PRE WWII NAVAL RADIO EQUIPMENT and COMMS

RCN SHIPS FROM 1910 to 1939

Very little information exists regarding the radio fits of RCN ships prior to the outbreak of WWII.  If  you have any info about radio equipment from the period 1910 to 1939,  please contact: jerry.proc@sympatico.ca.

It would be logical to begin this discussion by identifying the ships of the RCN from 1910 to the outbreak of WWII on September 1 , 1939. This is nicely summarized in this extract from "The Ships of Canada's Naval Forces" 1910 - 2002" by Ken Macpherson and Ron Barrie.
 

  "The Canadian  Navy came into existence on May 4, 1910, when the Naval Service Act became law, and later that year its first ships were commissioned - two cruisers purchased from the Royal Navy (RN). Permission to add the prefix "Royal" was granted by King George V in 1911. Apart from two submarines acquired in 1914, Niobe and Rainbow were the only offensive warships to serve in the RCN during the First World War.

The Act provided, however, that the Department of Naval Service should incorporate the fisheries patrol, hydrographic, tidal survey, and wireless telegraphic services of the Department of Marine and Fisheries. The ships associated with these services were the backbone of the young navy during most of the war. When not needed as naval vessels they carried on their regular peacetime duties, sometimes performing both roles simultaneously. There were also five former yachts and a number of ships commandeered from customs, post office, and navigational aids maintenance duties, as well as a host of tugs and motor launches. Information regarding their naval careers is now very scarce.

This motley assortment did a creditable job as patrol craft, minesweepers, and examination vessels, particularly off the east coast, the German threat in the Pacific having faded after Admiral Graf von Spee's defeat in December 1914. In 1914 three classes of minesweeping trawlers and drifters began to make their appearance from a variety of yards on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Four of the trawlers were to be among the few ships the Navy could boast during the lean years between the wars.

Niobe and Rainbow went to the scrap yard in 1920, to be replaced by the modern cruiser Aurora and the destroyers Patrician and Patriot. Doomed by budget cuts, Aurora was retired in 1922 along with two submarines acquired in 1919. With the creation of the Department of National Defence in 1922 the miscellaneous government ships mentioned earlier ceased to be considered, even on paper, as naval vessels and were transferred back to the Department of Marine and Fisheries. Patrician and Patriot were replaced in 1928 by Champlain and Vancouver, so that from 1922 to 1931 the RCN consisted in its entirety of a destroyer and two trawlers on each coast.

In 1931 the destroyers Saguenay and Skeena, the first ships designed and built for the RCN, were commissioned; Fraser and St. Laurent were purchased from the RN in 1937 as replacements for Champlain and Vancouver, and a year later Restigouche and Ottawa joined them.  A class of four modern minesweepers was added in 1938, and the training schooner Venture, training ship Skidegate, and trawler Armentieres made up the rest of the thirteen ships that constituted the RCN on the eve of the Second World War.

At the beginning of the war in 1939, the RCN  consisted of some 1700 officers and men, some of whom had received their training from the Royal Navy. It was then the only place where they could obtain professional training. By the end of the war in 1945, the navy had reached almost 100,000 personnel".

CHRONOLOGY OF MAJOR RCN SHIPS - 1910 TO 1939
(Reference for dates is Canadian Warship Names)
 
RCN NAME RN NAME COMM-
ISSIONED.
[YY/MM/DD] 
PAID OFF. [YY/MM/DD]  COMMENTS
RAINBOW RAINBOW  1910/11/07  1920/06/01 Apollo Class light cruiser 
NIOBE NIOBE 1910/08/04 1920/05/31 Diadem Class cruiser
CC1 --- 1914/10/06 1918/12/13 Submarine. Purchased by the BC Govt from Electric Boat Co. Resold to RCN
CC2 --- 1914/10/06 1918/12/13 Submarine. Purchased by the BC Govt from Electric Boat Co.. Resold to RCN
AURORA AURORA 1920/11/01  1922/07/01 Arethusa Class cruiser 
PATRICIAN  PATRICIAN 1920/11/1  1928/01/01   'M' Class destroyer
PATRIOT PATRIOT 1920/11/01  1927/12   'M' Class destroyer
CHAMPLAIN TORBAY  1928/03/01  1936/11/25  'S' Class destroyer 
VANCOUVER TOREADOR  1928/03/01  1936/11/25  'S' Class destroyer 

Originally, Captain H.B. Jackson of the Royal Navy wanted to develop an IFF system to distinguish friend or foe torpedo boats. In 1895, he constructed his first wireless set which was able to communicate from one end of the ship to the other!  Marconi’s equipment was better than his, however when Marconi approached the Admiralty, they rejected his apparatus because the lease terms were not good.

