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QST Cruises with the Maritime Service
July 1944 QST

July 1944 QST

July 1944 QST  Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

U.S. Maritime Service Seal - RF Cafe

The United States Maritime Service (USMS) was established in 1938 under the provisions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 - a comprehensive piece of legislation that aimed to promote and develop the United States merchant marine, which refers to the commercial fleet of U.S.-registered vessels that engage in domestic and international trade. This story from a 1944 issue of QST magazine highlights amateur radio's role. The USMS was created as a civilian training and education organization, with the primary goal of preparing American merchant mariners for service in both peacetime and during times of war. The Act authorized the Secretary of Commerce to create and maintain a training program for merchant marine officers and seamen...

Check out the size of that D/F (direction-finding) loop!

...and what the heck is a pelorus?

If you have ever been onboard a sea-faring ship, you would be amazed at the capability of the machine shop - prepared to fix or replace virtually anything.

QST Cruises with the Maritime Service

Life Aboard a Liberty Ship

QST Cruises with the Maritime Service - RF CafeBy Clinton B. Desoto, *W1CBD, * Editor, QST

Are you between 16 and 17½ or between 26 and 35 and not in uniform? Are you 1-C or mildly 4-F or otherwise ineligible for military service? Are you interested in a radio operating job in direct support of the war effort?

Then there's a place for you in the U. S. Maritime Service. If you hold a commercial radio-telegraph second or higher-grade license, so much the better. But you don't need a ticket to start with; in fact, you don't need any previous radio training whatsoever. The Maritime Service will train you. It will make a proficient merchant marine radio operator out of you at one of the nation's finest operator schools - with pay!

This is an opportunity described several times before in QST. It is time now for the story to be told again. For today the merchant marine is in greater need of men - and particularly of radio-men - than ever before.

You may have read recently that U. S. production of merchant shipping is being raised to new highs, with ever-increasing numbers of new bottoms leaving the ways daily. These ships are needed to carry the gargantuan cargoes of global warfare.

But ships alone don't move cargoes; it takes men to make the ships move - seamen, carpenters, oilers, cooks, enginemen, machinists and, particularly, radiomen.

Yes - particularly radiomen. Effective July 1st, new regulations require practically every merchant vessel sailing the seas to carry not less than three qualified radio operators. Up to now, such ships had only one or two operators aboard. This requirement alone has more than doubled the number of civilian radio operators needed to man the merchant fleets. Coupled with the increasing number of ships being commissioned and the usual quota of replacements, the demand for new operators is tremendous.

So tremendous, in fact, that right now there simply aren't enough qualified men available to meet it. Even by lowering the license requirements - even by taking men out of the training schools before they have completed their courses and sending them to sea, letting them acquire the remainder of their training by apprentice methods - still the WSA manning offices are having difficulty keeping the operator berths filled.

Shown on this page are miscellaneous views aboard the American Mariner as recorded by W9AA's persistently snapping "minnie" camera.

Framed in the mechanistic circle of the d/f [direction-finding] loop - RF Cafe

Framed in the mechanistic circle of the d/f [direction-finding] loop, the receding Empire State building appears as a lonely vestige of shore life.

The signal flags flying from their halyard and the ship's name emblazoned on the main cabin both mean the same thing - identification - RF Cafe

The signal flags flying from their halyard and the ship's name emblazoned on the main cabin both mean the same thing - identification. The signal flags display the assigned code identification of the ship for the benefit of harbor and coastal patrols.

This picture illustrates the kind of work that a radio operator on shipboard does not do - RF Cafe

This picture illustrates the kind of work that a radio operator on shipboard does not do. But swabbing isn't bad duty, at that!

Looking aft on the main deck from the bow - RF Cafe

Here again, looking aft on the main deck from the bow, the elaborate multiplicity of detail is apparent. Behind the row of windows is the wheelhouse on the bridge deck, with the boat deck below and the flying bridge above. Hooded objects in this and in other views are guns.

