Tag Archives: WWII

Radio Waves: Quantum Sensors, Sinking Mi Amigo, Submarine Radio Network, and Video Games Over The Air

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’sRadio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Kim Elliott and Dennis Dura for the following tips:


Scientists create quantum sensor that covers entire radio frequency spectrum (Phys.org)

A quantum sensor could give Soldiers a way to detect communication signals over the entire radio frequency spectrum, from 0 to 100 GHz, said researchers from the Army.

Such wide spectral coverage by a single antenna is impossible with a traditional receiver system, and would require multiple systems of individual antennas, amplifiers and other components.

In 2018, Army scientists were the first in the world to create a quantum receiver that uses highly excited, super-sensitive atoms—known as Rydberg atoms—to detect communications signals, said David Meyer, a scientist at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. The researchers calculated the receiver’s channel capacity, or rate of data transmission, based on fundamental principles, and then achieved that performance experimentally in their lab—improving on other groups’ results by orders of magnitude, Meyer said.

“These new sensors can be very small and virtually undetectable, giving Soldiers a disruptive advantage,” Meyer said. “Rydberg-atom based sensors have only recently been considered for general electric field sensing applications, including as a communications receiver. While Rydberg atoms are known to be broadly sensitive, a quantitative description of the sensitivity over the entire operational range has never been done.”[]

Forty years ago today Sheerness lifeboat crew rescued Radio Caroline DJs from the sinking Mi Amigo (Kent Online)

It was the original ‘ship that rocked.’ But 40 years ago today (Thursday)the Mi Amigo, home to original pop pirates Radio Caroline, finally disappeared beneath the waves in a violent force 10 storm.

In a daring rescue which lasted 12 hours in appalling weather, the crew of the Sheerness lifeboat saved the lives of everyone onboard – including the ship’s canary.

Leading the operation was colourful RNLI coxswain Charlie Bowry, who was later presented with the Institute’s coveted silver medal.

It was during the day that the radio station’s 60-year-old ship started dragging its anchor and drifted 10 nautical miles onto the Long Sand sandbank off Southend.

As the tide rose, the ship started to float free. But the bottom of the boat began being buffeted on the seabed with such a force the steel plates sprung a leak and water gushed into the engine room.

When the bilge pumps couldn’t cope, the three British DJs and a Dutch engineer called the Coastguard who dispatched Sheerness lifeboat the Helen Turnbull.[]

The Radio Network that Allowed Communication with Submarines (Interesting Engineering)

Communicating with covert fleets during WWII required some special equipment.

What do you do when you need to communicate with a crew of 50 sailors submerged in a submarine in an undisclosed location across the world’s oceans? That was a difficult question to answer for Navy leaders in WWII.

Radio waves don’t easily travel through saltwater, which meant that getting active communication with a submarine crew meant making the submarine surface an antenna. This was the obvious solution, but it made a previously covert submarine now a visible target.

[…]Engineers tasked with finding a more covert solution soon discovered that radio waves with low frequencies, around 10 kHz, could penetrate saltwater to depths up to around 20 meters. They realized that if the transponders on submarines were switched to these frequency ranges, then they communicate with leadership on land.

The problem with this idea was that creating and broadcasting these low-frequency radio waves required massive antennas. Essentially, the lower the frequency of a radio wave, the longer and larger the antenna is required to be.[]

You Could Download Video Games From the Radio in the 1980s (Interesting Engineering)

Certain radio programs broadcast the raw data to video games for viewers to download.

[…]In 1977, the world’s first microprocessor-driven PCs were released. These were the Apple II, the Commodore PET, and the TRS-80. All these machines had one thing in common – they used audio cassettes for storage.

Hard drives at the time were still quite expensive, and everyone at the time had access to cheap audio cassettes. Early computer designers actually flaunted cassette storage as it aided in the early adoption of personal computers. As PCs became more common, so to did the emergence of their use as video game machines.

As the 1980s rolled around, engineers at the Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, NOS, a Dutch broadcasting organization, realized something incredible. Since computer programs and video games were stored on audio cassettes, it meant that their data could be transmitted with ease over the radio. They started taking programs and video games and setting up broadcasts where people could “download” games onto their own personal computers.

The audio that was transmitted would’ve sounded reminiscent of a dial-up modem booting up.

[…]NOS started a radio program specifically for transmitting gaming data called “Hobbyscoop,” and it became incredibly popular. The company even created a standard cassette format called BASICODE to ensure computer compatibility.

Eventually, transmitting games through computers became so popular that radio shows popped up all around the world. A Yugoslovik station called “Ventilator 202” broadcasted 150 programs between 1983 and 1986. As the practice evolved, it became less of a novelty and rather a practical way for people to share calculation programs, educational tools, encyclopedias, and even flight simulators.[]


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The Birth of Radar Memorial

Photo by Amanda Slater

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Evans, who writes:

Interesting article on the new monument to radar between Daventry and Towcester in Northamptonshire, UK.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/birth-of-radar-memorial

Legend has it that this was conducted around 25-28 MHz, which was the very top end of higher power RF at the time.

The location sits closer to Towcester, although the event is always quoted as having taken place at Daventry (the source, not the receiver).

It’s fascinating that Plessey Research Caswell was set up almost immediately, not very far away and was heavily involved in radar and other solid-state research through to the 1990s.

[Disclosure: the author (Paul) worked at Plessey Caswell and was Two Terminal device Manager at Plessey Microwave, Towcester in the 1980s]

Many thanks, Paul, for sharing this fascinating bit of history.

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The secret role of Beaumanor Hall

(Source: Southgate ARC)

The Leicester Mercury reports on the top secret wartime listening station role of a Leicestershire mansion

As we approach the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May, a Loughborough Library Local Studies Volunteer (LLLSV) tells the fascinating story of Beaumanor Hall’s crucial role in the Second World War.

