By 1941, low powered, medium and high frequency radios were widely fitted for voice communications within task groups and convoys. VHF voice radio was slowly being adopted thanks to developments in the RAF. During the period 1943 to 1945, the most important advance in wireless communications, was the tactical use of voice radio. This explosion of voice radio reduced the amount of communication passed by flag or light signals. John Powroz of Bedford Nova Scotia, describes some radio fittings when he joined the RCN. "At the time that war broke out in 1939, all RCN destroyers were fitted with Royal Navy radio gear. When I joined HMCS Restigouche in 1940, she had, in the main radio office, a single tube, Model NT1, Admiralty Pattern transmitter with a spark gap transmitter as a back up. All receivers were battery operated. A secondary radio office next door had a low power transmitter and receiver for fire control purposes. This was later torn down and replaced with a second low power transmitter, namely the Admiralty Pattern Model 60. Now, the ship had radiotelephone capability, but early in the game, only the captain was allowed to use it. In addition to the Type 60, we also had a Hallicrafters Model HT4 which was used as a voice intercom between ships. Voice communications took place on 2410 kcs. The radio office was encased in copper mesh and covered by mahogany panelling. All wiring was lead sheathed and the Morse keys were bolted to the edge of the desk. To this day I still have and still use my Admiralty Pattern AP7681 key".
Medium and low frequency radio signals have very long wavelengths so there is little hope of building efficient, highly directional shipboard DF antennas at these frequencies. However, at relatively short distances, even an small antenna will work because enough signal will be present for detection. Most warships of the inter-war period were fitted with direction finders whose antennas consisted of a pair of crossed loops. They were generally described as navigational in nature, but they could have been conceived as a means of detecting enemy transmitters just beyond the horizon.High frequency direction finding (HF/DF) is also known by the sobriquet Huff Duff and was a relatively new development at the outbreak of hostilities. Production was slow and experience in correct operating techniques had to be gained step by painful step. By the end of 1942, HF/DF was accepted as an essential part of the equipment that vessels had to carry. Later in the war, convoy rescue ships and some merchant ships were fitted with HF/DF sets. In retrospect, Huff Duff played an extremely important part in the Battle of the Atlantic along with ASDIC and Radar.

From the beginning of World War II, a shore based Huff Duff organization was in existence. The network of stations in the British Isles gradually grew to include shore stations in Africa, Iceland, Greenland, Bermuda and North America. In Canada, there were stations located at Cap d'Espoir, Gaspe; Coverdale, New Brunswick; Harbour Grace, Gander Newfoundland, Fort Chimo, Quebec [1] and Hartlen Point, Nova Scotia. There was also a very active station in Winter Harbour, Maine. Cross bearings could be taken by means of all these stations and fixes were plotted by special tracking centres. Escorts would then be alerted and the courses of convoys altered, if necessary. Alternately, aircraft or hunter- killer groups could be dispatched to the area of a Huff Duff fix.

In the summer of 1942, three British HF/DF sets were given to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for study and evaluation. By the fall of that year, sets were being installed in American ships because the Americans succeeded in developing their own Huff Duff and called it the DAQ. In Canada, in September of 1942, the Canadian Naval Staff approved in principle, the fitting of the HF/DF set Type FH3 in each Canadian destroyer of an escort group. However, RCN records indicate that  the Canadian destroyer Restigouche had her Huff Duff set fitted earlier when she was undergoing repairs in Londonderry Nothern Ireland during the period December 1941 to March of 1942. Her  captain, Lt. Cdr. D.W. Piers, acting on his own initiative and against headquarters policy, convinced a British officer to fit the FH3 set. Fittings in other ships occurred during the winter or 1942/43 with the installation of the model FH4 Huff Duff. When FH4's were not available, FH3's were installed in their place.

The problem of retrofitting a Huff Duff cabin into Canadian ships was solved in various ways. In the destroyer Restigouche, it was built on the upper deck amidships directly aft of the 3 inch gun platform while the HF/DF mast and antenna was fitted to the forward end of the after superstructure. On Tribal Class destroyers, the Huff Duff cabin was generally fitted under the lattice mast and over the crew's galley, however, on Huron and HAIDA the cabin was mounted aft. In Frigates, such as Montreal and Wentworth, the cabin was located under the port wing of the bridge and resembled a boy's square club house.

Security was paramount but inconsistent in these fittings. Official photographs of the ships would have the sparsely ribbed, bird cage antenna censored from the top of the mast, whereas standard Supply Demands would have the shipment marked with the notation "for installation in the HF/DF cabin". Initially, each Huff Duff equipped ship was required to carry three additional Wireless Telegraphy (W/T) operators and Canadian ratings for the Huff Duff branch had to come from the fleet.

Telegraphists drafted for the special Huff Duff course had to obtain a copy accuracy rate of 85% at eighteen words per minute in tests carried out by the Signal Training Centres. Special training consisted of a course in enemy W/T procedure, enemy W/T organization and a operations/maintenance course on the HF/DF equipment. A Leading Telegraphist Special Operator was distinguishable from a Leading Tel General Service by the absence of stars from the W/T badge, and having only a pair of wings divided by a lighting flash. Later in the war, as the size of the fleet increased, there was a proportional requirement for shore based operators. Wrens were enlisted to augment the shore staff.

In the early part of the war, the limitations of the HF/DF system precluded accurate position finding of U-boats in the Atlantic. The gradual addition of more shore stations and the installation and improvement of Huff Duff eventually produced a system that was amazingly accurate. Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa promptly received all U-boat bearings taken by the British. Ottawa was able to obtain fixes of enemy units in the area east of 30 degrees West with equal efficiency and in approximately the same time as was done in the Plotting Centre at the Admiralty. The positions obtained by Huff Duff were then broadcast to the escorts at sea.

Occasionally, small problems arose. For example, during late 1943, the comparison of HF/DF bearing reports taken at sea with those of shore stations showed a constant reversal of sense (reciprocal bearing) when receiving U-boat transmissions on 4000 kc. Ships exhibiting this problem were HMS Hotspur, Dundee, Berry, and HMCS Ottawa. The discovery of this problem led to the requirement for frequent calibration of HF/DF equipment. When steaming close to shore, the D/F came in handy in fog or when the "old man" was off course.


Of interest, was the function known as Headache. This codename was applied to the shipborne sections of 'Y' intelligence who were charged with the task of intercepting and reading German low-grade radiotelephone traffic which had been steadily introduced since 1941. Generally speaking, Headache operators came from a Special Branch of the RN and were fluent in German. 'Every important warship in the D-Day armada and the bombing force was provided with a Headache Unit for the interception and interpretation of enemy air and naval R/T on VHF. Fifty warships in all were fitted with Headache units'.

