Hams in Combat
April 1945 QST Article
World War II, means of communications were nowhere near as ubiquitous
as they are today with cellphones, the Internet, and readily affordable,
high quality portable Ham gear. Servicemen relied on the various forms
of media to get their messages through to home. Even commercial radio
and television (TV being a newcomer to a minority of homes) had relatively
limited access to the news from the front. Ham operators had the advantage
of already being part of an established comms network. Security concerns
kept daily flows of status reports from flowing across the oceans, but
no doubt many Hams managed to get messages through that nobody else
April 1945 QST
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the
ARRL's QST magazine. Here is a list of the
QST articles I have already posted. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
QST did a top-notch job of keeping its readers apprised
of the situation during war years by publishing multiple articles every
month that addressed issues related to the war effort. This article
from the April 1945 edition is a prime example.
See all available
vintage QST articles.
Hams in Combat
By Capt. John Brawley, SC,
Many were the
hams who landed in the initial stages of the invasion of France. Some
waded through the surf at H-hour, carrying radio equipment with which
to establish the first communications from the assault forces to the
headquarters ships. Some manned the sets aboard those ships and communicated
with the various elements of the invasion forces, including the airborne
troops who had parachuted with their equipment down behind the enemy
lines sometime before H-hour.
It was a long, hard trek from the Normandy beachhead to Germany
the route the invasion hams of VII Corps traveled.
The airborne link was probably one of the most important QSOs ever
held by radio. The suspense and tension aboard the floating headquarters
was terrific as the hour grew nearer for radio silence to be broken
by the paratroopers. Operators strained their ears for the first dit
dah signifying that the airborne forces had landed successfully. For
many it was their first combat experience and their first live messages.
But when the tension was broken and signals started coming through,
these operators copied them. They were handed messages to transmit
- and they sent them. QRM mounted - but these lads fought through and
over and around it. Searching out the signals, they stuck to them with
the tenacity of a DX hound on the trail of an XU. They weren't all hams,
by any means - but they were all well-trained operators, and they did
a superb job.
There were many other communications needs
to be met. There was the great concentration of ships to be controlled
by radio and blinker; there was split-second firing data to be radioed
to the warships from shore fire-control parties; there was the enormously
complex job of control by the convoy commanders and the beachmasters
to time the arrival of landing craft at the beach where they would disgorge
their cargoes of men and materiel. There were calls for air support,
and there was the tremendous job of coordinating the fighting forces
on the beaches.
One radioman off a headquarters ship started
ashore shortly after H-hour. He was carrying a portable voice set. As
he neared the beach the LCVP was forced aground. He made his way ashore
through waist-deep water, only to find that his radio set had been damaged
by the brine. Without hesitation he climbed aboard the first returning
craft and went back for another set. Again he plunged through enemy
fire to the beach, where he put the set in operation. Twice through
that withering fire - and not a scratch!
T. Wesner, ex-W9BIM, waded to the beach with a radio set under each
arm and a bottle of scotch tucked into the front of his trench coat.
There was considerable unfriendly activity on the beach, and in his
haste to clear the area he lost the bottle of scotch. Needless to say,
he did not tarry long enough to pick it up. "It was a snap decision,"
declared the major, "but the scotch had to go. War certainly is hell!"
Later Major Wesner and I together "liberated" a town
in. Belgium. Armored units had been advancing ahead of us all day. The
natives were deliriously happy to see the Allies come and the Germans
go. Belgian, American and British flags decorated the streets. Hastily
prepared banners were strung up, reading: "Welcome les Liberateurs"
and" Viva les Americans." Crowds of civilians lined the roadsides, waving,
cheering, heaping our vehicles with fruit and flowers, shouting "Viva
la Amerique! Vive les Allies! Vive las Belgique!" In fact, they yelled
"!Jive" everything. Seeing "PRESTONE '44" lettered on the radiators
of our vehicles, they shouted, "Viva la Presume!'