Jackson continued to experiment with radios which the Admiralty designated as “service sets”.  It was a leapfrog of improvements between Jackson and Marconi equipment.  By 1901 some ships were equipped with service sets, while others had Marconi equipment.  In reference to the first ships purchased from the Royal Navy by the RCN, it is not known if these vessels were fitted with Jackson’s service sets or (British) Marconi   gear.

The naval radio operators were called Warrant Officer Telegraphist during WWI and held commercial certificates. George Harris was the Warrant Officer Telegraphist in HMCS NIOBE. After the war he was in charge of all the radio stations and radio licencing up until after WWII. Amateur radio licences were issued by  George as well.

Of the 13 ships on strength in 1939, six of them were destroyers. They are shown in the table below.

RCN NAME RN NAME COMMISSIONED COMMENTS
       
SAGUENAY   H01  --- 1931/05/22 Saguenay Class Destroyer (1928)
SKEENA         H03  --- 1931/06/10 'Saguenay Class Destroyer (1928) 
       
FRASER   H48 CRESCENT  1937/02/17 'C' Class Destroyer
OTTAWA  H60 CRUSADER  1938/06/15 'C' Class Destroyer
ST. LAURENT  H83 CYGNET  1937/02/17 'C' Class Destroyer
RESTIGOUCHE   H00 COMET  1938/06/15 'C' Class Destroyer
Two Canadian ships, Saguenay and Skeena, were designed to be of a similar performance and specification to the British 'A" class destroyers to allow them to tactically compatible with their counterparts in the Royal Navy. They had their bows strengthened with heavier plating to enable them to perform in areas with ice, and with a large metacentric height to allow for the build-up of ice and snow on the superstructure. Their length was three feet less than their British counterparts, and their displacement also decreased, although only slightly. The ships were built by John I. Thornycroft & Company in Woolston, Hampshire and had the broad, slab-sided funnels characteristic of that builder.

The four Fundy Class minesweepers in commission were:

NAME PENDANT COMMISSIONED COMMENTS
COMOX J64 1938/11/23  
FUNDY J88 1938/09/02  
GASPE J94 1938/09/02  
NOOTKA J35 1938/12/06  
The last three ships in the group were training vessels. The Battle Class minesweepers were fitted out with spark equipment (when launched) probably made by Canadian Marconi. The one that  survived to the eve of WWII would have been refitted with the Canadian Marconi LTT-4. Due to lack of records, the radio fits of all the miscellaneous ships (ie yachts, tugs, motor launches etc) from other government departments  that were once part of the pre-WWII navy are not listed.
NAME PENDANT COMMISSIONED COMMENTS
       
ARMENTIÈRES   J29/U02/N29 1926/07/16
(3rd time)
Battle Class trawler used as a training ship. Built by Canadian Vickers, Montreal
SKIDEGATE   Z20 1938/07/25  Auxiliary craft used for training . Built in Vancouver BC. 
VENTURE   D16/I16  1937/10/25 Three masted sailing vessel used as a training ship. Built in Meteghan, NS

SHORE STATIONS

On the East Coast, the RCN had a small shore station with call sign VAA in the Halifax dockyard during WWI. Just before WWII, around 1935, they opened CFH in  Stadacona. CFH grew from there. There were no high frequency operations until CFH was established at Albro Lake and Newport Corners in 1942.

Here is an excerpt from from "Electronics and Sea Power" (Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlett, 1975):

"On the eve of the outbreak of war in 1939, the Admiralty had direct high frequency wireless communication with seventeen stations throughout the world, from Esquimalt in British Columbia to Simonstown in South Africa and Hong Kong on the China Station". It is not known if the RCN shared this broadcast facility but it would seem to make sense that it would.

RADIO EQUIPMENT and FITS
Due to lack of information some generalizations and assumptions will be made here. Any vessel which was built in the UK was fitted with British radio gear while the four pre war minesweepers had the Canadian Marconi  LTT-4 transmitter and probably the companion National HRO receiver. Ex RN ships acquired by the RCN in the WWI era would have been fitted with spark gap transmitters and crystal receivers. The American destroyers that were exchanged with both the British and Canadian navies during WWII retained their American radio equipment. Unfornately no USN radio manifests are available at this time.
cc2_radioroom.jpg
Circa 1914: This is both the forward torpedo compartment and wardroom of the Canadian submarine CC2 with the radio operator's stool in front of the radio. The photographer is standing where the wardroom table would be if the sub was prepared for sea. There were two reasons for having the radio here. It was for security and because the officers were the only ones allowed to use it. (Marcom Museum photo) 

 
ltt4_front_door_open.jpg
The Canadian Marconi LTT-4 transmitter shown with its front door open. Additional information on the LTT-4 can be found here  (Photo courtesy of Laval Desbiens via SPECTRALUMNI). 
acadia_antenna_board1.jpg
This is the antenna switch board and dummy load aboard CCS Acadia. It is not known if this a pre or post 1939 fit but it certainly does look 1930-ish. (Photo from the Halifax Radio Club Archives) 
SPECIFIC RADIO FITS