This is the actual Headache Office aboard HMCS HAIDA during WWII. Pictured is the Hallicrafters S-27 receiver which was removed in 1949. (RCN photo HS 1749-59 taken in 1946)
Lawson Gregory of Woking, England relates his experiences as a Headache operator. "Having knowledge of German, I volunteered for any job where I could be of more use. When my ship, HMS Zulu was sunk during the raid on Tobruk in September 1942, I was initiated into Headache. Once I was drafted to a ship, I was accompanied with a special VHF radio set, plus aerial and of course a copy of the code used by the enemy. The presence of a Headache operator usually meant the ship would probably be very close to the Germans. On HAIDA, my action station was in a small office just below and aft of the bridge. Communication with the bridge was through voice pipe. Even when not at action stations, I would listen in. On one occasion, enemy aircraft were giving a sighting report on HAIDA's position while she was in Plymouth! Overall, it was a fascinating job almost guaranteeing action". On HAIDA, one of the tags on a telephone junction box in the Fire Control Room makes reference to the Headache Office. HAIDA's Headache receiver was the Hallicrafters S27 whose frequency coverage was 27 Mcs to 143 Mcs. The receiver was given the Admiralty pattern designation RL85. Together with the aerial it was referred to as Outfit QD."
Outfit QD consisted of a VHF dipole antenna, a Hallicrafters  S-27 receiver and interconnected with Pyrotenax transmission line instead of co-ax. It is presumed HAIDA was fitted in the identical manner (Image via Collingwood Heritage Collection). 
The S-27 receiver covered 27.8 to 143 MHz  (Photo courtesy UK Vintage Radio web page)
Although its a bit hard to see, this was the location of the QD antenna aboard HAIDA. (Image extracted  from a photo of HAIDA entering Plymouth harbour in 1944). 


From time to time, Huff Duff required calibration. This involved taking simultaneous visual and radio bearings of a distant transmitting station on relative bearings around the compass at intervals not exceeding 5 degrees. To accomplish this, a ship would generally be anchored in open water and simultaneous visual and radio observations would be made on a transmitting station. This station was located on a small auxiliary vessel chugging slowly around the ship. Conversely, the calibration could also be accomplished with the ship being swung relative to a fixed radio station. For HF/DF calibration, special auxiliary vessels were available on both the East and West coasts of Canada. Two of these were HMCS Seretha II at St. John's, Newfoundland and HMCS Merry Chase on the west coast. There were many different wireless exercises carried out during patrols. One such exercise took place with an aircraft. First, the aircraft was located using DF and the bearing was then passed on to the aircraft using W/T. Then the aircraft would home in on the ship. The usual routine was for the aircraft to transmit its call sign along with five second dashes on 375 kc. The ship would take the bearing. The bearing and the time was passed to the aircraft on 3925 kc.
Initially, a great problem presented itself with Allied communications. German shore stations, ships and U-boats, were always prepared to take advantage of any Allied radio indiscretion. One instance, was the excessive chatter which took place on the 600 metre band after the USA entered the war. In this, the Germans found the Americans sadly lacking in security as coastal defence stations broadcast a veritable bonanza of intelligence. Incredible as it sounds, these stations actually transmitted anti-submarine schedules for ships, aircraft patrol times, and positions of ships at sea.Escort groups of the Newfoundland Escort Force were not above reproach. Regulations strictly prohibited breaking radio silence 48 hours before sailing. Ships, as a group had the habit of tuning and testing their convoy escort frequency about an hour prior to leaving harbour. This always heralded within a matter of hours, the rendezvous with a convoy at WESTOMP (Western Ocean Meeting Point) off the Grand Bank. It was almost like sending the German U- boats an invitation on a silver platter. This practice of tuning and testing continued right into the 1960's despite the fact that operators were constantly reminded that this security violation would not be tolerated. After the 1960's, with the advent of crypto secure voice and teletype circuits, radio silence was still practised, however, with the proliferation of tracking satellites, that silence was not very meaningful.

To ensure authenticity of received messages, a procedure, based on using special code words, came into vogue. Usually there were twelve code words allotted for a voyage. For example, the authenticity word in force at the beginning of the voyage was "Flag". If this word was used, the number two word, "Purchase" would automatically come into force and so on. This was a weak system, but it was better than having nothing. So see a real example, please refer to W/T Convoy Orders in the Appendix 'B' Section.

When the TBS transmitter/receiver was introduced in the latter half of the war, it undoubtedly initiated an era of indiscreet conversation between Escort Commanders, in the blissful belief that their very high frequency TBS set was secure in line-of-sight communication. It later became known that radio waves, regardless of the frequency of emission, are at times propagated over distances beyond the normal useable ranges.

In the United States Navy (USN), the TBS was used primarily for manoeuvering signals which replaced flag hoisting. When a Task Group of over 25 ships is spread over 10 miles or more, flag hoists for maneuvering were not practical. At the time, it was navy communiations doctrine that any frequency above 30 Mcs was considered line of sight. On occassion, the TBS could be heard at distances of 1,000 miles. So much for doctrine!

Early in World War II, the German Navy had been highly successful in pin-pointing convoy locations. Their radio intelligence service, Beobachtung Dienst (B-Dienst), using sensitive direction finders, could reportedly detect radiations from regenerative receivers on board ships from a distance of up to 100 miles away but there is no evidence to actually support this claim.

If there was a likely source of radiation, it would have come from receivers like the IP500 fitted aboard many pre-war merchantmen. They were still there because ship owners had suffered through the Depression years with limited capital for radio modernization. Simple regenerative designs without RF amplifiers are famous for radiating, even to the point of being useable as transmitters at very short range. In time, this was suspected by the Allies as a source of radiation, (real or imagined) so merchantmen in convoys came under strict radio silence for both receivers and transmitters through much of their voyages. Under these conditions, the only means of communication between ships was by flags or flashing light. Later in the war, E.H. Scott Laboratories of Chicago developed a line of low radiation receivers especially designed for shipboard use. The Model RCK receiver on display aboard HMCS HAIDA is an example of this design.

In relating this information, I must underscore the fact that there was not a single documented case of any German submarine ever locating an Allied ship by the detection of radiation from a regenerative receiver. A U-boat could acquire more useful information by listening for propellor sounds rather than waisting time on the surface searching for weak radio signals.

Frank Dukat of Los Altos, California was an Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer with the United States Navy during World War II. He gives a glimpse into the methods used to report the vicinity of U-boats. "During World War II, the North Atlantic was ringed with a network of radio direction finding stations. Using Adcock direction finding antennas, they monitored the U-boat 'reporting' frequencies. The operators copied exactly what they heard and immediately relayed that information along with date, time, frequency and bearing to a central collection point. This data was compared and analyzed and an approximate position of the transmission was determined. Once a day, a report was broadcast giving the estimated time and position of the U-boats which had made identifiable transmissions.

Each summary report was sent using a miserable British five numeral code since this was the only code that the Allies had in common. Using this method involved the subtraction of number by another number referenced from a Book of Numbers. The result was then looked up in a Code Book. Due to garbled messages, instead of a position, one might get a message like 'Admiral Commanding Bermuda Force'. Decoding was very tedious work and the calculated positions were not exact. They only pinpointed areas where there was radio traffic.

Incidently, our first direction finding station in Puerto Rico was located in a tent on a public beach because it was specified that the Adcock antenna must be set up in a very flat place with no nearby structures to obscure the pattern. It was supposed to be all very secret but the operators reported that the little Puerto Rican kids used to come by and say 'you listen for submarines?'

The system worked very well and was aided by the fact that the U-boats never changed frequency in the early days of the war. Admiral Doenitz's communicators felt that the resultant confusion caused by numerous frequency changes was not worth the risk. It would also be noteworthy to mention that the system of direction finding from ships was not introduced until later in the war".

General order GO1555, is the first mention of W/T Operators with the Special Operator title. This was issued as an unclassified Naval General Order, number 1555, and was dated 20 Sept. 1941. It has been transcribed here in its entirety.
G.O.1555. W/T Operators for Special Duty in Shore Stations.

    With the large increase of W/T ratings required for special duties in certain shore W/T Stations, it has been decided to institute a branch whose ratings are called Special Operators. As the work on which these ratings will be employed is confidential, details of their duties will be issued by secret memorandum.

