RADIO OPERATIONS - 1950's and 1960's

After the war, the need for global communications began to grow and also the realization that a network of reliable stations was required. Harbour Nets and Coastal Nets developed early but the scope of the Empire demanded a worldwide system. This need for global communications spawned the COMMONWEALTH WORLD WIDE RADIO SYSTEM and Canada became part of the system. With only a few changes in names or geographic location, it was identical to what was in place in 1938 and consisted of three distinct, but inter-related parts.

First, there were the fixed services operating at 60 wpm on predetermined frequencies. Tape factories were installed at each end of the line for the relay of messages. Transoceanic cable provided backup to these plants. Next, were the simultaneous broadcasts emanating from each station on predetermined frequencies. From here, Morse code was transmitted at 25 words per minute and copied by hand using typewriters.

Messages were serially numbered from 001 at the beginning of each month and re-broadcast three or four times except when traffic got too heavy. A ship kept a complete log of every message whether they were the intended addressee or not. If a message was missed entirely, a rerun could be requested unless the ship was operating under radio silence. If this was the case, a rerun could be requested from a ship in company using visual signalling or else the ship could wait until it returned to harbour where the number one priority would be to complete the log.

The third segment was the ship to shore organization. Under this scheme, ships at sea would call the shore station on the calling frequency as determined from frequency charts. The frequency that was chosen had a dependence on the time of day and geographical position. Any shore station which picked up the transmission would reply and instruct the ship to shift to the associated working frequency.

Messages from the ship would be copied and immediately placed onto the Fixed Service that was serving the addressee. If required, the Fixed Service could obtain verification that the message was received by the addressee. This was acknowledged by passing back the 'Roger' signal. If there was any delay, the receipt would be sent back as an SVC message on the broadcast.

In  the 1950 era, the British Commonwealth Communications System consisted of the following stations. They sent the broadcast by CW and radioteletype. RATT reception was an emerging technology in this era so few few ships had the ability to copy it:

1. United Kingdom:  Whitehall GYA
2. Mediterranean: Malta GYX and Gibraltar:  GYW
3. Indian Ocean:  Mauritius GXO;  Aden: GZQ;  Karachi (?);  Bombay - (?); Matara, Ceylon GZP
4  Africa:  Simonstown ZSJ
5. Atlantic Ocean: Halifax CFH and Bermuda GYG
6. Far East Stations: Singapore GYL and Hong Kong GZO
7. Australia: Canberra VHK;  Darwin VHM; Exmouth VH?; NWC (Joint RAN/USN)
8.  New Zealand: Waiouru ZLO
9. North East Pacific: Esquimalt CKN

The Primary Station in each area provided simultaneous keying of several HF frequencies to cover their area of responsibility. Ships were able to read either a CW or RATT broadcast depending upon their communications fit.

Shortly after the Korean War, broadcasts were originated using  radioteletype (RATT). Initially, the system operated at 60 wpm and then moved to 100 wpm in the 1970's. Today's computer based systems operating through satellite networks can distribute huge volumes of messages to ships at sea and makes the 100 wpm speed of yesteryear look pale by comparison.

Oddly enough, and for reasons unknown at this time, the navy never identified the month of the year on naval messages.
Ray White, Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class RCN (Retired) expands on this.  "In communication centres ashore, we generally typed a tag line along the bottom of the sheet indicating time-of-dispatch (TOD) or time-of-receipt (TOR) with the date-time group followed by a two digit month indicator and a two-digit year indicator, i.e. TOR 121515Z/11/52.  This was purely an ad hoc, unofficial  procedure and was not always adhered to. In the early 1960's it was decided to send the date-time group followed by a three letter abbreviation for the month and a two digit year indicator, i.e. 121515Z NOV 62. This change also took place throughout NATO. Anyone looking at messages processed prior to this new procedure had to hope that the operator or filing clerk (admin writer) correctly appended the month and year to the message.

Incidentally, at around the time that the month and year were added to the date-time group, the navy decided that the period between 2359 and 0001, which had never been indicated, would henceforth be 2400 or 0000. By this I mean that you never saw a DTG (date-time group) as 152400Z or 160000Z but now  you could.

Pat Barnhouse provides an explanation as to why the month was never included." Messages were operational in nature, having a relation to the time when sent and not being meant for long term reference, thus the relative non-necessity of a year and month reference.  They would have been filed chronologically, probably by the month so traceability in the short term would have been possible if needed".


