communications and their communicators have always been held in
high regard. Operating and maintaining sophisticated electronics
equipment is difficult enough on solid ground, but doing it on the
ocean with winds and waves tossing the platform (ship) relentlessly
can exacerbate the problem tremendously. It is a wonder that radar
systems can even be useful with the antenna constantly rotating
about pitch, roll, and yaw axes while simultaneously shifting in
the x, y and z axes. Sure, airborne platforms have the same sort
of challenge, but their perturbations are not typically as violent,
as great in magnitude, or as prolonged as a naval vessel in rough
seas. For the record, I'm a former USAF radar guy so I'm not just
trying to glorify my own branch of service. This article from Radio &
Television news gives some insight into the life a naval communicator
during the 1950s.
Thanks to Terry
W. for providing this article.
By Rear Admiral John R. Redman, USN
Director, Naval Communications
Fifty years ago Marconi installed the first wireless equipment on
Navy ships. Today, utilizing all forms of communications, naval
forces, whether on land, sea, or in the air, are united as a single
Born Reno, Nevada in 1898. Graduated from U. S. Naval Academy
in 1918. Promoted to Lieutenant (jg) during World War I,
advanced to rank of Captain in 1942, became a Rear Admiral
in 1944. He took a post graduate course in radio engineering
at Annapolis and subsequently served in various communications
posts in many different theaters. From October 1942 until
March 1945 he served as communications officer and assistant
chief of staff for communications on the staff of fleet
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He commanded the USS Massachusetts
until 1946 after which he assumed command of the Naval Receiving
Station at Treasure Island. He became Deputy Commander and
Chief of Staff to the Commander Western Sea Frontier in
1947 and later served as Deputy Commander Western Sea frontier
and Deputy Commander Pacific Reserve Fleet. In July 1949
he reported to the Chief Naval Operations for duty as, Director,
Naval Communications, a post that he continues to hold at
the present. He has been decorated 9 times.
On a gray morning in 1803, Commodore Edward
Preble set sail with a "task force" of wooden ships to instill respect
for the infant United States in the pirates of the Barbary Coast.
Preble's communications consisted of a strip of bunting, a megaphone,
and a bull voice. Naval Communications have come a long way since
those pioneer days.
Early progress was primarily in the
extension and perfection of visual communications systems. By 1875,
the Navy was experimenting with electricity for signaling. There
was much excitement the following year when signals were read at
a distance of 6 miles by means of an electromagnetic device. The
flash lamp, perfected in 1878, permitted signals to be read at the
unheard-of distance of nearly 17 miles! Communicators of the day
hailed the event with enthusiasm. But it was the advent of "wireless"
that gave Naval Communications its real impetus.
Nineteenth Century approaching its close, Guglielmo Marconi startled
the world by his experiments with wireless. He was invited to experiment
under Navy supervision. As early as 1900 the young inventor and
his assistants were installing the "Marconi device" aboard several
vessels. In 1901 the Navy made its first wireless installation on
a battleship. A year later the first Naval wireless test stations
on shore were established at Annapolis, Maryland and Washington,
D. C. During 1903, five different systems of wireless were under
test in the United States. By the end of that year, the Navy's tests
had progressed to the extent that seven ships and five shore stations
were fully equipped with wireless apparatus and operators were furnished
for service use. Wireless had shed its swaddling clothes and was
The Navy now demanded that the new equipment
be installed on all its fighting ships. Meanwhile, developments
ashore kept pace with those at sea. Six experimental stations were
built. A special training school was established at the Brooklyn
Navy Yard. Wireless - or radio, as it came to be called - was in
the Navy to stay. From then on, advance followed advance, keeping
pace with technological progress, lessons learned from operational
experience, and the needs of the Navy.
The present-day Naval
Communication Service would stagger the imagination of communicators
of the early 1900's. All known forms of communication are employed.
Today's naval vessels are floating communications centers - from
the tiny torpedo boat with as few as seven radio circuits to the
mighty carrier with more than a hundred. The extensive, yet flexible
circuits of the Naval Communication Service keep the fleet units
of a seven-seas Navy in constant communication with each other and
with the Naval Shore establishment. Through careful planning, an
organization has been built up that can get in touch with any ship
in the fleet almost instantly. With the facilities now available,
a ship out of sight is never a ship out of mind. No longer does
the control of communications by shore stations extend only as far
as the eye can see through a telescope. Today, distance does not
limit communications, for messages can be sent around the world.
