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History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 61-66:


Early  Naval  Radio  Installations  and  Problems


One of the greatest deterrents to the early rapid development of naval radio communications was the lack of a close knit organization. Ashore, the stations were under the military command of the commandant of the naval yard or station closest to them. Operationally, they were responsible both to that commandant and to the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, through the head of its Radio Division. Afloat they were militarily and operationally responsible to the senior commander, via the chain of command. Since the Navy, at that time, was composed, more or less, of independent squadrons operating directly under the Secretary of the Navy, there was no unified direction of radio activities afloat. In these individual squadrons, radio operation fell within the purview of the flag lieutenant, who, although usually sufficiently versed in visual signaling methods, lacked knowledge of or interest in this new field. Aboard individual units, the personnel came under the direction of the senior operator who quickly became a law unto himself. Budgetary and maintenance responsibilities, afloat and ashore, were the province of the Bureau of Equipment.


Following the spring 1903 purchase of 20 Slaby-Arco equipments, action was immediately initiated to obtain final decision as to the shore radio stations to be established and the ships to be fitted. The Bureau of Equipment recommended establishing stations on the lighthouse reservations previously approved by the Secretary of the Treasury and additional stations at Cape Elizabeth, Maine; Cape Ann, Mass.; Cape San Juan, P.R.; and on Corregidor Island, and at Cavite Navy Yard, Luzon, Philippine Islands.1 These recommendations were referred to the Navy General Board, Adm. George Dewey, USN, President, which commented to the effect that radio telegraph stations would be a valuable adjunct to the Naval Patrol Service, lately established by the Navy Department, and as soon as that service was organized the commandants of the several naval districts would be called upon to name the points in their districts where such stations were desirable. The General Board would then be able to make a comprehensive recommendation covering the whole coast. In the meantime, however, in order not to delay the establishment of stations at points proposed by the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, which stations would undoubtedly be included in the general plan, it was recommended that his requests be approved in connection with the stations on lighthouse reservations and that the Secretary of War be asked to allow the Navy to erect a station on Corregidor Island.2
    The Wireless Telegraph Board recommended that, owing to a lack of trained operators, only the shore radio stations at Cape Elizabeth, Maine; Newport, R.I.; Montauk Point and Brooklyn Navy Yard, N.Y.; and the Highlands of Navesink, N.J., be established prior to the summer maneuvers of the North Atlantic Fleet. The Board, recognizing the importance of establishing all the shore stations as soon as possible, recommended the following be equipped as soon after the summer maneuvers as trained operators became available: Portsmouth Navy Yard, N.H.; Thatchers Island, (Cape Ann), Boston Navy Yard and Highland Light (Cape Cod), Mass; Cape Henry and Norfolk Navy Yard, Va.; and Pensacola, Key West, and Dry Tortugas, Fla. In order to insure the availability of sufficient apparatus, it was suggested that the apparatus used during the comparative tests be modified and used at the less important shore stations such as the Norfolk Navy Yard, the San Francisco Training Station, and Annapolis,3 where their shorter range would not be a material disadvantage.
    The shore stations to be used during the summer maneuvers were immediately equipped and placed into commission. Following the completion of the exercises all the additional stations except Norfolk Navy Yard and Dry Tortugas were established. These all became units of the U.S. Naval Radio System.


