coverdale_badge.jpg Coverdale, a tender to Stadacona, was established as a naval radio ststion  (HF/DF) on Nov 23, 1942. It was situated across the Petitcodiac River, slightly south of Moncton, New Brunswick. Construction was completed in the January-February 1944 period and commencement of operations began when WRENS started arriving in numbers.The name Coverdale came from a village in the immediate vicinity and was named after Myles Coverdale, who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible in English in 1535. Because this site was located over a tremendous bog, it was  selected for HF/DF operations because it provided a very good ground plane for radio frequency signals and the abundance of water provided a good source of domestic water.


The requirement to build Coverdale was part of the RCN’s General Extension of DF Facilities 1942-3 program. Other stations in this program were to be built at Gloucester, Ont.; London, Ont.; Cap D’espoir, PQ; Lacombe, Alberta; Westlock, Alberta; Medicine Hat, Alberta; Churchill, Manitoba; Albro Lake, N.S. and Gordon Head , BC. The cost of this expansion was budgeted at $770,415.

The Coverdale site was selected after an extensive survey by the Director of Signals Division, RCN.  It was to be located in the town of Gunningville,  Albert County, New Brunswick. On Nov 23, 1942, the Coverdale ‘DF’ and ‘Y’ site was given financial approval by the Treasury board thus establishing the base. The approval was granted based on the requirements provided in file NS1074-6-2 dated Aug 31, 1942 5. In one document, Coverdale is also referred to as a ‘Z’ site.

Planning for the site started much earlier than the establishment date as attested by the July 7, 1942 date written  on some of the site planning blueprints.

By Aug 31, 1942 the facilities required for Coverdale were generally defined as follows:

BUILDINGS:  Main Operational Building;  Subsidiary Operational Building Barracks; three car garage with living quarters above it for male personnel.
Estimated cost : $180,000

- A 10 kilowatt  electrical feed from Moncton Gas and Electric.
- Two parcels of land. Parcel A was to be 800 by 1300 feet,  Parcel B was to be 600 by 600 feet.
   Both parcels to be fenced in by a wood fence.
- Wooden antenna masts: Five 90 ft., four 60 ft., two 25 ft., and six 15 ft. securely guyed and provided with pole steps and with blocks for halyards.
- A gasoline powered standby (emergency) motor-generator with an automatic switchover panel.


In order for Coverdale to act as the control station for the east coast DF network, the
following were needed :

- A private tone channel for the Cap d’Espoir Quebec D/F station.
- A Teletype circuit to NSHQ, Ottawa.
- A private telephone line on the Moncton exchange for administrative purposes.
- Two lines for the use of personnel (preferably pay phones). All of the lines had to be brought into the station through underground cable from the main road.
- Grounding system for the site similar to the one being planned for Gloucester

The equipment and furnishings for the base was expected to initially cost $61,000. There was no specific mention of radio equipment.


The initial personnel will consist of three male officers , four W.R.C.N.S. officers, three male ratings and 140 WRCNS ratings.

By Dec 11, 1942, the Navy started negotiations to procure real estate from the Nolan brothers . Thomas Nolan had one of the largest farms in the Maritime provinces containing about 1,200 acres. On it was 200 head of cattle, 15 horses, 1,500 pigs, 500 foxes and a payroll of 25 farm hands.  He was strongly against selling 32.1 acres out of the center of his farm in order to keep it unbroken. After several interviews, he suggested to the Crown to expropriate the land and pay him the princely sum of $25,000 6. Alternately, he was quite willing to lease the parcel of land for the duration of the war at a rental price of $600 per annum.  The Crown, however, felt that the land had been overvalued so they made an offer to purchase at a more realistic value of  $11,200 with an rental price of $500 per month as an alternate.  The navy also had a concern about erecting $180,000 worth of buildings on leased land but the treasury board said there was nothing that could be done about that since there was no salvage value in the buildings. Since the board  could not anticipate any use for the land after the war, approval was given to lease instead of buy.

An additional, but smaller tract of land was also required from Henry Muncie, Nolan’s neighbour. It was felt that the deal with Nolan should be concluded before approaching Muncie. On March 8, 1943, the Crown signed a lease for 32.1 acres of land with the Nolan brothers and on April 19, 1943, another lease for additional land. The duration of  the leases were not to extend beyond the cessation of hostilities and one year thereafter. The Nolans retained the right to cut any hay on the leased land. Within the space of 8 months, the station was completed and became operational in the January-February 1944 time frame as Wrens started arriving in strength.

During WWII, the major activity at the station was taking D/F bearings on German U-boats and assisting with search and rescue operations for aircraft in distress. In the book No Day Long Enough, page 179, RDF Chapter, F.D.Green says "The first installation near Moncton, NB, detected a U-boat and set in motion a successful attack resulting in its destruction".

Between December 1949 and July 1956 it was renamed HMC NRS Coverdale. From July 1, 1956 to July 19, 1966 it was known as HMCS Coverdale. After the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces, the station became CFS Coverdale. According to Bruce Forsyth, Coverdale took on a whole new face in the early 1950's when a typographical error in the Moncton area phone book listed the station as "Naval Ladies Station Coverdale". By 1950, Coverdale was part of the Canada-United States Atlantic High Frequency Direction Finding Network.

This map shows the former location of HMCS COVERDALE relative to the city of Moncton and the Petitcodiac River. What used to be the Coverdale ball field is now the site of the Nav Canada Aircraft Control Centre. (Map courtesy 


HMCS Coverdale was part of SUPRAD (Supplementary Radio) which is the acronym for an oblique reference to intelligence collection, especially by radio. The Commander of the branch, who was based in Gloucester, Ontario was known by the official title SOSRS which meant Senior Officer Supplementary Radio Stations. His functions were mainly administrative. Operational responsibility rested in DSRA (Director Supplementary Radio Activities) an authority in the Naval Staff Branch, which comprised such directorates as Naval Communications, Naval Organization, Naval Information, Naval Plans and Operations, Naval Intelligence, etc. The titles SOSRS and DSRA disappeared with implementation of the Canadian Forces Unification Act.

In 1950, the RCN and the USN formally agreed to coordinate and standardize HF/DF activities ashore. Jointly, it was called  the Atlantic HF/DF Network. This initiative resulted in the integration of all Canadian and US stations into two networks which would provide mutual support for the common objective of maritime warfare. The two networks were comprised of five RCN stations: Coverdale, NB; Chimo (1949-52), Frobisher Bay, N.W.T.; Gander, Nfld; Bermuda (1963 onwards), Gloucester, Ont. and ten USN stations. On the west coast, that arm of the Net was called the Eastern Pacific Network and consisted of one RCN station at Masset, British Columbia and eight USN stations.

Coverdale was also designated as the Alternate Net Control station for the Atlantic Network. The primary Atlantic Net Control station was located at Cheltenham, Maryland. In actual practice, Coverdale performed this function about 25% of the time just to keep the operation up and ready.

Each target sent out by net control was known as a flash and consisted of the frequency, followed by a short pause, then the target identity. When required, Coverdale could originate flash directives which were picked up on broadcast frequencies by the net's outstations. This info was encrypted in a one-time pad system that was very easy to use and very rapid. Each flash was given a number, one-up daily. The Atlantic net control identified its flashes by the letter F. Alternate Control (Coverdale) used the letter 'M'. As an example, to collect the bearings, NSS would send:  NAQ de NSS XDY F15 K. This meant "report bearing obtained on flash number F15". Stations would then report in predetermined sequence and send their bearings encrypted in a four letter code.

The received flashes were decoded, targets searched and target bearings observed, then encoded and reported to Net Control, either by HF radio or landline. There were a lot of stations and it was all encrypted and classified of course.  Communications was mainly handled by landline teletype with CW as a backup. The net used its own set of operating signals as opposed to Q or Z signals. They all began with X. The number of of stations in the Net remained constant well into the 1950's and 1960's until more modern HF/DF technology and cost cutting measures caused a reduction in their numbers. The collective call for all stations of the Atlantic net was NAQ while the collective call sign for the Canadian stations was rarely used and only when CKT (Coverdale) was net control.

It should be noted that in the period prior to Coverdale assuming the duties of Alternate Net Control, the operator(s) in the DF shack copied the flashes and responded to them directly. However, when Coverdale took over duties as Alternate Net Control, the plotting and assignments were done in the operations room, and they spoke to the shack via the intercom.

When Coverdale closed in 1971 all SIGINT operations were transferred to 770 Squadron, Gander, Newfoundland.

An except from The War History of the Radio Branch, NRC provides an excellent summary of the early developments in direction finding technology. "From 1933 onwards, direction finding equipment of the cathode ray type (CRDF) was produced by the Radio Laboratories of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) .The first of such sets, which was AC powered,  was produced in 1935 and operated on the enormous wavelength of 25,000 meters (12 kHz) for atmospherics investigations. This development led naturally to design and construction of other CRDF instruments.

D/F sets were built for shore based stations to demonstrate their utility in the ship-to-shore direction finding service which was then operated by the Department of Transport. The equipment was given a year's trial by NRC personnel in Halifax and ended in 1940. Sets were also built for operation in an aircraft but the later advent of radar made this application less attractive.

Development of a short wave set for operation in ground stations began in September 1938. This initiative was of great interest to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) amongst others. A laboratory model was completed in December 1939. Preliminary field trials of this set, which employed two bands to cover the frequency range of 1.5 to 7.2 mcs, continued until  May 1940. In December 1941, a request was made by the RCN for further development of the short wave CRDF set to a stage suitable for operational use in interception work. After some improvements were made, especially in the antenna, satisfactory demonstrations and field trials were held in April 1942. A joint committee of the three armed services was formed for the purpose of laying down specifications  for a pilot model to be built by Sparton Radio of Canada.

A prototype antenna system was installed by the NRC Radio Branch at a site near London, Ontario. Final demonstrations to the services were held in December 1942 and February 1943 when the pilot models and the antenna design were approved. Orders for about 100 CRDF sets and antennas were placed by the services with Sparton during the spring of 1943. The first production antennas were shipped to the Navy in September 1943 and the first receivers early in March 1944. Field trials of the production units were conducted by the Radio Branch at a naval installation and the results of these trials were submitted to the CRDF committee for approval.

The first production antennas were shipped to the RCN in September 1943 and the first receivers early in March 1944. A CRDF set was installed at all stations of the SUPRAD group including Coverdale. There were four production models available.

1) "A" Band set covering 2.7 to 6.8 mcs      (Whip length 35 feet)
2) "B" Band set covering 6.5 to 13.0 mcs    (Whip length 25 feet)
3) "C" Band set covering 12.5 to 25.0 mcs  (Whip length  18 feet)
4) "ABC" band set covering 2.7 to 25.0 mcs

Here are the results when the resonant frequencies of the whips are calculated. Note the frequency of resonance  with respect to band boundaries:

For A band, 2.7 to to 6.8 Mhz , the 35 foot length is resonant at 7.02 mHz . Mid range is 4.7 mHz
For B band, 6.5 to 13. MHz, the 25 foot length is resonant at 9.84 mHz. Mid range is 9.25 mHz
For C band 12.5 to 25.0 mHz, the 18 foot length is resonant at 13.66 mHz but mid band is 18.75 mHz

The ABC set, while sacrificing some sensitivity and accuracy in parts of the spectrum, had the advantage of requiring only one operator to cover the whole short wave band. The production model was the most sensitive, visual DF unit used during the WWII, having an overall sensitivity of 0.5 to 1.5 microvolts per metre over most of the spectrum and bearing indication accurate to one degree. Some of the difficulties encountered in direction finding, owing to the arrival of fading sky wave signals at the antenna, were eliminated by the use of the "lock-dot" circuit. This shows on the cathode ray tube screen, only those portions of a signal which arrive only by the most direct route from the transmitter. Other portions of the sky wave which, due to the vagaries of the ionosphere follow devious paths, are eliminated". This feature was considered to be state-of-the-art and was highly classified, not only in wartime but also in the ten year period after the war.

