The following is an excerpt from a book titled "The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II" by Malcolm F. Willoughby. It was originally provided by Cindee Herrick of the USCG Museum <CHerrick@cga.uscg.mil> and made available through Chris Howlett <email@example.com>, a historical researcher.
The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II
By Malcolm F. Willoughby Lieutenant USCGR(T)
Chapter 11 - The Story of LORAN
Very early in 1941, the British were known to have a pulse transmitting type of navigational aid which operated on a very high frequency with a range believed to exceed radar’s 50 to 100 miles. Radiation Laboratory and Bell Telephone Laboratory scientists visited England and gathered privately a few salient facts, but the British Government was not, at that time of great national peril, disclosing any military secrets to a neutral. These scientists returned and began development of a high frequency, short wave system. They were not at all sure what they were attempting to do; they might develop an improved radar, or a harbor entrance locator for convoys, or almost anything. They were simply searching for something that might serve the nation in the event war actually came to the United States.
To implement their experimentation, the scientists requested use of two inactive Coast Guard lifeboat stations. As a result, on 24 March 1941, the Treasury Department granted a permit to the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) of the Council of National Defense to use one at Montauk, Long Island, New York, and one at Fenwick Island, Delaware. This was the Coast Guard’s first contact with what was to become Loran -- a revolutionary aid to navigation.
The scientists of the NDRC drew plans for a new type of transmitter and a receiver based on the principles of television, using the cathode ray tube to display the pulses generated by the transmitters. These transmitters were constructed and installed at the Montauk and Fenwick stations. The receivers were set up at the Bell Telephone Laboratory’s Transoceanic Monitor Station at Manahawkin, New Jersey. Testing was begun to determine the range of the pulsed waves when bounced off the lower E-layer of the heaviside layer below the ionosphere, the region above the earth’s surface in which ionization takes place. At first, no attempt was made to achieve synchronization between the two transmitting units. A monitor-observer at Manahawkin reported the quality of the pulses on the air to the two transmitting units. As late as November 1941, only occasional synchronization was being achieved, and it was difficult to keep the transmitters on the air with any regularity or to obtain maximum reception of pulses from Montauk at any time.
Then came Pearl Harbor. Soon afterward, Rear Admiral Julius A. Furer, USN, Coordinator of Research. and Development for the Secretary of the Navy, felt that there was a definite possibility that a long range navigational aid might be developed as a result of the tests. At a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff late in March 1942, the scant results of medium frequency, long range tests were presented. A plan was made for a chain of stations to be constructed, installed, and operated by NDIRC, the results to be submitted to whomever was most interested. It was decided that some of the test units should be constructed along the United States and Canadian Atlantic coast. This required the cooperation of the Canadians which was forthcoming in early May 1942.
Beginning in that month, Coast Guard personnel participated actively in the development of Loran. When the Vice Chief of Naval Operations requested the services of a ranking Coast Guard officer possessing radio and electronics experience, neither Captain Lawrence M. Harding, USCG, who was assigned, nor his immediate superiors had any idea what his assignment involved. The utmost secrecy was maintained not only at this time, but through most of the war. Captain Harding was ordered to temporary duty in Cambridge Massachusetts.
May 1942 was probably the turning point in the development of Loran. The Radiation Laboratory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, was beginning to arrive at tentative technical means for evolving a long range navigational aid, and Admiral Furer was alert to the naval possibilities of such a device. However, he recognized that in order to apply the technical developments of the Radiation Laboratory effectively to the needs of the Navy, it would be essential for the Navy to actively guide and assist in the work.
The far-seeing and practical naval viewpoints of Admiral Furer, Captain Furth, and Captain Harding, and the cooperative personal efforts of Mr. Melville Eastham, Dr. Alfred Loomis, and others, eventually made possible the development and application to the war effort, of a practical system of long range navigation. It was accomplished in an amazingly short time. The active and aggressive sponsorship of the project by the Navy, and the cooperative response of the leaders of the NDRC to Navy guidance, made Loran effective for general use over a very considerable period of the war. There were many difficulties and rough spots, but on the whole, amazingly rapid application followed from the foresight of these leaders.
Upon reporting to the Chief of Naval Operations, Captain Harding was given orders of great latitude. He was to be the naval representative to the Radiation Laboratory itself, and to undertake any necessary field activities. He was to determine by any suitable means, whether the transmission of long range pulse waves could be developed into anything of immediate value to a nation whose merchant shipping was being sent to the bottom at an alarming rate, and whose Navy, after Pearl Harbor, was totally inadequate to cope with the demands of convoy coverage. Captain Harding took up his temporary duty at the Radiation Laboratory on 3 June 1942.
About 15 May 1942, Mr. Don Fink, of the Radiation Laboratory, had returned from Canada with the assurance of cooperation from the Royal Canadian Navy. Early in June, at a consultation between representatives of the Radiation Laboratory, Captain Harding, and Commander Worth, RCNR, in Cambridge, it was planned that the two already partially established experimental stations at Fenwick and Montauk would be Units #1 and #2 respectively, and that Units #3 and #4 would be located along the coast of Nova Scotia. Sites were to be tentatively selected and agreed upon between Captain Harding representing the Navy, Commander Worth, representing the Royal Canadian Navy, and Mr. Eastham, representing the Radiation Laboratory. The Royal Canadian Navy appointed Lieutenant Commander Argyle, RCN, as Canadian Liaison Officer for the project.
To obtain concrete data on the behavior of the pulse transmissions, Mr. Jack Pierce desired to observe them from some mobile test unit. Captain Harding was also extremely anxious to ascertain for the Navy, as soon as possible, whether the whole project had practical, immediate value in the war effort. The Navy could well use a precision aid to navigation extending beyond the radio-beacon’s 200 mile radius, if it could be applied with sufficient speed to the actual wartime problems of navigators.
Captain Harding, therefore, arranged for observations and tests to be made from a Navy blimp during June, and, more important, he arranged to have receiving equipment installed in a Coast Guard weather ship, USS Manasquan, so that an adequate navigational test might be made. The test, which lasted one month, was conducted by Messrs. Davidson and Duvall. At about this time, Captain Harding coined the word “Loran” as a convenient designator for the project. This was accepted by both the Navy and the Radiation Laboratory.
It the experiments in Manasquan proved that a practically correct line of position could be obtained from the pulse transmissions of one pair of stations at times when celestial navigation was impossible, it would be reasonable to assume that navigational fixes could be achieved when within range of two pairs of transmitting units, and in all kinds of weather.
In June, Lieutenant Commander Argyle and Mr. Waldschmitt selected the site for Unit #3 at Baccaro, Nova Scotia, and for #4 near Deming, Nova Scotia. Since the Radiation Laboratory handling all construction costs for the two stations, contracts had been quickly let to local contractors, and no time was lost in beginning the work. The sites were swiftly cleared for construction. Supplies, expedited by United States Navy sponsorship, arrived in the middle of June; ground was broken at Baccaro on 19 June and at Deming eight days later.
