"BRISBANE WTO"
ARMY COMMAND AND ADMINISTRATIVE NETWORK (ACAN)
US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

 

 

The US Army's Brisbane Wireless Station, Brisbane WTO was part of the Army Command and Administrative Network (ACAN).

The ACAN radio chart, dated May 1942, shows the following ACAN stations prior to Brisbane WTO's establishment:-

Radio Station Melbourne, WTJJ, during its first week of operation and into early May 1942, handled the last flow of messages from the besieged Philippine Islands. Corregidor WVDM, traffic went to Darwin WVJK, to Melbourne WTJJ, and Melbourne then sent to Hawaii WTJ, and then on to the War Department in Washington. The message load ran into about 30,000 groups a day, both ways, and was transmitted on a duplex CW circuit. (sending via hand key or bug).

In June 1942 George Sullivan's ship "Tasker H. Bliss" landed on 18 June 1942 at the Bulimba docks in Brisbane, Queensland across from the shipyard where the OL boats would be worked on. They marched to the Camp Ascot.

George Sullivan was a member of the "Fixed Station Communication Company" comprising 125 officers and enlisted men. Approximately 3 days later, part of the group was interviewed by Colonel Arnold. George was one of the group to stay in Brisbane. The day George Sullivan reported to the radio room at Base Section 3 Headquarters at Somerville House in Brisbane was around 24 June 1942.

The radio room at Somerville House was located in the center of the school, above a patio. They could walk out of the radio room and sit on the patio roof and relax. The room had a 1 kW Federal Transmitter to Sydney, and a TG5 Telegraph set that the Telephone Co., patched through to Townsville every morning at 7:00 a.m. to clear traffic.

The two radio operators were from an Air Force bomber crew. About two weeks later George Sullivan was sent to Capalaba, the CW Radio Receiving Station, to open up their first circuit to San Francisco WTO. The 1 kW Federal transmitter at Redland Bay was set up in a tent. The circuit was established and sending with a hand key, the traffic started to flow to the War Department. Brisbane WTO, was up and running! They handled between 80,000 - 100,000 groups a day with some messages via courier.

General Douglas MacArthur moved his General Headquarters SWPA to Brisbane making Brisbane the nerve center of the Southwest Pacific. The circuits from Melbourne, Sydney, Townsville, Darwin, Noumea and Hawaii were now relocated to terminate in Brisbane WTO. Great expansion ensued as American and Australian forces, reacting to earlier defeats, began to consolidate their strength and make their first victorious advances.

New equipment started to arrive. A lO-kW amplifier for the Brisbane WTO to San Francisco circuit arrived. In July 1942 Col. Calvert H. Arnold became the Signal Officer of the U.S. Army of Supplies in the SOWP area (USA-SOS-SWP). Col.John C. Grable became Arnold's executive Signal Officer.

George Sullivan commented that the temperamental the "hotshot operators" in San Francisco refused to copy hand sent messages from Noumea. This traffic was routed through Brisbane WTO. In the early months of 1942, from June onwards, the San Francisco operators complained about Brisbane WTO on the same score. The operators in Brisbane WTO begged, borrowed and stole equipment to see if they could send messages via machines. The supply problem was deplorable. They had to patch, repair, and say a prayer. After much letter writing, Col. Grable obtained a Boehme high speed CW system for the Brisbane - San Francisco circuit.

Boehme equipment! What is that? The operator in Brisbane WTO would put his message via punched holes on a paper tape, insert it in a sending head (variable speed) to key the transmitter in Redland Bay. On a dry day, the open wire telephone lines to Redland Bay 30 miles away, would allow the speed to go up to 100 words per minute, much faster than if sent manually, by hand. This moved a greater amount of traffic and made the operators in San Francisco very happy. On the receiving end in Capalaba, they had 3 receivers tuned to San Francisco. Receiver #1 on the San Francisco Rombic antenna. Receiver #2 on Hawaii Rombic antenna. Receiver #3 changed from various other antennae to get best signal. The output of the three receivers went into a 3-channel device which selected the strongest signal of the three, and re-keyed an audio oscillator which was sent over the telephone lines to ink a tape at the operating room in Brisbane. A very efficient CW system! In late 1942 a most important circuit was added from Brisbane WTO to Port Moresby, New Guinea, WVLQ.

The supply problems improved in early 1943. They could order dry "B" batteries for their test gear and receive the complete order.

On the first day of 1943, Capalaba, the CW Radio Receiving Station was handed a new assignment. They had to set up several receivers on assigned frequencies and log the signal strength every quarter hour, 24 hours a day. This went on for several weeks. One of the frequencies was entertaining - Radio Tokyo. They heard the latest American music releases, plus "Tokyo Rose". The men were trying to figure out what the monitoring was all about. They received their answer in February 1943 when the 40-kW Single Side Band unit went into service, closing down the high speed CW Boehme circuit between Capalaba and San Francisco.

They started to receive new state of the art equipment. The single side band system employed three teletype machines on diversity, to help correct "fade" or "message dropout." For example, the teletypes could be on the lower side band with the upper side band being used for voice control between Brisbane and San Francisco, or SIGSALY (Green Hornet), located at General MacArthur's headquarters, or for use by the Photo Group. The system handled 250,000 message groups a day, 80-85% administrative. A vast improvement over the high speed Boehme circuit. Messages were also mechanically encoded and decoded.

Around the 1 November 1943, the 805th Signal Service Battalion set up a telephone voice scrambling circuit at General MacArthur's GHQ SWPA known as SIGSALY (Green Hornet). This highly classified voice circuit was not declassified until around 1976.

There were 3 different radio rooms located in the Somerville House. The first one that George Sullivan reported to was in the center of the complex on the second floor, over a patio. The second room was located in the extreme right wing near Vulture Street, on the top floor where the first CW circuit to San Francisco was inaugurated. The third location was in the extreme right wing, first floor towards the back of the building, where the single side band control room and operators were located.

George Sullivan left for home in June 1945. George knew that 7 OL's were towed to Japan. He did not know what had happened to the "Weeroona".

 


 

Allan Siemers was a radio operator and crypto operator with Detachment D, 832nd Signal Service Battalion (832d Sig Svc Bn Det D) in Somerville House during 1943 and 1944 before being sent to WVLM Milne Bay and WVLP Port Moresby. Allan advised me on 6 March 2008 that Darwin was called WVLD. Some of these radio station call signs appear different to those stated by George Sullivan.

 

NOTE:- This web page is based heavily on George J. Sullivan's history of ACAN titled "The Things We Save". I have attempted to located George Sullivan or or any of his family without success so far.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"The Things We Save"
by George J. Sullivan

 

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This page first produced 4 January 2009

This page last updated 14 January 2015