Many readers may not know, but Beaumanor Hall was the site of a vital wartime intelligence service, namely the War Office “Y” (wireless) Group or W.O.Y.G.

The top secret “Y” Group was part of M18 Wireless Intelligence and Beaumanor was a highly-strategic “Intercept Station”, concerned with monitoring the enemy’s main channels of wireless traffic and communications.

The “Y” Intercept Listening Service operated from 1941 to 1945 and its wartime activities were as top secret as those at the Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

Click here to read the full story at The Leicester Mercury.

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The WWII “Mosquito Network”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Marty, who shares this article by Mark Durenberger in Radio World:

Inside the U.S. effort in a battle of the airwaves during the Pacific campaign of World War II

We can’t fully appreciate the importance of news from home to those who served in World War II. In the Pacific campaigns, G.I.s, sailors and Marines fought bloody island-hopping battles; as each island was cleared, garrison troops and hospitals moved in and carried on their own war against mosquitoes, isolation and boredom. The island fighters were fortunate if dated mail caught up with them before they moved on to the next target. Timely personal-level communications were pretty much absent.

Radio programming from America was available but only on shortwave. And shortwave radios were not generally available. The fortunate few had been issued “Buddy Kits” that included a radio, a small PA system and a record player for discs sent by mail. But for most there was no way to receive short-lived information such as news and sports. They were left with enemy radio propaganda such as Japan’s “Orphan Ann/Annie” (aka one of several Tokyo Roses) and the “Zero Hour” program.

No wonder that the idea of having a local island radio station doing “live from home” was so fiercely supported. Enlightened commanders saw the idea as a terrific morale-builder. The only problem was how to pull it off.

A solution, not uniquely, came from within the ranks. It started with the work of some bored but talented soldiers in the Panama Canal Zone who in 1940 built a couple of 50 W transmitters and put them on the air without authorization, labeling them “PCAN” and “PCAC.”[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at Radio World.

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An Enigma machine just fetched over $106K at auction

(Source: Bloomberg.com)

A rare “Enigma” machine, used by Nazi Germany to create military communications code thought to be unbreakable, sold at auction for more than $106,000.

The 28.5-pound cipher machine went to an internet buyer on Saturday, according to Heritage Auctions. It comes with operating instructions, a case with an engraved Third Reich emblem — and a rich lore including how British scientist Alan Turing helped crack the code.

One of the unit’s 26 light bulbs is broken, according to the description.

It’s not the first time a Nazi code creator has traded hands for such a sum. In May, an Irish private collector swiped up a different encryption machine, known as the “Hitler mill” because of its hand crank, for 98,000 euros ($109,000) from a Munich auctioneer, according to the Telegraph.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at Bloomberg.com.

Click here to view the auction page.

SWLing Post contributor and friend, Dan Robinson, and I once visited the National Cryptological Museum at Fort Meade and got to try our hand at using an Enigma machine. It’s an absolutely brilliant bit of mechanical engineering, of course. I highly recommend this museum to anyone interested in radio, computers or cryptography.

If you’d like to learn about another fascinating bit of over-the-air WWII technology–the SIGSALY network–I strongly encourage you to check out this post from our archives.

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“BBC’s secret World War Two activities revealed”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Fred Waterer and Mike Hansgen who share the following article from the BBC:

A new archive has revealed the BBC’s role in secret activities during World War Two, including sending coded messages to European resistance groups.

Documents and interviews, released by BBC History, include plans to replace Big Ben’s chimes with a recorded version in the event of an air attack.

This would ensure the Germans did not know their planes were over Westminster.

BBC programmers would also play music to contact Polish freedom fighters.

Using the codename “Peter Peterkin”, a government representative would provide staff with a particular piece that would be broadcast following the Polish news service.

Historian David Hendy said: “The bulletins broadcast to Poland would be deliberately short by a minute or so and then a secret messenger from the exiled Polish government would deliver a record to be played.

“The choice of music would send the message to fighters.”[…]

Click here to read the full article at the BBC.

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A simple WWII era “hack proof” way to send messages between ships

U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 1ST CLASS BRIAN P. CARACCI (via Popular Mechanics)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Marty, who writes:

Hi Thomas, I spotted this article in Popular Mechanics – To Prevent Cyber Snooping, The US Navy is Relying on WWII-Era Communications – and of course I thought it was about short wave. Boy, was I wrong!

(Source: Popular Mechanics)

The U.S. Navy, anticipating a future when a high-tech enemy could read its electronic communications, is going back to a hack-proof means of sending messages between ships: bean bags. Weighted bags with messages inside are passed among ships at sea by helicopters.

In a future conflict with a tech-savvy opponent, the U.S. military could discover even its most advanced, secure communications penetrated by the enemy. Secure digital messaging, voice communications, video conferencing, and even chats could be intercepted and decrypted for its intelligence value. This could give enemy forces an unimaginable advantage, seemingly predicting the moves and actions of the fleets at sea with uncanny accuracy.

Last week, a MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter delivered a message from the commander of an amphibious squadron to the captain of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. The helicopter didn’t even land to deliver it, dropping it from a hovering position before flying away. The message was contained in a bean bag dropped on the Boxer’s flight deck.

The bean bag system, as Military.com explains it, is nearly eight decades old. The system dates back to April 1942, when a SBD Dauntless dive bomber assigned to the USS Enterprise was flying a scouting mission ahead of the USS Hornet. Hornet, about to launch sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers on a raid against Japan, was traveling in extreme secrecy to preserve the element of surprise. The Dauntless pilot encountered a Japanese civilian ship and, fearing he had been spotted, dropped a message in a bean bag on the deck of Hornet. You can see some archival footage of the event here.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article.

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