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History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 289-296:


Operation  of  the  World's  Largest  Radio  System


The President's signature to the resolution declaring war was the signal to place in effect previously prepared war plans. Executive orders based upon the wartime powers of the Commander in Chief had been prepared and only awaited his signature for enactment. Most of these were signed on 6 April and placed into effect the following day.
    The mobilization of naval communications, under the guidance of Bullard, had commenced sometime earlier with the voluntary acceptance of active duty by hundreds of reserves. The increased volume of radio traffic which resulted from the imminence of war necessitated the augmentation of facilities and the use of this previously trained group.
    With the country at war, the remainder of the Communications Reserve was immediately called to active duty. They were augmented by the almost immediate enrollment of hundreds of commercial and amateur operators who had not previously joined but who now saw it as a patriotic duty. The closing of the commercial stations made additional hundreds of operators available for duty. The immediate requirements for trained operators were well met by these people. However, as the war progressed, more and more ships were built and commissioned, causing a constantly increasing demand for qualified radio operators and other communication personnel.


The electronic communication equipment of today is able to perform many mechanical brain functions, with its flashing red lights and ringing bells indicating electrical or mechanical difficulties or the rejection of some message because of a humanly generated error in routing instructions beyond its digestive capability. As advanced as this is, it is only as efficient as the personnel who operate it. In World War I all these functions had to be performed by additional thousands of men who required training to provide the communications necessary for the prosecution of the war.
    To meet these requirements, radio schools were established in each naval district to provide preliminary training in radiotelegraphy and to eliminate those who lacked the essential aptitude. To provide advanced training two schools were established, one on each coast. Following the close of the college year of 1917, Harvard University offered buildings for classrooms, laboratories, and dormitories. This offer was gratefully accepted, the school was established and grew rapidly into an institution of mammoth size. A similar, but smaller one was established at Mare Island, Calif. By the end of 1917 almost 5,000 students were attending the 4-month intensive radio operating and indoctrination courses and were being graduated into service at a rate in excess of 100 a week. By early 1918 this was increased fourfold.1 Amateur experimenters proved the best students since they already possessed an ability in manipulation gained by their previous activity.2 However, many young men who had never before seen radio equipment were proficiently trained. Many of these later became actively engaged in the ever-expanding field of electronics.


The major problem of the Naval  Communication System during the war was that of augmenting transoceanic communications facilities. The System was augmented by the commercial facilities taken over upon our entrance into the war.
    With the new San Diego station in operation, and the Pearl Harbor and Cavite ones completed shortly after our entrance into the war, augmented by commercial circuits, the communication problem in the Pacific was relatively minor.
    With no farflung possessions in the Atlantic to protect, nor on which to erect a high-power station, improvements in communications had been limited to providing a reliable circuit between the Canal Zone and Washington and increasing the range of radio communication between the seat of government and the commanders of forces operating in the North Atlantic. Considerable transatlantic operating experience had been gained in operating the foreign-owned stations during the neutrality period and there were some improvements in equipment, which had increased reliability. Despite this, in 1917 not one transatlantic circuit was capable of providing continuous service. Main reliance for communications between the United States and her European Allies continued to be placed upon the cables. To improve conditions on the transatlantic circuits, both reception and transmission were accomplished at locations remote from Washington. Traffic between these points and the Navy Department was manually relayed over landlines. During the early months of the war, transatlantic signals were received primarily at Sayville, backed up by Tuckerton. Landlines connected the two stations in order that Sayville might operate the Tuckerton transmitters and for forwarding Tuckerton copy to Sayville for comparative and fill-in purposes.3
    The summer of 1917 demonstrated that receiving in this manner was entirely unsatisfactory. The successful development at Great Lakes of the submarine and subterranean collector systems for reception induced the Bureau to install such a system at the Belmar, N.J., Marconi station which had been taken over but not used at the beginning of the war. Taylor, who had conducted the Great Lakes experiment, was ordered in command with the title of Transatlantic Communications Officer. He was dually responsible to the Director of Naval Communications and to the Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering. By the end of October 1917, Belmar was in operation and became the control center for transatlantic communications. Early in November it was decided to utilize the Marconi receiving station at Chatham, Mass., as a backup for Belmar. The two stations were connected by landline for relaying Chatham's copy. It was soon discovered that Chatham was of no assistance to Belmar and it was closed in October 1918.4
    Mr. Alessandro Fabbri who owned an amateur radio station at Otter Cliffs, Maine, had been commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve Force. Early in 1917 the remarkable transatlantic reception capabilities of this location came to the attention of the Navy Department. Fabbri offered to rent this station to the Government for $1 a year. On 28 August 1917, this offer was accepted and it became part of the Naval Communications System. Fabbri was ordered in command of the station. Early in 1918 this station, which had first been used as a coastal one, was removed from the organization of the 1st Naval District and placed under the command of the Transatlantic Communication Officer to whom Fabbri then reported for duty. By midsummer of that year complete reception of all frequencies used on transatlantic circuits at Otter Cliffs was definitely assured. At that time the received signals were patched straight through to and copied at the Navy Department Communication Center. At the same time control of all transatlantic transmitters was taken over by that center.5
    The Arlington transmitter was principally used for broadcasts of traffic to the fleet. When not required for transatlantic work, Tuckerton assisted in this. Certain Atlantic and gulf coast stations were designated to provide ship-shore communications which were handled in code under strict censorship.6


