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Loran Station Bonavista

( LORSTA Bonavista, Newfoundland.  Photo courtesy of CWO-3 John R. Cromwell, USCG, Ret., photo circa 1949.)


The two documents transcribed at the end of this chapter mark the first contact the United States Coast Guard had with that was to become one of the most revolutionary of long-range navigational side since the invention of the magnetic compass.   [Click here for document #1]  [Click here for document #2]

But it was not until almost a year later, in May 1942, that Coast Guard personnel participated actively in the development of Loran. Early that May the Vice Chief of Naval Operations requested of the Commandant, United States Coast Guard, the services of a ranking Coast Guard officer possessing radio on and electronic experience. This officer was to be detailed for special duty to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

The entire project was, at this time, so shrouded in secrecy, that neither Rear Admiral H. F. Johnson, Rear Admiral C. A. Park or Captain Irving L. Gill, Chief, Communications Engineering Division, USCG, the officer recommended, has any idea as to what the assignment involved, other than that it related to an electronic navigational device which might have war importance.  Upon the signification of the Chief of Naval Operations that the then Lt. Cdmr. Harding would be an acceptable officer, Captain Harding received orders to report to the Chief of naval Operations on 25 May 1942 and was the immediately ordered to temporary duty in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first week in June.

For purposes of clarification, it is necessary to backtrack in time at this point and give a brief summary of the national Defense Research Council, its origin, purposes and personnel, and why it should be of interest to the Navy Department.

NDRC, as the National Defense Research Council will be referred to hereafter, was the eventual outgrowth of early concern on the part of some of the nation's leading scientists over the unprepared ness of the United States in military technology.  Progressing from 1939 to 1941 through various changes in nomenclature and purpose, this group of scientists, loosely held together by a presidential directive, gradually emerged as a subdivision of the more recently established Office of Scientific Research and Development, or OSRD.

Whatever their current designations, NDRC and OSRD were set up for the primary purpose of the developing as many new weapons and methods for waging war as possible, in the shortest possible time.  

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Since it is not deemed necessary for the completion of this record to trace the development of NDRC as Government Agency, a brief description of the status of NDRC at the time of the Coast Guard's entry into the picture, will suffice.

By 1940, NDRC had set up its various subdivisions of scientific military research. The radiation laboratory, a division of which was headed by Mr. Melville Eastham, was one of the most important. The Radiation laboratory division concerned with Loran was, for technological convenience. Located in the Hood Building, just off the campus of Massachusetts institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

Its early staff included such scientists as Jack Pierce, ionosphere researcher; Prof. Jay Stratton of M.I.T., whose special interest was wave propagation; De. Curry Street, a past-master at handling electronic circuits; Dr. Fletcher Watson, astronomer, and many other. While, Dr. Alfred Loomis was not properly on the staff, his early interest in scientific military research has a strong influence on this group, and his personal financing of some of the early projects, kept them going until the series of aforementioned Government agencies was established. Dr. Karl Compton. President of M.I.T. was also on the leaders in the direction group.

The Radiation Laboratory was itself separated into Divisions, each Division concerned with some phase of radio. Division 11 was given a blanket assignment - "Develop aids to navigation". It is with only Division 11 that this document is concerned.  As the war swung into its full stride, 1940 brought into scientific prominence a new use of a peacetime navigational aid. Known in peace as the "radio obstacle detector", Radar became an important defense against the blitz in England.

With radar, the Battle of Britain was fought and won, for the little RAF rose to fight, and fight again, forewarned in time by precision radio detection, that the enemy was coming over.  Until the development of radar, the *radio beacon [*Radio beacons and Radio beacon Navigation", U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Lighthouse Service, by George R. Putnam, G.P.O. 1 July 1931.] had been the only greatly used maritime long range aid to navigation, other than the ability of the navigator to obtain a navigational fix by means of a celestial sight, when weather permitted. The radio beacon's maximum reliable range is from 200-300 miles offshore. Its usefulness is to some extent limited by the effectiveness of the radio direction finder on the individual ship, and also, particularly in war craft, by the great difficulty of keeping radio direction finders in reliable condition under modern wartime ship maintenance stresses.

