Radio Section, part 4: 1943-1944

By Chris Underwood

Emergency links between US bases

The arrival of United States armed forces created much new work for the New Zealand Post Office’s Radio Section. As well as normal telephone services supplied by other sections in the NZPO, stand-alone emergency radio connections between their numerous bases located in both the Auckland and Wellington regions were required. These were in addition to various radio links back to the USA and other US bases in the Pacific.

The planning and installation for these links was largely undertaken by Radio Section staff. While the links back to the USA and other Pacific area locations were mostly routed through Wellington Radio or Musick Point this was not always the case.

Makara Radio Receiving Station

For some years it had been apparent that a new receiving station was required to improve radio services terminating in Wellington. The small station established at Mt Crawford in 1930 was constrained by the size of aerials that could be installed. It also suffered from electrical interference from the city.

The possibility of establishing a new station at Makara had been considered for some time, but in 1943 the installation of a new high-tension line between Khandallah and Central Park introduced additional electrical interference to the extent that serious planning for a new receiving station at Makara was urgently required.

A suitable property of a little over 2000 acres was acquired for the new station, providing plenty of room for the planned antenna arrays.

Initially, provision for expanded services for the Navy was planned, with a large Navy staff to carry on the work they were doing at Wellington Radio/Mt Crawford. However, about this time a decision was made to establish a Navy Radio Station at Waiouru instead. Thus the plans were amended and Makara Radio was redesigned as a technical station only. Consideration was given to making the building “bomb proof” but in the end the decision was made that a standard type building would be used.

Fifteen aerials were erected, comprising two rhombics, three long-wire vees, six double doublets, one Marconi tee, one 16kHz loop and two cut arrays.

Aerials and feeders at Makara Radio
Aerials and feeders at Makara Radio. Courtesy Chris Underwood

The station was commissioned in 1944. With its new aerials and modern diversity receiving equipment it delivered a significantly improved level of service and efficiency of the overseas telegraph service.

Two racks of Canadian Marconi CSR-5 receivers (probably providing triple diversity reception), with Hammarlund SP-600 receivers on the left and RCA on the right.
Two racks of Canadian Marconi CSR-5 receivers providing diversity reception, with Hammarlund SP-600 receivers on the left and RCA on the right. Courtesy: Chris Underwood

All main overseas and Island reception services operating at ZLW were thus transferred to Makara.

A small village with houses for married staff and a hostel for unmarried staff was also built because of the remote location.

Quartz Hill Receiving Station

When the NZ Broadcasting Service (NZBS) heard that the NZPO was developing a new station at Makara it requested that provision be made for the reception of overseas broadcast transmissions for relaying over the NZ Broadcasting Network.

The NZPO agreed to provide a small independent radio receiving station and associated aerials on its property and rent them to the NZBS together with staff residences in the station village.

The aerials erected for the NZBS comprised two rhombics, two long wire vees, three double-doublets and a Marconi tee. The new installation resulted in an immediate improvement in the reception of news bulletins from London, which during the war years were an important feature of the broadcasting service.

Quartz Hill receiving station in 1956
Quartz Hill receiving station in 1956
Quartz Hill receiving station in the mid 1960s
Quartz Hill receiving station in the mid 1960s

(For a description of life at Quartz Hill see this article by Bill McMillan.)

Navy Station at Waiouru

The decision of the Navy to establish a new radio station near Waiouru meant more work for Radio Section. In part, the decision resulted from a desire by the Navy to locate its main radio communication station as far inland as possible rather than in a vulnerable location near the sea, such as Makara.

When the Airforce heard of the plan they requested provision be made for them as well, so it became to some extent a joint project. Much of the planning, engineering and installation work was undertaken by NZ Post Office staff, including a working party sent up from Radio Section.

The work undertaken by Radio Section Staff included inspection of potential sites for transmitting and receiving stations and the planning of aerials, feeder lines, support structures and mains power supply locations, buildings and layouts.

Radio Section team at Waiouru. L-R: E Suckling, M Parsons, D Calwell, J Metcalfe, T Seed, A Alderton, B Fraser, G Campbell
Radio Section team at Waiouru. L-R: E Suckling, M Parsons, D Calwell, J Metcalfe, T Seed, A Alderton, B Fraser, G Campbell

The transmitting site comprised 30 acres about 3km south of Waiouru. Four transmitting huts were erected, two for the Navy (NT3 and NT4) and two for the Airforce (AT1 and AT2). (NT = Navy Transmitting, AT = Airforce Transmitting.)

To minimise the possibility of interference, the receiving site was located about a dozen kilometres to the south, at Hihitahi. The 100-acre site accommodated a number of very large aerial arrays. Two huts were constructed at the receive site, Hut NR2 for Navy Receiving and hut AR1 for Airforce Receiving.

Accommodation for the Radio Section construction staff was very spartan in “Tent Town,” set up by the Ministry of Works. Likened to a POW camp, conditions were so poor that one of the group developed TB. The photo above shows winter conditions.

