Title Graphic



The tempo, range, and scale of air operations in World War II greatly multiplied the need for fast and reliable communications. Unified command, centralized flight control, flexibility in the employment of tactical aircraft—all this and much more in the areas of combat operations depended upon an effective system of communications. So, too, did the movement of ferried and transport aircraft along the military airways discussed in preceding chapters, as did the provision of data on which dependable predictions of weather could be made. Radio and wire facilities had literally to circle the globe and at the same time to provide point-to-point, air-to-ground, or ground-to-air communication as the need might dictate. The exchange in some instances required transmission of the human voice; in others, a homing signal for the aid of distraught navigators or the simplified and complex languages of code. Installations might be as complicated as those serving a great city or so simple as to find shelter in a tent, a native hut, or some improvised structure. Whatever the circumstances of the individual unit, it had its place in a larger system that was as vital to air warfare as ammunition or fuel.

The Air Corps had been slow to develop its own system of communications. Having had its beginning as an organization subordinate to the Signal Corps, the Army’s air arm continued to depend upon the Signal Corps for communications services even after its own elevation to corps status in 1926. Army aviators had been quick to test the possibilities of air-to-ground and ground-to-air communication opened up by the invention of radio, but not until the 1930’s were the technical problems so far overcome as to make radio standard equipment


on all Army planes. Indeed, the difficulty experienced in developing an effective shield against interference from the engine, the size and weight of early radio equipment, and the additional risk of fire arising from the wiring of the first sets had engendered some hostility on the part of pilots to the use of radio. It had not been uncommon for them to escape an assumed risk simply by “losing” the equipment, but this attitude was short-lived. As the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce, established under the provisions of the Air Commerce Act of 1926, developed a modem system of airways throughout the United States, the navigational and other aids provided along charted routes became a standard dependence of military as of other aviation.1

Army Airways

Although the civil airways were of great aid to the Air Corps, they had been developed primarily for the assistance of commercial aviation. They served chiefly to link the main cities, whereas many of the Army’s airfields were scattered, for strategic and other reasons, at points somewhat remote from the heavier concentrations of population. A flight of ten B-10 bombers, under the command of Lt. Col. Henry H. Arnold, from Bolling Field to Alaska and return in 1934 served to focus attention on the Army’s need for airways routed according to the special requirements of national defense.2 The flight also demonstrated the dependability of recently developed radio equipment, with results affecting the attitude at all levels within the Air Corps toward the whole problem of communications. As the facility and safety of Air Corps operations came increasingly to depend upon the most modern methods of communication, Air Corps leaders experienced a growing dissatisfaction with existing arrangements.

Those arrangements placed the primary responsibility for air communications on local air-base commanders, who usually were required to route all communications between bases through normal Army channels, With the increasing speed of aircraft, it was not uncommon for a plane or flight moving from one base to another to reach its destination in advance of the message advising that it was on the way. In 1934, after his flight to Alaska, Arnold advocated the establishment of a separate Army communications system for the exclusive use of military aircraft. Such a system should provide alerted point-to-point


communications for the transmission of flight plans and operating orders, and one or more of its stations should be able at any time to establish radio contact with aircraft in flight. The network would disseminate weather information to interested parties and exercise traffic control over all arrivals and departures at military airfields. A subcommittee of the Air Corps Technical Committee having reviewed the proposal in 1937, on 15 November 1938 the Army Airways Communications System (AACS) was established.3

AACS was charged with “the operation of all fixed Air Corps radio facilities installed for the purpose of facilitating air traffic between Army Flying Fields in the Continental United States.4 In order to assure centralized control, the system was placed under the immediate direction of the Chief of the Air Corps. The United States was divided into three communications regions, with headquarters located as follows: the 1st at March Field, California; the 2d at Langley Field, Virginia; and the 3d at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. To each of these regions one of three newly created communications squadrons was assigned. The procurement and installation of communications equipment remained a responsibility of the Chief Signal Officer. Base commanders continued to be responsible for housekeeping, discipline, and administrative control over AACS personnel, but the traditional authority of the base commander was now definitely limited in the interest of a centralized direction of operations throughout the system. Air-ground and ground-air contacts, point-to-point messages relating to the movement of aircraft, control of military air traffic, and the provision of navigational aids—all these came within the province of the new system.

At headquarters in Washington there had been a staff office for advice on communications questions since 1920. In 1938 the responsibility belonged to the Communications Section of the Training and Operations Division, and on that section fell the burden of inaugurating the new system. A control officer was assigned to each of the three regional commands. As commanding officer of the region’s communications squadron, to which communications personnel within the region were assigned, he exercised operational control over the several detachments stationed at Air Corps bases falling within his jurisdiction.5 The transition was marked by some misunderstanding and not a little difficulty. But by 1940, when the expansion of the Air Corps was moving into high gear, the Army’s air arm had made a beginning


toward the development of a unified system of communications. In a rearrangement and reassignment of responsibilities in November of that year, a fourth region and squadron, embracing the southeastern states, was added to the system.6

The organization of each region, and of its assigned squadron, remained flexible. With his squadron divided into detachments shaped by the peculiar needs of each station within the region, the regional control officer (RCO) lived at first a very peripatetic life as he sought to give practical meaning to the concept of centralized control over the operations of units which still belonged while off duty to local commanders. If the RCO in the earlier days felt that he could perform his mission only at the risk of a court-martial, it is not surprising. He was usually a junior officer, and even his superiors in Washington lacked the rank that was needed to make the support of headquarters awesome.

The AACS had to keep abreast of technological progress stimulated by the demands of wartime conditions and by inter-Allied co-operation in such an area as that of radar. An organization which first had only to use the telephone, the telegraph, and the radio soon faced a need to master equipment of the most diversified sort in the field of electronics. At the end of the war AACS depended upon the services of four times as many different specialists as at the beginning.7 It operated control towers, radio ranges, homing beacons, “loran” installations, instrument-approach and ground-control-approach facilities, elaborate message centers, and no less elaborate encoding and decoding equipment for transmission of thousands of messages each day. It monitored the traffic along a world-wide system of military airways. It also helped to collect and then disseminated information regarding the weather in all parts of the world.

