Tuesday, September 5, 2017

SIGINT - Backpack Style

Last Saturday the 2nd was VJ Day.  I was at a luncheon and sitting next to a 93 year old veteran, quite an interesting guy.  I stayed for hours after the lunch was over to hear his sea stories.  

Originally from a small valley town in the coastal range of Oregon.  He was playing football in the University of Oregon at Eugene when the war broke out.  He and several others on the team dropped out of school and enlisted in the Marines.  He and his football team buddies served with a Radio Intelligence Platoon in the Pacific.  Those platoons were one of the forerunners of National Security Agency (NSA) of today.

They had to backpack radio direction finders (the 1st generation DAG-1 model they carried weighed 100 pounds with batteries) on islands of the South Pacific.  Primary job was to locate Japanese radios and therefore possible enemy forward observers or unit headquarters.  They also carried receivers to intercept message traffic and they had Nisei Japanese-Americans with them to translate those radio calls.  There were no jeep mounts back then so everything had to be carried on their backs.  He said the Nisei with them wore USMC uniforms, but even so there was always the danger that they would be mistaken as enemy by other US units, so they had to be escorted everywhere to prevent blue-on-blue casualties.

He himself was in the Marshall Islands and the Battle of Okinawa.  Prior to deployment he did his training at Wahiawa in Oahu.  Wahiawa was the main stationary direction finding center in the Pacific during the war and was still there in 97 the last time I visited Hawaii and may still be there.  Wahiawa was the station that received the IJN message traffic decoded at Pearl Harbor that led to the decisive victory at Midway.  There was little if any classroom instruction.  It was 99% on-the-job training working a shift with a salty old Navy Chief standing behind and nit-picking the trainee’s every action and giving him a sharp rap on the knuckles for any false move. 
In the Marshalls, after the Battle of Kwajalein, they helped the Navy assemble a permanent DF & Intercept site there that had been dismantled on Guam just prior to the Japanese takeover.  They also worked shifts at that site until mobilized for Operation Iceberg the Okinawa invasion.  By this time he was a corporal leading a section of the radio intelligence platoon.  He had three DF sites each a mile apart set up just one ridge north of Hacksaw Ridge featured in the recent Hollywood movie.  G2 apparently forgot about resupplying them as they went without rations for ten days.  Says They scrounged empty foxholes for C-Rations that had not been opened.  Could always find unopened cans of ham&limas, which they scarfed down even though nobody liked them.   Plus he sent out a scrounger to make midnight requisitions on another unit ration dump, but they were alone and far from other units so pickings were slim.  In addition to transcripts of Japanese radio traffic they were able to triangulate on an IJA light tank platoon, which soon became scrap metal after a battery TOT mission.

After VJ day, he says Uncle Sam exercised the 'for-the-duration-plus-six-months' clause in his enlistment contract and sent him and his unit to Tientsin China.  They were being used to help accept the surrender and repatriation of Japanese troops, and also to track down units of the Kwangtung Army that did not initially surrender.  Some small Japanese units in Mongolia or other remote areas never got the word, or had refused to believe it.  So they had to find them and the Nisei interpreters in his platoon had a tough job convincing them that Emperor Hirohito had surrendered and wanted them to come home.

He mentioned Atiyeh, a Governor of Oregon in the 1980s, was also a member of his platoon.  Many guys in his platoon were former football players who dropped out of the University in Eugene to enlist for the war.  Those 1st generation backpacked DF sets were damned heavy he said, it took a big guy to carry those plus weapons and their other normal load. (Note -  I looked online and found smaller ones from that era, for instance the Austrian made ’Gurtelpeiler’ worn as a vest, but I believe it was for short range work by the SD or perhaps the Gestapo.)

After the war he settled down in Rainier, Oregon.  But retired from there 28 years ago and moved to the great state of Washington, near a golf course.  No golf carts for him though, he walked the course every day up until a few years ago, which is probably why he is still healthy at 93.  (Note to myself: do more walking)!


