Tag Archives: Radio History

The RAAF No. 4 Wireless Unit: Never to march, never to be mentioned

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Neil Bolitho, who shares the following story in reply to our post yesterday Australian Codebreakers in WWII. Neil writes:

Never to march, never to be mentioned.

Since the end of the Second World War, many thousands of returned service personnel have marched at Anzac Day services throughout Australia.

My father never marched.

My father served in RAAF No 4 Wireless Unit, Central Bureau.

Central Bureau was under the direct command of General Douglas MacArthur, and was set up to detect, record, and translate all messages transmitted by Japanese forces in the Pacific.

Central Bureau was headquartered in Brisbane, but its Wireless Units worked in the field, moving forward with MacArthur, constantly intercepting and deciphering enemy messages.

As the war progressed, the units became so efficient in their work that they were monitoring all enemy radio traffic, and in fact frequently knew the Japanese intentions before the messages reached their intended destination.

The Wireless Units served throughout the Pacific islands providing vital information about enemy strengths and positions.

RAAF No 4 Wireless Unit was formed as a highly mobile unit, and served at Hollandia, Morotai, Labuan Island, and at Luzon, Philippines.

The U.S. High Command highly praised the Wireless Units of Central Bureau, stating that their work effectively shortened the War in the Pacific by at least two years.

At the end of the war, Central Bureau was dismantled. All personnel signed a lifetime secrecy order to not speak of their wartime activities.

No promotions applied. No evidence of their Central Bureau service was recorded, including overseas service. No medals were struck.

Family members, including children, were not told in any detail, of their father’s war experience.

It was only in the late 1990’s that the Australian government allowed information to be released.

In the early 1960’s, my father mysteriously went on an unexplained visit to Brisbane.
It was not until over thirty years later that I found out that he attended a twenty-year anniversary of his unit’s graduation.

I write this on behalf of the children and grandchildren of those Central Bureau personnel that served diligently and efficiently when called upon, and who, when the job was done, quietly went home. They are our heroes.

Indeed. Thank you so much, Neil, for taking the time to share your father’s story. We’re honored to post it here.

If you’re interested in WWII signal intelligence, here are a few fascinating posts from our archive:

Australian code breakers in World War II

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ian P, for sharing the following from the radio program, ABC Overnights:

The crucial role of Australian code breakers in World War 2

Thanks to the recent film, The Imitation Game, you may be familiar with the story of how British intelligence, led by mathematician Alan Turing, cracked Nazi codes during WW2. Did you know there were also two secret organisations in Australia working to break Japan’s military codes?

These were staffed with brilliant cryptographers, including some who had studied mathematics and the classics, and others who had lived or grown up in Japan. By patiently and carefully unravelling the codes in Japanese signals, their intelligence played a crucial role in the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea, as well as the push into the Philippines.

Trevor Chappell interviews Craig Collie, author of the book Code Breakers – Inside the Shadow world of Signals Intelligence in Australia’s two Bletchley Parks.

Duration: 36min 36sec
Broadcast: Mon 10 Apr 2017, 1:00am
Published: Mon 10 Apr 2017, 4:43pm

Listen to the full program/interview via the embedded player below:

Click here to download the MP3 or click here to listen on the ABC website.

I’ve also noted that you can pre-order Code Breakers – Inside the Shadow world of Signals Intelligence in Australia’s two Bletchley Parks at Amazon.com. There is no expected delivery time yet, however.

Code Breakers is available directly from the publisher in Australia–click here to view.

