TOC | Previous Section: Chapter XXXII | Next Section: Chapter XXXIV
History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 389-394:


Postwar  Development  of  the  Navy  Shore  Radio  System


World War I had placed an operational requirement upon naval communications which was more in support of the ground than of the naval forces. This is not intended as an implication that fleet communications were considered secondary, for this was not the case. The Navy was the only department of the Government possessing any ability to operate transatlantic communication circuits and, though that was poor at the time we entered the war, it was natural that the responsibility for providing this service be delegated to it. By the time of the cessation of hostilities, transatlantic radio circuits had been greatly improved and could have handled a large portion of the necessary communications between the United States and Europe.


The purchase of the Marconi ship, coastal, and Alaskan stations and of the Federal Telegraph Co., combined with the acquisition of the Sayville station from the Alien Property Custodian, left only a few long-distance stations remaining in the ownership of two companies: the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America and the Tropical Radio Co.
    The determined stand of Secretary Daniels on continued Government operation of these stations following the armistice and the efforts of Roosevelt, Bullard, and Hooper to eliminate British domination of radio communications have been related. The efforts of the latter group delayed the return of the leased stations until the Radio Corp. of America could be formed. Therefore, from the armistice until March 1920, when the leased stations were returned to the Tropical Radio Co. and the Radio Corp., the latter of which had come into possession of the American Marconi interests, the Navy continued to conduct all the commercial radio business of the United States in addition to providing radio services for itself and other Government departments.
    During the fiscal year of 1920, the commercial earnings of the system were $1,116,593.37. This included the revenue from 84 coastal stations handling ship-shore traffic, the circuits with Norway and Japan for approximately 6 months, and a circuit with Germany for 10 months. This figure does not include the free services rendered other Government departments amounting to approximately $1 million.1
    Due to rapid demobilization, most of the shore station were operating with about 40 percent of their complements. This condition would have been aggravated had commercial positions been available for radio operators. Bullard had foreseen this problem, and this was one of the reasons why he could not support Daniels' struggle for Government ownership.
    Naturally, the commercial interests decried Government ownership and operation. They were successful in thwarting Secretary Daniels and, at midnight 29 February 1920, their stations were returned to them for commercial operations controlled by the provisions of Public Law No. 264 of 13 August 1912.


The commercial companies possessed few coastal stations and were unable to provide satisfactory ship-shore services. In many localities they had not established necessary point-to-point circuits. The provision and operation of these facilities had to be continued by the Naval Communications System. This action was legalized by Congress on 5 June 1920 by Public Resolution No. 48 which, in part, stated that Government stations could be utilized by national newspaper interests and for commercial business for a period of 2 years; provided:
That the right to use such stations for any of the purposes named . . . shall terminate and cease as between any countries or localities or between any locality and privately operated ships, whenever privately owned and operated stations are capable of meeting the normal communication requirements between such countries or localities or between any locality and privately operated ships, and the Secretary of Commerce shall have notified the Secretary of the Navy thereof . . .
    During 1920 the commercial companies established stations at principal U.S. ports to provide ship-shore radio communication facilities. There were numerous locations where the anticipated revenues were not sufficient to interest them, and the Navy continued to provide the required facilities as well as those for isolated localities which required point-to-point radio communications in a volume insufficient to warrant commercial interest. Additionally, Public Law No. 264 prohibited commercial radio operations within the Canal Zone. Many of these circuits were provided by the Naval Communication System on a scheduled basis.
    Although the Radio Corp. expedited the expansion of its international, circuits, the services were not totally sufficient, therefore, on 14 April 1922 the authority granted by Public Resolution No. 48 of 5 June 1920 was extended until 30 June 1925.2
    During this period of 5 years the provision of ship-shore facilities and the operation of the U.S. terminals of the below-listed circuits provided commercial revenue amounting to over $1,500,000:
Tutuila.    Apia, British Samoa.
Papeete, Tahiti.
Cavite.    Hanoi, French Indochina.
Malabar, Dutch East Indies.
Balboa.    Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Limón, Costa Rica.
Bluefields, Nicaragua.
Managua, Nicaragua.
Bragman's Bluff, Nicaragua.
Cape Gracias, Nicaragua.
Swan Island.
Belize, British Honduras.
Santa Marto, Colombia.
San Juan.    Curacao.
St. Kitts.
Port-au-Prince.    Santo Domingo.
Guantanamo.    Kingston, Jamaica.
St. Thomas.    Curacao.
    In 1924 the commercial companies commenced the use of higher frequencies which allowed coverage of larger ocean areas by their coastal stations, and from that time there was a gradual diminution of the assistance needed from naval radio stations.


