Captain Harold L. German, USNR, grew up in Smethport, McKean County, PA, where he developed an early interest in radio. A family friend was an amateur radio operator, taught Harold to use Morse Code, and showed him how his equipment worked.
After graduating from high school in 1930, Harold attended Penn State for several semesters, but dropped out. He was determined to work in radio, and spent 1932-33 in New York City, completing the radio course at RCA Institutes, where his coursework included coding, radio engineering, and work on transmitters and circuits. He received his amateur first class radio operator license in July 1933, as W3IMN.
Employment opportunities for newly minted radio engineers were all but nonexistent during the Depression, so Harold returned home, worked at a wood chemical plant, and joined the Naval Reserve as a Radioman 3rd Class. He was commissioned an Ensign in July 1935, and placed in charge of Unit 1, Section 6, of the Naval Communication Reserve in Bradford, McKean County, PA.
During the summer of 1939, the Navy was looking for qualified Reserve officers to place on active duty and be trained in cryptology. President Roosevelt had become concerned about antiquated cipher methods employed by the State Department and, with war breaking out in Europe, preferred to communicate with our embassies in London, Paris, and Moscow by Naval crypto systems.* Harold was one of five reserve officers selected and received orders for Washington, DC. The other four men were: Lt. M. Weinstock, Ensign J.H. Canning, Ensign H.N. Shall, and Ensign J.C. Hargreaves. They were assigned to Rm. 2625 of the Navy Building, serving as coding officers. Part of their training in 1939-40 would have been with the legendary Elizebeth Friedman. Training and placement of the new coding officers became urgent in May, 1940, when a State Department civilian, Tyler Kent, who worked in the code room at the London embassy, was arrested for passing information to the Germans.
In August 1940, Harold was ordered to the London Embassy, the Court of St. James, where he served as an assistant Naval attache in secure communications. Initially, the Naval officers were billeted in a house close to the Embassy (later to become General Eisenhower’s headquarters); because of the Blitz, it was decided to move them outside the city, to a country home called Little Lineham. Two brief stories from that time… the first involves moving their coding equipment to a new building. Today, such a move would be shrouded in secrecy and surrounded by security. How was this accomplished in 1940? They put all the equipment on dollies, threw sheets over everything, and walked the dollies down the street, unescorted. The second story involves Harold as a very new, very green assistant attache. He had an “eyes only” message to deliver to Prime Minister Churchill late one night and insisted on delivering it to Mr. Churchill in person, not realizing that he should have given it to his aide-de-camp. Harold said that although Mr. Churchill was reasonably nice about it, he then turned around and slammed the door in Harold’s face. Message received, and this was not a mistake he was ever likely to make again! Harold remained at the embassy until November 1941, and was promoted to Lt. (jg) during that time. He returned to New York aboard the SS Excambion, arriving on November 14, 1941. The Excambion, which carried a number of European refugees, as well as Edward R. Murrow and David Ben-Gurion, was the last passenger ship from Lisbon to dock in NY before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Upon arrival, Harold was assigned again to the code room at the Navy Building in Washington, and remained there throughout WWII. He regularly requested transfer to the Pacific Theater, and even made it to a plane, orders in hand, several times. To his disappointment, each time, he was recalled to duties in Washington. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to Commander, was a watch officer, and one of five officers on White House Liaison.
Harold returned to the Naval Reserve in 1946, and remained active. He was the first commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Training Center in Roanoke, VA, which opened in 1948. During the 1950s, he was the commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Training Center in Harrisburg, PA. He was promoted to Captain in July 1956, and retired prior to 1960.
After leaving active duty, Harold was requested to return to active duty on two occasions. The first time was to head up secure communications at the Greenbriar Hotel and, later, for a similar position at President Eisenhower’s Gettysburg farm during his presidency. He was unable to accept either assignment.
Harold worked for 20 years as a manufacturer’s sales representative, but returned to communications in the 1960s, working as the State Warning and Communications Officer for PA Civil Defense until he retired. He always had his own radio room and a mobile unit in the car, still as W3IMN. He was a member of the Harrisburg Radio Amateurs Club, and was one of the enthusiastic members who established their popular hamfests.
Harold and his wife, Marguerite, traveled throughout North America in retirement. Both passed away the same year, in 1986.
* information from The Code Breakers by David Kahn
By Mrs. Carolyn German Bausinger, Daughter of Captain Harold L. German, USNR