Category Archives: World War 2

MacArthur’s Escape from the Philippines, 1942

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the escape from the Philippines by General Douglas MacArthur, which began on March 11, 1942. He and his forces were surrounded on the Island of Corregidor.

The Japanese invasion had commenced at the same time as the attack on Pearl Harbor. In accordance with American doctrine, Manila was declared an open city. By March, American and Filipino forces had withdrawn to Bataan, with the General’s staff on Corregidor. In February, MacArther had announced that he and his family intended to share the fate of the garrison, but fearing that the General would become a high value prisoner, President Roosevelt ordered him to go to Australia.

MacArthur’s route. Wikipedia image.

MacArthur, his family and staff, travelled through waters patrolled by Japanese warships in PT boats to Mindanao, from which they flew to Australia. President Roosevelt issued a statement on March 17:

I know that every man and woman in the United States admires with me General MacArthur’s determination to fight to the finish with his men in the Philippines. But I also know that every man and woman is in agreement that all important decisions must be made with a view toward the successful termination of the war. Knowing this, I am sure that every American, if faced individually with the question as to where General MacArthur could best serve his country, could come to only one answer

Over the coming weeks, Bataan fell, leading to the Bataan Death March, which began on April 9, in which thousands of Filipino and American POW’s perished.

MacArthur arrived in Melbourne on March 21, where he gave his famous “I shall return” speech:

Training Navy Radiomen, 1942

1942Mar8ChiTribNavyRadioOn this day 75 years ago, March 8, 1942, the Chicago Tribune carried this description of the fever pitch at which it was training its radio experts.

It explained how the Navy was cramming a two-year college radio engineering curriculum into three months. Students were housed at the Naval armory where they woke at 5:30, and were in class by 7:00 at the Balaban & Katz television studio at 190 North State Street.  The theater company was the licensee of WBKB-TV, located at 190 North State Street, the present location of WLS-TV.

The men were in class until 11:00, at which time they marched back to the armory to eat, and were back in class at 12:15 until classes ended at 5:00. Lights were out at 9:00, and the Ensign in charge of the program reported that there were no problems with insomnia.

In a few months, the men’s duties would include RADAR, so the UHF expertise of the television engineers running the program were ideal for instruction.

The men’s former occupations were diverse, and included electricians, refrigerator servicemen, farmers, and locomotive firemen. Each was given a preliminary scholastic examination by mail, followed by the regular navy physical examination. Even though the scholastic test was tough, the Navy didn’t care whether the students had any formal education.

Many of the men were married, and many had turned down commissions as officers in the Army , instead opting for the rank of naval radioman, second class. They recognized that the training would be invaluable when they returned to civilian life, especially with the prospect of a future in television.

The men were paid $72 per month, with an additional allowance of $34.50 for dependents. It was noted that the men could live on “nothing a week,” with the exception of cigarettes or extras.

ChicagoRadioSchoolA typical classroom at the school is shown here, courtesy of an article describing this and other Navy radio schools in the November 1942 issue of QST.


End of Wartime Civilian Radio Production

1942Mar8ChiTribWPBOn this day 75 years ago, March 7, 1942, the War Production Board (WPB) ordered that civilian radio production would cease on April 22, as reported in this clipping from the March 8 Chicago Tribune.

As of that date, the entire industry would be on a wartime footing, and the entire industry, with the exception of replacement parts production, would be converted to war production.

A billion dollars worth of war orders were already in the pipeline, and half of that business was to companies making home radio sets. The WPB acknowledged that some unemployment would result as companies switched over to war production, but it was estimated that 95 percent of the conversion would be complete by the end of June.

The board estimated that when the last civilian set rolled off the assembly lines, there would be 60 million sets in operation, with a set in 87% of American homes.

More details of the order can be found at our earlier post.


Underground Dutch WW2 Radio Receivers

Another collection of clandestine Dutch radios.

Another collection of clandestine Dutch radios.

Clandestine radio concealed in book.

Clandestine radio concealed in book.

When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, they didn’t want to deal with the possibility of the Dutch tuning in foreign radio broadcasts. So in the spring of 1942, they simply confiscated all radio receivers.

Undaunted, Dutch radio enthusiasts simply went underground and constructed sets to listen to the BBC and Radio Boston to learn how the war was going. A number of interesting radios were described in the March 1947 issue of Radio Craft, in an article by one Mr. J. Maquerinck, who described sets built by himself and others.