In the RCN, the CRDF was designated as the CNF4. "Following the acceptance tests on the production equipment, NRC assisted in installation work at a second naval station where difficulties were encountered in the use of lead covered transmission lines from the antennas to the operation huts  Means of  testing these cables were devised and further investigations by the Radio Branch brought about a change in the cable design. NRC engineers gave considerable assistance to Sparton in the original design of the CRDF production model and to some of the problems which arose later. Assistance was also given to the Canadian Army Signals Corps in the first installation of a CRDF in a mobile unit in the fall of 1944. Several of these units were later shipped to the Far East".

Ray White a ex-RCN radio operator recalls the period. "Development of the CNF4 followed the first Canadian efforts in that field in 1942 when Bill McLeish and Jack Lee of the NRC produced the first CNF4 which was used at stations like Coverdale, NB; Gloucester, Ontario; Masset, British Columbia etc.  At the time, there were rumours that the Army and RCAF had CNF4 D/F sets but this was never confirmed. I knew Jack personally from his many visits to Arctic radio stations. He was with us when we installed the CNF4 in Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit) and constructed the ground mat for the Adcock antenna array in the summer 1954".

Andre Guibert a vintage electronics collector in Quebec, owns a CNF4/DFR-23 set. The front panel of his set has an integrated nameplate with the following designator: "D/F HF C.R. Type Receiver". A subtitle on the manual further defines it as the model DFR-23. On the inside of the CRT chassis, another tag indicates "D/F H.F. Receiver. RCAF Ref 10D/6645 S/N 36. Made in 1945".

The manual indicates that at least 6.5 acres of real estate should be devoted for the Adcock aerials. In the specifications, it said there should be no nails in wooden fences and no power lines within 1 mile. All cabling had to be buried in concrete raceways at least 4 feet underground. The CRT unit measures 11.5 in. wide by 23 in. high by 24.5 in. deep. Included with the ABC variant were three RF units, one IF unit and a power supply. The table on which the CNF4 sat was specially built and formed an integral part of the wiring installation. A large power supply kept the operator's feet warm, a feature very welcomed in cold, drafty areas. The edge of the table-top had controls for balancing the signal when the operator changed frequency. This is known as the operate-common function".

John Murison recalls his service at Coverdale. "I trained at Gloucester in 1950, drafted to Fort Chimo in 1951 then arrived at Coverdale in the fall of 1952 as a Leading Seaman (LSCS2) where I became a Watch Supervisor. Following several other postings, I returned to Coverdale in 1957 then left in September 1961 as a Petty Officer Second Class (P2CS3). During my service I worked at almost every station that had a CNF4 operation.

John studied the picture of the WREN in Coverdale and notes that this CNF4 is positioned differently than the one he remembers. "The set as laid out in this picture is a bit different from the way we used it. In the picture, the three RF units are to the operators left and the IF unit is just showing at the right side. Our practice was to have the three RF units as laid out here, then the IF unit was placed at an angle. Finally, the monitor unit was at right angles facing toward the centre of the desk. The small speaker on the desk was an intercom to the operations building while the circular section above the CR tube was the loudspeaker for the DF set. Not shown in the photo is the edge of the table which had two switches; the first being the three position band change switch and the other, the Operate-Common switch. Its purpose was to ensure that a signal provided from a signal generator  would produce a bearing exactly at 45 degrees. Around the CR tube were controls for the Sense function, where (in theory) half the signal was cut off to help resolve the actual direction of the target, i.e. 90 degrees instead of reading 90/270). Incidentally, bearings from the CNF4 on the lower end of 'A' band were notoriously unpredictable thus rendering it virtually useless for D/F work. Most of our work was done in the 'B' bad, the upper part of 'A' band and the lower portion of 'C'  band.

The Sparton D/F set was extremely sensitive and worked well for both CW and phone transmissions. Since we had reporting frequencies on the Atlantic HF/DF net on 9405 and 12097.5 kcs, these were almost right on the BBC World Service so we listened to the "Beeb" while on watch.

The Adcock antenna array consisted of whips on four corners and a fifth, a Sense mast in the centre. At the base of each mast there was a base amplifier, which used vacuum tubes that were always replaced as a set to ensure as much as possible, that their characteristics did not differ".

Click to enlarge any photo.
coverdale_ag_rfmods_s.jpg The three RF modules formerly from the CNF4/DFR23 in Andre Guibert's collection.  (Photo by Andre Guibert) 
coverdale_cnf4_101_0205_crt_s.jpg CRT unit. Note the "Lock Dot" feature. The entire receiver weighed 85 pounds. (Photo by Jacques Hamel)
coverdale_cnf4_101_0208_rfunit_s.jpg Closeup of the RF unit for Band A. (Photo by Jacques Hamel)
coverdale_cnf4_101_0201_s.jpg The complete CNF-4 set. The IF unit is to the right of the CRT unit..Power consumption was 400 watts at 115 VAC 60 Hz. (Photo by Jacques Hamel)
coverdale_cnf4_101_0203_s.jpg Calibration adjustments were made at the top of the RF units. (Photo by Jacques Hamel)
coverdale_dfr23_manual_s.jpg The bottom portion of the front of the manual clearly indicates the level of security. It was issued in February 1944. This equipment was declassified in 1982 by DND. (Photo by Andre Guibert)
coverdale_adcock_array_s.jpg This drawing shows only one of the three Adcock arrays used by the CNF4. Illustrated is the one for the 'A' band.. This CNF-4 receiver needed 6 acres of land to accommodate all antenna arrays.  (Image courtesy Andre Guibert)
coverdale_adcock_camperdown_s.jpg This is an example of the Adcock array as it appeared at Camperdown Radio VCS in September, 1949. (NRC photo #2360F provided by Spud Roscoe)
IF unit nameplate. (Photo by Jacques Hamel)
Ray White summarizes the D/F operations at Coverdale during the war years. " The intercept operators, (not necessarily the D/F operators) would search the appropriate bands for the established characteristics of enemy signals.  The German high speed transmissions of that era were not really all that fast and were generally repeated after a few seconds. Both shipboard and shore based HF/DF operators could get a quick bearing.  Individual stations could only obtain a bearing. Several bearings from different stations were required to establish a reliable fix. The search operators would use whatever communications receivers were available at the time. This could have included the RCA AR-88, the Canadian Marconi CSR5, and the National HRO.

In addition to these random searches through the appropriate bands, the allied stations had the advantage of decrypts of intercepted broadcasts from German Navy HQ which used the Enigma crypto machine and to which the Allies recovered the monthly keys quite rapidly, especially in the latter part of the war. German Navy HQ, using the fleet broadcast transmitter DAN1, would send messages which established the current reporting frequencies. If we, the Allies, were capable of doing this, and reports say we were, we would know what frequencies to scan for activity. Assisting us in this is the fact that there was a general radio silence by Allied ships and shore stations other than the encrypted broadcasts from stations like NSS, CFH etc. With a comparatively quiet band to work with, the chances of a signal being a potential enemy target was quite good.

There was no formal DF network set up with the U.S. during WWII. This was to come in 1950. As far as is known, the USN worked independently of RCN DF operation during that period".
So why was the intercept and DF function  assigned to separate operators? One would think that both functions could be done with just the DF receiver alone. Radio historian John Wise sheds some light  on the issue.

So why was the intercept and DF function  assigned to separate operators? One would think that both functions could be done with just the DF receiver alone. Radio historian John Wise sheds some light  on the issue.

“At the beginning of WWII, there were plenty of D/F systems in use but they were all Long Wave/ and Medium Wave sets. Although vacuum tubes had come into use by 1920 and superheterodyne receivers  stared  to emerge, there were few SW (short wave / high frequency) systems available. Some research work had been completed and a few (very few) HF D/F sets had appeared by 1939 but they were all aural systems. i.e. they did not have a visual display. So there were few equipments available;  typically in UK, the experimental FH1, Marconi’s FH2 and FH3 and eventually Plessey’s FH4 D/F sets emerged , but that latter system did not arrive until late 1942 and it was only in 1943 that significant numbers were manufactured.

But there was another problem. The tuning scales on HF D/F sets were very tight typically tuning over 6 MHz within 6 inches. Compare that with the Racal 17 receiver, with equivalent of 32 feet of tuning per MHz. So an operator used a wave meter or another convenient search receiver with a decent tuning scale to help set up the FH4.  From what I have read I don’t think the situation was much better the with American DAx series of HF D/F receivers. This is the main reason why RN ships intercept and D/F offices (commonly known as the 3rd wireless office) always had a search receiver located with the D/F kit. You tuned the D/F receiver as near as possible to the anticipated enemy frequency, in a ’wide’ bandpass mode, and then swing over to the intercept receiver, typically a Marconi B28. This was also true of short based HF D/F. The only major different being that they had the benefit of being able to switch to an Adcock aerial for long range skywave D/F. The Adcock gave much better results against skywave than the S25A/B series loops (canary cage).

So the answer is two fold: equipment entering the service rather late in the day and when CRDF arrived the tuning range was very tight. Of interest, the FH3 actually had an advantage over the FH4, for it used the Marconi B21A, which was similar to the B28 in that it had an d tuning range compared with the FH4, so it could more easily be used to search for hostile signals.

There is a third point that should not be ignored and this is where the typical Teutonic precision approach to problems actually benefited the radio intercept operators. The Germans used a ’grid’ system to order their U-boats about in the Atlantic (and the North Sea / Baltic etc).  The grid system also recognised distance or range from home base in terms of day/night preferred wavelengths. So where the RN had half a dozen ship to shore calling frequencies and one specific submarine (search and rescue) frequency, the Germans had dozens of frequencies. Meanwhile, the U-Boats boss, Grand Admiral Dönitz, always wanted to be in charge and demanded that his boats tell him where they were at least twice every day. Plus they were obliged to send regular weather reports and all these events occurred on different frequencies dependent upon the boats distance from home (i.e.what grid it was in). So if a (Ultra) report placed a sub’s position in grid 789XYZ, the operator knew what frequency the sub was likely to use for his reports. This significantly reduced the pressure for continuous wide ranging swings off the D/F tuning knob, because one was primarily concerned with sub in the immediate area, although one did still search on the intercept receiver.”


coverdale_wren_logo.jpgAfter Coverdale opened its doors, the station was quickly staffed by personnel from the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service. Abbreviated as WRCNS, it is pronounced as WRENS. The organization was established in July 31 1942 in order to recruit women to replace men who were leaving for sea duty. By 29 August 1942,  three thousand applications had been received. 

Capt. Eustace Brock became the Director and Lt Cdr Isabel Macneill, OBE, became the C.O. of the WRCNS training establishment, namely HMCS Conestoga which was commissioned on June 1, 1943 in Galt Ontario. She was the first woman in the British Commonwealth to hold an independent naval command.

Privy Council order 56/6755 established the WRCNS in 1942. It  reads as follows:

“There shall be organized in Canada, a formation to be designated the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, which formation and the members thereof shall be comprised in and form in part of the Naval Forces of Canada as said Naval Forces are defined in the Naval Service Act , Chapter 139, Revised Statutes of Canada 1927, such formation and the members thereof shall be and the same are hereby placed on active service.”  The order was never rescinded so the WRCNS remained part of the navy even after it was disbanded in August 1946.  Some references have been claiming it was 1955 that the RCN  bought in the WRENS as an integral part of the RCN but that is simply not true.

There were 22 different job categories open to women, depending on their background and experience. They filled many jobs in every naval base in Canada. Just one year after the WRCNS was established, they were already earning high praise for their efforts. The WRCNS motto was: To free a man for service afloat.

By the end of the war, Wrens were working in 48 trades. Signals were a very popular occupation for which there was a high demand, so in 1942, the RCN took over an army camp at St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, to train hundreds of ratings, Wrens and Officers in a wide variety of communications related trades - not only operators but also technicians to maintain the equipment. For those who trained to copy Morse Code, the minimum speed by the end of training was 22 wpm.) 