A trainee takes a pelorus reading on a distant landmark on ashore. - RF Cafe

A trainee takes a pelorus reading on a distant landmark on ashore. Partially concealed behind him is the radio d/f loop

The navigating officer takes a directional bearing on the radio direction-finder - RF Cafe

The navigating officer takes a directional bearing on the radio direction-finder. One hand operates the hand-wheel controlling the rotatable d/f loop above the deck while the other adjusts the magnetic balance control.

Inside the radio room aboard the Liberty ship - RF Cafe

Inside the radio room aboard the Liberty ship. Both side-by-side operating positions are shown in these two views. At the left end of the operating table is the high-frequency transmitter, with the low-frequency transmitter and the emergency set (visible only in the right-hand view) beside it. The auto alarm is on the bulkhead beside the telephone. (above and below)

The auto alarm is on the bulkhead beside the telephone - RF Cafe

Deep below-decks is a large and magnificently equipped machine shop - RF Cafe

Deep below-decks is a large and magnificently equipped machine shop capable of producing any repair part required on shipboard.

"Abandon ship!" - RF Cafe

"Abandon ship!" As the ship's whistle screams the danger signal in shrill urgency, all hands instantly drop work and run to their lifeboat stations.

Meanwhile their shipmates all have assembled at their respective lifeboat stations - RF Cafe

Meanwhile their shipmates all have assembled at their respective lifeboat stations. The officer in charge calls the roll to make certain that non one gets left behind.

In the Lundeen boat - RF Cafe

In the Lundeen boat, the seamen vigorously pump the handles which drive the screw propeller.

At the "Return to Ship" signal the boats head for the ship - RF Cafe

It was only a practice drill, after all. At the "Return to Ship" signal the boats head for the ship.

If the smiling faces above seem incongruous in view of the evident fact that there's morning chow on the table - RF Cafe

If the smiling faces above seem incongruous in view of the evident fact that there's morning chow on the table, the explanation lies in the excellent fare served aboard all merchant craft.

Service is cafeteria style, direct from cooking utensil to plate, around the rim of the clean and efficiently arranged galley - RF Cafe

Service is cafeteria style, direct from cooking utensil to plate, around the rim of the clean and efficiently arranged galley.

The Maritime Service, although a highly essential part of the nation's war machine, obtains its manpower not from selective service quotas but through direct recruiting. Merchant mariners aren't drafted; they are volunteers.

Right now, therefore, the War Shipping Administration is asking for more volunteers. But it isn't the usual kind of arduous and difficult volunteering assignment they offer - not unless taking one of the country's finest radio training courses under ideal conditions and being paid while in training is difficult, or unless living and working on shipboard at $180 a month or more and all found is arduous!

Earlier issues of QST have presented a picture of the kind of radio operator training given by the U. S. Maritime Service1. There's no need to repeat the details of that side of it here. The purpose of this story is to show, as viewed through landlubberly eyes, the other side of the picture - the kind of life that is led on shipboard. It's the side of the story that comes after the fledgling radio operator has finished his training at the shore station and, crisp new ticket in hand, steps over the rail into his first seagoing berth.

That story is told here at first hand - from actual, if brief, personal experience. At the invitation of the War Shipping Administration, Cy Read, W9AA, and the writer shipped on the USMS training ship American Mariner out of New York in middle May. Aboard her we lived the life of the regular crew - sleeping in the triple-decker bunks of the seamen, standing in the chow line in the crew's mess.

The American Mariner is a Liberty ship - a 10,000-ton 440-foot freighter of the kind now cruising the sea lanes of the world by the hundreds. Instead of munitions or GI provisions, however, her usual cargo is men. Aboard her trainees from Sheepshead Bay and from Gallups Island and the other USMS training stations make training voyages as a preview of life at sea - the culminating phase of their training.

