Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Dr. Monroe-Jones is an Industrial Psychologist consulting in Orga11izalio11al Development and Labor Relations. He is also the Director of the Submarine Research Center in Bangor, Washington. He Qualified in Submarines twice: as an enlisted man on STERLET and as an Officer on S/RAGO. He is a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.

Captain Baker served as a Radioman in four submarines making RMC(SS) in THEODORE ROOSEVELT before being commissioned as an LDO. He continued in submarine communications billets along with a seven year tour at the White House. As a Captain he commanded NAVCOMSTA Puget Sound and NAVCAMSEASTPAC. He retired after forty years service.

After Tesla and Marconi demonstrated to the world the strange, new phenomenon of wireless communication, the
United States Navy recognized the potential of instantaneous communication by and to ships at sea. Until the tum of the twentieth century, ship communication was principally by semaphore flags. Such communication was restricted to line of sight. The potential of radio brought the prospect of maritime safety in navigation and collision avoidance as well as tactical coordination. Civilian engineers and business entrepreneurs began designing and building radio equipment. Civilian hardware development outpaced the Navy’s ability to visualize what an integrated radio communication system might entail. Formal training of personnel was a few years in the future when the Navy began to learn by experience. Shipboard personnel often constructed radio equipment using civilian manufactured parts. As a result, some ships had reasonable success with radio communication while others were left at the gate.

Transmitting equipment used spark generators and frequencies were crystal controlled. Nothing was known of interference so atmospherics from sun spot aberrations, ignition noise, frequency drift and a host of other problems caused radio communication to be less than reliable. Operators couldn’t understand why at some times of the day their signals could be heard hundreds of miles away and at other times only for short distances. Adding to these vagaries were receiver difficulties in fine-tuning frequencies and the variance in transmitting equipment. Most of the Navy’s transmitters and receivers were made by civilian companies such as Slaby-Arco, Shoemaker, De Forest and Fessenden. They ranged in transmitting power from one kilowatt to 3.5 kilowatts and each ship had its own preference of equipment. 1 Shore installations were built to provide aids to navigation.

During 1904 the transmitting stations at Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Norfolk, Virginia began transmitting time signals for use in navigation. The following year, new stations at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Key West, Florida and Mare Island, California added the service to a dedicated frequency. 2 Meanwhile, the federal government saw the need to exercise some control over the rapidly expanding competition for frequency use. President Theodore Roosevelt established the Interdepartmental Wireless Telegraph Board within the Navy Department. It promulgated Instructions for the Transmission of Messages by Wireless Telegraphy. U.S. Navy. As the potential of radio became evident, the Navy tried to structure a communication system that would be of benefit to all mariners. It began a service of broadcasting Notices to Mariners that were produced by the U.S. Hydrographic Otlice.

The Navy found itself as the sole provider of prompt communication during the April, 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
The earthquake and subsequent fires destroyed telegraph offices in the city. USS CHICAGO docked at the Feny Building at the foot of Market Street and transmitted messages to the Mare Island Navy shore facility which then relayed information across the nation via telegraph lines. USS CHICAGO and its radiomen became instant heroes and the Navy’s commitment to better radio communication was enhanced.

In the meantime, submarine development was also progressing. The Lake Company in Quincy, Massachusetts and the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut were designing and building more dependable submarines. By 1910 several submarines had been equipped with transmitters and receivers. There was no dedicated space for such equipment and installation was at the expense of what little habitability was available. Weather and sea water incursions affected submarine radio equipment. Moisture coupled with heat caused shorts, warped condenser plates and blown-out transfonners. Prolonged use of transmitters caused heat which ruptured power supplies.

5 Antenna installation proved to be a difficult problem. The need for a lengthy end-fed antenna raised as far off the deck as possible meant installing collapsible masts at both ends of the submarine. To transmit and receive, meant breaking rig for dive and sending men out onto the narrow deck to raise the antenna masts. Friedman described a submarine’s antenna as follows, “The USS OCTOPUS was tested with a primitive radio antenna, although it was not permanently installed. Consisting of 30 foot masts and 50 feet of wire, the antenna could be used when the submarine ran surfaced or awash. Its range was about 40 nm.”