    2. Such candidates may be up to 45 years of age and must be medically fit for the Telegraphist Branch. If necessary, they may be entered in a rate in keeping with their qualifications. Normally, new entry candidates will undergo the usual 8 weeks preliminary training course at Divisional Headquarters on completion of which they will be subject to draft either to selected stations for technical training or in the case of new entries who need further training in Morse, they will be drafted to H.M.C. Signal School.

    3. Pay - Ratings of the new branch will receive the same substantive pay as general service W/T ratings (see Canadian Naval Regulations, Article 334). They will not be eligible for non substantive pay, but advancement prospects will be favourable.

    4. They will be known as Ordinary Telegraphist (S.O.), Telegraphist (S.O.),  Leading Telegraphist (S.O.) (indicating Special Operator), etc., and the terms are to be on all documents referring to them.

    5. W/T S.O. ratings will wear the badge of an Ordinary Telegraphist. Leading Telegraphists (S.O.) will, therefore, be distinguishable from Leading Telegraphists (General Service) by the absence of star  from their badge. (G.O.) (M.N.D.) (20-9-41) (N.S. 1008-75.14)

Subsequently, a classified order (CCNO 232) was issued on 16 Oct. 1943 and put into effect retroactively on 1 Aug. 1943. It was issued by the Minister of National Defence (MND) with the Naval Service file number appended. It has been transcribed here in its entirety.
CCNO 232. Telegraphist (S.O.)  Revised Conditions of Service

It is intended that HFDF duties afloat shall in future be carried out by Telegraphist ratings as the Special Operators Branch. General service rating who are now qualified in HFDF and who are now carrying out these duties are to be given the opportunity to transfer. C.O.'s are  to forward the name of those requesting transfer to Naval Service headquarters by April 1, 1944 on which dates transfers are to be effected. Ratings who do not wish to transfer will cease to be employed on HFDF as of this date or when relieved by S.O. ratings whichever is the later.

2. The following conditions will govern transfer and advancement of all special operators including W.R.C.N.S. personnel:

a) Telegraphists
Telegraphists (S.O.) now serving and ratings qualifying for Telegraphist (S.O.) will undergo a 14 week course in HMCS St. Hyacinthe on the following subjects:

Elementary W/T theory including D/F
Elementary technical in including D/F
Procedure and Organization, British.
Procedure and Organization, Foreign

Telegraphists (S.O.) already serving , who fail to qualify will be transferred to another branch or alternately be discharged. Telegraphists (S.O.) who were formally qualified Telegraphists (General Service) will be required to pass a three week course in Direction Finding only in H.M.C. Signal School.

b) Leading Telegraphists and Acting Petty Officer Telegraphists

All Leading Telegraphists (S.O.) and Acting Petty Officer Telegraphists (S.O.) now serving, will undergo the course outline above. They will be required to obtain a higher percentage of marks than Telegraphists (S.O.) Ratings who fail to qualify in the course or at a later date will be ineligible for charge positions.

c) New Entries

Suitable candidates for service in the Special Operators Branch will be entered as Ordinary Seamen for W/T. On completion of Disciplinary Training , they will be drafted to HMCS St. Hyacinthe for all technical and special training except in KANA (code) which will normally be carried out in HMCS Naden.  Suitable W.R.C.N.S. ratings will be similarly drafted on completion of their basic training at HMCS Conestoga.   On the successful completion of the course, these ratings will be transferred to Ordinary Telegraphist (S.O.) or WREN Telegraphist (S.O.)

Special Operator ratings will receive the same substantive pay as General  Service W/T ratings. They will not be eligible for non substantive pay, but those employed on duties involving a knowledge of Japanese will receive an additional five cents per diem while carrying out such duties (vide C.N.R.'s'  Article 350, Clause 10 (a) ).

4. All Special Operator ratings will wear the badge of an Ordinary Telegraphist. No other badges are to be worn

5. This order is to be suitably cross referenced  with Naval Order 1555. Effective 1st  August, 1943. - (G.O.) (16-10-43) (M.N.D) (N.S. 1-13-1)

These are significant naval orders because they show the formalities of the introduction of the Special Operator specialization that subsequently (following the war) became the Communicator Supplementary (CS) branch and later the Radioman Special (RS) branch.

At the same time as HFDF was being installed, there was also a requirement for special operators to be employed as Kana (Japanese Morse) operators. It had been urged, before August 1941, that in the event of hostilities with Japan, it would be essential to have a reserve of W/T operators capable of receiving Japanese morse. Some would be required for shore service and at least one on each ship in the Pacific. In the beginning, very few operators were able to copy the Japanese code. The Japanese alphabet contains 52 letters - twenty six signs in addition to those of our own alphabet plus four associated signs making for a total of 56 characters. Intensive training was required even after speed had been attained in Continental Morse. Training was hodge-podge at the beginning. Eventually, the training problems were ironed out and a considerable number of Wrens were employed as Kana operators in West Coast stations such as Ucluelet, Coal Harbour, Alliford Bay and Gordon Head.

Some operators were assigned to known active Japanese communications frequencies while others were allowed to search the air waves. These people worked long hours on shift work, copying Kana on Japanese typewriters and marking the readability as Fair, Good, or Excellent. All copied traffic was retransmitted by Teletype to Washington for processing and analysis.

This document outlines the qualifications, training and duties of a Telegraphist.

Incredible as it sounds, the opportunity to transmit in Morse code was well appreciated at times because radio telephony or flashing light was the predominant form of communication when ships were in convoy.Ken Hedley, a former HAIDA telegraphist, expands on this statement. "During the war, W/T silence prevailed. When a communique was to be sent by key, every operator clamoured to transmit the message. During my six years of service in the navy, I didn't get to send one message by key. On the mine sweeper Gaspe and the patrol vessel French, the radio office was staffed with two operators. We never got a chance to transmit anything, and the only message that we ever received after two or three days at sea was RETURN TO HARBOUR".

Ships would maintain radiotelephone watch on 2410 kilocycles and a VHF watch using TBS equipment (60 to 80 Mc) while still maintaining the broadcast. Anytime that a U-boat was spotted, out went the alarm to the escorts on 2410 kc. On many occasions, the sighting would also be reported to other ships by flashing light. The frequency of 2844 kc was used for secondary ship-to-shore communications.

When west of 32 degrees west longitude, escort ships listened to the "L" broadcast from Halifax on 105 kc. When East of this line, ships listened on 107 kc to the "BN" Whitehall broadcast. When changeover time came, two ships were always detailed to guard the overlap period so no messages would be missed. For example, during a westbound trip, after the changeover to the Halifax broadcast, one corvette was detailed to guard the Whitehall broadcast from 30 West to 37 West. Prior to the changeover, another corvette would have been detailed to guard the Halifax broadcast from 23 West. Since the broadcasts were simulcast on high frequency, there was not much chance of messages being missed.

Using a pencil, the operator would copy broadcast messages from shore authorities onto a naval message form, which, in the short form, consisted of 50 blocks or 100 blocks in the longer form. At the top of the form, the operator entered the coded, lettered address delivery groups while into the blocks went four figured cipher groups. At the bottom were spaces for logging the time of receipt, the operator's name, the frequency and other particulars. Without a doubt, the broadcast operator was kept fairly busy filling in these forms, especially with long messages pertaining to convoy dispositions an U-boat situation reports.