The following was the basic daily pay for ratings. A rating in the Naval Service included all persons engaged in the Naval Forces of Canada other than Officers.

Chief Wren  $2.10
Petty Officer Wren  $1.50
Leading Wren $1.15
Wren $0.95
Probationary Wren $0.90

Most categories were divided into three classes. All ratings were placed in a class upon completion of their basic training and were advanced from class to class upon becoming sufficiently trained or qualified.


Every WREN rating received a free issue of winter and summer uniform clothing. A grant of $15 to each WREN was made in order to purchase under clothing and toilet accessories. In addition, she received an allowance of $3.00 every three months to purchase replacements.

Living Quarters

WRENS were normally accommodated in WRCNS Quarters. Where Quarters were not available, they were accommodated in lodgings approved by the WRCNS Officer and additional lodgings and provisions allowance was granted.

Vin Crane explains how it all started for her. "The initial group of Wrens, organized in Ottawa in the summer of 1942,  became the nucleus of the WRCNS.  At that time, the navy took over a building in Galt, Ontario which had been a women's prison previously! That facility was then used for all basic training during the war years.
A core group of Wren officers, instructors and support staff  (about 80)  enlisted before us and trained at Kingsmill in Ottawa.

Since we were recruited early on, our service numbers started in the W90's to W 100's. Mine was W146.  This second wave included those of us who were slated for wireless training.  After our basic navy training, we were sent to Scarborough outside Toronto where we took over  a well known Guild of All Arts Inn.  Under Chief Barrie from the RCN and our PO's Carter and Jardine, we received our initial wireless training.  In the early spring of 1943 we took over duties at #1 Station, Gloucester which had been opened shortly before by the male navy.  We remained there (with some intervals at HMCS Signal School, St. Hyacinthe for further training) and operated the station (with one CRDF shack) until sometime in late 1943 or early 1944.  We were then transferred to Coverdale to open the new station on February 6, 1944. Workmen were still finishing off some of the building when we moved in. In a letter written to her family on Feb 19, 1944, a former W/T Alice Rutherford said "It is like camping. ----we have no sheets, no doors no water 90% of the time and workmen are everywhere".

As more Wrens received their wireless training at the Signals School they joined us in both Gloucester and Coverdale. At a later date, some of our Coverdale W/T's were transferred to Gordon Head in Victoria for Canna training for the Pacific operation and a few received a posting to start up a new Loran station in Nova Scotia

We were responsible to Ottawa for operational purposes (Capt. DeMarbois, Naval Service Head Quarters abbrv to NSHQ) but we were under HMCS Captor II (Saint John, N.B) for administration purposes when first there. This changed to HMCS Stadacona on November 1/44. The last of our group of wartime operators left Coverdale in either late January or early February, 1946.  They were moving out as the men moved in to replace them".

Elsa Lessard, who served at Coverdale, reminisces. "In September 1943, I finally got the 6-month telegraphist course at St. Hyacinthe, near Montreal. We were housed really long sheds. A row of 15 or so double-decker bunks lined each wall and down the centre aisle was a series of small pot-bellied stoves, which had to be stoked  by us. On fire-duty night you crept around with a flashlight tending each stove in each block (as quietly as possible or else!) and ended the watch with hot kye in the galley. The hardest part of the watch was to wake the Wren who was to replace you and get her on her feet without waking the whole block.

There were 25 Wrens in P.O. Bon Bernard’s Class E. We spent untold hours copying Morse. We copied reams of letters, numbers, special Q signals and plain-language text in many languages. After a time everything seemed to emit Morse signals – water pipes, radio static, in music (subliminal form) etc. Years after the war I would find myself reaching for a pencil to copy the sounds coming from a boiling kettle. We also had lectures on Electronic Theory. My notebook is interspersed with neat schematic drawing and formulae. (With War Gratuity Grants I would later graduate from the Radio College of Canada as an Electronic Technician and would spend about 30 years working in this area, as a technician, in materials management or purchasing.)

I think there was another W/T class graduating at the same time and in February 1944,  we were posted to either HMCS Coverdale, near Moncton, New Brunswick, or HMCS Gloucester near Ottawa. We were full-fledged W/T S.O. (Wireless Telegraphist Special Operator). I would remain at Coverdale to the end of my service.

The living quarters at Coverdale were really quite fine – large dormitory rooms divided by a row of back-to-back lockers with four double-decker bunks lined up on the outside walls facing the lockers. Between the bunks was a floor mat and a four drawer dresser. Because there were three 8-hour rotating watches, there was always someone sleeping in the dorm so most activity took place in the forecastle (our community room).

Wren Joy Kermack wrote this short poem in June 1943.

Oh hark!  Ye weary watchers.  A better Day will come
When the blinkin' war is over and we've blotted out the Hun
There'll be no more eight hour watches.  There'll be no more QRN
and we won't give a damn for units  when we are in civvies once again.
The Ops (Operations) building had a huge room, also with a dividing wall. Along the outside of each section was a continuous table on which were arranged our Marconi Model CSR5 Receivers. The picture I have of the Ops Room shows seven Wrens wearing headphones sitting in front of these receivers. However, I would guess that there were two dozen or so on a watch. Way off in a field somewhere were Wrens manning the HF/DF (Huff Duff) shack, containing the new High Frequency Direction Finding equipment.  All I remember are green-glowing cathode-ray tubes with sine waves streaking across their round faces. When we alerted these Wrens that a U-boat was transmitting on such and such a frequency they would take the bearings. This data was transmitted to Whitehall in the UK and Map Plotters took over. Movies and oodles of books have been written about this part of the war when the Allies deciphered German Enigma messages. Occasionally we would get a report back that the “traffic” (as the noise coming over the receiver was called) copied on a specific watch had resulted in putting that sub out of commission. By 1944 this was happening quite frequently.

In May 1994, I was visiting my watch leader and long-time friend Elsie (nee Houlding) Michaels in Victoria. She had a favour to ask.  Would I choose a safe place for something she had kept all these years from Coverdale? The Canadian War Museum is now the custodian of the message received on Elsie’s watch in German plain language from the German Admiral Doenitz telling all his forces that Hitler was dead! Coverdale had scooped the Allies with this news. Of course, it's too late to reprimand her now. Actually, I think she did Canada a favour – it is probably the only existing record".

This is translation of the message sent by Karl Doenitz after Hitler committed suicide April 30/1945.






Vin Crane also recalls other details about Coverdale. "The main ops room contained the W/T set up for operators, a "Z" room , a teletype room , a workshop for the wireless technicians and an office. Z Intelligence was a term that encompassed techniques known as Radio Finger Printing and TINA. The former was the process used to catalogue a specific transmitter on a ship through its distinct characteristics with the aim of locating it at future date. TINA was a method used to recognize specific radio operators by their Morse code habits. Captured transmissions were forwarded to the navy's Operational Intelligence, Section 7 in Ottawa  for analysis.

There were seven watches with two on at any one time and one watch off.  Each watch had twelve operators so there were twenty four on duty.  Each shack had an operator and the "Z"  room had one or two on at a time. All W/Ts (or at least most of them) were trained on the CRDF (CNF-4) set so they could rotate through the shacks.

Coverdale as it appeared in 1944. The two buildings are the Operations Room (right) and the Wren's living quarters (left).  The only other building was a smaller one behind the barracks which had the garages and work sheds with living quarters above for the male personnel on base. The three D/F  shacks were accessible by walking across the fields. In the middle of a very heavy and cold winter, Wrens had to make their way through high drifts and whiteouts to get to the D/F shacks so it was anything but pleasant. To make things interesting, there was even an odd bull in amongst the cows roaming the fields -- just another challenge! (Photographer unknown . From the collection of Vin Crane)

The winter of 1944-45. This photo gives an idea of the conditions that the Wrens had to endure while hiking out to the D/F shacks. Compare this to the summertime photo above.  (Photo courtesy Vin Crane)

German navy control stations (at least four) sent out continuous messages in four letter code. Our operators copied all these for transmission by teletype to Ottawa NSHQ for decoding.  Their frequencies changed often so it was always a case of some operators being on search for them and any other strange traffic.

Each hour, the control stations had a five minute silent period during which the U-boats could come up to transmit non-emergency messages such as weather reports. During the rest of the hour, a U-boat would break into control traffic whenever there was an urgent message. Examples of these were sighting reports and success reports. The operators could sometimes hear them tuning and were able to get early bearings . Occasionally it was possible to to identify a certain operator and submarine because of  his keying rhythm.  Whenever there was a sighting, particularly when it involved a pack of subs, life for the operators could get very hectic as they would all be trying to obtain bearings at the same time. Coverdale's bearings were rushed immediately to Ottawa so they could take whatever action was necessary. An example would be the rerouting of convoys upon the detection of a wolf pack.  We also had a continuous contest going with the Harbour Grace, (Newfoundland)  D/F station to submit our bearings in before theirs".

Alice Adams was a 'Z' operator at Coverdale for a few months before leaving for Kana training at St.Hycanithe, Quebec. She recalls. "We worked two on a shift with three signals officers in an adjacent room.  Our duty watch was  alerted to the U-boat transmissions by the intercept operators in the Operations Room. Quickly, we tuned into the frequency given by the operator, then our job was to photograph the signal. The signals officers had expertise in identifying the images produced by the signals. As I remember, they worked closely with NSHQ.".

It is believed that the National RBJ and Sparton XV receivers were used for 'Z' intelligence work but its not confirmed at this time. 'Z' intelligence continued until the German surrender in May 1945.

Click to enlarge photo

cov_ant1943_s.jpg Coverdale's Antennas 1943: This blueprint specifies among other things: 
a) The single rhombic antenna (yellow) and its transmission line (purple). That rhombic was 630 feet long and 230 feet wide and installed on a bearing of 55 degrees as measured on the drawing. It's transmission line was supported on 22 masts at 25 foot intervals. The North East Atlantic would have been the area of interest for Coverdale, hence the reason for choosing that bearing .

b) The sites for the Adcock D/F arrays. The huts are coloured green; Adcock arrays in red; Ops Building (white).  Plot 1 is oriented North; Plot 2 is Northeast; Plot 3 North; Plot 4 Northeast.
Only Plot 3 had multiband coverage.

(National Archives RG24 Vol 5642 File 48-3-36)

cov_ant_1943_mystery_s.jpg Mystery Masts, 1943: The purpose of masts with designations of F, G,
X,Y, Z are not known at this time. They form an arrowhead around the Operations Building and the apex points to the identical bearing as the rhombic antenna. All masts are on 125 foot centers.  Does anyone know what antenna arrangement this might be?  F,G are 70 foot masts as specified;  X, Y, Z are 50 foot masts. Originally, only masts X, Z, Y were specified, then as a drawing change, Z was relocated and masts F  and were added.  (National Archives RG24 Vol 5642 File 48-3-36)
cov_1943_bldgs_s.jpg Buildings 1943: This section of the blueprint shows the Operations Bldg (yellow), the WRCNS Quarters (purple) and the garage (green).  There is no evidence of any water tower at this time. (National Archives RG24 Vol 5642 File 48-3-36)
coverdale_wwii_barracks_s.jpg This 1943 view of the Wren's living quarters was taken from the roof of the Ops Building  It was a two story structure had living quarters on the upper level. Administration, a recreation room, a galley and Quarterdeck were on the lower level. Wrens entered the building on the side opposite the Maintenance quarters (garage), that small building at the extreme right. The Clerk of Works Office was on the second floor of the garage and the base telephone system was there too. At the very right and mounted on cross strakes are insulated water pipes for the hot water feed which provided heat to the Ops building. (Photo courtesy of Doris Hope)

John Murison adds the following note. "The water tower at the end of the living quarters  was taken down when a well was completed and a new tower was built at the back of this building. Later on, in an effort to supply more water to the base,  a river was damned up back in the bush and this  created  a small lake. Water from the lake was piped into the base since a single well couldn't supply enough water to meet fire standards for the base. 

