communications and their communicators have always been held in high
regard. Operating and maintaining sophisticated electronics equipment
is difficult enough on solid ground, but doing it on the ocean with
winds and waves tossing the platform (ship) relentlessly can exacerbate
the problem tremendously. It is a wonder that radar systems can even
be useful with the antenna constantly rotating about pitch, roll, and
yaw axes while simultaneously shifting in the x, y and z axes. Sure,
airborne platforms have the same sort of challenge, but their perturbations
are not typically as violent, as great in magnitude, or as prolonged
as a naval vessel in rough seas. For the record, I'm a former USAF radar
guy so I'm not just trying to glorify my own branch of service. This
article from Radio & Television news gives some insight into the
life a naval communicator during the 1950s.
See all available
vintage Radio News
.Thanks to Terry W. for providing
By Rear Admiral John R. Redman, USN
Director, Naval Communications
Born Reno, Nevada in 1898. Graduated from U. S. Naval Academy
in 1918. Promoted to Lieutenant (jg) during World War I, advanced
to rank of Captain in 1942, became a Rear Admiral in 1944. He
took a post graduate course in radio engineering at Annapolis
and subsequently served in various communications posts in many
different theaters. From October 1942 until March 1945 he served
as communications officer and assistant chief of staff for communications
on the staff of fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He commanded
the USS Massachusetts until 1946 after which he assumed command
of the Naval Receiving Station at Treasure Island. He became
Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff to the Commander Western
Sea Frontier in 1947 and later served as Deputy Commander Western
Sea frontier and Deputy Commander Pacific Reserve Fleet. In
July 1949 he reported to the Chief Naval Operations for duty
as, Director, Naval Communications, a post that he continues
to hold at the present. He has been decorated 9 times.
Fifty years ago Marconi installed the first wireless equipment on Navy
ships. Today, utilizing all forms of communications, naval forces, whether
on land, sea, or in the air, are united as a single fighting unit.
On a gray morning in 1803, Commodore Edward Preble set sail
with a "task force" of wooden ships to instill respect for the infant
United States in the pirates of the Barbary Coast. Preble's communications
consisted of a strip of bunting, a megaphone, and a bull voice. Naval
Communications have come a long way since those pioneer days.
Early progress was primarily in the extension and perfection of
visual communications systems. By 1875, the Navy was experimenting with
electricity for signaling. There was much excitement the following year
when signals were read at a distance of 6 miles by means of an electromagnetic
device. The flash lamp, perfected in 1878, permitted signals to be read
at the unheard-of distance of nearly 17 miles! Communicators of the
day hailed the event with enthusiasm. But it was the advent of "wireless"
that gave Naval Communications its real impetus.
With the Nineteenth
Century approaching its close, Guglielmo Marconi startled the world
by his experiments with wireless. He was invited to experiment under
Navy supervision. As early as 1900 the young inventor and his assistants
were installing the "Marconi device" aboard several vessels. In 1901
the Navy made its first wireless installation on a battleship. A year
later the first Naval wireless test stations on shore were established
at Annapolis, Maryland and Washington, D. C. During 1903, five different
systems of wireless were under test in the United States. By the end
of that year, the Navy's tests had progressed to the extent that seven
ships and five shore stations were fully equipped with wireless apparatus
and operators were furnished for service use. Wireless had shed its
swaddling clothes and was growing rapidly.
The Navy now demanded
that the new equipment be installed on all its fighting ships. Meanwhile,
developments ashore kept pace with those at sea. Six experimental stations
were built. A special training school was established at the Brooklyn
Navy Yard. Wireless - or radio, as it came to be called - was in the
Navy to stay. From then on, advance followed advance, keeping pace with
technological progress, lessons learned from operational experience,
and the needs of the Navy.
The present-day Naval Communication
Service would stagger the imagination of communicators of the early
1900's. All known forms of communication are employed. Today's naval
vessels are floating communications centers - from the tiny torpedo
boat with as few as seven radio circuits to the mighty carrier with
more than a hundred. The extensive, yet flexible circuits of the Naval
Communication Service keep the fleet units of a seven-seas Navy in constant
communication with each other and with the Naval Shore establishment.
Through careful planning, an organization has been built up that can
get in touch with any ship in the fleet almost instantly. With the facilities
now available, a ship out of sight is never a ship out of mind. No longer
does the control of communications by shore stations extend only as
far as the eye can see through a telescope. Today, distance does not
limit communications, for messages can be sent around the world.
