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THE AM BULLETIN BOARD => Reflections and Other Thoughts from W2DU => Topic started by: W2DU on February 04, 2011, 01:50:32 PM

Title: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W2DU on February 04, 2011, 01:50:32 PM
Chapter 30 From Reflections 3

How the FCC Played a Huge Part in Helping End WW2
                By Walter Maxwell, W2DU

Adapted and Revised from QST, January 2007.

Sec 30.1  Background
Have you ever heard of the RID, the Radio Intelligence Division of the FCC? Not likely, unless you were born before 1930. Due to the secrecy of its operations during WW2 there was practically no publicity surrounding its existence. However, there was one article in QST, October, 1944, "Hams in the RID," by Oliver Read, W9ETI, that described its operations at the primary FCC monitoring station at Allegan, Michigan. Thus, I believe you’ll find it interesting to examine some of the contributions hams and commercial radio ops made to the WW2 effort, as they were the operating personnel of the FCC's Radio Intelligence Division. So what was the Radio Intelligence Division of the FCC? To answer that question I’m about to tell you some of the Wartime history of the FCC. I say ‘some’ of the history, because the secrecy act prohibits most of the intelligence cases from  being divulged for seventy five years following the end of WW2, leaving fifteen years before those cases can be made public. However, this is the beginning of what can be told now, because some of the activities of the RID have been cleared for publication.
     With the War already raging in Europe in 1939, people at the State Department knew they were missing vital war intelligence being exchanged by radio, especially that going between Germany and South America. They queried the FCC Field Division in early 1940 about monitoring to intercept the intelligence. The Field Division operated the original primary monitoring stations, performing regulatory and enforcement duties. However, at that time the Field Division personnel had their hands full just monitoring domestic operations, and had no time for intelligence monitoring.
     The President (FDR) and Congress were alerted to the need for additional personnel and equipment for the FCC to monitor intelligence, and they approved funds for establishing a new section, the National Defense Operations section, NDO. The NDO began operations September 3, 1940, and was later upgraded to a division, becoming the Radio Intelligence Division, RID. To head the NDO, the late George E. Sterling (W1AE/W3DF) was elevated from Ass't Chief Engineer, FCC, to Chief, NDO Section, and later to Chief, RID. To obtain personnel for the new Section he instructed one of his assistants, the late Harriette Koster, to search through the file cards containing the basic information on licensed amateur and commercial operators. She selected more than 500 operators from the file cards, and over T.J. Slowie's signature, she sent telegrams to those selected, offering them positions of Radio Operator ($1800 per annum), Ass't Monitoring Officer ($2400), and Monitoring Officer ($3200). The entire personnel for the new NDO Section, including myself, were obtained from responses to those telegrams. (Harriette later became my wife, and mother of our four children, Bill, W2WM; Rick, W8KHK; John, K4JRM; and Sue, KC4UBZ, Sue's license now expired.) The Congressional funding also supported building many new secondary monitoring stations throughout the country, each equipped with Hallicrafters SX-28 and S-27 receivers, and Adcock (sky-wave) direction finders to determine the location of radio stations suspected of clandestine operation. In addition, Hudson automobiles equipped with the Hallicrafters receivers and a loop direction finder, used for mobile close-in surveillance, were a part of each secondary station.
     Immediately following Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the FCC RID mobilized a group from both primary and secondary monitoring stations to go to the Hawaiian Islands to set up and operate eight new secondary stations, one each on Oahu, Molokai, Kauai, Maui, and Lanai, and three on the Big Island, Hawaii. NDO Chief Sterling accompanied the group, of which the late Prose Walker, W4BW (then W2BMX and later W0CXA), and I (then W8KHK/W8VJR) were from the primary station at Allegan, Michigan. The late Charles Ellert, W3LO, Chief of the FCC Labs at Laurel, Maryland, who designed the eight Adcock antennas we carried with us for use at each secondary station, was also in the group. (Much later, after WW2, Walker became Chief of FCC’s Amateur Radio and Special Services Division.)
     After arriving on the Islands and setting up the new stations, extensive 24/7 mobile monitoring around the shoreline of all the Islands was pursued, with the intention of finding clandestine radio operation between local Japanese loyal to Japan and Jap submarines cruising off shore. No such operations were found to occur, and no Hawaiians of Japanese descent were found to be disloyal to the U.S. During my stay on the Islands I worked at stations on Oahu, Kauai, Molokai and Hawaii. (I also worked at the Allegan station from September 1940 until leaving for Hawaii, returned to the Allegan station in October 1943, staying until April 1944, when I enlisted in the Navy, becoming an instructor in electronics.)
     With Adcock direction finders at all eight secondary stations, plus the one at the primary station at the Punchbowl in Honolulu, the FCC saved the lives of thousands of military personnel and more than 600 military aircraft flying the Pacific between the Mainland and the Islands during WW2, after becoming lost due to errors in navigation with limited fuel supply. I’ll now describe how this task was performed, and how a Beverage antenna was used to receive local Japanese AM broadcasts from JOAK, Tokyo.

