WAVES at Imperial Beach
In 1943, thirty WAVES from Naval Communications Annex (OP-20-G), on Nebraska Avenue in Washington D.C. were sent to the field station at Imperial Beach, California (designated Station “I”) to augment the communications center.
At this station, Japanese naval messages were intercepted and sent to Washington via land-line. Several Model 19 teletype machines with a page printer, key punch head, and key punch reader, plus one Dunderbeck machine, were used for this purpose. To speed transmission of this special intelligence information, the messages were punched on tape at speeds up to 100 WPM. The WAVES who could type the quickest would start the message tape using this machine to create a short loop in the tape to prevent it from breaking at the paper tape reader.
Everyone worked shifts around the clock: 4 to 12, 8 to 4 and finally 12 to 8 always alternating with 48 hours off after a full shift. Near the end of the World War II, a small building was constructed adjacent to the main communications room. This building contained Model 1515 crypto machines for enciphering intercepted Japanese messages to be sent by radio to processing centers in the Pacific. The WAVES who operated these machines were alone at night and were sometimes a little frightened.
In January 1945, additional WAVES trained as Japanese intercept operators were sent from Bainbridge Island, Washington to Imperial Beach, California and by August there were a total of 112 “radio” WAVES at Imperial Beach. They were assigned watch duties to copy Japanese naval broadcasts and other Japanese naval radio circuits. Later some were trained as Direction Finding operators.
The chow hall at Imperial Beach Radio Station left much to be desired, but the food was generally good. There was a movie theater, recreation hall and a very small ship’s service store with only the necessities. There was also a small post office and a few married quarters. When the first thirty WAVES arrived they had to live in the dispensary building until the WAVES Quarters were completed. In this environment there were not an adequate number of showers or heads. The young ladies made the best of the situation until the new Quarters were completed. There were no buses to the station and to go on liberty you had to hike to the main road leading to the nearby town of Coronado.
WAVES at Bainbridge Island
The Naval Radio Station at Bainbridge Island, Washington (designated Station “S”) once housed one of the most effective and least known electronic intercept operations of World War II. In 1940, the Navy announced the opening of a radio school at Bainbridge Island, WA with about two dozen male students. Prior to Pearl Harbor, Bainbridge was primarily used to copy the Japanese diplomatic traffic passed on commercial radio circuits between Tokyo and San Francisco. The famous fourteen part Japanese diplomatic message, which was featured in the Pearl Harbor congressional hearings, was intercepted at Bainbridge. Shortly after Pearl Harbor the Army’s Fort Word on Bainbridge Island was transferred to the Navy and became Bainbridge Island Naval Radio Station. The site encompassed 330 acres. The mess hall and men’s barracks were originally built by the Army.
WAVE Quarters were constructed on South Beach just prior to arrival of the first WAVES. To get to the mainland, it was necessary to take a ferry to either Bremerton or Seattle. If you wished to stay on the island, many a liberty was spent at Russ’ Tavern or the Bloody Bucket. By war’s end the number of personnel there had increased to more than 1,200, including about 200 Naval Security Group WAVES. On February 14, 1945, 100 WAVES trained as Japanese intercept operators at Bainbridge Island were sent to the Naval Radio Station Skaggs Island, California where they copied Japanese weather broadcast schedules.
Edited by Mario Vulcano