Problems of recruitment and training in the early days of AACS were complicated by the need to provide detachments for overseas service. As the AAF extended its commitments outside the United States, domestic stations experienced repeated raids on their more experienced and skilled personnel for the purpose of manning new installations overseas. Indeed, a major function of the original domestic regions soon became that of activating, manning, and training special detachments for service outside the United States.

In the effort to strengthen national defenses in the Caribbean and to facilitate the movement of aircraft along the South Atlantic air


route, a total of nine communications stations had been brought into operation by the time of Pearl Harbor.8 Most of them were manned by AACS detachments. In the North Atlantic, the AACS installation that went on the air at Gander Field, Newfoundland, in March 1941 was charged primarily with the dissemination of weather information, as was that at BLUIE WEST 1, the Greenland station which began operations on 21 August. A second Greenland station, originally intended for weather collection and dissemination only, was established at BLUIE WEST 8, on the island’s west coast and almost on the Arctic Circle. During the following November, personnel of the 33d Fighter Squadron installed communications equipment at the Reykjavik Airport, which shortly thereafter had the first AACS station in Iceland. Farther west, the three Crystal stations had been established in Baffinland and northern Quebec,* along the projected Crimson Route from the Middle West to Europe by way of Hudson Bay and Greenland. Weather and communications detachments at these outposts were strategically located to report storms that might threaten more southerly sea and air routes. By December 1941 the new communications system in the North Atlantic reached northeastward from the United States as far as Iceland and included ten stations manned by 70 AACS personnel.9

In the meantime, on the other side of the North American continent, small beginnings were being made in the central Pacific and Alaska. There was almost nothing on which to build. Although Pan American Airways operated a passenger service between the United States and the Philippines and had projected a branch line from Hawaii to New Zealand and Australia, its communications facilities were geared to its own limited requirements. The establishment of an Air Corps Detachment, Communications, at Hickam Field, Hawaii, early in 1941, was followed by the extension of military airways communications to other installations in the Hawaiian Islands and by survey flights to the Philippines. In addition, a so-called “Airways radio net” that handled point-to-point communications between airfields in Hawaii was used by the 18th Composite Wing for training in gunnery, navigation, and field work. In the meantime, Army, Navy, and CAA responsibilities for the development of aviation in Alaska were allocated at a conference in the office of General Arnold on 27 July 1940. In accordance with this allocation, the AACS installed communications

* See Vol. I, 345–47.


facilities at Ladd Field (Fairbanks) and Elmendorf Field (Anchorage). A minor installation on Annette Island, near Ketchikan, in 1941 began copying weather from CAA and Navy broadcasts. Although the AACS station at Yakutat, a coastal point between Anchorage and Ketchikan, did little more than transmit weather data and flight notices, even those operations were hampered by technical difficulties and a shortage of power-plant equipment.10

As the war clouds lowered, the AAF gained many advantages from the highly developed state of commercial communications in the United States. It was possible to recruit from civilian life a sufficient number of experts in telephone and telegraph operation, radio broadcasting, and airline communication to offset in some degree the fact that the peacetime Air Corps had very few officers trained in these fields.11 Further help came from the readiness of Britain to lend assistance, not only by making available to AAF planes the services of its own installations, but by permitting the Americans to share both the equipment and the experience of British agencies. Early flights into Britain depended wholly upon British communications facilities beyond Iceland, as later would the first AAF combat units to be stationed in the British Isles.

Nevertheless, the AAF had to undertake an expanding training program for communications officers and a large number of technical specialists.* The responsibility for implementing this program fell chiefly upon the AAF Training Command. Altogether, more than 200,000 trainees completed the radio courses given by the Training Command between July 1939 and V-J Day. Considerably smaller, but no less important, was a radar training program which began in the autumn of 1941 and produced by V-J Day more than 85,000 graduates, most of them trained for ground technical duties. The majority of officers receiving radar training were flyers, but many others also qualified for electronics work. Separate cryptographic schools, with terms of four weeks, were conducted for officers and enlisted men.12

Because of the limited number of experienced civilian radio mechanics, the Air Service Command established a civilian training program that ultimately provided instruction for 10,000 of its employees. The first programs were instituted at Sacramento, beginning in July 1941, and at San Antonio, Middletown, and Fairfield early in 1942.

* See Vol. VI, 637–41.


Eventually, civilian instruction was given on three levels: pre-service training, upgrade training, and supervisor training. In addition, special training for military personnel in the use of recently developed equipment was provided.13 Even so, experience forced AACS units to depend heavily upon in-service training. Only by training on the job did it prove possible to keep up with the demands of an ever expanding communications system into which new and improved equipment was repeatedly introduced.

Until 1944 the Signal Corps continued to be responsible for the procurement and supply of all air communications equipment. In October of that year and in response to a long-standing demand by AAF leaders, the responsibility for the development, purchase, and storage of all communications and radar equipment peculiar to air operations was transferred from the Signal Corps to the AAF. The change, which involved a procurement program with an average value of one billion dollars per war year, was completed early in 1945.14

The traditional concept that the theater commander should have full control over all installations and personnel within the geographical limits of his command governed the early assignments of AACS detachments to stations outside the United States. AACS necessarily retained some control over technical questions and procedures, but it lacked both the organization and the authority necessary to assure the development of a truly unified system of AAF communications. The first step toward achievement of a more effective organization came with the extension overseas of the squadron and region to embrace the detachments stationed in a given geographical area, as with the 6th and 7th Regions established early in 1942 for the Caribbean and the South Pacific, respectively. By the end of 1942 ten overseas regions had been established, each with its own squadron and RCO; in the following May there were seventeen.15 February 1943 had brought another step toward unified control in the activation of five area headquarters for the North Atlantic, the Caribbean, Africa, the Northwest, and the Pacific.16 These area headquarters, each having supervision over more than one region, enabled the AACS to achieve a better co-ordination of communications activity in the several regions.