In 1952,  while drilling the well, the drillers hit a rock. They  put an explosive charge  in the hole and touched it off. The rock was successfully dislodged but it flew up in the air and came crashing through the roof of a navy bus which was parked close by. The rock left a one foot hole in the roof of the bus right over the aisle".

coverdale_lt_stinson.jpgBetween 1944 and 1945, the Commanding Officer at Coverdale was Lt. (T) Margaret (Margo) Stinson who eventually went on to become an  Anglican minister posted to London, Ont. (Photo courtesy of Vin Crane) 

Under the stewardship of CPO Irene Carter, (the only CPO), Coverdale won the British Empire Medal after the war for the excellent intercept work which had been done there. The news clip containing  the full story can be viewed here. Irene related to the total operation but her main focus was the wireless section. She recalls one particular incident.  "One of our operators (Anne Elder) received a strong blast from NSHQ  in Ottawa for sending in a bearing on a sub which was obviously incorrect as she had placed the sub in the St. Lawrence River.  A few days later they at least had the courtesy to apologize when the they found the sub really was in the St. Lawrence!"

This is an excerpt from an address given by Mrs. Irene McLean (nee Carter) on May 22, 1997 on the 55th anniversary meeting of the Winnipeg branch of the Ex Wrens Association:.

"In May 1942, a bill was passed thorough Parliament giving the Royal Canadian Navy permission to recruit women into the service.

In September 1940, I went to Ottawa on vacation planning to call in at Naval Service Headquarters ("N.S.H.Q") to try and find out if they were going to recruit women into the naval service. When I did go to the NSHQ and asked to see the Captain, I was told that I couldn't see him without an appointment. The receptionist suggested that I tell her what my business was and she would direct me to the appropriate department. I told her that it was "personal" and important that I see the Captain. I was asked to wait and an officer came. He told me the Captain was at a meeting but he was the Captain's right-hand man.

I told him why I had come and that I was commercial Morse operator for Canadian National  Telegraphs. The reason why I wanted to get into the navy was that there had been many articles in our own papers about what a great job the women Morse operators were doing in the Intelligence Department of the Royal Navy . I wanted to be part of it.

The officer told me that they were certainly planning to recruit women but still had many problems to work out. He was interested in knowing how many female Morse operators were in commercial jobs etc.. Certainly there were not many. He promised to keep in touch - but didn't

In September 1941, I again went to Ottawa and NSHQ. This time I had an appointment and did get in to see the Captain. He told me that they had to await passage of a bill through Parliament before they could do any recruiting of females. He asked me to spread the word to any female Morse operators with whom I might be in touch. I did know of a few young girls who were practicing Morse to replace male operators and told them about the Wrens.

After the September 1941 visit, NSHQ did keep in touch with me. The day that the bill was passed through Parliament (May 1942) I received a long distance call from the officer and a dozen red roses from the Captain. It seemed like a long wait from May to October when we were finally on our way to Galt, Ontario for our basic training. A C.P.R. train with a Pullman car on the end , picked up recruits from the west coast, across the prairies to Toronto and thence to Galt where we met the recruits from eastern Canada and Newfoundland."

When asked if the Wrens received any feedback about the direct results their work, Vin Crane replied.  "No -- we did not get any word on particular results. I imagine there was always too much action going on to be in contact with individual stations. The senior staff of NSHQ operations in Ottawa did tell us numerous times that our bearings were right on and very valuable.  I don't think we expected more than that."

Elsa Lessard said, "Occasionally we would get a report back that the "traffic" (as the noise coming over the receiver was called) copied on a specific watch had resulted in putting that SUB OUT OF COMMISSION. By 1944 this was happening quite frequently."

Joan Pelly (nee Fraser) remarked " Yes we were partly responsible for the sinking of a German U-boat!  I was the Leading Wren for my watch in the shacks at Coverdale and on "rounds" with our C/O, Lieut Stinson. One evening shortly after our Chief Petty Officer Irene Carter received an MBE (Medal of the British Empire)  Lieut. Stinson said something to the effect "Fraser, I want you to know that Chief Carter received her reward because your watch had excellent bearings on a German submarine and it was sunk immediately. Dymond's bearing was dead on and the others were very close. Please pass this along to the other members of your watch"  which I did of course and we were very pleased".

coverdale_wrens_wwii.jpg Wrens manning the intercept receivers. Here they are using Marconi CSR5 receivers in Coverdale's Operations Room. The receivers were manned in three shifts of 8 hours each. No one liked the graveyard shift or the ersatz coffee which helped  to keep everyone  awake. As a small amenity, the Wrens could rent a bicycle. (National Archives Canada photo # PA 204141)

From right to left: Eileen (Carr) Dingwall now in Victoria, Lola Jackson now in Oliver, B.C., Joy Kermack (last known in Vancouver), Muriel Ramsay (the Wrens P/O, now deceased) and Lavinia (Vin) Crane now in Victoria. Eileen Dingwall was also known as "Agat" because she hailed from Ste. Agathe, PQ. Many of the Wrens who served at Coverdale retired in Victoria, B.C.

The Ops Room in August 1944. The intercept and DFpositions were staffed by some 140 three shifts, working 24 hours a day.  The intercept area was a large room with a dividing wall with window-like openings along top. There were more operators on the other side. The leftmost operating position is vacant. Standing is Leading Wren Elsie Michaels (nee Houlding) who is checking an intercept with another operator, possibly Wren Deirdre Van Hees (seated). Next to them is Wren Dawes in front of her receiver. At the right, Wren Butterfield is facing her receiver. One of the two other operators on her left is Viola Reid while the other remains unidentified at this time. Under the window are shelves of cups. Elsie Michaels is the Wren who kept the original copy of the message announcing Hitler's death. (Photo probably taken by  Thomas Ian Hayes, VE3ABC of Ottawa, now deceased)
More intercept positions are in evidence on the opposite side of the partition in the Ops Room. On the right and in the foreground is Wren Joy Kermack. The person to her left is unidentified while the furthest operator is Wren Nancy Alton (married name unknown).  On the left side foreground, Wren Maggie Haliburton (nee Los).  To her right is Helen Jakes (sp?) and next to her Mary Howell.  Dead ahead and in front of the windows are two backup receivers stacked one on top of other. (Photo probably taken by Thomas Ian Hayes, VE3ABC of Ottawa, now deceased)

WREN Tel(S) Jaqui LaPointe, a Special Wireless operator and member of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), poses for a promotional photo in front of a CNF-4 console at Coverdale in August, 1945. The loudspeaker at her right wrist was part of an intercom which provided communications with the operations room a mile or so away. The speaker above the CRT was for the receiver. The DF operator only had  seconds to zero in on U-boat transmissions since the Germans had been taught to keep their messages to less than 30 seconds.

After the war, no WRENs operated HFDF equipment. By 1952, WRENS were stationed in the Operations Building on the main base but only for several years. (Photo by Leblanc, DND. National Archives of Canada, photo # PA-142540)

Another key message was sent on June 6/45 and copied by Coverdale.  It was transmitted by unidentified station callsign ADA on June 2 1945 at 1251 hours and was addressed to the thirty-eight U-boats listed with their Captains' names in parentheses.  First two addressees had the abbreviation U BT before the number but the remainder did not.   Translated, the message reads:


U BT 518 (OFFERMANN)            285 (BORNHAUPT)         965 (UNVERZAGT)
U BT 530 (WEYMOUTH)             296 (RASCH)             977 (SCHAAFFER)
546 (JUST)                      321 (BEHRENDS)          979 (MEERMEIER)
548 (KREMPL)                    325 (DOHRN)             1001 (BLAUDOW)
866 (ROGOWSKI)                  326 (MATHES)            1017 (RIEKEN)
880 (SCHOZAU)                   396 (SIEMON)            1106 (BARTKE)
1235 (BARSCH)                   398 (CRANTZ)            1024 (GUTTEK)
853 (FROMSDORF)                 636 (SCHENDEL)          1063 (STEFFAN)
879 (MANCHEN)                   739 (KOSSNICK)          1107 (PARDUHN)
881 (FRISCHKE)                  774 (SAUSMIKAT)         1206 (SCHUTT))
857 (PREMAUER)                  905 (SCHWATING)         1274 (FITTING)
242 (RIESDEL)                   963 (WENTZ)             1277 (STEVER)
1055 (MEIER)                    183 (SCHNEEWIND)


Untranslated, the message reads:
105 6/7 ADA V'S A'DA QOF F52 VA 1111 SILENT.
1132 6.17 ADA


1146 6/7 ADA 2046/18/F46 122 CCLB WMPZ VA

1148 NIL RRD 1148 7 ADA
TOD 021251/6/45

The war is over. This was the teletype message received from National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa which authorized the closing of the European operations section at Coverdale in June 1945. (Image courtesy of Vin Crane).

During WWII, the WRCNS attracted 7,000 volunteers but the organization ceased to exist in August 1946. By 1951, Parliament authorized the formation of a WREN section in the RCN(R). Post war WRENS (1952 to 1968)  received basic training at HMCS Cornwallis in Nova Scotia.  Their training was totally different to that of the WWII era and although the uniforms looked similar, there were subtle differences:  the skirts lenghtened for awhile which was the postwar fashion trend, the ties changed, brass buttons appeared on rating uniforms and the round-rig hats were redesigned my making them slightly larger.

Betty Ringrose, who served post-war, recalls. "Our group of Wrens was stationed in Coverdale between 1955 and 1956.  We lived on board, worked the regular watches copied morse, did lots of transcribing, and some Wrens worked in the Comm Centre".

/ann connolly.jpg
Ann Connolly was a post-war WREN who served in Coverdale in the early 1950s. Connolly and her generation of WRENS now  listened to dispatches from a new enemy, namely, the Soviet Union. She spent most of her time  intercepting Morse code signals from Russian subs and ships. Occasionally Soviet signals were intercepted from within Canada's borders said Ann. "We picked up messages that there were spies in Canada. When the messages were  were cross-referenced they found the spies". 

Ann really enjoyed her work at Coverdale however, marriage ended her time there  in the mid 1950s. Women were expected to leave if they were starting a family.  Ann is 86 years young in 2019.

In full view is the Mackay model 3100A receiver which could tune  from 15 KHz to 635 KHz. Behind her is a Hammarlund SP-600 receiver. (From the collection of Ann Connolly) 

Later, in 1955 a women's component of the RCN was authorized and fully integrated into the regular force. This was a first anywhere in  the British Commonwealth. Wrens served in the RCN until February 1, 1968, on which date, along with the rest of the Royal Canadian Navy, they fell victim to the Canadian Forces Reorganization Act.

In a story titled "Land of Hope and Glory", Jessica Swail published a tribute to the WRENs in the May/June 2006 edition of Legion Magazine. The 60th and final WREN Reunion was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba on September 15-17 , 2006.

The Legion Magazine of March/April 2008 (pages 23-34) ran an article written by Marc Milner about the World War II Volunteer Service Medal 1939-1945 that was worn by all serving ranks in any of the forces and also nursing sisters who qualified. It is still worn by the few remaining octogenarians at Legion functions and parades etc.

It has seven uniformed members from the three services, males and females and a nursing sister striding smartly across it.  The gal representing the WRCNS is "WREN Margaret Lillian Mathie, of Winnipeg. Mathie had enlisted April 1944, trained as a Visual Signaller and had been stationed in Halifax before being posted to Ottawa in April 1945.

Six serving members of the forces were chosen from National Defence Headquarters and a nurse from the Rideau Military Hospital. They spent Saturday, Jan 12, 1946 being marched about for the artist's study - photographs were taken [three accompany the article] then they returned to normal duties. "None, at the time, had been aware of why they had been detailed for this peculiar task and some may never have realized they would be immortalized on one side of a medal they themselves would wear"   Margaret L. Gruson (nee Mathie) was a former member of the Ottawa WREN Association who passed away on April 24, 2007 at the age of 81.

