About C.E. Barrette
C.E. Barrette is a colonel A-U.S. retired who was commanding officer of the Attachment 3, 805th Signal Service Company and was in charge of the maintenance and operation of the SIGSALY system in Algiers, North Africa during World War II. This signal system provided a communication line between Algiers and Washington D.C. from 1943 to 1944 and was patched to London to provide D.C.-London connection for D-Day-related communication. Barrette has a B.S. in electrical engineering and had worked for the Illinois Bell Telephone Company for fifteen years before volunteering and becoming Captain of the Signal Corps during World War II.
The interview summarizes his experiences operating the SIGSALY system, and begins with a brief overview of his career before World War II. Barrette describes his volunteering for service during World War II and the circumstances of his officers' basic training and the more specific communications system training provided by the Bell Telephone System. He describes the assembly of the 805th Signal Service in early 1943, the installation of terminals at the Pentagon and at the Bell Telephone Labs for testing prior to shipment to Algiers. He discusses various important conferences held by British and American generals using the SIGSALY system and describes his role in these conferences. After describing the closing down of the SIGSALY system in the fall of 1944 and its shipment back to the United States, Barrette provides a list of statistics demonstrating the successful use of the SIGSALY system.
About the Interview
C. E. BARRETTE, An Interview for The Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, August 26, 1983
Interview #183 for the, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
C.E. Barrette, an oral history conducted in 1983, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
INTERVIEW: C.E. BARRETTE
DATE: AUGUST 26, 1983
PLACE: MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA
This is C.E. Barrette speaking from Menlo Park, California, 94025. The date is August 26, 1983, at least for the start of this tape. I prepare this recording at the request of Dr. Robert Price, Sperry Research Center, who is researching the signal communications system, now declassified after some forty years of silence. I am now a colonel A-U.S. retired, having retained my Army connections since 1943. I was Captain Barrette, commanding officer of the Attachment 3, 805th Signal Service Company that maintained and operated the signal scrambling SIGSALY System in Algiers, North Africa in World War II. Dr. Price, I have enjoyed talking to you on the phone and since you seemed to be interested in many of the details I spoke of, I expect this account will ramble quite a bit.
Joining the Signal Corps
Near the beginning of World War II, I registered for the draft and got back a card listing me as 4H. Now 4H means, "too old to serve your country." So I went down to the old post office building at the recruitment center in Chicago to inquire about volunteering for the Army. I had been in the required ROTC at South Dakota State University, so I knew how to march up and down. Then the request came through the Bell System for a man with carrier and repair experience. So I put in for that position which turned out to be Captain of the Signal Corps. I was an EE B.S. graduate for fifteen years in the Illinois Bell Telephone Company. I had tested and cut into service the first d-type carrier telephone system of the Illinois Bell. I tested and cut into service and maintained the first 50-B-5 carrier system for Illinois Bell during the Depression in the Illinois Repeater Station so I felt I could fulfill the requirements. In addition, I had built my own wireless station in Watertown, South Dakota known as 9A Y.I., when I was fourteen years old.
This seemed to be the place to tell you a little story, which you can wipe out if you want. In connection with my wireless station I had built a big tinsel coil about 12x40 inches, and fitted with my 25,000 volt rotary spark cap input to produce yard long discharges. In Watertown, South Dakota we had a new high school and held a big open house. The science teacher, who had been to my home often asked me to bring my tinsel coil circuit up for the open house. I did so, making the discharge patterns out of aluminum foil and rods. The school was lighted up from top to bottom, full of people. Now my outfit threw a lot of currents, so — you guessed it — my load was too much and blew out the AC power transformer feeding the school building. The place was in darkness and candles until the power company put in a new supply.
