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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, January 12, 2014

72nd Anniversary: International Encounter on the High Seas-3: The Radio Scene

In two previous editions of Wavescan, we have presented the story of the chance encounter on the high seas in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia between the German raider HSK "Kormoran" and the Australian light cruiser HMAS "Sydney." This fire fight took place on Wednesday afternoon, November 19, 1941, just 72 years ago. As a result of a fierce battle lasting just one hour, both ships sank with a total loss of life for the "Sydney," and a little less than one hundred casualties for the "Kormoran."

Over the years, because of the poignancy of these tragic circumstances, several searches by sea and by air have been made in an attempt to locate the wrecks of both ships lying on the sea bottom. During March 2008, both the "Kormoran" and the "Sydney" were located by David Mearns aboard the search vessel SV "Geosounder."

The wreckages of the two ships lie about twelve miles part, 130 miles off the Western Australian coastline out from Shark Bay and Carnarvon, at a depth of 1-1/2 miles. The "Kormoran" broke apart, with two large pieces 3/4 mile apart and a large oval shaped debris field in between. The bow of the "Sydney" broke off though the main hull sits on the seabed upright.

Official enquiries into the fate of the "Sydney" and the "Kormoran" have brought to light many reports of radio messages from both ships on that tragic day in 1941. More than a dozen radio messages have been reported, and some people claim to have heard voice messages, while others lay claim to having heard messages in Morse Code. Some of these reports indicate that genuine radio transmissions were indeed heard, while the reports from others are considered to be spurious.

For example, a group of five people in the Esplanade Hotel in Geraldton, Western Australia heard a strong transmission in voice mode on 24.5 m (12245 kHz) with reference to a coming Morse message. This message was heard on a standard radio receiver and research would suggest that this signal was actually a break through transmission from nearby Geraldton Radio, VIN, with subsequent information about the HMAS "Sydney" from Sydney Radio VIS, not the ship "Sydney" itself.

A similar report came from nearby Port Gregory where members of the Rob family heard a break through transmission. Other voice reports came from Fremantle Radio, near Perth, also from Hobart in Tasmania, and from Singapore, and from continental Africa.

Reports of Morse Code reception from the "Sydney" came from several different locations, including three different locations in Western Australia; and also from Singapore and from the British navy radio station at Kilindini in Kenya, Africa. The most notable of these Morse Code reports came from Hetty Collings, a 16 year old English girl, serving as a cypher clerk with the British navy in Singapore. She claimed to have translated a cypher signal that was sent from the "Sydney" in Morse Code. However, the contents of the message and the timings indicate that her report is incorrect.

A careful analysis of all of these already mentioned radio transmissions from the "Sydney" and the "Komoran" indicate that all of them seem to be inaccurate, due to timings and content.

It has been suggested that the German supply ship, "Kulmerland," was in Morse Code contact with its compatriot "Kormoran" during the battle, though this is also totally unsubstantiated.

It should be noted that the "Sydney" carried five radio transmitters; four on the ship and one in the Walrus plane, and all of them for Morse Code only. It is clearly demonstrated that there was no voice transmitter aboard the "Sydney." The "Kormoran" carried two Morse Code transmitters and four receivers.

So what are considered to be the genuine transmissions associated with these two armed and aggressive vessels? We take all of these proven transmissions in chronological order, all of them in the year 1941, and all times in local time:

1. November 11, Tuesday, 1332 - Last wireless transmission from "Sydney," just before leaving Fremantle on escort duty with the Australian transport ship SS "Zealandia"; "Sydney" maintained radio silence from this time onwards; no subsequent transmissions whatsoever.

2. November 19, Wednesday, 1703 - "Kormoran" sent spurious message in Morse Code, QQQQ indicating suspected disguised raider, and gave its own false identity as the Dutch cargo vessel, "Straat Malakka"; 200 watt signal on 500 kHz.

3. November 19, Wednesday, 1705 - Repeat of same message. This message was heard by Perth Radio VIP, Applecross, and also by Geraldton Radio VIN, and also by the tug boat "Uco." VIN reception very poor and without full detail. VIN asked for further information from other ships also, but no further messages received. Tug boat ST "Uco," Adelaide Steamship Co. in Fremantle, also expressed similar poor and partial reception. At the time it was more than 100 miles south west of the combat zone, en route from Darwin to Fremantle.

Captain Theodor Detmers aboard "Kormoran" expresses surprise that "Sydney" does not talk with "Komoran" by radio (in Morse Code). He was not aware that the "Sydney" was under radio silence.

4. November 19, Wednesday, 1730 - Barrage from "Sydney" hit "Kormoran" radio shack

5. November 23, Sunday - Navy headquarters orders "Sydney" to break radio silence and give battle details; all shortwave communication stations ordered to attempt contact with "Sydney."

6. November 24, Monday - British tanker "Trocus" picks up some survivors, gives radio report regarding battle events.

From this time onwards, it was progressively known throughout Australia, and thus throughout the world, the tragic events of the fierce conflict between HSK "Kormoran" and HMAS "Sydney," a battle that was fought in radio silence on the high seas, and which both sides lost, and neither side won.

