Category Archives: World War 2

Taking a Break With the Radio, 1943


Shown here in 1943 is eleven-year-old Beverly Ann Grimm of Buffalo, New York, taking a break from sweeping to listen to the radio. Beverly was largely forced to take care of herself and her five younger brothers and sisters. Her  mother was widowed, and worked all week as a crane operator with Pratt and Letchworth.  The mother’s name isn’t shown on the photograph caption, but according to the 1940 census, she was Thelma Grimm, and in 1940 lived at 60 Newman Street, Lackawanna, New York.  According to the photo caption, Mrs. Grimm was 26 years old in 1943, but according to the census, she was 26 years old in 1940.

The photographer was Marjory Collins of the Farm Security Administration. The photo, taken here from Wikimedia, was digitized by Yale, and more information is available at this link.  In the photo below, Beverly is shown bringing home the groceries purchased from her mother’s list.

I’m not able to make out the brand of the radio, which makes identifying it difficult.  If anyone has any clues, please let me know!  You can also find more information about this family and some of the artifacts in the pictures at this link.


The Banana Plug Goes To War


The war effort of the United Nations depended on many minor miracles, and according to this ad in the October 12, 1942, issue of Life magazine, one of those minor miracles rolled off the assembly lines of the United-Carr Fastener Corporation of Cambridge, Mass.

That minor miracle was the banana plug, or as it was called here, the banana pin. The cause of war was calling Americans to every corner of the globe, and their communications depended on American radio equipment. And those sets contained banana plugs, lots of banana plugs. Hundred of thousands of banana plugs were in constant operation in planes, ships, and tanks, under all conditions of weather and battle. The banana plug was unseen and inconspicuous, but it insured the constant contact to keep the far-flung forces in touch with their commands.

RM2C Robert Melvey, W7HUX, 1924-1944

1942OctRadioNewsThe October 1947 issue of Radio News contains this report of a rare case of the FCC issuing a specially requested amateur callsign prior to the “vanity” callsign programs of later decades.

Ernest Melvey, formerly W7HVS, of 6416 Francis Avenue, Seattle, Washington, requested a waiver of the rule requiring calls to be assigned systematically.  Specifically, he requested the call sign of his son, U.S. Naval Reserve Radioman Second Class Robert Melvey, W7HUX, who had been killed in action, along with 132 other sailors, when the cruiser Nashville had been hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane on December 13, 1944.

USS Nashville after the kamikaze hit. Wikipedia photo.

The elder Melvey had made the request “in remembrance of the good times,” and the FCC was sympathetic to the father’s request to perpetuate his son’s call letters on the air.  The FCC granted the request, but “did not mean that it was relaxing its long adhered to policy against transfer of amateur call letters or requests for particular amateur calls.”

The younger Melvey is interred at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park, Seattle.

USS Nashville (CL-43) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on 4 August 1943.jpg

USS Nashville, 1943. Wikipedia photo.


1942 Homemade Battery Charger

1942OctPMbatterycharger1The plans for this battery charger appeared in Popular Mechanics 75 years ago this month, October 1942.

The project had a decidedly wartime angle: “Should it become necessary to store your car, this tungar battery charger will keep a 6-volt storage battery fully charged so that you can operate your auto radio indoors. This is only one of many timely civilian defense uses for an efficient and inexpensive battery charger.”

The only electronic part necessary to construct the charger was a GE tungar bulb. The “tungar” name for this type of rectifier came from the fact that it contained a tungsten filament and the bulb was filed with argon gas. The bulb specified by the project had a two-volt filament, and screwed into a standard lightbulb socket, with a separate lead running to the anode. The whole charger was mounted on a wooden board. The article specified that it should not be enclosed, in order to allow ventilation. Thus, the 110 volt terminals were left exposed.

1942OctPMbatterycharger2The transformer was also homemade. The core consisted of strips of stovepipe iron, carefully cut and shellacked together as shown here.  Wood from a cigar box was used as a form to construct the core. The windings went over a layer of electrical tape, with the secondary winding also containing a layer of “empire cloth, available from electric shops.” The iron laminates were clamped together with hardwood or bakelite, bolted together firmly to keep the transformer from humming. The instructions called for the cord to be placed in a “moderate oven” and baked until dry.

