April 1945 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
While recently watching the classic film
"The Longest Day," about the
June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion, I paid particular attention to the electronics
being featured. During World War II, means of communications were nowhere near as
ubiquitous as they are today with cellphones, the Internet, and readily affordable,
high quality portable Ham gear. Large, heavy radio, teletype, and radar gear made
portable by equally large and heavy batteries, often significantly hampered progress
under fire. As illustrated in the movie, relying on easily cut or blown up landlines
caused significant loss of strategic capability. Thousands of experienced Amateur
Radio operators provided the Allied forces with out-of-the-gate communicators and
electronics technicians. Many had, prior to enlisting, donated some of their equipment
and components to the Department of War for use, ultimately, in securing victory.
Servicemen relied on the various forms of public and government media to get
their messages through to home, and censoring crews removed information deemed potentially
compromising. Even commercial radio and television (TV being a newcomer to homes
- the very few which had them) had relatively limited access to first-hand news
from the front. Ham operators possessed the advantage of already being part of an
established comms network.
QST magazine did a top-notch job of keeping its readers apprised of
the situation during war years by publishing multiple articles every month that
addressed issues related to the war effort. This article from the April 1945 edition
is a prime example. See also the
Hallicrafters ad in the
April 1945 issue QST.
Hams in Combat - Invasion Hams
It was a long, hard trek from the Normandy beachhead to Germany
- the route the invasion hams of VII Corps traveled.
By Capt. John Brawley, SC, W9GYZ (W1LVQ)
Many were the hams who landed in the initial stages of the invasion of France.
Some waded through the surf at H−hour, carrying radio equipment with which to establish
the first com-munications from the assault forces to the head-quarters ships. Some
manned the sets aboard those ships and communicated with the various elements of
the invasion forces, including the air-borne troops who had parachuted with their
equipment down behind the enemy lines some-time before H-hour.
The airborne link was probably one of the most important QSOs ever held by radio.
The suspense and tension aboard the floating headquarters was terrific as the hour
grew nearer for radio silence to be broken by the paratroopers. Operators strained
their ears for the first dit dah signifying that the airborne forces had landed
successfully. For many it was their first combat experience and their first live
messages. But when the tension was broken and signals started coming through, these
opera-tors copied them. They were handed messages to transmit - and they sent them.
QRM mounted - but these lads fought through and over and around it. Searching out
the signals, they stuck to them with the tenacity of a DX hound on the trail of
an XU. They weren't all hams, by any means - but they were all well-trained operators,
and they did a superb job.
There were many other communications needs to be met. There was the great concentration
of ships to be controlled by radio and blinker; there was split-second firing data
to be radioed to the warships from shore fire-control parties; there was the enormously
complex job of control by the convoy commanders and the beachmasters to time the
arrival of landing craft at the beach where they would disgorge their cargoes of
men and materiel. There were calls for air support, and there was the tremendous
job of coordinating the fighting forces on the beaches.
One radioman off a headquarters ship started ashore shortly after H-hour. He
was carrying a portable voice set. As he neared the beach the LCVP was forced aground.
He made his way ashore through waist-deep water, only to find that his radio set
had been damaged by the brine. Without hesitation he climbed aboard the first returning
craft and went back for another set. Again he plunged through enemy fire to the
beach, where he put the set in operation. Twice through that withering fire - and
not a scratch!
Major Charles T. Wesner, ex-W9BIM, waded to the beach with a radio set under
each arm and a bottle of scotch tucked into the front of his trench coat. There
was considerable unfriendly activity on the beach, and in his haste to clear the
area he lost the bottle of scotch. Needless to say, he did not tarry long enough
to pick it up. "It was a snap decision," declared the major, "but the scotch had
to go. War certainly is hell!"
Later Major Wesner and I together "liberated" a town in. Belgium. Armored units
had been advancing ahead of us all day. The natives were deliriously happy to see
the Allies come and the Germans go. Belgian, American and British flags decorated
the streets. Hastily prepared banners were strung up, reading: "Welcome les Liberateurs"
and" Viva les Americans." Crowds of civilians lined the roadsides, waving, cheering,
heaping our vehicles with fruit and flowers, shout-ing "Viva la Amerique! Vive les
Allies! Vive las Belgique!" In fact, they yelled "!Jive" everything. Seeing "PRESTONE
'44" lettered on the radiators of our vehicles, they shouted, "Viva la Presume!'