Fairmile class vessels copied the Gaspe Broadcast from CFL on the LF band probably around 125 kcs. However, the broadcast was hard to copy once any Fairmile went up the St. Lawrence River past Cape Chat, Quebec due to the mountains. It is believed that CFL was probably using a PV500 transmitter which was collocated with receivers in the same building just outside the gate of HMCS Fort Ramsey, Gaspe. A counterpoise was installed on the antenna of CFL with hopes of improving transmitting efficiency but there is no record of any improvement.

Straight keys were used to transmit Morse code. When close to shore, a 'Local Port Wave' was available for calling shore stations. One notable difference in operating technique was to depart from International procedure and use the letter V instead of DE to denote the word 'from'. The three letter Q signals that most amateur radio operators are familiar with were not used. Instead, the navy used X signals. Here is a sample of a message:

This message means: "ship with call sign JVD from ship with call sign RZY. I have nothing for you".

Off duty and at sea, telegraphists took turns scrubbing the mess deck and the W/T office deck. In harbour, a telephone link could not be established if the ship was anchored in open water so everyone in the W/T office had to stand watches. Whenever HMCS HAIDA was in Plymouth harbour, the ship was assigned a sector in which to fire her A.A. guns. This information came through the W/T office and was reported to the officer of the watch.

The greater need for special operators was in the Atlantic theatre. Here, an operator would listen on an assigned frequency made known by the Admiralty. These frequencies were listed in numbered sets called a Series. Two examples of these frequencies were 10525 and 12215 kc. The regular and constant relay of information on convoy position, course and speed back to German shore authorities on HF formed the basis of wolf pack operations. Once a member of the pack sighted the convoy, it was usually tasked as a 'contact keeper' until the pack was drawn in. This shadower made brief radio transmissions at regular intervals followed by a short MF homing beacon transmission. The MF homing beacon was the only direct communications permitted between the U-boats thus allowing the other members of the wolf pack to locate the convoy. As each U-boat gained contact with the convoy, it too made an HF report and continued to do so periodically until the battle was over.

On hearing a U-boat transmission, the intercepting operator would press a foot pedal which activated a microphone. He would then shout a coded warning to other Huff Duff equipped ships to tune the intercepted frequency. After the other escorts and the convoy rescue ships obtained bearings, the results would be passed to the Senior Officer (SO) of the escort group and a fix was obtained. If it was a 15 to 20 mile ground wave bearing, the Senior Officer would send an escort chasing down the bearing. The SO would also have a message transmitted notifying shore authorities of the U-boat's bearing or position.

Ashore, operators would listen and search on Marconi CSR5 receivers. When a U-boat's transmission was picked up, the operator on watch would immediately warn another operator at a remote site where the actual work of taking another bearing would be performed. All Huff Duff operators knew how to recognize German transmissions and there was no dearth of signals. In the absence of HF/DF, the RCN also attempted to use the U-boat's own MF homing beacon which could be received on the commercial MF/DF set that was fitted on many Canadian ships. Unfortunately, the MF signal diffused rapidly and while it was sufficient to draw U-boats into the general area of a convoy, it was not sharp enough to permit an Escort to locate a small and elusive U-boat.

The initial first sighting report by a U-boat invariably commenced with a recognizable symbol, namely, the B-Bar followed by four letter cypher groups. The following is an example of a first sighting report :

For transmitting homing signals, U-boats used different frequencies according to the time of day. Two popular frequencies were 384 and 437 kc. The signals were usually made at 15 and 45 minutes past each hour and would commence with a series of V's. Here is an example of a message:
When German headquarters needed to communicate with U-boats, they repeated all broadcasts at one half to one hour intervals in case the transmissions were garbled. There was no need for the U- boat to signal receipt of a message. To the advantage of the Allies, the Germans's liberal use of radio made it possible for the British Admiralty in London to realistically make hour-to-hour tactical decisions then transmit those decisions to commanders at sea. This information could be used to prevent the assembly of a U- boat formation or in the worst case, reduce the number of U-boats to be dealt with when the attack finally came.

To provide some measure of security from Allied direction finding, the "Kurier" burst transmission system was introduced into the Kriegsmarine commencing about 1944. It was composed of a series of 1 ms pulses. The start signal was a series of 25 pulses, followed by a 20 ms space, followed by the message. The pulses were read as Morse Code based on the pulse spacing. Maximum transmission duration was 454 ms, including the start signal and space.

The signal was generated by a permanent magnet and pickup coil which swung past iron strips (movable) inside a drum at synchronous speed. The signal was amplified and used as grid-block keying for a CW transmitter. The received signal was fed to an special oscilloscope which projected the trace onto a film-covered drum. The drum was unlocked by the start signal and driven at synchronous speed. The developed film recorded the pulses which were then read as Morse Code characters.

Order CCNO 526 defined how D/F reports from H.M.C. ships should be sent:

D/F reports of all signals, both H/F and M/F, believed to be transmitted by enemy units (particularly U-boats), are to be forwarded by all H.M.C. Ships and by H.M. Ships operating under orders of R.C.N., in duplicate, to Captain (D) of their base for information and for onward transmission to the Officer-in-Charge, Operational Intelligence Centre, Naval Service Headquarters. In the case of group operations one collated report for the group as a whole is to be rendered by the Senior Officer.  These reports are to contain the following information:--

     (a)  Dates on which watches commenced and ceased.
     (b)  Frequencies or series guarded on all receivers.
     (c)  Details of all enemy unit transmissions intercepted as follows:--
           (i) Date and time of intercept at end of transmission, G.M.T.
           (ii) Frequency in kilocycles.
          (iii) Ship's position.
          (iv) True bearing (and reciprocal when unsensed).
           (v)  Class of bearing.
          (vi)  "Ground wave", "Sky wave" or "Uncertain".
         (vii)  Strength of signal.
        (viii)  Remarks, to include as much of the preamble and text as could be read.

2. With regard to (c), (viii), above, it will not normally be possible to read the text of H/F messages from the unit transmission due to the over-riding importance of obtaining a bearing and sense. These details however, can usually be read from the Shore Station's acknowledgement.      It should always be possible to read the text of U-boat M/F homing transmissions in addition to obtaining a bearing and sense, as the messages are repeated once or twice at each transmission.

3. In the case of operations by a group of ships the names of all ships fitted with H/F D/F should be included.  Where duties comprise convoy escort the names of the rescue ship and any fitted merchant ships in the convoy should be given.

4. Remarks on enemy W/T procedure, particularly if they indicate changes in procedure, frequencies, etc., as compared with current publications and instructions, should be included.

5. Remarks on the tactical aspect of bearings of intercepted enemy transmissions should be included in the Report of Proceedings of the Senior Officer (in the case of convoy operations the Senior Officer of Escorts).

In addition, order CCNO 560 defines the content of  intercept reports sent by  HMC Ships when copying enemy transmissions. An excerpt is provided here:

Any H.M.C. ships may be ordered to report by signal, the interception and/or the bearing of any W/T transmission suspected of being of enemy origin. In such cases it is essential that the following information be included:--
  (a) The frequency of the transmission.
  (b) The time (G.M.T.) at which the transmission was heard, i.e. the end of the first transmission,  not the end of the repeat back by a shore W/T station.
  (c) If possible, the preamble and first or last two groups of the message. In the case of those messages prefixed "BB" or "WW", the first group and as much of the rest of the text as could be read, should be sent.