In addition to radio direction-finder services rendered all mariners upon request, broadcasts of information relative to safe navigation were made by specific stations at specified times. These included broadcasts of time signals, hydrographic notices, meteorological reports, weather forecasts, storm warnings, and obstruction reports. Time signals were broadcast by all high-power and some intermediate-power stations twice daily in an effort to provide this service on a worldwide basis. Broadcasts of other information were provided on a regional basis as necessary. Broadcast schedules were provided all vessels through the medium of the U.S. Hydrographic Offices.


Following the war the naval shore radio system continued to handle radio communications for other Government departments. No charges were made for this service and, in the interest of economy, no accounting was made. It was estimated that this service saved the Government approximately $1 million per annum during the period 1919-25.
    These services consisted of securely handling the large volume of traffic concerned with peace negotiations and our Armed Forces remaining in Europe; the handling of traffic concerning rehabilitation of Europe; the utilization of the shore radio stations for transmission to and reception of traffic from Coast Guard and Shipping Board vessels; the collection of hydrographic and meteorological information; the utilization of existing shore radio stations as part of the airways communication system of the newly established postal airmail system; as a means of communication with lighthouses and lightships and with remote forest areas; the provision of broadcast facilities for the governmental agencies; and assistance to scientific missions supported or approved by the U.S. Government.


Following the return of the long-distance radio circuits to the commercial companies, there was a revamping of the naval shore radio system. This was more of a reorientation than a reorganization, and was necessitated by the requirements of providing coastal radio stations and point-to-point services in some areas. Increased ranges of equipments developed during the war years also permitted the use of higher powered, longer distance circuits serving the fleet and our insular possessions.
    Stations were divided into three categories in accordance with assigned missions, as follows:3
High-powered stations, capable of transmitting at least 3,000 miles, located at strategic points in the United States and its possessions to insure communications with the fleet in any part of the world and for intercommunications with similar adjacent ones. They were not normally used for direct communications with ships, but transmitted messages to fleet units by broadcasting, utilizing either the intercept or the no-answer method.4 These stations were equipped with arc equipments emitting only waves.
    Medium-powered stations, capable of transmitting at least 1,000 miles, for the purpose of connecting adjacent naval districts and to provide long-distance ship-shore service. These stations also used the intercept and no-answer broadcast methods and were equipped with medium-powered arc equipment emitting only continuous waves.
    Low-powered stations, with transmission ranges of less than 1,000 miles, situated along the coast to provide close-in ship-shore service and communications with the naval district headquarters, the location of the district communications center. These stations were normally provided with low-powered arcs equipped with choppers, or with spark transmitters.
    All stations were connected with their own district centers either by landline or radio. In many cases the transmitting stations were keyed by landline and the receiving done at the district center via monitor stations and tone channels. Each high-powered station included a medium-powered one and, likewise, each medium-powered station included a low-powered one to insure a completely integrated system.


