Hams in Combat
April 1945 QST
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 could.
April 1945 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights 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.
Hams in Combat
By Capt. John Brawley,
SC, W9GYZ (W1LVQ)
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!
Major Charles 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!'
Major 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.
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 "five-o'clock
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.
Since 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.
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 ...
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
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
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.
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, AUS
W8QMK. T/4 Chester E. Riker. FA
W8UBF, T /3
Mitchell A. Paniwozik, SC
W9MNS, T/3 Irving E. Olsen, SC
W9YVR-ex- W5GQQ, Capt. Alexander S. Turner, SC
K5AT, 1st Lt.
Francis X. Knopp, SC
K5GQO-ex-W2MAP-KA1US, WOJG, William R. Scott,
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 .