Early in June 1903, the Secretary of the Navy was advised that it would be practicable to equip battleships of the North Atlantic Fleet with radio telegraphic apparatus within one month, and that on each ship some work would be required which was under the cognizance of the Bureau of Construction and Repair. Authority was given to equip the battleships of the North Atlantic Fleet, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair was directed to perform the necessary alterations. Without guiding precedents, the major task was the determination of the best location for the instruments. It was decided to make temporary installation on each ship, at a location determined by theoretical considerations, as the one which would permit operation at maximum efficiency. The permanent location would later be determined by practical experiment and when known, the installation would be set up in a permanent manner.4
    In June 1903, the Boston, New York, Norfolk, Mare Island, and Puget Sound Navy Yards were provided guidance to assist them in fitting radio equipment in naval vessels. Specifications called for a dry, well lighted, and ventilated compartment, about 6 feet square, with the full "in-between" deck height and provided with direct communication by voice or telephone to the bridge. If possible, the compartment should be located below armor and, in case the antenna was suspended from the foremast, it should be aft, at about the after bridge or mainmast. Where a special space had to be provided in a between-deck space, the bulkheads could be of either wood or light metal. A plain table or bench about 6 feet long and 30 inches high, of well-seasoned soft wood, capable of supporting a maximum weight of about 500 pounds was required for the instruments. Bulkheads above and below the table would be covered with soft wood for mounting rheostats and other instruments not required on the table. The Leyden jar battery with the spark gap was required on the table. Six to eight cubic feet of storage space were required for spare parts and supplies.5
    The specifications directed that the antennas would lead from the radio compartment through a hard rubber insulator in the deck above the table and be kept as far as possible from the ship's structure and rigging by insulator and guys, on a diagonal lead to the fore truck. A clean direct connection to the ship's hull was specified as a ground. The power leads had to be capable of carrying a momentary overload of about 30 and a normal current of 10 to 12 amperes, without material drop in voltage, and should be direct from the main switch board if feasible, otherwise from lighting or power circuits.6
    The Bureau directed that radio rooms be fitted on all ships that were to be equipped with radio apparatus as soon as their navy yard availability would permit. The commandants of the navy yards were requested to direct their equipment officers to confer with the naval constructors, select spaces for stations, and submit estimates of time and cost for fitting such spaces on all steel ships over 2,000 tons displacement, except monitors and auxiliaries, and to submit the same to the Bureau for approval.7
    In the same letter in which they made recommendations as to the shore radio stations to be established, the Wireless Telegraph Board suggested that the following ships be fitted before participating in the summer maneuvers of 1903: U.S.S. Illinois, Kearsage, Maine, Olympia, Baltimore, and Texas. They further suggested that the equipment in the U.S.S. Prairie and Topeka be modified to permit operation with Slaby-Arco equipments.8
    At the time the Slaby-Arco sets began to arrive, the ships were concentrated at Bar Harbor where the task of supervising the temporary radio installations on the U.S.S. Illinois, Kearsage, Olympia, Baltimore, and Texas and instructing the future operators, was entrusted to John Scanlin, one of the chief electrician's mates who had participated in the comparative tests. He was handicapped, in that he possessed only a vague idea of how to tune the equipments and lacked practice with the filings coherer, but he is credited with a remarkable performance in assembling the equipment and making it work satisfactorily. To further complicate his problem only signalmen were available as operators, and he had little opportunity to provide them training. To them the new devices were foreign in more ways than one, but their experience in signaling with blinker lights and their knowledge of the Navy or Meyer code, which was adopted for radio use in the forthcoming exercises, alleviated the situation somewhat. With perseverance, blustering, and coaxing, Scanlin managed to train them to tune and operate a radio set. The installations were all complete and in working order prior to the commencement of the August exercises.


