Radio Section, part 5: 1944-1946

By Chris Underwood

Radio Section staffing peaked in 1943-1944 with most of 1944 being taken up with completion of projects begun earlier.

There were some significant new requests however.

Broadcasting to troops in the Pacific

With large numbers of New Zealand servicemen serving in the Pacific Islands, the need arose for an extension of NZ Broadcasting Service programmes to the Islands.

The NZBS had no suitable transmitters so the Minister of Broadcasting requested use of a transmitter at Wellington Radio. A transmitter on around 6MHz was made available for test transmissions, which occurred during April 1943. Soon afterwards regular transmissions using call sign ZLT from a 1kW transmitter at Wellington Radio commenced. The programme originated from the studios of Station 2YA and was simulcast alongside 2YA’s regular transmissions.

Operating console at Radio 2YA in Wellington, c1945
Operating console at Radio 2YA, Titahi Bay, Wellington, c1945.
Photo: Pataka Museum Collection, Porirua Library

In December 1944 the service was transferred to a 5kW transmitter. The service was terminated near the end of 1945.

Preparations for end of war

In late 1944 planning for the dismantling of various emergency reserve stations, such as those built for Wellington Radio, was started.

Consideration was also given to the disposal of the significant amount of radio and electronic equipment accumulated for the war effort and which would soon become redundant. Radio Section was asked to identify what should be declared surplus to requirements and disposed of through the Government Stores Board. This work would continue for a number of years after the war.

Radio staff and troops begin returning

By the beginning of 1943 New Zealand was facing a serious shortage of labour caused by the need to simultaneously support two divisions of combat troops overseas as well as the agricultural and industrial activities at home that were necessary to meet the demands of the allies.

The government had no choice but to dissolve one of the divisions. After consultations with the British and US allies, it was agreed that the contribution of the NZ 2nd Division to the Italian campaign was more important to winning the war than what the NZ 3rd Division could contribute to operations in the Pacific.

On 15 June 1944 the main body of 3rd Division HQ was withdrawn to New Caledonia and then returned home in August. The unit was quickly demobilised and finally officially dissolved on 20 October 1944. About 4000 veterans were sent to Italy as reinforcements for the 2nd Division, while the rest returned to their jobs as civilians.

Wartime demands on Radio Section started to diminish as more resources were poured into the region by the Americans.

Somewhat later, in early 1946, Radio Section staff at Suva Radio were also “demobbed” and brought home, although one or two may have remained to ensure continuity of operations.

Demobbed Radio Section staff, Suva Radio c1946
Demobbed Radio Section staff, Suva Radio c1946. Back row L-R: Ray Stark, Des Whitton, Lin Holloway, ?, ?, Jack Houlihan, ?, ?, Bob Hutchison, ?. Front row: Dick McKenzie, Jack Paton, Tinny Hogan, Ernie Martin, ?
Ernie Martin with his bike at Suva Radio
Ernie Martin with his bike at Suva Radio

Authors Note:

Ernie Martin was my first boss when I joined Radio Section in the late 1960s. I was lucky to be posted to the Instrument Repair Section of the Radio Laboratory and Ernie was in charge of that section. I found him an excellent boss who took an interest in his juniors and taught us well in the art of test equipment repair and calibration.

On occasions when it was too wet to go out at lunch time he told us about his experiences in the war including his time at Suva Radio. The stories were always interesting and sometimes included his adventures on his bike which he used to travel into town and on occasion do a bit of sightseeing around the island when he had leave. Sadly after all this time I can no longer remember the detail of the stories but they were usually witty and funny.

Routine work

Although no major new projects appear to have commenced during this period, significant and essential background work continued.

  • Radio Inspectorate staff monitored for illegal transmissions, inspected and sealed ships radio installation on arrival in port, and administered exams for radio operators and technicians.
  • Engineering staff undertook maintenance and new installation work for the NZ Army in the various Fortress Areas around the country.
  • Rigging work, including maintenance and new work for all the armed services and important civil requirements, was undertaken as required. Construction of antenna systems was centralised in Wellington and undertaken by suitable staff with an Overseer Foreman. The large antenna arrays such as those constructed for the Navy and Air Force with dozens of spliced and soldered joints were cut to length and assembled as kit sets in Wellington to speed and simplify installation by the local staff, often unskilled in rigging work, at stations both overseas and in NZ. The antenna arrays used at the new Waiouru transmit and receive stations for the Navy and Air Force are examples of this work.
    Aerial view of Waiouru Military Camp in April 1947
    Aerial view of Waiouru Military Camp in April 1947.
    Photo: Whites Aviation, Alexander Turnbull Library
  • As they became available, new equipment and ideas were evaluated for potential use.

This concludes the pages on the War years. I do not claim to have covered everything undertaken by Radio Section, as much of the work was done in secret. Although one can see occasional and obscure references to it, no details can be found.

During my research I found a degree of frustration existed in Radio Section with the high turnover of contact staff in the NZ armed forces especially the Army. Early in the War, little understanding of radio communications was shown by senior Army staff and it seemed no sooner had a level of technical understanding been reached than the individual was rotated elsewhere and the process of education had to be started over again. To some extent this lasted throughout the war. The Air Force, after the first couple of years, developed their own technical people and the Navy was always reasonably solid. By comparison, most of the Signals Staff accompanying the American forces seem to have been very competent and easy to work with.

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