Despite the tremendous successes the amateurs and the Naval Research Laboratory were experiencing in the higher frequencies, the Bureau of Engineering was reluctant to accept the use of these frequencies as a solution to its long-distance radio communications problems. Taylor was spending much of his personal time pursuing his research in these frequencies because of the apparent general lack of understanding of the potentialities they offered. Although Hooper strongly advocated the development of the vacuum tube transmitter, his efforts were concentrated toward obtaining equipment of sufficient power to utilize the portion of the radio spectrum then being used. Typical of the attitude of the Bureau in the early twenties was the almost complete lack of interest evidenced when Taylor reported his discovery of echo ranging and his view that this phenomenon possessed enormous potential. Much of the failure to pursue this phase of development has been blamed on economy and insufficient funds but, at the time, considerable sums were being expended in the development of low-powered arc transmitters, higher powered tube transmitters, and toward the improvement of the high-powered arcs. When we contrast the $250 cost of a single high-power, low-frequency tube with the $289 expenditure for a home-made 250-watt high-frequency transmitter and receiver capable of providing reliable communications in excess of 5,000 miles,5 this argument is hard to understand. It is true that these early high-frequency transmitters lacked frequency stability. Later ones, with the necessary stability, required a piezoelectric crystal for each frequency utilized. But this was not a deterring factor insofar as shore stations were concerned, and not a serious one for shipboard long-distance radio communications since, normally, one day and one night frequency sufficed.
    In March 1923 the Government agreed to take steps to abandon the use of the broadcast band except on a noninterference, coordinated basis. This was strenuously opposed by Hooper.
    In July 1923 Hooper was ordered to duty as Fleet Radio Officer. He was relieved as Head of the Radio Section by McNeely, a capable officer who had had no previous connection with radio matters and who possessed no firm convictions regarding them. After a study of the situation, he made no radical changes in the Bureau's radio equipment procurement plan, but he did support Taylor's program of high-frequency and research and instigated investigations relative to means of transmitter stabilization. Further, he directed that ships and stations be equipped with high-frequency receivers as rapidly as funds would permit. Radio personnel in ships and at stations were encouraged to construct high-frequency apparatus, and many did so utilizing their own funds and parts salvaged from obsolete equipment. The first among these were the personnel at the stations at Balboa and San Diego and in the U.S.S. Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, Canopus, and Patoka, followed rapidly by numerous others.
    In early 1924 the dirigible U.S.S. Shenandoah was nearing completion and, at Taylor's urging, McNeely obtained authority to fit her with high-frequency radio equipment manufactured at the Naval Research Laboratory. In October of the same year she made her shakedown cruise across the United States and return. The sight of a naval unit operating in midcontinental areas attracted widespread attention but not more than the remarkable results obtained with her radio equipment. Transmitting on a frequency of 3200 kc. she was able to maintain reliable communications with the Laboratory, which was operating on 5500 kc. for about 7 hours each night of the voyage. While she was moored in San Diego her transmission were heard and copied by the U.S.S. Canopus, distant 4,200 miles. On the round trip she was constantly in communication with amateurs throughout the country. This was not a crystal-controlled transmitter and there were problems of frequency stability. Since the transmitter operated only on a frequency of about 3200 kc., daylight range was extremely limited. Little success was obtained in operating with shore radio stations and fleet units on lower frequencies with her normal equipment. This may be attributed to the fact that her radio personnel were more keenly interested in using the high-frequency equipment. The Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, was unsympathetic to these achievements and commented upon the necessity of dirigibles, which were to be assigned as fleet units, becoming proficient in communicating with shore and fleet units on standard frequencies rather than being used as airborne laboratories.6
    It is of interest to note that Capt. Ridley McLean,7 USN, became Director, Naval Communications, in July 1924. The monthly bulletins of his division make no comments pertaining to the use of high-frequency radio prior to the shakedown flight of the U.S.S. Shenandoah. Following this event, these bulletins indicated ever-increasing interest in the use of this portion of the spectrum and that McLean was not only in full sympathy with the program of McNeely but encouraged it. In his bulletin issued on 15 December 1924 McLean commented upon the rapid increase in the use of higher frequencies and correctly prophesied that they would be used extensively by commercial stations.