In the 1903 summer maneuvers the North Atlantic Fleet was divided into two forces. The "White Squadron," or attacking force, was under the command of Rear Adm. James H. Sands, USN; and the "Blue Squadron," or defending force, was commanded by Rear Adm. F. J. Higginston, USN. Rear Adm. Albert S. Barker, USN, commander in chief of the North Atlantic Fleet, was the umpire in chief.9
    The White Squadron, composed of the U.S.S. Texas, Massachusetts, and Indiana and the destroyers U.S.S. Truxtun, Whipple, and Worden, was directed to take station 500 miles east of Cape Cod, Mass, and from that point to attempt to capture and hold for a specified period of time, the mined portion of the coast between Cape Cod and Eastport, Maine.
    The Blue Squadron, with the mission of discovering and destroying the enemy before he was able to establish his "beachhead", was made up of the remainder of the available ships of the North Atlantic Fleet which included, among others, the radio-equipped U.S.S. Kearsarge, Olympia, Illinois, and Prairie.
    Prior to the commencement of the exercise, Scanlin constructed two simple contact report codes, using the name of flowers as code words in the one for the attacking force, and of metals in the one for the defending force. He instructed the operators of the attacking force that in the event that they heard the name of metal in any radio transmission they were to immediately hold their key down in an effort to jam the transmission.10
    The White Squadron departed Frenchman's Bay, Bar Harbor, Maine, on 3 August and proceeded to a specified position. The Blue Squadron was not permitted to depart from Frenchman's Bay until 5 August, and on that day the main body, consisting of the Kearsarge, Alabama and Illinois took a central position off Baker's Island while the remainder of the ships instituted their search.11
    Rain, mist, and fog hindered search operations for the next 8 days, and necessitated that the scouts fall back on the coast. At about 0345 on the 8th, operators observed the word "gold" coming in on the tape registers. This was the instant that the operator on the Texas should have held down his key to jam the transmission--but nothing happened and the remainder of the message was received. It contained the information that the Olympia had sighted the attacking force miles south by east of Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse. By 0700 the defenders had captured them before they could even approach the coast.12
    As soon as they came into port, Scanlin, who had been in the Kearsarge during the exercise, took a boat to the Texas to determine what had occurred. Once on board, he found the radio room locked and learned from the officer of the deck that the operator was in the brig. He was allowed to talk to him and this is the story told by that unhappy signalman:
I was on watch and everything was working fine. I heard a message begin, and the first three letters were G, O, and L, so I knew it was going to be "gold" and that it was from the other side. I reached for the key, but the Flag Lieutenant, who was with me said "No don't do that I want to get the entire message". When the message was ended, the Lieutenant said "Make interference," and I said "Sir, it's no use now. The message has gone out with a speed of 186,000 miles a second and we can't catch up with it." So here I am on bread and water.13
The flag lieutenant was Lt. T. P. Magruder, USN, who later as a rear admiral, was to earn, by his utterings, considerable publicity and a long suspension from active duty.14
    To the defending and also winning Commander, Higginston, the use of radio in the maneuvers was quite successful. He commented:
To me the great lesson of the search we ended to-day is the absolute need of wireless in the ships of the Navy. Do you know we are three years behind the times in the adoption of wireless?15
    Admiral Barker, the umpire of the maneuvers later wrote:
The maneuvers, particularly those connected with the search problem had demonstrated to my satisfaction that wireless, which many people then considered a foolish try, had come to stay; that it was capable of development and would be of great use in time of war and in peace. I so reported to the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment who asked my opinion, and I am informed that my report influenced him to continue his efforts to develop the system and to purchase more sets of instruments.16
    Following the exercises the fleet departed for Oyster Bay, N.Y., to participate in a presidential review. Scanlin was assigned to the Texas for the duration of the trip for the purpose of checking and adjusting her radio equipment. He discovered that Magruder had not liked the unsymmetrical appearance caused by the antenna being guyed well clear of the stacks and rigging, and had ordered it changed so that it almost touched the stacks, causing corona discharges during transmissions with the resultant diminution in the strength of the emitted signal. Magruder expressed himself to the effect "he didn't give a damn about wireless . . . but he did give a damn for the appearance of the ship . . ." Everything was going to be symmetrical and shipshape if he had anything to say about it, and the radio antenna was not going to detract from its appearance. He did not have much to say about it; the antenna was again guyed away from the stacks and rigging.17