Sec 30.2  Using the Beverage Antenna in WW2

     As a monitoring officer with the Radio Intelligence Division (RID) of the FCC in Hawaii during WW2 I was privy to some interesting situations. Our State Department was of course aware of the operations occurring in the Pacific Theater. The people there were also aware of the propaganda being spewed by the Japanese short-wave broadcasters. But State was curious concerning what the Japanese living on the homeland were being told—were they being told the truth, or the same propaganda as told on the short-wave broadcasts, or a totally different story. State asked the RID to determine whether we could obtain such information.
     We cruised the AM broadcast band and found several nighttime signals from Japanese mainland stations, but most were too weak to copy. However, JOAK, Tokyo, on 640 KHz was S9, but there was a problem in copying it. KFI, Los Angeles, was also on 640 KHz with an S9 signal—copying intelligence from JOAK was impossible. How can we eliminate, or reduce KFI’s signal level? A Beverage wave antenna, perhaps?
      We then proceeded to the northern portion of Oahu and constructed a Beverage one-half mile long, five feet above ground, aimed at Tokyo, and terminated with a 1000-ohm pot resistor to ground at the Tokyo end. We discovered that by varying the pot resistance we could null the KFI signal to almost zero. The resistance terminating the Beverage that produced the null was around 600 ohms. Because the matching resistive termination rendered the Beverage a traveling-wave antenna with no standing wave, the signal arriving from JOAK was terminated by the input of our receiver, while the signal arriving from KFI was dissipated in the matched resistance at the Tokyo end of the Beverage—no KFI signal was reflected toward the receiver. Voila—JOAK was now perfectly readable for recording!
     We sent the first recording to Washington, and State was delighted—requesting that we continue recording JOAK nightly. Consequently, our recordings were flown daily to Washington from Hickam Field in Honolulu. We were left in the dark concerning the information on the recordings, and how it affected the War effort, because State didn’t share it with us. But it must have been pretty good, because State was on our case every day to make sure we sent them the recordings.  