From today’s perspective it is a wonder that radio equipment in 1911 worked as well as it did. The primitive nature of submarines worked against the effectiveness of the equally primitive radio equipment. In a 1911 exercise of the fleet, submarines were assigned the mission of attacking several battleships. Only three of seven boats managed to make an attack; the remainder having never received the initial radio message to engage. It was clear to the Navy that submarines were of only marginal value to the fleet and that radio communication was antithetical to their design.
In other respects the Navy was moving with faltering steps to organize radio communication. In 1908 the Secretary of the Navy established separate components of Navy Radio- the Shore Establishment and the Fleet. Shore communication was essentially in the hands of Naval District commanding officers. At sea, circuit discipline was controlled by individual ship captains who had varying degrees of trust in radio as a reliable communication
system. Perceptions of flag rank officers were skeptical and naive. One ship captain assigned Ensign Harold Dodd to the wireless room because he knew how to play the piano and could tune the instrument. The captain assumed that this talent qualified the ensign to take responsibility for the ship’s radio equipment. Training of fleet personnel was absent in the early days of Navy radio communication. Signalmen were self trained in the art of Morse Code taken from radio. While the Bureau of Navigation was nominally in charge of such training, it failed to recognize the need.

Despite this, fleet exercises in 1906 often used radio communication as the primary tool for maintaining a ship’s station in formation and for coordination of movements. By the beginning of the First World War, the Navy had established its first radioman’s school, although at the time the personnel were called Wireless Telegraphy Electricians. The Navy’s first manual for the Wireless Telegraphy Electrician rate started with the basics, “Sparks accompanied by a sharp crackling sound are produced between highly electrified bodies when brought very near each other. After the spark has passed, the bodies are found to be discharged.”rn Chapter II of the 1915 Manual for Wireless Telegraphy was titled, “Production, Radiation and Detection of Ether Waves.” 11 In more modem phraseology the title meant, “Transmission and Receipt of RF.” Wireless telegraphers received training in electronic theory. For example, the basic equation, Inductance equals Current divided by Resistance is discussed in detail as it relates to Capacity in AC circuits. The trainees were expected to understand electronic relationships which mathematically involved square root and complicated algebraic expressions.

As America watched the battles in Europe during the First World War, its industry began to accelerate. Radio equipment saw many innovations as the Navy continued to improve its communication procedures. In 1915 the first three-element tube was developed. Its oscillating properties made use of heterodyne reception feasible with resulting improved continuous wave reception. At the same time the Poulson arc transmitter also produced sharper continuous wave transmission. These accomplishments made possible longer distance communication with lower output power. The Alexanderson alternator made lowfrequency transmission successful. By 1916 the alternating current tube transmitter had largely replaced the spark gap with electronic oscillators. Dials were fixed to the shafts of the tuning condensers making it possible to calibrate each receiver so that the operator could tell where to align it for specific frequencies.

Just as important to improved equipment was the advance of submarine antennas. The typical First World War American
submarine still had forward and after collapsible masts that required rigging while the submarine remained on the surface. Permanent jumping wires stretched from the periscope shear to the bow and stem. A horizontal, center-fed antenna ran from the midpoint of the forward jumping wire to the mid-point of the after jumping wire. Some versions included preventers to keep the long jumping wires from whipping in the wind. Insulators were spaced at the ends of the jumping wires. 14 While electronic schematic diagrams of Telefunken, Fessenden and Marconi spark transmitters were included in the 1915 operator training manual, instructors were supplementing the curriculum with instruction on modem tube-producing CW signals.