The commercial interests were not providing the sole opposition to the program of establishing a system of naval radio communications. Archer, in his "History of Radio to 1926" states:
There were captains and even admirals who were so reactionary in their views and so jealous of their prerogatives while on the high seas that they resented the idea of receiving orders by wireless. They opposed with might and main the new agency of communications.18
Unfortunately, the record supports Archer in this criticism. No serious effort was made by the various commanders to organize, utilize, or supervise radio communications within the fleet. It was used to a limited extent for strategic purposes, but very little dependence was placed upon it for tactical purposes. The Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1904 describes the purposes for which it was considered effective when it states:
. . . . greatly facilitated the dispatch of business. Doubtless the meaning of the terms "beyond signal distance," "within signal distance," and "senior officer present" may be modified somewhat in the future on account of the introduction of wireless telegraphy.19
    Even such an early advocate of a system of electrical communications without wires for naval usage as Comdr. Bradley A. Fiske, USN,20 joined the ranks of those who were critical of the new medium. Since he was a recognized authority on electrical installations, his remarks caused considerable comment. The Army and Navy Journal of 20 February 1904, noted that among the contents of the current number of the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute was a timely article on "War Signals" written by him, in which he advanced the rather startling proposition that while the Navy had "adequate means for signaling in time of peace, it has no system that could with certainty be depended upon for all purposes in time of war." It noted that he vigorously opposed the notion that the installation of radio equipment had solved the problems of war signaling, and was inclined to the opinion that radio had no military usefulness whatever, believing its convenience in peace tended to encourage officers in the practice of handling squadrons by a system that would be worthless and perhaps dangerous in war. Even if made tunable, the enemy, as Fiske pointed out, could soon discover the frequency and imitate it, even if he could not read the signals, or he might even interfere by transmitting with abusive power. "What Admiral", he asked, "is going to fill the ether with Hertzian waves and thus make a present to the enemy of the information that he is near?" In pointing out the limitations of the new medium it was hinted that he had laid himself open to the charge of assuming that no invention would ever be made which would prevent interference.
    In a letter to the Army and Navy Journal in March 1904, he sought to clarify his position by suggesting that the same process of reasoning would apply to the belief that an invention can be made which will prevent the prevention of interference. He stated:
Why should we suppose that inventors will confine their efforts to preventing interference, when military reasons will make it equally desirable to prevent preventing? And the more clearly the laws are understood whereby "interference" can be prevented the more dearly the laws will be understood whereby preventing can be prevented; that is the better the laws of the game are understood, the better both sides will play it.
    Therefore (no matter how much or how little we think invention can do in this matter), is it wise to base our whole system of fleet handling, and to stake all our chances of victory in war on the hope that someone will invent a means of preventing "interference," and that no one will ever invent another means that will counteract it?

    1 Letters, dated 1, 4 and 7 May 1903, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment to the Secretary of the Navy, files, Bureau of Equipment, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    2 Letter, dated 21 May 1903, President, Navy General Board to the Secretary of the Navy, files, Secretary of the Navy, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    3 Letter, dated 10 July 1903, Senior Member, Wireless Telegraph Board to the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, files, Bureau of Equipment, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    4 Letter, dated 10 June 1903, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment to Secretary of the Navy, files, Bureau of Equipment, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    5 Letter, dated 18 June 1903, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment to the Commandants of the Boston, New York, Norfolk, Mare Island and Puget Sound Navy Yards, files, Bureau of Equipment, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    6 Ibid.
    7 Ibid.
    8 Letter dated 10 July, 1903, Senior Member, Wireless Telegraph Board to the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    9 Albert S. Barker, "Everyday Life In The Navy," (the Gotham Press, Boston, 1928.), p. 386.
    10 "Radioana," Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. (G. H. Clark, "Radio in War and Peace", unpublished manuscript, n.d.), pp. 30-31.
    11 Ibid.
    12 Ibid.
    13 Ibid.
    14 Ibid.
    15 "Radioana," op. cit., (G. H. Clark "History of Early Wireless Telegraphy", unpublished manuscript, n.d.).
    16 Barker, op. cit., pp. 386-392.
    17 "Radioana," op. cit., (G. H. Clark. "Radio in War and Peace," unpublished manuscript, n.d.), pp. 30-31.
    18 Gleason L. Archer, "History of Radio to 1926," (the American Historical Society, Inc., 1938.), p. 73.
    19 Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1904, p. 530.
    20 Supra, 2sec5.
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