The Naval Communication Service (NCS) has three watchwords - "Reliability,
Security, and Speed." The performance of each element of the myriad
services - and devices which make up the overall NCS is weighed in terms
of those three factors. As the name implies, Naval Communications is
a "Service." Its mission is to provide and maintain reliable and secure
communications, based on war requirements, adequate to meet the needs
of the Operating Forces, the Navy Department, and the Naval Shore Establishment,
primarily to serve command and secondarily to facilitate administration.
A Navy radioman operates teletype equipment. These units are
now being used extensively by the Navy. A private network of
such teletype stations links far-flung stations and ships.
In considering command, a parallel is found in the game of football.
The quarterback on a football team is, in effect, the "officer in command."
When he directs a play, he is exercising a function of command, and
each signal he calls is a command communication. The information he
passes on is the most important his team can receive, for it determines
just which course of action will be taken against the opposition. Naval
Command, playing a role similar to that of the quarterback, controls
the movements of the operating forces. Command cannot function smoothly
without reliable and rapid means of sending and receiving information
- and no Naval operation can be successful without the smooth functioning
of Command. Thus it is that the first duty of the Naval Communication
Service is to serve Command.
All Navy dispatches do not relate
directly to combat, even in wartime. Most communications deal with activities
that support the fleet. It is a big task to equip and train all the
personnel in the Navy and to provide for them such vital needs as ammunition,
transportation, food, clothing, hospitals, and supply depots. In moving
the countless messages that must be handled to carry on the work of
supporting the fighting forces, Naval Communications facilitates Administration.
To maintain the objectives of "Reliability, Security, and Speed,"
flexibility is a necessity. In the development of Naval Communications,
it has been found that no one method of passing information can adequately
serve all purposes at all times. Scientific progress has added immeasurably
to the effectiveness of communications, but it has not eliminated the
utility, under certain conditions, of some of the earliest methods of
signaling. The systems of communications employed today in Naval Communications
embrace many new, some old, methods. They run the gamut from hand semaphore
to the advanced radioteletype, and include visual communications, sound,
wire systems, radiotelegraph, radiotelephone, facsimile-radio-photo,
television, and even messengers.
Messenger communication, as
the name implies, provides delivery by hand from the communication office
of the originator to that of the addressee. The courier who carried
news of victory from Marathon to Athens was a forerunner of today's
messenger. When other methods, especially radio channels, are overloaded,
messengers do much to relieve the congestion. Like messenger service,
mail is an important alternate method for easing the transmission load
on wire and radio circuits. It should be noted that the Navy Postal
Service is an integral part of the Naval Communication Service. Naval
Communications has responsibility for the establishment and operation
of Navy post offices, both afloat and ashore.
Visual signals are still widely used in the Navy.
signals for maneuvering
The transmission of intelligence
by visual methods is ancient in origin. Yet, today visual communication
still holds its own along with more modern systems. The three principal
types of visual signaling - flaghoist, semaphore, and flashing light
- meet the rigid demands of good naval communications.
signaling, because it can be used to reach a complete group of ships
rapidly and simultaneously, is about the most efficient type of visual
short-range communications. Almost all flaghoists are coded signals.
To communicate by flaghoist, the originator selects the combination
of flags that will convey his particular message. The flags are then
attached to the halyard which carries them to a yardarm to form a display
- a complete flaghoist message. The receiving station reads the meaning
and takes appropriate action. More than 60 flags and pennants go into
action at one time or another. It is an inspiring sight, to any observer,
to see a large convoy of ships traveling in close formation, maneuvering
in unison to displays of multi-colored flags.
Semaphore is another
fast, short-range form of signaling. It requires the most simple equipment
of standard visual methods, just two flags attached to staffs. Being
restricted to short-distance communication, Semaphore is more secure
than either radio or light, since there is less chance of interception.
The third principal visual signaling method is flashing light.
It is a visual telegraphic system using International Morse Code, the
same code used by radiotelegraph operators. The signalman sends and
receives dot-and-dash characters as short or long flashes of light.
There are two systems of flashing light, directional and non-directional.