Sec 30.3  The Correct Polarization Saves Lives During WW2

     After arriving in Hawaii in 1942, Prose Walker was appointed Chief of the newly established Radio Security Center (RSC) of FCC’s RID, located in the Dillingham Building, Honolulu. (As stated above, long after WW2, Walker was Chief of the Amateur and Special Services Division of the FCC, succeeded by John Johnston, W3BE, President of QCWA.) In his position as Chief RSC, Walker learned that many military aircraft and its personnel were being lost due to ditching at sea while flying from the U.S. Mainland to Hawaii. There were two reasons for their being lost, 1) ‘navigationally impaired’ pilots (government jargon for ‘lost’), and 2) totally drained fuel tanks. There was naturally a limit to the size of the fuel tanks, but what caused the pilots to become navigationally impaired? That point preyed on Walker’s mind, and on investigating he discovered a deplorable situation that needed fixing. Here’s what he found.
     At the Boeing aircraft plant in Seattle they were building bombers as fast as possible. Dozens of green flight teams just out of flight school were awaiting their new aircraft, and anxious to get aboard and proceed to the South Pacific area as soon as possible. The navigators and radio operators were taught how to use the loop direction finders (DF’s) that were standard equipment on the aircraft. But they were never told that loop DF’s were incapable of obtaining reliable directional information from signals propagated by sky waves reflected by the ionosphere. The DF’s aboard the aircraft were capable of delivering reliable data only when the electromagnetic energy in the received signals is vertically polarized, but the navigators and radio ops didn’t know that. Unfortunately for them, on reflection and refraction through the ionosphere, a linearly-polarized wave, either vertical or horizontal, is converted into an elliptically-polarized wave, causing a continual shift in the null obtained by the loop DF as the polarization angle of the incoming signal rotates elliptically during propagation. Consequently, once the aircraft has left the Mainland, and can no longer receive the vertically polarized waves from AM broadcast stations, the only reception remaining is from sky waves propagated far beyond the range of the ground waves of the AM stations. Therefore, bearings taken using the loop DF’s aboard the aircraft when at sea beyond the ground wave signal were useless. The only remaining means for the navigator to determine the position of the aircraft was through celestial navigation, using readings from the sun or stars. The situation gets pretty bad on cloudy days, and that’s when the pilots became navigationally impaired.
     At this point Walker came up with a solution that ended the era of lost aircraft flying between the Mainland and Hawaii. Fortunately, every FCC monitoring station in the U.S., Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico had Adcock direction finders as standard equipment. Adcocks, as you probably already know, are susceptible only to the vertical component of the arriving wave, regardless of its angle of polarization. Therefore, instead of constantly wandering, as with the loop DF, the null obtained with the Adcock remains stable at constant angle, even though the angle of polarization of the arriving wave is continually rotating elliptically. In other words, Adcocks give accurate directional information obtained from sky waves. Walker’s reasoning was that triangulation from bearing measurements obtained by the FCC Adcocks taken on signals transmitted from the lost aircraft could determine its precise location, and thus determine a course for the aircraft to fly directly toward Hickam Field in Honolulu. The problem then was how to organize the communications to achieve the necessary procedure. Walker organized it in this manner:
     The CAA (then the Civil Aeronautics Administration) operated a terminal in Honolulu with facilities for communicating with all aircraft. A direct teletype connection was setup between the CAA and the RSC, which had a kilowatt transmitter used to communicate with the monitoring stations on all the Islands, each of which had Hallicrafters HT-9 transmitters. When the pilot of the aircraft determined they were lost, the radio operator signals the CAA, who instantly puts the aircraft’s frequency on the teletype and rings its bell, alerting the RSC operator of the situation. The RSC operator then sends the following message in CW to all monitoring stations that are continuously monitoring the RSC frequency: “LOS LOS LOS 4250 4250 4250,” where LOS meant lost aircraft and 4250 was the frequency being transmitted by the aircraft. The operator of the Adcock DF station immediately tunes to the 4250 KHz frequency, hears the aircraft, and begins taking continuous bearings. The aircraft radio operator is sending long dashes, MO MO MO, to enable the DF operator to be certain he was hearing the right signal, and to obtain a satisfactory bearing angle on a moderately constant signal.
     As each bearing is taken by all stations, the bearing angle is transmitted to RSC, where a great circle map of the entire Hawaiian Pacific area is hanging on the wall. A compass rose is printed on the map at the location of every monitoring station in the Islands, with a hole in the center of the rose through which a weighted string is hung. A pin is attached to the opposite end of the string, and the string is stretched across the compass rose at the angle of the bearing obtained by the station represented by the rose. The pin is then pressed into the map, securing the string at that bearing angle. As the strings representing each station reporting are secured they intersect at the point indicating the location of the lost aircraft, the intersection point called a ‘cocked hat’. It was routine for the aircraft’s position to be determined within ten minutes after the pilot alerted the CAA of its being lost.
     After the aircraft’s position is located it is then given a course to fly toward Hickam Field, and the bearing measurements are reported continually until the pilot can see the Field. During this time the aircraft’s location is followed all the way in to the Field, thus verifying the accuracy of the bearing measurements and the pilot’s success in following the directions.
     Once Walker’s plan was in operation no more aircraft were lost due to navigational impairment while flying between the Mainland and the Hawaiian Islands. In 1943 alone, 273 aircraft were saved by the FCC Adcocks, and more than 600 were saved during the duration of the War.
     Unfortunately, planes were continuing to be lost on the run between Hawaii and the South Pacific, so the U.S. Military invited Walker to investigate. What he found there was almost unbelievable. The Army Air Corps was using Mercator projection maps for those runs, unaware that using maps of that projection produced directional errors of humongous and fatal proportions. On Walker’s advice, once they acquired new maps with great circle projection, the number of planes lost on the South Pacific run also dropped to zero.
     These are just two of the stories of how the FCC assisted in the ending of WW2, of which I was privileged to be a part.