A development of World War I, the radio beacon had been put into effective use along America's coastlines by the Lighthouse Service, and was taken over for operation and expansion by the United States Coast Guard when it amalgamated with the Lighthouse Service in 1939. The Coast Guard also, at that time, took over the remainder of the shore direction finders, which were also used to some extent to supplement radio beacons.

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When Sir Watson-Watt promoted the plan of ringing the south of England with radar, against the invading Luftwaffe, the attention of the world's scientists was fixed on the results.

Very early in 1941 a United States Army Colonel returned from England and assured certain members of the Radiation laboratory staff that the English had a pulse transmitting type of navigational aid which operated on a very high frequency and that it was suspected of exceeding in precision range that of Radar's 50-100 miles. He had made several attempts to discover details of its construction and operation, but the British were not, at that time of great national peril, disclosing any of their military secrets to a neutral, and he could state positively only that such a system did exist,

On the strength of the Colonel's statements, Dr. Brown of the Radiation Laboratory and Bell Telephone Laboratories made a hurried trip to England where, through widespread commercial and scientific connections in the British Isles, he managed to gather a few salient facts about the British G-System.

With the attention all concerned concentrated on the performance of Radar, and with the existence of the G-System an established fact, Division 11 also concentrated on the development of a high frequency, shore-wave system. Eastham, Pierce, Stratton, Street and their staff set to work.

They were not at all sure what they were attempting to do. There was a possibility that they might develop improved radar, or a harbor entrance locator for convoys, or most anything. At this period, they were simply searching for something, anything, that might serve the nation when was actually came.

On 24 March 1941, the Radiation Laboratory received permits from the Treasury Department to occupy two United States Coast Guard Lifeboat stations, as experimental sites. These stations, specified in the documents at the end of this chapter, were destined to become the nucleus of a worldwide chain of long-range navigational aids.

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C-O-P-Y PAGE 4 [Click here]

C-O-P-Y PAGE 5 [Click here]

Image Caption: 1943 - Long Range Navigation - and planes and convoy join at their appointed rendezvous.  This marks the beginning of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic. 

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To the layman, any scientific research, especially at government expense, tends to take on a dreamlike quality. Nevertheless, the early experiments leading up to Loran are worth a brief recording, since obviously long range navigation did not spring full blown from any one man's brain but was rather the result of teamwork of many persons and agencies.

As has been stated, the original experiments of NDRC Division 11 were attempts to develop a high-frequency pulse transmission system, based on Radar and the Laboratory's extremely fragmentary knowledge of the British G-System. The staff, under the guidance of Mr. Eastham drew up plans for a new type of transmitter and a receiver based on the principles of television, using the cathode ray tube to display the pulses generated by the transmitters. They let contracts for the construction and design of these to the General Electric Co. and Western Electric to the amount of nearly one million dollars.

Upon completion of the models, the transmitters were installed at the Fenwick and Montauk stations. The receiver was set up at the Bell Telephone Laboratory's Transoceanic Monitor Station at Mannahawkin, NJ. The installations were protected from interferences by shielded rooms of solid copper, rudimentarily air-conditioned, and costing from seven to eight thousand dollars apiece. Testing then began to determine just what had been developed.

Jack Pierce, who had made his scientific reputation in ionosphere research, endeavored also at this time to determine the range of the pulsed waves when bounced off the lower or E-layer of the Heaviside layer.  At, first no attempt was made to achieve synchronization between the two transmitting units. Gregory and Waldschmitt, Radiation laboratory field men under the direction of Mr. Walter Tierney, Field Director for the Radiation Laboratory, concerned themselves primarily throughout the summer of 1941 with keeping the cumbersome transmitters on the air.  A monitor-observer was station at Wannahawkin who communicated with the transmitting units by telephone, reporting to them the quality of their pulses on the air.

With war becoming more and more imminent, in late 1941 the members of Division 11 came to the unhappy conclusion that the high-frequency, short wave experiments were not producing any efficient or significant results despite the large expenditures of time and money. As late as October and November of 1941, Waldschmitt was still at Fenwick, achieving occasion synchronization, but still unable to keep the transmitters on the air with any regularity, or to obtain maximum reception of pulses from the Montauk unit at any time.

In the meantime, at the turn of the year, as Pearl Harbor put America on a belligerent basis, Pierce instigated a series of experiments with pulse transmissions on difference frequencies and wavebands. In February of 1942 he and Mr. E. J. Stephens went to Bermuda, where they made low power 

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medium-frequency tests over water; (5 kw). Also, during the first three months of 1942, the Laboratory carried out a series of high-power, medium-frequency tests in the 1 to 2 me range. (30-50 kw).

