Radio Security Station
Marine Detachment Peiping, China

The first reference to an intercept station located in Peiping (a) is found in an August 22, 1928 memorandum from possibly the Research Desk, via the Code and Signal Section, to the Director of Naval Communication which mention that, “… the work of this office has been concentrated upon Orange communications.  The results obtained have amply justified the continuance of this service.  Our principle source of radio traffic has been from intercept station at Shanghai, China and Peiping China.  These two units have duties which are primarily intercept work and the personnel are specially trained in the Orange Code.  These two stations have provided this Office with the only material which has been really satisfactory for making a cryptographic attack.”

On October 30, 1931, the Chief of Naval Operation (CNO) forwarded a letter to the Major General Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, which stated that the Bureau of Engineering (BUENG) would provide the following equipment to the Peiping station:

1 Model RE low frequency (LF) receiver
1 Model RF intermediate frequency (IF) receiver
1 Model RT high frequency (HF) receiver
1 Model RG high frequency (HF) receiver

The letter further stated that all intercept then being accomplished at the Peiping station was on high frequencies.  The LF and IF receivers were for emergency use but were not being used except for “research work” to locate new stations and record receiver settings.  It was considered that three HF receivers were required to handle the station’s normal intercept load but four were necessary to handle the intercept volume in emergency situations such as the existing crisis in Manchuria.  Therefore, two additional HF receivers were urgently required at the station.  Since the station was manned by Marine Corp personnel, it was requested that the Marine Corp provide the two additional HF receivers.  An attached note from J. W. McClaran (b) to CAPT Hooper stated that a CAPT Cole had two new receivers and was willing to ship them to the Peiping station.  The note also started that the Peiping station had a total of nine operator assigned.  On November 23, the Major General Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, informed CNO that two receiver would be provided to Peiping, “…with the understanding that these receivers would be returned to the Marine Corps when the Bureau of Engineering provides the special type of intercept receiver now being developed.”

However, a December 7, 1931 letter from the Bureau of Engineering to CNO stated that, “Inasmuch as the Peiping radio station is not a permanent intercept station….this Bureau, unless otherwise directed, will furnish no high frequency receivers to Peiping.”  On December 15, CNO (OP-20G) informed the Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet (CINCAF) that the Marine Corps would provide two HF receivers and arrangements would be made with BUENG for their eventual replacement.

According to CNO (OP-20G) letter dated December 23, 1931 addressed to CINCAF, CNO viewed the situation in Manchuria and the possibility of disturbances in the vicinity of Peiping to be a threat to the intercept station at its existing location.  It seems that the station had been moved at some time in the past.  Tis move had been prompted by excessive interference on high frequencies.  However, it was reported that the interference had been overcome.  The letter went on to state….”It is therefore suggested that the Intercept Station, Peiping, be moved… the earliest time that is practicable without undue interference with its current activities.  A permanent location should be made available and should be of sufficient size to accommodate a total of eight receivers.”

On March 5, 1932, CNO (OP-20G) forwarded a letter to the Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment, Peiping, China, commending the station for, “… the excellent work and progressive development of the Intercept Station, Peiping, for the past four years, and especially during the past six month.”

On July 7, 1932, CNO (OP-20G) informed the Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment, Peiping, that BUENG was shipping two Mode RT (HF) receivers to the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines for assignment to the Peiping station.

According to the caption of a photograph provided by LCOL Stephen Lesko, USMC (Ret), and published in the June 1971 muster list of the “On-The-Roof-Gang,” the following personnel were station at Peiping during the spring/summer of 1932; Walter B. Robertson, Charles J. Smith, Maurice M. Overstreet, Hubert N. Thomas, Jr. , Phillip M. Miller, Stephen Lesko, George F. Knight, William A. Wilder (all Marine Corps personnel) and RMC C. E. Reynolds.

In portions of technical reports forwarded from Peiping in probably 1934, the station was designated Station “A.”

Based on the technical report for August 1934, the station was involved in search and intercept of Japanese Fleet maneuver communications.  The station apparently had limited success since such intercept as was obtained was limited to communication of small units engaged in group maneuvers.  From analysis of intercept traffic, the station drew the conclusion that the Japanese Fleet had not begun to assemble before the end of August.