This improvement in organization, however, was not sufficient in itself to overcome the basic difficulty arising from uncertainty as to where the ultimate authority lay. The experience of AACS paralleled very closely that of ATC. In the effort to maintain and improve


services along a growing system of world airways, each underwent experiences that argued strongly for centralized control and led to demands for limitations on the prerogative of theater commanders. ATC, a chief customer of AACS, was especially sensitive to this need and, while fighting its own battle for a single system of strategic air routes, lent its support to the demands of AACS. A TAG letter of 9 March 1943 undertook to clarify the problem by reminding all commands that AACS functioned as “the War Department’s agency, operated by the Commanding General, Army Air Forces, to facilitate the operations of service aircraft over the military airways.”17 Theater commands were restricted to “local administrative and disciplinary control,” and the right of AACS to dispose its personnel and equipment as it saw fit was positively affirmed.

The victory, however, was not yet complete, as was indicated by the shifting fortunes of AACS in the reorganization of the AAF at this time. Since March 1942 AACS headquarters had been in the Directorate of Communications, a suboffice of the Director of Technical Services at AAF Headquarters. With the decision to abandon the system of headquarters directorates and to move all operations into the field, AACS passed to the Communications Wing of the newly created Flight Control Command, a command having jurisdiction only in the Zone of Interior.* During the summer of 1943 assignment of AACS overseas regions to ATC or theater commands seemed to indicate a drastic reversal of the previous trend toward centralization. But this new trend was soon countered by the separation of AACS from the Flight Control Command and reassignment of the Communications Wing to the control of AAF Headquarters. With its own headquarters now located in Asheville, North Carolina, the wing operated as an independent unit under the general supervision of the AC/AS, Operations, Commitments, and Requirements. On 15 May 1944 AACS became an independent activity enjoying the full status of a “command” and having now for the first time a bulk allotment of personnel for assignment to its subordinate units. Simultaneously, the command was reorganized into eight wings with headquarters at Chicago, Casablanca, Anchorage, Calcutta, London, Manchester (New Hampshire), Honolulu, and Miami.18 The new wings absorbed the former areas and regions and received communications groups which were in turn broken down into squadrons and detachments

* For discussion of AAF organization, see Vol. VI, chap. 2.


suited to the needs of the particular geographical areas over which the wings held jurisdiction.

It could hardly be said that this action settled all questions. As with the Air Transport Command, AACS was primarily concerned with the lines of air communication joining the United States to its many and far-flung battle lines. Its airways ran through a variety of commands and theaters in order to reach others, and the terminal points of its services often reached into the more forward areas of combat. A clean-cut settlement of all jurisdictional issues was not to be expected, but to a remarkable extent AACS did represent at the close of war a world-wide airway service. It operated then more than 700 stations located in more than 100 countries and serving more than 100,000 miles of airways. To man these installations and to assure their necessary co-ordination, AACS had a roster of 4,500 officers and enlisted personnel to a number exceeding 45,000.19

Across the Atlantic and the Pacific

When war came in December 1941, AACS services across the North Atlantic reached no farther east than Iceland. The link with Britain was not established until July 1942, when, in connection with the air movement of the Eighth Air Force to its British bases, a code room and message center were established at Prestwick, Scotland. The first airdromes taken over by AAF units had RAF communications facilities, which continued to be staffed largely by RAF technical personnel. Wire services for AAF operations were provided by the British General Post Office, in accordance with an agreement between General Arnold and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal.20 Not until December 1942 did AAF and British authorities reach agreement on fundamental questions affecting the control of flights between Iceland and the British Isles that opened the way for a full-scale extension of the AACS into Britain.*

Unfamiliar operational problems continued to plague North Atlantic communications, as costly experience proved the ineffectiveness of radio techniques that were satisfactory farther south. Delicate equipment had to be heated before it would function in subzero temperatures. Radio reception was frequently disrupted by aurora borealis, which caused fade-outs for as long as sixteen days at some stations. There was no way of overcoming this quirk of nature until radio

* See above, pp. 95–97.


operators turned to unauthorized low frequencies and found that they worked. Where so much of the earth’s surface was covered with solid ice, deep sand, or marshes, the normally simple matter of providing electrical grounds for radio equipment assumed major proportions. Rocky soil and strong winds made it difficult to keep shallow- rooted antenna upright at stations in Greenland and Iceland. Under such primitive conditions, common throughout the North, the breakage rate for all types of equipment was abnormally high.21

Service at isolated northern outposts was hard on personnel no less than on equipment. In winter, the men lived in a monotonous world of ice and desolation, where gales drifted snow in average temperatures of 50 degrees below zero. From early autumn, when the northern ice forced the last ship to retreat to civilization, until the thaws of late spring permitted the first vessel to return, the men saw no living thing except their dogs and perhaps a few Eskimos. The prefabricated wooden buildings, used in almost all stations until replaced by Nissen huts, were too light to give adequate protection from the wind and cold. A generally low level of radio discipline was aggravated, no doubt, by the discomfort, loneliness, and sheer boredom of operators and aircrews. In any case, the limited circuits were often overloaded with aimless chatter between operators or with needless, and poorly worded or overclassified, messages. During a single night in July 1942, eleven “urgent” messages were filed at BW-I for transmission to Goose Bay, although “nothing short of the melting of the Greenland Ice Cap,” as one observer put it, could have justified that number.22

Some confusion also grew out of Anglo-American disagreement as to communications security in the North Atlantic. The British insisted on the use of a complex code, in keeping with the principle that it was better to lose an occasional aircraft than to endanger the weather security of the entire United Kingdom. By contrast, the American position was that security measures should never be so complicated that they hampered operations and that the complexity of codes should be determined by the ability of personnel to use them. Much coded weather was regarded as useless, or even misleading, to those for whose benefit it was processed. Conditions improved somewhat with better training and supervision of operators and the installation of additional equipment.23

While these northern airways from the American arsenal to the



British Isles were being developed, another was being pushed across the South Atlantic from Natal, near the tip of the Brazilian bulge, where the first AACS installation was established in May 1942. The first United States air communications detachment to serve in Africa arrived at Accra, on the Gold Coast, in June, to take over from Pan American Airways the operation of radio facilities along the African segment of an air route to the Middle East and India. Nearly all the stations were poorly equipped, and the coming of military personnel did not result in any notable immediate improvement. Part of the meager communications resources in Africa had to be diverted to support a more southern route being developed through Pointe Noire, Leopoldville, Elisabethville, and Nairobi, against the chance that Axis victories might make the more direct airway untenable. With new demands on men and equipment resulting from the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, several months were required to bring services across Africa to the Middle East up to desired standards.24