    Upon the completion of the first crystal-controlled transmitter by the Naval Research Laboratory in late 1924, McLean authorized it for use in handling traffic between Washington and Balboa. This one-way circuit proved extremely successful, and the transmissions were copied by practically all units that had constructed high-frequency receivers. Within 1 month, additional one-way night-traffic circuits were established with London, San Diego, San Francisco, and Pearl Harbor.
    In early 1925 it was decided to send the U.S. Fleet to Australia and New Zealand during the following summer. This afforded an excellent opportunity to convince the fleet that high-frequency communications were reliable and would prove satisfactory for long-distance ship-to-shore communications. Lt. Frederick Schnell, USNR, Traffic Manager of the American Radio Relay League, was ordered to active duty during the period of the cruise. Through his efforts, satisfactory nighttime communications were maintained between the flagship U.S.S. Seattle, and the Naval Research Laboratory during the entire period of the cruise.8
    Following the successful demonstration of this portion of the frequency spectrum, the Commander in Chief recommended equipping some of the more important fleet units with high-frequency equipment to provide limited long-distance, ship-shore communications. He further recommended that frequencies higher than 9000 kc. not be utilized. Meanwhile, Taylor and Hulbert of the Laboratory, in conjunction with the Carnegie Institution, confirmed the Kennelly-Heaviside theory. They also gained additional information concerning the diurnal changes in the height of the ionospheric layers above the earth. These changes accounted for the fact that the frequencies which were used for communications during darkness were of little value during daylight. It was discovered that still higher frequencies were necessary during daylight. With this knowledge at hand, the Department could not accept the frequency limitation recommended by the Commander in Chief.
    A sizable appropriation9 for modernization of radio equipment was obtained and a program for the design and development of low-powered, high-frequency equipments for point-to-point and ship-shore circuits was initiated. This program required several years to implement. During that period there was a constant increase in the number of high-frequency, point-to-point circuits established, utilizing homemade transmitters and receivers, and in the amount of traffic handled by each of these circuits.
    It was well realized by naval radio engineers that all the requirements of naval communications could not be met by the use of high frequencies alone. There was still the problem of skip distance, making it impossible to entirely cover all ocean areas entirely from available shore-station locations. Since attenuation of signals in seawater increases with frequency, satisfactory transmissions to submerged craft in remote ocean areas necessitate the use of very low frequencies emanated at extremely high power. Our growing submarine force required the provision of reliable broadcasts which they could receive in all possible operating areas while at periscope depth. These two requirements necessitated the continued use of high-powered, low-frequency transmitters that could be utilized for broadcasting necessary information and orders in conjunction with similar broadcasts at high frequencies. The arc transmitters would suffice to fill this requirement until the later satisfactory development of high-powered electronic transmitters. This left the Bureau free to develop low-powered tube transmitters covering the full spectrum by now expanded upward to 20,000 kc.
    For the first time, wave propagation throughout the entire range of this spectrum was understood, and this afforded the opportunity of charting a course which could be followed for many years. Based upon this, Craven was able to develop a workable naval communications frequency plan in which he took cognizance of commercial point-to-point, mobile, and broadcast requirements, thus eliminating to the greatest possible extent interferences between the various usages. Later, this plan would be adopted internationally and would make it possible for mobile communications to be operated worldwide with a minimum of interference.

    1 Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1920 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1920), p. 68.
    2 Public Res. No. 48 of 14 Apr. 1922.
    3 A list of these stations as of 1921, with improvements and changes through 1925, is contained in app. L.
    4 In the intercept method one shore station transmits to another shore station which, in turn, repeats back to the first station. The ship for which the message is intended receives the message but does receipt for it. In the no-answer method a single shore station transmits a message on schedule which is received, but not receipted for, by the ship to which it is addressed.
    5 Communication Division Bulletins Nos. 33 and 34 of September and October 1925.
    6 Communications Division Bulletin, 15 Nov. 1924.
    7 McLean was born in and appointed a naval cadet from Tennessee. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1894. He died on board the U.S.S. Nevada as a rear admiral on 12 Nov. 1933.
    8 Supra, Ch. XXXVIII.
    9 Ibid.
TOC | Previous Section: Chapter XXXII | Next Section: Chapter XXXIV