At the time we entered the war the German Fleet was being contained at Wilhelmshaven in the Jade, and had not ventured forth since the Battle of Jutland, 31 May-1 June 1916. Later, on 23-24 April 1918, one abortive attempt was made to attack British convoys off the Norwegian coast. This operation was discontinued because of a breakdown of the Moltke without the Allies realizing that they had been at sea until the Moltke was discovered and torpedoed 10 miles north of Heligoland.
    The only major U.S. Navy units taking part in operations with the combined fleet were the battleships which constituted the 6th Battle Squadron. These ships conformed to British practices and, as previously related, were refitted with British radio equipment. The remainder of the large men-of-war were normally kept in the Chesapeake Bay as a reserve force in the event the German Fleet managed to escape to the high seas.
    U.S. destroyers, acting as convoy escorts, minelayers, and as hunter-killer groups for detecting and destroying submarines, and small submarine chasers also performing the latter duty bore the brunt of our wartime naval operations. When these units used radio at sea they normally used the CW 936 short range voice transceiver. Orders and instructions were broadcast them on regular schedules. Intracommunications within the tight convoy formations were readily handled by visual methods.
    From its own success in keeping track of the enemy, the Admiralty realized the necessity of ships at sea maintaining radio silence. In order to deliver orders and intelligence to them they evolved the "broadcast method" wherein the ships copied definite schedules on which messages were transmitted with concealed headings. Upon our entry into the war we quickly adopted this system. Messages to ships in port and normally to those at anchor in the Chesapeake were transmitted by wirelines and relayed by visual means.
    A "force tune system," now known as "fleet frequency plan," which had been started in a small way by Hooper when he was fleet radio officer, was adopted. This was necessary because of the extremely limited radio equipment fitted into most vessels and also to reduce the number of transmissions on a single frequency. In this system each force or unit acting independently was assigned its own frequency. Intercommunication between various forces was through the force commander and thence to the fleet commander for relay to the commander of the force in which the addressed unit was a part. Force and fleet flagships usually had additional equipment because of the need of the force commander to communicate with the higher echelon of command as well as with his own ships. The fleet and force commanders usually guarded the broadcasts for their ships, relaying the messages by visual methods.
    To regulate the delivery of emergency and important traffic three priority classes of messages were established. The "Rush" classification for messages to ships was restricted to the use of the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, commanders in chief of fleets, and such other officials as might be designated from time to time by the Director of Naval Communications. Such messages were transmitted immediately by the direct method and their receipt was acknowledged by the recipients.7 For ships at sea, emergency messages or enemy contact reports were preceded by an emergency signal, which required the observance of radio silence until delivery to addresses was effected. The contact reports were encoded in a well-recognizable system. "Routine" dispatches required less immediate handling than "rush" ones but could not be held for transmission over 2 hours. "Nite" was assigned as the precedence for messages which could await delivery to the addressee by 0800 of the following day.8