In a September 28 letter from CINCAF to CNO, CINCAF sought to inform CNO of the conditions existing regarding the intercept station in Peiping and to obtain permission to take whatever action CINCAF thought necessary, “….to safeguard the interest of the Navy and the intercept service in particular…”.  Based on inspections of the Peiping station, the most recent conducted September 12-22, it was the belief of CINCAF that the intercept station should be transferred to another location, preferable Shanghai where the FOURTH Marine Regiment was located.  Factors militating against continued maintenance of the intercept station at Peiping included the threat to the city of Japanese military activity in northern China since the city was located near Japanese controlled territory, the possible relocation of foreign legations from Peiping to Nanking which would probably also mean the evacuation of foreign military forces from the city, and the poor quality of radio reception in the city coupled with the obsolete equipment assigned to the station.  Therefore, it was concluded that the conditions existing at the intercept station at Peiping where, “…not conducive to the high degree of security of efficiency.”  It was requested that CNO authorized CINCAF to relocate the station from Peiping to the FOURTH Marines’ radio station in Shanghai, “…if and when due investigation and consideration of all factors prompt such action.”

During the month of September 1934, the Peiping station continued to intercept Japanese Fleet maneuver activity but it was believed that communications intercepts were from minor units.

On October 4, CINCAF forwarded a letter to the Commanding Officer, FOURTH Marines, regarding the possible transfer of the intercept station from Peiping to Shanghai.   The letter outlined the need-to-know requirements and required that information bearing on the existence of radio intelligence activities or the projected transfer of the intercept station from Peiping to Shanghai be limited to the Intelligence Officer the Communication Officer, and the Regimental Adjutant.  The letter stated that the existing allowance for the Peiping station was one sergeant and eight corporals and privates (all Marine Corps intercept operators) and one Chief Radioman (also an intercept operator).  Although not named, the Chief Radioman was RMC Fred Lee Freeman, who, according to CINCAF Memorandum #3 for the Code and Signals Section dated December 29, 1934, was relieved by RMC Malcolm Wirt Lyon who had transferred from Guam sometime after October 1934.  According to Depository records, RMC Freeman was assigned to Peiping from September 1933 to December 1934.  Equipment installed at Peiping included three Model RT (HF) receivers, one Model RG (HF) receiver, two Model RF (IF) receivers, two Model RE (LF) receivers and one frequency meter.  The receivers were unmodified and considered obsolete.  It was considered that four modern receivers, a frequency meter, and a direction finder would be sufficient for operations at Shanghai.  Several conditions for the location of an intercept station Shanghai were listed:

  • Close officer supervision to be carried out by the Regimental Intelligence Officer if an officer especially trained in radio intelligence work was not available.
  • The station should be located in a building assigned to strictly Marine Corps activities or one provided with a Marine guard post to restrict access to the intercept station
  • The station should have only one entrance
  • Secure storage would be required for station papers and material.
  • The intercept station and the regular radio station could not share operations space and it was considered desirable that intercept personnel be berthed separately form regular communications personnel

CINCAF stated that CNO authorization to transfer the intercept station from Peiping to Shanghai was pending, but the station would be transferred without prior authority if an emergency arose.

In the station monthly report for October 1934, it was reported that Japanese Fleet maneuver activity was intercepted only during the first half of the month, concluding on October 14.

In a November 28 message from OPNAV to CINCAF, authorization to transfer the intercept station from Peiping to Shanghai was given.  On December 5, CNO (OP-20GX) forwarded a letter to CINCAF containing suggestions regarding procedures for making the transfer while maintaining maximum secrecy.  It was considered that transfer of men and equipment directly from Peiping to Shanghai would make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep the information that a new intercept station had been established at Shanghai from spreading around the Asiatic Station. (From this it is assumed that knowledge of the intercept station at Peiping was relatively widespread.)  It was recommended that:

  • The Shanghai station be established using equipment provided by the Bureau of Engineering and new Marine Corps personnel be transferred to the Asiatic Station by the Department of the Navy.
  • The Peiping station be maintained in commission until the intercept operators had been transferred by reason of expiration of their tour of duty.  The majority of personnel then assigned were scheduled to return to the United Station by the summer of 1938 after which the Peiping station could be decommissioned.
  • Ensure that the personnel at Peiping knew nothing about the Shanghai station.

