On Secret Service – with G6TW and “Skyranger”
Leon Platt, who formerly held the callsign G3RPU pays tribute to his late friend G6TW’s contribution to Second World War intelligence gathering in Britain’s darkest hour.
As a result, a secret enemy base on Heligoland was bombed.
This is a true account of the events experienced by my friend Joe Noden G6TW. He was one of the very first licensed Radio Amateurs in the early days of radio, and his secret activities considerably helped to reduce our shipping losses during the Second World War.
Sadly, my friend is no longer with us. Joe became a ‘Silent Key’ in the early 1960s.
Personally I have been a radio enthusiast for quite a number of years. But in the early days, I was just a short wave listener.
My friend’s callsign ‘George Six Tokyo Whisky’ was much senior to me and a great inspiration. His knowledge of radio was unsurpassed and I would visit him at his radio shack when he was on the air, becoming almost hypnotised by what I saw and heard. I knew that one day I would be on the air myself!
However, to get back to the story. At the beginning of the War, the Government Radio Services Dept., operated then by the GPO, launched a blitz on all sources of communications equipment/apparatus, as deemed necessary by the War Department.
The GPO vans would come round and take away all the equipment they could find. They issued a receipt, labelled the equipment and took it into security stores for the duration.
It was later realised, however, that radio monitoring was essential to the Secret Service for vital information. So it was decided to establish specialised individual listening centres throughout the country.
Radio Amateurs would be ideal for the listening. Consequently, the longest established and trustworthy Amateurs were recruited and subject to clearance and signing of the Official Secrets Act, they were recruited into Service, for that particular function.
As a result, my friend Joe G6TW was recruited and allowed to keep his treasured ‘Skyranger’ receiver in situ. He was issued a new spare set of valves and some replacement parts, for maintenance.
The procedure was that allocated short wave frequencies had to be monitored constantly, and everything heard taken down. Of course, this was in Morse code and made no sense, obviously, and was sent mainly in tiresome groups of letters and figures, which had to be de-coded.
Secret Service Captain
An Army Secret Service Captain was in charge, and would pay frequent visits. He’d inspect the radio station and take the written work away, for analysis and de-coding.
The listening hours were allocated throughout the area and my friend Joe’s times were from 8pm until midnight, on certain days of the week. He had previously been experimenting with certain types of aerials, and this was in fact a good time to try them out.
One night at about 8.15pm, Joe was monitoring in the 7MHz band and heard a Morse transmission which sounded familiar to him. He had heard that particular preamble and key-style before on a previous night at the same time.
The following night the signal was there again, same frequency, same style. He was so impressed that he decided to inform the Army Captain in case there was some significance.
The Captain arrived one evening and heard the transmission for himself. Instructions were given that Joe must keep on to this transmission each night and miss nothing and continue using his very effective antennas. A further visit was made and the transcripts sent immediately for de-coding on a priority basis. The frequency was also made priority and all else ignored until further orders.
The other listening stations throughout the area were not receiving this signal, only with much noise, which made reception too poor. Therefore all operators were instructed to construct antennas as a replica of the one Joe was using. The exact measurements, orientation, etc. were taken. Only one other station had any reasonable success.
One evening, about a week or so later, the signal disappeared from the air abruptly, and could not be detected again. Even Joe was not allowed to know what had happened until some time later.
The signal was coming from a secret hide-out somewhere in Heligoland and it was transmitting vital information about our shipping movements to Germany. At this time, our shipping losses were heavy.
The Secret Service had been very busy and had located the course of the transmission by means of direction finding technology and other means. When the signal disappeared from the air, was due to the location being bombed by the RAF and completely destroyed.
It was indeed entirely due to my friend Joe’s perception, sensitivity and expertise in radio communication that this operation was very successful. As a result, at the end of the War he received from King George VI, a special commendation for his valuable service to his Country. A fitting tribute indeed for G6TW and his Hallicrafters ‘Skyranger’.3rd December 2023