For this purpose her superstructure has been somewhat modified and the cargo holds have been converted into classrooms, additional quarters and messrooms for the trainees. While the normal crew on a Liberty ship numbers 68, the American Mariner has a permanent complement of 138 men. On the shakedown cruises as many as 400 trainees can be accommodated aboard - quartered, fed, and given a thorough dose of actual shipboard experience.


The early morning air was clammy and chill along the New York waterfront when we embarked, presaging an unseasonal late-May frost that was to blacken New England Victory gardens. Mist lay low and gray over the East River as the armed guard passed us through the iron-barred gate to Pier 73.

We clambered up the sharply slanted gang-plank to the deck. There the master-at-arms checked our credentials, logged us aboard, and handed us a key ring with two keys and a numbered metal tag. Then, trailing a petty officer assigned as our guide, we filed down a complicated series of companionways into what seemed the bowels of the ship - an intricate maze that resolved itself into a memorizable pattern only hours later.

That, in fact, was the most striking initial impression of the interior of the ship. So complex is its arrangement - with every foot of space utilized, the whole divided into innumerable interlocking compartments any one or all of which can be isolated by "W.T." (watertight) doors - that learning one's way around is an habituating process resembling orienting oneself in a strange community.

Arriving at the trainee's quarters, we were assigned lockers and given our choice of bunks -"sacks" or "bags" on shipboard. There was ample space, we found, for all wardrobe and personal effects in the 6-foot lockers, which include a separate locked compartment for stowage of valuables.

Our gear stowed, we traced our way back up to the main deck. The deck crew was making preparations for shoving off. Near the stern, booms and winches transferred boxes of supplies from the dock to the dry-cargo hold. Trainees dressed in work dungarees which evidenced the toil their wearers already had performed at the training stations scurried around the ship - stowing cargo, coiling lines, arranging gear, and carrying assorted buckets of white and red and the ubiquitous blue-gray paint which covers all of the visible exterior of the ship.

Industrious though they were, some of the trainees were not unwilling to pause for a moment's rag-chew. Many had never been to sea before. To most of them, we learned, the ship was an unexplored novelty. Some of them had never before been aboard an ocean-going vessel of any kind, much less a Liberty ship. The majority -as we already knew from recruiting statistics -were dry-land recruits having their first taste of salt water.

To them this was the Great Adventure - or the first leg of it, at least. There was the red-cheeked railroad fireman from Ohio, filled with pride at the edge his shore trade gave him over his mates in the engine room - a pride undimmed by a subsequent slight seasickness. There was the filling station attendant from New Jersey whose erstwhile ambition to be a garage mechanic had faded in the light of a new love - a 20-mm. antiaircraft gun. There was the well-bred, likeable lad from Pennsylvania who was wholly content in the menial role of wardroom attendant. And there was the tough kid from South Chicago who wrestled cargo all the more vigorously while growling about how hard he had to sweat.

Sailing Time

Overhead the sky began to lighten. Gradually the mist rolled back along the river. By two bells (0900) there was enough light for a Weston reading of 25 on W9AA's light meter. From then on the day brightened rapidly - a full stop every few minutes.

At 0950 a rope ladder was lowered and the harbor pilot climbed aboard. Soon a tugboat came puffing down the harbor. It veered sharply and pulled alongside near our bow, and a weighted line called a "heaving line" was tossed aboard. This line was bent to a heavy hawser. The deck crew pulled up the hawser and made its huge eye fast to a deck bitt. A few minutes later a second tugboat, churning up from the lower harbor, plowed over to Pier 73 at the head of an iridescent path of wake.

The next twenty minutes were -filled with the mysterious maneuverings characteristic of tug-boats and harbor pilots, always inexplicable to the landsman. Finally, as though all the preliminary false starts, shifting of hook-ups and backings and fillings had been only to kill time, the tugs eased the big ship out into the channel and headed her upstream. The engine-room telegraph clanged cheerily; the big triple-expansion steam engine engaged the 200-foot propeller drive shaft located in the shaft alley deep down near the keel, and we got under way.