NOTE.-- Any report made to shore authorities which includes a bearing or bearings, whether made as the result of a request from shore authorities or independently of such a request, must  include the position of  the intercepting ship or ships.

(R.O.)  (23-12-44)  (N.S. 11345-5)

This is the radio room of U-995. (Photo courtesy


Sometimes it has been asked if the RCN jammed enery radio transmissions during WWII. No solid evidence of that has ever surfaced but the RCN definitely tried to jam the German radio controllled glider bomb. This excerpt from  “Radar Development in Canada" [2] expands on that point.
“The war was marked by a large number of uses of physics, and especially of radio, both offensive and defensive, by both sides. In the fall of 1943, a new German offensive weapon became unpleasantly effective in the Mediterranean. This was the radio-controlled glider bomb, launched from high•flying aircraft and controlled by radio signals. But there was a defence. It was found possible to make the enemy lose control of the bomb by jamming the control frequencies with a high power frequency-modulated transmitter.

The procurement of such transmitters were the object of a crash programme started at the request of the Royal Canadian Navy in February 1944. Five transmitters were requested, and also parts for twenty more to be assembled by the R.C.N. at St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. It is difficult to believe that the first equipment, complete with spares, was shipped to Halifax on March 28 and the other four in April.

The transmitter provided an output of 1 kW, frequency-modulated at 150 Hz over 4 MHz bandwidth in the region between 42 and 75 MHz. The output was also amplitude modulated at 60 Hz. This may or may not have made it more effective but it certainly made the apparatus simpler by doing without a rectifier in the high-voltage supply. The frequency modulation was performed by a variable condenser rotating at high speed.

This project has only one oblique reference in the minutes of the C. and M. Committee. The description of the equipment was written by W. C. Wilkinson and R. S. Rettie. It was of no great technical sophistication and is interesting mainly as an example of the speed at which the Branch could respond to emergencies.”

HMC ships HAIDA and HURON played a role in radio deception as part of Operation Accumulator. Select this link to see the details.
Another notable development was the German Naval Enigma message which was derived from a cipher machine utilizing mainly a typewriter style keyboard and selection of internally mounted rotors which produced millions of different coding combinations. Although the people at sea were not aware of it, the British were having some success in breaking this cipher. It wasn't easy at first as the German Naval code was the hardest to crack when compared with the rest of the German armed forces. This goal to crack the code was accomplished through preliminary help from Polish intelligence services, the recovery of rotors and documents during the capture of three German trawlers in Northern waters, the recovery of an Enigma machine and cipher material from the damaged German submarine U-110 before it sank in May 1941, and the astuteness of British cryptanalysts. Huff Duff operators learned to recognize naval Enigma messages by their format:
2110/10 40 MEKM SCMA APTC [36 four letter groups] BRKM VA
After the war, there was an astonishing discovery which showed that the Germans had great success with breaking British naval ciphers and those of Canadian ships as well. The German wireless observation service, know as B-Dienst (Beobachtung-Dienst) was of particularly great assistance to Admiral Doenitz during the crucial early months of 1943. At this time, the monitoring service frequently provided him with deciphered convoy details. This recovery of information was not a decided advantage for the Germans. It was more than offset by the Allies co-ordinated use of Huff Duff, Radar and Asdic in tracking and destroying U-boats.

At the beginning of World War II, ships in the Royal Canadian Navy were not equipped with any machines for coding or decoding messages. All decoded messages were logged in a book such as this. Encrypted traffic was received in four letter groups and decoded using code books. The first several characters of a message indicated which book and page to use for the message decode. When the code books were not in use, they were placed into special canvas bags equipped with lead weights. There were standing orders to throw the bags overboard in the event that the coding books might be captured by the enemy. Additional security for the coding books was afforded by their placement in a locked storage area. On some ships, this could mean anywhere. On HMCS Niagara, the coding books were stored in a converted refrigerator. By April 1944, the CCM cipher machine was fitted aboard numerous RCN ships.

The Combined Cypher Machine (also known as Combined Coding Machine) was a common cipher machine system for securing Allied communications during World War II and for a few years afterwards amongst NATO member countries. The British Typex machine and the US ECM Mark II were both modified so that they were interoperable. Document, (R.O.) (18-8-44) (N.S. 1041-1-15) dated  August 18, 1944 was obtained from the Canadian War Museum. One of the Appendicies indicates which ships were fitted with the CCM Mk II and the serial number of the unit fitted. The CCM was initially used on a small scale for naval use from 1 November 1943, becoming operational on all US and UK armed services in April 1944.
51   Agassiz
63   Alberni
568 Algoma
129 Amherst
475 Antigonish
61   Arrowhead
49   Arvida
251 Asbestos
39   Assiniboine
210 Atholl
127 Baddeck 
16   Barrie 
158 Battleford
179 Bayfield 
526 Beacon Hill
524 Bellechase 
164 Bittersweet 
137 Blairmore 
240 Border Cities 
17   Brantford
138 Brockville
100 Buctoucbe 
139 Burlington
110 Caldwell, (H.M.S.) 
108 Calgary 
114 Camrose 
199 Canso 
215 Cape Breton 
197 Caraquet 
94   Chambly
234 Charlottetown 
515 Cheboque 
40   Chelsea, (H.M.S) 
567 Chicoutimi 
525 Chignecoo 
43   Chilliwack 
141 Clayoquot 
20   Cobalt 
244 Cobourg 
99   Collingwood 
513 Courtenay 
189 Cowichan 
15   Dauphin 
625 Dawson 
143 Digby 
571 Drumheller 
147 Drummondville
14   Dundas 
22   Dunvegan 
205 Dunver 
245 Eastview 
23   Edmundston 
145 Esquimalt 
102 Eyebright 
24   Fennel 
146 Fort William 
50   Fredericton 
217 Frontenac 
53   Galt 
144 Gananoque 
92   Gatineau 
112 Georgetown (H.M.S.). 
211 Georgian 
182 Giffard 
149 Goderich 
206 Granby 
151 Grandmere 
226 Grou (H.M.S.) 
243 Guelph 
178 Guysborough 
128 Halifax 
26   Hepatica 
 177 Ingonish 
247 Joliette 
239 Jonquiere 
27   Kamloops 
521 Kelowna
109 Kenogami
152 Kenora 
153 Kentville 
19   King Haakon VII,  (HNMS) 
58   Kitchener 
531 Kokanee 
104 Kootenay 
185 Lachine 
241 La Hulloise 
55   La Malbaie 
59   Leamington (HMCS)
131 Lethbridge
59   Leamington (H.M.S.) 
154 Lincoln (H.N.M.S.). 
224 Lindsay 
196 Port Hope 
181 Lockeport 
237 Longeuil 
235 Louisburg
146 Lunenburg 
233 Magog 
250 Mahone 
156 Malpeque 
209 Matane 
148 Matapedia 
93   Mayflower 
157 Medicine Hat 
184 Melville 
30   Midland 
159 Milltown 
160 Minas 
523 Miramichi 
31   Moncton 
57   Montgomery (H.M.S.) 
213 Montreal 
572 Moosejaw 
98   Morden
161 Mulgrave 
32   Nanaimo 
565 Napanee 
519 New Glasgow 
527 New Waterford 
33   New Westminster 
162 Nipigon 
194 Noranda 
229 Norsyd 
214 North Bay 