On January 13, 1943 I received the appointment to Captain A.U.S. and took the oath of office after signing a medical waiver and was given 0922214 as a serial number. Special orders #14 of January 14, 1943 ordered me to active duty. I was to be at Fort Monmouth on January 24, 1943. I bought my uniform and took the train to Little Silver, New Jersey, walking the half mile to the Fort. The next day I was interviewed and told I would be enrolled in the signal school with a long lines [group]: inside class six months long, after spending three weeks in officer’s basic training. So I went to the 800 area of Fort Monmouth and met a couple hundred officers who were being housed in regular two story barracks. We all started running the obstacle course. This scared the heck out of Hitler, and Tojo too didn't feel too good. After a few days I got special orders #26, ordering me to report to the Bell Labs, not later than February 15, 1943. The basic training people did not want to let me go as I was not hardened for combat, but the order said "Not later than," so I took off for New York and to Mr. A.K. Holloman, BTL, 463 West Street, New York. Here I met other officers like myself and we went to the Bell System for more training school to learn how SIGSALY works and what our part in it would be. The school was at 250 Hudson Street, and Mr. C.A. Cullough taught us how to telegraph speech.
Bell Telephone Laboratory School
On January 1, 1943, officers of the future 805th Signal Service Company began to assemble at the Bell Telephone Laboratory School, 13th Floor, 250 Hudson Street, New York for technical training on the equipment known as SIGSALY. About February 1, sixteen enlisted men arrived from Camp Crowter to form the basis of the preliminary enlisted personnel of the proposed company. We entered the technical training of the school. They were Harry Blackman, William Demmit, William Champion, Henry Loche, Frank Dome , Arthur Schwartzen], Russell Pirrier, Frederick Candy, Peter Walsh, Eugene Meager, A.J. Perotta, Merrill Crowell, James Pole, J.J. Gutton, E.J. Hannack, and N.R. Headman. About January 15, 1944 the officer personnel consisted of Captain Eugene Apted, Captain Cecil E. Barrette, Captain Arthur Fonseca, First Lieutenant Roy Burkeheyser, First Lieutenant Alfred Dome, First Lieutenant Paul Knoff, First Lieutenant John North, and First Lieutenant Herman Saxon and First Lieutenant Taylor; and Second Lieutenant Steve Guise, and Second Lieutenant Glen Penhelligan. The instructors at the Bell Labs School operated under R.K. Holloman as fellows: George Riggs, C.A. Collins, George Warshek. R. N. Hunter assisted in the details of the school organization. These were all employees of Bell Telephone Laboratories.
Lieutenant Colonel Morton Sulzer, of the Chief Signal Office in Washington D.C., was responsible for the initial formation of the company and details of its organization. Special orders #63 of the War Department in Washington, dated March 4, 1943, paragraph 29 was the initial order naming the signal officers to the 805th Signal Service Company as follows: Captain Apted, Captain Barrette, Captain Fonseca; Lieutenants: Searider, Daniel, Dome, Knoff, North, Sexton, Taylor, Selinca, and Andrews; and Second Lieutenants: Guise, Penhelligan, and Searider. It was all ready. The officers and the enlisted men spent the first week of March 1943 at Camp Edison, New Jersey where we were trained to use rifles. The official course at Sea Girt was fired. As time went on the school training was augmented by actual work on the equipment of SIGSALY System, all in the Bell Telephone Laboratories at 463 West Street, and Graybar Building on Varick Street. Captain Apted became the commanding officer of the company, established at his offices at 250 Hudson Street in the Bell Telephone Laboratories quarters.
As the early arrivals completed their school training, some were assigned to the process of preparing and manufacturing the C groove to be used with the SIGSALY systems. The Bell Telephone Laboratory equipment in the Graybar Building was used to prepare the original wax of the C groove, and the World Broadcasting Company manufactured the C groove under the observation of the 805th personnel. Soon after the official formation of the company, various couples were received. The company was to be armed with the M-1911 A-1 pistol, and these were assigned to the personnel under the supervision of the officers, who had had pistol training at Army training schools. Classes were held on the assembly and disassembly and the proper handling of the arms. Governors Island Pistol Range was used for the firing, and ten rounds of ammunition were issued to all personnel.