Wesner and I rode our jeep gaily through the holiday atmosphere. After
a while we arrived at this little village. Although we didn't know it
then, we were the first Americans to enter the town. Before long we
were stopped by a civilian. Although we spoke no French and he spoke
no English, we soon realized that the villagers wanted us to join them
in the celebration. We permitted ourselves to be dragged (ahem l) to
the civilian's home. From the basement he brought dusty bottles of champagne,
while his wife took shiny glasses from the cupboard. People began coming
in from all over the village. By the time the champagne was poured there
were more customers than there was wine. Everyone shook hands and kissed
The problem of language didn't bother us very
long. I raised my glass and shouted, "Hello CQ! CQ twenty-meter 'phone!"
"Vive la Amerique!" they responded in unison, and we all had another
round of drinks. Major Wesner raised his glass and said, "Brawley, we'd
better be on our way." "Vive la Belgique!" they yelled, and then we
had a round of kisses.
Personally, while I hold no strong objection
to unpremeditated kissing I do feel that, even on the spur of the moment,
it is my privilege to select my opponent. But such was not the case
here. I was constantly pursued by an elderly gentleman who hadn't shaved
for several days. Each time I spotted a likely subject and moved closer
to make myself available, I was intercepted by the oldster with the
We weren't accustomed to such demonstrative
people. When we left our jeep looked like a float in a Mardi Gras parade.
It was covered with wreaths, bouquets, streamers and flags. The Belgians
are surely a friendly and hospitable race.
We have a versatile
radio crew in the VII Corps. The first press news from the beachhead
was flashed back on c.w. by our operators with their 399. As fast as
the reporters handed in their copy it was transmitted direct to London.
We also furnished radio facilities for psychological warfare
purposes. During the peninsular campaign, when the fortress of Cherbourg
was being assaulted by VII Corps, we took SCR-399s up to the front lines
and broadcast an ultimatum to the enemy. Handling the technical side
of these broadcasts were T/4 John F. Wilson, T/4 Albert Yokym, W8SGW,
and T/4 James Coleman. To insure a proper audience, we picked up German
operational frequencies and put the 399s right on zero-beat. Then our
interpreters read the ultimatum in German, Polish and Russian. The broadcasts
went on all night. To prevent the enemy from pinpointing our transmitters
and knocking them (and us) out with artillery fire, we stopped in anyone
spot only long enough for one brief transmission.
I have been in the service I have yet to meet a ham who has not been
benefited by his amateur experience. Nor have I met one ham who hasn't
been able to contribute something tangible to his branch of service.
There are many others to whom immense credit must go, as well - the
technicians and commercial operators who made radio a business instead
of a hobby, and those men who learned radio in the service schools.
Take, for example, Major Gene M. Ranvier, the radio engineer
who interviewed me upon my arrival in Iceland. The memory of our meeting
is still vivid. He chose to discuss the design and application of a
proposed v.h.f. automatic relay circuit. The only image the words "automatic
relay" conveyed to me was that of a mythical ambidextrous operator who
could copy with his right hand and simultaneously transmit with his
left. To add to my confusion, Major Ranvier then threw in a few queer-sounding
geographical locations, such as "Hvalfjordur" (pronounced KWAL-four-ther)
and "Budayeyri," by way of orientation.
We were the first Americans to enter the town ...
and the villagers
wanted us to celebrate with them.
"Amazing, isn't it?" was all I could say when he had finished.
Major Ranvier did much for radio communications in Iceland.
When he didn't have the proper spare parts for repairs, he improvised,
often by redesigning the circuits to fit the available parts. He had
a most practical, common-sense approach to a problem which invariably
While in Iceland I also met Glen Davidson,
W9DDU; John R. Swink, WSTEF; Wm. Brooks, WSFKT; Walter H. Bales, W9ADH;
James A. Shanks, W9JCI, and Joseph Palm, OPLO. There were others, too,
but their calls slip my memory. We fought the battle of boredom and
the peculiar atmospherics that play havoc with all radio communications
in Iceland. In the postwar era, when you QSO Iceland, don't be surprised
if the TF suddenly does a fade-out in the middle of a QSO. The air goes
completely dead in a matter of seconds. Sometimes it stays dead for
several hours; sometimes for only a short while. The result is unpredictable,
intermittent communication. We usually blamed the northern lights for
this phenomenon. In fact, we blamed the aurora for almost every radio
trouble - including power failure!