Apart from speed, the one big advantage gained from RATT transmission was the ability to use "on-line" cryptography. If secure messages had to be sent by Morse Code, they had to be encrypted with a coding unit before transmitting the message. At the receiving end, the message was taken down and was then typed back into another coding unit in order to get the plain language version. With the introduction of RATT, it became possible to eliminate the intermediate step. The message is typed, or otherwise fed into a cryptographic device which automatically enciphers the text and keys the transmitter. At the receiving end, the encrypted signal is fed directly from the receiver to the decoding device and the plain text is printed.


Typically ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore CW transmissions originated at the operating consoles in Radio 1. Straight keys were mounted on quarter inch plexiglass plates which straddled a hole in the right hand bay of the desk. On HAIDA, the keys were hardwired to the Remote Control Unit (RCU). Operators who used their own keys would plug them into the KEY jack on the RCU. Ship to shore transmission was accomplished by using a straight key only, while shore to ship broadcast utilized an ADK perforated tape reader set to transmit at 25 wpm and sent once only. You didn't miss a word or coded group unless you desired to have serious private discussion with the Chief Telegraphist in which he did all the talking and you did all the listening. Some of the operating positions were used to guard the 500 kHz International distress frequency or the 2182 kHz Marine distress frequency.

On occasion, when the shore station was overloaded with traffic, the broadcast was accelerated to 28 wpm in order to clear the backlog. Sometimes numerically coded weather messages were sent at 30 wpm. Sending CW was usually done at 15 to 20 WPM. Only straight keys were allowed because it was felt that "bugs" accentuated individual keying characteristics and were more easily identifiable by enemy ears. Because the Morse key was affixed to the table, the telegraphists arm would sometimes become sore by the end of a watch. Senior telegraphists used their own personal keys in order to enhance their comfort while on duty. These keys would be attached to a heavy, rubber covered, brass plate that could be positioned for the utmost comfort of the operator.

MASS PRODUCTION: Fifty-three men could be accommodated at one time in the instructional receiving room, used for training basic classes in typing and Morse at the Communications School at HMCS Cornwallis, Nova Scotia. At a later date, it was planned to expand to a Morse pool, with all exercises run from a central control room. (From Crowsnest, May 1952. RCN photo DB-1301-1)

Calls were made on specific frequencies in the 4/6/8/12/16 and 22 MHz bands while the shore stations answered on a separate frequency. Once contact had been established, the operating signal ZBW was used to shift to a working frequency thus freeing up the calling frequency. Besides using the regular Q codes, the military used a series of Z codes which added a whole group of additional meanings. For example, ZBZ? means 'What is the level of printability for data signals'. If there was no normal traffic to send, an 'ASPA KSFO' numerically coded weather message was sent every six to eight hours.

Until the mid sixties, most intership traffic on Task Group Common frequencies (TGC) was sent using CW. TGC Primary was a UHF circuit employing the TED3 transmitter in MCW mode. TGC Secondary traffic was sent on the CM11 in the 2.5 MHz band when ships were widely dispersed. With the introduction of the KW7 on-line crypto equipment in the mid sixties, this TGC primary circuit also became a secure teletype circuit.

Jack Wells of Dartmouth N.S., recalls copying an unusual message back in the mid 1950's. "HAIDA was on her spring cruise in the Caribbean. The navy pay raise was transmitted on that trip. Neil Mac Askill, Jim Benson and myself took turns copying broadcast Lima at 25 WPM. The pay raise message took about two hours to transmit. Rear Admiral Bidwell's pay as CANFLAGANT was $800 per month with a $10,000 per year entertainment allowance. Times have changed so much. Today (1996), a recruit starts at about $11,000 per annum ".


Fleet broadcasts were the primary method of passing messages to ships. Several frequencies were keyed simultaneously using high powered transmitters and each ship at sea copied the frequency which produced the best reception. Since each message was serially numbered and transmitted on several frequencies at the same time, it was reasonable to assume that ships would receive all messages placed on the broadcast. No receipt was given to a received message except by merchant ships. This system worked quite well and could clear large volumes of operational and administrative traffic in a 24 hour period.