While the work on the Nova Scotia stations proceeded and field tests were being arranged, further thought was given to installations to serve additional important sectors of the North Atlantic. Conferences between the Radiation Laboratory and Captain Harding resulted in proposals by the latter that instead of a continuous chain of stations as the Radiation Laboratory suggested, certain key sectors be served by groups of stations, partly to conserve time. Careful studies made by Captain Harding, the Radiation Laboratory, and the famous explorer Commander Donald B. MacMillan, USNR, furnished invaluable assistance in spanning the difficult gaps from Nova Scotia eastward toward Europe. By the end of June, the areas had been tentatively determined.
It was at this point that the Radiation Laboratory realized it lacked the trained personnel to man the stations if tests proved the value of Loran. The Laboratory requested that Captain Harding obtain personnel from the Navy or Coast Guard to man a proposed Greenland station, and also the units at Fenwick and Montauk. These men as well as some Canadians were, according to plan, to be trained at the Laboratory and at the two stations in operation.
A survey party to determine sites for two more stations, #5 and #6, consisted of Commander MacMillan, Captain Harding, and Mr. Don Fink of the Laboratory. This party departed Quonset, Rhode Island, by seaplane on 15 July 1942, and picked up Waldschmitt and Argyle at Shediac, New Brunswick, en route to Newfoundland. Captain Harding conceived the idea of a preliminary survey of the coastline by plane, supplemented by trips by small boat and afoot. This proved to be very efficient.
The party examined a site for station #5 near Bona Vista, Newfoundland, on a point jutting out to sea; it approved the location, and made arrangements for cooperation from a local contractor. Two days later, the party proceeded to Battle Harbor, Labrador, where they were ferried ashore in a small boat by the local tycoon, a friend of Commander MacMillan named Stanley Brazil, who put the party up at his house. The next day, they surveyed the shoreline in Brazil’s launch, Lily. A site for station #6 was chosen after a thorough survey ashore, and the location was christened Loran Point. Brazil became the local representative of the Laboratory to receive consignments. The men were stormbound for two days before flying to Goose Bay, Labrador, to arrange for the Canadian McNamarra Construction Company to act as general representatives and contractors. The party then returned by way of Shediac to Quonset Point.
Results of the tests made in Manasquan, completed 17 July, awaited Captain Harding on his return to Cambridge. They were most satisfactory. Ground waves were efficient up to 680 miles in the daytime when the reflecting heaviside layer was affected by the sun, and up to 1,300 miles at night when that layer was reflecting the sky waves to earth. The 1950 kilocycle frequency was found suitable. The results were considered adequate preliminary proof that Loran was practical.
A Navy directive for the project resulted, calling for a complete trial system of the units at Fenwick and Montauk, Bona Vista and Battle Harbor, and one later at Greenland. These, with the Royal Canadian Navy units at Baccaro and Deming, would give complete skeleton coverage of the Northwest Atlantic area. Construction of the units was pursued with vigor. The next project was the Greenland Station, #7 in the seven-unit Northwest Atlantic chain. This involved many problems, frustrations, and hardships. Captain Harding conducted airborne and surface craft surveys along the southwest coast of Greenland, and selected the best compromise site near a primitive collection of Eskimo igloos called Frederiksdal on the Danish charts.
This was the only satisfactory technical possibility between Cape Farewell and Cape Desolation. Despite problems of strong winds, field ice, and Greenland government objections to naval establishments near Eskimo settlements, the Eskimos, who respected Commander MacMillan, gave friendly cooperation, and the project was completed.
The Greenland unit was the first erected entirely by the Armed Services. However, Mr. Whipple and Mr. Waldschmitt gave technical advice on the installation of the transmitting and receiving equipment, which was furnished by the Radiation Laboratory. Originally, the Army Engineers agreed to construct the buildings. However, early in October, the Army announced that the site was unsatisfactory and that it would not afford the support the Navy had expected. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations called a hurried meeting attended by Captain von Paulsen, USCG, (Captain Harding was in the Pacific), Commander MacMillan, USNR, Lieutenant D. G. Cowie, and Messrs. Waldschmitt, Tierny, and Fink of the Laboratory. On 13 October this meeting decided that the Navy would undertake construction.
The freighter Norlaga was chartered to carry equipment, materials, and supplies, and scheduled to sail at midnight on 15 October. In the short interval, the Coast Guard and Navy got a construction crew together and on board the freighter. At the Quonset Point Supply Depot Mr. Tierny and Mr. Waldschmitt obtained replacements, spares, and special pieces of equipment far exceeding what was then thought necessary, but their foresight later paid big dividends. Navy trucks, commandeered for the purpose, moved supplies and materials to the ship in a steady stream for two days. The Navy did an excellent job of packing and shipping. Norlaga sailed on schedule!
The Coast Guard installation and operation crew, under Lieutenant Clark and Chief Radioman Samuel Michaels, accompanied by Mr. Waldschmitt, sailed for Greenland in the ill-fated Dorchester, and arrived near Frederiksdal on 11 November 1942. The party was amazed to find that the Army Engineers considered the site ideal, and that construction supplies had already been dispatched to the site! They were ready to proceed with the work, and after the misunderstanding was resolved, construction became something of a joint Army-Navy proposition.
Norlaga, cutter Raritan and USS Bluebird with 12 Army construction crewmen and Mr. Waldschmitt arrived at the Frederiksdal site on 7 December. With no suitable dock, a barge was towed to the anchored Norlaga. Supplies were loaded on the barge which was then towed to the shore, beached, unloaded, and kedged off at high tide. Work was delayed by a heavy gale. Since darkness is almost constant at that time of year, electric outdoor floodlights were set up to assist operations. The native Eskimo villagers were fascinated, and dropped everything to watch. All material had to be hauled two miles overland from the beach to the site. This work was completed by the 11th, and all was ready, with tents up, when Bluebird and Raritan brought construction materials on 13 December.
The next week, the second of the terrific gales which constantly plagued the Greenland party blew away the tents. Supplies were blown all about the site. On 20 December, at the tail of the gale, cutter Aklak arrived escorting Tintagel, a sorry old wreck of a freighter which was carrying additional supplies. Due to the gale and the freighter’s uncomfortable position far up a fjord, it was necessary to unload quickly and get her out. All hands, regardless of rating or assignment, turned to unloading, and worked without rest until Christmas night, when the job was completed. Meanwhile, a second set of tents had blown away.
By the last day of the year, the Army construction crew and Coast Guardsmen had erected specified Armour type of structures, and all hands moved gratefully into the wooden buildings. But this luxury lasted less than 24 hours! On the night of 1 January and the next morning, a furious 162-mile wind carried away many supplies and completely demolished the wooden buildings, literally blowing them off Greenland! In Lieutenant Clark’s formal report, he wrote: “When last seen, buildings were headed in the general direction of Boston, Massachusetts.” All hands took refuge in the church at Frederiksdal, making their way there by clinging to a steel cable towed by tractor.
A Coast Guard crew rebuilt the unit under direction of Mr. Waldschmitt and Lieutenant Clark. Captain Harding, with great foresight, had included five Quonset huts in the material originally sent to Frederiksdal. Because of the Army Engineers’ readiness to undertake construction of wooden buildings, there had been efforts to sidetrack the huts, but Clark and Waldschmitt had resisted them. The huts were now salvaged from the debris. Nearby frozen sand was dynamited, and under great difficulties a 6 foot deep trench was dug in order to install the huts securely. By 12 January, four huts had been set up and part buried in the sand. Since storms had blown away all the original covering of sheet metal, tarpaper and wooden strips were used. These eventually proved more weatherproof than the metal. The sides of the huts were then covered with sand and turf, and wood and plyboard were put across the tops. Antenna masts were erected with nine guy wires to a pole, and a Beverage antenna installed. The system proved satisfactory.