In 1986, the Directorate of History drafted a narrative which outlined the "manpower" problems faced by the Women's Services during World War II. A copy of this this document can be found here.


Don Cameron served as D/F operator at Coverdale between  January 1946 and October 1947 and a few more times after that, eventually retiring in 1966. He recalls the D/F site configurations from that era. "D/F site  #2 and #4 held  a single CNF-4 and used the "B" band antenna. There was one operator per watch. D/F site #3 housed two or three CNF-4's (my memory fails me) but we the used the A, B, and C antennas. Two of the key frequencies that were monitored were 4220 and  8280 kHz  along with ship and air traffic. All "Y" work2 was done from operations.

On the first watch I served at Coverdale, we were driven out to shack #4 and relieved the WREN on watch. This was going to be a great draft! At the end of the watch,  the next operator (a Matelot) walked in to relieve me and when I asked about transportation, I was informed "we walk" from now on. In addition, the operators had to make their own lunches plus carry water for making coffee on their watch.  The only time transportation was available was on Friday when we had to scrub out the shack prior to Rounds, which usually did not materialize. In the shack we always felt out-of-sight and out-of-mind. In spite of that, very seldom did anyone bother with us. Our only contact was through  the "squawk box"  ( intercom) to operations.

The D/F shack consisted of two areas. In the main room, the CNF-4 and a chair took up most of the space. There were only two amenities  - a  phone and a hot plate.  Off the main room, there was a smaller room, which, in some loose meaning might have been known as the Men's Room.

To check the equipment, we took "check bearings3" hourly  using a reference station like CFH in Halifax or NSS in Washington. We got to know many locations and were able to say the equipment was working well once check bearings were verified.  If they were off,  we called in technicians to investigate.  There were also routine calibrations which had to be performed."

Besides confirming bearings, the "check bearings" procedure was also used to build a database of deviations and other statistics. If a station had characteristics which would make it prone to erroneous readings over time, Plotters could apply known deviations to refine the bearing accuracy. If bearings became consistently inaccurate, a technician would be dispatched to investigate the problem. Taking bearings on moving targets such as ships with a known position would give the analysts a better picture of how the system was working.

Don goes on to say, "When viewing the D/F site,  there was a mat of ground wires spread out beyond the antenna array. On  the outer rim were staked indications on radials at 000 degrees then 015 degrees , 030 degrees and so on covering all points of the compass. As operators, were assigned to carry the hand held oscillator around to each stake and once at a stake, say 000' we'd back off about 10 paces and let the supervisor take the bearing on 000' stake and confirm it was "on".  Then, after about 15 seconds, we'd move to the next stake and do it all over again.  It was a great job during the summer. We were far enough away from Ops Building that we could go out without a hat or shirt, and if you wished you, could RUN between stakes and make the supervisor really rush to get the bearing.  We always hoped we'd go too fast and he'd have to admit he didn't get  the bearing and send up back to the previous stake.  Fun in the summer it was, but winter was another story. Going through the snow drifts that New Brunswick usually receives made it hard to find the stakes which stood about 2 1/2 or 3 feet tall.

The ground mat consisted of copper wires, laid above ground, and extending out from the antenna. They were joined by other wires running "across" the site. When first installed, the wires were arc welded together and stood up very well. We were lucky in Coverdale as there were no cattle allowed on the government owned land and the deer and moose stayed back in the woods.  Unlike Gander, where there was no fence, a moose would walk through the ground matting at least once a year. While I was in Gloucester, a wooden fence had to be built around the D/F site to keep the cows out. Churchill had a different problem. The polar bears, likely attracted by the smell of our lunches, wandered near the shack. Although they did not damage the ground mat due to the thick layer of snow, their presence was most undesirable".

Coverdale had its legends. One such story from the early 1950' involves the harbouring of an escapee from a nearby female reform school in one of the DF shacks. It would have gone undetected for a  longer period than it did  but as the story goes, the intercom from the DF shack to Operations was inadvertently activated and the entire watch on duty listened with great attention and glee to the activities.

Click to Enlarge Photo

coverdale_pre_1950_df_sites_ver1s.jpg In this aerial photo taken in 1950, shows what is left of the WWII era DF sites. The site numbers are only labels and do not match the WWII designations. (Photo from the National Air Photo Library. Submitted by Spud Roscoe).
Spud Roscoe operated the CNF4 set for a 6 month period in 1959. He recalls "This DF site was located about a mile south of the main base in a cleared field. Signals were received by an antenna known as an Adcock array. There was one array for the CNF4 set although Sparton had specifications for three arrays, one for each of the three operating bands. At Coverdale, it was only the 'B' antenna which was in use when I was there.

Occasionally a Petty Officer Second Class would check the calibration of the system. He would operate the receiver while I carried a small, portable, low power test oscillator. I would place the transmitter on a strake and then get well back away from it so as not to detune the signal. When the P2 was satisfied that the bearing was in specification, he would sound a buzzer at his end. I would carry the calibrator to the next post and repeated the procedure until all bands were checked. Each array was provided with 36 calibrating stakes placed 10 degrees apart. According to the manual, Sparton indicated that the strakes should be colour coded for each operating band. It was suggested that red be used for the "A" band, blue for the "B" band and yellow for the "C" band. At Coverdale each strake was painted black and marked with a compass bearing in 10 degree increments with white paint.

The DF set was classified Top Secret even in my day and any waste paper resulting from the day's activities had to be put into a burn bag. Although the set was classified, what made things top secret were the results of using it.

All the DF stations around the Atlantic seaboard were tied into a net. We listened to one frequency around 8 mhz I believe. It was CW and identified itself with the letter F transmitted every 5 to 10 seconds. I can still hear that letter F and it is louder than my tinnitus.

"When net control wanted us on a certain frequency and after a certain station, they sent a couple of break signs and then a couple of coded letter groups. We transmitted our bearings by landline teletype if I remember correctly. The operations room handled this. There was a P1 (Petty Officer 1st Class) and a leading hand (Leading Seaman Radioman Special) on duty in a room off the main operations room. Positioned here, was a large chart of the North Atlantic with a hole at the site of each DF station. Behind the chart was a sheet of tin. A spring-loaded string with a magnet came out this hole and was affixed to another point on the map with a magnet. When the P1 received a bearing from one of these stations, he simply pulled out this magnet on the string and stuck it on the map via a compass rose around the hole. Once he had several bearings (where these strings crossed each other), the source of the emission was located. On occasion one or more of the bearings made no sense at all. The majority that crossed at the same spot were deemed to be accurate and useable. On occassion when the target went down before a fix could be obtained (in response to a flash message), it was recorded as NH (Nothing Heard).

coverdale_calibrations.jpg coverdale_df_shack3.jpg
Don Cameron is using the portable test oscillator to check the calibration of the CRDF set. (Photo courtesy Don Cameron) This was D/F shack #3, the largest one at Coverdale in the 1940's.  Shacks #2 and #4 did not have a porch over the doors, and were about half the size of #3. (Photo courtesy Don Cameron)

It required quite a number of personnel to get these bearings. First of all, someone had to hear the signal. Next it was the shift supervisor who determined if the transmitter should be located. A quick message had to be sent to net control. Net control, in turn, had to code this and transmit it in CW. At Coverdale, the P1 or LS had to copy it and decode it. Next, we passed this request over the intercom to the speaker at the DF set. The operator then had to select the band, tune the frequency, grab a quick bearing on the first thing heard, continue to listen and do the best to get the bearing. If we had more than the frequency (like a call sign, 5 figure groups, whatever) we would also pass that information to the operator while he was trying to find the signal.

Bearing quality was rated as A, B and C. Typically the quality was based on the bearing spread of the signal. For instance, A =  +/-2 degrees with a good sharp cut; B =  +/-5 degrees and C = +/-10 degrees ; D was used for just about anything wobbling over the face of the CRT. When the P1 or LS had the bearing in hand, he sent it via landline teletype to other stations.

During WWII, if a U-boat transmission was detected, the bearing had to be coded and transmitted via CW to the ship(s) in the area. The ship(s) had to receive it, decode it and get it to the bridge or operations room. Word has it that a good D/F could ascertain the bearing of a U-boat from only a 10 second tuning transmission. But in order to do that, there had to be an operator monitoring a specific frequency.

I spent a lot of time DF'ing the Russian fishing fleet off Canada's Eastern seaboard. Since the Cold War was on while I served at Coverdale, I spent a lot of time taking bearings on anything and everything. We monitored and had to identify every signal we picked up in the range of 15 kcs well into the VHF region. Anything that we could not identify immediately would be monitored until it was identified."

Click To Enlarge Any Photo

coverdale_aerial_1950_baseonly_s.jpg Coverdale aerial photo circa 1950. The L-shaped area is the Permanent Married Quarters  (PMQ) and consisted of 16 units. These were constructed in the Fall of 1949 at the cost of $8,000 per unit.

Between 1950 and 1959, the #2 DF site at Coverdale moved one field to the east and slightly south of the wartime location. This is only evident when the 1950 and 1959 photos are compared.  Does anyone know why the DF site was moved?

An enlargement of the 1950 photo also reveals a ring of masts in the the north east and south west quadrants of the photo. These are the masts for the two rhombic arrays which show up much better in the 1959 photo enlargement.

Once things became standardized, every HFDF site throughout the SUPRAD system used a single Adcock array. (Photo from the National Air Photo Library. Submitted by Spud Roscoe).

coverdale_1959_aerial_baseonly_s.jpg Coverdale aerial photo circa 1959. In 1951,  the PMQ was expanded from 16 to 40 dwellings units as a single expansion and cost $294,000. This would have included a gymnasium and a supply building. The gym could be also be used for dances and special occasions. Extra married quarters were built to accommodate Supplementary Radio Station Personnel (SRS) families and new supply staff. At least 8 of the new houses were duplexes so only 32 show up when viewed from the aerial shot. (Photo from the National Air Photo Library. Submitted by Spud Roscoe).
Basic rhombic array. This diagram depicts the basic 9 antenna  rhombic array which was found at Churchill, Coverdale and other SUPRAD sites. 
Adjacent sides of the rhombic "diamond"  were attached to a common mast and were  separated by about 8 feet using insulators. At Churchill,  the common mast at point 'A'  (typical 9 places) was guyed. Mast 'B' (typical 9 places) at the tip of the apex was also guyed.  In the rhombic renderings that follow, it is not possible to show this level of detail. (Image by Jerry Proc) 
coverdale_rhombic_farm_northv1_s.jpg This is a reconstruction of the rhombic antenna array in the north-eastern sector of the base. There is no significance to the colours except for being high contrast. The purple rhombic points approximately north-east. 
All the mast positions were identified from their shadows on the ground. (Illustration by Jerry Proc) 
coverdale_rhombic_farm_southv1_s.jpg This is a reconstruction of the rhombic antenna array in the south western sector of the base. There is no significance to the colours except for being high contrast. The yellow rhombic points approximately west. 
All the mast positions but two were identified from their shadows on the ground. (Illustration by Jerry Proc) 

There is a measurable offset between the two rhombic arrays which can even be determined right on the computer screen. With one array of 9 antennas, that means that the long axis of any single antenna is pointing every 40 degrees of the compass rose (360/9). By installing a second array and offsetting it by 20 degrees from the first, it is possible to have a long axis pointing every 20 degrees of the compass rose (360/18). When all 18 antennas are terminated at an antenna selection panel in the Operations Building,  any operator could select a rhombic antenna from this "pool" of 18 antennae with a bearing resolution of 20 degree increments. Antennas were selected by moving the an antenna multicoupler "patch" cable to the desired antenna.

Ray White recalls some thoughts about D/F operations in general during the peacetime period.  "Although I did not operate in the HF/DF shack in Coverdale, its operation was governed by much the same rules as at other stations. Vehicular traffic in the proximity of the D/F array was of necessity, kept to a very minimum.  In Gloucester, Churchill and Frobisher, vehicles only visited the shack at watch change times. Lunch was not delivered. It was carried by the operator when he went on duty. The same applied to Aklavik, with the exception that vehicles did not go to the shack - we walked. Even so, the presence of any vehicle was noted on the DF log so the plotters could take into consideration any deviations in bearings.

