Category Archives: World War 2

Recording a Record for Servicemen, 1942.

1942June8ChiTrib75 years ago today, the June 8, 1942, issue of the Chicago Tribune carried this ad from the Marshall Field department store.

So that customers could express their gratitude to the men in the service, the store had a “canteen” on the second floor containing 576 different gift ideas that were, after “consultation with the War Department and the boys themselves,” were guaranteed to please the serviceman. The ad invited customers to “spend very little, or quite a lot, but send the boys something regularly.”

The store’s prices included free shipping by railway express to any military or naval post, station, camp, or ship.

One suggestion to include in the box to the boys was a phonograph record. For just a quarter, you could record five minutes on two sides of a 6 inch phonograph disk so that the boys could hear a voice from home.

1942 Portable Aircraft Detector


Seventy-five years ago this month, the cover of Popular Mechanics, June 1942, pictured this aircraft spotter with the latest in portable listening equipment. This plane detector featured a parabolic microphone worn as a headpiece. The spotter would listen for the low-pitched hum of an approaching aircraft, and turn his body until the sound was the loudest. He would then be facing the source and could use his binoculars to swiftly and accurately focus in on the plane.

The amplifier, featuring miniature tubes, was worn in a carrying case slung over the shoulder, which also included batteries and accessories. The magazine noted that the set could be used in places where more elaborate units were not available.

For another aircraft detector, see our earlier post.

Battle of Midway and Aleutian Islands Campaign: 1942

SBD-3 Dauntless bombers of VS-8 over the burning Japanese cruiser Mikuma on 6 June 1942.jpg

U.S. dive bombers attacking Japanese carrier. Wikipedia photo.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of two battles of World War II in the Pacific. the Battle of Midway began on June 4, 1942, and the Aleutian Islands Campaign began the day before.

At Midway, the Japanese had intended to eliminate the United States as a strategic power in the Pacific. The Japanese had made faulty assumptions of American reaction, and American cryptographers had been able to determine the date and location of the planned attack. The battle was a U.S. victory, and all four of Japan’s large aircraft carriers were sunk. Along with the Guadalcanal Campaign which began in August, the battle is considered a turning point in the war in the Pacific.

Navy radio station at Dutch Harbor, AK. Wikipedia photo.

On June 3 and 4, the Japanese attacked the SuS. airfield at Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The attack on Dutch Harbor prompted a blackout of radio stations along the West Coast of North America. According to the June 8, 1942, issue of Broadcasting, stations along the West Coast were silenced for more than eight hours, from 9:01 PM until 5:24 AM the next morning. This was the longest radio blackout to date. Stations in British Columbia, Canada, and Baja California, Mexico, were also off the air for about the same time period.

The magazine noted that the blackout resulted in heavy loss of revenue, but the West Coast stations “cheerfully dug in for the duration.” In most cases, full staff remained on duty. Station switchboards were flooded with calls from listeners, but “operators and attendants on duty kept the public reassured.” According to the magazine, “stations up and down the entire Pacific Coast area have been highly complimented by official Washington, the Army and Navy, as well as by an appreciative public for their efficient cooperation in following through on all orders given.”

1942 QST: Visual Signalling


75 years ago, American amateur radio operators were off the air for the duration, but QST kept rolling off the presses, and continued to encourage hams to hone their skills for the war effort.  One skill, of course, where hams had a natural edge was their knowledge of the International Morse Code, which was widely used both in the military and by government and civilian radio stations.

In the June 1942 issue, long time QST Editor Clinton DeSoto, W1CBD, wrote this article about methods of visual signalling. He noted that many a young amateur “joined up with the Navy or the Sginal Corps secure in the belief that because he knew radio he knew all there was to know about communications.”

But DeSoto noted that knowledge of CW and radiotelephone, and even a smattering of wire telephone and telegraph, covered only a part of communications methods then in use. In many cases, radio was unavailable, such in cases where a ship had to observe radio silence, and wires were not always an option. Therefore, especially in the Navy, but also in the Army Signal Corps, a knowledge of visual signalling methods was critical.