1. George Sterling originated the science, art, and technique of radio intelligence while an officer in the US Army during World War 1, reporting directly to General John J. Pershing. At the front line he organized and operated the first radio intelligence section of the Signal Corps in France that located enemy radio transmitters and intercepted their message traffic.  For this work he received a citation from the Chief Signal Officer of the AEF for "especially excellent and meritorious service.”

2. It is appropriate now to describe the Adcock antenna. The Adcock is a simple array of two parallel, center-fed vertical dipoles, fed 180° out of phase and spaced from fifteen to twenty feet apart. The dipoles are connected together with open-wire transmission line, transposed at the exact center, which we will call the main line. In other words, the transposition means that the conductor in the main line that connects to the top section of one dipole is connected to the bottom section of the other dipole, and vice versa. Thus, the out-of-phase relationship between the two dipoles results from the transposition of the main line that connects them together. A second open-wire line connects the receiver to the main line at its exact center. Consequently, when the two dipoles are positioned such that they are both equidistant from the source of the received signal, the phase of the signal received by one dipole is 180° out of phase with the signal received by the other dipole. Because the amplitudes of the signal received by each dipole are equal, the sum of the two signals resulting from their out-of-phase superposition is zero, producing a null in the received signal. Thus, when the dipoles are in the position producing a null, an imaginary line containing the dipoles is perpendicular to the direction toward the source of the received signal.

Photo 30-1  
The FCC Adcock direction-finding station at Lexington, KY, in 1941. This station is typical of FCC direction finding Adcocks used at all FCC monitoring stations in the U.S. mainland, Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.

Photo 30-2  
Showing from left, the late George E. Sterling, Chief RID, W3DF/W1AE. Sterling was later elevated to Chief Engineer of the FCC, and still later was appointed FCC Commissioner by President Truman. Sterling was the only radio amateur to become an FCC Commissioner. The late Charles Ellert, W3LO, Chief of the FCC Laboratory.  This photo was taken in the driveway to FCC HA-P, the primary monitoring station in Hawaii, located in the Punchbowl near Honolulu. The Punchbowl is the remains of an extinct volcano.

Photos by W2DU

Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W2DU on February 04, 2011, 02:55:46 PM
Here are two additional photos, taken by W2DU

Photo 30-3  
Showing from left, the late Prose Walker, Chief RSC, Honolulu, W4BW, ex W2BMX and W0CXA, licensing engineer with the FCC Broadcast division, consulting engineer with the Collins Radio Corp., engineering head of the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), Chief of the FCC Amateur Radio Division. The late Charles Ellert, W3LO, Chief of the FCC Laboratory.

Photo 30-4  
George E. Sterling making notes in front of the Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii. The 1930’s tune with the above title became popular before the shack appeared. When visitors came to Kealakekua in Kona, on the West side of the Big Island, they were disappointed in not seeing the shack, so the people of Kealakekua built the one seen in the picture

Title: Re: The FCC during and before WW2
Post by: Todd, KA1KAQ on February 04, 2011, 03:29:50 PM
Great information, Walt.

I've been reading a similar account passed to me by Steve. It's written by George E. Sterling, F.C.C. Commissioner (RET) during this time, entitled "The History of the Radio Intelligence Division Before and During World War II  1940-1945. It's an excellent read with an incredible amount of interesting information on how the F.C.C. dealt with so much of the radio intel and intercept work rather than the military branches, at least early on.

Of course, you had a front seat view to this all, having been part of it. It's great to read first hand information - thanks for sharing it!

Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W2DU on February 04, 2011, 04:42:08 PM
Glad you like it, Todd. I and most of the early participants have a copy of Sterling's writing on the subject also.

