Only recently has the importance of the role played by of the town of Chatham
(pronounced "kat'-um"), Massachusetts, in the success of World War II been recognized
to the degree it deserves. Thanks to the effort of
Marconi Maritime Center's Ed Fouhy, the extent of strategic radio operations
performed there is made available both online and, to a much greater degree, to
visitors at the physical location. The entire campus was totally renovated in the
2009-2010 timeframe Foughy and his team produced a video that crams the story of
years of intense activities and accomplishments into a seven-minute video. About
a third of it can be viewed below, but if you want to see its entirety, you will
need to visit the Center.
A separate video, also shown here, is an interview with Mr. Foughy by the
Cape Cod Chronicle where he talks about the research
and some of the surprising discoveries that went along with his project. The U.S.
Navy used the site primarily to intercept and monitor German U-boat activities in
the Atlantic Ocean. In the early days of WWII, U-boats wreaked havoc on both military
and merchant ships crossing the northern Atlantic. They operated with near impunity
because of the genius of German commanders and submarine crews. They maneuvered
stealthily underwater and surfaced during the night in order to exchange mission
intelligence and to receive orders. The success of the ploy was epic. Allied navies
and merchants were desperate to re-open supply routes. When Ed visited the office
of the U.S. Navy Historian in Washington, D.C., in search of information, he discovered
that the head dude did not know anything about the role of Chatham Radio in World
War II. "And for good reason," Foughy said, "This was a very, very secret installation."
The Marconi station in
Chatham, operational since 1914 as a commercial ship-to-shore facility, was commandeered
by the Navy, Coast Guard, and Army in order to, among other things, deal with the
U-boat dilemma. Shortwave radios and antennas were installed, and teams of operators,
technicians, and intelligence officers were stationed there for the purpose of assisting
in the breaking the U-boats' messaging code, and for using triangulation methods
for locating and then attacking the demon vessels. Cryptographers at
Park in the UK eventually broke the infamous Enigma Machine's code, spelling
the end to U-boat dominance. I was surprised to learn that Germany's Admiral Karl
Doenitz did not know until the end of the war that a majority of his messages had
been intercepted and decoded.
Hopefully the entire video will eventually be made available online rather than
just this 3:42 minute sample, because it could be a long time before I get out to
the Boston area. I love seeing B&W footage from the war era.
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