First-Hand:WWII Allied Telecommunications Systems
Submitted by Julius J. Hupert
I graduated from the Warsaw Polytechnic with a Dipl. Ing. degree (equivalent to MSc. in electrical engineering) as a pupil of Professor Janusz Groszkowski, then an internationally prominent contributor to the theory of oscillation. The country, too, was young with recently obtained independence. Professional prospects were good for a limited number of young, capable people. It was not likely that in more staid societies a person of my relative inexperience would be entrusted with the independent design of trans-atlantic transmitters and various ship transmitters for the Navy and Merchant Marine.
The institution itself, P.Z.T. (State Telecommunications Establishment), was an unusual European creation-state owned, but run entirely on industrial lines and responsible for its own profit, progress and maintenance. The concept worked well.
In the face of German pressure in September, 1939, PZT ceased effective operation. A certain amount of radio equipment and its maintenance gear was transferred to a mobile Army convoy. A period of hide-and-seek with German tanks and bombers ensued until September 17 when, as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov secret pact, the Soviet army attacked from the other side. Squeezed between the two invading armies, with no armament of any kind (not counting the five bullets in my revolver), we decided to cross the Romanian border and somehow make our way to the allies in the West.
In one bout of vandalism, we destroyed the mountains of precious, pampered radio equipment, mounted our trucks and made a desperate dash to the southern Romanian port of Constanza. The Allied embassies, having been clandestinely contacted, were interested in our expertise. A curious tug-of-war started: the British and French embassies tried to bribe the Romanians with the purpose of getting us out to the West. The German embassy threatened and intimidated.
With a few friends, I managed to escape a not-too-tight internment, and obtained an "almost authentic" passport for exit to the West. In Paris, France, I was directed to Societe Francaise Thomson-Houston to carry on the design of a high-powered transmitter using the Doherty modulation system, then all the rage.
One morning (1940), we found everything disorganized in the face of a German approach. The army had previously retreated overnight. The railways being bombed, we secured five bicycles and started another episode of hide-and seek. One of us did not know how to cycle-but one learns fast in such circumstances.
We decided to go to Havre on the chance of being closer to Britain and hopefully gain some information about our situation. We found the British forces gone, only one soldier and one airman left behind, drunk (supposedly left for this reason). We also found, totally by accident, a truck-full of Polish soldiers heading south, to be evacuated in St. Jean-de-Luz on the Spanish border. We sold the bicycles and joined them. The next morning, in an inadequate anchorage and stormy seas, a rather dramatic embarkation took place. We sailed to an unknown destination in Britain. I recognized the port town as Liverpool.
In negotiations with Polish authorities, the British decided to make their own use of our talents, we being top experts in various fields. The initial selection was made by Polish authorities. The suggested candidates were then interviewed by the Director of Scientific Research of the Admiralty, who coordinated the scientific technological effort for all the armed forces.
I was selected and, after an ingenious interview, I was seconded to the H.M. Signal School (later the Admiralty Signal Establishment) in Portsmouth-then, on occasions, being heavily bombed. The entire establishment was later shifted to the quiet, small town of Haslemere in Surrey. The initial appointment took place in autumn of 1940. I was formally transferred to the Navy, and remained in the service of the Admiralty until my discharge and demobilization in 1947-two years after the infamous Yalta conference.
Another, much more extensive, activity of mine originated in a much less orthodox fashion. When at the beginning of my assignment to H. M. Signal School, I was given a tour of ships' transmitters of the then current design. I commented on their method of frequency generation, which required laborious setting by wavemeters and-in my view-could not guarantee adequate frequency stability anyway, especially in ship-to-fighter plane communication. The fighters had fixed-frequency crystal-controlled receivers. I was told that we could not use crystal-controlled transmitters owing to the uncertainty of ship-operational assignments.
I then contrived a partial-crystal-control frequency generation scheme, flexible and yet requiring only a few crystals of fixed frequency. In a sense, this was an early precursor of modern frequency-synthesis schemes, although the term was not in use then.
My scheme was reviewed and lauded as ingenious. But I was told that there was really no need to so extensively modify all the ships' transmitters dispersed all over the world. I was, however, permitted to initiate a small lunch-time project with the aid of one enthusiastic technician, provided the beacon-bouy project did not suffer.
Imagine, then, my feelings when one morning I was told the disastrous news of the aircraft carrier, H.M.S. Ark Royal, having been sunk in the Mediterranean. The tactical analysis of the events (I was not told the details) revealed lack of reliable raising of the fighters by radio.
Never before or since have I seen a project raised from a "lunch-time" to a "top priority" status so rapidly! I was given access to all the facilities. The idea was embodied in a few design versions suiting various existing-and later (with a few ameliorations) future transmitters. When, in 1947, I was leaving for the U.S., the post-war transmitters were being designed, using many of my earlier ideas.