) it permitted direct and immediate communications between various points along the Alaska Highway and oil distribution pipelines, thus facilitating administration and control of all operations in the Northwest Service Command.178
The Alaska Military Highway pole line was not the only rugged telephone work completed during the winter of 1942-43. There was intense Army activity at Alaska Defense Command Headquarters at Fort Richardson, Elmendorf Field at Anchorage, the new air base being built at Ladd Field, and Fort Raymond which was under construction at Seward. Telephone and telegraph traffic in these areas overloaded existing ACAN and Alaska Communication Service facilities and called for new wire lines. The one circuit of the Alaska Railroad between Seward and Anchorage, and between Anchorage and Fairbanks, would obviously be unable to carry the load, even if it were in perfect condition, which it was not. It had therefore been decided to rehabilitate the whole line from Seward to Fairbanks, and to build a new line between Seward and Whittier, traversing two mountains. In June 1942 Signal Corps crews had started work that continued throughout the winter. The drenching rain of summer gave way to howling blizzards, to temperatures hovering between 20° and 40° below zero, and to snow 6 to 14 feet deep. By January of 1943 circuits to Whittier were complete. By July C carrier equipment between Anchorage and Fairbanks was put in service, giving the Army two voice channels and twelve telegraph circuits between Anchorage and Fairbanks.179
The first sizable American amphibious operation in the North Pacific theater of war was known merely as the “Umnak Dispersal.” It involved occupying uninhabited Adak and Atka Islands of the Andreanof group in the Aleutians in order to prepare bases from which to strike at Japanese-held Kiska and Attu.
The Japanese had bombed Dutch Harbor on 3 June 1942. By mid-July the first plans for the Umnak Dispersal were taking shape. On 23 August 1st Lt. Lauris S. Parker at Fort Richardson was told to get together enough radio equipment to set up a small station, and to have it ready by noon, 25 August. On 26 August Parker and five of his ten men joined the motley fleet which was to comprise the landing force. Parker’s equipment, including a receiver, a transmitter, a hand key, and antenna parts, was stowed aboard an old four-masted fishing schooner, the Sophie Christiansen. Four days later the amphibious force anchored in Kulak Bay on the northeast side of Adak Island. Precariously far from a base of operations, the task force had to have
communications, and the Alaska Communication System station, which it was Parker’s job to install, got third priority, preceded only by an airfield and the installation of an SCR-270 radar for air warning. There were of course no landing docks on Adak. The radio station equipment got roughly handled amid sea spray, rain, and sand, as it was loaded and unloaded several times before it could be set up. At first the men operated only the receiver, copying Japanese, Russian, and American signals. Radio silence prevailed until 7 October, when the Japanese discovered the Adak landings. Thereupon the men switched on the transmitter and established Adak in the ACS network. From then on they never lost radio contact with ACAN. This was particularly important, because there were periods when all tactical nets in the area failed, including the Aircraft Warning System, the Navy, and the Eleventh Air Force nets.180
As more and more troops funneled into Adak late in 1942, the ACS on the island followed the usual pattern of development, putting in better facilities and enlarging its activities. The men built a new and better station, put in a remote receiver station, started installing first a field telephone system, and then permanent lines for the island, together with switchboard facilities serving the air base, harbor, and other installations. They also began work on a VHF direction-finding project, which called for a fighter control center, equipped with receiver, transmitter, and homing direction-finding stations on Adak, Atka, and Ogliuga. A temporary plane-to-plane and ground-to-air AACS facility was in operation by early November 1942, with a much more elaborate installation planned. Cryptographic and censorship duties began early in October. Adak was slated to be the net control station (NCS) for an inter-island radio net embracing stations on Atka, Fort Glenn, and Amchitka. Stations on Attu, Kiska, and Shemya were to be added when those islands were occupied.181
Atka Island, an hour’s flying time to the east of Adak, was not expected to become a major base, but with the decision to garrison some troops there communications became a vital necessity. The Alaska Communication System’s 1st Lt. William E. Morris received instructions to go to Fort Glenn on 20 September to meet a ship carrying materials for a new radio station on Atka. Atka was off the beaten Aleutian track, shunned by ships and airplanes alike. The ship which Morris was supposed to meet never arrived. He “hitched-hiked” passage to Atka, but his Signal Corps supplies and men were three weeks late. The Quonset huts to house them, expected in September 1942, finally arrived in May 1943. In the meantime, by dint of almost superhuman effort, communication installations went up. Of all the Aleutian bases, Atka required relatively the greatest use of human motive power. All the equipment, material, and supplies had to be brought in by manpower alone because the swampy tundra would not support motor transportation, not even the lightest of tractors. A 100-man infantry unit hauled the power plants on skids up the hills to the operations site, each man sinking ankle-deep at every step. There were no laundry facilities, no lumber to winterize the tents, and not even the proper kind of boots to protect the soldiers’ feet from the soupy tundra. The 10-man crew of the radio station nicknamed the place “Atkatraz,” and referred to themselves as the “Atkatraz
Rats.” The Atka station joined the interisland net on 23 April 1943, relaying through Adak.182
The Umnak Dispersal into the Andreanofs had shortened the distance between American bombers and the Japanese. It was about 800 miles from Dutch Harbor and Fort Glenn to Kiska. From Adak to Kiska it was only about 350 miles. In January 1943 the next step, to Amchitka, brought the bombers even closer: just 66 miles away from Kiska.