On 23 January 1943, Raritan and the barge arrived to pick up the construction crew and their equipment, and Nogak arrived with Michaels and Coast Guard radiomen. These vessels removed all but the station crew and seven Coast Guard construction men on the 26th. As each piece of technical equipment was installed it was put into operation, and the station was on the air for the first time on 11 March. First satisfactory synchronization was achieved on 30 May. The station was officially turned over to Lieutenant Clark and his Coast Guard crew about 6 July.
Our development of Loran did not escape the British. Early in 1943 the British Admiralty began to take an active interest in its North Atlantic performance. With more and larger convoys transiting the North Atlantic and making the fearful Murmansk run when the Battle of the Atlantic was at its peak, it was evident to the Admiralty that an extension of the Loran system across the Atlantic was most desirable.
At a meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., a three-unit chain for the Northeast Atlantic was pronounced necessary and agreed upon, with close cooperation to exist between the United States and Royal Navies. The Admiralty agreed to construct, maintain, supply, and operate the three units; the United States Navy agreed to furnish technical Loran equipment; and the British would lean heavily upon the United States for technical advice and training of personnel.
Captain Harding was, at the time, on temporary duty on General Eisenhower’s staff in North Africa. The Admiralty requested his services. He reported there for temporary duty, and, with the assistance of Lieutenant (jg) Jack D. Roberts, USNR, he conducted surveys in Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, and the Hebrides -- remote, inaccessible and exposed areas, most of them under regular air surveillance and frequent attack by enemy air forces -- and selected three sites. Actual work was begun promptly by the Royal Navy, and Captain Harding and Lieutenant Roberts returned to the United States.
The United States Navy purchased the required technical equipment from the Radiation Laboratory and saw to its delivery. This was the Laboratory’s only official connection with the project. Training of personnel for the Admiralty was accomplished at the Loran School (Navy) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. As requested by the Royal Navy, Coast Guard technical personnel were assigned to assist in setting up the stations and getting them on the air. The first of these, Radio Electrician Everett B. Kopp, USCG, and Chief Radio Technician Theodore C. LeBaron, USCGR, were sent to Vik, Iceland, in October 1943. In two months they had installed, adjusted, tested, and turned over to the Royal Navy the operation of the first of these “U-K” units.
At about the same time, a second station at Skuvanes Head in the Faeroes went on the air, but synchronization was not achieved for some time. The Admiralty appealed for technical advice, and Lieutenant (jg) T. D. Winters, USCGR, was ordered to London as technical adviser. It was also requested that Kopp and LeBaron be retained, and they were sent to Skuvanes Head to solve the synchronization difficulty.
On 11 February 1944, Chief Radioman A. Yasinsac, USCG, arrived at Mangersta in the Hebrides to assist with that station. Kopp and LeBaron were already there and had completed most of the work. Yasinsac remained until good, solid signals were observed 24 hours a day. Initial operation of these “U-K” stations was complicated by difficulty in obtaining qualified British personnel. The whole project, however, was an example of harmonious cooperation under great pressure. All Coast Guardsmen who had been loaned to the British were back in the United States and on other duty by the end of May 1944, and the Atlantic chain was an accomplished fact.
In summary, the Atlantic Loran stations were:
Location Operated by
Fenwick Island, Delaware U. S. Coast Guard
Montauk Point, Long Island, New York U. S. Coast Guard
Baccaro, Nova Scotia Royal Canadian Navy
Deming, Nova Scotia Royal Canadian Navy
Bona Vista, Newfoundland U. S. Coast Guard
Battle Harbor, Labrador U. S. Coast Guard
Frederiksdal, Greenland U. S. Coast Guard
Vik, Iceland Royal Navy
Skuvanes Head, Faeroe Islands Royal Navy
Mangersta, Hebrides Royal Navy
— and —
Sankaty Head, Nantucket, Mass.
(Monitor) U. S. Coast Guard
The Radiation Laboratory continued with transmission range extension experiments to improve daytime performance. A large number of cutters and ships of the United States Atlantic Fleet were being equipped with Loran receiving sets. Ships at sea reported good, useable sky-waves at 2,000 to 3,000 miles from the baselines of the various pairs of stations in operation. Training of Loran operating personnel became stabilized. The school was transferred from the jurisdiction of the National Defense Research Committee to the Senior Naval Officer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the name was changed to Naval Training School (Navigation), with quarters at 19 Deerfield Street, Boston. Expansion of requirements caused further transfer in March 1944, to Groton, Connecticut. Eventually, these trainees voyaged east and west to the farthermost reaches of American and British Naval control.
Creation of the Atlantic chain, including the period of initial experimentation, took from March 1941 until May 1944. We have seen that Loran tests indicated the system was practical as early as July 1942. and have followed the development of the Atlantic stations. The establishment of some Loran chains in Pacific areas took place concurrently with developments in the Atlantic.
North Atlantic Loran Chains.
The first of these projects was a chain for the Bering Sea, in western Alaska. It was the first full-scale program for Loran stations in which the Coast Guard undertook both construction and operation. Normally, this area had prolonged periods of bad weather which hampered navigation. The Army and Navy were operating there, confronted with the problem of dislodging the Japanese in the westernmost island of the Aleutians, and of making full use of the Alaskan area for military activities directed toward the western Pacific.
In September 1942, two months after the Manasquan tests, a survey party comprised of representatives of the Army Air Force, the Coast Guard, and the Radiation Laboratory went into the Bering Sea and selected Loran sites on St. Matthew, St. Paul, and Umnak Islands. On 28 January 1943, the Coast Guard was directed to establish stations at these sites. Headquarters organized a special Construction Detachment A (Unit 26) to construct and man the stations. The permanent manning crews were to be used also as the construction force, and each slave station was to have one officer and 18 men.
Lieutenant Commander John F. Martin, USCGR, was designated as commanding officer and sent to MIT for a course in Loran work. An order of 19 February 1943, called for the simultaneous construction of four stations. The project required the procurement of substantial amounts of construction equipment, tools, supplies, and technical apparatus, as well as special foods and clothing for life on the northern islands. All were finally assembled at Seattle. Forty-six men with construction experience and two civil engineering officers, Ensigns David R. Permar and John J. O’Meara, were assigned to this project. Trained technicians and operators were drawn from the Loran school.
Most of the materials, equipment, and crew departed Seattle for Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in USS Henry Failing and Jonathan Harrington on 12 April 1943. Unloading began on arrival 25 April, and a detachment headquarters was set up. Cutter (buoy tender) Clover stood by to transport personnel and material to the various sites.
Clover departed Dutch Harbor for Umnak Island on 12 May, towing a landing barge. Just outside Dutch Harbor, however, the barge capsized because of the “excessive” speed of 10 knots, and it was returned to the harbor for reconditioning. Since that would delay operations, plans were changed and Clover left on 21 May for St. Paul Island, 250 miles distant, where unloading would be done by barges belonging to the Army garrison there.