Credit for the complete awakening of the security consciousness of U.S. naval officials is due the British Admiralty. Upon our entry into the war they advised the Navy Department of the successes of the German Communications Intelligence Organization and of the inadequacy of our systems. At this time the British were far ahead of us in the use of secure ciphers. This can be attributed to their earlier adoption of radio for tactical communications and to their proximity to other countries which made interception of their messages easier. When our battleships joined the Grand Fleet in 1917, it was necessary that "joint Allied security publications" be utilized. Since these were based primarily upon the British systems, we immediately acquired the benefit of their experience gained during 3 years of conflict.
    One of the earliest available records is "Code and Signal Memorandum CSM No. 1 (CSP 103)" which was a confidential, nonregistered memorandum issued under date of 10 October 1917. Since it describes the situation which existed during the first year of our participation in the war, the following excerpt is quoted:
    Under present conditions there has been a large increase in the number of signal books, codes, ciphers, radio regulations, radio and visual calls, etc., issued to the service, and, due to lack of published instructions on the subject, some uncertainty and confusion as to the issue and use of publications of this kind has resulted. This memorandum is issued with a view to furnishing in compact form information on this subject, to increasing the efficiency of confidential communications, and to simplifying the question of handling this matter on board ship, at naval stations, and in the department. Additional memoranda will be issued from time to time in order to bring up to date the information contained herein.
    The organization for handling codes, ciphers, signals, etc. in the Department consisted of the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Director of Naval Communications, and the Code and Signal Section of the Division of Operations. However, the above mentioned memorandum stated, ". . . It is planned eventually to assign the Code and Signal Section to the Office of the Director of Naval Communications when office facilities become available."
    It also listed the following U.S. Navy publications as having been distributed by the Code and Signal Section:
General Signal Book, 1913
Battle Signal Book, 1913
Service Radio Code, 1914
Naval Cipher Box and Ciphers
Secret Fleet Ciphers
S. C. Ciphers (SigCode Ciphers) (Now being prepared to supersede "Secret Fleet Ciphers")
D. P. Ciphers (District Patrol Ciphers)
M. S. Ciphers (Merchant Ship Ciphers)
U. S. Recognition Signals (Now in preparation)
War Instructions for United States Merchant Vessels
Visual Calls Memoranda
Radio Calls (except commercial calls)
Signal Letters of U. S. and Foreign Government Vessels (Four-letter visual calls)
Code and Signal Memoranda
Record Book for Signal Books, Codes, Ciphers, etc.
    The following supersession data was included:
. . . The old Navy Secret Code (1887) and the Navy Secret Code (1908) are considered as having been compromised. The former is practically obsolete; the latter can be relied upon for secrecy only when blinded and hereafter will be issued only in special cases. The following publications are no longer issued or recorded:

Larrabee's Cipher Code
Useful Curves, Scouting and Torpedo Danger Area
Naval Militia Tactical Signal Book
Radio Signals, 1913
Western Union Code.
    CSM No. 1 further stated that the Code and Signal Section handled and distributed all Allied publications furnished the Department by Allied Governments for use, and listed the following issuing offices:
District Communication Superintendent at: Navy Yard, Boston; Navy Yard, New York; Navy Yard, Philadelphia
Aide to the Commandant, Navy Yard, Norfolk
    The "Naval Cipher Box (NCB)" and ciphers mentioned above had been developed by Lt. Comdr. Russell Wilson, USN, and were issued to the service by a letter of promulgation, dated 12 June 1917. The adoption of this system marked the beginning of a real security consciousness on the part of naval officials. Prior to this codes A, B, C, D, and E, with provisions for encipherment by simple substitution or transposition, were considered adequate. The promulgating authority had no intention of endangering the new system by using it in conjunction with the old codes. Its use was restricted temporarily to one newly issued secret code until new codes A-1 through E-1 could be issued. In a little over a year, further improvements were incorporated and "Naval Cipher Box, Mark II (NCB Mark II)" was issued with instructions for safeguarding its use. Concurrent issues of codes A-2 through E-2 were made for use with the revised box.
    Additional steps were taken at this time to increase the difficulties of cryptanalytical attack. Holders were divided into several classes based upon the echelon of command and to some extent the geographical area of operations. Higher echelons were holders of several classes, the lowest one held but one. Each class utilized a different cipher, with its own varying key changes based upon the amount of usage. The class issued the greater number of holders was used to a greater extent than those with limited holders and consequently was changed more often.
    "Code and Signal Memorandum No. 1 (CSM No. 1)" was superseded by No. 2 (CSM No. 2) on 1 December 1917. This memorandum confirmed the assignment of the Code and Signal Section as a branch of the Naval Communication System. It also established the assignment of "Code and Signal Publication (CSP)" numbers to all U.S. publications (except NCB ciphers) issued by the Code and Signal section.
    CSM No. 3 (CSP 130), dated 19 December 1917, did not supersede CSM No. 2. Based largely on information provided by the British Admiralty, it contained information on methods of cryptanalytic attack. The importance of observing established communication security rules was emphasized and the damages which could result from enemy cryptanalysis and traffic analysis were depicted.
    During the war the Allied navies enjoyed a more wholesome cooperation and exchange of security information than did the ground forces. With the cooperation of the Admiralty the Navy endeavored to refine their cipher systems. The Army concentrated its efforts on the development of codes which when used to handle large volumes of traffic, inevitably become quickly compromised. Considerable success was attained in improving our ciphers and making them more difficult of attack. Originators of messages and communication personnel became more adept in avoiding errors and improper usages. Notwithstanding the above, compromises occurred and at times information was obtained by the enemy by successful cryptanalytic attack of our ciphers.