First Installation of Single Layer Couple
The first actual installation of a single layer couple was made in the Pentagon Building at Arlington, Virginia. The equipment was moved from New York to Arlington by trucks under the guard of 805th officer personnel. The first shipment left New York on the night of March 16, 1943, and was delivered to room 4D942 in the Pentagon Building by Captain Fonseca, Captain Barrette and Lieutenant Sexton. About this time two groups of enlisted men each were received by the company to be trained as installers for the equipment. These men were not yet on the system maintenance and operating training. The installation of the equipment in the Pentagon building was carried on by Western Electric Company and the 805th installers. Employees of the Bell Telephone Laboratory were also in hand during the installation. About March 22, 1943, a detachment officer and enlisted men under Captain Fonseca were moved to Washington to be associated with the terminal in the Pentagon Building. This group consisted of Captain Fonseca, Lieutenant Knoff, Lieutenant Taylor, Lieutenant Guise, and maintenance personnel.
The equipment destined to become the first foreign terminal was set up in the Bell Telephone Laboratories and tests upon completion of these ____. The equipment was packed and shipped to London along with the part of the operating and installation personnel. On April 23, 1943 detachment 3 consisting of Captain Barrette, Lieutenant Burkeheyser, Lieutenant Dome, Lieutenant Glen Penhelligan and enlisted men Blackman, Loche, Dome, Demmit, Walsh and Candy were transferred to temporary duty at the Pentagon Building to complete the installation, to test on the Washington terminal and to relieve Captain Fonseca's group, who were to prepare for foreign shipment. About May 1, 1943 the London equipment and part of the first detachment left by boat for England. Several weeks later the Bell detachment left with additional equipment for England.
At this time Sergeant Pome was transferred to Detachment 1 and Sergeant Champion became the member of Detachment 3. The equipment to be the second foreign terminal was set up in Bell Telephone Laboratories for tests. Wire lines between the Pentagon Building and the Bell Laboratories in New York permitted an actual test of the SIGSALY terminals which took place in the latter part of May. The Detachment 3 together with Mr. B. Brand and Mr. Thatcher of the laboratories completed tests on the Washington terminal and operated equipment in New York. Demonstrations for the Army with this terminal was held before General Stoner and other officers in the Signal Corps. Lieutenant Colonel Vern Vagnaull of the Chief Signal Office was responsible for the installation and operation of the Washington equipment. About June 1, 1943 Detachment 3 received three days training on teletype privacy Sig Com equipment at Arlington Hall, Virginia. About this time Lieutenant Penhelligan was transferred from Detachment 3 to become associated with a school of trainees for future detachments and William H. Searider replaced Penhelligan in Detachment 3.
Well, the June 1, 1943 part of the Detachment 4, under Captain Andrews, arrived from the Pentagon to relieve Detachment 3. On June 16, the entire number 3 Detachment entered the staging area at Fort Hamilton, New York. Detachment consisted of Captain Barrette, Lieutenants Burkeheyser, Dome, and Searider and maintenance enlisted personnel Blackman, Demmit, Champion, Loche, Candy and Walsh. The installation maintenance men were also with this group. Lieutenant Dome and Lieutenant Searider were to accompany Sig use equipment to Captain Fonseca in London. The balance of the equipment was to go direct to Algiers with SIGSALY equipment to be installed that location.
Convoy to Algiers
In the next week, following June 16, 1943, Captain Barrette and Lieutenant Burkeheyser, superintended the details of accumulating and loading about 250 cases of equipment, weighing about 80 tons, on a Liberty freighter in the port of embarkation, Brooklyn, New York. The equipment was stored largely in number 2 hold and certain registered equipment were put securely inside a plank sternum in the number 2 hold. While in the staging area, the Detachment 3 personnel were made ready for foreign service by issuing the additional necessary equipment.
Lieutenant Burkeheyser and I became quite familiar with our ship, the AP Hill, as we were driven to the pier #3 at Brooklyn P.E. each day to watch the loading of our special equipment and saw the ship's deck was covered with road building equipment. Ramps were built over the road graders in order to move about the ship above the deck, especially to the guns at the sides and rear. We made efforts to get to the hole in the Fort Hamilton Fence to see the 42nd Street and Broadway crowds for the last time; D-Day arrived on June 23, 1943. We were loaded with our A-Bay and B-Bay owner trucks and moved to the dock at 11:45 am where the Red-Cross were waiting with coffee and doughnuts, since our secret departure had leaked out, it seems. So we boarded the A.P. Hill, a ten thousand ton, 440 ft. long liberty ship, and I selected between-decks quarters for the enlisted men.