Iceland is cold and stormy
in the winter months - and so is the North Atlantic! No one knows this
better than Lt. James A. Shanks, W9JCI, who spent several hours in a
small lifeboat after his ship was torpedoed somewhere off the coast
of Iceland. The torpedo hit during the early morning hours, in pitch
dark and bitter cold. The ship listed badly but Lt. Shanks and other
passengers launched lifeboats before the ship went down. They drifted
in darkness through the rough seas for over four hours. Soaked to the
skin by spray, by dawn they were nearly frozen. W9JCI almost qualified
for Silent Keys before their flares were sighted by a Coast Guard cutter.
Another Signal Corpsman, Lt. William Valentine, was aboard the ship
with W9JCI. When the torpedo struck he made his way below deck to the
sick bay to help get the patients into the lifeboats. Disregarding his
own safety, Valentine stayed aboard until all the launchable boats were
filled. By then the ship was sinking fast. A few seconds before it went
down Valentine climbed to the bridge, cut loose a small life raft, and
slid with it into the sea. He was picked up several hours later, nearly
dead from exposure and fatigue - but on the raft with him were three
other survivors he had fished from the sea. Upon reaching Iceland Lt.
Valentine was awarded the Soldiers' Medal. His citation read "for extraordinary
heroism" - and justly so.
However, Iceland isn't always a land
of ice and snow. In the summer it is a beautiful place where the sun
shines twenty-three hours each day. The Icelanders are an intelligent,
progressive people. Indeed, at times I felt they were a bit too progressive.
Once I paid 20 kronur for a bunch . of grapes. To satisfy my curiosity,
I counted the individual grapes and divided by the rate of exchange.
They had cost me the equivalent of ten cents each! Another time I bought
a genuine hand-made Icelandic souvenir in a curio store. It seemed a
steal at 150 kronur ($10.00) - until I found, marked inconspicuously
on the bottom, the label "Made in U. S. A."
Icelandic hams seemed
to be a scarce in person as they used to be on the air. Unscrupulous
DXer that I am, if I could have found one I'd have tried to snare a
QSL card - or at least arrange a postwar schedule. In the past I've
spent many fruitless hours at Babler Park in St. Louis County pounding
out answers to Icelandic CQs on 14-Mc. c.w. But even in Iceland I couldn't
raise a TF.
There are other foreign hams whom I hope to meet
in person while I am in Europe - particularly ON4HC, whom I once talked
to from W9JWJ at Ferguson, Mo. The fact that I couldn't work him on
the same band at home, with 300 watts as compared with W9JWJ's 30, is
better not discussed. I think he discovered that W9JWJ. is a YL and
picked his QSO accordingly.
The following amateurs of VII Corps
are currently living on the German side of the Siegfried line:
W1BLO, Pvt. Eugene J. Gaumont, SC
W1GKJ, M/Sgt. Lionel Simon,
W4EVH, S/Sgt. Ralph Jenkins, SC
W4IDI, Cpl. Edward Talley,
W5FRP, Colonel John H. Sampson, FA
W5KHZ, CWO Hilton J. Allen,
W8QMK. T/4 Chester E. Riker. FA
W8UBF, T /3 Mitchell A.
W9MNS, T/3 Irving E. Olsen, SC
Capt. Alexander S. Turner, SC
K5AT, 1st Lt. Francis X. Knopp, SC
K5GQO-ex-W2MAP-KA1US, WOJG, William R. Scott, AUS
OPLO, T/Sgt. Joseph
T. Palm, SC
Obviously, the hams mentioned in this account represent
only a fraction of the total of those doing their bit in the ETO. Even
in VII Corps undoubtedly there are other hams who have not been included
but who have also experienced the long, hard trek of VII Corps from
the Normandy beachhead to the interior of Germany .