Naval communications in WWII

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Francis Marliere
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Naval communications in WWII

Post by Francis Marliere »


I have several questions about naval communications in WWII. Forgive me if they are naïve : I am interested in history but have very little scientific background.

I remember that in “Black Shoe Carrier Admiral”, John B. Lundstrom explains that radio communications in South Pacific were often awful. Lots of messages were lost or received with so long delay that they were useless. I would like to understand why it was so difficult.

Can a ship communicate with any other ship or there is limitations on the number of frequencies they can use ?

How do ships and planes communicate ? A plane can communicate with its mother ship (either carrier or battleship / cruiser) but how does it work in other cases ? Imagine that a PBY detects a Japanese fleet and send a sighting report. Can a US Task Force get directly the message or does the message go through the command chain ?

I know that some messages arrived late. Do you know why, how long and how often ? I also know that some messages had problems with codage or decodage (“The World Wonders”) but I wonder how often it arrived.

Last thing, I would like to know if jamming was frequent and effective.

Thank you very much for any help,

Francis Marliere
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Re: Naval communications in WWII

Post by RF »

The South Pacific was also known to the Germans as being a difficult area for communications. All the hilfskreuzer that operated there experienced communication ''blackouts'' which were put down to the sheer distance from their bases and the remoteness of the region. They also suspected atmospheric interference.
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Re: Naval communications in WWII

Post by lynn1212 »

if my memory serves [always a tricky thing] voice comm was short ranged. most common was TBS [talk between ships] and aircraft units which were line of sight. longer ranged used CW and a key. most scout aircraft carried CW gear as well as voice just for the range. CW was slower both due to key speed and coding and decoding. voice just used code words. CW was less prone to garbled messages. every ship had freqs it guarded as did ever aircraft. some were common to the whole navy, others to fleets, task forces, air to ground, air to air, and then there were interservice channels. sometimes things were simple and others messages were sent the long way around.
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Re: Naval communications in WWII

Post by BobDonnald »

Voice communication channels in 1944 were mostly on VHF radio frequencies (30 to 300 megahertz) and these were line of sight or a little more. The longer distance communications were on th HF radio frequencies. The shortwave frequencies (3 to 30 megahertz) usually have predictable distances depending on the time of day. An example is frequencies around 4 mhz are very reliable for 200 to 300 mile communcations around six o'clock in the afternoon. The same distance can be done in the morning hours using frequencies around 7 mhz. One of the main players in the radio distance games is the solar sunspot cycle. Unfortunately for Halsey and company in 1944, sunspot cycle (18) was just beginning with few sunspots. The ionosphere was not loaded with charged particles and the reflections were weak if not missing some times. Therefore long distance HF radio communications were not predictable with the resulting consequences.

On the message routing, I have read that not all commands had access to all cyphers. So messages to different commands could be coded in different cyphers. I take it that is why Halsey's message to form TF34 was read by Kincaid's comm units, when it wasn't addressed to him. The clarifying statement: "when directed by me" went over the TBS VHF radio (short range).

When I was active in HF ham radio back in the late 1980's, it was interesting how many guys had a schedule on a certain HF frequency to talk to a brother or uncle that was overseas. This was a regular thing before the internet and cell phone technology that allows world wide communications just about any time.

We are truly spoiled today.

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Re: Naval communications in WWII

Post by phx1137 »

What did the Brits call their equivalent (presuming they had one) of TBS?
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Re: Naval communications in WWII

Post by pgollin »


The RN used "ordinary" land (sea) to air voice sets, but later used US supplied TBS sets.

Various messages were coded/cyphered, ranging from simple card codes through daily codes and Typex and Typex/CCM (this was compatible with the US ECH Mark II). In addition lots of code names, code phrases were used, some long term, some just for one operation.

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Re: Naval communications in WWII

Post by OpanaPointer »


My favorite TBS message, when I was still in high school, was sent by RAdm. Willis "Ching" Lee during a bit of a disagreement in the Solomons. Night action, "sound and fury signifying nothing" abounds. Then the USN hears this:

"This is Ching Lee in Washington and I'm coming through!" I mean who doesn't want to make an entrance like that? Also nice to have the odd battleship show up out of the blue. (Or "Pacific night black" if you prefer.)

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