The Naval Communication Service (NCS) has three watchwords
- "Reliability, Security, and Speed." The performance of each element
of the myriad services - and devices which make up the overall NCS
is weighed in terms of those three factors. As the name implies,
Naval Communications is a "Service." Its mission is to provide and
maintain reliable and secure communications, based on war requirements,
adequate to meet the needs of the Operating Forces, the Navy Department,
and the Naval Shore Establishment, primarily to serve command and
secondarily to facilitate administration.
In considering command, a parallel is found in the game of football.
The quarterback on a football team is, in effect, the "officer in
command." When he directs a play, he is exercising a function of
command, and each signal he calls is a command communication. The
information he passes on is the most important his team can receive,
for it determines just which course of action will be taken against
the opposition. Naval Command, playing a role similar to that of
the quarterback, controls the movements of the operating forces.
Command cannot function smoothly without reliable and rapid means
of sending and receiving information - and no Naval operation can
be successful without the smooth functioning of Command. Thus it
is that the first duty of the Naval Communication Service is to
A Navy radioman operates teletype equipment. These units
are now being used extensively by the Navy. A private network
of such teletype stations links far-flung stations and ships.
All Navy dispatches do not relate directly
to combat, even in wartime. Most communications deal with activities
that support the fleet. It is a big task to equip and train all
the personnel in the Navy and to provide for them such vital needs
as ammunition, transportation, food, clothing, hospitals, and supply
depots. In moving the countless messages that must be handled to
carry on the work of supporting the fighting forces, Naval Communications
To maintain the objectives of
"Reliability, Security, and Speed," flexibility is a necessity.
In the development of Naval Communications, it has been found that
no one method of passing information can adequately serve all purposes
at all times. Scientific progress has added immeasurably to the
effectiveness of communications, but it has not eliminated the utility,
under certain conditions, of some of the earliest methods of signaling.
The systems of communications employed today in Naval Communications
embrace many new, some old, methods. They run the gamut from hand
semaphore to the advanced radioteletype, and include visual communications,
sound, wire systems, radiotelegraph, radiotelephone, facsimile-radio-photo,
television, and even messengers.
as the name implies, provides delivery by hand from the communication
office of the originator to that of the addressee. The courier who
carried news of victory from Marathon to Athens was a forerunner
of today's messenger. When other methods, especially radio channels,
are overloaded, messengers do much to relieve the congestion. Like
messenger service, mail is an important alternate method for easing
the transmission load on wire and radio circuits. It should be noted
that the Navy Postal Service is an integral part of the Naval Communication
Service. Naval Communications has responsibility for the establishment
and operation of Navy post offices, both afloat and ashore.
Visual signals are still widely used in the Navy.
signals for maneuvering
of intelligence by visual methods is ancient in origin. Yet, today
visual communication still holds its own along with more modern
systems. The three principal types of visual signaling - flaghoist,
semaphore, and flashing light - meet the rigid demands of good naval
Flaghoist signaling, because it can be used
to reach a complete group of ships rapidly and simultaneously, is
about the most efficient type of visual short-range communications.
Almost all flaghoists are coded signals. To communicate by flaghoist,
the originator selects the combination of flags that will convey
his particular message. The flags are then attached to the halyard
which carries them to a yardarm to form a display - a complete flaghoist
message. The receiving station reads the meaning and takes appropriate
action. More than 60 flags and pennants go into action at one time
or another. It is an inspiring sight, to any observer, to see a
large convoy of ships traveling in close formation, maneuvering
in unison to displays of multi-colored flags.
is another fast, short-range form of signaling. It requires the
most simple equipment of standard visual methods, just two flags
attached to staffs. Being restricted to short-distance communication,
Semaphore is more secure than either radio or light, since there
is less chance of interception.
The third principal visual signaling method is flashing light. It
is a visual telegraphic system using International Morse Code, the
same code used by radiotelegraph operators. The signalman sends
and receives dot-and-dash characters as short or long flashes of
light. There are two systems of flashing light, directional and
non-directional. In directional signaling, the light is aimed at
the ship or station to which the message is being sent. Searchlights,
blinker tube, or a multi-purpose signal lamp are used for this purpose.
