BRIGADIER GENERAL SPENCER BALL AKIN
CHIEF SIGNAL OFFICER, GHQ, SWPA
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

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Brigadier General Spencer Ball Akin was the Chief Signal Officer in GHQ, Southwest Pacific Area in the AMP Building in Brisbane during WWII. Spencer B. Akin reported to General Douglas MacArthur. He had previously been promoted to Colonel in August 1939 and placed in charge of the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service in Washington D.C. After General Douglas MacArthur took command in the Philippines in 1941, he requested Colonel Spencer B. Akin to become his Chief of Signal Intelligence for the Far East.

 

Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin

 

Brigadier General Spencer Akin was one of the "Bataan Gang", the 18 military personnel including General Douglas MacArthur, who were rescued from Corregidor by four PT Boats in March 1942 and eventually travelled to Australia by B-17 Flying Fortresses and then by train to Melbourne.

When General Douglas MacArthur announced the composition of his staff for his GHQ, SWPA in Melbourne on 19 April, Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin became the Chief Signal Officer. In April 1942, Brigadier General Akin and Major General Colin Simpson, of the Australian Land Headquarters agreed to share resources to establish an Allied intelligence organisation known as Central Bureau. This code breaking organisation was Australia's equivalent of the famous Bletchley Park in the United Kingdom.

Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin relocated to Brisbane when MacArthur moved his GHQ SWPA to the AMP building in Queen Street, Brisbane in July 1942. Akin was in Room 702 in the AMP building one floor below MacArthur's office. His executive Officer Colonel J.R. Sherr was in Room 703 and his Aircraft Warning Officer Major O.G. Quanrud was on the 6th Floor of the adjacent Commercial Bank building in Queen Street. Whilst in Brisbane, Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin lived in Flat 33 on the 3rd floor of Lennons Hotel in George Street. General Douglas MacArthur and his family lived on the 4th floor.

 


Photo:- Louise Mowat Collection

General Stivers, Colonel Stevenot, General Marshall and General Spencer Akin.

 

Under the direction of Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin, Signal Corps Officers installed SIGSALY in the basement of the AMP building. This was a system developed by Bell Laboratories and was the first use of Pulse Code Modulation PCM or digital technology in Australia. It provided General MacArthur with a secure encrypted voice and data link back to Washington and other Theatre Commanders.

Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin requested three ships from the US Navy so that they could become Army Communications ships. They were armed to protect themselves against enemy attack. They were fitted with 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, depth charges and a 3" gun. The ships used high powered Australian made transmitters and receivers. This was the start of the Seaborne Communication Unit and its companion Mobile Communication Unit.

Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin also arranged for SIGSALY to be installed on an Ocean Lighter (OL-31) at Bulimba in Brisbane.

"Section 22", in GHQ, SWPA was a multinational organization set up under Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin in late 1943 to collect electronic intelligence about the increasing number of Japanese radar sets deployed in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA)"Section 22" was responsible for the coordination of Allied electronic reconnaissance. The organisation got its name from the fact that it was started in Room No. 22.

Major General Hugh Casey described Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin as follows:-

"Now, Spencer Akin was one who had a soft voice, but under stress, when he was really under stress, as he talked, his words would come out in sort of a hoarse dramatic whisper, as though it were a whisper."

When General MacArthur wanted to send his first message to the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, after the Japanese had surrendered, he did not want to send it via Diplomatic Channels at Berne, Switzerland and have to wait two days for the message to be passed on. MacArthur asked Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin to find a more direct arrangement.

Spencer Akin approached the Army Airways Communications System if they had a high powered transmitter which was able to reach Japan. Colonel R.G. Nichols, the Commanding Officer of the 68th AACS Group told Akin that if the message was ready he could send it via the GHQ teletype to WXXU, the AAF Weather Station, and they would send it to to Japan from there. The message directed that the Japanese allocate one of their radio frequencies for direct communications

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"World War II in the Air - The Pacific"
edited by Major James F. Sunderman, U.S.A.F.

"Officer in MacArthur's Court"
by John F. Day III

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Karen Nunan for her assistance with this web page.

 

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This page first produced 9 February 2017

This page last updated 10 February 2017