Sims Warns of Subs

On 23 March 1917, the American Navy in Paris took part in the work of French wireless reception, and sent to Rear Admiral William S. Sims in London a copy of a message from “Berlin to an ‘unknown station, probably in the Mediterranean Sea.’ “

In late April 1918, Admiral Sims learned through secret service channels that one of the large submarines of the DEUTSCHLAND class had left its home base on 19 April for a long cruise. On 1 May he cabled the Navy Department there were indications this submarine was bound for our own coast. A few days later he received more specific information through the interception of radio dispatches between Germany and the submarine, and cabled Washington again that the submarine was the U-151, and it could begin operations off the American coast soon after 20 May. It was suggested the U-151 might attempt to lay mines near Five-Fathom Bank Light at the entrance of Delaware Bay.

As had been predicted, the U-151 proceeded to the vicinity of Five-Fathom Bank Light, laid her mines and then cruised northward to begin her action against the coastal shipping.

Sims informed Washington on 29 June there was another U-boat heading southwest, west of Ireland, bound for the United States. Arrival time predicted for some time after 15 July. Again on 6 July, Washington was alerted another U-boat had started for United States coast. Washington was now getting daily reports from Sims in London.

From the end of May to October in 1918, there was almost always at least one submarine operating off our coast. The largest number active at any one time was in August, when for a week or ten days, three were more or less active in attacking coastal vessels. The three operated from Cape Hatteras to Newfoundland, attempting by these tactics to create the impression that dozens of hostile U-boats were preying on our commerce and threatening our shores.

Germany Broadcasts War News

During the war, Germany broadcast on 23.8 KHz from its only high power very low-frequency station (POZ), located at Nauen, its version of the progress of the war, and propaganda to influence the German population in the United States. The broadcasts were copied by the Navy’s receiving network, centered at Belmar, New Jersey, to uncover any concealed information.

At times the transmissions stopped for 20 minutes, and it was noted that transmissions were continued at twice the frequency, 47.6 KHz, quite feasible with their alternator type transmitter. These transmissions were found to be in code, obviously meant for their U-boats at sea. All transmissions were copied and the information sent to Washington for decoding and operational use. The War, State and Navy Departments also wanted copies of the German Press. In a letter written on 2 January 1918, A. Hoyt Taylor, commanding officer of the Belmar receiving site, states: “… suggest Bar Harbor (Otter Cliffs) concentrate on Nauen shortwave daily schedule between 1000 and 1700 – erratic schedule – because Belmar has difficulty copying. Please let me know how you are doing on submarine reception.” This researcher believes, from what information is available, that Taylor was referring to submarine broadcasts.

Taylor also said at another time, referring to the Nauen 47.6 KHz signal: “… a very queer four-letter code sent for 20 minutes, during these intervals.”

There was no question but that this was a special code directing the submarine operations. Thousands of code words were copied and sent to Washington, but I am of the impression this particular code was never broken, although other German codes were.

Harold Castner, a radioman stationed at Otter Cliffs, has this to say of this particular signal: “The morning schedule of POZ had good signals and excellent sending. POZ always was running their trans-ocean press when noon Eastern Standard Time arrived. It was an unfailing practice for them to stand by every day at exactly 75th meridian time and say ‘bi for 35 minutes.’ One day while standing by I tuned down in the vicinity of 4000 meters (75 KHz), to see what might be going on in that section of the spectrum. In the process of tuning around I came across some very peculiar signals. My curiosity was further aroused when I found they were all ‘umlaut’ (barred) letters, sent in groups of four letters. As I had learned all these characters, had no difficulty copying!

“I called Gunner Raymond Cole and requested he query Washington to see who was using this type of code. Several more of these messages were copied. Mr. Cole came running in and said that the office of the Director of Naval Communications said, ‘If necessary, abandon all the work on the station to get that code!’

“They failed to sign any call. I was completely enveloped in the mystery with Mr. Cole who was running around with these messages; and with communications running thick and fast between us and Washington, I turned back to POZ and resumed the press copy.”

Another receiver was tuned to this wavelength and followed continuously but this station sent nothing more until the next noon and under the same conditions.

Washington Says ‘Copy Eilvese’

A wireless specialty engineer named Proctor, working at Otter Cliffs, noted, “Word has come to Otter Cliffs from Washington that signals from Eilvese, sent every morning at 1000 ‘must be copied.’ ” These signals were sent by a low power Telefunken quenched spark transmitter, probably around ten kilowatts, and were intended not to reach beyond submarines in the North Sea; (or it was to these that the sending was directed. Transmission consisted of the letter “V’ for 5 minutes, then the words “Fur God” repeated twice, and then a message in five number code. These messages were to be copied across the Atlantic.

If ever there was a task that seemed impossible, that was it. A low power set, intended for a range of several hundred miles at most, to be copied by a station almost two thousand miles away, to be copied in the daytime, when signals on that wavelength were weakest. In addition the transmitter was a spark type, so that even the slight advantage of heterodyne reception of a continuous wave signal could not be used, though heterodyning of the spark signal, of some little use, was resorted to. That was the problem at Otter Cliffs.

By NCVA: David White