These tests, while not conclusive in any way, indicated the possibility that greater distances over water could be covered then those covered already by Radar or radio beacon, through use of the medium-frequency ground wave. Not being military men, the staff of Division 11 was not concerned with its eventual military uses, but Mr. Melville Eastam considered the propagation of the ground wave on the new 2 mc. Frequency and its visual record on the cathode ray face, of sufficient importance to call to the attention of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At a meeting of representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late March 1942, Mr. Eastham presented the rather scant results of the medium frequency, long-range tests. He also proposed that the Radiation Laboratory establish a series of test units for this long-range system along the Atlantic seaboard, to determine the maximum range of the waves, and their possible development into an aid to navigation.

The final plan, as presented to the Chiefs of Staff, was for a chain of stations to be constructed, installed and operated by NDRC, the results to be submitted to whoever was most interested. Since the project appeared at this time to be developing into an aid to over-water navigation, the Army showed little or no interest in its pursuance, but Admiral Julius A. Furer, USN, Coordinator of Research and Development for the Secretary of the Navy, felt it worthy of some investigation and suggested that the Radiation Laboratory pursue the plan as presented and show the results to him. The outcome of this meeting was the joint decision that some of the test units desired should be constructed along the U.S. and Canadian Atlantic coast. This necessitated a presentation of the plan to the Canadian Government. Mr. Don Fink, ex-member of the editorial staff of "Electronics" and enthusiastic radio writer and reviewer, had joined the Laboratory group, and he was sent early in May to Canada, to obtain the support of the Canadian Government. He returned to Cambridge, Mass., May 15, 1942 with the promise of support of the Canadians, and assurances from the Royal Canadian Navy necessary for the Canadian test units, except technical equipment and technically trained installation crews.

From March 1942 until early May 1942, Admiral Furer had received no concrete information as to the practicability of the schemes or information as to how the establishment of the test demonstration stations was progressing. Feeling that there was a definite possibility that a new long range navigational aid might be developed as a result of the projected tests and perhaps feeling that some guidance and assistance by the Navy was required, he took steps to place the Radiation Laboratory, Division 11 more closely under Navy Department observation. In consultation with Captain F. R. Furth of Naval Operations, Admiral Furer therefore took the action, which resulted in the arrival of Captain Harding at Cambridge.

This time in May, 1942 is probably the turning point in the development of Loran since the Radiation laboratory was beginning to arrive at tentative technical means for evolving a long range navigational aid and Admiral Furer, for the Navy, was alert to the Naval possibilities of such a device but recognized that in order to effectively apply the technical developments of the Radiation Laboratory to the needs of the Navy it would be essential for the 

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Navy to actively guide and assist in the work. The far-seeing but practical naval viewpoint of Admiral Furer, Captain Furth and Captain Harding and the cooperative personal efforts of Mr. Melville Eastham, Dr. Alfred Loomis, and others eventually made possible the development and application of a practical system of long range navigation to the war effort in record breaking time for transition between Laboratory and field. If the Navy had not actively and aggressively sponsored the project and the leaders of the NDRC had not responded cooperatively from this time on the Navy guidance, it is doubtful if Loran would have actually reached general usage until very late in the war, if ever. There were many difficulties and rough spots on the road but on the whole it now appears that amazingly rapid application followed from the foresight of these leaders.

Foreseeing that if the Radiation Laboratory's experiments should develop another aid to navigation, it would eventually come under the jurisdiction and administration of the United States Coast Guard, Admiral Furer, in consultation with Captain Furth of the office of the Vice Chief of naval operations, decided that the logical contact between the navy and the Laboratory should be a qualified Coast Guard officer. It was, therefore, that on May 16 1942, the letter was written in the office of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations requesting the assignment of such an officer, (Captain L. M. Harding) to the office of Chief of Naval Operations. It should be noted here, that the project was still highly classified and the Navy still retained cognizance wholly although the use of Coast Guard property and a Coast Guard officer were involved.