Messages sent by this method also presented the latest advice regarding ice conditions, storms and other navigational hazards. Broadcasts were classed according to the area that they served and the kind of traffic that they handled. Three classes of broadcast messages were: Primary, Secondary, and Special. A primary broadcast was generally of very high power and it was transmitted on several frequencies simultaneously. It would serve a major ocean area and handle most types of traffic. A secondary broadcast was high powered but not as powerful as a primary station. Its purpose was to serve a local or coastal area with the types of naval messages required for ships operating in the area. The special broadcast was designed to meet special requirements for operating forces. Special broadcast could carry traffic for merchant ships only, or for submarines only. On the other hand, it may have been a MET (metrological) broadcast for certain commands. Since the fleet broadcast was destined for both naval and merchant ships, some of the messages had to be encoded for security reasons. Whenever an encoded broadcast message was received, it would have to be decoded on the KL7 crypto unit.

Aboard Canadian submarines, the broadcast could not be copied continuously. Donald Courcy of Markam Ontario was an Sparker aboard submarines between 1965 and 1973. He recalls the procedure for copying broadcasts.

"The traffic from shore came on submarine schedules approximately four hours apart. Each message was sent on four consecutive schedules. In order not to miss any messages, we had to copy at least every fourth schedule. If we missed the fourth schedule, there would not be a problem provided there were no messages that were missed on the first schedule. Often, we would come up to periscope depth to copy our schedule and return to the deep when completed. CW schedules were received at 100 words per minute and recorded at high speed on a magnetic tape recorder Then, after returning to the deep, I would slow down the tape recorder and copy the messages at 25 words per minute.

We also had to send Check Reports every 72 hours. If these Check Reports were not received on shore within the 72 hour period, a 'Submiss' alert would be initiated. A few hours later, the Submiss alert would be upgraded to a 'Subsunk' alert if the Check Report was still missing.

Often, the Captain wanted us to clear our traffic as fast as possible when coming up to periscope depth so that we could return to the deep as quickly as possible. Since we could not copy HF before raising the HF telescopic antenna above water, we had to know in advance the condition of the ionosphere to ensure we used the proper radio band for contacting the shore station. It was therefore important to get ready before coming up to periscope depth and choosing the right band when initiating contact on either 4, 6, 8, 12 16 or 22 MHz. Of course, when submerged, we could not copy HF broadcast. The only broadcast we could copy was the US VLF broadcast using our long wire antenna. As mentioned earlier, subs were not exempted from copying HF. We had schedules to copy and in order not to miss any messages, we had to copy at least every fourth schedule. All messages had a serial number so that's how we knew if a message had been missed. In such a case, a message had to be sent to CFH Halifax, requesting the retransmission of the missed message".

Fleet broadcasts originated from three places in Canada. Newport Corners (East Coast) and Matsqui (West Coast) sent their broadcast transmissions continously. Today , it is not commonly known that temporary broadcasts originated from HMCS Star (CZP)  in Hamilton, Ontario anytime a navy ship sailed into the Great Lakes for a goodwill tour. Personnel who manned the Great Lakes broadcast were either reservists, or volunteers from the Radioman trade who came from all areas.

Al Goodwin, HAIDA's former POTEL, adds this information about the broadcast. "The  CW Broadcast was designated  'L' for Lima and followed by a message serial number  ( ie L35).  At the beginning of the month,  the sequence number would be reset back to #1. When the RATT broadcast started, it was designated as 'LR'. The broadcasts were sent in both CW and RATT formats until all designated ships in the fleet were capable of reliable, RATT reception.  Broadcast LR went on-line secure in 1962. After RATT broadcast became the norm, CW broadcast continued to be sent (but not copied) until CW was disbanded internationally. In the RCN, CW operations were officially stood down on 1 September 1993.

CW broadcast traffic was generally a 50/50 ratio of plain text and encrypted traffic. The encrypted traffic was sent in 5 letter groups. Personal traffic was considered classified and as such, it  was encrypted ".

This is an example of an encrypted message.

L45  - Y2Rl / -P- 021345Z. GR 490 BT BRAVO DELTA INDIA MIKE ZERO (indicated the crypto system )
Message in 5 letter groups BT AR

The interpretation is as follows:

L (zonal broadcast)  45 (message serial number #45)
-   Y2RI  (encrypted callsign)  The broadcast operator on board, would  listen for his own callsign and ignore traffic for other vessels.. Because of the alphabetical order, pf the call signshe would have to wait until his own call came up a then get ready to copy.
-   P  (priority message)
-   021345Z   (date time group .. DTG)
-  GR 490 (number of groups in the message)
-   5 letter groups (message content)
-  BT (long break)  separates  message proper from ending
-  AR  (ack ar – (message ends)

In the early 1950's, there were, on the average, 44 broadcast messages sent daily and copied by all ships.
For the Tribals (using HMCS Huron as an example), other trafficboth inbound and outbound could add an additional 78 messages to the broadcast load.