Major Wesner and I rode our jeep gaily through the holiday atmosphere. After
a while we arrived at this little village. Although we didn't know it then, we were
the first Americans to enter the town. Before long we were stopped by a civilian.
Although we spoke no French and he spoke no English, we soon realized that the villagers
wanted us to join them in the celebration. We permitted ourselves to be dragged
(ahem l) to the civilian's home. From the basement he brought dusty bottles of champagne,
while his wife took shiny glasses from the cupboard. People began coming in from
all over the village. By the time the champagne was poured there were more cus-tomers
than there was wine. Everyone shook hands and kissed everyone else.
The problem of language didn't bother us very long. I raised my glass and shouted,
"Hello CQ! CQ twenty-meter 'phone!" "Vive la Amerique!" they responded in unison,
and we all had another round of drinks. Major Wesner raised his glass and said,
"Brawley, we'd better be on our way." "Vive la Belgique!" they yelled, and then
we had a round of kisses.
Personally, while I hold no strong objection to unpremeditated kissing I do feel
that, even on the spur of the moment, it is my privilege to select my opponent.
But such was not the case here. I was constantly pursued by an elderly gentle-man
who hadn't shaved for several days. Each time I spotted a likely subject and moved
closer to make myself available, I was intercepted by the oldster with the "five-o'clock
We weren't accustomed to such demonstrative people. When we left our jeep looked
like a float in a Mardi Gras parade. It was covered with wreaths, bouquets, streamers
and flags. The Belgians are surely a friendly and hospitable race.
We have a versatile radio crew in the VII Corps. The first press news from the
beachhead was flashed back on c.w. by our operators with their 399. As fast as the
reporters handed in their copy it was transmitted direct to London.
We also furnished radio facilities for psycho-logical warfare purposes. During
the peninsular campaign, when the fortress of Cherbourg was being assaulted by VII
Corps, we took SCR-399s up to the front lines and broadcast an ultimatum to the
enemy. Handling the technical side of these broadcasts were T/4 John F. Wilson,
T/4 Albert Yokym, W8SGW, and T/4 James Coleman. To insure a proper audience, we
picked up German operational frequencies and put the 399s right on zero-beat. Then
our interpreters read the ultimatum in German, Polish and Russian. The broadcasts
went on all night. To prevent the enemy from pinpointing our transmitters and knocking
them (and us) out with artillery fire, we stopped in anyone spot only long enough
for one brief transmission.
Since I have been in the service I have yet to meet a ham who has not been benefited
by his amateur experience. Nor have I met one ham who hasn't been able to contribute
something tangible to his branch of service. There are many others to whom immense
credit must go, as well - the technicians and commercial operators who made radio
a business instead of a hobby, and those men who learned radio in the service schools.
We were the first Americans to enter the town ... and the villagers
wanted us to celebrate with them.
Take, for example, Major Gene M. Ranvier, the radio engineer who interviewed
me upon my arrival in Iceland. The memory of our meeting is still vivid. He chose
to discuss the design and application of a proposed v.h.f. automatic relay circuit.
The only image the words "automatic relay" conveyed to me was that of a mythical
ambidextrous operator who could copy with his right hand and simultaneously transmit
with his left. To add to my confusion, Major Ranvier then threw in a few queer-sounding
geographical locations, such as "Hvalfjordur" (pronounced KWAL-four-ther) and "Budayeyri,"
by way of orientation.
"Amazing, isn't it?" was all I could say when he had finished.
Major Ranvier did much for radio communications in Iceland. When he didn't have
the proper spare parts for repairs, he improvised, often by redesigning the circuits
to fit the available parts. He had a most practical, common-sense approach to a
problem which invariably produced results.
While in Iceland I also met Glen Davidson, W9DDU; John R. Swink, WSTEF; Wm. Brooks,
WSFKT; Walter H. Bales, W9ADH; James A. Shanks, W9JCI, and Joseph Palm, OPLO. There
were others, too, but their calls slip my memory. We fought the battle of boredom
and the peculiar atmospherics that play havoc with all radio communications in Iceland.