I neglected to mention that this particular veteran and his platoon were not the only ones sent to China after the war.  III Amphibious Corps received orders to ship out to China within forty-eight hours after the Japanese surrendered on 2 September.  There were many hundreds of thousands of Japanese and Korean soldiers and civilians in China needing repatriation.  Neither the Japanese nor the Chinese had the assets to make that happen.  So POTUS #33 directed the 7th Fleet and the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions of IIIAC to northern China with orders to accept the surrender of the Japanese and repatriate them.  And also to ”help the Nationalists reassert their control over areas previously held by the Japanese.”  IMHO this last was probably in reaction to Soviet Operation August Storm into Manchuria.  Preliminary plans had been issued in August.  Army LtGen Wedermayer was in command of the China Theater at the time and it was at his urging that the orders were issued.

They took up positions in Peking, Tsingtao, Tangku,
and Chinwangtao in addition to Tientsin.  Protecting railroads that delivered Japanese internees, coal, and Nationalist troops was part of their tasking.  So squad and platoon size detachments went many places in between those five major cities as train guards and bridge security.  They were not to take sides in the fighting between the Reds and the Nationalists, but sh!t happens so they defended themselves.  They negotiated directly with Zhou Enlai over many of these incidents.

 They provided security for US Fleet Repatriation Centers in various Chinese ports, many of which came under sporadic attacks.  They provided six-man security detachments to 39 LSTs transporting the repatriated internees home in case there was any difficulty with the ~1000 Japanese soldiers on each ship.  BTW there were no difficult incidents, the Japanese were happy to be going home.  The photo on the lower right is of Japanese soldiers on their way home saluting the Stars and Stripes upon boarding an LST returning them to their home islands.  The saluting was not forced on them by the US, they did it at the order of General Nagano, former Commander of Japanese troops at Tsingtao.  And they were probably happy to not have been in Manchuriarepatriated’ by Stalin to the Siberian Gulag or to the forced-labor Karaganda coalfields of Kazakhstan  -  or happy to not have been the victims of mob violence inspired by local guerilla political cadre.  Altogether ”more than 540,000 Japanese had been repatriated from North China under Marine supervision”.  Another 1.7 million were repatriated later by NGOs working with the Japanese Merchant Marine, whose shipping was 99% comprised of US Liberty Ships, LSTs, and Hospital Ships.

The 93 year old who I got the story from was released in late 1946.  He went back to University at Eugene, married his high school sweetheart, and raised two doctors, a schoolteacher, and a fourth he describes as the mellow child happily living in a jackrabbit paradise.


  1. Great story mike! I wonder if unit "scroungers" were more a boon or a drag on the US military. I can see how easy it would be to be forgotten. However, I can also see all sorts of problems with stores that tended to evaporate.

  2. Ael -

    A boon IMHO, at least back in those days. The enormous wartime procurement system provided for a wealth of 'beans, bullets, and bandages' for the war effort. A great job was done also in shipping and top-level distribution from the armament factories and farm fields to the rear echelons in Europe and Africa. But somehow that distribution system occasionally shortchanged some frontline units, especially independent units, cats and dogs they were called.

    Witness to that is the enormous stockpiles of supplies (41 million tons) sent to Normandy and Cherbourg, but some of it sitting on the beach due to lack of transport.

    The amphibious landings in the Pacific experienced some of the same issues. Ship to shore logistics went fine, but many units in combat had to use their own S4 or quartermaster troops to retrieve their supplies from the beach supply depots. AMTRACs, although primarily used to overcome reefs in the initial landings, also proved critical in delivering supplies to the frontlines through enemy fire. A small unit like a Radio Intelligence Platoon had no such option available. They depended on their daddy, the G2, for resupply.

    Even in the 60s and 70s during my time, scrounging was a tradition. Bragged about. A thumbing of the nose to 'red tape' bureaucracy. But in todays world, I would hope many of those supply distribution problems to the lower levels have been solved. If that is true I would guess scroungers are a drag on the system as you mention.

  3. Nice story. Ham and limas had not gotten any better by 1970 in Korea.

    Walter Olin

  4. Ya, I suppose that "scroungers" might be a semi-deliberate policy option. Basically, the higher tiers spend their energy getting the stuff to the beachhead rather than spending their time worrying about post-beachhead logistics.

    In Canada, we don't have the tradition of an over-abundance of supplies. Hence, while we do have unit scroungers, small unit logistics gets quite a bit of attention as everyone tries to make do with what (relatively) little that shows up.

