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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, November 11, 2012

Australian Radio Ships in the Pacific

Back during the concentrated events in the Pacific in the middle of last century, there was a whole host of radio ships on the air with varying forms of local and international radio communication. The Americans used somewhere around 50 different vessels as radio communication ships over a period of time, and the Australians used a dozen or more.

In fact, as far as some of these radio ships were concerned, it was sometimes not clear as to whether a particular ship was American or Australian. Some ships were constructed in the United States and loaded with equipment & personnel in Australia, whereas other ships were Australian made and commandeered by the Americans.

Anyway, let's take a look now at a cluster of these radio ships, all of which might be considered as Australian ships.

The good ship "Harold" was built at Bermagui on the east coast of Australia in the year 1900; and 42 years later, it was commandeered for use as a radio communication ship. This ship was also fitted with AWA electronic equipment and it is described as Australia's 1st radio ship in the American army in the Pacific. The "Harold" was replaced in mid 1944 by 3 American ships in the PCER series that contained improved radio equipment, it was then taken into transportation usage, and afterwards simply abandoned at the end of the same year.

The "Argosy Lemal" was built in Holland in 1917, and it had half a dozen different owners, and 5 different names. In 1933, it was operating in Australian waters with an Australian callsign, VJDF. The ship was commandeered for wartime service in 1943, and it was quickly fitted out with an AWA transmitter and other electronic equipment.

The "Argosy Lemal" is described as the 2nd Australian radio ship, though it was listed as the 6th small ship taken over by the Americans for radio communication service in the Pacific. This ship was intended to provide radio communication between forward areas & American regional headquarters, and it served in localities around the New Guinea area.

However, in the spring of the year 1944, the "Argosy Lemal" ran aground and it was towed to Port Moresby for repair. At this stage, this ship was also replaced by the PCER ships with their improved radio equipment in mid 1944, and so it was taken into transportation usage.

However, 30 years later, the "Argosy Lemal" sank in the wide Darwin Harbour during the disastrous Cyclone Tracy, that also disabled the Radio Australia relay station on Cox Peninsula. This ship was unintentionally refound in 2003 by local divers, and it is now a declared Heritage Site.

The American Seaborne Communications Unit was organized by General Douglas MacArthur in Brisbane, Australia, early in the year 1944 and it was made up of nearly a dozen small radio ships. Among these small radio ships was a cluster of 7, all of which were built in Sydney, New South Wales, and they were all engineless and had to be towed to each operating location.

These 7 ships in the Ocean Lighter series, were identified alpha-numerically, as OL22, OL23, OL24, and consecutively up to OL31, though for 2 of them, the numbers have been lost. Four of these OL ships were fitted out as one large radio station, with 2 as transmitter ships and 2 as receiver ships.

They were all equipped with AWA radio equipment, with antennas on the ships, though at times large rhombic antennas were erected on nearby shore areas. Low power VHF links provided inter-ship communication.

One of these Ocean Lighters served as a radio repair ship, and another as a supply ship with its cargo of spare electronic equipment and many different items for personnel needs. All 7 of the OL ships served in the Philippines, and they were all subsequently towed to Japan.

The "Weeroona" was a side paddle wheel ship built in Scotland in 1910 for use as a luxury pleasure cruise ship in Australian waters. Some 32 years later, the "Weeroona" was purchased by the United States Navy and fitted out as an accommodation ship for the personnel serving with the 7 Ocean Lighter series of radio communication ships.

The "Weeroona" was towed to the Philippines at the totally slow rate of 4 miles an hour and even less, and it served alongside the Ocean Lighter ships. In 1945, the Americans sold this accommodation ship to the Australian government and it was towed back to Sydney Harbour in Australia where it languished unattended for 6 more years, before it was finally dismantled.

The heavy cruiser HMS (His Majesty's Ship) "Shropshire" was launched in Scotland in 1928 and it was commissioned into the Royal Navy during the following year. In 1943, it was transferred into the Australian Navy under the same name, as HMAS (His Majesty's Australian Ship) "Shropshire."

It was probably at this time that a radio station was installed on board the "Shropshire." Soon after this ship arrived at Freemantle in Western Australia in September 1943, news reporters came aboard, and they marveled at the on board facilities, including the radio station.

In November 1945, international radio monitors in Australia noted the "Shropshire" on the air with a daily radio broadcast to other ships in the same squadron in the South Pacific. It would appear that this hour long broadcast consisted of news, entertainment and information, and it was heard each evening from 0930 to 1030 UTC on 19800 kHz.

The Australian animal known as the Wombat is a cousin to the better known Koala. The Wombat is a smaller ground animal around 3 feet long and it is usually quite slow and languid in its movements, though sometimes it can race at 25 miles per hour over a short distance.

There was another Australian radio ship serving in the Pacific during the mid 1940s, and this one was known as the "Wombat"; and that's about all that we know about this little seagoing wayfarer.

And that ends today's list of Australian radio ships that served in the Pacific arena.

Ancient DX Report 1901

During the year 1901, the ether fairly crackled with multitudes of electronic wireless communications in many countries of Europe, as well as in North America, and the Central & South Pacific. Most of these wireless communications in Morse Code carried meaningful messages, though there was still ample experimentation taking place. Much of the wireless traffic was quite local in its coverage, though there were some spectacular long distance transmissions as well.

Over in European waters at the very beginning of the year, on New Year's Day to be exact, the "Medora" got waterlogged on Ratel Bank in the English Channel. The "Princesse Clementine" happened to be passing nearby, and a message was Morsed back to La Panne in Belgium for assistance. Strangely, the "Princesse Celementine" itself inadvertently ran ashore 18 days later, and this message was Morsed to Ostend, also in Belgium.