Dennis Stapleton, a radio op who served with the RCN in the 1950's, offers this perspective on the CW and RATT broadcasts.

"RATT was introduced  in 1954 aboard HMCS Buckingham but it was still secondary when I left the navy in 1956. The CW broadcast was mostly enciphered. except for weather information, warnings and aids to navigation. That portion was copied by  merchant or commercial ships.

Aids to navigation comprised of the installation, removal, changes to, or movement of buoys, markers, light beacons, radio beacons - anything that had to do with safe and accurate navigation of vessels at sea.  Warnings to navigation would indicate the presence of floating debris or deadheads that the ship may hit or collide with.  I remember copying warnings of floating mines – remnants from WWII ... but mostly in waters surrounding England, especially the North Sea area. For armed naval vessels, the mines were used as target practice..  The information and details in these messages were in given as latitude and longitude.

I recall unclassified traffic such a victulating, fueling, routine administration and  personnel movements being sent in plain language but in a wartime setting nothing would be sent in the clear.

Same naval  traffic was not repeated. If a repeat was required, it would be requested from Albro Lake (CFH) as a ship to shore message.  The repeat could be fulfilled by the ship-shore operator  at Albro, or it could be included in the next broadcast schedule. Broadcasts were scheduled throughout the day, however I cannot remember the time interval of the schedules. but  I seem  to think it was every 4 hours over a 24 hr period

When a broadcast schedule was about to begin, the shore operator removed the calltape (aka as the "roundslip") from the ADK head and and another tape prepared in advance was mounted. . Its message said: “ CGNS de CFH “ (CGNS = all Canadian Warships). Then the operator would start by sending the callsign listing for traffic to be broadcast.
Sometimes the second operator on shift had nothing official to do. He might copy weather traffic or he could be available for ship-shore work or do a scrub out of the radio room. Staff, watches and required duties could be fulfilled in any
way the Chief Tel thought fit. The radio office was a great place to hang out.  Sparkers gathered there anytime they could.  It was a bit of a haven from the "hurly-burly" of the upper decks.

I remember a time when we had to relinquish Halifax Radio as we were moving beyond it’s range.  The Chief Tel  had us tune to the broadcast frequencies of another zonal broadcast even before we exited our own LOVE (L ) zone. Once Albro was made aware we were not copying Love broadcast, traffic was routed to the Allied Zonal broadcast that we were entering.  This was a landline to Virginia, then underwater cable to Portishead Radio, England."

Naval Broadcast Designators 

These naval broadcast designators were extracted from a list developed from actual over-the-air monitoring.


Prior to unification, one of the cohesive factors of the naval reserves in Canada was the Naval Reserves Communications Network.  Each Naval Reserve Unit (NRU) had the ability to communicate by radio with another nearby NRU. The first inkling of this is an item which appeared on page 32 of the February 1950 issue of Crowsnest Magazine."CKZ Calling -  The Victoria naval division, HMCS Malahat is anxious to work other naval divisions by W/T on Monday evenings from 2000 to 2200, PST, using the transmitters and receivers in its headquarters and training ship, the minesweeper Sault Ste. Marie. Malahat has been allocated radio call sign CKZ, operating on the following four frequencies: CKZ24 on 2410 kilocycles, CKZ79 on 7985 kcs, CKZ94 on 9480, and CKZ 35 on 13510".

Commander Bob Williamson’s book, HMCS STAR – A Naval Reserve History refers to a Naval Reserve Communications Network which operated every Thursday night in the 1960s. The net progressively called stations from St. John’s to Victoria with each unit calling up the next across the country. Bill Clearihue was the Comm Div Officer at HMCS DONNACONA in 1968/69. He says reservists contacted other NRU's most weeks and especially during the 'winter' season, which corresponded to the September-April academic year.