    Of course, over-abundance also applies at the personal level. I recall a story in pre-D Day England. An American soldier gets a haircut and is told that the price is the equivalent of a nickel. The Yankee obviously thinks the price is too little and tosses the barber the equivalent of a quarter. Later, a Canadian soldier shows up for a haircut and gets charged a quarter. He then beats up the barber because he figures he was ripped off by a factor of five!

    1. The 'Shave and a Haircut - Two Bits' jingle was popular down here before the war.

      Lots of inflation going on then. He should have got his hair cut at the base. I thought every unit back then had an amateur barber moonlighting.

  5. They kept the spirit into the 60's


    1. S O -

      Thanks for that link. I spent some TAD time in Huachuca, but it was much later than that 1960 article.

  6. The U.S. ground forces (Army and Marines) have always had issues with supply forward of brigade/regiment, largely because 1) the S&T assets are concentrated at Division and higher. My airborne infantry battalion had an "S&T platoon" in the HHC under the old M-series MTO&E, but when we went to the J-series ("light infantry") most of the wheeled vehicles went away, including the M35 2.5-ton trucks in the S&T outfit.

    So as you note, mike, everything ran on rails until Division (or the beachhead). Then you were lucky if your 1SG could scrounge up a jeep or something to get back to the log drop and get whatever he could carry. The guys in the individual rifle platoons were almost always short of food and water; even ham and motherfuckers were better than nothing...

    I think things are better today (for one thing, we haven't bothered to piss of anyone who could do any sort of real supply-interdiction since 1945...) but the lack of resources below Brigade is still there.

    Little independent companies and platoon-sized outfits had it even worse, because typically they were assigned to some higher element but opconned or attached to one of the maneuver units that promptly forgot about supplying them. No wonder these poor ratelos were so desperate...

  7. I updated the post adding more on North China after VJ day. My 93 year old was not the only guy there. He tells me he and his RIP platoon were only a tiny part of a massive effort to repatriate the Japanese in China.

  8. Walter Olin -

    He says after multiple complaints to HQ they did get one meager resupply. The G2 sent out a single ten-in-one ration parcel dropped by an OY (Stinson L5?) observation aircraft. Much better than the ham & limas he said but only lasted one meal. They were moved shortly afterwards.

    1. PS -

      I seem to recall that the super gross chopped ham and eggs were many times left uneaten also. The freeze-dried LRRP rations were a bit better than C-Rats unless you you got stuck with the Chili. It was all beans and they stayed crunchy no matter how long you soaked it.

      But they all were probably a hundred times better than the 'goldfish loaf' that my great uncle Dinty cooked for the doughboys in France in 1918. Or better then the 'red death' corned beef, or the original SOS that used the dried and heavily salted chipped shoe-leather beef.

    2. Yeah, I can't recall anyone offhand who would willingly eat the ham-and-eggs. C's were never fine dining but there is a circle of Hell all its own reserved for that shit. The "Beef with Spiced Sauce" was pretty vile, but nowhere near as nasty as the ham-and-eggs. Even warmed up that stuff was inedible.

      Speaking of warmed up, an old GI trick was using the cardboard box the C-rat came in to heat them. You opened the main meal but left the lid attached, put it back in the box, punched holes in the bottom for draft, then lit the box. When it burned down the can would be, at least, semi-warm which beat hell out of cold spag'n'balls...

      I seldom ran into LRRPs in the 80s. I recall a couple of encounters that gave me the general impression that the things required a LOT of water which, for an earthpig was a no-go. I vaguely remember thinking that as a meal they were OK but principally because they weren't C's rather than any virtue of the meal itself...

  9. FDChief -

    Your "lack of interdiction" comment is on point. Considering our troops in Afghanistan that is.

  10. This might be relevant to your interests


  11. Thanks Sven -

    Couldn't find any data on weight but it has got to be much less heavy than the 100 pound DAG-1 he humped on Okinawa. Plus performance has to be improved a hundred fold.

    The networking between forward units giving a collaborative position fix would have been great to have back in 1945. And the on-the-march monitoring using just a PDA.

