have written often about the many contributions that hobbyists make to various fields of technology. Often times the
efforts put out and methods used by amateurs are on par with those of professionals; the main difference between the
two being that amateurs do not get paid for their work. This archived BBC video titled "Wartime
Radio: The Secret Listeners," sent to me by longtime RF Cafe contributor Gary Steinhour documents how the
work of two British amateur radio operators, Russell Clark (call sign THX) and R.J.B.
Hippisley (call sign HLX), resulted in a significant strategic advantage during World
Wars I and II. The two hams convinced the Admiralty that they were able to intercept German communications to
and from submarines (U-Boats), surface vessels, and Zeppelins better than 'professionals'
in the service.
After receiving a command position in the Royal Naval Reserve, Hippisley was essentially granted unlimited funds
to establish wireless listening stations along the coast, whereupon his operators eventually devised means to triangulate
signal origins and thereby locate and track movements of German craft. Highly sensitive vacuum tube circuits and careful
antenna construction permitted angular resolutions in the neighborhood of less than 2°. Now having strong advocates
within the service of the capabilities that amateur radio operators (including many members
of the Radio Society of Great Britain) were able to lend to
the country's defense efforts, a previously untapped resource of reliable and patriotic (ensured
by proper vetting) technicians quickly grew the force's ranks. They received the designation of VIs
(Volunteer Interceptors). Secrecy was maintained remarkably well for nearly three decades
until in 1941 the Daily Mirror rag printed an article
titled, "Spies Tap Nazi Code." Fortunately, it went largely unnoticed and did no apparent harm.
Relatively few spies were discovered amongst MI8 ranks, and those who were caught were either shot or turned into
double agents. Those were the days when survival of nations depended on decisive action without regard for political
correctness. Many people today, including yours truly, believe that is still the most efficient approach to security.
Once the Germans figured out that their messages were being routinely intercepted, they began encoding using methods
familiar to radio amateurs, so it was not long before the MI8 crew figured out what was going on. The establishment
of Hanslope Park in 1941 facilitated large-scale
message interception and decryption activities. German secret service and Gestapo messages were intercepted in such
great numbers that cryptographers were able to discern the entire network of broadcast stations, and even uniquely
identify German operators by commonly mentioned towns, girlfriends, and families. This is the kind of scenario by
which the old saying "loose lips sinks ships" got its origin. British intelligence exploited the back door entry into
the German secret service by feeding false information to their operators, one result of which was the capturing of
many spies who would be sent based on disinformation. "Operation
Mincemeat" was a particularly spectacular - if gory -example.
If you have 30 minutes to spare and an interest in communications history, this film is well worth your time.
- Notice at around 5:20 on the video there is what appears to me a mechanized
semaphore device that is signaling along
with the sailor.
- 'R.S.S.' here is the Radio Security
Service (MI8), not the present day RSS (Rich Site
- Notice at 19:15 the slide rule sitting on the desk of the direction finding station operator.
Trevor Roper, one of the brainiacs behind WWII efforts, reminds me strongly of
Charles Emerson Winchester, III, in M.A.S.H.
Posted September 24, 2014