But at 1500 hours, 300 M.P.s with nine Lieutenant officers arrived to board the ship. They were to go to Algiers to bring back to the USA war prisoners to be captured. That completed things. Now I knew why the number 2 hold was equipped with bunks suspended from piping. I met Army officer Lieutenant Morris, permanently assigned to the ship, and discovered that I was a senior officer aboard. I was now commander of the troops. Tugs pulled us away from the pier at 0300 June 24, 1943 and we started towards the Atlantic. I found that we had a Navy gun crew aboard to man the guns, but they didn't want to fire the five inch gun on the fan tail, as a jolt might set off our load of ammunition. I spent considerable effort in organizing for child guards, evacuations from the hold in case of attack, making rules for wearing life preservers, placing for groupings at the rail to abandon ship and many other details. So down the coast we go into Newport News to meet other ships that would join our convoy. I conducted an evacuation drill and I took two and a half minutes to get everyone out and over to the rail.
On June 27, the ships started out through the mine fields to form the convoy, which was twenty abreast in four columns. We started moving west as a convoy about 8:00 PM with 59 tankers and Liberties, 14 destroyer escorts, and one baby aircraft carrier. The DEs and the carrier were a welcome site, the DEs dashed through and around the convoy and the carrier in back putting up her planes. Crossing the Gulf Stream was very rough and most of us lost our desire for food. During the first days the ships would drop back one by one to fire their guns. We made several right angle turns, probably to drive off the enemy subs. When this happened at night, the convoy commander signaled these turns by ships’ horns. Since we covered quite an area, the terms were either not heard or misunderstood, and in the morning we would be scattered all over the ocean. And it took half a day to get back into position. After some days of this I stayed up all night and slept in the day standing on the capstan at the prow of the ship, which was hardly out of the water. I could watch the sea, which is alive with growing creatures.
On July 3, a French warship visited our convoy with sub information and I assigned an officer each hour to be in the EM’s quarters to assist the evacuation to the rail, if required. I instructed men to keep dressed, have their life jackets on and wear their shoes, explaining that no one could swim a thousand miles if we got torpedoed and feet need protection. The next night we made three 45-degree turns, so I believed we were headed for Pearl Harbor. I got nervous when the carrier each night came up next to us in the middle of the convoy. Surely a sub would try for the carrier and get us. The convoy radio detected radio signals sending Vs and we were instructed to search the ship for hidden radios. Lieutenant Burkeheyser and I searched the ship, especially the deck load, and found no radios. The A.P. Hill radio operator told me that he heard the V’s at 500 Kc which was the ship’s wavelength. A DE destroyer spent some time in our area trying to locate the source of the signal. On July 7, 1943 our escort ships left and some tankers turned back; they were empty. Some ships dropped off at Casablanca and we were arranged in five rows of ships each, where preparation to get into single file to pass Gibraltar, which we did at 5:30 am on July 18.
Unloading in Algiers
It was still dark, but the towns on the African side were brightly lighted. I passed out K-rations and C-rations to all for the first day ashore and 45 caliber ammunition as we were in Algiers Harbor by January 20. The next morning we entered the nets and tied up at the side of an A-race freighter, as there was no room at the dock. Lieutenant Brick of the 26th-25th regiment headquarters came aboard looking for us, and the next day we landed and drove to the area of the 251st Signal Construction Company. We put up our ship. My E.M. made me a bed out of wood laced with signal wire. With my bed roll added, it was very nice. At regimental headquarters I met Lieutenant McWilliams and Captain Culbertson and went to the AF headquarters where Lieutenant Jones showed us the SIGSALY rooms in the basement of the St. George Hotel. A ghastly place with too many rooms, too small and on several different floor levels. Since we could not unpack in this place, I obtained a large warehouse, five miles from the dock, and ten miles from the St. George, for storage. On the July 24, 1943, Mr. Lonny and Mr. Luke Chimp arrived after landing in Oran and taking a twenty-five hour, 180-mile ride in a troop ship of boxcars.