One tugboat scuttled off to an-other job. The other, captained by a one-armed salt with Popeye cap and pipe, convoyed us up the river, chugging along near our stern like a happy puppy at heel. Farther up the river, where the channel narrows, the tug came up amidships on the port side and a hawser again was fed up to our main deck. Thereafter the tug, its own propeller idle, caught a free ride snuggled against our hull - serving as a sea anchor against the pull of the outgoing tide until we had passed through the Narrows.

A Seagoing Community

It was time now to get acquainted with our temporary new home afloat. We explored the ship from stem to stern - a proceeding occupying the remainder of the day.

By comparison with shore-borne structures, the ship could be described as a combination warehouse and office building seven stories high. The main deck is, of course, the largest; those below become narrower and shorter with the taper of the ship's hull, while those above are stepped back like the upper stories of a skyscraper.

Under the main deck are several huge cargo compartments, the fuel and fresh-water tanks, engine room, canteen, trainees' quarters, messrooms, kitchens, etc. Above the main deck rise, in order, the boat deck, the bridge deck, and the flying bridge - the "roof" of the ship.

Distributed throughout the enclosed portions of these upper decks are the quarters and messrooms for the officers and permanent crew. There are four classifications of quarters on the ship - apart, of course, from those of the captain, who occupies private quarters. The officers have individual private rooms, the CPOs (chief petty officers) have smaller single rooms, the ratings (specialists 1st, 2nd and 3rd class) are quartered in groups of two to four to a room, and the seamen -ordinary and AB (able-bodied) - occupy triple-tier bunks stacked two wide and three deep. These bunks are basically iron-tube frames from which flat springs and mattresses are slung.

Members of the radio crew aboard a Liberty ship, incidentally, have private quarters of their own. The chief ordinarily has a room adjacent to the radio shack up on the boat deck - just down the passageway from the captain's quarters, in fact. The other two operators usually share a comfortable room in the section assigned to "ratings."

Housed on the main deck is the varied miscellany of other establishments required in a self-sufficient seagoing community. There is a row of general offices for the extensive administrative and paper work required - including a separate mimeograph room. There are the sick bay, the doctor's and dentist's offices and laboratories, a photographic darkroom, a barber shop (haircuts 25 cents), a tailor shop and a cobbler's shop (no shines!). There is even a spacious auditorium where recreational activities are centered - feature-length movies being shown every night. Also in the line of recreation, space for athletic sports activities is provided in the hold for ping-pong tables, a boxing arena and even a basketball court.

Forward on the bridge deck is the wheel house, with its large windows, windshield-wiper equipped, facing toward the bow. There the wheelsman on watch manipulates a large central steering wheel which, through a hydraulic system, controls the main steering engine - a small reversible steam engine in the stern whose spider-leg connecting rods actuate the huge spring-balanced quadrant gear on the rudder post through step-down gears. Alongside the wheel-man, a standby helmsman is also on watch at a smaller auxiliary wheel. This wheel controls an electric motor which can replace the hydraulic control. While this auxiliary system may be used manually if the hydraulic system fails, the electric rudder drive also connects to the "iron mike" or automatic pilot. In conjunction with the indicating gyrocompass it can be used to steer the ship fully automatically, keeping her headed exactly on any predetermined course.

The instrumentation on a Liberty ship is elaborate and comprehensive. Apart from the gyrocompass and the usual magnetic compasses, peloruses and other devices commonly associated with maritime navigation, there are ink-graphic recorders maintaining continuous records of data ranging from engine r.p.m. to depth soundings. Even the ocean temperature is recorded, and a complete outfit of meteorological instruments is provided in a cabinet on the flying bridge.

In the wheelhouse a large pigeon-holed rack holds a complete set of international signaling flags, all neatly rolled and ticketed. In addition to the helmsman and his alternate, this room normally is occupied by a petty officer in charge of the wheel detail and, of course, the ship's officer on watch. Also present is a " talker ' - a seaman equipped with headphones and breast-mike connected to an interphone circuit which links the bridge, the crow's nest, and all gun positions. There are talkers constantly on duty at each of these positions while the ship is under way.