HMCS STAR, August 1958.  Neil S Bell, CD**, LCdr (Ret'd), RCN provides a description for the photo.  "The photo was taken on the parade square facing east.  The three buildings facing the camera were wooden frame and numbered, if I remember correctly, 8, 9 and 10 from right to left.  By the time I arrived at STAR in 1968, the one on the left was our band room and I believe the other two were occupied by the militia. They would have been torn down prior to the demolition of the old STAR main building in 1995. The object in front of the middle building is a reviewing stand with canvas stretched over metal rails along the sides.  Behind it is the naval mast with gaff and yard arm with signal halyards. In the left background is what was at the time the headquarters of the Naval Reserve for Canada prior to it moving to Halifax around 1967 Its cornerstone was laid by Rear Admiral Walter Hose in 1954 and the structure is now occupied by the militia" (Photo source unknown)
The equipment which was held by HMCS Star in Hamilton, because of the previous existence of G.L.T.C.[1] and COND, made their position more fortunate.  This was coupled with the fact that on STAR’s nominal list was the Senior Communications Instructor in Canada in the person of Lt Jim Small.

Some time between 1969 and 1973, the  radio net was disbanded and the equipment rapidly fell into disrepair, together with the ability of those in the communications trade to talk to their “wingers” across the country.

April 26, 1960: P2CR Carl Hunt and C1CR M. Macaulay are adjusting a regenerator in a RATT bay at HMCS Star. They probably used a CM-11 transmitter/receiver which was situated on the upper deck of Building #5. There were three, pole masts on the property. (From HMCS STAR – A Naval Reserve History  by  Cdr. Bob Williamson) 
Each radio circuit had its own log comprised of lined, stapled, newsprint quality paper. All activity on the circuit would be recorded with pencil. During a period of inactivity, a 'nil heard' notation would be entered along with the time. If inactivity was sustained, the same notation would have to be entered at regular intervals.

In HAIDA's Message Centre, a signalman would type traffic on single sheets of pre-punched, eight inch square paper. This was the size of the hard covered naval signal logs that were in use at the time. Unfortunately, HAIDA's Message Centre drawings do not indicate the location of a typewriter.

When two or more ships secured in other than a home port, one ship, designated as the guardship, looked after normal naval duties for the group. Those duties included copying the broadcast and transmitting ship to shore messages. Guard ship duties would rotate daily and each ship had a duty communicator who made periodic visits to the guard ship to pick up traffic for his ship.

The normal manning for Tribals usually consisted of a PO1 (Petty Officer 1st Class) or PO2 as POTEL/department head, a leading seamen as a dayman and a 3 OS/AB watchkeeper. The Able seamen or leading seamen were not really trained to perform technical repair on the radios. They were limited to minor tasks such as changing fuses. Technical training came at the TG3 level which normally came after 10 to 12 years of service and shortly before or just after promotion to Petty Officer 2nd Class. When not actually not on day watch (0800 to 1600 hours), radiomen went to cleaning stations. Some of the tasks included the burning of confidential waste in the boiler room, working with the technical staff on routine maintenance, book corrections, partship duties such as chipping paint, participating in intership drills in the forenoon and assisting with departmental operations such as ship to shore message handling.

When assuming the radio watch, an operator would be briefed by the off-going watchkeeper on the outstanding messages to be transmitted and those that may have been missed on the broadcast. This was all noted in a 'watch turnover' log. Secondly, the confidential codes, ciphers and books would be mustered. The new watchkeeper then settled into a routine of copying the 'L' broadcast from Albro Lake N.S. (CFH) or the 'EA' broadcast from Aldergrove B.C. (CKN).

Messages were broadcast without any reruns at 25 WPM. If a message was missed and no other ships were in company, a SVC message had to be originated to request a retransmission from the broadcast station. This was considered to be very bad form and a very detailed explanation had to be provided to the POTEL. Watchkeepers were required to keep a complete broadcast message log of all numbered messages whether they were addressed to your particular ship or not. The CO normally perused the whole file. From time to time, a ship in company missed a message and could thus request a rerun or a 'filler'.

The broadcast traffic load varied, depending on the number of ships at sea, however, an average daily was around 60 to 80 messages. In the early 1960's, when broadcast via radioteletype was being phased in, there was a one hour broadcast schedule during the forenoon where traffic was copied at 60 WPM on a teleprinter. The rest of the time, the broadcast would be hand copied. Ships fitted with MuFAX machines copied weather maps which were transmitted on separate broadcast frequencies. Initially, only the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure and the arctic patrol vessel HMCS Labrador were fitted with FAX machines due to the nature of their operations.