    I suspect though they got a lot of these ideas from the amateur radio world. Lots of amateur RDF orienteering going on, foxhunting they call it, Mostly in your part of the world, but there have been some competitions here.

  12. I once saw an illustration that's perfect to sell ElInt: It showed a map with overlays that did not only depict triangulated positions of emitters, but alson connecting lines that showed documented communication interaction.
    One is able to immediately see Bn and Coy command posts (well, their emitters) on such a map. Even with emitters spaced to the CP by 800-1,000 m that delivers a very good impression of what and how much is out there. Any attempt to fake this would have to be very elaborate.

    Just imagine what could be done in an army equipped with good software-defined radios. Every single backpack radio with integral nacigation could serve as a EW node,both for triangulation and jamming. They would merely need to have the software, suitable antenna setup, processing power, memory and battery supply. Battery supply is the only real bottleneck that's left, and fuel cells seem to work fine when it's not too cold.

    Reliable accurate precision navigation, radio links and a common time giver (usually that's the GPS signal) would be required, though.

  13. Sven -

    I like the concept. The ability for the ELINT system you mention to show communication interaction would be negated by a broadcast system where the lower echelons only listen and do not transmit in response. But the system you envisage is still well worth development.

    Battery resupply has always been a major issue. Fuel cells and solar are the answer. Solar was used, unofficially, in the march up to Baghdad in 2003 using commercial off the shelf systems. But I understand that the CERDEC, the Army Comm-Elec engineering arm developed rucksack solar kits. And fuel cell replacements for radio batteries are being developed there. Jammers, as you know, would need a much larger power supply.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. You need modern digital radios to make do with the bandwidth; they are much more bandwidth-efficient with their compressed emissions. They can transmit a minute of spoken voice in fractions of a second, dispersed throughout the minute in tiny busts. The delay cannot really be noticed.

      Digital transmission protocols (yes I know, radio transmits with waves and is analog by nature, but the digital data is in the variations of the carrier wave) practically always use confirmation messages (ACK/NACK).
      A packet of data may not be received, but then the next packet that's received will hold enough info about the earlier packets that the receiver will automatically transmit a 'not acknowledged' message to call for a repeat transmission of the missing packet(s).
      So essentially every digital radio comm is two-way, even if the user at the listening end does not send intentionally.

      The interesting thing about software-defined radios is that their peak emission power is much greater than their normal operation emission power. To me this indicates that hardware-wise they may have the potential for occasional employment as a jammer within their radio band(s).

    3. BTW, Mike;

      There are sooo many things that COULD conceivably be done with SDRs.

  14. Mike, thanks so much...great story, and nice filling in details (and yes, walking is good for the soul as well as the body ;) ))

    Also, I remember back when I had c-rats...

    friend (vet): "here's sheer, try this..."

    me: "what is this?"

    him: "C-rat...here, use this, a lot easier to open than that tab."

    gives me a can opener...and what I opened up was a whole lot of NOPE!

    So, to all of you who've had C-rats my sincerest apologies...none of that was edible except for the canned cinnamon roll...and that...yeah, that was more of a "fine, I'll choke this down."

    But the rest of it...other than the crackers...oh hells no.

    Today's MRE's are a veritable feast compared to c-rats.

    Anyway, I always like first person accounts...I consider it prime source material, and quotable. Hope you do more like this Mike.

    Again, thank you very much!


    1. I wish I'd had you in my platoon, sheerah; I always seemed to get cinnamon dust roll and I hated it only slightly less than the rest of my outfit. Now...pound cake? I'd have sold my sister for a frigging pound cake.

    2. I've noticed that pound-cake is still a viable currency both in military and in Boy Scouts...me...not a fan of pound cake...I would've traded it for the cinnamon roll.

  15. Thanks Sheer. Will try to do more, but first person accounts are sometimes hard to come by.

  16. Thanks Sven for that link. Great ideas all.

    The US software defined radio system, JTRS, started development back in the mid 90s. But it had a lot of birthing pains and wasted $ billions. Although they have delivered some small segments of their original concept: the PRC-155 manpack and the PRC-154 handheld. Many of the early design specifications were scrapped for now as being too costly. Perhaps they will incorporate them later. I do not know if they ever considered your concept of also incorporating DF of enemy transmitters within their normal comms.