In the article, he gives a primer on the methods then in use, and encouraged hams to learn these methods. Those methods were (1) aural; (2) blinker; (3) wigwag; (4) semaphore; and (5) the international flag code.

DeSoto noted that aural signalling would require little or no new knowledge for a ham, since copying Morse from a fog horn or siren was no more difficult than copying CW on the air.

Copying code from a light blinker required a bit of practice, since the ham had to use a different sense to transmit the signal to the brain. However, he noted that most hams could acquire a speed of 8-10 words per minute with just a few hours practice. This speed was quite useful, since 12 WPM was about the maximum ever encountered in blinker work.

The third method, wigwag, was rarely used, but since it was also based on International Morse Code, most hams would have an edge when it came to using it. In wigwag, a single signal flag or light is used. It is dipped to the left (from the viewer’s point of view) for a dot, and to the right for a dash. Between dots and dashes, the flag or light is held vertically above the head.

Wigwag is very slow and cumbersome, and had a maximum speed of a couple of words per minute. For that reason, it was rarely used except when nothing else would serve.

The much more efficient system of signalling with flags is semaphore, and DeSoto devoted much of the article to its explanation. As shown in the diagram above, semaphore uses two flags held in the positons shown above. Semaphore had been around since Napoleon’s day, and in addition to flags, shore-to-ship communication, and even inland links, of the past had used stations with tall masts and giant signalling arms.

With practice, a skilled operator could achieve speeds up to 25 words per minute, making semaphore a vitally useful skill.

The article gave the basics of the procedure used. To begin, the sender would wave the flags for the attention signal, until the receiving operator answered with the acknowledgment “C”. As the sender completed each word, he dropped his arms to the “break” signal. At that point, the receiver would acknowledge with another “C”. If no acknowledgement was received, that word would be repeated.

Some of the prosigns and abbreviations used by hams were also used in semaphore. For example, the symbol AR was commonly used to indicate the end of a message.

Finally, DeSoto spent some time discussing the international flag code, which used individual flags for each letter of the alphabet. Each flag also had an independent meaning. Therefore, if a single flag was displayed on the signal mast, it was understood that it was conveying that message.

To minimize the number of flags that had to be carried, four flags were assigned as “repeat” flags. The “First Repeat” flag would be used to indicate that the first letter of the word was being repeated. The “Second Repeat” flag would mean that the second letter of the word was being used again.

The international flags were reproduced in the article, but in black and white. DeSoto warned that it wouldn’t be a good idea to attempt to learn them from those illustrations. He recommended either coloring them on the pages of the magazine with water colors or crayons, or simply making a set of identification cards in the correct colors. He also included the source of flashcards, available for 50 cents postpaid, or the official “International Code of Signals (Vol. 1, Visual and Sound)” available from the Navy Department for $2.25. A more recent edition of that text is available at this link.

This article would be of particular interest to Boy Scouts or their counselors working on the Signs Signals and Codes merit badge.  As I discussed previously at this post and this post, that merit badge includes Morse Code, semaphore, international flag codes, in addition to other topics.  Therefore, DeSoto’s 1942 article includes much of the information necessary to earn the merit badge.

Elsewhere in the same issue of QST (page 53), ARRL Communications Manager F.E. Handy, W1BDI, suggested a use for the signal flags. With amateur radio off the air, there would be no Field Day in 1942. Handy suggested that hams could use the traditional Field Day weekend, the third weekend in June, to make an outing to their usual Field Day location to practice some of these techniques:

Working in pairs, amateurs should call out characters as they are interpreted from the flags, impressing a bystander for ‘recorder’ if necessary. With some experience you will with to try for greater DX. Then we also suggest a planned trek to the usual FD location if you can make it on that third weekend of June. This will make a good outing for those of the group that can be rounded up; it will rouse afresh the memories of the last ARRL Field Day. Don’t forget to give the signal-flag idea a Field Day workout!