The Marconi Company completed construction & installation at their 2 new wireless stations, one at Poldhu and the other nearby at the Lizard. In addition, Marconi installed wireless equipment at several other new land stations; in England, Wales, Ireland and at Niton on the Isle of Wight. Several ships were also fitted with wireless, including the "Lake Champlain" as the 1st cargo ship, and the "Lucania" as the 1st Cunard passenger liner.

Additionally in 1901, a total of 51 wireless sets were installed on navy vessels using equipment manufactured under the direction of Captain Jackson at Devonport on the south coast of England. Other English navy ships received wireless equipment manufactured according to the Pilsoudski system.

Over in Germany early in the year, Professor Slaby & Count von Arco developed a tuned wireless system in which it was possible to receive 2 transmissions on 2 different receivers at the one location at the same time without causing mutual interference. At the end of the year, this system was demonstrated before the Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm 2, when transmissions were received simultaneously from 2 stations, located at a distance of 2-1/2 miles & 7 miles.

As a matter of record, Professor Otto Nussbaumer in Vienna yodeled an Austrian folk song into a wireless microphone, and this melody was heard on a primitive receiver in an adjoining room. This event, the transmission of voice & music, is held high in Austria as a world first.

Two new Marconi wireless stations were installed on the east coast in the United States, and these were located at Wellfleet, Cape Cod, and at Siasconset on Nantucket Island, both in the state of Massachusetts. The original callsign at Cape Cod was CC, which was later amended to MCC & then to WCC; and the callsign at Siasconset was SC, which was later amended to MSC.

This latter station, located at Siasconset, was originally constructed on behalf of the American newspaper, the "New York Herald", though a couple of years later it was sold to the Marconi company.

The massive aerial system at Wellfleet, as well as the one at Poldhu on the Cornwall coast in England, were demolished during heavy winter storms later in the year 1901.

The Marconi company participated in the biennial America's Yacht race off the coast of New Jersey with wireless equipment on board the "Mindora", and at a coastal station at the Navesink Twin Lights Lighthouse. Two other wireless companies, under Lee de Forest and Dr. Gustav Gehring also participated, and at one stage some form of intentional jamming began to take place.

The Canadian born Reginald Fessenden transferred his Weather Bureau wireless stations from Cobb Island in the Potomac River to 3 different coastal locations in Virginia.

Right at the end of the year, Marconi and his assistant George Kemp installed wireless equipment in the old hospital building near Cabot Tower at St. John's in Newfoundland. The young 12 year old Irving Vermilya travelled with the family clergyman, Pastor Charles Tyndell, to meet Marconi, and the Italian born inventor gave the young lad a piece of wireless equipment. When the young lad returned to his home in Mt. Vernon New York, he constructed his first wireless station. Vermilya later became famous as the 1st amateur wireless operator licensed in the United States.

In the Central Pacific, 5 new wireless stations, under the Marconi system, were installed on 5 different islands in the Hawaiian group. This new communication network was inaugurated on March 1. These 5 new wireless stations, with island location and callsign, were as follows:

Oahu HU Kauai NW Molaki AM Maui LA Hawaii KA

Down in Victoria, Australia, the government wireless supervisor, Mr. H. W. Jenvey, installed a wireless station at Queenscliffe Lighthouse and he made Morse contact with the royal visitors from England on May 18. The Duke & Duchess of York, who later became King George 5 & Queen Mary, were traveling on the ship "Ophir", and Jenvey made contact with the accompanying navy vessel, HMS "St. George."

Two months later, a similar wireless welcome was accorded the royal couple when they visited Hobart, capital of the island of Tasmania. This Morse Code contact was made by Mr. W. P. Hallam, with his equipment installed in the Long Beach Lighthouse, located on the edge of the Derwent Estuary.

However, the triumph of the year has to belong to Guglielmo Marconi himself. At the end of the year, in mid winter, Marconi and his assistants, George Kemp & Percy Paget arrived by steamer at St. John's, the capital of the Newfoundland colony, as the island was at the time. Three days later, they assembled their equipment in the old hospital building near Cabot Tower on the top of Signal Hill.

On December 11, they launched a huge balloon with an antenna attached, but the mid winter storm blew the balloon adrift. Next day, Thursday, December 12, the 1st kite was also blown adrift. However, with another kite and the antenna wire attached, Marconi heard, on an untuned wireless receiver for the 1st time, the letter S in Morse Code as it was transmitted from Poldhu, on the other side of the Atlantic.

Actually, the aerial system at Poldhu was a temporary 150 feet high vertical fan, due to the fact that an early winter storm had destroyed the original massive aerial system. According to the various historians, the wireless signal from Poldhu was radiated on 100 kHz, or 166 kHz, or 500 kHz, or 800 kHz, or 820 kHz, so it is probable that we will never know exactly which was the fundamental channel, though all of the harmonics would have been radiated as well. It is stated that the power output was 75 kW.

Marconi had been warned in advance that it was impossible for a wireless signal to travel across the Atlantic, due to the fact that the curvature of the Earth presented a pyramidal cone of water 100 miles high. However, the bouncing effect of the ionized layers in the sky was not known at the time.

The letter S was chosen for transmission from Poldhu, due to the fact that it was simple and easy to identify, and also because any Morse Code letter containing a dash could cause an equipment malfunction and put the transmitter off the air. The 1st reception of the letter S at St. John's was detected at 12:30 pm on Thursday, December 12, Newfoundland time, and again at 1:10 pm & 2:20 pm. Both Marconi & Kemp heard the transmissions a total of 25 times, to which their diary entries at the time attest.

The distance between Poldhu & St. John's is given in various figures, but Google Earth gives it as 2140 miles, a long distance wireless record at the time.

A few days later, right around Christmas 1901, the Canadian government offered Marconi the opportunity of erecting a large permanent wireless station on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.