In the postwar era, when you QSO Iceland, don't be surprised if the TF suddenly
does a fade-out in the middle of a QSO. The air goes completely dead in a matter
of seconds. Sometimes it stays dead for several hours; sometimes for only a short
while. The result is un-predictable, intermittent communication. We usually blamed
the northern lights for this phenomenon. In fact, we blamed the aurora for almost
every radio trouble - including power failure!
Iceland is cold and stormy in the winter months - and so is the North Atlantic!
No one knows this better than Lt. James A. Shanks, W9JCI, who spent several hours
in a small lifeboat after his ship was torpedoed somewhere off the coast of Iceland.
The torpedo hit during the early morning hours, in pitch dark and bitter cold. The
ship listed badly but Lt. Shanks and other passengers launched lifeboats before
the ship went down. They drifted in darkness through the rough seas for over four
hours. Soaked to the skin by spray, by dawn they were nearly frozen. W9JCI almost
qualified for Silent Keys before their flares were sighted by a Coast Guard cutter.
Another Signal Corpsman, Lt. William Valen-tine, was aboard the ship with W9JCI.
When the torpedo struck he made his way below deck to the sick bay to help get the
patients into the lifeboats. Disregarding his own safety, Valentine stayed aboard
until all the launchable boats were filled. By then the ship was sinking fast. A
few seconds before it went down Valentine climbed to the bridge, cut loose a small
life raft, and slid with it into the sea. He was picked up several hours later,
nearly dead from exposure and fa-tigue - but on the raft with him were three other
survivors he had fished from the sea. Upon reach-ing Iceland Lt. Valentine was awarded
the Soldiers' Medal. His citation read "for extraordinary heroism" - and justly
However, Iceland isn't always a land of ice and snow. In the summer it is a beautiful
place where the sun shines twenty-three hours each day. The Icelanders are an intelligent,
progressive people. Indeed, at times I felt they were a bit too progressive. Once
I paid 20 kronur for a bunch . of grapes. To satisfy my curiosity, I counted the
individual grapes and divided by the rate of exchange. They had cost me the equivalent
of ten cents each! Another time I bought a genuine hand-made Icelandic souvenir
in a curio store. It seemed a steal at 150 kronur ($10.00) - until I found, marked
inconspicuously on the bottom, the label "Made in U. S. A."
Icelandic hams seemed to be a scarce in person as they used to be on the air.
Unscrupulous DXer that I am, if I could have found one I'd have tried to snare a
QSL card - or at least arrange a postwar schedule. In the past I've spent many fruitless
hours at Babler Park in St. Louis County pounding out answers to Icelandic CQs on
14-Mc. c.w. But even in Iceland I couldn't raise a TF.
There are other foreign hams whom I hope to meet in person while I am in Europe
- particularly ON4HC, whom I once talked to from W9JWJ at Ferguson, Mo. The fact
that I couldn't work him on the same band at home, with 300 watts as compared with
W9JWJ's 30, is better not discussed. I think he discovered that W9JWJ. is a YL and
picked his QSO accordingly.
The following amateurs of VII Corps are currently living on the German side of
the Siegfried line:
W1BLO, Pvt. Eugene J. Gaumont, SC
W1GKJ, M/Sgt. Lionel Simon, SC
W4EVH, S/Sgt. Ralph Jenkins, SC
W4IDI, Cpl. Edward Talley, SC
W5FRP, Colonel John H. Sampson, FA
W5KHZ, CWO Hilton J. Allen, AUS
W8QMK. T/4 Chester E. Riker. FA
W8UBF, T /3 Mitchell A. Paniwozik, SC
W9MNS, T/3 Irving E. Olsen, SC
W9YVR-ex- W5GQQ, Capt. Alexander S. Turner, SC
K5AT, 1st Lt. Francis X. Knopp, SC
K5GQO-ex-W2MAP-KA1US, WOJG, William R. Scott, AUS
OPLO, T/Sgt. Joseph T. Palm, SC
Obviously, the hams mentioned in this account represent only a fraction of the
total of those doing their bit in the ETO. Even in VII Corps undoubtedly there are
other hams who have not been included but who have also experienced the long, hard
trek of VII Corps from the Normandy beachhead to the interior of Germany.
Posted February 4, 2021
(updated from original
post on 4/1/2011)