The D/F operator had a pretty full schedule. When not responding to flashes, he would be required to supply a number of "check bearings" on known targets every hour. Once a day, calibrations  were conducted when the DF Supervisor would visit the shack to perform this operation. The operator on duty would carry a small target oscillator around the outer edge of the "ground mat" and would turn it on when advised by the supervisor, who took the calibration bearings, usually on 4, 6, 8 and 12 mcs.  It was a lousy  job for the operator, especially when the weather was inclement. In addition to these routine tasks, the operator  would produce bearings on preselected targets and often would be required to copy traffic.

There was usually one operator on duty in the HF/DF shack. Churchill, and Aklavik, although equipped with one CNF4, had twin receiver positions for the copying of other assignments. Frobisher had two positions and two operators some of the time. Meals were taken on the fly, with no relief provided for this purpose. Box lunches were usually provided for those operators who lived on board. Those who lived off the station premises made their own arrangements.

During thunderstorms, operations proceeded normally in spite of the deafening crashes heard in the receivers.  Churchill was notorious for protracted periods of electrical activity. Frobisher and Aklavik was also susceptible but to a lesser degree. Coverdale had a fair amount of electrical storm activity, but this did  not impede operations. We would curse and remove headphones, but usually it was considered a fact of life.  Electrical storms, especially those in the immediate vicinity, had a detrimental effect on the CRDF presentation, which resulted in a trace that bounced all over the place and could not be compensated for by the Lock Dot function.

Operations at Coverdale were affected only on one occasion and that was the big ice storm of 1956.  Local power failures, which happened infrequently, were invariably taken care of by manually operated auxiliary power units. The concept of uninterruptable power was not used in the 1950s.

A DF shack assignment was considered a plum, notwithstanding the environmental difficulties, because the Petty Officer wasn't constantly looking over the operator's shoulder. As well, the operator could read a book, listen to the broadcast band or even do some short wave listening  if he was so inclined".


The first sixteen houses in Coverdale were completed in the fall of 1949 at an approximate cost of $8,000 per unit. They were referred to by the local paper as "architectural monstrosities". The houses were built in an backwards L shaped row, across the bottom of the field and up towards the station. The houses which were built at right angles to the main highway were situated on the old driveway leading to the station. The roadway which was built in front of the houses parallel to the main highway was called Beacon Hill Terrace and not Runnymeade  Road as referenced in the government file.

Since Coverdale was not yet commissioned, the houses were allocated to the OIC (Lt. Waters), the Senior Chief PO, the Regulating PO and the vituallating storesman. The remainder were allotted to the Chief & Petty Officers and Leading Seaman and below, on a point system which has long since been abolished.

These houses were heated with coal furnaces which used a low grade of coal. Many of the occupants were unfamiliar with coal furnaces and how to "bank a fire" at night. Consequently, many families experienced some cold nights during the winter of 1949/50 until "father" learned how to operate the furnace correctly. During the summer of 1950, the furnaces were converted to burn oil and in later years, as the units became unserviceable, they were replaced with conventional oil furnaces. The remaining twenty-four houses were constructed by 1951 and not 1952 as it says in the government file. By 1961, the 40 PMQ's were considered insufficient to to meet the demands placed upon them since 50 married personnel had to seek accommodation ashore.  I was a similar situation for the single quarters.

In the late 50's, the base consumed approximately 33,000 gallons of water per day. Since the water supply at Coverdale was found inadequate for fire protection of the station, some new means had to be devised to assure enough water was available in the event of fire. A survey of the lands behind the station was made and a river
was found. If dammed, it would create a small lake thus solving the problem. The land was cleared by starting a bush fire and all off duty personnel were obliged to fight the fire in order to keep it confined to the plan.

Power was provided by two transformers whose combined capacity was 489 amps but the daily draw was 300 amps at peak periods. In an emergency it was possible to draw up to 800 amps but only up to 2 hours.  Sewage was disposed of directly into the tidal waters of the Petitcodiac River.  During this time the estimated value of the base was $1,626,286. This included $1,200,000 for buildings, $43,816 for furnishings and $382,470 for equipment.

The other major activity at Coverdale was general spectrum monitoring and SIGINT. Ray White provides some insight into this part of the operation.

"The HF/DF function was only part of Coverdale's assignment. The main operations building was located about a mile or so from the HF/DF shack. It consisted of a large radio room with bays of two HF receivers, usually SP-600s which were replaced in 1959-60 with RACAL 17 and RACAL 117 receivers. All receivers were fed from rhombic antennas via antenna multicouplers. There were about 12 or 15 bays and each of the four watches had a total of perhaps 20 or 25 people, including the Atlantic HF/DF Net control functions.

The antenna multicoupler had sufficient outputs to handle as many as ten or twelve receivers. On occasion, operators would erroneously feed the output of one multicoupler into the input of a second multicoupler thus resulting in a significant loss of signal.

In January 1956, all the rhombics were destroyed during an intense ice storm. They had become encrusted in ice and the resulting weight actually snapped the masts. For about a month and a half, we operated using jury-rigged antennas until new rhombics were installed. While shipping the series of 120 foot replacement masts, significant traffic jams resulted along the highways and through the various towns from Halifax to Moncton. It is not known why the masts were not shipped by rail". Before the ice storm, there had been plans to install a third array but according to Omer LeVasseur, "a decision was made to restore only two of the rhombic arrays after the ice storm. The area towards the river that had been originally designated for the third array became a mini golf course".

Eric Earl remembers that during the Cuban missle crisis in October, 1962,  there were many more than 25 people on a watch. "We went to a two watch system. I also remember that there were many more receivers set up in the Ops area to accomodate the extra people. I also remember receivers in the HFDF room, clock room and tech shop. Down at the end of the hall, on the other end of the building was the traffic analysis section that I didn't go into all that often but didn't remember any receivers in that room at all".

Select this link to read to read about Project Boresight and the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962.

Besides the HF monitoring function, there was also an analysis section (highly classified), a technical maintenance section, and, of course, a Communications Centre which employed various cryptographic systems. For a detailed description of Coverdale's crypto operations, select this link. During my time there I worked as an operator and also as a watch supervisor. It wasn't a small operation. As a matter of fact, it was said to have contributed greatly to the success of Canada's SUPRAD functions". For a detailed look at the operational aspects of the Canada/US Atlantic HF/DF net, please select this link.

Spud Roscoe still remembers all those receivers. "At each operating console, there were two SP600 receivers mounted in a sloping metal rack and a Royal telegraphic typewriter  fed with four-part rolls of paper. A BC-221 frequency meter, permanently mounted in the equipment rack was used to measure the exact frequency of the many SP600 receivers we were using. The SP600's had replaced the RCA AR88's previously in use at Coverdale. We had a storage room full of decommissioned AR88's and I often wonder what became of them. Later, the SP600's were replaced with the Racal 17 and 117s. A few Racals had arrived by the time I transferred in March 1960.

I probably measured the frequency of one of my two SP600's two or three times per week. Each receiver was connected to one rhombic by an antenna patch mounted in a rack. We did not have the luxury of a coaxial rotary switch. Antennas were selected right at the rack. On occassion, when it was vital to know the exact frequency for the logbook, the receiver would be disconnected from the antenna then attached to the BC221 and the frequency would be read out".

Spud recalls the day a prank was played on one of the operators. "Paul Campbell was from Saint John, N.B. I can still hear him screaming "P.O". One of the lads hooked his monitoring receiver (SP600) to the BC221 frequency meter with a hand key connected in between.  He then started transmitting like a Russian sub and watched Paul. As soon as Paul started copying, he started screaming "P.O". Paul kept right on copying and calling for the duty P.O. I forget who did the transmitting, but once he had Paul hooked,  he switched to the statement "Hi Paul, I am a Russian Sub". Paul had copied that while screaming! This was one of the best laughs we had at Coverdale. If one snagged a Russian sub back then it was a rare event. A Russian sub transmitted very very little of anything".

coverdale_array_s.jpg ARRAY: This is a photo of an exisitng Coverdale photo which depicts an antenna described as a "6 MHz wire array" to support a 1965 project to intercept "compressed signals". Can anyone expand on this or provide any additional details? Click to enlarge. (A DND photo photographed by Eric Earl)


This section is intended to provide some background information regarding the antenna matching transformers and terminating resistors used on the rhombic antennas at Coverdale.

A birds eye view of a terminated rhombic antenna. If L= 1 wavelength, then the approximate gain of the antenna is 5 db. If L is increased to 5 wavelengths, the gain rises to around 12 db. With L=1, one can just imagine how much real estate is required for an array of four HF antennas each pointing North, East, South and West. (Graphic courtesy ARRL). 

This diagram shows the individual radiation patterns of the four legs of a rhombic and the resultant pattern which is narrow in beamwidth and high in gain since the in-phase lobes are additive.  Note other lobes are out of phase, thus cancelling each other. (Graphic courtesy Integrated Training)

Each antenna feed point was connected to an antenna coupler (balun). The purpose of the coupler was to match the 70 ohm (unbalanced) impedance of the coaxial hardline to the 700 ohm (balanced) impedance of the rhombic antenna.

Model  RAC Rhombic Antenna Coupler made by the Technical Materiel Corp. The open door is covering the left most insulator. A hardline coax attached to the bottom of the box and was connected to the input side of the transformer with pigtail jumpers made of flexible 50 ohm coax . The centre conductor of the coax connected to terminal labelled  '70' while the braid was connected to terminal  'G'. Connections to the rhombic were made across the terminals marked 700 ohms.  (TMC photo courtesy
A schematic of the RAC device with application notes. At Coverdale, all rhombics were fed with 2" diameter coax hardline in order to reduce losses. The RAC has an operating range from 2 to 60 MHz. (TMC image courtesy

A closeup view of the TR-001 matching transformer used within the RAC enclosure. As a servicing improvement at other stations, the RAC was mounted at the bottom of the mast and the balanced side of the Balun was connected to the antenna feed point via ladderline.  (Image courtesy Eric Earl KG4OZO) 

John Murison climbed the tall antenna masts in order to service the rhombic coupler units. He recalls "The receivers in the Ops Room were connected to rhombic antennas mounted atop 80 foot wooden masts which were made from BC Douglas fir. Climbing the masts was somewhat scary because it always looked higher than you really were. Each mast was approximately 2.5 feet diameter at the base and each one was illuminated with a light at the top. All masts were painted with red and white bands as visual warning for aircraft. A 3/4 inch diameter transmission line was attached to the exterior of the mast and was routed into a vault eventually ending up in the Ops Room.

That was something a lot of people couldn't understand. We were not trained as pole climbers . That was in the domain of the dockyard personnel, but we could never convince anyone of that and of course, at northern stations it could take months to get them there so we did it on our own. I did have some pole climbing in experience in Chimo while checking out power lines which came in handy later in my career. It was just a case of do it yourself rather than quibble in most cases".

All the rhombics were terminated with a 700 ohm resistor. Without a terminating resistor, a rhombic becomes a bidirectional antenna.

The Model 156 RTB rhombic terminating resistor made by Technical Materiel Corp. The resistor is connected to the standoff insulators mounted at the ends of the box . (TMC photo courtesy
The schematic of the rhombic terminating box. The spark gaps are provided  for lighting protection. (TMC photo courtesy

Eric Earl, a former CS rate, remembers the terminating resistor. " In Coverdale, all rhombics had a non-inductive, terminating resistor mounted in an enclosure at the bottom of the apex mast for convenience of servicing . I can remember fighting with that enclosure on several occasions to get it open. The 800 ohm (nominal) resistor could either be mounted on top of the mast or at the base of the mast by connecting it with ladderline. Since the ladderline was non resonant, its length was not critical. At lot servicing had to done in winter months (wouldn't you just know it)  and nearly  froze my fingers off most of the time. We used some type of soldering iron that had a one time cartridge to heat up it's tip to solder melting point and indeed to get the heavy gauge Copperweld wire (#4 ga ,copper-coated steel wire) to the proper temperature. I solved more problems by just reflowing the solder joints at the resistor end".