The 1915 Wireless Manual was updated during the war with instruction on radio operator procedures including symbols that remained in the Navy’s CW communication lexicon as long as Morse Code was used. 16 These Morse Code procedural abbreviations evolved into shortened standardized prosigns which were combinations of two letters sent together with no space separating the letters. They included AR to mean, end of message; DE to mean, jiw11; AS to mean wait; BT to mean, break; SK to mean, end of transmission and a host of others. Most were derived from frequent usage and were the product of operators’ attempts at brevity. Also, in early use was a system of Q Codes which used normal spacing. These were intended to quickly convey operator to operator set-up information and radio processing, but were never used within the text of a message. Examples included QSL to mean, I acknowledge receipt; QRX to mean, wait; QRV to mean, ready to copy; QRL to mean, this ji-equency in use and QSU to mean, please call me when I have finished. The Q Codes were quickly adopted by the Navy and were included in the formal training curriculum.

Also included in fonnal training was circuit discipline. Robison’s Manual for Wireless Telegraphy, which continued to be the primary instruction resource during the First World War, described several basic principles, including, “When a ship is within ten miles of another which is receiving faint signals, the first ship should not attempt to send until the receiving ship has finished, unless she sends on a widely different wave length and even then she should not use more than one kilowatt. Ships in the same vicinity (within 20 miles) should not use more than one ampere in the aerial when communicating.” 18 By 1916 the Navy’s shore stations were operating with regularity, but the only one able to consistently transmit in distances exceeding 1000 miles was the one at Arlington, Virginia. Congress allocated funds for the building of six additional shore transmitting stations, but it was several years before they were operational.

When America entered the war, Congress immediately passed several bills allocating funds for the construction of military equipment. Included were significant numbers of ships and within that allocation, was a significant number of submarines. Although the Annistice of 1918 came before most of the allocated submarines could be built, the Navy retained the authority and submarine development/construction during the succeeding decade proceeded at a steady pace. Running parallel to submarine development were advances in radio communication.

During the early 1920s the Naval Radio Research Laboratory continued its interest in the basics of radio waves. It obtained information about the origin of static caused by the earth’s magnetic field while the Navy Radio Test Shop concentrated on radio equipment research and manufacture.20 Specialized research was also being conducted in the Navy Yards. The Boston Yard worked on keys, condensers and antenna design, the Brooklyn Yard on frequency changers, the Washington DC Yard on receivers, amplifiers and transformers and the Mare Island Yard on quenched gaps and motor-generators. At the same time, transmitter and receiver improvements continued at a steady pace. The model TL transmitter, designed and built by Navy engineers was ready for production in 1923 and was tested on USS WYOMING. It produced six kilowatts using a spark transmitter. While the TL was being developed, the smaller 100 watt Model TM, alternating current transmitter was designed for submarines. The TM was modified and became the TW which was matched with RE, RF and RG receivers, all of which operated on the four meter band.

In 1926 the Navy began producing transmitting equipment which used oscillating vacuum tubes. The improved but bulky transmitting equipment, models TB, TF and TG were placed on surface ships while the smaller and less powerful TE (replacing the TM) was assigned to some submarines. Although not completely satisfactory, they were an improvement over the small spark sets previously installed in submarines. The Model TF, similar to the Model TE, but not configured for fitting into submarines, was installed in submarine tenders. Those submarines not equipped with the Model TE transmitter were given the older Model TM which, although still using a spark gap, was an improvement over the older 500 watt transmitters.

The mid 1920s saw the Navy’s interest grow in frequency selectivity. Its intent was to transmit and receive multiple signals simultaneously at one location. During this same period, the Navy, together with various commercial radio manufacturers, investigated the possibility of receiving radio signals through sea water.