62   Oakville
115 Orillia 
529 Orkney 
95   Ottawa 
528 Outarde
220 Outremont 
218 Owen Sound 

245 Peterborough 
119 Pictou 
212 Portage 
116 Port Arthur
520 Port Colborne 
126 Prescott 
96   Preserver 
522 Prince David 
530 Prince Henry 
207 Prince Rupert 
60   Provider
517 Quatsino 
168 Quesnel 
174 Red Deer 
125 Regina 
89   Restigouehe 
103 Richmond, (H.M.S.) 
191 Rimouski 
223 Riviere du Loup 
29   Rosthern 
54   Roxborough, (H.M.S). 
248 Runnymede 

227 Saint John 
166 Sarnia
124 Sackville 
84   Saskatchewan 
36   Saskatoon 
190 Sault Ste. Marie 
171 Shawinigan 
187 Shediac 
113 Sherbrooke 
44   Skeena 
48   Snowberry 
11   Sorel 
514 Spring Hill 
236 Stettler 
221 Stormont 
167 Stratford 
97   St. Alban's, (H.N.M.S.)
208 St. Boniface 
200 St. Catherines
569 St. Laurent 
249 Ste. Therese 
165 Sudbury 
18   Summerside 
512 Swansea 
216 Swift Current


25   The Pas 
242 Thetford Mines 
170 Thunder 
41   Timmins 
235 Toronto 
169 Trail 
198 Transcona 
228 Trentonian 
38   Trillium 
230 Trois Rivieres 
172 Truro 

173 Ungava 
574 Vancouver 
188 Vegreville
56   Ville de Quebec 
219 Wallaceburg 
193 Wasaga 
186 Waskcsieu 
518 Wentworth 
176 Westmount 
45   Wetaskiwin
195 Winnipeg 


All Canadian naval ships were assigned a four letter international call sign during World War II. These were not listed with the International Telecommunication Union in Switzerland. These four letter call signs commenced with either a CG, CY or CZ prefix. George Crowell, a proficient Telegraphist recalls the following about Canadian Fairmiles "The Canadian Fairmiles used a four character coded call sign during World War II which had a prefix of 4X. The two-letter suffix was changed about every two months. Using any two letters at a time would yield 676 possible combinations. There was less than half this number of ships in Canadian naval service so this left many possibilities. The larger ships ( minesweepers, corvettes, frigates, destroyers and so on) used a two letter coded call sign.  This was done to confuse the enemy. The ensuing confusing made it difficult to determine who was the real enemy some times".

The single worst cause of discomfort and danger to any crew member is a rolling, pitching, ship. For many, this resulted in terrible bouts of seasickness. A few of those who did not succumb to this malady would find a suitable spot on the ship to watch the sea in its full torment. Sometimes, it was like standing on a hill and looking down into a valley of grey and white immensity. The ship, heading into one of these watery valleys, would hit with a violent thump. To those in the radio office, it sounded like a thunderstorm manifesting its fury directly on the outside of the hull. It wasn't really that menacing, because crew members had sublime confidence in the seaworthiness of their ships. Great, green coloured waves, were always breaking over the bow of the ship. This made it hazardous for anyone going aft or coming forward. Because of this, no one was permitted on the upper deck after dark. During inclement weather, radio operators sometimes kept double watches if they were located in the secondary wireless office as it was simply too hazardous to leave that area to walk on deck. Sometimes, the ship rolled for long stretches at a time and ended up chafing the nerves of the whole crew. From time to time, it was necessary to transit an icy deck while the ship steamed through mountainous seas. To execute this manoeuvre, one would judge the roll of the ship and, at the opportune moment, go skiing across to grab a stanchion on the other side. Loosing your equilibrium could be very dangerous or deadly.

The arrival of the Tribal class destroyers in the 1940's presented some relative luxuries when compared to the living conditions of older ships. Harry Hargreaves of Nepean Ontario related three of these luxuries. "The new Tribals had light fixtures instead of bare bulbs. Secondly, the seats in the mess decks were padded. The last item was the luxury of luxuries. Heaters, installed in the mess deck, kept the watch keepers food warm until they came off watch. This particular facility went a long way towards improving morale on the ship".

The Signal School at St. Hyacinthe, Quebec was very instrumental in training thousands of wireless operators during World War II. It had moved from Halifax to St. Hyacinthe in the summer of 1941. Modern buildings, numbering about 73, were spread over a 25 acre site. This facility housed almost 3200 officers, ratings and Wrens, involved in all phases of communications training. This was a sharp contrast to earlier complements, when for example, in December of 1942, the complement stood at 921, of which 40 were officers. It had become relatively easy for St. Hyacinthe to produce good communicators, but it was not always the case. Since the beginning of the war, effective training in the signals branch had been made difficult by poor selection of recruits. In December, 1940, an educational standard for visual signalman (V/S) and wireless telegraphists (W/T) had been established, namely that ratings should have at least two years of high school.

In the years prior to WWII, training for telegraphists took about a year. After the war started, that period was reduced to approximately 3 months with intensive work. The test given at the end of the course varied between thirty and thirty five words per minute and one's marks were commensurate with ability. If a student failed his exam after six weeks, he either was assigned as a stoker or seaman until the summer of 1941. After that, the RCN decided that they would start a Coders course and those who failed as Signalmen or W/T operators would become coders after taking a six week course. As the need for more coders rose, the RCN recruited men just  for the Coding branch. Coders took a plain text message and encoded it prior to transmission over the radio. They also decoded incoming messages into plain text.

By 1944, great improvements in training had been made, and despite any earlier apprehensions, St. Hyacinthe was able to turn out a proficient and worthwhile product for the ships and establishments of the navy. Communications training at St. Hyacinthe now consisted of courses for visual signalmen, wireless telegraphists, coders, radar operators, and radio artificers. Note that 'radar' was an American term. In the RCN, the term R.D.F (Radio Direction Finding) was used  to reference people and equipment . However, order N.S. 1052-1-1 issued on 10-7-43 instructed that the term RDF be dropped and replaced with the updated term radar for all correspondence and future publications.  Personnel would be referred to as Radar Officers, Leading Seaman Radar 1 etc. but no change to the term Radio Artificer.

The oldest method of communication taught at St. Hyacinthe was visual signalling. This subject covered flag hoisting which entailed memorizing colours and meanings of more than 80 signal flags, and how to prepare and hoist the many various flag signals quickly and correctly. Signalling by semaphore and directional signalling by flashing light, were of paramount importance because of the exceptional need for this type of signalling in wartime.

Enhancing the instruction of V/S, was a fleet model room and a convoy model room. Each of these rooms were equipped with a table on which models of ships were mounted. Each ship carried lights which could be flashed so that signals could be passed from one another in the same manner as they were passed at sea. In the case of the fleet model room, the model ships could be moved to demonstrate the way in which fleet manoeuvres were carried out. To augment this, large scale fleet manoeuvres were carried out on the Parade Square, with each rating representing a ship in a flotilla or squadron. The participants would upraise their right hands to indicate that the Senior Officer's signal was understood. The flotilla leader usually carried a small flag in his hand. When the "Executive Signal" was given by the Senior Officer, the arms came down and each ship (man) turned in the required direction.

A small number of ratings were specially trained as convoy signalmen. Their duty, essential during wireless silence, was to serve in merchant ships so that these ships could maintain proper contact with the warships forming the escort.

Telegraphists, began their studies by entering the 'Morse Pool', also known as the 'Buzzer Pool'. In 1941, ratings could not join a regular class until they could read Morse at 12 words per minute. The Morse Pool, provided the opportunity to gain this speed with the average length of time spent there being five and a half weeks. The regular course of twenty one weeks duration, covered a general knowledge of receivers and transmitters, wireless organization, direction finding, radio telephone procedure, along with transmitting and receiving Morse at 22 WPM.