Andreas Bertnes, LA6R, c. 1916-1941


This month 75 years ago, the April 1942 issue of QST carried this “stray” item announcing the death of Andreas Bertnes, LA6R, an amateur radio operator from Sendefyord, Norway, who was executed by the Nazis.

Bertnes, a medical student, was a member of a resistance group known as the Ask-gruppen.  The members were rounded up in March 1941.  Three, Bertnes along with Øyvind Ask and Johan Midttun, were sentenced to death on November 22.  They were executed by being shot on December 4 at Trandum.



Andreas Bertnes. From the book Vestfold i Krig by Egil Christophersen, courtesy of

Bertnes was one of four amateur radio operators executed during the war for their resistance activities.

Bernes was active on the air before the war.  He was listed in the “calls heard” listings by an English SWL on 20 meters in November 1937 and and April 1938.



1942 “Command Performance, USA”

1942May24ChiTribSeventy-five years ago today, the May 24, 1942, issue of the Chicago Tribune carried this feature about the shortwave program Command Performance, U.S.A., which began each week with the words, “Command Performance, U.S.A. The greatest entertainment in America as requested by you the fighting forces of America throughout the world, this week and every week until it’s over, over there.”

The article noted that even though the program was intended for servicemen overseas, many Americans with shortwave receivers on the homefront had discovered it and were regularly tuning in.

The programs were transcribed in New York and Hollywood, and featured the biggest stars of the entertainment world offering their talents without charge. The article noted that “sometimes the language on these shows is just a little more robust than is passed by standard broadcasting stations. Jack Benny, as we recall, last Sunday night encouraged our fighting men to ‘give ’em hell.'”

The newspaper carried the schedule shown below of the stations covering the show, along with times and frequencies. It noted that some of the beams were not heard well in the Midwest, but pointed out that many were. For example, it noted that the 10:30 PM broadcast to Central and South America was being heard well in Chicago.


In addition to Command Performance, special news and sports programs were broadcast for the military, and some domestic programs were rebroadcast.

1942 Handheld Radiotelephone


1942MayRadioCraft2Seventy-five years ago this month, the May 1942 issue of Radio Craft featured on its cover this handheld radio telephone weighing only four pounds, which the magazine noted was not much larger than the handset of a “French” telephone. The set was the product of the Weltronic Corporation, which was the assignee of the patent, U.S. Patent 2276933, with a pre-Pearl Harbor application date of October 1, 1941, and an issue date of March 17, 1942.

1942MayRadioCraftDiagramThe magazine noted that the set had a range of about a mile, and could operate on any frequency between 112-300 MHz. The diagram below reveals that the set appears to be one tube functioning as an oscillator and superregenerative detector, with the other tube serving as AF amplifier to drive the headphone on receiver, and as modulator on transmit.

Commercially available batteries were said to allow continuous operation for eight hours, or about a week to a month in normal service. The article noted that the set was being made available to governmental agencies.

The cover photo shows the unit in use by a guard around a defense plant.

The article puts quotation marks around the word “transceiver,” since such a combined unit would have been unfamiliar to many readers.



Battle of the St. Lawrence, 1942

This day 75 years ago marks the beginning of a little remembered part of the Second World War, the Battle of the St. Lawrence, which brought fighting to North America. In the early morning hours of May 12, 1942, a German U-boat sunk the freighter Nicoya.

While the Kriegsmarine had no formal plans to attack shipping in the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, the German submarine U-553 had been operating off the Canadian coast and made its way into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  On May 12, it torpedoed and sank the Nicoya at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.  Between 1942 and 1944, a total of 23 ships, including four Canadian warships, all well within the territorial limits of Canada.


Fall of Corregidor, 1942

Japanese landing on Corregidor. Wikipedia image.

On this day 75 years ago, May 6, 1942, the island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese, not to be recaptured until 1945.