HMCS SAGUENAY  H01 (undated)

Main transmitter: Type 37M. Range 3 to 20 MHz Circa 1933
F/C transmitter: Type 83 Range 2300 to 4200 KHz . Modes Range 3 to 20 MHz  MCW and Phone. Circa 1923. A low power set with a reliable transmitting range of 20 miles.
Main receivers:
CI   Depending on the variant, within the range of 12 to 2,500 KHz.; QL (3 to 25 MHz depending on variant);
HRO. (1700 MHz to 30 MHz)..  HRO photo by Andre Guibert
Fire Control Office receiver: CE (1.6 to 6 MHz)
Aerial Exchange Board: Type GD
Wavemeter Type G7. Range 5 to 25 MHz
Ship's voltage: 100 VDC

SAGUENAY and SKEENA had a Type 83 transmitter fitted in the F/C office with a suitable receiver, namely type CE.  The receiver was functional for its purpose, but the transmitter was too low powered to be effective in all circumstances. As a result, the RN replaced their 83’s in favour of the Type 51 [HV] and a CQ receiver in lieu of the CE receiver. That was not applicable to the RCN.

HMCS SKEENA   H03  (undated)

Main transmitter: Type 37M. Range 3 to 20 MHz, Circa 1933
F/C transmitter : Type 83  Range-  2300 to 4200 KHz. Modes MCW and Phone. Circa 1923.  A low power set with a reliable transmitting range of 20 miles.
Main receivers: CI (12 to 2000 KHz)  and  HRO
Fire Control Office receiver: CE (1.6 to 6 MHz)
Aerial Exchange Board: Type GD
Wavemeter Type G7 Range 5 to 25 MHz
DF Set: Canadian Marconi MDF-5
Portable set: Type 53
Ship's voltage:  100 VDC

The presence of the Canadian Marconi MDF-5 in this list is interesting. The set utilizes the following tube types: 1N5, IT5, 1G4 and IH5, all part of a directly heated filament tube series which was introduced between 1938 and 1939. The MDF-5 made its debut in 1942. Skeena was wrecked in a storm in Iceland in Oct 1944. All those dates suggest that the radio manifest might be in the date range of 1942 to 1944.

In the Royal Navy, the receiver and transmitter situated in the Gunnery Fire Control Office (F/C)  were  manned and operated by the Gunnery Officer directing fire. They were controlled through a W/T Control Unit. Later during WWII, the equipment in the F/C office, hitherto unique to that Office, was connected to the overall W/T system so that telegraphists could use this equipment  for communications purposes when not required for gunnery. This was never achieved in the RCN.

 
skeena_radio_office.jpg
(Undated) -  A portion of the radio office in HMCS SKEENA. At the left is is the British Admiralty 4TA transmitter with the coil drawers above and behind. At the right is the National HRO-SPC receiver. (From the collection of Allan Riley). 

A veteran who served aboard HMCS Skeena prior to and during WW II stated that when they got the call to head for the East coast (from Esquimalt) in 1937 "we stopped in San Francisco and bought an HRO receiver". 

The HRO receiver in the Skeena photo must have been made in the late 1930s since that is when the National ID tag was moved to the upper right-hand corner of the panel. The radio receiver itself is obviously what we now refer to as the HRO Senior model. The National company  literature from this period simply calls it the HRO and refers to a simpler version that was available as the HRO Junior .The most obvious difference in the Junior is the deletion of the 'S' meter and crystal filter.


Contributors and Credits:

1) Spud Roscoe <spudroscoe(at)eastlink.ca>
2) The Ships of Canada's Naval Forces 1910-2002. Ken Macpherson and Ron Barrie 2002. Vanwell Publishing, St. Catharines, Ontario.
3) Laval Desbiens <desbiens.laval(at)videotron.ca>  SPECTRALUMNI http://www.SPECTRALUMNI.ca
4) Tom Brent <navyradiocom(at)gmail.com>
5) "Electronics and Sea Power" .Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlett, 1975.
6) 'A' Class   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-class_destroyer_(1929)
7) Skeena and Saguenay radio fits. http://www.rnmuseumradarandcommunications2006.org.uk/DESTROYERS%20SAG%20TO%20W.pdf
8) Transmitters: ttp://www.rnmuseumradarandcommunications2006.org.uk/ Transmitters%20Late%201920%20to%20Early%201950.pdf
9) Receivers http://www.rnmuseumradarandcommunications2006.org.uk/THE%20VALVE%20RECEIVERS.pdf
10) Canadian Warship Names by David Freeman. 2000  Vanwell Publishing, St. Catharines Ont. ISBN 1-55125-048-9

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Dec 20/13