Prior our becoming a belligerent, the newspapers published daily reports of ship arrivals and departures. This was of great value to commercial interests and to the Government in controlling and protecting shipping in the harbors and off the coasts. To deny the enemy this information it was necessary to cease publishing it. New York, the largest port, suffered the most from this and it was found necessary to establish a Bureau of Shipping Information under the District Communication Officer. Later this was expanded to cover all the Atlantic and gulf ports.
    On 10 January 1918, the Navy Department assumed responsibility for secure reporting of the movements of ships in United States ports to the U.S. Shipping Board. Prior to this time such reports had been received through the different collectors of the customs in plain language. This duty was delegated to the Director of Naval Communications. The existent organization, centered at New York, was expanded and retitled the Navy Shipping Information Office. A daily "Shipping Bulletin" was issued to the Government offices concerned. Additional information was provided to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service and to the U.S. Shipping Board relative to the ships operating under their directions. Upon the conclusion of the war this service was moved to the Navy Department and was continued, insofar as naval and naval controlled vessels were concerned, under the Ship Movement Office, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.


By March 1917 increased continental communications necessitated leasing private telephone and telegraph facilities. A Landlines Division was established in the office of the Director of Naval Communications with responsibility for providing those facilities required to meet the demands of the service. By the end of the war there existed a comprehensive leased network of telephone and telegraph lines extending north to Portsmouth, N.H., west to San Francisco, and south to New Orleans, La. Within the various naval districts, secondary leased wirelines connected the district headquarters with its outlying activities.
    To clarify the responsibility for the administration of telephone service on shore General Order 367 was issued on 14 February 1918. It stated in part:
. . . The public works office will be responsible . . . for providing local telephone facilities within navy yards and stations, and for providing the line facilities for connecting these yards and stations with the nearest exchange of the commercial telephone companies.
    The communication service will be responsible for providing such toll-line facilities as are required and secured on a leased basis, outside navy yards and establishments. In addition, this service will be responsible for the operation of all telephone plants provided for the naval service, and the supervision of all personnel handling such operations.
    Where it is necessary for the Navy Department to construct and own its own telephone plant outside naval establishments, the public works office of the district or adjacent navy yard or station, will be responsible for such construction and later maintenance.


The U.S. Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury to the Navy Department for the duration of the war. Its communication facilities were placed under the supervision of the Director of Naval Communications. A survey of the Coast Guard's coastal communication system and of the coastal requirements of naval communications was made. Many additional cables from the mainland to offshore lighthouses were laid and interconnections with headquarters were established. The existent Coast Guard system was improved and utilized for the operations control of coastal patrols.


The Naval Communications System provided radio communication service for all departments of the Government. War Department messages to France concerning the oversea movements of troops and cargo were delivered to naval communications for encipherment and transmission by radio or cable. Similarly, the President, the State Department, and the President's personal representative, Colonel House, the Shipping Board, the Fuel Administration, the Food Administration, and the Post Office Department all utilized naval facilities for handling messages to and from Europe. The first three listed were assigned special naval ciphers.
    Aware that the German Communication Intelligence Organization maintained an intercept watch on our transatlantic communications, American news, prepared under the direction of the Committee on Public Information, was transmitted to Europe every night for the use of our forces abroad and as propaganda. President Wilson's "Fourteen Points" pronouncement of 8 January 1918 and his subsequent elucidations of them, especially his speech on the following 17 September, which launched the fourth Liberty Loan drive, were broadcast addressed to and acknowledged by the German radio station at Nauen.