Non-directional signaling is accomplished by yardarm blinkers. These
are a cluster of special non-directional electric lamps, located
near the ends of the yardarm.
Additional devices used in
visual communications are pyrotechnics and panels. Pyrotechnics
are merely fireworks of various types with special meanings assigned
to each type or combination. The meanings may change, but usually
deal with distress or emergency identification. Another kind of
pyrotechnic is the smoke grenade, used to mark locations in the
water. Panels are strips of material laid out on the ground to give
instructions and information to aircraft. The position of the panels
in relation to one another determines the meaning of the message.
Sound in communication is employed
in underwater signaling devices. These devices can be used over
short distances to communicate with submarines or surface vessels
that carry similar echo-ranging equipment. Messages are sent by
telegraph key. Underwater sound transmissions are slow, the range
extremely limited, and security from interception poor. Reliability
of communication is subject to variations in the temperature of
the water, the salt content, the depth, and other conditions that
affect the movement of underwater sound waves.
Wire communication systems employed by
the Navy include cables, landwire telegraph, telephone, and teletype.
The Naval Communication Service does not own or operate cables.
Therefore, when such facilities are required, the cables of commercial
companies or foreign governments must be utilized. Landwire telegraph
- the sending of Morse Code over wire - is now almost completely
replaced by the faster and more efficient teletype. The telephone,
being convenient and speedy, is, of course, especially suitable
for administrative traffic at naval bases and shore stations.
The most widely used wire system for communication between
stations ashore is teletype. The teletypewriter, broadly speaking,
is little more than an electrically operated typewriter. Teletype
may be defined as "typewriting at a distance." It is the most rapid
and accurate system of recorded wire communication. Normal speed
of transmission is in the vicinity of 60 words-per-minute, but much
higher speeds are possible.
By operating a keyboard similar
to that of a typewriter, signals are produced that print characters
in page form. or on a tape. These characters appear at both the
sending and receiving stations. One teletypewriter transmitting
signals will actuate all receiving machines connected to the teletype
system. For example, an operator transmitting from New York to Boston
has his message repeated, letter by letter, in Boston as soon as
it is formed in New York. The same occurs at all receiving stations
tied into the network.
One form of teletype operation is
called "simplex." This provides transmission in a single direction
at a time. Simultaneous flow of traffic in both directions is provided
by a second method, "duplex." By employing separate wires, carrying
incoming and outgoing signals, duplex can carry nearly twice as
much traffic as simplex.
Special transmission devices, known
as tape relay equipment, enable messages to be relayed from one
point to another with a minimum of delay. A combination of transmitter-distributor,
perforator, and printer gives the operator the choice of messages
printed on a page, perforated on tape, or both. An incoming message
may be received in page form for the record, and punched on tape
by the perforator at the same time. The tape can be used for further
relay by feeding it into the appropriate circuit transmitter-distributor.
Diagram of how a plane. carrying "airborne early warning"
radar equipment is used to relay this information over the
Prior to 1940, Naval
Communications within the continental limits of the United States
consisted of point-to-point radio circuits and one landline Morse
telegraph circuit. Messages which could not be handled by the Navy's
facilities were routed via commercial communication companies. In
July 1940, a commercial teletypewriter network was developed to
serve selected Naval activities. This became known as the TWX System.
The Navy was charged at toll call rates, so much for the first three
minutes, and additional charges for overtime. As the volume of messages
increased, the cost of communication soared. It became mandatory
in the interests of economy that a private teletypewriter service
be installed for the Navy, to supplement TWX, and to serve activities
which were handling large numbers of messages.
In May 1941,
the first private Navy teletypewriter circuit was inaugurated between
Washington and New London. This became the nucleus of the present
extensive U. S. Naval Teletypewriter System, which is commonly called
the NTX System. Primary relay stations are located in five communication
centers, at Washington, San Francisco, Honolulu, Guam, and Balboa.
The various Naval Districts tie into these primary stations either
by landwire or by radioteletype. Each continental Naval District
has a major relay station and is connected to Washington or San
Francisco by direct wire circuits. Western districts channel traffic
to San Francisco, eastern districts to Washington. San Francisco
and Washington are connected by landline teletype. Ships at sea
and major relay stations outside the continental limits feed into
the primary stations by radioteletype. To provide complete NTX coverage,
minor and tributary stations are set up at activities within Naval
Districts and at outside points, when the traffic load warrants.
