MORSE CODE IN THE 1980's

 
MORSE CODE, 1980's ERA

David Blazenko, who is serving with the Royal Canadian Navy in 2006 provides many details about CW training in the 1980's period. "I joined as a RAD SEA 251 in 1980 and just scratched the surface of being a Communication Technician 252 when MORP's (Maritime Other Ranks Plan) came in to effect on 1 January 1985 and separated the two trades entirely. I went back to being an old RAD SEA which changed it's identity to Naval Radio Operator (NRad Op) 274 in 1985 and I remained an NRad Op until 1 January 1998. In January 1998, we amalgamated with the old Naval Signalmen trade and became Naval Communicators (Nav Comm) 277 which is what I remain at present.

CW training in the 1980's was divided into two parts. The first part was pre MORP's which was 1980 to 1984 and the second part was post MORP's from 1985 to 1989. MORP's basically divided the Rad Sea 251 and Comm Tech 252 into two separate trades right from the Recruiting Center level. During the pre MORP's era of 1980 to 1984, the TQ3 (Trade Qualification) standard for CW standard buzzer exercises (SBX) was 15 w.p.m. for receiving and 12 w.p.m. for transmitting. The TQ4 standard was 18 w.p.m. for receiving and 12 w.p.m. for transmitting. The TQ5 (Comm Tech course) was 22 w.p.m. for receiving and 12 w.p.m. for transmitting. The pass rate was 95% or better.

Once MORP's kicked in, CW was wiped out for the new NET(C) (old Comm Tech) trade entirely and the standard changed slightly for the new NRad Op (old Rad Sea) trade. The CW standard pass rate remained at 95% or better and the speed for a QL3 (Qualification Level) was still 15 w.p.m. receiving and 12 w.p.m. for transmitting. The QL5 standard was 18 w.p.m. receiving and 12 w.p.m. for transmitting and the QL6A was 22 w.p.m. receiving and 12 w.p.m. transmitting. QL4 was replaced by a Fleet Exam and a student had to pass out on CW at 18 w.p.m. receiving and 12 w.p.m. transmitting.

CW in the RCN was strongly enforced throughout the entire 1980's and was closely supervised by the Training PO's on each ship and the Squadron Chief Tel's. Monthly IOS (Individual Operator Skills) reports had to go to your respective squadron office (CANCOMDESRON ONE or CANCOMDESRON FIVE) and if operators were falling behind  in any part of IOS, then it was permissible to put them on recorded warning (RW) or counselling and probation (C & P). It didn't happen too often because once MORP's was official, the standard for a Naval Radio Operator (NRad Op) was very clear and demanding if you wanted to remain an operator. Prior to MORP's, the fine line between being an operator and a technician didn't really specify how green the grass should be for IOS because you may have been a better technician than operator. That way of thinking definitely changed in 1985.

CW was officially dissolved from IOS training in the RCN on 1 July 1993. The disappearance of CW also put a stop to the annual Admiral O'Brien Competition which had been an annual tradition since 1973. The Admiral O'Brien Competition was named after the late Vice Admiral J.C. "Scruffy" O'Brien who was the Commandant of the NATO Defence College from 1970-73. During that period and in the 1960's, the NATO fleet had an annual competition called NATO Communicators Competition which involved the best communicators from each country competing against each other. Each year a different country would host this event. For some reason(s) it faded away in the early 1970's and the Canadian Navy decided to create a national competition, hence, the Admiral O'Brien Competition.
 

nato_contest_winner.jpg
The Captain of the Norwegian Naval Base, Bergen Norway presents the communications quiz trophy to LS Davidson the senior member of the winning Canadian team.  Other team members to Davidson's left are: LS Macfarlane, LS Kerr, and AS Brooks. This was the 1968 team at Bergen , Norway,. (Photo courtesy Trident Newspaper, Feb 29/69. Submitted by Spud Roscoe)
The Admiral O'Brien competition was an annual competition where both the West and East Coast had internal competitions to see who was the best on each coast. Then they had the final phase which was the best from each coast competing against each other to see who was the best overall. Each coast took turns rotating as host. The even years (1974, 76, 78, etc.) were hosted by the West Coast and the odd numbed years were hosted by the East Coast. Signalmen competed against each other in flashing light, flag hoist, and semaphore and Radiomen competed against each other in SBX, typing, and radio relay. There was also a publication exercise (PUBEX) which involved the whole team trying to find the references to 20 questions and they had about 20 different publications to search for the answers. A team consisted of 3 Signalman (TQ 3, 4, and 5), 3 Radioman (same TQ), 2 Training PO's (1 Signalman and 1 Radioman) and a Communications Officer. There was also individual competition which was sole members not representing a team. So you had team and individual competition and it was a lot of fun and it brought the best out of everybody.