In addition to the interphone system, two other methods of intra-shipboard communication are provided. One is a regular magneto-ringing wall-type telephone circuit, with" subscriber's" positions liberally distributed throughout the ship including several convenient points on deck. The other is a general loudspeaker call system used to announce general orders, ship's time, mess calls, watch changes and the like. Speakers attached to this system infest the ship from the holds to the flying bridge, including the wardroom and all messrooms, ensuring that no hand aboard can fail to hear an order.

Directly aft of the wheelhouse is the navigator's domain. Here the radio compass installation is located, its d/f loop projecting up into the open overhead on the flying bridge. In this room also are additional recording instruments and the control board for the degaussing system. A large switch- and meter-panel is required for the degaussing apparatus alone. In a smaller adjacent room is located the fire-protection control equipment - an intricate arrangement incorporating two complete thermally operated automatic systems and the associated manual controls.

The protective equipment provided is impressive in its scope and comprehensiveness. Coupled with the extensive compartmentation, the fire-protection systems make it possible for a ship to suffer incredible damage and still remain afloat. Tales are told of freighters which have suffered two or three direct torpedo hits, with holes below the waterline big enough to drive a car through, and yet have sailed back across the Atlantic under their own power.

Further aft, still other separate rooms are used for specialized functions - among them the chart-storage room, the hydro room and, of course, the radio room.

The Radio Shack

The most notable impression on an initial viewing of the radio shack is one of neatness, convenience and comfort. Compactly arranged, as is everything aboard a Liberty ship, all units- even the auto alarm and the power-input panel - are arranged for maximum accessibility from the main operating position.

The radio room is approximately eight feet wide by twelve long. The operating table extends throughout the length of one side, divided up for the two operating positions with built-in type-writer wells. The transmitters are wall-mounted above the table, the high-frequency unit at the far end and the low-frequency rigs at the center. The auto alarm and the power-input panel are installed on the end wall. Comfortable office-type swivel chairs are provided for the operator. Opposite the operating table there is a comfortable leather-upholstered couch - obviously, a welcome accessory during long-watch vigils.

Aboard the American Mariner the radio equipment is RCA throughout. The basic layout is entirely standard, corresponding with that aboard other Liberty ships in actual cargo service. Three transmitters are provided - a 200-watt ET-8010- CA, optionally m.o.p.a. or crystal-controlled, with eight pretuned frequencies in the 355-500 kc. range, an ET-8019-A covering 2 to 22 Mc. in eight bands, also of 200-watt rating, and an auxiliary emergency battery-powered transmitter for the 375- to 500-kc. range.

The dual receiving equipment at each operating position consists of an AR-8503 - a 4-tube t.r.f. receiver covering 15 to 600 kc. in four bands, switch selected - and an AR-8505 for 540 kc. to 30 Mc. - a transformerless 7-tube superheterodyne closely resembling the National NC-44.

As the tug comes along­side the deck crew prepares to cast off - RF Cafe

As the tug comes along-side the deck crew prepares to cast off, hauls aboard the mooring lines.

This view from the stern, looking forward on the main deck - RF Cafe

This view from the stern, looking forward on the main deck, suggests the complexity of the gear and fittings which are required aboard a 10,000-ton freighter.

From his vantage point under the ship's bell a "talker" keeps a sharp early-morning look out passing through the Cape Cod ship canal - RF Cafe

From his vantage point under the ship's bell a "talker" keeps a sharp early-morning look out passing through the Cape Cod ship canal.

Following a carefully organized plan, two men remove the covering from their boat while it is still in davits - RF Cafe

Following a carefully organized plan, two men remove the covering from their boat while it is still in davits.