A task force went ashore on Amchitka on 12 January 1943. Japanese reconnaissance planes discovered the landing eleven days later, and dropped their first bombs, whereupon the task force commander broke radio silence. Immediately the Amchitka radio transmitter went on the air and within twenty minutes established contact with Adak. The Amchitka base was intended to provide fighter and bomber facilities, and therefore one of the first demands upon the Signal Corps was for the installation of modern and effective aerial navigation aids. While the Signal Corps men of the ACS were still operating in tents in February 1943, a construction crew under civilian engineer Elwood Philbsen was siting the radio range. Philbsen was to coordinate the construction of facilities for aircraft warning, for the AACS, and for associated VHF installations. His installation crews were mostly Air Forces men, with a leavening of soldiers and radio engineers from the ACS. Temporary systems were operating by the end of April, and more elaborate permanent construction was well under way. Meanwhile, other Signal Corps crews had strung a field wire and field telephone system for the island, to be replaced later by permanent installations. By July the ACS had sixty-six men and seven officers on Amchitka.183
With advance bases secure, the Western Defense Command and the Alaska Defense Command were ready for the first phase of the assault upon the enemy garrisons on Attu and Kiska. In March 1943 Col. George L. Townsend, Signal Officer of the Western Defense Command, had told the ACS that it must furnish three complete radio stations and three “teams” to man them. Each team would consist of an engineering officer, an operations officer, and from five to twenty enlisted men serving as engineers, radio operators, maintenance, men, cryptographers, and censors. Every piece of equipment had to be complete down to the last bolt and nut, and every man on the team had to know his job so thoroughly that he could perform it with split-second timing and accuracy. The ACS had the material, and it had excellent technicians, but its men lacked field experience. Like other Signal Corps organizations it had sent its technicians out to stations to perform desperately needed technical work, at the expense of basic field training. Now, with less than six weeks remaining before the first tactical assignment began, the ACS worked frantically to teach the men at least the rudiments of self-defense. At the same time it drilled them constantly on the technical details of the equipment.184
Team A, fifteen enlisted men, led by 2nd Lts. William C. Greene and Lawrence W. Bucy, left the embarkation point at San Francisco for Attu on 24 April on board the transport Perida. On 11 May the assault began. On 12 May the Perida, edging closer
to the rocky shores of Massacre Bay, rammed a pinnacle of rock. Water gushed into the Number 1 hold where the Signal Corps equipment was stowed. Pvt. G. I. Counter, guarding the hold, rallied the signal team to save its equipment. Within fifteen minutes, nineteen feet of oil and water had flooded the hold, but most of the signal equipment had been dragged to safety on deck. On the morning of the 13th, half of the team went ashore and picked out a temporary station site, a half mile from the front and a short distance ahead of the task force artillery. That afternoon the remaining men brought the cryptographic material and packs ashore. With the bedlam of a landing going on all about them, amid the comforting boom of 105-mm. shells from two nearby batteries and discomforting shellbursts and ricocheting bullets from the enemy, the men set up their station, dug in their operations tent, and erected the antennas. As soon as the antennas went up, they turned on the radio to establish contact with Adak. But Adak was not yet listening, supposing that Team A was still on board ship in Adak Harbor. Finally, after sending a coded message to Adak through Navy channels, contact was made. Attu, Station WXFR, was on the air.185
Of the three cipher machines which had been assigned to the task force, only the one with the ACS unit got ashore and into operation promptly, the others being misdirected in the landing.186 For five weeks the team handled all the cryptographic messages for the task force. The battle for the island went on. On 29 May the Japanese counterattacked with the remnants of their force. During the night they had infiltrated positions near WXFR. When the attack broke, the ACS men turned out with full battle equipment to defend the station. The Japanese were stopped about 500 yards away.187
While the battle for Attu was in progress, Team B (Capt. Richard Murray, 1st Lt. Donald Beyer, and sixteen technicians) was on its way to nearby Shemya. Actually, Team B had been slated for Attu, but an error in code designators had sent them to Shemya instead, leaving the rigors and combat of Attu to a team considered relatively inexperienced.188 Team B was a well-organized, well-equipped outfit, accompanied by eighteen tons of equipment packed into three 6-ton caterpillar trailers. No one knew whether Shemya contained enemy units. As it turned out, the landing was unopposed. Captain Murray and Lieutenant Beyer went ashore with the first units on 2 June. The next morning the equipment was unloaded, a site selected, and within four and a half hours, Shemya Station WXFT was on the air and in contact with Attu and Adak. Shemya, only two miles wide and four miles long, was slated to become a large air base. This meant that, as on Adak and Amchitka, Signal Corps responsibilities for air warning, a VHF system, and AACS installations would have very high priority. In addition, Shemya and Attu would be linked by ocean cable. There would follow many telephone projects, and finally a much-improved and permanent radio station.189
Thus, by mid-1943 the Aleutian campaign was entering the third and final phase. There remained only bypassed Kiska to reclaim. The members of the team training
for the Kiska assignment did not yet know that when they landed on Kiska in August they would find an island abandoned by the enemy without a fight. But already the pattern was clear: Alaska was stronger than ever before. A major contribution to that strength was the communications network which the Signal Corps had provided from the Alcan pole line to the Aleutian radio nets. At war’s end, the Alaskan circuits, probably to a greater extent than any other Army-installed networks in the design for global communications, would remain a source of strength in the defense of the United States. Signal Corps soldiers would leave evidences of their labors and ingenuity in the Caribbean bases, on small Ascension Island, across Africa and Iraq and Iran, in China, Burma, and India, and throughout the islands of the southern Pacific—and most of all in the European areas.
But nowhere else would military communications systems be retained entire and intact, as they would remain in Alaska, not only for Army use, but also, in the tradition of the Alaska Communication System, for the use of the civilians of the territory, providing them with such ready and far-flung communication as they had not enjoyed before.