Fortunately, British facilities in the Middle East could be counted upon to supplement those that could be made available by the United States. An American detachment of four enlisted men had been established at Abadan in Iran as early as May 1942 for assistance of the Douglas Aircraft Corporation in the assembly and delivery of lend-lease planes to Russia. But not until the early months of 1943 did it prove possible for the AAF to develop in the Middle East communications that were adequate for its expanding needs.25 n India, too, only the very substantial aid of our British allies had made it possible for the Tenth Air Force to establish a rudimentary communications net linking Karachi and other points on the route across India to China. An AACS squadron had been activated at Bolling Field in the spring of 1942 for assignment to the Tenth Air Force, but that squadron and its equipment did not reach India until the following fall. Under the leadership of Maj. Walter B. Berg, who had been Arnold’s crew chief on the 1934 flight to Alaska, the 10th Squadron worked to perfect a communications net having its chief focal points at Karachi, Chabua, and Kunming—along the air route joining the Middle East and China. With an increase in personnel that permitted the 10th Squadron to release all but a few of the men on loan from the British by the spring of 1943, with assignment at that time of the squadron to AACS, with the activation of a 25th Squadron in the summer to have charge of a


new region extending from Chabua into China and southward in Burma, and with the establishment of an Asiatic Airways Communications Area in the fall of 1943, a co-ordinated line of communications now reached all the way from Miami across the Atlantic, Africa, the Middle East, and India into China.26

Radio communication between the Asiatic mainland and the Southwest Pacific gave some reality to the concept of a world-encircling system of communications. But the story of the development of the airways across the Pacific is actually separate and somewhat different from that already recounted. The first major extension of airways communications facilities in the Pacific after December 1941 was directed toward completion of an air supply line to the South Pacific and Australia. Four principal island stations—on Christmas, Canton, Nandi, and New Caledonia—were established by the summer of 1942. At the end of that year, AAF communications services had been extended into Australia. The first two of the long chain of AACS stations that eventually reached northward from Australia toward Japan were established at Port Moresby and Milne Bay, New Guinea, early in 1943.27

In the meantime, needs much farther north were demanding the attention of high-level military planners. The vulnerability of American naval outposts in the Pacific gave added urgency to the early strengthening of air defenses in the Aleutians and along the Gulf of Alaska. Six months after the outbreak of hostilities, which is to say at the time of Japan’s invasion of the Aleutians, AACS still had only nine stations in Alaska, manned by fewer than eighty officers and men. Part of their radio equipment had been procured from “ham” operators and from stations of the CAA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or civilian airlines. Under such circumstances, standardization of operating and maintenance procedures was hardly feasible. Here, as in the North Atlantic, radio fade-outs were common, and extremely low temperatures played havoc with sensitive instruments. Notoriously unreliable weather conditions and almost complete lack of satisfactory charts made it necessary to provide on-the-spot guidance of aircraft in flight over western” Alaska and the Aleutians. Nowhere in Alaska was there an adequate aircraft warning system, and the two radar sets in the territory offered far from satisfactory protection. For that reason, both AACS and the Navy established radar beacons to support the air offensive against Kiska and Attu and later the bombing of


the Kurile Islands. Beginning in November 1943, the AACS station at Amchitka transmitted weather data intercepted from Chungking, China, thus greatly lengthening the period for which it was feasible to make weather forecasts in the North Pacific.28

In a region where each user of communications had such meager facilities, co-operation became a necessity. In August 1942, therefore, a joint communications board was established to pool CAA, PAA-Navy, and AACS facilities and to co-ordinate plans for future expansion. Although AAF Headquarters two months later directed AACS to supervise and control CAA facilities in Alaska, duplication of activities continued to be serious, especially along the coastal route east of Anchorage. This airway was used by the United States Navy and Coast Guard and by the Royal Canadian Air Force as well as by several AAF agencies. In order to prevent utter confusion, these users formulated a standard procedure for clearance and control of air traffic and incorporated it in the original joint Army-Navy-Canadian agreement. However, the large number of military agencies operating in Alaska and western Canada delayed a clear-cut definition of responsibilities until after the formation of a Joint Army-Navy-Alaskan Aircraft Control Committee late in 1943.29

The first wartime communications along the air route to Alaska by way of Edmonton and Whitehorse were provided under Army contract by Northwest Airlines, the company that had pioneered the route as a civilian airway. But, when tactical units and Canadian forces also used the route, misunderstandings resulted from the different procedures followed by the Canadian authorities, the contract carrier, and AACS personnel. To end the confusion, the Canadian government insisted that the entire transport and ferrying operation through Canada be militarized. As a result, Northwest Airlines gave up its communications facilities, but only after strong pressure was exerted by the Alaskan Division of the Air Transport Command. With the building of the Alaskan Highway, stations along the northwest route were linked to the United States by land teletype. The line reached Whitehorse in June 1943, and Fairbanks four months later, but the circuit was often out of commission because of wire breakage, lack of spare parts, or a shortage of trained personnel.30 Nevertheless, it relieved the crowded radio channels and improved the systematic collection of weather information in a hitherto neglected part of North America.


Airways to Tokyo

Nowhere were arrangements for communications services more complex than in the Pacific. An early need for hard-pressed Army and Navy units to pool their resources in the face of threatened disaster set a pattern, or lack of pattern, that was perpetuated by the complexity of command arrangements in the Pacific area.