Two trips to St. Paul Island were required to transport the 450 tons of materiel—trucks, cranes, bulldozers, concrete mixers, Quonset huts, lumber, cement, pipe, and other items, as well as electronic equipment such as antennae, transmitters, timers, switchboards, generators, and other things needed to make a completely self sustaining station. The shoreline of the island consisted of rocky cliffs and ledges rising to a height of about 45 feet. The site was on a promontory with the sea on its west and south sides. Unloading was done by barge, and the materials were hauled by truck from the dock to the end of the existing road. The remainder of the haul was over rocky terrain, and transportation was furnished by two Army tractors with trailers, and by sledges built by the crew. Heavy snow covered the entire island; when it melted, conditions were deplorable.
When the technical equipment was unpacked, it was discovered that the Loran timers and transmitters were in poor condition. Defective parts and poor connections caused trouble, and a shortage of spare parts and test equipment caused difficulty in getting the station on the air. On 31 May 1943, Coast Guard plane PBY-189, under command of Lieutenant Commander Richard Baxter, with Ensign Harold Bennett as co-pilot, reported for duty to transport the commanding officer of the Loran Construction Detachment, as well as mail, personnel, supplies, and materials to the various sites.
Conditions at St. Matthew Island were observed from this plane. St. Matthew was the northernmost site, 200 miles north of St. Paul Island, and over 400 miles north of Dutch Harbor. At the proper time, Clover loaded materials and the construction crew and, with the landing barge, sailed for St. Matthew on 17 June. Here, since snow and ice covered the site, and the tundra, which was 18 inches to eight feet thick, was unstable when not frozen, it was necessary to prepare unusually elaborate foundations for the structures. Technical equipment was in a condition similar to that at St. Paul, and several trips for spare parts were required before the station began testing on 11 September. While tests were being conducted, five enlisted men set out on an errand from St. Matthew Island in a small surfboat for a 9-mile journey along the shore to an Army weather station. Despite a calm sea, the men, boat, and equipment disappeared without a trace. Only a 5 gallon oil can known to have been in the boat was ever found -- mute testimony to tragedy.
On 5 June, Clover set out from Dutch Harbor with equipment, materials, and a construction crew for Umnak Island. A landing was made there, supplies were transported ashore by barge, and a temporary camp was established in the village of Nikolski. The site at Cape Starr was five miles away. There was no road over the rugged terrain and all hauling had to be done when the ground was dry or frozen. The Army had an air station at the island, and vessels arrived at least once a month throughout the year. From this station a squadron of fighter planes in 1942 had knocked down several Jap planes which had attacked Dutch Harbor. Ten hour transmissions from this chain began on 18 October, and by July 1944, transmissions were on a 24 hour basis.
During the first winter, difficulties were caused chiefly by weather. Snow was heavy and continuous; drifts varied from 3 to 25 feet in depth. Several blizzards lasted 10 days, and men lost their bearings even when traveling only 50 feet from hut to hut. Guide ropes rectified this difficulty. Men were rotated after a year of service.
There was a light station at Cape Sarichef, on Umnak Island, 80 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor. A monitor station was established toward the end of 1943. Personnel were housed at the light station. However, because electronic results were poor, the monitor was decommissioned in December 1944, and its duties were taken over by a temporary monitor station which had been established in July of that year at St. George Island, one of the Pribilof group.
The crew of plane PBY-189 played an important part in building the Alaskan Loran chain. It made 96 flights, and of 354 hours of flying, mostly under adverse weather conditions, 200 flying hours required instrument flying. As there were no handling facilities at the three destinations, it necessary to anchor the plane in the open sea. During this period, the plane rescued four injured men from an Army plane wrecked in the Bering Sea.
On completion the Alaska chain comprised:
St. Mathew Island Unit #5 Single Slave
St. Paul lsland Unit #60 Double Master
Umnak Island Unit #40 Single Slave
Cape Sarichef* Unit #25 Monitor
St. George Island Unit #95 Monitor
* Replaced by St. George Island Station
The Japanese had occupied two of the Islands – Attu and Kiska. The United States Navy and Army had driven the Japs off Attu, the westernmost of the islands in a hard-fought battle of two weeks duration ending in success on 29 May 1943. Kiska was evacuated by the Japs on 28-29 July of that year. All of the Aleutian Islands were then in American hands.
On 18 Julv, the first United States air attack on Paramushiro occurred when six planes took off from Attu and completed the 2,000-mile round trip. A second raid was made on 11 August. On 15 August, American and Canadian troops had landed on Kiska Island and found the enemy had deserted it. The weather was so uncertain, however, both over the Aleutians from which the bombers had to fly, and over the Kuriles which were fogbound most of the year, that bombing was hazardous and uncertain. Loran was a means of reducing the hazards of navigation. The Bering Sea stations were still under construction but nearing completion when, in the late summer of 1943, it was decided to expand Loran coverage in Alaska through a second chain in the Western Aleutians.
Site surveys were made by Coast Guard plane late in August, and sites were chosen at Adak Island, roughly 400 miles west of Dutch Harbor; at Amchitka Island, 180 miles west of Adak; and at Attu, 250 miles west of Amchitka.
Because the work would be carried on in the winter and temporary construction personnel had proved only moderately satisfactory, Construction Detachment A (Unit 26) was assigned to this work. It consisted of eight officers and 130 men, and these were subdivided into four detachments. Personnel of each subdivision included a construction officer, carpenter's mates, motor machinist's mates, cook, pharmacist's mate, electrician's mates, and seamen, making each unit self sufficient. A headquarters unit consisted of 4 officers and 10 enlisted men including yeomen, storekeepers, and general duty men. The entire detachment was under command of Lieutenant Commander J. F. Martin.
Supplies, personnel, and equipment were assembled at Seattle. Advance arrangements were made at the three locations for the housing and messing of personnel and for storing gear. With preliminary arrangements completed, SS George Flavel left Seattle about 1 November for Adak and Attu by way of Ketchikan and Dutch Harbor, with personnel and supplies. Cargo movements between Dutch Harbor and the Loran sites were handled by buoy tender Cedar.
On 15 November 1943, Lieutenant Commander Martin was relieved by Lieutenant (jg) Garrett Horder, and assigned to survey work for southwest Pacific stations. He returned to Dutch Harbor in a JRF airplane assigned to Loran work in Alaska and the Aleutians, transferring to another plane for Kodiak. The short-range JRF had just been pronounced inadequate for work in the bad weather there, and had been ordered to Port Angeles, Washington. The JRF left Dutch Harbor, also for Kodiak, 20 minutes before Martin’s plane. After leaving Port Heiden it was never heard from again.
The Adak station (monitor) was built at the top of a steep 634 foot hill, 340 feet above the nearest road. The chief problem encountered was getting the cargo up the hill; gear was hauled over the ground on Athey wagons—a slow process. The buildings were erected on spaces dug out of the hillside, and were well banked with soil to reduce surface exposed to the very high prevailing winds. When the station was turned over to the regular manning personnel, supplies were obtained from the Naval Operating Base being developed on the island.