In directional signaling, the light is aimed at the ship or station
to which the message is being sent. Searchlights, blinker tube, or a
multi-purpose signal lamp are used for this purpose. Non-directional
signaling is accomplished by yardarm blinkers. These are a cluster of
special non-directional electric lamps, located near the ends of the
Additional devices used in visual communications are
pyrotechnics and panels. Pyrotechnics are merely fireworks of various
types with special meanings assigned to each type or combination. The
meanings may change, but usually deal with distress or emergency identification.
Another kind of pyrotechnic is the smoke grenade, used to mark locations
in the water. Panels are strips of material laid out on the ground to
give instructions and information to aircraft. The position of the panels
in relation to one another determines the meaning of the message.
Sound in communication is employed in
underwater signaling devices. These devices can be used over short distances
to communicate with submarines or surface vessels that carry similar
echo-ranging equipment. Messages are sent by telegraph key. Underwater
sound transmissions are slow, the range extremely limited, and security
from interception poor. Reliability of communication is subject to variations
in the temperature of the water, the salt content, the depth, and other
conditions that affect the movement of underwater sound waves.
Wire communication systems
employed by the Navy include cables, landwire telegraph, telephone,
and teletype. The Naval Communication Service does not own or operate
cables. Therefore, when such facilities are required, the cables of
commercial companies or foreign governments must be utilized. Landwire
telegraph - the sending of Morse Code over wire - is now almost completely
replaced by the faster and more efficient teletype. The telephone, being
convenient and speedy, is, of course, especially suitable for administrative
traffic at naval bases and shore stations.
The most widely used
wire system for communication between stations ashore is teletype. The
teletypewriter, broadly speaking, is little more than an electrically
operated typewriter. Teletype may be defined as "typewriting at a distance."
It is the most rapid and accurate system of recorded wire communication.
Normal speed of transmission is in the vicinity of 60 words-per-minute,
but much higher speeds are possible.
By operating a keyboard
similar to that of a typewriter, signals are produced that print characters
in page form. or on a tape. These characters appear at both the sending
and receiving stations. One teletypewriter transmitting signals will
actuate all receiving machines connected to the teletype system. For
example, an operator transmitting from New York to Boston has his message
repeated, letter by letter, in Boston as soon as it is formed in New
York. The same occurs at all receiving stations tied into the network.
One form of teletype operation is called "simplex." This provides
transmission in a single direction at a time. Simultaneous flow of traffic
in both directions is provided by a second method, "duplex." By employing
separate wires, carrying incoming and outgoing signals, duplex can carry
nearly twice as much traffic as simplex.
devices, known as tape relay equipment, enable messages to be relayed
from one point to another with a minimum of delay. A combination of
transmitter-distributor, perforator, and printer gives the operator
the choice of messages printed on a page, perforated on tape, or both.
An incoming message may be received in page form for the record, and
punched on tape by the perforator at the same time. The tape can be
used for further relay by feeding it into the appropriate circuit transmitter-distributor.
Diagram of how a plane. carrying "airborne early warning" radar
equipment is used to relay this information over the horizon.
Prior to 1940, Naval Communications
within the continental limits of the United States consisted of point-to-point
radio circuits and one landline Morse telegraph circuit. Messages which
could not be handled by the Navy's facilities were routed via commercial
communication companies. In July 1940, a commercial teletypewriter network
was developed to serve selected Naval activities. This became known
as the TWX System. The Navy was charged at toll call rates, so much
for the first three minutes, and additional charges for overtime. As
the volume of messages increased, the cost of communication soared.
It became mandatory in the interests of economy that a private teletypewriter
service be installed for the Navy, to supplement TWX, and to serve activities
which were handling large numbers of messages.
In May 1941,
the first private Navy teletypewriter circuit was inaugurated between
Washington and New London. This became the nucleus of the present extensive
U. S. Naval Teletypewriter System, which is commonly called the NTX
System. Primary relay stations are located in five communication centers,
at Washington, San Francisco, Honolulu, Guam, and Balboa. The various
Naval Districts tie into these primary stations either by landwire or
by radioteletype. Each continental Naval District has a major relay
station and is connected to Washington or San Francisco by direct wire
circuits. Western districts channel traffic to San Francisco, eastern
districts to Washington. San Francisco and Washington are connected
by landline teletype. Ships at sea and major relay stations outside
the continental limits feed into the primary stations by radioteletype.
To provide complete NTX coverage, minor and tributary stations are set
up at activities within Naval Districts and at outside points, when
the traffic load warrants. TWX (commercial) is still used where NTX
coverage is not justified.