Besides SIGINT and D/F operations, Coverdale collected data in support of research into basic the problems of shore-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication techniques and equipment. The station also participated in a government research program which studied the problems of radio transmission and reception peculiar to Canada. This involved the use of classified equipment. These activities were also common to other SUPRAD stations. NRS Gander and Frobisher were mandated4 to provided support to Coverdale in this area.

Eric Earl who severd at Coverdale in the mid to late 1960's does not recall Coverdale having any VHF capability during that period.

Spud Roscoe remembers how slow the Russian navy transmitted on LF and that the code was not of the same quality that he was accustomed to. Ray White recalls, "It was found, in the late 1950s, that the local "noise" generators such as factories and the encroachment of new housing was making VLF reception just about useless at Coverdale.  There was a beverage antenna, but its location is gone from my memory.  LF (above, say 100 KHz) was a bit better, but the number of targets of interest in that band made it uneconomic to pursue from that location. Thus, most monitoring remained in the upper LF to the upper HF bands.  There were a few dipole antennas for LF but it is difficult to remember their exact location".

If any reader can expand on this, it would be most appreciated. In particular, information is needed on the LF antenna configuration.


1940's - National RBJ. It is belived that this was one of two receiver types used for 'Z' intelligence work at Coverdale. Needs confirmation. (Photo courtesy Kurrajong Radio Museum, Australia) chimo_rbj4_s.jpg
1940's - RCA AR88

A general coverage communications receiver manufactured between 1941 and 1945. Coverage - .535 kHz  to 32 MHz in six bands. By 1952, they had fallen into general disuse at Coverdale except for training and were gone after 1955.  (Photo courtesy Ray Robinson's Communications Museum)

1940's - Canadian Marconi CSR5

First built by Canadian Marconi in 1942, this general coverage receiver was capable of receiving AM and CW signals between 80 kHz and 30 mHz with the exception of the broadcast band. (Photo by Jerry Proc)

1940's -  National HRO

Besides the common consumer versions, many variations of the HRO were produced to fill specific commercial or military requirements. At the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939, the the British were caught without a decent intercept receiver. As a stop gap measure, and until they could develop one of their own, the British Admiralty purchased all of the HRO's they could get hold of. National kept the same basic receiver in continuous production from 1935 to 1964.  (Photo by Andre Guibert)

1948- Mackay 3100A 

This was a regenerative design  which covered 15 KHz to 635 KHz and first saw service in 1948. (Photo via Forms.QRZ web site)

1950's -  Hammarlund SP600J

Coverage: 0.54 mHz to 54 mHz, in six bands. The version used at Coverdale only had coverage from the top of the broadcast band. Operators complained because they couldn't listen to the hockey games aired on the broadcast band

SP600's were produced between 1950 and 1972. Cost was $985 in 1950.   (Photo courtesy RCN)

1950's: R388/URR. This is the military version of the Collins 51J3 commercial receiver. Covers 500 kHz to 30.5 MHz in 30 1 MHz bands with setting accuracy of about 300 Hz. Used by the US Defense Department from 1952 until the early 1960's. (Photo courtesy Dampfradioforum web page)  r388_coverdale_s.jpg
1960's - Racal RA-17

Coverage - Tuning range is 0.5 to 30 mHz in thirty 1 mHz bands. At Coverdale, each receiver bay had two of these mounted side by side. They were also used with the RA-63 SSB adapter. The SSB adapter provided a product detector for true SSB reception. Adapters were also called "wafers". Coverdale received its first RA-17 receiver in early 1960. 

Cost : The $1000 introductory price crept up to $2400 before production ended. (Photo source unknown)

1960's - Racal RA-117

Initially introduced in 1965 by Racal, the RA-117 is very similar to the RA-17 differing only in small ways. The RA17 has a tube count varying between 22 and 24 depending on the variant. An RA-117 has a tube count of 26.  (Photo courtesy Collectible Radios by VK2BV)

1960's: TMC Sideband Diversty receiver Model DDR-5K (AN/FRR-74). Click on image for more information. (TMC photo courtesy coverdale_ddr5k_s.jpg
1956 - 1960: Ampex 601 dual track tape recorder. (Image courtesy of RCN) ampex_601s.jpg

To get an appreciation for the cost of these receivers, just try and estimate how many hours one would have to work back in the 1950's or 60's to acquire one of these fabulous receivers. If the average blue collar wage was $1 per hour in 1950 (when the minimum wage was 75 cents per hour), imagine having to work 980 hours to acquire a brand new SP-600!

Hammarlund SP-600 VLF

Coverage was 10 kHz to 540 kHz. None of the SP-600 VLF receivers at Coverdale were equipped with the crystal option. In 1956, this receiver was selling for $2,000. 

Same front panel as SP-600.
Racal RA-17

When an RA-17 was fitted with the RA-37 LF converter it could tune from 12.5 kHz to 980 kHz. Low frequency converters type RA37 and RA137, designed for use with Racal RA17 and RA117 receivers, accept an input in the range 0 to 1 mHz and give a corresponding output in the range 2 to 3 MHz. (Photo courtesy David Knight, G3YNH)


Racal RA-117C 

When fitted with the RA-137 LF converter (shown) , it covered 10 kHz to 980 kHz. Also available is an RA237 LF adapter which was made specifically for the RA117. It has an extra filter added as the RA117 does not have a tunable 2-3 MHz filter. (Photo courtesy RCN)





RA-37: Coverage:  12 .5 to 980 kHz. Wideband preslector: 12.5-37kHz, 37-110kHz, 110-330kHz, 330-980kHz.  Panel Height 1.75" inches. (Photo courtesy Keith's Vintage RACAL Enthusiasts Site).

RA 137 VLF Adapter


RA-137: Coverage: 10 to 980 kHz. Preselector ranges: 10-20kHz, 20-40kHz, 40-90kHz, 90-210kHz, 210-500kHz, 500-980kHz. Wideband, Wideband with 500kHz low pass filter. Logging scale dial provided. Panel height 3.5" max. (Photo courtesy Dave Knight G3YNH Racal Radio Page).

RA63 SSB Adapter


RA-63: Racal RA-63 SSB Adapter. These were produced in variants whose input was either 100,  455 or 465 kHz . (Photo via Harry Nolan)


According to David Knight G3YNH, "the '137 has some refinements, but the main feature is the illuminated preselector scale. Both will work with either the RA17 or the RA117, since in either case the adapter produces an output in the range 2-3 mHz which feeds into the RA17/117 interpolation receiver. 

The difference between the RA17 and the RA117 is that the 117 is a double conversion 2-3 mHz interpolation receiver, where the 1st IF = 1.6 mHz, 2nd IF = 100 kHz; whereas the RA17 goes straight down to 100 kHz.  Hence the 117 has much better image rejection than the 17, but since the interpolation VFO is higher in frequency, it is more prone to drift. The image rejection of the RA17, for signals 200 kHz away from the monitored channel, is only about 60dB, which is poor by modern standards. In conjunction with an RA137 however, it makes a very respectable VLF receiver.

In 1949, the station was assigned call sign CGT but it was changed to CKT sometime in 1953 or 1954 because operators were running the characters together and CGT came out as CQ.

As mentioned previously, there were no local radio transmitters at Coverdale. For any transmissions, the base  used a Canadian Marconi PV500 transmitter which was collocated with Department of Transport transmitters at the RCAF base in Scoudouc, N.B., not far from Shediac. These D.O.T. transmitters were used by Moncton airport to communicate with aircraft in the days when 3023.5 kcs was the designated frequency and long before VHF aeronautical came into common use. CW was used as a backup for the landline teletype.

As operational requirements changed and technology moved forward, the PV-500 at Scoudouc was replaced with the Technical Materials Corp. type GPT-10K  by at least the mid 1960's or possibly earlier.

This map shows the relative distance between Coverdale and the transmitting site at Scoudouc, New Brunswick. (Map courtesy Mapquest) 


Spud Roscoe was stationed at Coverdale from March 1958 until March 1960. He describes the facilities. "The Main Operations Building had the Main Radio Operations Room on the second floor. Just west of this was the old operations building which closed in late 1958 or 1959. Operations were moved to the administration building and the old structure became a storage shed. A gymnasium was situated by the main gate. At the end of a long lane were the Permanent Married Quarters (PMQ's) There were perhaps 20 or so houses there. A new barracks building was built and opened in late 1958 if I remember correctly. There were four beds in each room just like the old barracks where the WRENs used to live.

The galley, store rooms, administration offices, quarterdeck, sick bay, lounge and bar were all on the main floor of the main building. Before the new barrack building was built one went down to the galley to eat and then had to go outside to the old operations building to go to work. After the new barrack building was built one had to go outside and go to the main building to eat and go to work.

The garage for the vehicles was right behind the main administration building. It was a two storey structure with rooms on the second level and the location of Coverdale's amateur radio station. One of the base personnel made his personal Heathkit DX-60 transmitter available for use by the other hams on staff. The rig was connected to a  homemade dipole antenna cut for 10 meters. Everyone who used the station used their personal call sign.

The DF site was a mile or more south of the Coverdale main base and reminiscent of a cow pasture. To the east of the main base, on another large cleared field, one could find a group of rhombic antennas all mounted on tall masts which were painted red and white. The main base, our barrack room, the garage, and the main gate were all surrounded with page wire while the ball field and of the DF site were outside this fence".

Spud Roscoe also remembered the ranks and trades of some of the base personnel during the time he served in the late 1950's. "There were roughly 150 of us stationed there in 1959. Our C.O. was a Lieut. Commander SB, with SB meaning Special Branch. He had green edging on his gold braid. The Executive Officer was a Lieut. SB and I  believe there was one other Junior SB Officer. The Supply Officer, a Lieut, wore white edging on his gold braid. If my memory serves me correctly, there were just the four officers.

Three writers consisting of a C2AW (Administrative Writer abbreviated Ad Writer), a LSAW and a  ABPW (Able Seaman Pay Writer) were on staff. Other trades included:

P1MA - Medical Assistant who was also a Registered Nurse. .

P2PT - Physical Education Instructor. He was in charge of the gymnasium and looked after getting our ball, basketball, hockey teams together and engaged the base in various local tournaments.

P1WS or WU - A weapons Surface or Underwater rate or gunner. He was in charge of the guns, the rifles, the revolvers and whatever other firearms were on the base. There was a supply of .303 rifles and .45 hand guns for certain. The revolvers were were used regularly by personnel who escorted the Supply Officer when he went to the bank to obtain the money for pay day. Everyone was paid in cash back then.

The P1 Gunner (the Buffer) was also in charge of cleanliness. We nicknamed the one at Coverdale "Sudsy" because that was his terminology for his favourite type of cleaner.

There were two Stores rates - one naval and one vitualing. One rate looked after paint, clothing, hardware, etc. while the other was responsible for food, groceries, and so on. They both worked together.

There were perhaps 2 or 3 cooks who ensured that base personnel ate well. Adding to the staff were four civilians. Two were maintenance workers both of whom were ex-Army and from the Moncton area. They were not allowed to repair anything in the Operations Room unless escorted by an officer. During the maintenance interval, anything deemed to be of a sensitive nature was covered up. The other two were drivers and each one  operated the vehicle pool plus a military-style bus that was on a scheduled run into Moncton. The duty vehicle for the DF shack made 5 daily trips  - change operators at 8 AM; to deliver the noon meal; change operators at 4 PM;  deliver the supper meal and the last to change operators at midnight.

There were at least 28 RS rates in four watches for radio operations.  Day, Evening, Night and Days Off.  with at least one or two Chiefs per watch and one or two P1's and a couple of P2's wandering around. Some personnel were on a straight day work. Part of the staff consisted of U.S. Navy CT's - Communications Technicians. They were at Coverdale as part of an exchange program. After a second 5 year stretch of enlistment, RS rates were eligible to take courses in  radio "finger printing" and language training".