Material for the master station at Attu was unloaded from George Flavel at Massacre Bay on 7 December 1943. Attu is about 40 miles long east to west, and 20 miles wide. The site was midway on the south side, at Theodore Point. Materials and equipment were moved 11 miles by barge from Massacre Bay to a rocky beach near the site. Transportation to the site required the conquering of steep grades, with the last mile over an abrupt 1,600-foot hill. There were 7 to 10 feet of snow on the ground.
Cutter Citrus, which relieved Clover, arrived with the construction crew consisting of Chief Boatswain’s Mate William Goodwin and 80 men, and commanded by Lieutenant Thomas Kiely. Cargo was taken ashore by ship's boats, LCMs, and pontoon barges. Four barges were lost in the process due to difficult landing conditions and the suddenness of storms. Chief Goodwin designed, and the men built, a bobsled capable of carrying 20 tons, which almost made the difference between success and failure in transportation of materials and equipment. A bulldozer was rigged as a caterpillar, to pull the bobsled. Even this rig could not get over the steepest part of the route until a road with two switchbacks had been built. While working on this road, a bulldozer operator, William A. Baughman, seaman first class, was killed when the vehicle rolled down the side of the hill.
Work at the site began 11 January 1944. Despite extremely cold weather, blizzards, and deeply frozen ground, the station was on the air and testing 11 February, with a complement of about 23 men. Navy ships supplied this station after it was placed in operation, sending supplies ashore by dory. The supplies were hauled up a 230 foot hill, with steep incline, on a cart pulled by cable and winch. Station personnel spent much of their time handling such deliveries.
While the Attu station was being built, construction of a slave station began at Amchitka Island, under the direction of Ensign O’Meara. Eleven months earlier, the Army had landed there and begun construction of what became a major base. A fighter strip had been completed on 16 February, from which planes soon began bombing Kiska. The cargo for the Loran station was landed on 10 December 1943. Building proceeded normally. The site on St. Makarius Point was far removed from the Army installation in order to avoid interference from other radio stations.
The Aleutian chain was on the air by mid-February 1944, and all were operating on a 24 hour basis by early June. To summarize, it consisted of:
Attu Unit #62 Single Master
Amchitka Unit #63 Single Slave
Adak Unit #64 Monitor
The western Aleutian Loran units were highly important and useful. Many officers including those attached to the Fleet Task Force, which made frequent raids on the Kurile Islands, stretching northward from the main Japanese islands, held Loran in high esteem as an all weather aid to navigation. For example, a vessel performing guard ship duty was able to keep her station through two weeks of adverse weather, using daytime sky waves. Navigators on patrol missions made by Navy Catalinas used Loran extensively. It gave drift data free from the inaccuracies of drift sights taken on the ocean's surface. A Ventura bomber, while on a mission over the Kuriles, was hit by a burst of antiaircraft fire which threw the plane over on its back and destroyed its radar, compass, and other instruments. The Loran gear was still operative, however, and by homing on a line of position from rate 0, the plane reached its home base. The value of Loran was recognized by the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces in their attacks on the Kuriles, when he forbade his bombers to take off on missions to the westward unless their Loran sets had been checked and found working properly.
The invasions of Tarawa, Makin, and Abemama in the Gilbert Islands took place in November 1943, just as construction of the Aleutian stations was getting under way. Other operations between Hawaii and Australia were in progress. Guns were blazing in the Gilberts when, on 12 November, it was decided by the Joint Loran Planning Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Loran coverage should be provided in the area southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. Through these waters passed the all important supply route from Hawaii to Australia.
Sites chosen were on Kauai for a monitor station, and on the islands of Hawaii and French Frigate Shoals for single slave stations. The island of Niihau was chosen for a double master station. These were along a 600 mile line through the entire Hawaiian group.
Locations of the first Pacific Loran stations
Newly created Construction Detachment C (Unit 80) was assigned to the project, first under Lieutenant Commander Frank L. Busse and then under Lieutenant Commander Merton W. Stoffle. Work began late in March 1944. Problems there differed from those in Alaska. The terrain was different, the climate was tropical, and buildings and other features needed to be altered to provide reasonable comforts. Here, also, there was a possibility of attack by sea or air. This meant some dispersion, concealment, and camouflage of buildings.
French Frigate Shoals are 400 miles west northwest of Kauai and Niihau. The Loran site was on Government owned East Island, a sandy expanse over coral reef rising but 10 feet above sea level. The island was uninhabited except by gooney birds. Approaches had to be buoyed and bad weather delayed progress in landing cargo.
The station at Niihau was the first to be started. The others were simultaneously built soon afterward with no major difficulties. The chain as a whole was completed and tests begun on 22 July 1944. It went on the air 23 July; system accuracy tests were completed 4 November; and the District Coast Guard Officer, 14th Naval District (Honolulu) took it over on 8 November.
The Hawaiian chain was made up of:
French Frigate Shoals Unit #204 Single Slave
Niihau Unit #205 Double Master
Hawaii Unit #206 Single Slave
Kauai Unit #207 Monitor
The many new Loran stations required increasing numbers of trained men. By July 1944, the Loran School at Groton, Connecticut, was turning out 20 rated “radiomen Loran” every 5 weeks in its 10 week course, to man the four new stations being built every 10 weeks. Loran was growing up.
Headquarters recognized the need for the supervision of construction work from a point much Closer to activities than Washington, D.C. As a consequence Command Unit #203, headed by Lieutenant Commander John F. Martin, was established in April 1944, to take charge of all Loran construction in the Pacific. A fixed base was required for administrative work, as a receiving and shipping point for construction personnel and materials, and for storage of materials and equipment. Accordingly, a base was established at Sand Island, in Honolulu Harbor, adjacent to the Coast Guard aids to navigation depot. The base was designed to house 350 men, and to store materials for three Loran chains. After finishing the Hawaiian stations, Construction Detachment C (Unit 80) built the Loran portion of the base before going to the Marianas. The Sand Island Base became the depot from which all construction materials were procured.
Working in conjunction with this base were the Advanced Base Section of Coast Guard Headquarters Civil Engineering Division; the construction detachment supply officers at the Coast Guard Supply Depot, Alameda, California; and the District Supply personnel at Seattle. Coast Guard planes were assigned to this unit for survey, transportation, and signal check purposes. A Liberty-type cargo vessel was acquired by the Coast Guard to handle material and equipment for Loran work. This vessel, USS Menkar (AK-123), 445 feet long, was transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard in October, 1944, and placed in command of Lieutenant Commander Niels P. Thomsen, USCG, with a full Coast Guard crew. Three days after its first arrival at Sand Island, Menkar was headed for the Marianas with Loran materials.
Later on, progress in the Pacific was such that in January 1945, a similar advanced base was established at Guam, near the scene of later Loran construction, and Command Unit #203 departed for that base.
The Armed Forces of the United States were gradually pushing their way through the South Pacific and securing first one and then another of the several large island groups. Loran had proven so valuable that it became an established policy to go into these areas with Loran chains at the earliest possible moment. The new aid to navigation would be vitally important in the ensuing operations nearer the Philippines and Japan. United States planes had bombed Wake Island and the Japanese mandated Marshall Islands, and the Army and Marine forces had landed at Roi and Kwajalein. A chain in the Phoenix Islands, midway between Hawaii and Australia, would serve naval and air operations over a wide and important area in which the Army Air Transport Command was operating planes.