The windings in the article were made with wire from a burnt out transformer. The primary consisted of 605 turns, with a coat of shellac after each layer. The secondary had 85 turns to supply 15 volts to the rectifier, with another 11 turns to provide the 2 volts for the filament. Finally, a knife switch was connected to the battery, to be flipped one way to charge, and the other way to play the radio.


OSS Collecting Tourist Photos, 1942

1942Oct5Life1Seventy-five years ago today, the October 5, 1942, issue of Life magazine included this nondescript tourist photo as an example of something the government desperately needed.  Specifically, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, was requesting tourist photos from around the world for use in invasion planning.

1942Oct5Life2To illustrate the point, they provided this map of hypothetical Fitzhugh Island, the site of a powerful radio transmitter being used by the enemy.  To silence the radio station, an invasion was required.  The location of the radio station was clearly visible on the prewar map.  But many details necessary to mount the invasion were unknown.  In particular, it was not known whether the beach was suitable for landing the invading forces.

This is where prewar tourists got involved.  In a dusty photograph album somewhere in America, there probably existed photographs taken during a prewar vacation to Fitzhugh Island.  That photograph, shown above, needed to get into the hands of the OSS to confirm that the beach was suitable.

Many photographs would be useful for things like determining the composition of roads (and whether they would support a tank) and their width.  The photo shown below could be used to measure the width of the roadway, since the tourist’s height was known or could be readily estimated.  The image of the ship in the background also provided valuable clues as to the harbor’s suitability for invasion.


To get these photographs where they were needed, the OSS was asking for “all photgraphs (stills and movies) taken by tourists outside the U.S., in Europe, Asia, the Philippines, South Seas, Africa.  All types are useful, even family groups.”  To facilitate handling, the magazine asked those in possession of such photos to write for a questionaire (but to complete the questionaires before sending any photos).  The magazine provided the address of the OSS as P.O. Box 46, Station G, New York, N.Y.

After the hypothetical case of Fitzhugh Island, the magazine turned to an actual example of where such photos had been used. On February 27, 1942, British commandos under the command of  Lord Louis Mountbatten launched  Operation Biting, a successful raid against a Nazi RADAR at Bruneval, France, about twelve miles from Le Havre.

The BBC had previously broadcast a plea asking all people who had spent a holiday along the northern coast of France to send in any pictures they might have taken. Among the pictures that flooded in were the two shown below.


These  photos showed some critical details necessary for planning the raid.  The photo of fishermen on the left showed that there were cars on the beach, thus confirming that the sand would support mechanized equipment.  And the landscape on the right revealed a fence and the exact location of the road to the station.

1937 Parachute Jump for Young Comrades

1937OctPMThis photo should put to rest, once and for all, the myth that commie kids never got to have any fun. Eighty years ago, parents the world over apparently weren’t quite as concerned that their children be protected from all conceivable dangers. Today, we might worry that the playground slide is too dangerous, but at least it deposits Junior in very close proximity to terra firma.

But they didn’t worry about things like that in 1937, and they certainly didn’t worry about it in the glorious Soviet Union.

In this Moscow park, the slide ended twelve feet above the ground, and the kids just had to trust the laws of aerodynamics to see them safely to the ground.  The accompanying text in the October 1937 issue of Popular Mechanics notes that this was one of the park’s most popular features.

The first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, was born in 1937, so my first hunch was wrong, since the young comrade shown in this 1937 photo obviously wasn’t born in 1937. But Comrade Valentina Vladimirovna was an amateur skydiver when, as a textile worker, she was inducted into the Cosmonaut Corps.  And there is definitely a family resemblance.

RIAN archive 612748 Valentina Tereshkova.jpg

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. Wikipedia photo.

I’m sticking to my theory that the young comrade jumping from the slide is the future cosmonaut’s older sister.