The radio station at Nauen, Germany, transmitting on a frequency of 24 kilocycles, was received by a submerged submarine off New London, Connecticut, some 3,234 miles distant. This submarine was fitted with two multiloops located at right angles to each other with the loops 14 feet below the surface. It was also discovered that, with the submarine at periscope depth, any high-powered station transmitting on a very low frequency could be received at distances up to 3,000 miles. Continued experiments proved that single tum loops were as efficient as multi-tum ones and that, at a particular frequency and specific depth of receiving antenna, the effective range of signal was directly proportional to the power delivered to the transmitter antenna. Based upon this infonnation, the Model RA receiving equipment was designed for submarine installation. lt utilized Navy components and a specially designed loop tunin~ system, and covered the frequency range of 16-1200
In 1924 the first high frequency receiver was installed in
ships in the fleet. Because of the skip phenomenon, highfrequency radio could not be used in the same manner as the lower frequencies; however, the signal to noise ratio with lower power outputs was so favorable that the Navy continued to pursue its interest in high frequency transmission. The Navy issued a frequency plan that included signals up to the 18,000 kilocycle band. By the end of the 1920s the fleet had far better equipment and such higher frequencies were routinely being used. The use of higher frequencies was coupled with an improving knowledge of antenna inductance. Battleships with tall cage masts provided the best platfonns for antennas while submarines with no appreciable rise above the deck other than periscope shears had to improvise.

While during the 1920s, submarine transmitter and receiver development saw the replacement of the spark gap by the vacuum tube, antenna problems were difficult to overcome due to the nature of submarine construction.

In 1922 the 0-10 had a fore and aft running antenna supported at its centerline by the bridge. Its function was to act as a loop antenna. It also carried an additional higher antenna supported at its center by a telescoping mast just aft of the bridge. Also during the 1920s the V, Rand S Class submarines housed husky, retractable radio masts that were designed to raise their paired antenna as far above the deck as possible. These telescoping masts exceeded the height of the raised periscopes by 10 feet or more.

As radio reception improved during the latter 1920s, modifications were made to the S Class boats to include a permanent loop antenna that ran aft from the bridge to a dedicated stanchion at the boat’s stem. This antenna improved the boats’ ability to copy CW while running at periscope depth.

The stock market crash and resulting economic depression adversely affected commercial and Navy radio development.
Some few improvements were made in radio equipment by service personnel, but these were limited in nature. A singular accomplishment was the tactical radio transceiver which used a frequency of about 60 megacycles.29 As the nation began to recover from the economic morass, the Navy turned its attention once again to building better transmitters for submarines. T AR-2 and XF-1 high-frequency transmitters were installed in the new fleet type submarines. Also included in the modem submarine inventory were the T AQ and T AQ-1 low-frequency transmitters. Aligned to these transmitters were RO-RP low, medium and high frequency receivers which were also installed in the larger, fleet type submarines.

The Bureau of Engineering wrestled with the problem of space allocations in submarines. It was clear that radio equipment had to be located close to antenna trunks that penetrated the pressure hull. This meant that submarines had to place radio equipment as near to the periscope shears as possible. Inevitably, the space allocated was immediately aft of the periscope wells and this placement meant sacrificing space from the control room. The 2000-3000 kilocycle band was found to be superior for tactical uses. This allowed the lower-powered submarine
transmitters to better utilize their limited antennas. During the late 1920s the Bureau of Engineering recommended that submarines test high frequencies and if found to be successful it would assign them specific operating frequencies for intrafleet communications.31 Friedman described the Bureau’s work, “The new strategic scouts needed long-range radios. WWI boats had flat-top antennas supported by pairs of collapsible masts, which took time to erect or take down. BuEng substituted pairs of cables extending from bow and stem to a T-topped mast telescoping from the periscope shears, forming fore and aft loops. A boat could transmit at periscope depth by using a short antenna fixed to a periscope. In February 1930, an S-boat used the new antennas and the associated new radio to contact a station 7,900 nm away. The submarine could make contact at 2,000 nm by using three feet of vertical antenna pushed up through the surface. Low frequency signals (less than 100 kiloHertz) could be received at depths up to 64 feet. ” 32 In the fall of 1935, the cumbersome loop antennas were replaced by wing antennas that strung from the bridge fairwater down the port and starboard sides of the boat to deck stanchions at the bow and stem.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League