The NTX and TWX systems link district
and sea frontier headquarters, naval bases, ordnance plants, manufacturers,
supply depots, and the countless other naval shore establishments which
supply and maintain the fleet.
WAVES in mock-up control tower during familiarization course
which is given at the "Airman School"
Navy Radioteletype, which applies
the teletype to radio transmission and reception, is given the abbreviated
title RATT. Prior to the development of RATT, teletype needed wire to
connect it with communication points. Contact with ships at sea was
limited to radiotelephone or radiotelegraph. At the present time, many
warships have radio teletype equipment; in the future, radioteletype
will handle the bulk of communication traffic for all ships in the Navy.
A milestone in the history of radioteletype is the sending of messages
to and from aircraft in flight. This was made possible by development
of smaller and lighter equipment.
Radioteletype is simply an
ordinary teletypewriter installation connected by means of a converter
to the radio transmitting and receiving equipment. When receiving, the
converter changes radio impulses into a form of electrical energy which
actuates the teletype. When transmitting, the procedure is reversed.
Teletype is so flexible that wire and radio systems can be combined
as desired. This makes it possible for Naval Communications to span
great areas of the globe with a network using Teletype alone.
Although radioteletype and
radiotelegraph are the primary radio systems used in the Navy for long-distance
work and for recorded communications, radiotelephone, or voice radio,
is also extensively used. Its important advantages are speed and ease
of operation and adaptability to lightweight portable equipment.
Voice radio is particularly valuable for comparatively short-range
communication by aircraft and surface ships. When a number of ships
are in company and time is a primary consideration, voice radio often
steps in to replace visual methods. It is used for walkie-talkie, for
communications between aircraft units, and in control tower operations.
Ship-to-shore as well as tactical ship-to-ship communications are greatly
aided by its use. Small craft, such as district craft, depend entirely
on radiotelephone for radio communication. Facsimile-Radiophoto
Facsimile, or radiophoto, performs the transmission
of pictorial or graphic information by wire or radio and reproduction
of the material in its original form at the receiving station. Navy
radiophoto facilities, operating as a function of the Naval Communication
Service, are maintained at Washington, San Francisco, Pearl Harbor,
and Guam. A basic operation of these units is the daily exchange of
weather maps. They also provide a rapid method of delivering photographs,
blueprints, and other material not suitable for transmission by other
standard means of communication. The Navy is a participant in the joint
national facsimile weather map network, which covers the entire United
States and connects major air stations and weather centrals. This network
is composed of facilities of the U. S. Air Force, Navy, Weather Bureau,
and a few commercial stations. Mobile radiophoto units provide for operation
aboard ship or at outlying points, as necessary to meet special requirements.
Radiophoto transmission is an important supplement to rapid
communications, providing a previously unavailable method of handling
pictorial-graphic intelligence. In comparing radiophoto with other advanced
communication systems, radioteletype may be likened to typewriting,
radiophoto to the printing press, and television to the motion picture.
Navy Communication System
It is clear
from the preceding discussion that Naval Communications provides all
types of facilities, from the most simple to the highly complex. These
versatile facilities enable local commands to carry out in the most
efficient manner whatever is the. job of the moment. In any military
organization, however, there must be overall control and a means for
getting the word to all elements of the forces wherever located. Effective
control of our widespread naval forces is made possible by the Navy
Communication System, which is an integrated network providing basic
communication coverage on a worldwide scale.
The chief components
of the Navy Communication System ashore are the Primary Communication
Centers at Washington, San Francisco, Honolulu, Balboa, and Guam. These
are the "big five" of the system. The key station of the entire Navy
Communication System is, of course, Washington. From this point, radio
circuits and landlines tie together the entire Navy, making it possible
for the fleet to perform its tasks as a single unit. From the radio
standpoint, "Radio Washington" consists of several elements: a central
communication office located in the Navy Department; a high power transmitting
station at Annapolis, Maryland; a receiving and monitoring station at
Cheltenham, Maryland; and a radio link transmitter and receiver station
at Arlington, Virginia.
A Navy signalman uses one of the Service's signal searchlights
to maintain communications during "radio silence."
To get messages to all units of the Navy, a system of "broadcasts" is
used. The word "broadcast" was introduced to communications by the Navy.
This term is appropriate because messages are cast in all directions.