Ancient DX Report: 1906

During the year 1906, the ether was fairly buzzing with the Morse Code signals from wireless stations located on land all around the world, as well as on board ships in all seven of the world's great oceans. In fact, the first edition of a wireless directory was published by the United States Navy on October 1 of 1906 under the title Wireless Telegraph Stations of the World, and this directory is considered to be the very first comprehensive listing of official stations ever published.

By taking a count from all available sources, it is estimated that there were more than 500 official wireless stations on land in more than 70 different countries, with well over 1,000 on board ships. These listings are for official stations only, and there were an additional uncounted number of other stations on the air as well, including many amateur stations for which licensing was not required at that time. Perhaps there was somewhere around 3,000 wireless stations on the air during this era.

During the year 1906, three notable inventions altered the flow of wireless/radio development:

An important wireless conference took place in Berlin during the year, beginning October 2, with 100 delegates from 23 countries participating. At this convention, the usage of a new emergency code was adopted, SOS, replacing the previous CQD. The name radio was also adopted, replacing the earlier term wireless.

At this convention, a list of international callsign prefixes was drawn up, and letters of the alphabet were allocated to each country. For example, wireless station callsigns beginning with the letter G indicated Great Britain, the letter J indicated Japan, the letters N & W indicated the United States.

We should note also that the Telefunken company established a wireless station near Nauen, in a swampland area some 25 miles north west of Berlin, during this year.

(This station at Nauen is still on the air today, with the programming of Adventist World Radio, including our DX program Wavescan which is heard from this station every Sunday at 1530 UTC on 11750 kHz at 250 kW. In addition, our sister DX program in the Italian language is also heard from Nauen each Sunday at 1000 UTC on 9610 kHz at 100 kW.)

The most intense usage of wireless anywhere in the world during the year 1906 took place in the United States, where it is recorded that more than 100 stations were on the air, operated by the navy and the army, and also by several different commercial organizations.

In order to establish a flow of communication after the devastating earthquake in San Francisco on April 18 and the massive fires that followed, the navy vessel USS "Chicago" handled an outward flow of messages in Morse Code from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island thence to Mare Island and onward to the nationwide system of landline connections. The fires also destroyed the wireless station PH in the Palace Hotel and it was re-established at nearby Russian Hill.

Marconi engineers warned that their Atlantic coast wireless station was endangered by cliff erosion; and the transmission towers operated by Pacific Wireless on Mt. Tamalpais near San Francisco were felled by a jealous competitor.

On January 1, the Canadian born Reginald Fessenden established wireless communication from his new station at Brant Rock, 2 kW on 100 kHz, with his equally new station at Micrahanish in Scotland; but, this Scottish station was destroyed in a storm in December.

On December 21, 1906, Reginald Fessenden presented a public demonstration of his wireless equipment with an experimental broadcast before an invited group of local dignitaries. This event is definitely and clearly chronicled in the verified details of history.

In question though, are Fessenden's touted Christmas Eve & New Year's Eve broadcasts from this same station a few days later. Much evidence has been piled up, both for and against, the accuracy of Fessenden's subsequent claims that he did indeed make these two intentional radio broadcasts, as historical firsts.

However, several maritime historians provide an item of information that does not seem to get quoted by researchers delving into the Fessenden controversy. These maritime historians state that the wireless operator aboard the new American passenger liner "Kroonland" heard Fessenden's Christmas Eve broadcast while out in nearby Atlantic waters.
It is true, the "Kroonland" report could be revisionist history, but further research might also reveal the veracity of this claim.

A postcard dated June 14, 1906, shows the Lee De Forest wireless station at 42 Broadway in New York, and it contains the hand written message: "Aboard steamer on ocean we just received message about weather reports by wireless." This card might almost qualify as an early QSL.

On November 1, the Christchurch International Exhibition in New Zealand opened at Hagley Park, with 400 acres of international displays and exhibits from all around the world. This Christchurch exhibition was visited by two million people, citizens and international visitors, before closure on April 15 of the following year 1907. It should be remembered that the total population of New Zealand itself was only one million at the time.

Two Marconi representatives, Captain Walker and Engineer Dowsett, established two wireless stations, one at the Christchurch exhibition in Hagley Park and the other at a distance several miles away. Newspapers in both Australia and New Zealand announced in advance that a wireless exhibit would be staged at the Christchurch International Exhibition.

Two early experimenters in Australia were Mr. C. P. Bartholomew and Mr. E. F. G. Jolley, both of whom constructed their own equipment. Bartholomew lived in the Sydney suburb of Mossman; and Jolley set up two wireless stations in two houses one mile apart in the country town Marlborough, 100 miles north west of the state capital Melbourne.

There was also an experimental set of wireless equipment on board a local steamer at sea between Mt. Nelson and Tasman Island, off the coast of Tasmania.

The big wireless event in Australia during the year 1906 was the two way transmission of signals between Victoria and Tasmania, a distance of 150 miles across Bass Strait. And that story is scheduled for presentation here in Wavescan a few weeks from now.