AAF and Navy doctrines differed radically as to the desirable extent of centralization of communications facilities in areas occupied by both services. Because the South Pacific was a Navy theater, all communications personnel and equipment on each island were pooled to form a single signal center that served air, ground, and naval units. The Navy held that the communications responsibilities of the Thirteenth Air Force were limited to its own internal wire facilities and to the operation of radio equipment in its own aircraft. Although aircraft warning and fighter control units were administered by Thirteenth Air Force Headquarters, they were in many cases under the operational control of island commands or other non-Air Force units. Radio facilities for inter-island administrative traffic of the Thirteenth Air Force were furnished by the island commands or, in their absence, by Navy signal centers. The system of communications used in the Southwest Pacific Area, an Army command, was naturally more satisfactory to the AAF. There each headquarters had its own signal center, connected laterally to adjacent headquarters and vertically to higher and lower echelons in the chain of command.31

Assignment of communications duties in the Southwest Pacific varied with time and circumstances. Initial responsibility for air communications was at first vested in the tactical units, with the AACS becoming responsible for control towers and most other navigational aids only after installation of more or less permanent facilities. In 1943 this policy was changed to assign such responsibility to AACS immediately upon the capture or completion of an airstrip. For that reason, AACS mobile control-tower teams were formed to serve with tactical forces. In some cases they were not far behind the assault troops who hit the beach or spearheaded an advance. Before the launching of an offensive, the staff communications officers of the co-operating air, ground, and naval forces met in conference to co-ordinate requirements and allocate functions. Initial control of air-ground operations was vested in the Navy if the landing area was beyond the most efficient


range of land-based installations. Requests for tactical air support of ground forces during the landing phases of an assault were directed by the naval commander, who either assigned the mission to carrier-based planes or relayed the request to appropriate AAF headquarters. As soon as the assault area was consolidated and airstrips prepared, an air task force assumed responsibility for tactical air operations.32

During the early stages of the war, minimum communications requirements were met only because air operations were on a small scale and because communications personnel often worked twelve to sixteen hours a day. But, unfortunately, operators could work at their best only six hours a day for five days a week when the flow of messages was heavy. Many of them became psychiatric cases when pushed beyond their endurance.33 Some detachments were stationed in isolated places where they had to be self-sufficient. Under such circumstances, control-tower operators, radio operators, radio mechanics, and cryptographic technicians doubled as cooks or carpenters or for the performance of whatever other work had to be done. Some commanders established provisional communications units and placed their members on detached service wherever they were most urgently needed. This makeshift helped get the job done, but it was injurious to morale. Enlisted men sometimes went several months without being paid, and many of them complained that they had missed overdue promotions because of absence from their regular units.34

Personnel shortages were matched by equipment shortages, and maintenance problems were aggravated by inadequate protection of equipment from the weather. Communications units generally had to make the best of inferior sites and housing, because they had to get on the air as soon as possible and were not prepared to do engineering work. It was not uncommon for radio operators to stand ankle deep in mud while sending important operational messages or for rain water to seep through cracks in the roof and drip on communications equipment and message paper. Such primitive conditions were improved with the arrival of additional personnel and the erection of better buildings at the more important stations, but in out-of-the-way places the period of rugged pioneering continued almost to the end of the war. Non-tropicalized communications equipment broke down at an alarming rate, as fungus coated delicate instruments and salt water rusted metal surfaces. This forced operating personnel to perform higher-echelon maintenance than would have been necessary if normal


replacements and repair facilities had been available. Procurement procedures prescribed by higher headquarters were often too slow to meet immediate needs. More than one unit learned that critical equipment might, on occasion, be secured more readily “through the judicious use of a bottle of liquor’’ than through official requisitions. An official evaluation board reported that “of greatest value in the procurement of spare parts was a good supply sergeant who was friendly with neighboring, invariably well supplied, Navy units.” Such informal “borrowing” from other services, and a project system that used available equipment to its maximum effectiveness, made it possible to provide at least minimum communications facilities despite shortages of equipment.35

After 1942 the AACS was forced repeatedly to adjust its organization in the Pacific to the demands of several advancing battlefronts. The original detachments stationed in Hawaii and down along the South Pacific chain of air bases had been given regional control by activation on 19 February 1942 of the 7th Army Airways Communications Region, with jurisdiction extending through but not beyond New Caledonia. The region’s main task, at first, was to assist in the movement of aircraft down the chain to Australia and in the establishment of air defenses along the newly developing air route. The beginning of the Solomons offensive later in the year brought additional responsibilities. On Christmas Eve 1942 AACS put its first station in the Solomons into operation at Henderson Field. On 21 January 1943, in the same month that saw the activation of the Thirteenth Air Force, the responsibility for the area embracing the Fiji Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and the Solomons was assigned to a newly activated 20th AACR. This left the 7th to concentrate on obligations pointing its attention toward the Gilberts, the Marshalls, and, in time, the Marianas. Already, on 11 January 1943, the Pacific Airways Communications Area (PACA) had been activated at Hickam Field for control of the two regions.36

The introduction of AACS facilities into Australia, where AAF units falling back from the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies at first depended heavily upon the communications services that could be provided by the Australians, came more slowly. In late summer 1942 the 5th Army Communications Squadron, originally intended for service in the Philippines, was assigned to Gen. George C. Kenney’s Fifth Air Force in Australia. The squadron’s job, as subsequently


defined, was to provide communications facilities at Brisbane that would establish a proper terminal for the airway reaching across the Pacific from California and to provide standard services for Army planes in Australia, with special attention to the need for linking rear bases with forward airdromes. At Amberley Field, some 30 miles from Brisbane, the first AACS station in Australia went into operation on 5 December 1942, thereby completing a network of airway communications extending from San Francisco through Hawaii and the South Pacific to Brisbane. By the end of February 1943 two stations had been established in the immediate neighborhood of Port Moresby in New Guinea and another southeastward some 250 miles on New Guinea's Papuan coast. The conquest of Buna had also been followed up by efforts resulting in the early opening of additional stations for point-to-point communication, traffic control, and weather reporting at Dobodura and on the islands of Woodlark and Kiriwina. Meanwhile, a beginning had been made in the development of a network of stations in northern and northeastern Australia.37

The pattern of activity thus set in the early operations of the South and Southwest Pacific Areas was to be repeated again and again as the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Seventh Air Forces collaborated with ground and naval units to push the Japanese back along the coast of New Guinea, up the island chain of the Solomons, and out of the Gilberts and the Marshalls. Across beach after beach, or in one of the earliest planes to land on hastily prepared or repaired strips, advanced AACS detachments followed on the heels of assaulting forces to establish emergency facilities that would be improved, as the provision of men and equipment permitted, for incorporation into an expanding and increasingly diversified communications network. As the lines of advance in the Solomons and New Guinea converged to set the stage for a climactic assault on the Philippines, and as plans were being perfected in the central Pacific for seizure of the Marianas, AACS adjusted its organization to meet new demands. In keeping with a recent decision in Washington for redesignation of AACS units, the Pacific Airways Communications Area became on 15 May 1944 the 7th AACS Wing with jurisdiction over the 5th, 7th, and 20th Squadrons—now redesignated, respectively, as the 68th, 70th, and 71st AACS Groups.38 The subdivision of the groups into squadrons, and of squadrons into detachments, gave to the AACS in the Pacific, as elsewhere, a superior structure for the accomplishment of its mission. No less


important was the establishment of a common headquarters for the combat zones of the Pacific war.