On 4 October 1918 the German Government approached President Wilson through the Swiss Government asking him to arrange an armistice. The President was not satisfied as to the sincerity of the German Government and made queries through the Swiss. These queries were answered in a note delivered to the Swiss minister in Berlin at 1200, 12 October, Berlin time. So desperate was the internal situation in Germany at this time that Prince Maximilian of Baden, who had been called to the chancellorship in an endeavor to appease the people, took unprecedented action. On the same date, at 1545, Berlin time, he directed the German station at Nauen, on which we maintained a constant intercept watch, to transmit to the United States, addressed to the Director of Naval Communications, the information that the President's queries had been answered at noon. This was followed with a verbatim repetition of the text of the reply which stated the German and Austro-Hungarian Government's readiness to comply with our terms.


Cessation of hostilities brought no reduction in the volume of traffic that the Naval Communication System was required to handle. In fact, rapid demobilization increased the difficulty of handling the large volume.10
    At that time the Secretary of the Navy stated:
Radio communication, essential in time of peace and absolutely vital in war, has never had its importance so signally demonstrated as in the past three years. If the enemy had succeeded in cutting the cables, radio would have furnished our only immediate means of communicating with Europe. During the peace negotiations and the demobilization of our European forces, when the cables were over loaded, our trans-ocean system transmitted millions of words of official dispatches and press reports, rendering a service could not have been performed by any other means.
    To direct movements of convoys and transmit information regarding the enemy and issue orders to naval vessels and merchant ships a comprehensive method of transmission from shore was organized, making it unnecessary, except in rare instances, for ships at sea to use the radio apparatus,11 thus avoiding the possibility of revealing their location to enemy submarines. All U.S. merchant vessels were provided with navy operators, to the number of about 5000.
    The naval shore radio system handled, during the period between 1 July 1918 and 30 June 1919, 1,189,120 dispatches containing text amounting to an approximate total of 71,347,860 groups.12
    Commenting on the work of the system both during and after the war the Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army stated:
In its cooperation with the United States Army and with the Allies in this project the work performed by the United States Navy has been indispensable. It was executed with vigor and skill, and was successful.13
    After the Armistice, the General Electric Co. was requested to continue the development of transatlantic radiotelephony in order that the President on his trips to France to attend the Peace Conference might maintain telephonic communication with his aides in Washington. During his first trip in the U.S.S. George Washington, in January 1919, telephonic messages were received by that ship during the entire crossing. The President returned during the last week of February and made a second crossing in early March. By that time sufficient progress had been made so that successful two-way communication was provided.


On 28 April 1917 an Executive order made the Director of Naval Communications responsible for cable censorship with the title of Chief Cable Censor. Censorship stations were established at New York, Galveston, Key West, San Francisco, Honolulu, Guam, Panama, Guantanamo, Cape Haitian, Port Au Prince, San Domingo, St. Thomas, and St. Croix. All cable messages to and from the United States were censored except those to and from Europe which for a short time were censored by our Allies. On 26 July 1917 this task was also taken over by the Chief Cable Censor.14

    1 Wireless Age, October 1918, p. 42.
    2 Ibid., January 1918, p. 707.
    3 "History of the Bureau of Engineering, Navy Department, During World War I," Washington, Government Printing Office, 1922, p. 104.
    4 Ibid., pp. 104-105.
    5 Ibid., p. 106.
    6 Ibid., p. 94.
    7 "Communications Regulations of the United States Navy, 1918," Press, U.S. Navy Recruiting Bureau, New York.
    8 This restriction upon the assignment of priority classification to nontactical messages would have been beneficial in World War II, when practically unlimited authority was granted originators to assign classifications. This frequently resulted in slowing the delivery of very important traffic.
    9 This material was provided through the courtesy of Rear Adm. H. C. Bruton, USN, while Director of Naval Communications. It was assembled, at his direction, by the Registered Publication Section and forwarded by letter dated 30 Dec. 1957.
    10 Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1919, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1919, pp. 95-96.
    11 The word apparatus as used must be considered as transmitting apparatus.
    12 The Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1919, op. cit., pp. 95-96.
    13 Report of the Chief Signal Officer to the Secretary of War, Washington Government Printing Office, 1919, p. 137.
    14 The Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1917, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1917, pp. 444-448.
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