In any event, if you have kids jumping off twelve foot slides, Hitler should have known that he didn’t stand a chance.

1942: Bringing the Car Radio on a Bike

1942OctPMThere was a war going on 75 years ago, but that didn’t stop this young man from enjoying a picnic with his girl, complete with emergency news and entertainment from the radio, as shown in the October 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics.

The war did, however, make planning the outing a bit more challenging.  Gas rationing meant that the family car was out of service, and shortages of B batteries meant that the portable receiver wasn’t an option. Undaunted, he simply borrowed the receiver out of the family car, along with a six-volt battery, probably borrowed from the same car. Dad wasn’t going to be driving anywhere, anyway, so he presumably wouldn’t miss it.

The radio and battery were mounted in the bicycle’s luggage carrier, and Junior and his girl were off to a picnic lunch at this secluded spot.  Junior works on one of the sandwiches as he tunes in some appropriate musical program, and his girl looks on with admiration at his ingenuity.  Not even Hitler and Tojo can put a damper on their romantic picnic.

1942 Kate Smith & Jell-O

1942Sep28LifeThis Jello ad appeared in Life magazine 75 years ago today, September 28, 1942.

Kate Smith, whose program was heard Friday evenings on CBS, reported that she was tickled pink when she learned that Jell-O and Jell-O puddings would be her sponsor. She loved to eat real lucious food and loved to talk about it.

And when she thought of all of the marvelous things that could be made with Jell-O and Jell-O puddings, she said that she could write a book, and just might write one.

She reported that she was busy rounding up her favorite recipes and figuring out new tricks. A few of those recipes appeared in the ad, and she was crazy about every one of them.  And Kate wasn’t one to jump on the all-natural bandwagon.  “Jell-O’s Strawberry, Raspberry, and Cherry flavors seem better than ever to me these days.  Richer, with a real fresh-picked taste.  And they tell me it’s because they’ve found a way to artificially enhance the flavor and then keep it ‘locked-in.'”

Here’s Kate Smith singing the White Cliffs of Dover in 1942:


Fern Sunde 1918-1991

FernSundeFern Sunde (née Blodgett) was born in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1918, and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. When Canada entered the war, she was a secretary at a life insurance company in Toronto, and enrolled in a night school to learn radio telegraphy. She received her certificate on June 13, 1941, and was the first Canadian woman to do so.

No Canadian lines were willing to take her, and she eventually signed on with the Norwegian freighter MS Mosdale as radio operator. She was initially the only radio operator aboard, but when regulations changed, she became one of three, working four hour shifts with eight hours off.

While she was the first woman to serve aboard a Norwegian merchant ship, 23 other women followed in her footsteps, 21 Canadians and two Americans.

The ship’s captain was Gerner Sunde, and the two eventually wed. She was awarded the Norwegian krigsmedaljen (war medal) in 1943.  She died in Norway in 1991.




Staff Sergeant Staff Sergeant Gerald W. Wagner, Japanese POW 1942-45

1942Aug8RadioGuideA few months after the fall of Corregidor,  this letter appeared in the August 8, 1942, issue of Radio Guide.

An earlier issue of the magazine had carried an item about Army nurses who had escaped from Bataan. This was spotted by one Mrs. G.C. Wild, originally of Rapid City, South Dakota, who was then in Richmond, Kentucky, on a defense project. Mrs. Wild was the sister of Staff Sergeant Gerald W. Wagner, who had been assigned to the Sternberg General Hospital in Manila. She and her mother had no word from Sgt. Wagner since February, 1942. After reading about the nurses, she wrote to the magazine asking if they could pass along her request for information about her brother, in the event that one of the nurses could provide some information as to his fate.

While the magazine had no way to contact the nurses, it published the letter, and asked any readers who knew any of the nurses to pass along the plea.

While it’s unlikely that the letter writer received any reply to her plea, it appears that Sgt. Wagner survived the war. He is listed as having been liberated from the Cabanatuan prison camp, and the report of the liberation appears in this February 2, 1945, newspaper report.  He was later awarded the Bronze Star.