Leather-lunged officers hurrying them on, the trainees swarm down the scramble nets into the boat - RF Cafe

Leather-lunged officers hurrying them on, the trainees swarm down the scramble nets into the boat.

Also aboard is an AR-8600 automatic radio alarm. Used when the operator is off watch or listening on another frequency at the alternate operating position, the auto alarm rings a loud bell and lights warning lights notifying whenever an international distress signal is received. Its installation aboard all merchant marine craft is required by FCC regulation. The auto alarm consists essentially of a superheterodyne receiver with two 1100-kc. wide-band-pass i.f. stages designed to produce uniform response from any 500-mv. or stronger signal of a frequency within plus or minus 12.5 kc, from 500 kc, (the international distress frequency). Associated with this receiver, is a timing circuit employing three sequence relay tubes and a stepping selector designed to operate only when a series of dashes of a certain length and interval - the prescribed auto alarm signal, transmitted along with an SOS - is received.

There is, of course, nothing new about the auto alarm; it has been in regular use for more than a decade and has greatly enhanced the cause of safety at sea. But even the auto alarm, effective though it may be, does not equal the effectiveness of an actual operator on watch. In time of war, of course, the need for infallible guarding of distress frequencies is vital - and this emphasizes all the more the need for additional radio operators to sail in the vast fleets of Liberty and Victory ships.

In the first dangerous years of this war more than five thousand merchant seamen gave their lives for their country. Now, of course, sinkings at sea, even in the most active theaters, are comparatively rare. The U. S. Navy's intensive anti-submarine campaign and the present patrolling and convoy operations have vastly reduced the danger from the submarine menace.

Even when unescorted, our merchant ships are far from defenseless. They bristle with stingers calculated to discourage any enemy attacks, whether by sea or by air. Liberty ships literally are speckled with guns. On the American Mariner there are gun platforms everywhere, carrying weapons ranging from .50-cal. machine guns to deadly 20-mm. Oerlikon antiaircraft cannon and murderous 3-inch guns which can throw twenty-five 10-lb. shells per minute at ranges of 10,000 to 13,000 yards.

"Abandon Ship!"

A convincing demonstration of the speed and safety of modern "abandon ship" technique was staged during our cruise on the American Mariner. It was a part of the regular training given every Maritime Service trainee, at first in school as a simulated exercise, later employing actual lifeboats, and culminating with the surprise lifeboat drill on the shakedown cruise.

The surprise drill we witnessed was entirely unannounced and unrehearsed. At exactly 0912 one morning the ship's whistle blew a series of short blasts followed by a long one - the " Abandon ship!" signal. Promptly all hands came running to the main deck from their usual duties everywhere in the ship and assembled around their assigned lifeboat stations, each man grabbing a fluffy-cushioned orange-colored life vest from an adjacent locker as he arrived topside. Within seconds the main deck was covered with shifting clusters of orange-festooned figures.

While the officer in charge of each contingent checked off his roster, designated men climbed from the higher boat deck into the lifeboats slung high in their davits. Swiftly they stripped the boats of coverings and lashings. Below, other groups manned the hoists, inserting the large cranks and releasing the brakes holding the cables. Still others unrolled the scramble nets, ready to lower them over the side for the men to swarm down into the waiting boats.

"Lower Away!"

The men above signaled "clear" and the command was given: "Lower away!" Hoists clanking, the bluish-gray boats were swiftly lowered until their keels hung suspended just beyond reach of the lapping waves. Heaving the scramble nets over the rail, the seamen promptly clambered down into the boats.

When all were aboard except the hoist crew and the officer in charge, the boat was lowered down into the water. As the last man scrambled down the net the releasing hooks from the davit falls were cast loose from the shackles.

In this practice drill the first boat was in the water and clear of the ship within less than five minutes after the alarm whistle blew. The remaining crews followed in varying brief intervals after. For inexperienced lads, many of them afloat on salt water for the very first time, it was an excellent performance.

