Strategic Radio Direction Finder Station
November 1942 – December 4, 1944
Guadalcanal is one of the Solomon Islands chain that is located in the Melanesian area of the Southwest Pacific extending on a northwest-southeast line almost 900 miles between latitudes 5° to 11 ° South and longitudes 154° 40′ to 162° 30′ East. In an effort to stop further Japanese advances in the area which threatened Allied supply lines to Australia, U. S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942.
Although the Strategic Radio Direction Finder Station, Guadalcanal (station designator “AL”), was operational from November 1942 through December 4, 1944, little information is available on the station. Material directly attributable to the station is available only for the period June 1 through December 7, 1944. Information on the station prior to this has been gleaned from other sources, primarily the Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (FRUPAC) Weekly Newsletter.
The November 1942 establishment of the station is found in a draft history covering cryptologic activities through the end of World War II. According to this information, Guadalcanal was assigned both an intercept and a HFDF missions.
According to the FRUPAC Weekly Newsletter for the week ending December 13, 1942, Guadalcanal was established and operating, although some delay in completing the installation had been caused by the loss of radio equipment in a plane crash. At the time, Guadalcanal and other stations were experiencing problems receiving flashes (line of bearing requests) due to net control not having a transmitter of sufficient power.
In late December 1942 or very early January 1943, Guadalcanal forwarded a request for a dedicated transmitter for use in transmitting bearing reports. None were available for shipment to the station. In late March 1943, a letter originated by ENS H. L. Kisner reported that Guadalcanal was attempting to use captured Japanese transmitters for bearing reports. It is not known if they were successful. In the citation accompanying the Bronze Star awarded to LT Homer L. Kisner, USN, at the end of World War II, it is stated that,”…
From August 1942 to October 1943 during all stages of the Guadalcanal operation he was put in charge of a unit with the responsibility of setting up and operating an intercept and direction finding station on Guadalcanal…” He was transferred from Guadalcanal on or about October 28, 1943. During the period of his assignment to Guadalcanal, ENS Kisner was apparently assigned on temporary duty from FRUPAC to COM3RDFLT.
On May 19, 1943, RM1 P. H. Jacobsen was medically evacuated from Guadalcanal with jaundice. The climate on Guadalcanal was generally unhealthy as reference was made in June 1943 to problems in keeping the station manned due to malaria and yellow jaundice. Personnel problems were compounded by the fact that it reportedly took over a month to get a replacement to the island.
Virtually nothing is known of Guadalcanal’s intercept mission other than that one reportedly existed. In addition to the reference to such a mission mentioned in the draft cryptologic history, the FRUPAC Newsletter for the week ending June 6, 1943 contained a diagram showing Guadalcanal as a source of Japanese intercept which was then forwarded to FRUPAC via air. The Newsletter for the week ending March 19, 1944 contained a reference to, “…any one day’s traffic from the USMC Guadalcanal station///” but it is not known if this was a separate station, if Marine Corps personnel has taken over the intercept role from Navy personnel, or if Marine Corps personnel has been assigned the intercept role since the station’s establishment.
In August 1943, reference is made to a COM3RDFLT memorandum to Commander, Naval Base, Guadalcanal, to the effect that the Model DAB direction finder was to be used solely in Mid-Pacific Strategic HFDF Net operations while the Model DY-3 direction finder was available for navigational use.
In October 1943, the FRUPAC Newsletter made reference to plans to transfer ENS Reid to Guadalcanal as Officer in Charge, apparently as ENS Kisner’s relief. An RMC Rudolph E Soland was to accompany ENS Reid. Reference was also made to unspecified problems with the accuracy of the Model DAB direction finder. It was speculated that the initial installation of the DAB might be the problem resulting from the equipment having been installed too soon (after the invasion); presumably with insufficient site survey or preparation.
In the earliest documents directly attributable to the station, the monthly operational summary for June 1944, it was reported that the station was assigned a complement of at least eight radiomen and one “radio technician,” presumably a radioman specializing in electronic maintenance. A two-man, four section watch was maintained at the station with one radioman operating the Model DAB HFDF equipment and the second monitoring the flash and reporting circuits. Based on this and subsequent operational summaries, it is assumed that Guadalcanal’s intercept mission had been terminated or transferred prior to June 1, 1944. During the month, the station responded with 926 bearings on 1958 flashes received by the station. In addition, bearings were provided to local authorities on six friendly aircraft lost in the area.
In July 1944, the station returned 1070 bearings on 2126 flashes. During the month of August, radio reception was particularly poor. In addition, the station was forced to go from a 4.0 watch posture to 3.5 with the transfer, without replacement, of one radioman on August 12. During the month, 1097 bearings were returned on 2526 flashes.
Radio reception continued poor into September with some slight improvement toward the end of the month. The station returned to a 4.0 watch posture with the arrival of a replacement on September 5. Both events may have contributed to an improvement in DF operations as compared with August with a total of 1222 bearings returned on 2467 flashes.