The next day our ship started unloading. Our boxes were marked "Sig P604" and starting coming off. I got a four-ton hoist truck and two two-and-a-half ton trucks moving equipment to our warehouse at St. Eugene. The regiment gave us men- twenty-four hour guards. On July 31, Lieutenant Dome and Lieutenant Searider arrived via London to complete our officer category. Unloading contents continued slowly at first, then fast, then slowly until August 11, 1943. The dockhands would not unload our two boxes that had our generators weighing 6700 pounds each, so we did it ourselves. We towed a shipment of 13 boxes off-loaded from the Lord Delaware ship having our markings. The twenty days required for unloading were filled with unbelievable problems, which my diary cannot forget.
Meanwhile back at the St. George we were readying our rooms for the installation. We built a heavy wooden raft of about fifty feet long from the front door to the first equipment room. We set up a schedule for delivery of our boxes by numbers from the warehouse. I knew the number of the box having a nail puller, so that came in first. The nail puller was a must; the BTL gave me that number before I left New York. They were smart people, overlooking nothing to help us. But the air conditioning ducts — The floor plan of our living room showed eight inch walls. But the walls in the old hotel in the basement were at least twenty-six inches thick and more. We attacked them with air hammers to find that they were large rocks set in sand, plastered to look like solid walls, but upon drilling into them the sand started running out and the rocks were all sizes. Worst of all, the noise of our air hammers distracted the generals above and I risked being court-martialed by refusing to stop at least until night time.
At last we ran the ducts to each side of the wall, plastering them in, moved in tools, cabinets, shelves, ladders, set up twenty-four hour work schedule. Lieutenant Searider and four EMs were at the warehouse sending in boxes by number as required and the rest of us worked at the hotel. The air conditioning units went in the inside room, and they weighed 2,290 pounds and 1,424 pounds, with the light one to be placed on top of the 2,290 pounder. Try this some time after you eat your Wheaties. Then the sub base in the cabinets for each of our rooms and the turntables between, and our switchboard in another room and the power level were brought in. We had no place to house the Cummings MG MZ, so we built a building outside our right wall and installed it. We built a platform outside for the air conditioning economizer and ran copper pipes through it. We did not enclose the unit. I wished I was back in 3D 4982 in the Pentagon. You have no idea how much trouble it was arranging for our wire lines out to the radio station, some twenty miles away. I insisted on complete control of these lines, but never did quite get it. We did find a 19A telephone cable out that way and we brought our own loading with us. There are few words to cover the days of negotiating and frustration.
But in between some air raids and some from southern France, we managed to complete the installation and outfit our conference rooms with tables, chairs, writing pads and pencils, maps on the walls and a separate entrance to our reception room by double doors. No one was going to hear through this entrance and we ran our lines from the conference room telephones up through copper pipe and fenced through the wall, positioned in the center of a Plexiglas insert to permit no tampering from above. We asked the Provost Marshall for door guards, but had to settle for doing it ourselves. On September 7, 1943, I received notice of twenty-four box shipment to me out at Maison Blanc MBS Depot. Such shipment was never [unintelligible] although some languished in fields until I heard about them, or just searched storage yards in case. As the floors were dirty, rough-countried, I got permission from Colonel Hayes to have our rooms tiled. The engineers arranged with the local French workers to do the job; now the place looked like something — great — with the lights on, the tile floors and all the equipment in place and being wired.