Typewriters did not come into vogue until late in the war, so all CW had to be copied with pencil and paper.
Telegraphic tyewriters were first issued to HMC Ships starting around mid-1945. The specification and detail for the keyboard and the the distrubution of typewriters is detailed in this document.

Practical experience in W/T and R/T was obtained through the use of portable sets and through a Navy-Air Force program of establishing communications with the RCAF No. 1 Wireless Training School in Montreal. The V/S3 and W/T3 courses for Leading Rate started in the fall of 1940 at Halifax, and continued at St. Hyacinthe. The V/S2 and W/T2 courses, for qualification to Petty Officer, started a year later at St. Hyacinthe.

Code work was introduced in the Spring of 1941. The coder's course at the St. Hyacinthe Signal School was about four weeks in duration. The relative length of their course in no way diminished their value to the communications branch of a ship, because V/S and W/T ratings could also do code work. A long signal course for officers had its inauguration in July 1944. This course, lasting for seven months, qualified the officers for specialist duties and covered all forms of communication including radar and Loran. Specialist courses were also given for WRCNS (Wren) officers to prepare them for duties as signal officers at shore bases.

The Canadian Loran stations comprised a critical link in the North Atlantic Loran system. With equipment installed in a quonset hut, station Baker (Baccaro) transmitted signals to station Dog (Deming) and to station Sugar on the U.S. coast. The job of the Wren operators at Bacarro was to keep the signals synchronized twenty-four hours a day. They worked regular four watches broken by the dog watches (1600-1800, 1800-2000) for nine strenuous days on and three days off. During each watch, they spent forty minutes on one unit, forty on another, followed by forty minutes off.

Officers taking radar courses at St. Hyacinthe were all university graduates in physics, electrical, or other branches of engineering who entered directly into the radar branch of the RCN. Their course, lasting several months, entitled them to use the letter R after their rank on graduation.

The longest course given was one for Radio Artificers. New students for this course were required to have an education equivalent to grade 12 standing. The course covered a period of 42 weeks. The first 20 weeks were devoted to basic training, during which, students learned the theory of electricity, mathematics, and manual skills. These manual skills included welding, lathe work, soldering, metal casting and other high precision work. During the second half of the course, they applied their knowledge to wireless and radar equipment. On graduation, they were qualified as Radio Artificers Fifth Class, just below the rating of a Petty Officer. Once aboard ship, the radio artificers seemed more involved with radar repairs and spent very little time on W/T maintenance. The W/T operators usually completed their own technical work or waited for the ship to return to port. Either way, artificers were not available in any great quantity until the latter half of the war.

At the peak of strength, the communications branch of the Royal Canadian Navy contained about 9,300 ratings. Of these, 3,200 were Telegraphists, 2,338 were Signalmen, about 1,000 coders, 2,200 Radar Operators, and 399 were Radio Artificers. It is significant to note that the bulk of these were trained at St. Hyacinthe.


This excerpt, which defined the duties of a Telegraphist, was provided by WWII Telegraphist George Crowell.

He is responsible for the care and maintenance of W/T gear. Any defects beyond his capabilities are to be reported to an Special Operator who will arrange for repairs with shore staff.

He is to have spare parts as far as allowed by stores and is also responsible for the correction of Signal Publications other than Visual Signalling. He will also correct all other publications on board. They are to be kept up to date at all times.

He is to keep the key to the W/T office in his possession, properly secured to his person and turning them into the Duty Officer before going ashore. The W/T office is to be locked on entering harbour and is to remain locked until leaving port again. Exceptions to this are:
- when occupied by the Telegraphist (Tel)  or RDF operator on ship's business
- when work is being done by maintenance however a Tel or term operator is to be present.

He is to make himself familiar with the contents of all W/T publications aboard and amendments thereto issued from time to time. He is to maintain the required logs dependent on the type of work carried out. He is responsible for the ships clocks making sure they are compared against a time signal station. He is responsible for the cleanliness of the W/T office.

naval_blank_message_form_1939s.jpg Telegraphists copied messages on forms such as these. This one is believed to be the October 1939 version which would have been used during WWII. Click on thumbnail for full size image. (Provided by Jim Brewer)


An RCN pay scale for a Leading Telegraphist in 1944 was approximately $72 per month or $2.40 per day. The variance between a Leading Telegraphist and that of a Telegraphist was not that great. The Telegraphist received $2 per day, while a Telegraphist Trained Operator (Tel/TO) was only 5 cents more a day. One had to pass Trained Operator exams to receive five cents more per day. Of course, the Tel/TO rating was necessary before going on to further training as a Leading Telegraphist. By comparison, the starting pay for a rating was $1.10 per day and an extra 25 cents per day (hard layer's pay) was paid for Corvette duty. The basic telegraphists badge was a pair of wings divided by a bolt of lightning. The Trained Operator badge (Tel/TO), had a star affixed above the wings while a W/T 3 badge had two stars, one above and one below the wings. The W/T 2 badge had one star above and two below the wings making the last one a pretty colourful badge whether in gold or red.

In comparison, John " Knobby" Clark, an IROQUOIS veteran still has his paybook dated 1943 . It shows his rate as Stoker, 2nd Class at $32 a month and $4 a month for kit upkeep allowance.

Another rating in the radio department was known as the Telegraphist Special Operator (Tel/SO). This function monitored German naval traffic and took bearings on their submarine transmissions in the HF bands. A Tel/SO progressed through the ranks just like the other operators but there were no badges to distinguish an SO due to the prevailing level of security.

One example of a WWII Telegraphist badge. (Via Spud Roscoe) 

wwii_badges_s.jpg WWII trade badges on display at the Naval Museum of Alberta . Click to enlarge. (Photo by  Jim Silvester, Mill Bay, B.C.) 

The badge on the right is interesting since it signifies a telegraphist who also qualifies in radar.  (Section of a photo by  Jim Silvester) 


What did telegraphists eat aboard ship? It was dependent on a number of factors. Foul weather precluded the cooking of many foods especially those that required boiling liquids. Other factors affecting a sailor's diet were the amount and type of food taken aboard at the embarkation port and the length and the severity of the voyage. During decent weather or the beginning of a voyage, the food was generally classed as good. For those aboard ship, the memories of good or bad food will always stay with them. There were several dishes which acquired unique names. The first was red lead and bacon, a concoction of tomatoes and bacon. Sometimes the bacon was not cooked thoroughly which made the meal very unappetizing. Next was hardtack, a very tough biscuit which had to be softened in a hot beverage such as tea or coffee before it could be consumed. It was reputed to be a cure for sea sickness and actually helped some individuals. Last but not least, was a hot food sometimes served during inclement weather. It was called canned afterbirth and consisted of a mixture of canned tomatoes and stale bread. Believe it or not, many of the ratings actually liked it. A favourite beverage among the crew was known as Kye. This was a delightful hot drink made from great slabs of chocolate and was a welcome treat during the night watches.

On many ships, the telegraphists took turns being Cook of the Mess which meant drawing the meals in large pans. In the mess, it would be divided among those in the communications department. In other ships, everyone filed by the galley door and picked up a plate of food.