You may be aware of Sterling's "The Radio Manual", used by many to pass the 1st Phone License, which I did in 1940. Harriette Koster, my first wife typed all of Sterling's writings for the book's second edition, which is the copy I used.


Title: Re: The FCC during and before WW2
Post by: N0WEK on February 04, 2011, 04:44:02 PM
Great stuff Walt, thanks!

More George Sterling centered info here...

Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W2DU on February 04, 2011, 05:29:47 PM
Todd, I scanned Sterling's History of the RID....., and put it on a CD. I can supply a copy of the CD to anyone, someone who could make additional copies for anyone who would be interested. Could some procedure be worked out to perform this task?


Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W3SLK on February 04, 2011, 10:16:44 PM
Walt, when did the FCC come into existance? Wasn't it originally a division of the Commerce Department in its infancy stages?

Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W2DU on February 05, 2011, 12:35:03 PM
Hello Mike,

During the early and mid twenties the Commerce Dept issued licenses to broadcast stations, but had no clout with respect to regulation. The result was chaos, because there was no means for denying a license and no means for separating stations by wavelength, there were only two or three wavelengths allowed, and the term 'frequency' hadn't yet been established.

Herbert Hoover was the Secretary of Commerce, so it was he who issued all radio licenses, including amateur. By 1926 the chaos was so rough Hoover persuaded Congress to crack down, which it did by passing the Radio Act of 1927, resulting in the formation of the Federal Radio Commission. (My first license was issued by the Federal Radio Commission, 1933.) However, to facilitate a broader scope of communications than merely radio, by passing the Communications Act of 1934, Congress transformed the Federal Radio Commission into the Federal Communications Commission.

One of results of the Radio Act was to give the Radio Commission the power to regulate the broadcast spectrum. Another of the results was to divide the broadcast spectrum into frequency slots  for assigning stations at every 10 Khz. The result was astounding, because spreading the stations around the frequency slots eliminated the chaos. Another action the newly-formed Commission took was to demand that the frequency of each station must be within +/- 50 Hz with respect to the assigned frequency, so as to control the heterodyning between stations on the same frequency. The low-frequency response of radios of that era was such that a 50-Hz beat frequency was practically inaudible. However, as the low-frequency response of radios increased, the beat notes became noticeable. Consequently, the newer Communications Commission reduced the frequency tolerance to +/- 10 Hz, where it remains today.

I'm sure you'll find much more on this subject by searching in Google. This is just a starter.


Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: Todd, KA1KAQ on February 07, 2011, 01:45:03 PM
Todd, I scanned Sterling's History of the RID....., and put it on a CD. I can supply a copy of the CD to anyone, someone who could make additional copies for anyone who would be interested. Could some procedure be worked out to perform this task?

Walt, I have a friend who does this type of thing regularly. Let me talk with him and see if he has some free time in his schedule. It would be wonderful to have Mr Sterling's account available to all who would like to read it. I recall the forward explaining how close the book came to being lost to history after his passing.

Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: Steve - K4HX on February 07, 2011, 02:35:05 PM
Later today, I will post a link to a copy of Sterling's history of the RID. Anyone will be able to download and enjoy.

Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W2DU on February 07, 2011, 04:41:19 PM
Todd, between you and Steve everyone who wants to read Sterling's history should be able to do so. However, if my CD copy can help I'll be glad to ship it to anyone who can use it.

This history tells what great things the RID accomplished in thwarting many of the intended war-time acts of the enemies before they would have killed thousands of civilians.


Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: Steve - K4HX on February 07, 2011, 07:32:18 PM
Here is the link to The History of the Radio Intelligence Division Before and During World War II, 1940-1945 by George E. Sterling

Warning, this is a large file, 19.8 Megabytes. It's well worth the download.


Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: W3SLK on February 07, 2011, 07:49:08 PM
This is all awesome stuff!!!! Keep it coming!

Title: Re: The FCC saved lives during WW2
Post by: K9PNP on February 07, 2011, 09:31:45 PM
Walt:  Thanks for helping keep this history alive.  I remember studying certain RID operations in certain military classes in past years.  Too many have forgotten the reality of what took place in our wars.

Steve:  Thanks for the download reference.  Thought I would never see this document being available due to, as noted, lack of interest due to no money to be made.
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