This chain was authorized on 5 February 1944. Construction Detachment D (Unit 211) consisting of 8 officers and 130 men was formally commissioned on 7 April 1944, to build the chain. Lieutenant George L. Kelly became the commanding officer. The project called for a master station at Gardner Island, a monitor at Canton Island, and slave stations at Baker and Atafu Islands. Canton Island was chosen as the base of operations, and units arrived there in May.
The Baker Island slave station was the first to be built. Buoy tender Balsam carried all materials and supplies for this installation in one load except for technical equipment, and reached Baker on 6 June, towing an LCM. On that day a message that 12 aviators from a crashed PBM plane were down off Howland Island, 31 miles to the north was received. Balsam arrived with her tow at the scene, and the LCM, manned by men of the construction detachment under Lieutenant (jg) Bobby D. Pomeroy, rescued the aviators under difficult circumstances. The survivors were later transferred to a Navy submarine chaser from Canton Island, and Balsam returned to Baker Island. Landing materials at Baker took two weeks, and was complicated by high winds, torrential rains, and treacherous surf.
Baker Island was ready for testing on 20 August. On 19 September the remaining construction men were ready to leave. Net tender Spice-wood arrived to remove the men and construction equipment. When the barge was loaded with about 30 tons of gear and ready to shove off, it broached to but a tractor operator, thinking quickly, pushed the stern outward. En route to Spicewood, one motor in the barge failed, then the rudder gears gave way. The barge was maneuvered alongside the tender. Soon, mooring bits gave way, then the ramp cable parted and the ramp fell down. In attempting to raise the ramp, James 0. McKeehan, boatswain’s mate second class, was lost in the sea. Two shipmates, Kenneth E. Foreman, boatswain’s mate first class and Joseph Letko, motor machinist's mate second class, dived into the shark infested water to save him, but no trace of him was ever found. The barge, having become useless and taking water rapidly, was finally sunk by gunfire.
The Baker Island station began operations on 28 September.
At this time, the position of Loran stations was accurately determined in advance of actual construction, in order to enable the Hydrographic Office to proceed with the preparation of special Loran charts, each of which had to go through the press several times because of the many colors required. Thus, exactness in setting up the transmitters was essential. The Hydrographic Office survey ship Sumner was in the Pacific surveying prospective Loran sites and establishing the exact latitude and longitude of the points where antennae were to be erected. The Loran charts were then begun; the stations themselves being constructed later.
in establishing the Phoenix chain, the Coast Guard was faced for the first time with the possibility that the Japanese might attempt a commando or similar attack upon an isolated station in order to gain possession of equipment. Despite the secret nature of the basic principles of Loran, the Japs were probably aware of the existence of the system and would be anxious to obtain details. As it was not expected that station crews could offer sustained resistance to a large landing force, demolition procedure was prescribed. Other security measures made use of sentries, dogs, machine guns, grenades, and other light weapons.
A landing party arrived in Balsam at Gardner Island on 24 July 1944, to begin work at the site of the master station. Materials and equipment arrived about 1 September. Actual operation began in December. The Atafu slave station was in the process of building from May until December. Cargo for this station was loaded at Canton Island in a Navy net tender and a large steel barge which the tender towed. The trip covered 360 miles. When they were nearing Atafu, a tropical squall struck. The LCMs, which were being carried, broke loose. The net tender, being unable to pick them up in the heavy seas, put crews on board, and the LCMs finished the last 40 miles under their own power.
When the construction crew reached shore, the Polynesian village elders insisted upon vacating and making available to them the eight native houses until a camp could be set up at the site. Their hospitality was gratefully accepted for the four days spent in unloading, during which time the natives’ amazement at the mobile equipment and other gear was almost unbelievable.
Stations of the Phoenix chain went on the air on 29 September 1944. System accuracy tests were completed on 15 November; and the District Coast Guard Officer, 14th Naval District, took over the chain on 16 December. Completion of the chain provided Loran coverage for practically all of the war front as it then existed, and over all important targets. By this time, shipboard and airborne Loran receivers were installed in over 1,000 surface vessels and 7,000 aircraft, with production and installation picking up rapidly. More than 50,000 receivers were then in production.
The Phoenix chain stations were:
Baker Island Unit #91 Single slave
Gardner Island Unit #92 Double master
Atafu Unit #93 Single slave
Canton Island Unit #94 Monitor
All Japanese had been driven from the Gilbert Marshall Islands, northwest of the Phoenix group, soon after construction had been begun on the Hawaiian and Phoenix Island stations. It was, therefore, possible to undertake the Marshall-Gilbert Loran chain. The campaign in those islands was part of the general military plan for a further advance toward the Philippines. Our forces had established bases and airfields in the Marshalls, Admiralties, and in north central New Guinea. These threatened enemy bases in the Carolines, in the eastern Netherland East Indies, and southern Philippines. Japanese air strength in the Carolines was deteriorating, and because of this the Japs were strengthening their positions in the Marianas. Allied military preparations urgently required good Loran coverage from stations in the Marshalls. Thus, Loran followed the trend of Pacific warfare, which was moving from the Hawaii-Australia alignment to one extending from Hawaii toward the Philippines.
The Marshall-Gilbert chain extended from the Makin Atoll through the Majuro Atoll to the Kwajalein Atoll, a distance of 450 miles in a southeast-northwest direction. It consisted of a single slave at Kwajalein and at Bikati (Varsity) Island of the Makin Atoll, a double master station at Rogeron (Loraine) Island of the Majuro Atoll, and a monitor at Enigu (Marilyn) Island of the Majuro Atoll. These stations were built by Construction Detachment A (Unit 26), which had built the two Alaska chains. Surveys were made in November 1943, and the bulk of the personnel arrived at Majuro on 28 June 1944.
Delays plagued the construction force. Cargo intended for the two Majuro stations, which had been shipped in Rutland Victory, was delayed two months or more, due to the rerouting of the vessel by the Commander, Forward Area, for operational reasons. This cargo was reloaded in other ships as many as five times before finally arriving at the site! In the course of all this handling, many pieces of cargo were lost. The cargo intended for Makin was similarly delayed some six weeks.
A vessel with Loran equipment reached Eniwetok Atoll, where United States forces had landed after the capture of Kwajalein. Preparations for the Saipan invasion were in full swing there, and the ammunition which formed an important part of the vessels’ cargo was vitally needed. Consequently, the Navy unloaded the Loran equipment and supplies onto lighters, barges, and LCTs. All the cement, lumber, commissary supplies, and a good portion of the tools disappeared. A considerable period of time elapsed before transportation was available for the rest of the materials destined for the use of this detachment. The construction force at Kwajalein, while awaiting arrival of their material were, however, able to do a great deal of preliminary work.
The greatest difficulty in construction of the Marshall-Gilbert stations was brought about through the many missing items lost in the frequent handlings. Despite the troubles, this chain went on the air on 29 September, tests began by 15 October, and on 16 December all were operative and placed in commission under the District Coast Guard Officer, 14th Naval District, together with those of the Phoenix chain.
