Category Archives: World War 2

1942 Ground Current Communication


During World War II, Amateur Radio was off the air for the duration. However, unlike the situation in the First World War, hams were allowed to keep their equipment, and there were no restrictions on listening. Hams were eager to communicate, and with radio unavailable, they were eager to explore other possibilities. Starting with the March 1942 issue of QST, each issue included an experimenters’ section, which discussed many of the possibilities. Among the possibilities were carrier-current radio over power lines, and modulated light beams.

The first ideas started to trickle in 75 years ago this month in the April 1942 issue, and some of the first experiments focused on ground current communications. Leslie C. Merrill, W1NEI reported his preliminary results with the schematic shown above. The receiver consisted of the audio section of his receiver, and the transmitter consisted of the venerable spark coil from a Model T.

From the transmitter, the signal was fed to ground rods three feet apart. At the receiving end, the ground rods were only two feet apart. Despite the close spacing, he was able to copy the signal fifty feet away.

Merrill reported that he lived out in the country, and had the possibility to space ground rods 3/8 mile apart. By extrapolating his initial results, he speculated that a range of 30 miles might be possible with a similarly equipped station at the other end.

We’ve previously covered similar ideas.  In 1940, Popular Mechanics carried plans for a similar setup with a range of about 75 feet.  And in the First World War, the Signal Corps had a field buzzer that could be configured with a similar setup.  And a 1957 “Quist Quiz” showed a similar setup using a telephone, and even noted that old timers would be familiar with such a hookup.

Escape of Gen. Giraud, 1942

Gen. Giraud during his daily walk during imprisonment, 1940 or 41. Wikipedia photo.

On this day 75 years ago, April 17, 1942, French General Henri Giraud escaped from prison in the Nazi Königstein Fortress near Dresden, one of the largest mountain fortresses in Europe.

In 1940, Giraud was commanding in the Netherlands where his men were trying to block a German attack through the Ardennes.  He was at the front with a reconnaissance patrol when he was captured by German troops.

Giraud spent the next two years planning the escape. He spent the time learning German, memorizing a map of the area, and making ropes out of smuggled-in pieces of twine, copper wire, and bedsheets.

Just before the escape, the 63-year-old General shaved his mustache, climbed the wall, and descended the steep rock on which the fortress lay. He jumped aboard a moving train, and eventually made his way to Switzerland, from which he transferred to Vichy France.

When word of the escape spread in France, the Nazis were beside themselves, and an order to assassinate Giraud was issued, along with orders to arrest his family members.

He tried to talk Marshal Pétain out of continued collaboration, to no avail. He was then secretly contacted by the Allies, and eventually took a submarine to Gibraltar, where he met with General Eisenhower. He was flown to Algiers in November, but Vichy French forces there initially refused his command and his plea to join the Allies.

Giraud’s 1942 escape was actually his second escape from the Germans. In the First World War, he was wounded and left for dead on the battlefield before being taken prisoner and placed in a prison camp in Belgium. He escaped after two months by pretending to be a roustabout with a traveling circus, eventually returning to France via the Netherlands.

Bataan Death March, 1942

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Bataan Death March,
which began on April 9, 1942. After the fall of the Philippines, the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly transferred between 60,000 and 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war. The prisoners were marched about 60 miles and then placed on trains.

During the march, between 5000 and 18,000 Filipino solders died, as did between 500 and 650 Americans. The march was later judged to be a Japanese war crime.


Clandestine English Receiver in Norway


The 1945 issue of Radio Missionary Log, the program guide for HCJB, Quito, Ecuador, carried this letter and photo which the station had received after the war. The writer, Kjell Gaarder of Norway, wrote that he had received HCJB on the receiver shown.

HCJB did not carry a Norwegian broadcast, but Mr. Gaarder listened to the station’s Swedish broadcast. He noted that there probably hadn’t been many reports from Norwegian listeners during the war, since the Nazis had seized all radio receivers in 1941, and prohibited listening on pain of death. But Mr. Gaarder reported that he “received, however, a small three-valve receiving set from England by parachute,” and had listened to HCJB with it.

According to the program guide, HCJB was broadcasting in Swedish ninety minutes per week, from 4:30-5:00 PM U.S. Eastern Standard Time (the same as local time in Quito) on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The broadcasts were on 12.5 MHz, the station’s main frequency, with 10,000 Watts. The Swedish broadcast would have also gone out with 1000 watts on 9.9 and 6.2 MHz.

Curiously, the book The Portable Radio in American Life mentions an RCA engineer named Kjell Gaarder, who made some adjustments to a small radio in 1940 to make it smaller.  It seems inconceivable that two small radios in different parts of the world just happened to have a connection to someone with the same unusual name.  It seems almost certain that the RCA engineer in America in 1940 was one and the same as the person who just happened to receive a radio delivered by parachute a few years later.

I suspect that Mr. Gaarder returned to Norway during the Nazi occupation, and probably participated in the resistance, as evidenced by his British radio.  There must be an interesting story here, and I hope some reader can give me some clues as to that story.

World War II Radio Heroes: Letters of Compassion, by Lisa L. Spahr

We previously reviewed the book World War II Radio Heroes: Letters of Compassion by Lisa L. Spahr.  The book collects numerous letters from shortwave listeners to families of World War II POW’s held by the Germans and Japanese.  Names of prisoners were broadcast by Berlin and Tokyo radio, and these listeners contacted their families to reassure them that their loved ones were alive and well.