Alan Riley of Downsview Ontario recalls convoy duty in December of 1942. "Our ship, HMCS Skeena, left Londonderry on convoy duty. She was at sea for fourteen days much of it struggling through a fierce storm. After a most taxing trip, we finally reached St. John's. Enroute, we ran out of 'Irish' bread. This was a brown bread which was taken aboard in Ireland and was only good when it was fresh. After a day or two, the Irish bread grew mouldy and ossified into the consistency of a cobblestone. Our favourite way of eating it was to cut away the mouldy crust, saturate the remainder with eggs and fry it up like French toast. After the Irish bread was exhausted, the cooks baked fresh bread until the flour gave out. These loaves had to be rationed by the slice. Our tea supply was also exhausted and near the end, we ran short of all types of food. The last meal that I remember was a stew consisting of gravy devoid of vegetables or meat".

Harold Dixon, a Sparker who served aboard HAIDA vividly remembers British bread. "A supply of bread came aboard and the intention was that it would be sufficient for several weeks however, it tasted like it was several weeks old to start with. The loaf was about twelve inches long and five inches square, dark in colour and had the apearance of an oversize brick. Whoever did the baking likely did not have yeast available to make the dough rise. Needless to say, the bread resulted in a revolt among the crew. It was pitched overboard and floated around in Plymouth Harbour. That action brought down the shore authorities as they didn't care for Canadian humour. I must admit that it did not look good especially since the British people had to ration so tightly during the war years.

But the bread had to go. In the end, it worked out great for the crew of HAIDA as two of our cooks were also bakers. Instead of getting bread, we received the equivalent in flour and the crew ate the best bread in the navy thanks to the two bakers".

Al Harrington of Sherwood Park Alberta, remembers a telegraphists work attire aboard his frigate HMCS Eastview. "Our place of duty at sea was in a little steel cubicle on the port side of the flag deck. It could get pretty cold up there. Being a small- ship navy, there wasn't much protocol at sea and we could wear what we liked. Mostly, I wore lumberjack-type flannel shirts for warmth and either dungarees or an old pair of navy issue pants. I preferred the jeans, because they were easier to handle during a visit to the head". Alan Riley explains his own attire while at sea. "On Assiniboine, I wore dungarees, white sneakers and my navy issue white singlet. This was normally worn with a blue or white summer uniform. The singlet or flannel, had a blue edge at the top, about a half-inch wide and was worn under a jumper. In colder weather, a blue jersey was worn under the jumper. In hot weather, some men wore a Dickie Front in place of singlet/flannel. (The Dickie Front was somewhat like a bib).

On Skeena, I dressed in blue dungarees, a pale blue short- sleeve summer sportshirt, a sued windbreaker type jacket and calf length rubber boots which were rolled down. Captains wern't too fussy what you wore at sea".

Early in WWII (believed to be late 1940), NSHQ in Ottawa made a decision, based on security considerations, to discontinue the wearing of cap tallies bearing the names of HMC Ships. For the duration of hostilities, all sailors would wear H.M.C.S. However, as is the wont of the Canadian Matelot, many took it upon themselves to individualize, or tiddley,  this item of uniform dress by adding such type designators as DESTROYER, CORVETTE, MINESWEEPER, etc. This departure from "Pusser" procedure was soon banned by another directive which stated that only H.M.C.S. shall be worn.

This is the actual document which ordered matelots to wear cap ribbons which had HMCS only. (Image courtesy Ray White)


During World War II, much of the signalling at sea was done with light and secondarily with radio. As a result, the sender would tend to be as brief as possible. The same would apply to messages sent by CW. Some of this brevity can be best expressed in the sample stories which follow.....

A little armed coal burning trawler, the smallest ship in a convoy escort off the coast of Scotland, was investigating an underwater contact. The large flag fluttering from her foremast attested to this fact. This small ship was hardly moving through the water while probing the depths with her primitive ASDIC. Then her hoist went close-up to the yard-arm indicating that she was attacking with depth charges. On the bridge of another ship, someone gasped "My, God, at that speed she will blow herself out of the water". Suddenly, the ocean around the little ship erupted in towering fountains of water which hid her from sight. After what seemed an eternity, the little ship came into view. Her stern staff had disappeared - blown clean off; she had a list to port and her steering gear was damaged. Finally, she came to a stop with clouds of steam pouring out of the engine room skylight. Immediately, her signal lamp began to chatter, and everyone read the simple message as it spelled out : "I HAVE BUSTED MYSELF."

What could be shorter then the greeting flashed by the destroyer Restigouche whose pennant number was HOO to the auxiliary vessel bearing the identifying number YOO:

From HOO to YOO: "YOO HOO"
In another example of brevity, a number of senior escort officers, particularly those of the Royal Navy, developed the habit of sending signals which merely contained a biblical reference of chapter and verse. The recipient would have to reference his own Bible to clue into the message. This business of biblical signals became a great cult and it became necessary to keep a copy of the Bible on the bridge. A treasured example, was this signal sent by the C-in-C, Plymouth to a corvette towing a damaged merchantman:
From C-in-C, Plymouth: "REVELATIONS CHAPTER 3 VERSE 11". (Translated - Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown).

Sometimes the shore authorities were out of touch with reality as evidenced by this message:

From Admiralty to destroyer: "PROCEED WITH ALL DESPATCH."
From destroyer to Admiralty: "REQUEST DESTINATION."
From Admiralty to destroyer: "ADEN, REPEAT, ADEN."
From destroyer to Admiralty: "AM AT ADEN".

Later on:

From Port Authority to Corvette: "WHAT IS ALL THAT LAUNDRY HANGING UP FOR."
Reply from Corvette: "SUBMIT, TO DRY."

In the book titled "The Corvette Navy" and written by James Lamb, there are many more examples of these types of messages.


Telegraphist Fred Ware provided some information on East Coast radio beacons and light ships circa July 1942
It is presented in the hopes that it may be of use to someone in the future.

296 KCS

43-56-21 NORTH 60-01-40 WEST
296 KCS

44-30-36 NORTH 63-15-06 WEST
296 KCS

44-29-30 NORTH 63-55-10 WEST
296 KCS

44-41-09 NORTH 63-31-57 WEST
254 KCS

A Sparker's "If"
(with apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

If you can keep your head when all the buntings
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can read through abnospheric crashes .
With signals fading down to near "R-2";

If: you can send and not get tired sending
And when you stumble, make a neat erase;
If you can read without the old complaining:
"His bloody Morse is just a damn disgrace";

If you don't fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of IMI's
And if you always use correct procedure,
But still don't talk too much, nor look too wise;

If you can live with buntings, jeeps and stokers
And tolerate both Pusser's rum and stew;
And copy when reliefs are in their hammocks
And never miss a group with every spew;

If officers and Chiefs and drunken Yeomen
Can heckle you and still your nerves won't fray;
Then you're a damn good sparker, son - you've made it!
You're earning every penny of your pay. . . .




[1] At this time, it is not known what role Ft. Chimo played in WWII DF activities since the  US military set up a base there called Crystal1 in 1942. Chimo was activated as a DF station  in the 1948/49 time frame when it became part of the Atlantic HF/DF Network

[2] Full citation is “Radar Development in Canada: The Radio Branch of the National Research Council of Canada 1939-1946” by W.E. Knowles Middleton,  Wilfred Laurier Press ( via Google Books).

Contributors and Credits:

1) Ray White for GO1555 and CCNO's 232 and 560 <legerwhite(at)>
3) Jim Sylvester <jimsil(at)>
4) Walter Blanchard <wblanch(at)>
5) Jim Brewer <snack.235(at)

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Jun 24/20