We borrowed a scale and charged our air conditioning units, a three section unit with freon, tested for leaks and added thirty pounds more. It took only from September 16 through September 29 to get the floor covered, which is lightning fast for the native workmen. By October 4, 1943 we had the system working end to end and both photo and Sig use as the key. Colonel Hayes visited us with Colonel Quarterman of Washington D.C. and they were pleased with everything. I had them try to signal end to end, this whole deal, to hear what it sounded like with our artificial voice reproduction. On October 18, 1943, I asked the AT&T test part in the USA to dial up Meridian for exact time and I phased in our clocks for sync. It was great to hear the air peeps and disappear as phasing comes in to exact sync. We built a crank on our phase shifter so that we could move the system several hundred milliseconds quite easily. At Washington D.C. on 1600, Colonel Hayes, Colonel Tully, Colonel Beecher talked with General Schwooner in Washington D.C. We had several bad key transfers, somebody was not in the first groove, but restarts were good. Continued with D.C. until 22:30, tried the AK, the SIG use, but Aguar had different set-ups so no connection was made. [Switched to Side B]
They liked to have their receivers on local carriers, but I insisted on a reconditioned carrier for the best signal for us. The 40 kilowatt pressed wireless outfit had too much intermodulation and I tried to have them use the Western Electric Company 2.2 kilowatt d-spec outfit. It was a constant battle. We’d phase in with Aguar each day for several hours. General Eisenhower and General Bailey Smith talked with General Marshall and others in Washington on October 26, 1943. They decided to have their wives in the next day. I told Colonel Tully the voice of ladies would not actuate our buzz source, but General Marshall had arranged it. I asked for a WAC in Aguar to talk to me while I cranked up the buzz source oscillator to the best that I could do. So, on October 27, 1943 I got the conference going and General Eisenhower and General Smith talked to their wives. Their wives did actuate the buzz oscillator quite well and General Eisenhower said, "Why Mamie, you sound like an old woman." Mrs. Eisenhower said, "I want you to come home." The intelligence — the hiss oscillator was good, all seemed pleased and talked at least for an hour. They started having quite a few conferences.
French power failed often, and with the aid of AT&T in New York and with meridian time I could phase in easily. I got quite good at it, but really never knew whether to crank forward or backward. On November 17, 1943 the owner of the St. George Hotel came to me saying that rearrangements we had made in our terminal had cut off ventilation to his wine cellar and his champagne was spoiling. November 30 and December 1, 1943, I handled the General Patton case. General Eisenhower went out of tent [?] and sent General Bailey Smith. As he got questions from the politicians, the case got into the papers. General Smith said that General Eisenhower had talked to General Patton like a father and took his command away from him, sending General Patton and his staff to Sardinia to plan Overlord. At the end of the call, General Smith said to me, "There goes my promotion." He had been up for three stars. He wanted a copy of the talk but I had no recording equipment at the time. So I had Aguar read me their record over the SIGSALY and I worked all night, giving a written copy to Major Beeg at 05:00 AM on December 13.
John Jay McCloy, assistant Secretary of War, talked to UN Ambassador to England from Algiers to London then to Mr. Simpson, Secretary of War, via SIGSALY in Washington D.C. Mr. McCloy was very pleased saying, "So long, Captain" as he left our conference room. On December 24, 1943, I met E.C. Wilson, political advisor for the USA and Algiers. He talked with Mr. James Dunn in Washington D.C. I explained that I attend all conferences, handing telephones to the main persons and receivers to their aides. I usually said the first words to get the conversations going and often wrote notes on what was being said when the conferees did not quite understand what was said. This was quite valuable to General Eisenhower and he told me that he was not a good linguist. Talked to Mr. Kearney at the Bell Labs on January 4th-5th, 1944. Major Lussinger was with him in Washington D.C. Our Bell Lab men, Whitney and Shimp, left for USA on December 22. They were invaluable to our project.
On January 11, 1944, General Bailey Smith brought Lieutenant General Gamel, British, to our reception room and I showed him our conference room and explained how we conducted our operation. General Smith told General Gamel that he, Smith, would call him from London, as he would leave for Algiers soon. General Smith told me he would arrange for the direct radio link to London per my request. General Gamel was a very nice person. Had a conference on February 4, 1944 for General Devers and General Sommerville. It took some time to locate the generals and get them to our place as Lieutenant Colonel Baston told me, "Hey, Captain, never call a general." Afterwards, General Deavers told me to call him direct anytime. The circuit was very good and both generals were pleased and said so. General Deavers told me that he has a sign on his door saying, "Don’t knock, walk in." Had a very good conference to Aguar for General Devers and General Tener on February 7. On February 27, I was embarrassed to have a poor circuit for Admiral Hewitt, Admiral Cooke, two navy captains, General Hull and Colonel Lincoln. Later Admiral Moon came in and talked to me and he understood the conditions. On March 30, Mr. Clarke, BTL Vice-President came in and talked to Washington D.C. He liked our installation. On March 31, 1944, General Deavers, General Bahr, and Colonel Ennels talked to Washington D.C. I would lose Captain Burkeheyser and Sergeants Demmit, Swanson and Neland as they were sent to England via troop ship. The headquarters and radio people started remodeling by changing our entrance for teletype; I protested to no avail.