Biak, Saipan, Guam, Leyte, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa—all found their way into the history of the 7th Wing, as finally did Tokyo. When news of the Japanese proposal for surrender came, the 7th Wing and more especially the 68th Group received orders to fly into Atsugi Airfield, below Tokyo, the communications equipment and personnel necessary for guidance and reception of the great transports scheduled to “fly in” the first contingent of the occupation troops. AACS’s mission was to provide navigational aids, point-to-point communication with Okinawa, air-to-ground communication for planes in flight, weather data, and traffic control. A special unit of handpicked men was quickly organized, put through a trial exercise at Clark Field near Manila, and flown to Okinawa to await the signal from higher headquarters. On the morning of 28 August 1945 some two dozen C-47’s (one of them a fully equipped mobile radio station) flew from Okinawa to Atsugi carrying technical equipment and technicians, many of them belonging to the AACS, for the establishment of an emergency air base in Japan’s homeland.39 And so were men long accustomed to follow combat troops ashore put in a position to welcome combat units as they reached the war’s last beachhead.

Before turning from the Pacific to other areas, two communications units intended to reduce duplication of Army and Navy facilities should be noted. One was the Oceanic Air Traffic Center (OATC) established in November 1943 as a clearing-house for flight authorization, information, and control with offices at San Francisco and Hickam Field, Hawaii. Originally concerned only with the movement of aircraft between the mainland and Hawaii, OATC extended its services westward early in 1945. The other was the Joint Airways Communications System, Pacific (JACSPAC) . It depended for the most part upon AACS facilities, but it used certain of the Navy’s facilities. Both ATC and the Naval Air Transport Service looked to JACSPAC for operational communications, and so were unnecessary duplications avoided.40


In CBI the 10th AACS Squadron, operating as a unit of the Tenth Air Force, struggled through the winter of 1942–43 to establish communications facilities linking India and China and at the same time to


render such assistance as it could to tactical operations in Burma. The squadron was reassigned to AACS in April 1943, and in July its responsibilities were divided with a newly assigned 25th Squadron. The 10th retained responsibility for India and Burma, except for Assam, and the 25th, with headquarters at Chabua, took up the task of providing communications along the famed “Hump” route into China. In the fall, as previously noted, the Asiatic Airways Communications Area (AACA) was introduced as a superior headquarters for the two squadrons.41 These developments followed a pattern of organization that was becoming familiar throughout AACS at the time. More important is the fact that they also reflected a growing concern at the highest level of command for the assistance of China. The Fourteenth Air Force recently had been activated, and ATC had been given targets for cargo deliveries over the Hump that were staggering by comparison with anything theretofore achieved.*

For the Hump and its defending forces, the 10th Squadron had managed to put into operation nine stations-three on the China side of the Himalayas and six on the India side-of which Chabua in Assam and Kunming in China were the chief, as was the 10th’s station at Karachi the chief link joining Chabua with Khartoum and other points along the airways of Africa. To man its stations, the 25th took over from the 10th a complement of 16 officers and 168 enlisted men who often worked on twelve-hour shifts while they waited for reinforcements that would bring strength up to 77 officers and 540 men. The 10th Squadron began its separate operations with another nine stations, of which the one at Delhi, where military headquarters in CBI tended to concentrate, and the one at Karachi, gateway to India, were the chief. With a complement, to begin with of 31 officers and 141 enlisted men, the 10th AACS Squadron had many members who also knew, day after day, what a twelve-hour tour of duty meant.42 When AACA gave way in May 1944 to the 4th AACS Wing, the new wing took charge of more than a hundred and twenty stations.43 The wing included the 1st Tactical Group, a unit organized specifically for assistance of the B-29’s of XX Bomber Command.44

More than one of the AACS stations in CBI were now major installations embodying some of the more advanced technical equipment and skill of the society that had placed them “on the other side

* See above, pp. 124–28.


of the world.” Some were limited by geographical considerations, by the lack of an adequate source of power, or by the speed of military developments to makeshift facilities that depended ultimately for their effectiveness upon the men who manned them. These were men to whom the G.I. term of “sweating it out” became something quite literal in the climate of India or Assam, men who often knew in China or in Burma the meaning of repeated enemy attacks, and men who experienced the isolation of duty in remote mountain stations or in the jungles of Burma.

Beginning in December 1943 the AACS had undertaken to provide tactical communications in Southeast Asia at the request of the Fourteenth Air Force and other combat units. Its first two stations for that purpose were established in eastern China, to support air operations against Japanese shipping in the China Sea and against enemy troops and supply concentrations in the Changsha area. Other facilities were installed in the Imphal-Kohima region, where enemy ground forces had broken into India and almost reached the railroad from Assam to Bengal. Farther south, stations were established at Bangalore and Ceylon for the support of amphibious operations of the Southeast Asia Command. During the spring of 1944, eight others were set up to assist air and ground forces operating in China, India, and Burma.45

In spite of these new and enlarged installations, air communications in eastern and southeastern Asia continued to present a serious problem. The lack of adequately powered radio aids to navigation seriously limited bad-weather operations. Shortages of personnel and equipment to handle point-to-point communications caused overloaded channels and delayed reception of weather and other tactical information at command headquarters. Outdated or inaccurate weather data were especially injurious to air-transport operations and directly affected the air supply of forward bases.46

In MTO and ETO

Two AACS squadrons, the 13th and the 14th, were activated on 18 April 1942 for service in Africa. First to leave the United States was the 13th, whose advanced detachment reached Accra in the following June. By November, when the invasion of Northwest Africa occurred, the 26 officers and 261 enlisted men of the 13th Squadron had taken over from Pan American Airways all communications services across Africa to Khartoum. Meanwhile, the 14th