TWX (commercial) is still used where NTX coverage is not justified.
The NTX and TWX systems link district and sea frontier headquarters,
naval bases, ordnance plants, manufacturers, supply depots, and
the countless other naval shore establishments which supply and
maintain the fleet.
WAVES in mock-up control tower during familiarization course
which is given at the "Airman School"
Navy Radioteletype, which
applies the teletype to radio transmission and reception, is given
the abbreviated title RATT. Prior to the development of RATT, teletype
needed wire to connect it with communication points. Contact with
ships at sea was limited to radiotelephone or radiotelegraph. At
the present time, many warships have radio teletype equipment; in
the future, radioteletype will handle the bulk of communication
traffic for all ships in the Navy. A milestone in the history of
radioteletype is the sending of messages to and from aircraft in
flight. This was made possible by development of smaller and lighter
Radioteletype is simply an ordinary teletypewriter
installation connected by means of a converter to the radio transmitting
and receiving equipment. When receiving, the converter changes radio
impulses into a form of electrical energy which actuates the teletype.
When transmitting, the procedure is reversed. Teletype is so flexible
that wire and radio systems can be combined as desired. This makes
it possible for Naval Communications to span great areas of the
globe with a network using Teletype alone.
Although radioteletype and radiotelegraph are the
primary radio systems used in the Navy for long-distance work and
for recorded communications, radiotelephone, or voice radio, is
also extensively used. Its important advantages are speed and ease
of operation and adaptability to lightweight portable equipment.
Voice radio is particularly valuable for comparatively short-range
communication by aircraft and surface ships. When a number of ships
are in company and time is a primary consideration, voice radio
often steps in to replace visual methods. It is used for walkie-talkie,
for communications between aircraft units, and in control tower
operations. Ship-to-shore as well as tactical ship-to-ship communications
are greatly aided by its use. Small craft, such as district craft,
depend entirely on radiotelephone for radio communication.
radiophoto, performs the transmission of pictorial or graphic information
by wire or radio and reproduction of the material in its original
form at the receiving station. Navy radiophoto facilities, operating
as a function of the Naval Communication Service, are maintained
at Washington, San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, and Guam. A basic operation
of these units is the daily exchange of weather maps. They also
provide a rapid method of delivering photographs, blueprints, and
other material not suitable for transmission by other standard means
of communication. The Navy is a participant in the joint national
facsimile weather map network, which covers the entire United States
and connects major air stations and weather centrals. This network
is composed of facilities of the U. S. Air Force, Navy, Weather
Bureau, and a few commercial stations. Mobile radiophoto units provide
for operation aboard ship or at outlying points, as necessary to
meet special requirements.
Radiophoto transmission is an
important supplement to rapid communications, providing a previously
unavailable method of handling pictorial-graphic intelligence. In
comparing radiophoto with other advanced communication systems,
radioteletype may be likened to typewriting, radiophoto to the printing
press, and television to the motion picture.
It is clear from the preceding
discussion that Naval Communications provides all types of facilities,
from the most simple to the highly complex. These versatile facilities
enable local commands to carry out in the most efficient manner
whatever is the. job of the moment. In any military organization,
however, there must be overall control and a means for getting the
word to all elements of the forces wherever located. Effective control
of our widespread naval forces is made possible by the Navy Communication
System, which is an integrated network providing basic communication
coverage on a worldwide scale.
The chief components of the
Navy Communication System ashore are the Primary Communication Centers
at Washington, San Francisco, Honolulu, Balboa, and Guam. These
are the "big five" of the system. The key station of the entire
Navy Communication System is, of course, Washington. From this point,
radio circuits and landlines tie together the entire Navy, making
it possible for the fleet to perform its tasks as a single unit.
From the radio standpoint, "Radio Washington" consists of several
elements: a central communication office located in the Navy Department;
a high power transmitting station at Annapolis, Maryland; a receiving
and monitoring station at Cheltenham, Maryland; and a radio link
transmitter and receiver station at Arlington, Virginia.