On October 14, 1944, FRUPAC requested authorization from the Assistant Director, Naval Communications (OP-20G) to decommission the HFDF stations on Guadalcanal and Tarawa in order to utilize the personnel and material to establish stations in the forward areas. ADNC (0P-20G) responded immediately in the affirmative. During October, the station continued routine operations. In addition to responding to flashes from the net (1064 bearings on 2637 flashes), independent search operations were carried out and tip-offs submitted to net control on transmissions of interest. Of these, 24 were flashed to the net by net control.
On November 11, 1944, the Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas forwarded a letter to Commander, South Pacific Force, directing the decommissioning of the Strategic Radio Direction Finder Station, Guadalcanal. The decommissioning was prompted by the policy of “rolling up the rear” in the Pacific area and because of the necessity of utilizing elsewhere the personnel and equipment of the station. The station was to be decommissioned as soon as possible. All Guadalcanal personnel were assigned to the station on a temporary duty basis and were to be returned to their permanent duty station – FRUPAC. The Model DAB direction finder was to be retained on Guadalcanal for navigational use but the Model DY-3 direction finder, three receivers and two intercomm sets were to be shipped off-island for use elsewhere. Available portions of the station’s monthly report for November 1944 make no reference to the impending decommissioning of the station. Operations appeared to be normal with 1124 bearings returned on 3060 flashes.
However, Guadalcanal’s 070320Z DEC 44 (a retransmission of the station’s 040320Z DEC 44) reported the station had terminated HFDF operations at 040700Z DEC 44 preparatory to dismantling the equipment scheduled for shipment off the island.
Although the official command title of the station was Strategic Radio Direction Finder Station, Guadalcanal, at the time of its decommissioning, it is presumed that the title at the time of its commissioning was different in recognition of its HFDF and intercept roles.
16 November 2019 at 11:20
That was a very, very interesting article, I appreciate the post and had no prior knowledge of this remote station. Thank you.
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16 November 2019 at 20:29
Comment from Larry Weir:
I just read something about this and it was the first time I had ever read about this capability in all of my previous readings about the battle for Guadalcanal. IN reading through the article, you may want to check in with the Marine Corps history division and into the papers of AA Vandergrift who was the commanding general of the Guadalcanal operation until I believe May 1943 when the 1st Marine Division was relieved by the US Army. In the beginning of this stations operations, the issues of operation probably had as much with a DF antenna being a great targeting site for Japanese artillery and the nightly shore bombardment as well as equipment nonsuited for the jungle. According to several histories that I read, many times all hands would be needed to repel attacking forces and irregular forces were created to be rushed to the lines. (I became fascinated with this battle as a kid and read most everything that I can find on it still).
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20 November 2019 at 05:25
Most interesting article and the two responses that it generated. Thank you, Mario, for posting the article and Larry Weir’s reply!
Earlier today I read something related to the early phase of Operation Watchtower: “CINCPAC read a Japanese radio message stating that the `Guadalcanal landing was designated `AN’ operation, with 4 July as `X’ day. Force consisted of naval landing party, plus 11th and 13th Pioneer Forces.’ From this it was deduced that actual construction of the airfield would start soon after 4 July.” (Source: Amphibians Came to Conquer, by VADM George C. Dyer, p. 274.)
This same source corrects a statement made by S.E. Morison in Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions in which Morison wrote that “It was the start of airfield construction there [Guadalcanal], before the end of June , that sparked off the whole Guadalcanal operation.” (Source, Ibid, p. 276.) Vice Admiral Dyer goes on to quote from Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record by FADM E.J. King and Walter Muir Whitehill (see p. 434): “The planning of the Solomons landings was done in COMINCH Headquarters by Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, who was then sent to the South Pacific in command of the amphibious forces that was to carry them out.” (Quoted in Dyer’s Amphibians, p. 276.) In December 1941 Commander Dyer was detached as executive officer of the USS Indianapolis and ordered to report to Admiral King in the Navy Department. King assigned Dyer as F-11 in the Plans Division under then Rear Admiral Turner.
As an aside, I have a first edition of Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record, published in 1952 that had been my father’s. This is what is stated on p. 642 of the first edition of this book: “While the Battle of Midway was up to the Pacific Fleet, the planning of the Solomons landings was done in COMINCH Headquarters by Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, who was then sent to the South Pacific in command of the amphibious force that was to carry them out.”
A not infrequent problem I’ve found in trying to put the Two’s and Two’s together in verifying source material is that page numbers may change from one edition of a book to another. This is often far more of a problem when one is quoting from a paperback (reprint) of a book than from the original hardcover copy. But “revised” editions can lead to changes in where source material may be quoted.
I have a British edition of Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record, published by Eyre & Spottiswoode, London in 1953. This particular copy of King’s Record was obtained from a bookstore in Maryland. Inside the front cover this copy is stamped: “Surplus – 3 Library of Congress Duplicate.” What Admiral Dyer credited to page 434 appears in this British edition on page 434. The first U.S. edition of Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record was published by W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., New York in 1952. There are 674 pages in the Norton first edition, but only 465 pages in the British edition from the following year.
6 August 2021 at 21:08
My father James J. Perkins, at the time Chief radioman along with a radioman were landed on Guadalcanal with a mobile high frequency direction finder in mid-September. After getting it working the last week of September ENS Kisner’s detachment arrived with more radios and equipment. This is documented in “Combined Fleet Decoded” by John Prados, 1995, pp 377-379.