Squadron had directed its attention to the alternate route running eastward along a line south of the Equator—a route then under development but soon to be abandoned.47

The invasion of Northwest Africa on 8 November imposed new and especially heavy responsibilities on the men and equipment of both squadrons. An 18th Squadron had been activated in the United States during October for assignment to the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa, but not until the end of the year did it reach its station. In the intervening weeks the men of the 13th and 14th Squadrons had pushed a line of communications facilities northward from Accra and Kano to Bathurst, Dakar, Oran, Casablanca, Marrakech, and Algiers, thus helping to establish a vital link between terminals of the South Atlantic air route and the new battlefront." Many of the officers and men detached for temporary and emergency duties in the north were destined finally for reassignment to the 18th Squadron. From the 14th Squadron also came much of the strength of a newly activated 19th Squadron, which assumed at the end of the year responsibility for the region extending eastward toward Karachi in India.48 In March 1943, the Twelfth Air Force having yielded its claim to its own squadron, the 13th, 14th, 18th, and 19th Squadrons came under the control of the newly activated African Airways Communications Area.49

The area's components had rendered significant aid to the extension of air transport into a new combat zone while continuing to maintain and strengthen through transport services to the Near and Far East. It had been possible also to provide some assistance for tactical operations, especially in the collection and dissemination of weather intelligence, but not enough to overcome the general dissatisfaction with communications that continued to be expressed throughout the North African campaign.50 Critical shortages of personnel and equipment were overcome in time, as were other deficiencies attributable to inexperience and to the haste with which the whole North African venture was undertaken. AACS was fortunate in the growing tendency to view its responsibility as something restricted to the maintenance of communications between the front and its rear areas.

After the conquest of Tunisia in May, the invasion of Sicily came next, on 9 July 1943. The 18th Squadron sent its first detachment into Sicily on 4 August, and by 6 September it had two stations in operation,

* See above, pp. 64–65, 72–73.


at Palermo and Catania.51 From Sicily the next jump was into Italy, where, by the end of 1943, AACS stations had been established at Naples and Bari. Two others were added, one on the island of Sardinia and another on Corsica.52 By 15 May 1944, when the African Airways Communications Area gave way to the 2d AACS Wing in keeping with a plan for the reorganization and redesignation of units throughout the AACS, the new wing embraced some fifty major installations in Africa, the Middle East, and Italy. Already, area headquarters had been moved up the coast to Casablanca in order better to meet the growing responsibility for transport traffic now heavily concentrated along North African airways linking the Atlantic routes with the Middle East, Russia, and India.* The more southerly route from Accra to Khartoum had now a declining importance, and by the end of the war its personnel were being transferred to other areas in preparation for the abandonment of what originally had been the special province of the pioneer 13th Squadron.53

As the focus of combat operations moved up the Italian boot, the 18th Squadron in March 1944 had been divided for administrative convenience into European and African sectors, each of which received a separate AACS group in the reorganization that followed in May. The 58th Group in Italy served chiefly to link the combat zone with rear areas in Northwest Africa, and so with transport and ferry routes reaching back across the Atlantic to the United States. Although it provided valued assistance to units participating in the invasion of southern France in the late summer of 1944, the 58th had no direct part to play in that invasion. But, when ATC later found it necessary to extend its services into southern France, the 58th AACS Squadron led the way. At the end of hostilities the 58th Group was transferred to the 5th AACS Wing in Europe.54

Although the 5th Wing dated back only to May 1944, some of its components had a history reaching back into 1942, when the first AAF combat units reached the British Isles. These units had found ready at hand an elaborate and extremely modern system of wire, radio, and radar communications for the control of air traffic over the United Kingdom. By agreement with British authorities, the Eighth Air Force adapted its procedures to the existing network and adopted for the most part British communications equipment. Only as AAF forces grew into the mighty armadas of 1944 and 1945,

* See above, pp. 86–91.


which is to say only very slowly, did they seek to establish supplementary services of their own.

The first AACS detachment in Britain—two officers and nine enlisted men—reached Prestwick on 1 July 1942 for the purpose of providing such assistance as it could render to the current movement of the Eighth Air Force across the North Atlantic. In the attempt to work out a satisfactory agreement for the provision of American communications services along the last leg of the North Atlantic hop, an agreement was reached with the British in December 1942 that resulted in the establishment by the summer of 1943 of seven AACS stations in Great Britain and three in Northern Ireland.55 And so the AACS found its primary function in Britain, as in so many other parts of the world, to be that of providing effective terminal communications for transoceanic airways. The first AACS personnel had come to Britain on detached service from units stationed out along the North Atlantic route from Newfoundland to Iceland, but, as their numbers grew, they were reassigned in April 1943 to a newly activated 24th AACS Squadron and Region. At the end of 1943 this squadron had 16 stations, 65 officers, and 481 enlisted men.56

Although the 24th had begun to assume responsibility for the operation of ranges and beacons of some importance to combat units, its chief task was still that of monitoring and guiding the AAF traffic which flowed from or into the transatlantic airways, including the one which joined Britain with Northwest Africa. It was a traffic that steadily mounted in volume as the build-up for the coming invasion of Normandy continued through the winter and spring, and on the eve of that invasion AACS became involved in an ill-conceived and none too successful attempt to establish a complete system of traffic control within the British Isles.57 In Britain to the end of the war,, success in the field of communications depended upon acceptance of the idea that U.S. facilities complemented, instead of replacing, the admirable facilities already established by British agencies.

Meantime, the AACS found a proper outlet for its developing ambitions in plans for the invasion of Normandy. The 24th Squadron readily accepted proposals in the fall of 1943 that it organize, equip, and train mobile communications units that would follow the invading forces into Europe and thus prepare the way for assumption by the AACS of responsibility for more or less fixed installations that


would help to extend standard airway services into Europe in support of advancing combat forces.58 The first AACS detachment reached Normandy on 17 June 1944 (D plus 11) , the second four days later, both of them going on the air near the St.-Laurent strip.59 Other detachments followed, especially after the breakout at St.-Lo in July, and by September AACS had reached Paris. Meantime, Detachments G and H, first on the Continent, had moved forward seven times each.60 At the beginning of spring 1945, AACS counted among its more than twenty-five stations in Belgium and France those at Liége, Reims, Étain, Ablon, Péronne, Lunéville, Lyon, Le Havre, Chartres, Dijon, St.-Germain, and Orly.61 Early in April the first detachment crossed the German frontier, and others soon followed. In little more than a month the war was over.