A new class of five Marine Corps radio operators were to begin training in Washington in February 1935, and could arrive in Shanghai by late Summer.  In addition, three experienced Marine Corps intercept operators, all of whom had previously served at Peiping, were available for assignment to Shanghai of whom one, SGT Lesko, was already en route to the Marine Detachment, USS AUGUSTA, flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.  The Bureau of Engineering was prepared to supply two HF, two IF, and two LF receivers as well as a frequency meter and possibly an intermediate frequency direction finder.

On June 13, 1935, the Command in Chief, Asiatic Fleet, informed the Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment, Peiping, that the Radio Security Station in the Marine Detachment, Peiping, was to be closed at the earliest practicable date in time that personnel and material could be transferred via the USS CHAUMON which was to depart Chinwangtao on July 28.  Of the personnel assigned to the Peiping station, RMC M. W. Lyon (Radioman in Charge) was to be transferred to the United States; CPL C.S. Southerland, CPL H. V. Jones, and PVT J A. Petrosky were to be transferred to the USS AUGUSTA; while PVT H. L. Butler and PVT H. F. Robertson were to be transferred to the regular radio complement in the Marine Detachment, Peiping.  Material other than radio equipment was to be transferred to CINCAF by officer messenger.  Instructions on the disposition of the radio equipment would be forwarded at a later date.

In a October 26, 1935 CNO letter discussing the general turnover in Marine Corps intercept operators, a listing of the Marine Corps personnel assigned to the Peiping station as of specific months was given:

December 1932
CPL C. H. Gustaveson
CPL J. H. Easter
CPL J. Hibbard
PVT M. M. Overstreet
PVT C. J. Smith
PVT  W. B. Robertson
PVT R. M. White
PVT C. M. Smith
PVT P. L Wasson

December 1933
SGT Richard A. Hardisty
CPL J. H. Easter
CPL C. H. Gustaveson
CPL C. S. Southerland
PVT V. W. Morgan
PVC C. J. Smith
PVT C. Tatto
PVT R. M. White

December 1934
CPL J. H. Easter
CPL C. S. Southerland
CPL A. Rainey
PFC H. V Jones
PVT H. L. Butler
PFC C. F. Gentilcore
PVT J. A. Petrosky
PVT N. F. Robertson

According to available records, the Radio Security Station in the Marine Detachment, Peiping, was disestablished on July 28, 1935.

In a October 20, 1934 memorandum forward to CAPT L. F. Safford via OP-20G which was prepared by LTJG M. W. Lyon, USN, and LTJG C. E. Daniels, USN, on the subject of “R. I. and Strategic DF History,” it was stated that the Peiping station  had been established  in 1927 with the mission of intercepting the Japanese Diplomatic net in China and Japan.  According to this memorandum, Peiping was the third shore based intercept station established by the Navy; the first being a station at Shanghai in 1924, and the second at Wailupe, Hawaii, about 1925.

The intercept operators listed below are members of the On-The-Roof Gang:

Stephen Lesko, USMC, Class #0
Malcolm Wirt Lyon, USN, Class #0

Charles E. Daniels, USN, Class #2
Clarence E. Reynolds, USN, Class #2

Phillip M. Miller, USMC, Class #5
Maurice M. Overstreet, USMC, Class #5
Walter B. Robertson, USMC, Class #5
Charles J. Smith, USMC, Class #5
Hubert N. Thomas, Jr., USMC, Class #5
William A. Wilder, USMC, Class #5

Joel H. Easter, USMC, Class #6
Carl H. Gustaveson, USMC, Class #6
John Hibbard, USMC Class #6

Fred Lee Freeman, USN, Class #7

Richard A. Hardisty, USMC, Class #9
Virgil W. Morgan, USMC, Class #9

Clarence F. Gentilcore, USMC, Class #11
Alvin Rainey, USMC, Class #11
Charles S. Southerland, USMC, Class #11

Harry L. Butler, USMC, Class #12
Harold V Jones, USMC, Class #12
Joseph  A. Petrosky, USMC, Class #12
Norman F. Robertson, USMC, Class #12

(a) Peiping translates to “northern capital,” known today as Beijing.

(b) John Walter McClaran was the 9th and 11th Commander to lead the Naval Security Group (OP-20G).  He retired as a Real Admiral

Source: NCVA/SRH-178