Willy Pardue (NH6XD), was one of those USN CT's on the exchange program. He expands on this. "To the best of my knowledge, the exchange program came under the NATO Forces Agreement Act.  There were eight billets at Coverdale and eight at Cheltenham, MD. I believe the Trade Groups had to be a Leading Seaman and above for the Canadians, and 3rd Class P.O. and above for the USN types.   At Coverdale, we (USN) had 1 to 2 Chiefs (E-7/E-8) on exchange while at Cheltenham the RCN  had a C1 and C2. As for the rest, it was a mix of Petty Officers (2nd and 3rd class) for the U.S. As for the number of RCN Trade Groups at Cheltenham, I'm sure it was a similar mix of Leading Seamen, P2s and P1s".

IN THE 1960's

As technology continued to advance, the Hammarlund SP600 receivers were retired and replaced with Racal 17's and 117's in the early 1960's. The trusty CNF4 D/F set was also retired and replaced with the AN/GRD-501, a totally Canadian design although the very high cost of the gas-filled cables to the antenna hurt its development.

Douglas Stewart served in Coverdale between 1963 and 1965. He recalls " I was promoted P1 there and was the on-watch HFDF supervisor. By the time I had arrived the CNF4 had been phased out. During 1956-58 I had operated the CNF4 at Gloucester while on the DF watch staff.  The GRD-501 of Canadian design was its replacement, covering 3-30 mhz in four bands. Its uniqueness was the application of three separate CRT displays for bearing, bearing recorder and signal modulation. Signals of short duration could be recorded, played back for directional information as well as monitored for further signals analysis. As alternate net control we could either assume control; prearranged schedule or more often; whenever the net control lost their transmitters. Coverdale transmitters were at least  ten miles from the station. As a scheduled changeover we could have a tech at the site. Often when net control had an unannounced outage it would take us a few minutes longer than otherwise acceptable to get the transmitter online. When Coverdale closed the new Gander site was tested and operational. Their configuration was completely different, using USN supplied equipment, namely the AN/FRD-10.  It was a huge (850' dia) circular array of antennae with a 2 story operations building in the centre".

Ray White recalls something interesting during the upgrade period from SP600's to Racals. "Certainly, the SP was a superior receiver, especially when connected to the rhombic,  but for some reason, most signals heard with the SP600 were also heard with the CNF-4 and its omnidirectional antenna. The main limitations of both receivers was the difficulty of ascertaining the precise frequency.  ie the SP-600 was notorious for only being able to be read only +/- 25 kcs, and the CNF-4 was much the same.

When they started replacing the SP's with the Racal 17 and then the 117C, there was a lot of resistance from the operators mainly because the Racal did not have the loud, almost booming background noise. Because of superb signal-to-noise ratio and very little background noise, the operators thought the Racal wasn't working properly. It was a similar story when the RCA AR88's were being converted to the SP600's in the 1950's.

Racal's other quality was its ability to read frequencies with unheard of accuracy. The Racal's frequency readout was on a film strip, much like a 35-mm film, which the operator could calibrate for unbelievable (at the time) accuracy. With the SP600's,  if someone had reported a frequency of, say, 11219 he had to qualify it with an X signifying that the BC221 frequency meter had been used.

The practice in Aklavik, Inuvik, Churchill and Coverdale was to copy manual morse by pencil and paper then transcribe it to fanfold paper on a telegraphic typewriter. Automatic morse sent at manual-level  speeds was copied directly on a telegraphic  typewriter. In 1964, an entry in the Naval General Orders (NGO's) authorized Coverdale to hold 41 telegraphic typewriters".

By 1969, there were 5 officers and 197 men and women working at Coverdale. Joseph Costello, web master of the RC Sigs Militaria web page, states that "The unification of the Armed Forces on 19 July 1966 created the Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio Systems (CFSRS). Not long after the inception of CFSRS did people see the need for cost cutting  measures. CFSRS had several isolated stations costing enormous amounts of money to maintain. The combination of high costs and advancements in technology lead to reorganizing and modernizing of CFSRS activities under "Project Beagle". The goal of this project was to reduce maintenance costs and enhance operational effectiveness while still maintaining continuity. By May 1972, Project Beagle had largely been completed and Coverdale closed on 15 June 1971".

By closing the base,  the Department of National Defence saved $1,100,000 annual operating costs. Overall, the plan was to reduce the head count in the Supplementary Radio Branch from 1,952 personnel in 1966 to 1,560 by the time the program was completed in the early 1970s. Coverdale was sold to the Province of New Brunswick for $700,000 in the early 1970's.

Coverdale's personnel were eventually transferred to Gander to become part of 770 Communications Research Squadron which still exists as of 2004.  In spite of the high operating cost, everyone who served at Coverdale made an important and unique contribution to the effectiveness of ocean surveillance of the North Atlantic and also played a significant role in the gathering of intelligence by radio.

By this time the Control and Alternate Net control stations of the Atlantic HFDF had changed. This table, provided by Joe Glockner, summaries the changes. When Coverdale closed, it handed over its Alternate Net Control function to Skaggs Island CA which was also the Alternate Net Control for the PAC Eastern HFDF net.

Cheltenham, MD  NCO NSS NCO till 1968
Northwest, VA NCO NAM NCO from 1968
Coverdale, NS ANCO CKT Until 1971
Skaggs Island, CA ANCO NPG ANCO from 1971
NCO = Net Control                 ANCO =Alternate Net Control

coverdale_jacket_patch_s.jpg Coverdale jacket patch image courtesy Eric Earl. Click to enlarge.
People  - Section 1
People  - Section 2
Facilities - Section 1
Facilities - Section 2
Facilities - Section 3


1.  DAN was the morse call sign used by the German Navy Fleet Headquarters during WWII. After the war, it continued to be used, but as the call sign for the merchant fleet. The station was in continuous operation until the demise of CW in the merchant marine in the late 1990's. During the 1950's, SUPRAD stations used DAN as a check bearing at the DF sites.

2.'Y' was the term used for Signals and Communications Intelligence during WWII. The Brits still used it into the late 1950's but Canada had abandoned the term by then. In the Book "Room 40, British Naval Intelligence 1914-1918", Patrick Beesley mentions throughout the book,  the  use of Y stations in the UK.  On pages 12 and 13, when discussing various individuals involved in naval intelligence in August 1914,  he mentions the involvement of the Post Office and Marconi stations Hunstanton and Stockton were the core of a 'Y' service (Interception service) which, together with the Marconi and Post Office stations, grew rapidly so that eventually it was able to intercept and record almost every naval wireless message, and diplomatic, consular and commercial messages as well, which were transmitted by the German authorities.

3.  It is important to note why the "check bearings"  procedure had to be done every hour. Sometimes atmospherics would play havoc on the CNF-4 set and the Lock Dot circuit did not provide sufficient immunity from errant sky waves . As a result targets were displayed on the wrong bearings or in some cases on wildly wrong bearings . The ultimate example of this happened at Chimo, when GBTT (Queen Mary) was resolved to be in Hudson's Bay instead of the North Atlantic, a full 90 degree error!  It was therefore important for the operators to periodically validate the bearings to ensure they were accurate and not skewed by atmospherics.

4. Declassified document NSS 1321-9/3 (DRSA) dated April 22, 1960.

5. File 76/240 from Directorate of History and Heritage, Ottawa,  indicates the station started "approximately 1941". It goes on to say that "Original buildings were built as temporary buildings in 1941 (no month mentioned) and continued with "usefulness cannot be expected longer than a further five years". That comment was dated January 1961. Further, it says "Originally staffed by WRENS (again, no dates mentioned) The date of 1941 shown in the file is incorrect".

6. Between 1942 amd 2005, the rate of inflation was 1024%. Nolan was asking $25,000  for 32.1 acres or aproximately $779 per acre. Converted to 2005 currency values, that would be $281,000 or  $8,754 per acre


If you have answers, please contact:

1) A DF set as used at Coverdale circa 1970. Perhaps it was an evaluation unit. This is a verbal description of the device provided by Dave Guigues who actually used it. "It was mounted on a large copper plate which sat on the floor. Attached to the plate was a gimbal to which was attached the operators chair, table and equipment. As the operator selected a new bearing the entire apparatus would move. The bearing was read from a copper ring. This was a backup D/F device". Did anyone else use such a device at Coverdale around 1970?

2) This question is relevant to the 1970-71 time frame and is submitted by  Dave Guigues. "I remember hearing about some type of truck in the spring of 1970. At the time, I thought that that would be a great summer job for a young private (which I was).  Unfortunately, I had already received my orders for my first tour at CFS Alert for July, so wasn't eligible to volunteer.  If I recall correctly, a similar deployment had occurred the previous summer. As to what the actual task was, I really don't know.  At Coverdale, we were limited to coverage within the high frequency (HF) spectrum (ie. 3 - 30 megacycles), so I suspect that this truck may have been involved in very high frequency (VHF) or even ultra high frequency (UHF) sampling.   But that is just a guess.  The only person that I know that could have confirmed that was a gent by the name of Dave Drobot (now deceased)" . Can anyone expand on this?

References, Credits and Contributors:

1) Spud Roscoe  <spudroscoe(at)>
2) Ray White       <r.p.white(at)>
3) Andre Guibert <aguibert(at)>
4) John Murison  <jolomurison(at)>
5) Don Cameron  <dcam1863(at)>
6) Joseph P Costello  RC Sigs Militaria.
7) Bruce Forsyth's Canadian Military History.
8) New Brunswick Military Heritage Project.
9) Canada Forces Station Bermuda 1963-1993.
10 AR-88 Photo. Ray Robinson's Communications Museum.
11) RA-117 photo:
12) "The War History of the Radio Branch". A report from the National Research Council (1948).
13) Supplementary Radio Activities Consolidation Plan.
14) The ARRL Antenna Handbook, 1991 Edition. American Radio Relay League.
15) Douglas Stewart  <dougjoy(at)>
16) Keiths Vintage RACAL Enthusiasts Site.
17) Dave Knight G3YNH Racal Radio Page.
18) 770 Communications Research Squadron, CFS Gander.
19) Margaret Haliburton , WREN 1944-45.
20) Elsa Lessard, WREN  <elsal(at)>
21) Vin Crane,      WREN  <cravin(at)>
22) Betty Ringrose, WREN <bettyringrose(at)>
23) The Wrens History web page.
24) CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum.
25) Doris Grierson Hope, WREN  W3586. <dgrierson(at)>  (now deceased)
26) Joan Pelly, WREN  <joanpelly(at) (now deceased)
27) Directorate of History & Heritage , Ottawa. File: COVERDALE 76/240
28) DND declassified file 72/322 dated May 22, 1990.
29) DND declassified file NSS 1321-9/3 (DRSA) originally dated April 22, 1960.
30) Coverdale cap tally image courtesy Dan Gillis.
31) Integrated Training
32) Rhombic Terminating Resistor photo ~cummings7/vtr600.jpg
33) Eric Earl   <eearle52(at)>
34) Coverdale badge. (Courtesy
35) Abandoned Military Installations of Canada by Paul Ozorak.
36) Alice Adams, WREN e-mail: ruddywren(at)
37) National Archives of Canada. Coverdale documents RG24 Vol 5642 File 48-3-36
38)  Willy Pardue NH6XD <WShipbuilder(at)>
39) TMC photos:
40) Dave Guigues <dguigues(at)>
41) Joe Glockner <wa6axe(at)>
42) Mike Rowlands VA3MR  <rowlands(at)>
43) Racal Tube Lineup
44) Jacques Hamel <hamja(at)>
45) Dr Steve Harris, CD.  Chief Historian, Directorate of History and Heritage and National Defence, Ottawa
46) CTV News interview with Ann Connolly Nov 11/19\
47) John Wise

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Dec 17/20