To get messages to all units of the Navy, a system of "broadcasts"
is used. The word "broadcast" was introduced to communications by
the Navy. This term is appropriate because messages are cast in
all directions. Fleet Broadcast schedules are the primary means
of delivering traffic to the fleet. The five major stations transmit
by this method on predesignated frequencies and schedules, appropriate
to reach all points. Messages normally are transmitted "blind,"
that is, the ships do not use their transmitters to acknowledge
receipt of the traffic. This insures security and safety, since
any "enemy" is deprived of the opportunity to use direction finding
equipment in detecting the location of fleet units. In addition
to the primary broadcasts, which require very high power equipment,
secondary stations are set up at appropriate points to provide local
coverage for small units operating in a local area. In addition
to these two types of broadcasts, there are a number of local, low-power
transmitting facilities operated in various areas to disseminate
hydrographic and weather information, and time signals.
A Navy signalman uses one of the Service's signal searchlights
to maintain communications during "radio silence."
Earlier descriptions of the Navy's vast teletype and radioteletype
point-to-point circuits told how continental shore stations are
linked to overseas points and to ships at sea. This comprehensive
high-speed system handles huge volumes of traffic. Manual radiotelegraph
also is used by ships to contact shore stations, when other facilities
are not available.
The efficient and smooth operation of
Naval Communications requires careful planning. Ashore, each Naval
District has its own communication organization, supervised by the
District Communication Officer. This officer draws up a communication
plan that provides for complete communications with ships, aircraft,
and all naval stations within his district. This plan also furnishes
direct channels to the Navy Department, to other Naval Districts,
and to the communication facilities of other military services.
District plans take special note of measures to be taken in case
of local emergencies, such as storms, floods, fires, and hurricanes,
when normal communication circuits may be disrupted. Emergency planning
makes particular provision for the utilization of the extensive
Naval Reserve Communication System. There are over 850 radio stations
located at Naval Reserve activities throughout the United States.
Established primarily for the training of communications personnel,
and located in practically every major city and in hundreds of small
communities, these stations constitute a valuable communication
potential in emergencies.
The seagoing counterpart of District
Communication Plans are Fleet Communication Plans. These plans prescribe
radio and visual procedures to be used by ships, and are drawn up
to meet any situations that may arise.
To achieve better
service, preparedness, and greater economy, Naval Communications
planning involves full coordination with the Army and the Air Force.
Joint use of facilities, whenever practicable, results in economy
of men, material, and radio frequencies. Employment of standard
operative procedures and equipment by the three services, further
assists continuing efforts toward maximum integration of military
A different form of searchlight which utilizes an infrared
filter and a specially designed infrared viewer.
A close parallel
can be drawn between the communication service required to support
the operations of naval aircraft and that required by surface craft
operations. In addition to the communication channels of tactical
command, point-to-point flight operations require continuous circuits,
fixed or mobile, between the point of departure and destination;
continuous air-surface communication enroute; and reliable aids
Similar functional communications apply to
ships and aircraft, since both are mobile naval units with responsibility
to operational commanders, with comparable ranges of operation,
and need for full operating area coverage. Both have need for fixed
circuits to provide command and supporting functions. Air-ground
channels parallel ship-shore channel functions, with added air-surface
ship channels being provided in the case of air operations with
the fleet. Worthy of note is the mutual interdependence between
installations provided for communication and for navigational purposes,
voice transmissions being normally made over most radio aids to
navigation, and normal radio channels being used on occasion for
The preponderance of aeronautical
communication is accomplished by voice radio, operated by the pilot,
except when planes are at such distances from base as to necessitate
radiotelegraph transmissions. Flashing light signals are useful
between aircraft and surface craft under conditions where the use
of radio is undesirable or impossible.
No matter how excellent the communication
system, its effectiveness is no greater than the people who man
it. That is why, in Naval Communications as in every other field,
personnel is the most important factor. The Navy, in maintaining
its Naval Communication Service, has a continuing need for both
operational and technical personnel. The manual radiotelegraph operator,
the wireline expert, the electronics technician, each finds an important
job awaiting him.
the past twenty years, tremendous strides have been made in the
technological fields of communications. With faster ships, faster
airplanes, and increased tempo in all fields, no communications
organization can rest on its laurels. Continuing research has a
prime objective of devising faster and more reliable means of communications.
Naval Communications in the future, as in the past, will be quick
to recognize new systems and techniques and to apply them wherever
feasible, at all times working toward more reliable, secure, rapid
and flexible communications.
Radar, magnetic airborne detection,
and sono-buoy listening devices make up
the electronic "nerve
center" of anti-submarine blimp.