In western Europe, as in the Mediterranean and other parts of the world, the job of AACS had been not so much to extend the line of battle as to bring the line of communications leading back to the homeland up to the battle line. It was a job of critical importance to services of supply that depended especially upon air transport, and so does the achievement of the most advanced AACS detachments bear testimony to the need for those units and men who, all along the line, labored to keep the traffic flowing.


Contents * Previous Chapter (11) * Next Chapter (13)


1 Laurence F. Schmeckebier, The Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce (Washington, 1930).

2 Hist. AACS, 2 Nov. 1938–2 Sept. 1945, pp. 29–33 (hereinafter cited as Hist. AACS).

3 Ibid., pp. 46–52.

4 Ltr., TAG to CG’s et al., sub.: Establishment of the Army Airways Communications System, 3 Nov. 1938.

5 Hist. AACS, pp. 52 ff..

6 Ibid., p. 91.

7 Ibid., p. 22.

8 Ibid., p. 424.

9 Ibid., p. 121–29

10 Ibid., pp. 326–39, 205–6

11 Interview with Maj. Gen. H. M. McClelland, CG AACS, 12 Aug. 1948.

12 Hist. AAF Tng. Comd., 1 May 1945–V-J Day, 11, 266–73; Hist. AACS, pp. 9 39–41.

13 Hist. Radio and Radar Supply, Maintenance, and Training by the Air Service Command, 1944, pp. 84–115.

14 Ltr., TAG to CG AAF and CG ASF, 21 Oct. 1944; AAF HOI #20-75, k C . 1944.

15 Hist. AACS, pp. 104, 919-20.

16 Ltr., TAG to CG AAF, CO’s 7th, 8th, 9th, 13th, 16th Airways Communications Squadrons, 22 Feb. 1943; Hist. AACS, pp. 159, 237, 383, 453, 560, 922.

17 .Hist. AACS, pp. 927-28.

18 For full discussion, see ibid., pp. 919–51; also memo for Gen. H. H. Arnold from E. L. Bowles, O/SW, 16 June 1943; memo for Bowles from G. G. Jones, Expert Consultant, 12 Jan. 1944; ltr., Hq. AAF to CO AAF Weather Wg., Asheville, N.C., 22 Feb. 1944; 1st ind., Hq AAF to Hq 14th AF, 25 Sept. 1944; interview with Maj. Gen. H. M. McClelland, 12 Aug. 1948.

19 Lecture by Maj. Gen. H. M. McClelland, on communications, in the officers’ interim training program, Hq. AACS, 1947–48 (copy in Hq. ATC Hist. files); Rpt. on AACS (in files of Hq, AACS), pp. 16 ff.

20 Hist. 8th AF, 1944–45, Sec. O, p. 3; Hist. AACS, p. 138–43.

21 Hist. AACS, pp. 144–46.

22 Ibid., pp. 168–85

23 Hist. AAF Weather Service, III, 392, 399.

24 Hist. AACS-, pp. 430, 504–32.

25 Ibid., pp. 532–33

26 Ibid., pp. 614 ff.

27 Ibid., pp. 371–72.

28 Ibid., pp. 210–11, 241–42.

29 Ibid., 213–15.

30 Ibid., 212, 217–23, 253–55.

31 Air Eval. Bd., SWPA, I, ii, vii, 18, 3 2.

32 Ibid., pp. 10-18, 26, 75–78, 94–96,

33 Msg., #C-2348, Brisbane to WAR (no signature), 11 May 1943; AAF in WW II, IV, 156; Air Eval. Bd., SWPA, 1 May 1946, Air Force Communications, I, 38, 98–106.

34 Air Eval. Bd., SWPA, pp. 36–37.

35 Ibid., pp. 40–41, 111; Hist. AACS, p. 396.

36 Hist. AACS, pp. 346–47, 373–74,, 384.

37 Ibid., pp. 387, 389–408.

38 Ibid., p. 874.. 

39 Ibid., pp. 901–10, which include an interesting contemporary press release.

40 Rpt. of subcommittee on Pacific Air Transport Progress, 15 July 1945, in ATC Hist. files; Hist. of Oceanic Air Traffic Control, 3 Sept. 1943–3 July 1946; see also file op OATC Communications, AAF Archives 4933-13; ltr., Col. Gordon A. Blake to CIC, POA, 21 Oct. 1943.

41 Hist. AACS, pp. 631–32.

42 Ibid., pp. 633, 638, 640.

43 Ibid., p. 671.

44 Ibid., pp. 688–93.

45 Ibid., pp. 660–62, 680, 689–92.

46 Air Eval. Bd. Rpt. No. 9, 15 June 1945, China and India-Burma Theater, pp. 3 3-34.

47 Hist. AACS, pp. 505–19.

48 Ibid., pp. 522–33

49 Ibid., p. 560.

50 AAF in WW II, II, 127; ltr., Col. H. J. Knerr, Dep. ASC to CG ASC, Patterson Fld., 13 June 1943; memo for Dep. C/S, AAF MTO, from Brig. Gen. A. W. Marriner, Commun. Off.

51 Hist., AACS, pp. 564-65.

52 Ibid., p. 572.

53 Ibid., pp. 592, 596.

54 Ibid., pp. 585, 595, 597, 732–37.

55 Consolidated Rpt. of Activities of Signal Sec., Off. of Dir. of Commun., Hq. 8th AF, 15 July 1945, Sec. 10 (hereinafter cited as Consolidated Rpt. on Signals, 8th AF); Hist. 8th AF, 1944–45, Sec. O, p. 3; Hist. AACS, pp. 156–66.

56 Hist. AACS, pp. 706–8.

57 Ibid., pp. 725–27.

58 Ibid., p. 709.

59 Ibid., pp. 721, 729.

60 Ibid., p. 741.

61 Ibid., p. 770.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by David Newton for the HyperWar Foundation