Additional duties for the watchkeeper involved the typing and distribution of message traffic during the silent hours of 2330 to 0630 hours. This could be stressful as it involved the use of different coloured paper according to security classification and having to use carbons to make multiple copies. In some cases, a particular message required such a wide distribution that it had to be typed twice. After three carbons, the copy became too feint to be readable. Typos and errors were unacceptable so messages often had to be retyped. Times were such that Sparkers would have sold their souls for a photocopier. When the watch usually got quiet, the watchkeeper was responsible for scrubbing out the radio office. If equipped with a coffee pot, a fresh brew was made available for the POTEL first thing in the morning.

David Walling of Lindsay Ontario, shares a memory from this period."About one week before Christmas of 1952, HAIDA was in drydock in Kure Japan for some minor refitting. Lieutenant Al Lowe, our Communications Officer, agreed to have the Radio Branch solicit paid telegrams of Christmas greetings from members of the crew addressed to friends and relatives in Canada. One hundred and fifty messages were collected and transmitted as SLT's (ship letter telegrams). SLT's were telegrams that were radioed to the closest naval land station and then mailed to their destinations. To streamline the process, it was suggested that two or three similar texts be used. Together with Harold Keene, and for the next eight hours, we commenced to transmit these messages that were destined for mailing from Halifax.

The only Commonwealth Radio Station that could be reached on that occasion was ZSJ, Capetown, South Africa who in turn relayed our signals. When we lost contact, we switched to Sidney Radio. All of these transmissions were done by Morse Code with both of us alternating between making transmissions and logging. The old Marconi PV500 stood up and never caused us a problem although the power supply and tubes must have been close to overload. In those days, the onward transmission would be relayed from either Capetown or Sidney via radioteletype (RATT) to England, then resent to CFH in Halifax by RATT again. When received in Halifax, they would be mailed to their destination. We felt sorry for the Petty Officer who had to record all of the details and submit his ledger sheet to the Department of Transport (DOT) on arrival in Halifax".

Harold Keene of Sarasota Florida, also recalls some thoughts from 1952. "We were sailing home from the Far East in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was around 3:00 am when I scanned across the 8 Mc band and heard CFH booming in at readability R5. I turned on the transmitter and raised an operator on the first call. The operator was Bobby Oxner, my old friend from Ottawa and we managed to have a five minute chat before the signal faded away completely. At that time, I was not aware that the DOT had a monitoring station in Halifax and they copied every word that I sent. On our return to Halifax, I was hauled up on the carpet and given a five dollar fine for an illegal transmission from a warship".

As RCN ships sailed the Atlantic Ocean, they took bathythermograph "dips". These readings consisted of temperatures at different depths taken at 4 hour intervals [3]. This information was transmitted to a shore station in 5 letter or 5 number groups and was ultimately used for the publication of maps which would show thermal layering in the Atlantic for all seasons. These maps were used as an aid in predicting the effectiveness of sonar. The data from the dips was sent directly to the bathythermograph database which was located in Washington DC.

Dennis Stapleton also summarizes certain aspects of radio operations in  the RCN from the 1950's and 1960's era. Select this link.


During the Korean conflict, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) radio operators inadvertently found themselves acting as language translators and playing an important part in the radio operations of that theatre of war. No, it didn't mean converting English to some exotic tongue - rather, American to British and vice-versa! Allow me to elaborate.

A former RCN communicator recalled one of the instances as he told how he had listened to an American radioman trying to explain some message to his counterpart in a British cruiser. The British sailor was becoming more frustrated by the minute as he tried to fathom the American's drawl. "Finally," said the Canadian, he could not take it any longer and called out, "is there anyone out there who can tell me what this message is all about?" The Canadian then broke in. "I'm Canadian and I understand both your languages. It would be to your advantage to relay through me".

This type of 'relay' service was used on several occasions and also included messages between ships and aircraft. Canadian communicators usually got along with their United States Navy and Royal Navy counterparts. They used the same terminology as the British so difficulty was rarely encountered there. They spoke almost the same version of English as did the Americans so it was easy to understand them. The Canadian's main complaint was the American habit of asking repeatedly how the transmission was being received. The Canadian reply was the standard "I hear you loud and clear" . Americans, however, wanted an actual rating on the volume and clarity of their transmissions. The standard "loud and clear" to an American had to be a "five by five" or a "three by three" depending on the reception. No one knew the exact reason for this habit.