Two types of lifeboats were used ill this drill - one the accustomed oar-propelled 35-man surf boat, the other the 70-man manually driven screw-propelled "Lundeen" boat which now is also standard equipment. This boat, which is driven by the backward and forward manipulation of two rows of vertical wooden shafts connected by a ratchet linkage to a central shaft driving a screw propeller, has displaced the older oar-pulled boats. Its prime advantage is that no special rowing skill is required, a desirable feature in choppy seas when inexperienced oarsmen would, by catching crabs or rowing in the air, waste a substantial portion of their energy. After all, no special skill is required to push a lever back and forth. Another advantage is that, depending on the number of men in a boat, from one to four men can operate a single lever.

Also aboard the American Mariner, although not used in the drill, was a self-bailing, self-righting power lifeboat larger even than the Lundeen boats, equipped with a 4-cylinder Diesel engine, and the still-larger captain's gig - the latter actually a good-sized power yacht with a 6-cylinder Diesel engine and a speed of better than 15 knots.

In anyone of these craft a seaman could abandon ship with full confidence in its seaworthiness and security. He might get cramped and weary and sunburned and seasick, and even hungry and thirsty - but he'd survive.

One minor observation in connection with that lifeboat drill was the surefootedness with which the trainees swarmed down the scramble nets draped down the sides of the ship. They behaved as though they'd lived all their lives in rigging.

Actually, as we ourselves discovered, that kind of skill is acquired quickly on shipboard. Remember that a ship is equivalent to a seven-story building - with no elevators. (Technically it has no "stairways," either - and that's approximately as true in fact as it is from the standpoint of nautical terminology! To conserve deck space, many of the companionways more nearly resemble wide-stepped ladders than they do stairways.) Consequently, on shipboard you seem to travel as far vertically as you do horizontally in the course of a day's activities. And, even though iron-runged ladders have replaced the traditional rope rigging, their use engenders a high order of agility and surefootedness.

Eat, Sleep and Be Healthy

At the outset, of course, it's a. bit rigorous. But that quickly passes as unused muscles harden. It's wonderful body-building exercise - and a wonderful appetite-builder, too!

And when it comes to sleeping ... well, no one rebels when, at four bells on the evening watch (2200), the loudspeaker blares: "Secure the decks! All hands in your bunks. Lights out!"

The combination of sea air and hard work makes that sack look mighty inviting. And it's even more inviting when you slide between the clean white sheets. The slung mattress is-soft and accommodating - more comfortable by far than an Army cot or a hard-drawn hotel bed. By comparison with a Pullman berth, travel on a Liberty ship is rare luxury. Missing are the bumps and jerks, the rattle and vibration of the train; the functioning of the powerful triple-expansion engine is apparent only as a low, pleasantly pitched background bum that reassures rather than disturbs. And even in moderate seas the big ship keeps a steady deck; its rocking, combined with the threnody of the engine, is no more than a lullaby.

The adage about salt air inspiring ravenous appetites is proved whenever chow time comes around. Fortunately, the mess standards in the Maritime Service are more than equal to the occasion. The food is surprisingly diversified and ample. By any standard - at sea or ashore - it is well-prepared, savory and wholesome.

During our explorations aboard the American Mariner we invaded the refrigerated meat storage chamber. A large room fully twenty feet square, it contained meat stores in quantities many a large wholesale distributor would covet these days. Sides of beef hung in closely spaced rows - dozens and dozens of them. Lockers were filled with assorted cuts and prepared meats of every variety and description. Vegetable bins and other staple food storage was on a similarly abundant - not to say gourmandish! - scale.

And those desserts! For W9AA and W1GBD, both with an already decided tendency toward fullness of figure, they were as irresistibly insidious concoctions as galley alchemy ever produced. The pastry chef aboard the American Mariner was a lad only twenty years old, but he must have lived all his pre-maritime life in intensive training at his mother's kitchen stove. That time at evening chow we wangled three pieces of chocolate pie . . . !