The Kindle edition is currently being offered at a sale price, and it’s well worth downloading this interesting book.  You can do so at the link below.

Canadian POW Sgt. Brian Hodkinson


Then 16 year old Hodgkinson at the CKY microphone, circa 1930. Manitoba Historical Society photo.

Then 16 year old Hodgkinson at the CKY microphone, circa 1930. Manitoba Historical Society photo.

This postcard from RCAF prisoner of war Sgt. Brian Hodkinson appeared 75 years ago this month in the March 1942 issue of CKY’s program guide, Manitoba Calling.  Prior to the war, Hodkinson was an announcer at the Winnipeg station.  With the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the air force, and on one of his first missions over France, he was shot down and held prisoner for the duration of the war.

This card was sent to a friend in WInnipeg, Dr. John Toole, and reports that the Germans were treating him well.  He requested “cigs. & chocolate, etc.” via the Canadian Red Cross.  Dr. Toole shared the card with the radio station.

Hodgkinson spoke little of the war years, but after much prodding by friends, he did put his memoirs on paper.  After the war, Hodgkinson moved to the United States and was for many years a newscaster and commentator at WHK, WERE, and WDOK in Cleveland.

After his death, a manuscript for a book was found.  It was published in Canada in 2000 as Spitfire Down.

The book is a fascinating look not only at Hodgkinson’s time as a POW, but also at his training.  The RCAF had to get pilots in the air as fast as possible, and the training was intense.  Hodgkinson recounts that he got lost on his first solo cross country flight, which was supposed to be from Ottawa to Kingston.  He got lost, and finally spotted an airport, which turned out to be Montreal.  Low on fuel and daylight, he landed and called his base for instructions.  After some discussion, he was told to return to Ottawa the next day.  He got lost again, and once again he landed at an unfamiliar airport.  When a friendly airport worker came out to meet the plane, he asked where he was, and was told that he had landed in Ogdenburg, New York.

Since the United States was still neutral, Hodgkinson realized that his navigation blunder would result in his spending the duration of the war in an American internment camp.  So he asked which way it was to Ottawa, and promptly flew north.

Despite these false starts, Hodgkinson was quickly sent to England, and on one of his first missions over France, he was shot down.  Most of the book recounts his experiences in a hospital in France, and then in prison camps in Germany.

One feature that stood out was the fluent English speakers that Hodgkinson encountered.  While he and his other prisoners in the hospital in France noted that before long they would be speaking a mixture of three languages, there were English speakers among his captors.  The first that he encountered was the doctor who oversaw the treatment of his injuries, Dr. Rudy Meinhoff.  Hodgkinson was surprised to hear the doctor address him with a clearly American accent.  It had turned out that the German doctor had practiced in Milwaukee before the war, and had even attended a medical conference in Winnipeg.

Hodgkinson (front row, center) along with fellow prisoners, 4 New Zealander and 1 English, 1944. Manitoba Calling, Apr. 1944.

Hodgkinson (front row, center) along with fellow prisoners, 4 New Zealander and 1 English. Manitoba Calling, Apr. 1944.

And upon his transfer to the German prison camp, Hodgkinson’s interrogator was Wehrmacht intelligence officer Col. Gustave Metterling, who also surprised Hodgkinson with an American accented English.  Before the war, Metterling had lived in New York, where he made a career of selling forged oil paintings, often made to order by wealthy buyers.

The book is not available in the United States, but used copies are available at a reasonable price on Amazon.  In Canada, it’s also available at

The book is a fascinating look at the war by one who had to sit most of it out.  According to Worldcat, relatively few libraries, American or Canadian, have a copy.  But it is apparently still in print from its Canadian publisher, and reasonably priced copies are available on Amazon.  It’s definitely worth seeking out.


Preparing for the End of Civilian Radio Production


By orders of the War Production Board, manufacturing of civilian radio receivers ended on April 22, 1942, for the duration of the war. Even before this was announced on March 7, radio servicemen knew that at the very least, there would be shortages. When the ban was announced, they knew it was up to them to keep America’s radios in operation for their vital war information and for morale.

When the ban was announced, servicemen knew that it was time to double down, and they were reminded by advertisements such as this one, which appeared in the March 1942 issue of Service magazine.  The ad was from the John F. Rider company, publisher of service manuals.  These manuals contained diagrams and service information of virtually every set ever manufactured, and this data would prove invaluable for the radio servicemen tasked with keeping the nation’s radios in operation for the duration.

1947 “Little Giant” All American Five


For many years, the March issue of Popular Mechanics had the tradition of carrying the plans for a radio receiver billed the “Little Giant.” A few weeks ago, we featured the 1942 version, and today we offer the version shown 70 years ago in the March 1947 issue.

1917MarPMLittleGiantSchematicThe circuit diagram for the 1947 version will look very familiar with those who’ve dug into postwar AM radios, since it’s the classic “All American Five” circuit employed for many years by most radio manufacturers. This one has the familiar complement of octal tubes: 12SA7GT, 12SK7GT, 12SQ7GT, 50L6GT, and 35Z5GT. This is also known as an “AC/DC” set, since it could run off either AC or DC 115 volt household current. It’s transformerless, since it rectifies the line cord for the B+ voltage, and wires all of the filaments in series to run directly off the line current.

This circuit does have one interesting postwar twist. Variable condensers were still in short supply, so it uses permeability tuning. Instead of a variable condenser and fixed coil, it uses a fixed condenser and variable coil. The inductance is varied by moving a plastic molded iron core in and out of the coils.

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.