Upon reporting to the Chief of Naval Operations, Captain Harding was given orders of great latitude. He was to be the Naval representative to the Radiation Laboratory itself, and to undertake any field activities necessary. He was to determine by any suitable means whether the transmission of long range pulse waves could be developed into anything of immediate value to a nation whose merchant shipping was being sent to the bottom at an alarming rate, and whose Navy, after Pearl Harbor, was totally inadequate to cope with the demands of convoy coverage. Captain Harding took up temporary duty at the Radiation laboratory, Cambridge, Mass on 3 June 1942.

On reviewing at this writing the whole story of Loran it seems probably that if the Navy's Admiral Furer and Captain Furth had not made the decisions and initiated the action which resulted in the assignment of Captain Harding to assist and guide this project, the entire Loran system might will have come to naught in this war. The NDRC scientists had for some time had some embryonic electronic information and experimental equipment, but had little concrete idea of the existing radio aids to navigation or the best application of such tools to the naval and air war problems. Captain Harding had long been associated with air and marine electronic directions finding, radio beacons, radio ranges, blind landing, and similar air and naval essentials to navigation' and he was thoroughly conversant with existing electronic systems and further needs. The ensuring co-operative efforts of the NDRC the Naval Liaison officer and the complete backing of Admiral Furer's and Captain Furth's officers were required to make the project finally successful within a reasonable time; and a lack of team work in any single member of this group could readily have doomed the entire project as a war measure difficulties as Captain Harding and Mr. Eastham pressed plans for practical trials and shakedown to evaluate the developments quickly.

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About May 15, 1942 , Don Fink returned from Canada with the assurance of cooperation from the Royal Canadian Navy. Early in June, at a consultation between Radiation Laboratory, Captain Harding, USCG and Commander Worth, RCNR, in Cambridge, it was planned that the two already practically established experimental station at Fenwick and Montauk, would be Units #1 and #2 respectively, and that Units #3 and #4 would be located along the Coast of Nova Scotia, at sites tentatively selected and agreed upon between U.S. Navy (Capt. Harding), Royal Canadian Navy (Commander Worth) and Radiation Laboratory (Mr. Eastham).

The Royal Canadian Navy speedily followed up its permission to construct, with the appointment of Lt. Comdr. Argyle, RCN, as Canadian Liaison Officer for Loran, and in June 1942 J.A. Waldschmitt joined Lt. Cdmr. Arglye in Halifa and they proceeded to make a site survey trip. On this trip they selected the actual sites for Units #3 and #4.

It may be helpful here, in explaining subsequent false starts, mistakes, etc. to note that first, the entire establishment of this chain was wholly experimental in nature; and second, that while the Laboratory has assured the U.S. Navy that it intended to undertake the job of establishing and operating the station chain, it was ill-equipped, except financially, to do so.

The staff was comprised of physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, electronic research men, and editorial workers. It obviously lacked personnel familiar with action naval transport or construction, civil engineering, naval logistics, operations, engineering, production, design and maintenance.

Several new men were added to the laboratory staff at about this time, including McKenzie, Davidson, Vissers, Taylor and Whipple. These men had some background in electronics, and some in civil engineering.

It became swiftly apparent to Captain Harding that, while the staff of Division 11 definitely had something in the results of their ideas and laboratory experiments to date, as far as further development went along practical lines they were in the position of a novice sailor at the wheel without a compass. Mr. Eastham, recognizing the situation, suggested that Captain Harding take over as manager of the project in regard to the establishment and operation of a test system and field trails, which were yet in the planning stage.

Due to the general nature of his orders from the Navy, and unwilling to be drawn into the Laboratory's administrative affairs, Captain Harding was able to counter with the suggestion that he act as Naval Liaison Officer for the laboratory. His suggestion accepted and approved by Vice Chief of Naval Operations, he set to work to help correlate the disorganized field efforts of the Laboratory towards the early establishment of the practical trails.

In order to obtain concrete data on the behavior of the pulse transmissions Jack Pierce desired to observe them from some mobile test unit. Captain Harding was also extremely anxious to ascertain for the Navy as soon as possible, whether the whole project had practical, immediate value in the war effort, as the Navy could well use a precision aid to navigation extending beyond the radio beacon 200

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mile radius, if it could be applied with sufficient speed to the actual wartime problems of navigators.

Captain Harding therefore arranged for observations and tests to be made from a Navy blimp, during June, and more important, he arranged to have receiving equipment installed on a Coast Guard weather ship, the USS MANASQUAN, so that an adequate navigational test might be made.