Since the Canadian communicators could not understand the reasoning behind this, they refused to comply. Eventually word got around that RCN ships were not about to adopt the American method and they would continue to acknowledge with "loud and clear". One dark night it all came to a climax when an American voice crackled through the static-filled airwaves for the fifth time with the request "How do you read me?". Plainly agitated, the Canadian replied for the fifth time, "I hear you loud and clear. I have been receiving you loud and clear for five minutes. There is no change." "Is that loud and clear a five by five?" the Yank persisted. No! Gawdammit!" the Canadian snarled, "it's a two by two by two". "I do not understand two by two by two," the confused Yank replied. "It means", growled the Canuck, "that I hear you too loud, too clear and too gawdamn often".

From that point onwards, verbal communication became easier, but on occasion the air would turn several shades of blue over annoying transmissions. The accents of Americans and British continued to grate on one another's nerves while the Canadians continued in their role as interpreters. This ability to understand both 'British English' and 'American English' aided them in their ultimate conquest of a far greater challenge. It took a few months but they eventually learned 'Australian English' - no easy feat.

Hedley Murton, a radio operator with a colourful naval career recounts this experience in Korean waters. "Whilst on the forenoon watch I got a call from a voice callsign 'Soda Water Dog', looked it up in the ACP and found it under US Air Force listings. I reported to the bridge that an American air force callsign was calling us, and on the say-so from above, remoted the circuit to the bridge, and went off to chow on being relieved. A short while later I was called to the bridge, where the lookouts had been scouring the skies for US aircraft, and the guns crews had nearly opened fire on an ‘un-notified’ motor boat coming around the nearby headland...Yeh. You guessed it! An air-sea rescue boat using a USAF call nearly got clobbered with ‘friendly fire’. Hedley was not very popular for a while".

Dennis Stapleton served in the RCN in the 1950's as a radio operator. He provides this insight regarding staffing levels and watches in the radio department.

A typical radio staff for a Tribal and most destroyers during peacetime would normally include:

Head of Department - Chief Petty Officer, Radio  (CPO)  or
                                    Petty Officer 1st Class   (P1CR)

Dayman :                     Petty Officer 2nd Class   (P2CR) or
                                   Senior Leading Seaman  (LSCR)

Watchkeepers:            2  OSCR's  -  Ordinary Seamen (Radio) (usually under training)
                                   3  ABCR's  -  Able Seamen  (Radio)
                                   2  LSCR's  -  Leading Seamen (Radio)

Giving a total radio staff complement of approximately 8 - 9 personnel to fulfill a 24 hour, three watch system which was normal for destroyers. Each watch was designated a color of Red,  Blue,  or Green

With manpower as above, a 3 watch system may be divided into the following rotations :

     Red -       1  LSCR,   1 OSCR
     Blue  -      1  LSCR,  1 ABCR,  1 OSCR (under training)
     Green -    2 ABCRs

This provided  two radio operators  per watch. The head of dept. did not stand watches. The dayman also did not stand watches but could be called upon to stand in if required.  Division of experience would ensure each watch was manned by trained, competent personnel. On larger ships such as cruisers and above, or a/c carriers a four watch system could be implemented.

Depending on the mission, the radio watch system could be altered accordingly and staff increased or decreased.


In the early 1950’s, concerns were expressed about the effectiveness of the communications systems aboard HMC Ships particularly with message handling procedures and layout of equipment. In July 1953, a study was carried out aboard HMCS Huron by the Defence Research Board.  Part 1 (and the only part available to this web master) focuses on the radio procedures aboard Tribal Class ships during the Korean war era, the inefficiencies discovered and some proposals. The complete report can be read here.
Gregory McLean of Abbotsford B.C. describes the work attire during this period. "The main working rig in the RCN during the 1950's was denim. We wore denim trousers, called dungarees, denim shirt and denim jacket. The lot was topped with a white naval cap. Up to the mid 50's, we had black hats and white hats. Black with the uniform in winter and white in summer, however, we always wore white caps with working dress. In summer, the working dress was a shirt with sleeves rolled above the elbow while in winter, sleeves were down and a jacket was worn.

The dress in harbour and at sea differed. In most ships, the rig of the day up to 1600 hours was dungarees. If in harbour, from suppertime onwards, we wore our number three uniform and it was worn without a collar. That naval uniform was reserved for working, while number two was for walking out and number one was used for ceremonial occasions. At sea, from suppertime and through the evening, we wore dungarees with a gun shirt or a T-shirt. The gun shirt was cotton with a square neck, bordered with blue piping. T- shirts had closer fitting necks. Officers, and P1's wore white shirts".


It was also the responsibility of the radio department to operate the ship's Sound Reproduction Equipment. SRE usually consisted of record players and entertainment receivers.