Fleet Broadcast schedules are the primary means of delivering traffic
to the fleet. The five major stations transmit by this method on predesignated
frequencies and schedules, appropriate to reach all points. Messages
normally are transmitted "blind," that is, the ships do not use their
transmitters to acknowledge receipt of the traffic. This insures security
and safety, since any "enemy" is deprived of the opportunity to use
direction finding equipment in detecting the location of fleet units.
In addition to the primary broadcasts, which require very high power
equipment, secondary stations are set up at appropriate points to provide
local coverage for small units operating in a local area. In addition
to these two types of broadcasts, there are a number of local, low-power
transmitting facilities operated in various areas to disseminate hydrographic
and weather information, and time signals.
of the Navy's vast teletype and radioteletype point-to-point circuits
told how continental shore stations are linked to overseas points and
to ships at sea. This comprehensive high-speed system handles huge volumes
of traffic. Manual radiotelegraph also is used by ships to contact shore
stations, when other facilities are not available.
and smooth operation of Naval Communications requires careful planning.
Ashore, each Naval District has its own communication organization,
supervised by the District Communication Officer. This officer draws
up a communication plan that provides for complete communications with
ships, aircraft, and all naval stations within his district. This plan
also furnishes direct channels to the Navy Department, to other Naval
Districts, and to the communication facilities of other military services.
District plans take special note of measures to be taken in case of
local emergencies, such as storms, floods, fires, and hurricanes, when
normal communication circuits may be disrupted. Emergency planning makes
particular provision for the utilization of the extensive Naval Reserve
Communication System. There are over 850 radio stations located at Naval
Reserve activities throughout the United States. Established primarily
for the training of communications personnel, and located in practically
every major city and in hundreds of small communities, these stations
constitute a valuable communication potential in emergencies.
The seagoing counterpart of District Communication Plans are Fleet
Communication Plans. These plans prescribe radio and visual procedures
to be used by ships, and are drawn up to meet any situations that may
To achieve better service, preparedness, and greater
economy, Naval Communications planning involves full coordination with
the Army and the Air Force. Joint use of facilities, whenever practicable,
results in economy of men, material, and radio frequencies. Employment
of standard operative procedures and equipment by the three services,
further assists continuing efforts toward maximum integration of military
A different form of searchlight which utilizes an infrared filter
and a specially designed infrared viewer.
A close parallel can
be drawn between the communication service required to support the operations
of naval aircraft and that required by surface craft operations. In
addition to the communication channels of tactical command, point-to-point
flight operations require continuous circuits, fixed or mobile, between
the point of departure and destination; continuous air-surface communication
enroute; and reliable aids to navigation.
communications apply to ships and aircraft, since both are mobile naval
units with responsibility to operational commanders, with comparable
ranges of operation, and need for full operating area coverage. Both
have need for fixed circuits to provide command and supporting functions.
Air-ground channels parallel ship-shore channel functions, with added
air-surface ship channels being provided in the case of air operations
with the fleet. Worthy of note is the mutual interdependence between
installations provided for communication and for navigational purposes,
voice transmissions being normally made over most radio aids to navigation,
and normal radio channels being used on occasion for direction-finding
The preponderance of aeronautical communication is
accomplished by voice radio, operated by the pilot, except when planes
are at such distances from base as to necessitate radiotelegraph transmissions.
Flashing light signals are useful between aircraft and surface craft
under conditions where the use of radio is undesirable or impossible.
No matter how
excellent the communication system, its effectiveness is no greater
than the people who man it. That is why, in Naval Communications as
in every other field, personnel is the most important factor. The Navy,
in maintaining its Naval Communication Service, has a continuing need
for both operational and technical personnel. The manual radiotelegraph
operator, the wireline expert, the electronics technician, each finds
an important job awaiting him. The Future
In the past twenty years, tremendous strides have been made
in the technological fields of communications. With faster ships, faster
airplanes, and increased tempo in all fields, no communications organization
can rest on its laurels. Continuing research has a prime objective of
devising faster and more reliable means of communications. Naval Communications
in the future, as in the past, will be quick to recognize new systems
and techniques and to apply them wherever feasible, at all times working
toward more reliable, secure, rapid and flexible communications.
Radar, magnetic airborne detection, and
sono-buoy listening devices make up
the electronic "nerve center"
of anti-submarine blimp.