Symposium marking the 90th anniversary of international radio broadcasting in the Netherlands

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jonathan Marks, who shares the following details about the ‘Keep in touch with the Dutch’: Symposium marking the ninetieth anniversary of international radio broadcasting in the Netherlands, 1927-2017:

(Source: Historici.nl via Jonathan Marks)

‘Keep in touch with the Dutch’:

Symposium marking the ninetieth anniversary of international radio broadcasting in the Netherlands, 1927-2017

Thursday 1 June 2017, 2-5pm

Doelenzaal, Singel 425 Amsterdam

On 1 June 1927 Queen Wilhelmina officially inaugurated international radio broadcasting from the Netherlands with a speech to listeners in the Dutch colonies. This transmission attracted attention from all over the world as it was one of the first times that sound had been transmitted via radio waves across such a distance. In the decades that followed Dutch radio-makers continued to play a pioneering role in international broadcasting, experimenting with new technologies and programming formats. This symposium aims to highlight several themes from this rich history and explore source-materials in order to think about a research agenda in this field and new broadcasting techniques in the digital age.

Program

  • 2.00-2.15pm: Vincent Kuitenbrouwer (University of Amsterdam)
    Introduction
  • 2.15-2.45pm: Bas Agterberg (Beeld en Geluid)
    Everybody Happy? Archiving RNW and the Heritage of Eddy Startz at Sound and Vision
  • 2.45-3.00pm: break
  • 3.00-3.30pm: Jonathan Marks (CEO Critical Distance)
    International Radio Broadcasting in the Era of Amazon Echo
  • 3.30-4.00pm: Rocus de Joode (Independent Consultant at JRCC)
    The Importance of Shortwave, the Madagascar Relay station Now and Then
  • 4.00-4.15pm: break
  • 4.15-5.00pm: Panel: International radio in the digital age
    – Alec Badenoch (University of Utrecht/Vrije Universiteit): Radio Garden
    – Leon Willems and Suzanne Bakker (Free Press Unlimited): Radio Dabanga
  • 5.00-6.00pm: drinks reception

Please register

Vincent Kuitenbrouwer, History Department, University of Amsterdam
Email: j.j.v.kuitenbrouwer@uva.nl

This symposium is sponsored by the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH) and the Modern History Research Group

If I lived within a reasonable distance of Amsterdam, I would certainly attend this afternoon symposium.  Impressive line-up!

Thank you for sharing, Jonathan!

The first maritime radio distress call

(Source: The Telegraph via Mike Barraclough on Facebook)

On 17 March 1899, the East Goodwin Sands Lightship, operating under a licence from the General Post Office, BT’s predecessor, sent a signal on behalf of the merchant vessel Elbe, which had run aground on the treacherous Goodwin Sands off the coast of Kent.

The message was received by the radio operator on duty at the South Foreland Lighthouse, who was able to summon the aid of the Ramsgate lifeboat.

Goodwin Sands featured again a few weeks later when, on 30 April 1899, the East Goodwin Sands Lightship sent a distress message on her own account when she was rammed by the SS R F Matthews.

Rather than the now-famous signals of “SOS” or “Mayday”, the recognised call sign for ships in distress at the time was “CQD”. Devised in 1904 by the British Marconi Society, it was popularly mistaken to mean “Come Quick – Danger” or, more bleakly, “Come Quickly – Drowning!”. However, its actual official meaning came from the land telegraph signal CQ – “sécu” from the French word sécurité – followed by D for Distress.

The “SOS” Morse code signal – three-dots/three-dashes/three-dots – was established as an International Distress Signal, agreed at the Berlin Radio Conference on 3 October 1906 – though the signal wasn’t formally introduced until 1 July 1908.

Continue reading the full story at The Telegraph online.

The Great War: A look at WWI communications

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike, who shares the following from the YouTube channel The Great War.

This short video gives an excellent overview of communications methods and equipment used throughout World War I. I’ve included the video’s description below:

Click here to view on YouTube.

“If one thing was vital to the the new kind of modern warfare in the First World War, it was communications. The Industrial Revolution had brought wireless transmission of signals with it and the huge armies of World War 1 needed to be in contact constantly to be successful in the field. In this special episode we introduce you to the birth hour of modern military communication and signals.”

Thanks again, Mike! I’ll subscribe to The Great War channel on YouTube.

The Great War Project

If you enjoy reading about WWI history, I would also highly recommend following The Great War Project blog.

The Great War Project follows WWI as it unfolded 100 years ago. It’s an absolute treasure trove of information and brilliantly written.