One of the original Navy buildings at Waiouru
One of the original Navy buildings at Waiouru

MOW staff developed the sites and built the huts. P&T lines staff erected 70ft poles and assisted Radio Section engineering staff with aerial and feeder line construction work. Radio Section staff undertook much of the installation work at the receive site for both Navy and Airforce while Navy staff installed transmitters that they had moved from Devonport Navy Base. Airforce staff similarly installed equipment they moved from Ohakea.

Three of 12 bays in the main receiving room of NR2 showing NZPO type 740 receivers in use.
Three of 12 bays in the main receiving room of NR2 showing NZPO type 740 receivers in use.

For the Navy

A total of 67 70ft poles were erected to support 35 aerials including rhombics, vees and long wires. Over 16 miles of copper wire was used for transmission lines and earthing systems. 109 poles varying between 20 and 30 feet were used in the erection of transmission lines.

There were 10 transmitters, ranging in power from 100W to 10kW.

  • 2 x 10kW (Removed from Devonport and installed by Navy staff)
  • 2 x 5 kW
  • 2 x 1kW
  • 3 x 500W
  • 1 x 100W

The Air Force installations were similar

  • 68 x 70ft poles to support aerials
  • 14 miles of copper wire for transmission lines and earth systems
  • 205 x poles for the erection of transmission lines.

The work commenced in August 1942 and was completed in July 1944.

US Office of War Information Press Service

From 1943 to 1944 Radio Section provided equipment and accommodation at Wellington Radio for a United States Marine Radio telegraphist for the reception of Office of War Information Press for overseas United States troops.

NZ Army Service from Wellington Radio

In October 1942 the NZ Army HQ requested a hand-speed Morse service using a 1kW radio transmitter. This was provided using a keying line to the Army WT operations room. Initially this service could only be provided on a shared basis because of the shortage of transmitters. In 1943 a new 1kW transmitter became available and was allocated exclusively for Army use. This service, used primarily for working Noumea, ended in October 1944.

Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Islands
Pitcairn Islands

The standard radio equipment on American Liberty ships and other wartime vessels provided only MF communication. The Joint Communications Board Washington considered a weakness in coverage existed between NZ and Panama. They asked the New Zealand Navy Office to establish a MF station on Pitcairn Island, together with an improved communications link to New Zealand.

A suitable station was designed and equipment procured by Radio Section. The installation party sent to the island included radio engineering staff, operators and Public Works Department (PWD) staff. Buildings and site work were undertaken by the PWD staff while the radio engineering staff installed aerials and equipment. The station was established on the highest point of the island and continued in use until the end of the war, when it was handed over to the Western Pacific High Command for operation by local residents.

Pitcairn Island radio station
Pitcairn Island radio station

Other work undertaken

Radio repairs on US vessels

At the request of the Navy, Radio Section staff took on the task of repairing radio equipment on merchant vessels arriving in Wellington. Large numbers of new American vessels arrived in NZ with radio equipment that had never been tested at sea. Significant numbers of radio operators were not fully conversant with their equipment and local NZ Radio Inspectors upon examining newly arrived ships’ radio installations regularly found them inoperative. Any repair work required was then undertaken by Radio Section technicians and at the height of the Pacific campaign this created a very large and ongoing task for Radio Section.

Plan of a Liberty Ship
Plan of a Liberty Ship. Click to enlarge.

Fitting of public address (PA) systems in US vessels

A number of US vessels used in the Pacific campaign for troop carrying and for combat activities had been converted from other uses. Some of these vessels arriving at Wellington were found not to have PA systems for facilitating unloading operations. Suitable PA systems were constructed or adapted in the Radio Section’s workshop for such vessels.

Non-radiating receivers for merchant vessels

Early in the War, engineering staff at Radio Section became aware that radiation from the standard receiver most commonly used in the maritime service at the time could be detected from some distance away. An example of this was when an operator at the aeradio station at Napier was able to take bearings on such signals from ships in the Napier roadstead.

Experiments and tests carried out by Radio Section staff found that, with the comparatively quiet electrical noise floor surrounding most of NZ at the time, such signals could be heard 30 to 40 miles away. The possibility that the enemy could use these signals to locate and attack shipping was recognised and advice provided to naval authorities. Sadly, although acknowledging in principle the potential danger, no action was taken by authorities.

Based on the information provided to him, Colonel Marsden, Director of Scientific Development, had personal discussions on the topic with Admiralty in respect of eliminating this source of danger to British merchant vessels. Independently, Radio Section produced sample receivers which eliminated any possibility of radiation that could disclose a vessel’s location.

A contract was given to Collier & Beale to manufacture a number of these receivers, which were then placed in NZ Post Office stock. These receivers could then be drawn and fitted to ships as required. Although subsequently standards were changed by the UK and USA for maritime receivers, it is believed that Radio Section was the first group to recognise and take action to alleviate the problem, and the experience gained was made available to the responsible authorities in those countries.

Note: Pre-war most marine receivers were of the regenerative type typically made by companies such as Marconi. Although relatively sensitive and cheap to make they were also effective miniature transmitters or marker beacons.

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