We turned a dirty, wet, dark multi-room cellar into a place marveled at by every general I have served. Fluorescent lighting, tile floor, picture-perfect rows of equipment, clean rooms, heated and cooled areas, storage space, and now this. It really sold.
[Inaudible] asked me for a conference with Churchill in London for April 16, 1944. They wanted me to guarantee a good circuit. I explained about radio. I set up the connection to London and talked to Colonel Phillips at 10 Downing Street, but the British general did not return and had left his office when I called. Too bad, as the circuit was excellent. On April 17, 1944, I had a conference for Brigadier McClain with Winston Churchill.
I wrote this up in some detail as follows. The Churchill-McClain Conference, London to Algiers, April 17, 1944. A cablegram from Algiers to London, asked for Mr. Churchill, Prime Minister of London, to select either a teletype or a Signal Selly facility for a conference with Brigadier McClain, then in Algiers. He selected SIGSALY. About 1400 x-ray at London, SIGSALY came in over the radio circuit to Freedom, Algiers at SIGSALY and communication was established. Brigadier McClain arrived at our reception room in the St. George Hotel, AFHQ, dressed in his Scottish highland uniform for the conference. He had been dropped by plane into Yugoslavia at night and found his way to Mr. Tito on a mission from Mr. Churchill. After obtaining the information regarding the war effort and Mr. Tito’s plans, Brigadier McClain signaled a British submarine by flashlight and was picked up in the Adriatic Sea and dropped in Algiers to report to Mr. Churchill.
I conducted Brigadier McClain into our conference room and introduced him to Mr. Churchill. I always did this to get the conference going. However, Mr. Churchill started using code words and Brigadier McClain did not perceive their meaning. As I held the second telephone, I told Mr. Churchill that this was a secure means of verbal communication and he could speak in the clear. He did so, and the conference became a conversation. Now the prime minister’s voice came through very distinctly and sounded as I heard him on radio and newsreels. Well, SIGSALY hissed and buzzed. Oscillators do not reproduce the natural overtones used in face to face conversations. Mr. Churchill had a characteristic manner of speech and was instantly recognizable to us. I recorded the conversation on our Dictaphone and made copies for the headquarters. Brigadier General McClain did not need a copy but called later saying that he wanted to hear the recording. I set up the equipment but he did not return to our recorders.
Brigadier McClain stayed and talked with me for some time, and was very interested in the general methods of our operation. The conference lasted about twenty minutes, although we had lost a few minutes, but the conferees were not disturbed by that. I believe it was fading as we were in daylight hours. Brigadier McClain said to me that he didn’t see how I stood the strain of this type everyday. This, from an officer who had seen real danger in his war work. Some days later British Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins brought me a bottle of whiskey as a present from Mr. Churchill.
End of Operations & Voyage to US
On May 24, 1944 General Bailey Smith, in London, called General Gamel here in Algiers. I told General Smith, we were on the radio circuit and approved. On June 6, it’s D-Day, and we patched our D.C.-Algiers circuit through to London to make an additional circuit D.C-London facility. On June 13, 1944, I had a request for a call to London, but on a direct circuit so bad I set it up Algiers-D.C. to London. Heavy use of this SIGSALY, so our call didn’t get started until 2:00 AM the next morning. Several days later our direct circuit to D.C. went bad, so I set up calls Algiers-London-D.C. On September 18, 1944, Colonel Bell gave me a telegram from headquarters, saying that we are to pack SIGSALY for shipment. Captain Apted in D.C. said "Bring back everything, even the air ducts as we will transship from New York to Manila." On September 24, 1944 I turned off the SIGSALY system. It was like losing a friend.