ABRS "Spud" Roscoe at the controls of the SRE equipment in HMCS SWANSEA, January 1961. At the lower right corner of the photo is the Hallicrafters SX-62. (Photo courtesy Spud Roscoe)

A closeup of the SX-62 receiver. Among its excellent features was a string dial and a weighted tuning control, which was ideal for sea. (Photo courtesy Museum of Radio and Technology web page 
Douglas Moulton, P1WR4 served in the RCN until March, 1968. Aboard HMCS Magnificent, he and two of his buddies ran the SRE for over a year. Doug recalls. " The Electrical Officer (Lt. Sprout, as I recall) got his department to reconfigure a record player with gimbals and an oversized turn-table, which worked perfectly, regardless of the sea state. What really made it worthwhile was a chance meeting with some USN types that were operating the US Armed Forces Radio network in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  They had hundreds of used transcription recordings, a half hour on each side of a sixteen inch disc (I think that was the size) and offered them to us, which we gleefully accepted.  I do not recall the numbers, but I am certain there were more than sixty.  Material as "Fibber Magee and Molly", "Boston Blackie", "Edgar Bergan and Charlie McCarthy", Bob Hope shows, and no end of Big Band concerts.  I must say, the SRE gang were quite a hit after that! "


 [1] GLTC means Great Lakes Training Center. It operated and was headquartered in the COND building at HMCS Star which is now the CFRB Hamilton building adjacent to STAR. The main feature of the GLTC was the Basin and Pier 9 where HMCS HAIDA now berthed. In the summer, small ships of the Atlantic Fleet would arrive at GLTC but once the St. Lawrence Seaway opened up in 1959, GLTC saw some of the navy's bigger ships. The Gate vessels were a fixture there in the 1960's.

[2] COND means Commanding Officer Naval Divisions, now known as Commander Naval Reserve  (COMNAVRES). Both GLTC and COND operated out of Hamilton from about 1953  to approximately 1968. GLTC became a fatality of Unification, as did the title COND. Naval Reserve HQ then moved back to Ottawa until the mid-1990's when it was moved to Quebec City as part of a Francophone initiative. It remains there today.

Although Unification too effect on February 1, 1968 a lot of the changes were slow to trickle down into the Naval Reserve. As late as 1972 there were still personnel in blue, not green uniforms. Some things did however, change quickly such ID numbers (now becomming your SIN number),  rank names (an SLT became a LT(S), where S = Sea Element). A lot of the changes were short-lived or evolved. A LCOL(S) commanding a ship was still referred to as a CDR onboard.

[3] Tom Fullerton, ex-RCN sonarman and electrician details the "bathy" measurement.  "A fellow sonarman, one John E. ("Jack") Dineen, had a special duty job to to take a a bathy reading every four hours, night and day. Special duty meant no other watchkeeping. It is believed that  the reason as to why a special duty position was created was to arrest the loss of  instruments due to mishandling by whoever was taking the measurement. It could be anyone on watch.  The bathy person had to communicate with the bridge to let them know when he was ready to "stream," at which point the bridge would alter course and speed (I believe the maximum speed was 15 knots) and hold a steady course until the instrument was recovered.

The bridge would give the order to "stream bathy" when everything had settled down, and the operator out on deck would call the bridge when done and report "bathy recovered" or something like that. The bathy was attached to a thin seven-stranded stainless steel cable.  This cable ran from a winch through a boom which swiveled out a few feet from the hull. I think we ran out 1,000 feet (maybe more) of the cable. The deepest depth readings, I seem to recall ran to 400 to 500 feet. If instance, the ship altered course to starboard, the cable would end up entangled in the port screw.

We used to see some pretty significant thermoclimes, especially down south and in the Gulf Stream. Up north, around Labrador and in Hudson's Bay, there was little noticeable difference in water temperature".

Contributors and Credits:

1) Douglas Moulton <dgmjustme(at)>
2) Neil S. Bell <rcnr(at)>
3) Jim Brewer <snack.235(at)>
4)  Signalman Trade Group One Manual BRCN 3038(63). Published by RCN, 1960; revised 1963.
5) Tom Fullerton <tfullerton(at)>
6) Williamson, Commander Robert J., HMCS STAR: A Naval Reserve History, Hamilton 1991, Page 93 & 94
7) Bill Clearihue <wclearihue(at)>
8) Spud Roscoe   <spud.roscoe(at)>
9) Dennis Stapleton  <lor-den(at)>

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