The chain comprised:
Kwajalein (Kwadack) Unit #82 Single slave
Majuro (Rogeron) Unit #83 Double master
Makin (Bikati) Unit #84 Single slave
Majuro (Eniqu) Unit #85 Monitor
The Pacific military campaign progressed relentlessly. After the Marshalls and Gilberts had been secured, the Navy, with Army and Marine units, pushed into the Marianas. The campaign was viciously prosecuted and viciously resisted. The power of the naval assault was tremendous. Only after the most intensive fighting did Saipan, Guam, and Tinian fall to American arms. Saipan, a mountainous island with an extinct volcano 1,554 feet high, had a prewar population of 19,000, of which 16,000 were Japanese. It was completely in possession of American forces by 9 July 1944. Guam was secured in mid-August.
Loran stations in these islands were urgently needed to cover the approaches to the Philippines and Japan. Pursuing the established policy, the Coast Guard moved in soon after occupation, and surveyed for Loran sites in September and October. Sites were chosen for a single master station on Saipan Island; a single master station on Potangeras Island in the Ulithi Islands; a double slave station on Cocos Island (Guam); and a monitor station at Ritidian Point, Guam. These islands were approximately 1,200 miles east of the Philippines, and extended in a northeast-southwest line about 500 miles long.
Preparation of airfields was begun immediately after occupation, and American planes were soon ready for a long range bombing offensive. In bombing Japan it was necessary to route the flights far to the west of these islands, because of the presence of Japanese forces in the islands between the Marianas and Japan. This meant 1,500 miles of open water flight with no radio or radar check points until within 100 miles of Japan. Accurate navigation was essential, and Loran signals offered the solution for such air operations. Loran became the navigational aid upon which the navigators leaned most heavily.
Construction of the chain was assigned to Construction Detachment C (Unit 80), commanded by Lieutenant Commander Merton W. Stoffle, which had built the Hawaiian chain. Menkar, with construction material, reached Saipan on 31 October 1944. Work was begun on 5 November. Army Ground Forces realized the urgency of establishing Loran service, and promptly cooperated. The station was ready to go on the air 16 November, but there were as yet no other stations which it could operate.
The urgent need for Loran stations was soon demonstrated. On 25 November one hundred and eleven B-29s bombed Tokyo; it was the first bombing attack on that city since the Doolittle raid in 1942, and the first of many raids which were literally to obliterate every target in Japan worth bombing. As this station was close to the Marianas airfield which was used by the B-29s, enemy air raids were frequent and there was considerable danger from falling shrapnel due to American anti-aircraft firing.
At Cocos, a small island two miles off the town of Merizo on the south end of Guam, a double slave station was begun on 11 November under direction of Lieutenant (jg) Marshall T. Munz. Cocos Island was 700 feet long, 500 feet wide, low, sandy, and densely covered with tropical growth. A channel that would accommodate LCMs and LCVPs had to be blasted through the reefs on the south shore, to allow gear to be landed without danger of wetting. The station paired with Saipan arid went on the air 27 November.
The Ulithi station was not operative for another month. While it was not customary to operate only two stations of a chain without the third station, the Guam-Saipan stations during this interval provided Loran rate which gave planes and vessels the benefit of a single line of position which could be combined with dead reckoning, and which proved extremely useful.
On 11 November, Menkar arrived at Apra Harbor with materials for the monitor station. These were put ashore with some difficulty through the terrific wreckage still remaining from the naval and air bombardment. The cargo was hauled by trucks and other vehicles for 30 miles along the shore road and then inland through the heavily wooded country to the Loran site on Ritidian Point at the northern end of Guam. Lieutenant Ralph L. Bernard and his crew did in excellent job, and this station was operating on 4 December.
The Ulithi Atoll was about 380 miles southwest of Guam. It was surveyed with the cooperation of Commodore Oliver 0. Kessing, USN, Island Commander of the Atoll. The most desirable islands of the group were very crowded. Potangeras seemed the most likely island, but additional time would be required in clearing the pound. This objection was removed when Commodore Kessing offered to have the ground cleared the 88th Navy Construction Battalion. Menkar picked up the necessary equipment and the detachment which had built the Saipan station, reached Ulithi on 13 December. This single master station was on the air on 26 December, pairing with the Cocos station. The Ulithi unit was put into operation in less time than any other in the Pacific.
This chain was completed in February 1945, and commissioned on 1 March. The signals were used immediately by the 21st Bomber Command.
Heavy bombers attacked Tokyo and other Japanese industrial cities from the United States bases at Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. The B-29s could make the flight to Tokyo and return, but about halfway from Guam to Tokyo was Iwo Jima, held by the Japanese. As its three airfields would serve far better if in American hands, Iwo Jima became the next American military objective. Plans for new amphibious assault, along with bombing attacks on the Japanese mainland, made the Marianas Loran stations extremely important. These were:
Guam (Cocos) Unit #336 Double slave
Saipan Unit #337 Single master
Ulithi (Potangeras I.) Unit #338 Single master
Ritidian Point (Guam) Unit #39 Monitor
With a change of headquarters of Commander in Chief Pacific (CincPac) and Commander-in-Chief Ocean Area (CincPoa) from Pearl Harbor to Guam at the beginning of 1945, the Coast Guard moved its Command Unit #203 to Guam. It will be recalled that this unit was responsible for Loran construction. This unit, then commanded by Lieutenant Commander K. W. Donnell, was made operationally responsible to Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Area, and Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, and was itself responsible for he movement and operation of the three construction detachments, the plane, Menkar, the Advance Base Staging Detachment, and the Charting Element (which issued temporary Loran charts in advance of stations becoming operative). All matters of design, siting, and supervision of construction, and the testing of stations in the Pacific were also the responsibility of this unit.
With the further progress of United States forces which were now carrying the campaign to the Philippines, it was desirable to provide closer Loran coverage for the Mindanao area. The importance of stations in this area was so great in the planning of military operations, that the Navy’s Seventh Amphibious Force made landings to secure territory for that sole purpose. Mobile Loran units went on the air on 1 December 1944 at Pulo Anna, Palau, and Morotai to provide service pending the establishment of permanent stations. In January, steps were taken to erect and maintain three fixed stations at these places to replace the mobile units.
Accordingly, a double master station was set up at Pulo Anna Island; a single slave station on Ngesebus (Peleliu) Island; a single slave at Pangeo (Morotai); and a monitor station on the former Japanese island of Angaur. This chain followed the northerly swing of military operations. The work, was assigned to Construction Detachment D (Unit 211), Lieutenant Gary S. Morgan, which had built the Phoenix chain. Construction began on 5 March when Menkar arrived at Angaur at the southerly extremity of the Palau Islands. The station relieved the mobile unit on 2 April.
All cargo had reached the Ngesebus site by 14 March, and work began immediately. Only 14 days later, the station was ready to go on the air. So dose was this station to the scene of fighting that during the invasion of the Jap-held island to the north, men in the elevated tower could see the men going ashore, the bombers blasting the targets, and fighters strafing installations. When these nearby islands were in Allied hands, the Loran personnel felt more secure in their isolated position. The mobile stations were picked up by Menkar and taken to sites in the west Philippines.
Menkar reached Pulo Anna on 9 March and landed construction equipment and personnel for the double master station. Pulo Anna was a palm-studded island 200 miles southwest of Angaur and Peleliu, roughly half a mile long and a quarter mile wide. On 16 March, Menkar arrived at the naval base at the south end of the island of Morotai with material for the single slave station there. Japanese forces, which were in a bad way, were still in the interior of this mountainous, jungle-covered, 50 mile long island. A small United States Army force close by the Loran site and station, maintained a perimeter against them.