Start packing. We saved all of our packing cases but some were stolen, so we had to make many. We managed to find banding equipment and banding material. Stenciled our boxes 22011 as our shipping number. Captain Edison, who correlated shipping, wanted us to go to Oran by rail to join the ship; I refused, said no way, I will move the equipment as little as possible. I was notified to prepare for loading on the Joseph Laity, a Liberty freighter. I visited the ship. It was empty but the forward hull was part full of concrete. It took a bomb in Bari, Italy, so lists to port. On November 28, 1944, we started taking the boxes by truck down to the harbor, but the ship’s captain would not let us load; he said that he had no orders. It took some discussion with clerk control, British, but we and SIGSALY finally loaded at 15:30 on November 19, leaving Algiers at 16:20. Once Algiers disappeared from view, we joined a convoy on December 9, 1944 in Oran. The ship’s captain asked me to pay for our passage. I said no, but I will sign a paper that we were being transported. On December 12, we heard our first USA radio program and we had forgotten about advertising. Very heavy seas, we would go up one wave, over the top, out would come the prop and with much shaking and then down the next one.
This time we passed Gibraltar in daylight, we saw Spain and Morocco. Passed an east bound troop ship with an escort. We made out our customs report. The ship was armed with one 5 inch, three 3 inch, and eight 20 millimeter guns. On December 21, the ship dropped anchor in New York Harbor in Brooklyn, Pier number 29. The next day I went ashore, called Mr. Blaye of the BTL and he called D.C., and Major Lussinger called me. I was to unload SIGSALY, move it to the express yard for railroad transportation to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, SIGSALY Signal Storage. At the express yard, we loaded into three railroad express cars attached to a train at Pennsylvania station. I assigned men to each car and we rode all night in these cars for security; after all it was still our SIGSALY. On December 24, 1944, arrived at the Signal depot. The signal officer would not sign for a SIGSALY but I finally got an MR for three car loads of equipment. I kept our security equipment, took the train to the Pentagon, where furloughs waited for everyone to go home for Christmas. This is the end of Detachment 3, 805th Signal Service Company.
805th Signal Service Statistics
A great deal of detail is contained in my official history of Detachment 3, 805th Signal Service Company, which I turned in to the Army in early 1945. Here are some statistics of Freedom. Numbers of Algiers users: 151, number of Washington users: 206; number of London users: 32; number of conferences held: 181; number of Army users: 332; number of Navy users: 24; number of civilian users: 16; number of British users: 18. Algiers Service Life, October 18, 1943 to September 20, 1944, 338 days. First conference was on October 26, 1943, the last conference was August 4, 1944. The formal opening of our service was October 26, 1943. We had General Eisenhower, General Smith, Colonel Tiley, Colonel Hayes, who talked to General Marshall, General Arnold, General McMurry, General Schwooner, General Eagles, General Morgan, General Hull, General Stone, Colonel Nelson, and Lieutenant Colonel Hatch. We had thirty-two star officers, Washington D.C. had forty-one star officers, London had 5 star officers with us.
Well, Dr. Price, I have rambled quite a bit, but thoughts crowded themselves in from my memory and from my logs. I thank you for all the IEEE publications giving me immense background on the long scientific works which resulted in SIGSALY. I am C.E. Barrette; Good-bye.
- 1 About C.E. Barrette
- 2 About the Interview
- 3 Copyright Statement
- 4 Interview
- 4.1 Introduction
- 4.2 Joining the Signal Corps
- 4.3 Bell Telephone Laboratory School
- 4.4 First Installation of Single Layer Couple
- 4.5 Foreign Terminals
- 4.6 Convoy to Algiers
- 4.7 Unloading in Algiers
- 4.8 Installation
- 4.9 Operation
- 4.10 Notable Communications
- 4.11 McClain-Churchill Conference
- 4.12 End of Operations & Voyage to US
- 4.13 805th Signal Service Statistics