Davidson and Duvall, the latter a recent addition to the Laboratory staff and an ex-Naval officer and navigator, were assigned to conduct tests on the USS MANASQUAN, which continued for one month, from June to July of 1942.

The result of this shipboard test were of great interest to Captain Harding, for should they prove favorable, they would not only assure him and the Navy that long range navigation by pulse radiation was a practical possibility, but Mr. Duvall's records would give an indication as to the line that future development for such navigation would follow.

At about this time, Captain Harding coined the word "Loran" as a convenient designator for the project, deriving the word from "long range radio navigation". This was accepted by both the Navy and Radiation Laboratory.

Too technical a description of "Loran", is not necessary here but if the experiments on the USS MANASQUAN could be used to prove that a practically correct line of position could be obtained from the pulse transmission of one pair of stations at times when celestial navigation was impossible, then it would be reasonable to assume that navigational fixes could be achieved when within range of two pairs of transmitting units, and in all kinds of weather.

From March through May, Pierce, Stratton, Street and Woodward were continually striving to improve and simplify the transmitters and receivers, with Street and Woodward concentrating on developing the all-important timers on which the correct operation of the entire system depended. Practically all the very early pieces of equipment were prototyped right in the Laboratory, the famous "breadboard" modal being a good example. Meanwhile, Dr. Watson worked on tables and charts.

In June Lt. Comd. Argyle and Waldschmitt selected the site for Unite #3 at Boccaro, Nova Scotia. They had little difficulty obtaining rights to the site from the owner, a little old lady who was most patriotic. However she was quite startled to find contractors moving in almost the following day, even before the Canadian State Department had acquired the land.

Since the Radiation Laboratory was handling all construction costs for these two stations, contacts had been quickly let to local contractors, and no time was lost in beginning work, while Lt. Comdr. Argyle obtained official permits and clearances. Since the land had to be cleared before the supplies and equipment arrived from Boston, the contractor even employed ox-teams in removing the boulders.

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They encountered a little difficulty in obtaining 65' poles for antenna masts, the only man nearby owning any of the desired length being reluctant to sell. His reluctance was not dictated so much by a need for the poles, but by an absorbing interest in some pigs he was raising, and it was only by tactful and prolonged interest in the pigs by both Waldschmitt and Argyle that the man was finally led into parting with this poles. The first two carloads of supplies and equipment for this unit left the states expeditiously through U. S. Navy facilities arranged by Captain Harding. They were dispatched on 10 June 1042, through the assistance of the Commandant of the First Naval District and his staff.

Argyle and Waldschmitt did not have quite an easy time acquiring the land for the second site, which they surveyed on 15 June 1942, near Deming Nova Scotia. A fisherman owned the land for this site with a dominating wife. She had a definite aversion against sailors being stationed anywhere near her home, and she was bitterly opposed to the "sins" of smoking and drinking.

The Loran representatives were not making much headway when a fortuitous accident furthered their cause for the. While sitting in the fisherman's home discussing the site, another caller arrived. He offered both Lt. Comdr. Argyle and Waldschmitt cigarettes, but since neither of the gentlemen smoke, they declined. Their refusal favorable impressed their hostess, who asked it they were also teetotalers. They fervently assured her that they were and from then on negotiations proceeded swiftly and smoothly.

A local contractor was engaged, and the site was swiftly cleared for construction. Supplies expedited by U.S. Navy shipment sponsorship arrived in the middle of June 1942 and ground was broken at Boccaro on 19 June and at Deming on 27 June. One shipment of supplies had been held up awhile through the refusal of a local Canadian freight agent to honor a USN bill of lading for necessary supplies the U.S. Navy had furnished. The contractor employed, had to, in effect, bail out his supplies by guaranteeing the freight charges.

The Royal Canadian Navy had already agreed to supply enlisted personnel to man the two Nova Scotian stations under construction, so in June several men were selected to train in operation and maintenance at the Radiation laboratory, and also at the two stations in operation at Fenwick and Montauk.

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Original caption: 1944 Victory in the Atlantic - Perfect air coverage by means of Loran, removes the terror of the sneak submarine attack from the convoys and breaks the back of Hitler's "Sea Wall."

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Last Modified 1/12/2016