All in all, the life of a radio operator in the U. s. Maritime Service is a mighty attractive proposition for anyone who knows (or is capable of learning) how to read the code and write up a log and maybe send a little. Travel, adventure, healthful and rewarding living, good companionship - and, above all, a real wartime job of first-line importance.

What to Do

Are you interested - or do you know of someone who would or should be? Here's what to do:

If you've had no previous radio experience, apply at the nearest U. S. Maritime Service enrolling office or U. S. Employment Service office. If your preliminary background includes an operator's license, or if you cannot locate one of the USMS or USES offices in your vicinity, write directly to the War Shipping Administration, Training Organization, National Theater Building, Washington 25, D. C., stating your qualifications and experience. If you are among those who hold an expired or unexpired marine operator's license, you may wire the Recruitment and Manning Organization, War Shipping Administration, Washington 25, D. C., collect. And you can expect immediate action, mate!

Of course, if you're in the lower age bracket from 16 to 17 1/2,you have no draft status. Requests for selective service deferments for men 26 to 35 are made directly to local boards by the Maritime Service for men accepted for training.

Upon acceptance, as fast as, quotas can be made up you'll be ordered to school - and your training pay ($50 a month) will begin. Six weeks will be spent at a Maritime Service apprentice seaman training station where the seagoing knowledge necessary for all shipboard ratings will be learned. Then you will be assigned either to Hoffman Island or Gallups Island for the last twenty-one weeks of the course.

If you can qualify for a temporary limited second- class operator license, you will probably be sent right out to sea. (This temporary second, all previously noted in QST,2 is the easiest class of commercial license to get. In fact, it is less difficult in some respects than a Class B ham ticket. The code test is the usual sixteen code groups per minute, but only a 50 per cent passing mark on the regular FCC second-class radiotelegraph exam is required. If you've ever ,before held a first- or second-class radiotelegraph ticket, only the code test without written examination is necessary.)

Base pay starts at $180 a month, plus a bonus. Considering that living quarters and food are provided, this pay is easily equivalent to a shore job at $300 a month or more. And don't forget that radio operators are ship's officers and wear uniforms with appropriate insignia.

Bon voyage, OM - and smooth sailing!


1 Rodimon, "QST Visits Gallups Island," QST, June. 1941, p. 9. DeSoto, "QST Returns to Gallups Island," QST, May, 1943, p. 14.  

2 Happenings of the Month, QST, June. 1944, p. 25,

 - See Full List - 

United States Maritime Service

The United States Maritime Service (USMS) was established in 1938 under the provisions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, also known as the Jones Act. The Merchant Marine Act of 1936 was a comprehensive piece of legislation that aimed to promote and develop the United States merchant marine, which refers to the commercial fleet of U.S.-registered vessels that engage in domestic and international trade.

The USMS was created as a civilian training and education organization, with the primary goal of preparing American merchant mariners for service in both peacetime and during times of war. The Act authorized the Secretary of Commerce to create and maintain a training program for merchant marine officers and seamen.

During World War II, the USMS played a crucial role in supplying the U.S. military with personnel and vessels. It provided training for merchant mariners, officers, and enlisted personnel who served aboard merchant ships, both in cargo and passenger capacities. The USMS trained thousands of individuals who went on to serve as officers and crew members on U.S. merchant ships involved in the war effort.

After the war, the USMS continued to operate as a training organization, preparing individuals for careers in the merchant marine industry. Over the years, its role and functions have evolved to meet changing needs and priorities. Today, the U.S. Maritime Service still exists but operates under the auspices of the Maritime Administration (MARAD), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The USMS, through its training programs and initiatives, helps to ensure a pool of skilled mariners for both the U.S. merchant marine industry and the U.S. military's sealift requirements. It offers various training programs, including officer training, engineering training, and maritime academy programs, to prepare individuals for careers in the maritime sector.



Posted May 23, 2023
(updated from original post on 7/17/2011)

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