The simplest, or course, was the venerable crystal1947MarRadioCraft3 set, such as the one shown here, constructed by one of the author’s friends. This set pulled in England quite well and was constructed in a wooden box. When the friend wanted to listen, he opened the box, hooked up an antenna and ground, and tuned in the BBC.

Another friend, who had in his possession a vacuum tube, constructed the simple one-tube set1947MarRadioCraft4 shown here. This friend had no variable capacitor, but the coil wound on an iron core provided adequate selectivity, and was sensitive enough to pull in England.

1947MarRadioCraft1The author himself wanted to avoid the complication of an external antenna, which could be seen. He was fortunate enough to own a dual tube, which he was able to use in the circuit shown here as RF amplfier, grid-leak detector, and audio amplifier. To conceal the set, he hollowed out his telephone and built it inside the phone cabinet. His finger served as enough of an antenna to pull in the BBC on 200 kHz. The telephone’s ground connection served as the radio’s ground.

To avoid detection, he had the phone set up so that the dial had to be turned to 7 to power up the radio. As an added precaution, he placed above the radio the sign shown here, meaning “Take care, don’t use. Defective!” He noted that the loss of the telephone wasn’t much of a loss, since it had been out of order most of the time anyway.


This “real radio-telephone” was never discovered. In September 1944, the civilian population of the author’s town was evacuated. When he returned, everything else in the house had been stolen, but the receiver remained.  I guess even Nazis were afraid of messing with the telephone company’s equipment.

The author was evacuated to the town of Aalten, population 10,000. The owner of the home in which the author resided had not previously owned a radio, but the town’s serviceman constructed a regenerative which used plug-in coils, one for 200 kHz and the other for 1000 kHz. The 200 kHz frequency was used to tune in the BBC, and 1000 kHz was the frequency of a station in a part of Holland that had already been liberated.

For another look at clandestine radio receivers used during the war, see our prior post on radios in occupied Guernsey.

Radio concealed in camera, constructed by of , Holland.

Radio concealed in camera, constructed by F.M. Leopold of Eindhoven , Holland.

U.S. Marine Corps Mimeograph, 1942


75 years ago today, this ad in the March 2, 1942, issue of Life magazine reminded readers that there was a war to be won, and the United States Marines were busy doing just that. And you can’t win a war without making sure your duplicating needs were taken care of.

The Marine shown here “stands for no nonsense, asks no quarter and gives none when the honor of the Corps is at stake. But he keeps a fatherly watch on the young recruits, start them off on the was to promotion and pay, sees that they stay on the track.”

Corps equipment, like the Corps itself, had to be rugged and ready. And that’s why the busiest, most trusted means of communications in the Corps was the Mimeograph duplicator. It had accuracy and speed, and its black-and-white crispness stodd up when the going got tough. “With its integrated stencil sheets and inks, it is on duty wherever Marines are stationed.”

1942 Popular Mechanics “Little Giant” Receiver

1942MarPMLittleGiantEach March, Popular Mechanics carried plans for a receiver dubbed the “Little Giant,” and the 1942 version is shown here.

With a war going on, this one differed in that it had been stripped of all unnecessary frills and designed for economy.  But the little four tube AC-DC set still offered high grade performance with its superheterodyne circuit, featuring automatic volume control, an electro-dynamic speaker, and vernier tuning.  The set’s open chassis construction also made it easier to build than earlier models.  It tuned from the bottom of the broadcast band to 18 MHz, with three plug-in coils used to change bands.


Win the War: Learn How To Type!


On this date 75 years ago, the February 23, 1942 issue of Life Magazine contained this advertisement from Smith Corona telling the nation’s eleven million girls that there was indeed something they could to to help with the war. And they could do it by learning how to type!

Things had to be kept going while the boys were away, and that meant there were countless ways that women always found to help. Volunteers were needed for the Red Cross, civilian defense, draft boards, auxiliary services, and vital social work.

Knowing how to type was always important in peace time, but it was even more useful during war. “Twice-welcome is the girl who brings with her not only the will to serve, but the skill to save precious hours of working time.”

The ad pointed out that typing skill came quickly to women’s deft fingers. They didn’t need the blazing speed of the expert, since all that was needed was the speed sufficient for the workaday world.

All a girl needed was a typewriter, a simple manual, and a few days of practice, and she would be twice as able to help!