To this day, the Admiral O'Brien Competition has never been re-established although both east and west coasts have looked at it a couple of times in hopes of saving it, however, no suggested formats brought forward to this date to the Chief of the Maritime Staff (CMS) have been approved. In a recent development however,  NDHQ Ottawa recently gave a stamp of approval to re-establish this event. The only thing we must come up with is to find something to replace the CW portion of the competition, which was a big part of the original Admiral O'Brien Competition.

On a personal note, I miss CW very much because it was an international means and way for communicating with international navies. Operating Signals (Op Sigs) were standard in all countries except for the ZY and ZZ signals and you can easily communicate with the German Navy or the Norwegian Navy via CW and Op Sigs. I still dabble with some CW just to maintain my skills. We still type in the navy,  but not to the degree as we did during the 1980's and 1990's."

Bob Canning comments on CW training. "I did my CW training in Esquimalt from August 1990 to March 1991. During this time, the standard for passing was 12 WPM. In 1990, the standard dropped from 18 WPM to 12 WPM. The navy  continued training right up until September 1993, when CW was abolished".

John Starrett of  White Rock, BC  remembers this from his time in the RCN. " I remember TQ3 training and our instructor was a WO 291'er (Krevasheen) who could copy CW with a stick (pencil)  like nothing else. 18 WPM was nothing for him. If he used a typewriter he would type each line twice, while smoking, because we could smoke in class back then.

We would have to lug those old typewriters back to our rooms to practice. They were dangerous though, as I remember one night after lots of liquid refreshments, someone realized the rolling pin thing from the typewriter could be removed and used as a weapon. There were a few cracked skulls and the bunch of us, after having the brawl broken up by the MPs, we all ended up in the galley cleaning pots and pans on the weekend. It was hilarious with our busted lips, black eyes and other associated injuries.

Later in my career, as part of the Communications School, I was the MS in charge of Harbour training, and we sent out daily PBXs to the fleet in Halifax at different speeds. We would also have communicators come into Harbour Training to practice for the Admiral O'Brien competition and we had some good ones, but nothing like 291'ers.

Parking was at a premium at Stadacona, so I had a Hull Tech friend make up a sign, OIC Harbour Tug, and attach it to the fence behind the Harbour Tug, and I had a parking spot for just for me. Nobody ever questioned it and it may still be there. I think it cost me a 40 ouncer. which at that time could be had for about $6 on ship and a $2 tip to the bartender.

As far a typing goes, we had some decent ones as well. I remember one named Herman Deveau from Margaree, Cape Breton and he could type fast. Until one day I discovered that he had memorized one typing test and no matter which typing test you gave him he typed the one he memorized.

Later on I ended up in Shelburne, then went to Ottawa DFreq/DFSM. I was selected for UTPNCM as a CELE Officer, but kept my Navy Uniform, which was unique, as I think there were only 13 Naval Officers wearing the Jimmy, with most of them being former 291'er Chiefs that took their commissions.

I ended up in Masset as the OpsO to Scott Mclean, after Evan MacLean where we downsized the station. I was the first CFS Leitrim Det Cmd. I think they later had an MWO as the Det Cmd. Then I returned to Ottawa on the LOBE project and then at Leitrim where I did the HADCS project. I retired there after 20+, did some Y2K stuff with a US company. I then started 10 Jan 2000 at CSE where I remained until I retired again in 2018.

I really enjoyed my time with SRS and the various characters I worked with".


Credits and References:

1) David Blazenko <Blazenko.DM(at)forces.gc.ca>
2) Bob Canning  <canning.m(at)forces.gc.ca>
3) John Starrett <d4rkcide(at)gmail.com>

 
 
 

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Nov 1.20