Landing conditions at Pangeo Beach on Morotai were poor, but unloading was attempted. Shallow water and high breaking surf made operations hazardous, and on striking the beach both barges broached. Thereafter, Menkar returned to anchorage, and in relatively calm water unloaded cargo into LCTs. Even so, when Menkar’s LCMs went alongside for hoisting, nothing could eliminate the rolling and pitching of the ship. While hoisting, George Ybarra, Seaman Second Class, of Menkar, was crushed to death between the ship and an LCM. Menkar returned to Pangeo Beach with her LCMs and the LCTs. The former were successfully unloaded. After many unsuccessful attempts, one LCT finally landed and was unloaded. Heavy seas prevented the other from doing so, and she transferred her cargo to LCMs which finally got the remaining cargo ashore in somewhat moderated weather. Manning personnel arrived on 7 April, and the station went on the air on 28 April. The mobile unit was discontinued. All units in the chain were operative by May and commissioned 22 June 1945.
The Stations of the Palau-Morotai chain were:
Angaur Unit #346 Monitor
Pulo Anna Unit #344 Double master
Ngesebus (Peleliu) Unit #343 Single slave
Morotai (Pangeo) Unit #345 Single slave
With the assaults upon Iwo Jima and Okinawa well under way, the time was approaching when the network of Loran stations could be expanded even farther toward Japan. New stations of the Japan Loran chain would provide navigational aid for the bombers which were concentrating on the main islands of the Japanese Empire, and for the amphibious units in their projected assault upon Japan.
Iwo Jima, 700 miles south of Tokyo, and Okinawa, about the same distance southwest of that city, were satisfactory locations for Loran stations. A third station to complete the chain would be erected at some point in the general vicinity of Tokyo when this became possible.
Siting surveys of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were made long before the islands were fully secured, and the Coast Guard parties carrying out this work were under fire on several occasions. On completion, this chain consisted of a double master station at Iwo Jima; a single slave at Okinawa; and later, a single slave on 0 Shima, an island in the entrance to Tokyo Bay.
A very small, rocky island known as Kangoku Iwa, one and a quarter miles northwest of Iwo Jima, was chosen as one site. It consisted wholly of rocks ranging in size from six feet in diameter down to the size of a man’s fist. There was no sand. Menkar reached the island on 20 April 1945, just two months after the Marines had first landed, and by 23 April, all supplies, materials, and the construction detail were ashore. Construction started the next day. This double master station was ready to go on the air on 5 May, but it could not be put into operation until its paired station at Okinawa was completed.
The Tenth Army and the Amphibious Marines had invaded Okinawa on 1 April. A siting party visited Okinawa and completed its work by 3 May. The site chosen was Ike Shima, an island about one mile square, five miles off the east coast of Okinawa, and 325 miles south of the Japanese mainland. There was an ideal, well protected, sandy landing beach.
Menkar, which arrived at Ike Shima on 10 May, received a noisy welcome. Enemy aircraft were reported over the area five times during the night, and each time all hands were called to battle stations. The following day was quiet, and discharging operations were conducted in fair weather and a favorable sea. Work was discontinued one hour before sunset to prepare for anti-aircraft defense. There were three air raids in the area that night. On 12 May work was again commenced at sunrise. General quarters sounded at 1912 as the ship was warned of approaching enemy aircraft. Anti-aircraft fire was observed in the vicinity but no aircraft were visible.
On the third day unloading proceeded, but general quarters was called at 1915. Shortly afterward, there was heavy anti-aircraft fire to the northeast, the direction from which the attack was approaching. The group of attacking planes split up and the two sections attacked from the north and east. Menkar’s immediate concern was the attack coming from the east, as she was anchored east of Okinawa. Only seconds later, there was the sound of aircraft approaching from that direction. Enemy planes were over Ichi Banare Island and coming in over the forward part of Menkar. As anti-aircraft batteries on shore opened fire, the attacking plane dropped a stick of four bombs which straddled the ship. The plane veered sharply to the south. The heavy anti-aircraft fire broke up the attack, and the planes did not return. There was no serious damage to the ship. One member of the crew, F. E. Koeber, Boatswain’s Mate First Class, was injured when a bomb fragment entered his left hand.
The discharge of cargo was accelerated on 14 May so that Menkar might get away from the anchorage in the afternoon. On 16 May while she was anchored in Katchin Wan Harbor, Okinawa, there were three alerts. Two days later, while the ship was still anchored there, a report of “enemy air attack imminent” brought the crew to battle stations. A plane was reported by the after gun watch. All guns which could bear started tracking. When the plane reached 160 relative, it was identified as an “Oscar” by the recognition team.
When the plane reached 100 relative, at a range of 800 yards, it banked to the left and dived directly towards Menkar. The order to open fire was given, and all the starboard batteries, including the forward and after 40 mms, opened fire. In 30 seconds Menkar expended 441 rounds of 20 mm., and 155 rounds of 40 mm. ammunition. Many bursts were seen to explode on the plane. The plane disintegrated and struck the water alongside the merchant ship Uriah Rose, 300 yards distant.
The gear for the Okinawa station which Menkar had landed was transported to the north end of the island over a very narrow road. Work started on the station on 15 May, under direction of Lieutenant (jg) Wilson Mulheim. This slave station was on the air by 27 May, pairing with Iwo Jima, 730 miles away. A system check began on 5 June and continued through 12 June. This was 25 days before organized Japanese resistance on the island ceased.
Construction of the third station of the Japan chain at 0 Shima had to wait until appropriate territory was captured. On 14 August 1945, the Japanese offered to surrender. American planes flew the Japanese delegation from Ike Shima to Manila to hear General MacArthur’s terms. Two hundred C-54s flew the initial occupying force into Tokyo. On 2 September 1945, orders were issued to proceed with the construction of a slave station at 0 Shima, 60 miles south of Tokyo, to pair the Iwo Jima station. 0 Shima went on the air on 1 December 1945. The Japan chain finally consisted of:
Iwo Jima (Kangoku Iwa) Unit #348 Double master
Tokyo (O Shima) Unit #349 Single slave
Okinawa (Ike Shima) Unit #350 Single slave
Soon after cessation of hostilities, it was planned to establish a China Sea Loran chain. Various difficulties were encountered, however, and since the war was over, the project was abandoned.
When the construction detachments headed eastward, with their destination the Pacific coast ports of the United States, they left behind them an achievement of which all might be proud. Taking an electronic system of position finding which had been developed under the pressure of war necessity, and the intricate parts of which were manufactured in all haste, this group of civil engineers had gone to far-off islands, the remoteness of which could hardly be exceeded. They had landed on open beaches; had established camps; assembled transmitting equipment; installed power plants; and placed in operation all the living and other facilities which would make it possible for the permanent crews to provide continuous Loran service. The magnitude of the problem overcome in the establishment of the individual stations was exceeded only by the magnitude of the task in general, for the stations which these crews erected provided Loran service for practically the entire Pacific area in which combat operations were performed. It was a job “well done.”