1942Feb23Life2Perhaps the ad sounds like hyperbole, but elsewhere in the magazine, we see this woman who brought her typewriter to war.  Shown here is Life researcher Shelley Smith Mydans, at work in China.  Her husband, Carl Mydans, was a Life photographer, and the two last checked in with the magazine the day after Christmas from Manila. After the fall of Manilia, they were presumed by the magazine to be in a Japanese concentration camp.

The magazine’s presumption was correct, since they were interned in Manila for about a year before being transferred to another camp in China.  They were released in 1943 as part of a prisoner of war exchange.  After their release, they quickly made their way to Europe to resume their duties, and then returned to the Philippines to cover the liberation of those islands.

Bombardment of Ellwood, 1942

sub attacks oilfield

Goleta Valley Historical Society image, via American Oil and Gas Historical Society.

On this night 75 years ago, the mainland United States saw its first attack of the war, in the Bombardment of Ellwood, near Santa Barbara, California, on February 23, 1942.

The event served to trigger a scare of a West Coast invasion, and was a major factor in the decision to intern Japanese-Americans.

The shelling was done by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-18, under the command of Kozo Nishino. Four days earlier, on the night of February 19, the ship covertly landed on Point Loma, San Diego, to determine its position. It then headed north along the California coast.

At about 7:00 PM on February 23, the sub came to a stop off the Ellwood oil field. At 7:15, iit fired its first shot at an oil storage tank. Very little damage was done, and some of the shells landed as far as a mile inland. There was some damage to the pier, and a derrick and pump house were destroyed. There were a total of about 20 shots, after which the sub headed south toward Los Angeles.

One witness reported that the sub had flashed signal lights toward the shore. While this probably did not happen, it was used to support the internment of Japanese-Americans.

The next night, February 24, was the “Battle of Los Angeles,” in which anti-aircraft guns were used against probably nonexistent enemy aircraft.

Commander Nishino had been to Ellwood previously.  Before the war, he had commanded a merchant ship, which had taken on fuel at Ellwood.  While walking to a formal welcoming ceremony, he tripped and fell onto a patch of prickly pear cactus.  Apparently, nearby oil workers laughed at the sight of the commander having cactus pulled from his buttocks.  Most of the shelling took place within a thousand yards of the spot where he had visited.

British Women in Wireless, 1942

1942FebWirelessWorldSeventy-five years ago, the War was new for Americans, but Britain had been at war for over two years. As America would also soon discover, labor shortages meant that women would play an increasing role in the workplace and even the military.

The cover of the British magazine Wireless World from February 1942 here shows British women in wireless.  This cover illustration shows women doing practical work on a field set.  The magazine notes that women continued to invade the hitherto predominantly masculine field of radio.  In the illustration below, a group of “girls” are shown practicing their Morse skills.



Homemade Wartime Radio Parts, 1942

1942FebRadioNewsSeventy-five years ago this month, the February 1942 issue of Radio News contained one in a series of articles on the subject of homemade parts for radio construction. While the article appears to have been written before Pearl Harbor, it acknowledged that the present emergency could sharpen its teeth still further, in which case radio men might need to make their own parts. This article focused on variable capacitors, and offered a number of ideas, as well as specific details and even formulas for computing capacity.

The first idea given is shown here, a variable capacitor consisting of two cans. The inner can would be about 1/8 to 1/2 inch smaller than the outer one. A vertical support made of wood would allow the inner can to move up and down, varying the capacitance. Since adjustment was not particularly convenient, this scheme was recommended for things such as neutralization, where the adjustment only needed to be made once.

For tuning, two ideas were offered. The sliding plate condenser shown below allowed tuning by pulling one set of plates in and out.


1942FebRadioNews3The “book” or “barn-door” capacitor is shown at left. It consists of two hinged plates. The article notes that this idea was used commercially until about 1927. In fact, it allowed adjustment with a rotary knob, by using the scheme with a cam shown below. According to the article, this system was used by Crosley in 1926.


In most cases, the insulated portions of these condensers were made of wood, and the author offers pointers on selecting wood. Other insulators are also discussed, for use in capacitors and other applications. Cardboard was offered as a good base for coils, and the article explains how to treat the cardboard with beeswax, parafin, or other substances. For coil bases, the article recommends burnt out tubes, which it notes are discarded by most shops by the bushel.