After the fall of Bataan on April 9, only the heavily defended island of Corregidor stood between the Japanese and control of Manila harbor.  In the first months of the war, the island was under aerial attack, and on May 5, Japanese landing craft began their assault. On May 6, General Johnathan M Wainwright sent a message to President Roosevelt, “There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed.”

WW2 Japanese-American Internment

Manzanar Internment Camp. WPA/NPS image.

Manzanar Internment Camp. NPS image.

The following order was issued 75 years ago today.

Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration, Presidio of San Francisco, California

May 3, 1942

Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry Living in the Following Area:

All of that portion of the County of Alameda, State of California, within the boundary beginning at the point where the southerly limits of the City of Oakland meet San Francisco Bay; thence easterly and following the southerly limits of said city to U.S. Highway No. 50; thence southerly and easterly on said Highway No. 50 to its intersection with California State Highway No. 21; thence southerly on said Highway No. 21 to its intersection, at or near Warm Springs, with California State Highway No. 17; thence southerly on said Highway No. 17 to the Alameda-Santa Clara County line; thence westerly and following said county line to San Francisco Bay; thence northerly, and following the shoreline of San Francisco Bay to the point of Beginning.

Pursuant to the provisions of Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, this Headquarters, dated May 3, 1942, all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the above area by 12 o’clock noon, P. W. T., Sunday, May 9, 1942.

No Japanese person living in the above area will be permitted to change residence after 12 o’clock noon, P. W. T., Sunday, May 3, 1942, without obtaining special permission from the representative of the Commanding General, Northern California Sector, at the Civil Control Station located at:
920 “C” Street,
Hayward, California.

Such permits will only be granted for the purpose of uniting members of a family, or in cases of grave emergency.

The Civil Control Station is equipped to assist the Japanese population affected by this evacuation in the following ways:

  1.  Give advice and instructions on the evacuation.
  2.  Provide services with respect to the management, leasing, sale, storage or other disposition of most kinds of property, such as real estate, business and professional equipment, household goods, boats, automobiles and livestock.
  3.  Provide temporary residence elsewhere for all Japanese in family groups.
  4.  Transport persons and a limited amount of clothing and equipment to their new residence.

The Following Instructions Must Be Observed:

  1. A responsible member of each family, preferably the head of the family, or the person in whose name most of the property is held, and each individual living alone, will report to the Civil Control Station to receive further instructions. This must be done between 8:00 A. M. and 5:00 P. M. on Monday, May 4, 1942, or between 9:00 A. M. and 5:00 P. M. on Tuesday, May 5, 1942.
  2. Evacuees must carry with them on departure for the Assembly Center, the following property:
    (a) Bedding and linens (no mattress) for each member of the family;
    (b) Toilet articles for each member of the family;
    (c) Extra clothing for each member of the family;
    (d) Sufficient knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls and cups for each member of the family;
    (e) Essential personal effects for each member of the family.
    All items carried will be securely packaged, tied and plainly marked with the name of the owner and numbered in accordance with instructions obtained at the Civil Control Station. The size and number of packages is limited to that which can be carried by the individual or family group.
  3. No pets of any kind will be permitted.
  4. No personal items and no household goods will be shipped to the Assembly Center.
  5. The United States Government through its agencies will provide for the storage, at the sole risk of the owner, of the more substantial household items, such as iceboxes, washing machines, pianos and other heavy furniture. Cooking utensils and other small items will be accepted for storage if crated, packed and plainly marked with the name and address of the owner. Only one name and address will be used by a given family.
  6. Each family, and individual living alone, will be furnished transportation to the Assembly Center or will be authorized to travel by private automobile in a supervised group. All instructions pertaining to the movement will be obtained at the Civil Control Station.

Go to the Civil Control Station between the hours of 8:00 A. M. and 5:00 P. M., Monday, May 4, 1942, or between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 5:00 P. M., Tuesday, May 5, 1942, to receive further instructions.
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army