Posted in Army Security Agency, military history, NSA, Shortwave, SIGINT, Signal Corps

Hammarlund R-1511/GR Receiver

received_447051315934327_1 (1)

Found this interesting receiver at the most recent Meriden, CT Hamfest last October, and since the price was right hauled it home with me.  Why did it catch my eye? For starters, the construction is a dead giveaway that it is a commercial/mil-spec receiver of 1960s or so vintage. Second, the radio had no identifying markings, and no apparent evidence at first glance of being debadged. That is sometimes an identifier of equipment that saw clandestine service in its past life. Third, there was some circuit modules marked as “video converter” which had piqued my curiosity. Finally, if I was a little more awake that morning, I might have recognized the front panel as that of some variant of the Hammarlund SP600 which did see extensive government service. Regardless, it was a mil-spec HF receiver, probably a Black Radio, the price was right, and it was something you normally don’t see at a local hamfest. Once I got home, a Google image search found identical units, and identified it as being an NSA-issue R-1511/GR. Further Google searching discovered that a fellow hobbyist had scanned and uploaded the manual.

From what I discovered online, the R-1511/GR was developed for the National Security Agency in 1968, and was based on the Hammarlund SP600. It saw service until at least the mid 1980s, and based on my research appeared to be part of the AN/GSR-4 Store and Forward Environmental Collection System. With this system, wideband RF spectrum was recorded to magnetic tape for later analysis. While this is an easy task these days for any hobbyist with a PC, free software, and an SDR such as the Lime or HackRF One, the NSA was doing this in the 1960s.

Like a lot of gear at hamfests these days, this receiver was from a silent key’s estate, and its specific history, and that of the silent key, is uncertain. He was possibly in the ASA, NAVSECGRU, or maybe even USAFSS as they would have been the service members familiar with this system.  Did this piece of gear listen to the Soviets, the Chinese, or someplace in Central or South America before retiring to civilian life in some former veteran’s ham shack? We’ll never know, but we can safely guess that it was interesting in a “behind the curtain” manner.

The frequency coverage of this radio goes up to the 6 Meter ham band (50-54 MHz.), and the SP600  is still a good performing receiver by today’s standards. This unit, when not being used for displays, is going to be parked on the center of the 6m beacon subband to monitor and record VHF propagation conditions.

Manual:
http://www.nj7p.org/Manuals/PDFs/Military/TEM-0541-01-0A%201-Jun-68%20NJ7P.pdf

Posted in military history, New York, Signal Corps

Military History Display – 2019 Veterans Chow Down – Mahopac, NY

Last Month, a few fellow historians and I from the American Veteran’s Historical Museum did a display for the Veterans’ Chow Down held by the  PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Vet 2 Vet Program of Putnam County.

IMG_20191027_101217830

Fellow historian Joe S. with his display of uniforms, headgear, and ephemera from the Vietnam War to the present.

IMG_20191027_101211251

Fellow historian Paul M.’s World War II home front and USO display.

IMG_20191027_101206241

My display of Cold War era radio gear.

IMG_20191027_123146146

AN/PRC-25

IMG_20191027_123117571

AN/URC-92

IMG_20191027_122632102

R-1511/GR

Posted in amateur radio, living history, military history, Shortwave

World War II Hallicrafters

One of the visitors to my display at last Memorial Day’s FDR event was a lady who was happy to see the Signal Corps. represented there. In conversation, she told me that her father had served in the Signal Corps with the Ghost Army during World War II. We chatted a bit, and she went to go see the rest of the event. This was a common occurrence that weekend, veterans and their families stopping by to thank us for honoring those who had served, and to share stories. You cannot have history, after all, without the story.

The next day, I left my display for a bit to go have lunch with Carol, and upon my return, one of my fellow historians told me a lady had stopped by looking for me. Shortly afterwards, my visitor from yesterday stopped by holding a ziplock bag of ephemera which belonged to her father from his time in the Signal Corps, and that she wished to donate to the museum. I thanked her, and took down her information so she could be properly credited when it appears in a future display.

Upon examination, the bag held some 1950s Signal Corps documents telling me her father served past the war, two pieces of insignia, and two pictures dated 1941 on the back. One was a picture of the squad room our soldier was billeted on, and the other was a radio he owned while there. Intrigued, I set out to identify what model it was.

ww2_sig_corps_pix

As a ham radio operator with some boatanchor experience, I recognized the radio as a Hallicrafters. Hallicrafters was one of the first boatanchors I was exposed to, courtesy of a 1983 or 1984 article in CQ Magazine featuring Chuck Dachis, who is the hobby’s expert on them.

The date on the back of the picture was 1941, so I knew the radio was made before then. Consulting the pictures and dates in Radios By Hallicrafters, identification was narrowed down to either an SX-24 Skyrider Defiant or SX-25 Super Defiant. Both radios are very similar in appearance, but the most notable difference to me is that the earlier SX-24 has control settings sikscreened directly on the case for the two controls directly below and to the right of the frequency display, whereas the newer SX-25 only has a single line at 12:00 with the settings on the knobs themselves. Examination of the above picture shows the latter, which makes this unit an SX-25.

sx25advr

I don’t know if the SX-25 was actually used in military service. The next model Hallicrafters made, the SX-28, did see use as the AN/FRR-2.  Available online documentation does not show any indication it was, and I’m guessing that the SX-25 in the picture was the soldier’s personal radio.

In 1941, just before our entry into World War II, the SX-25 was Hallicrafters’ newest model.  When war was declared, the US Army pressed into service all sorts of radio gear, so maybe a few SX-25s did make it into inventory.  Either way, this soldier thought enough of the SX-25 to buy one once he was at his duty station, or bring it from home. If anyone reading this has documentation or other evidence showing that the SX-25 was used as an issue radio, please send me an email.

Just recently, I was at a local Old-School Army/Navy store in Newington, CT called Military Specialties. I was introduced to them by a friend in the early 1990s after having moved to Connecticut for my first electronics job after having come off active duty.  On the shelf in the back among the other collectibles was a very clean looking Hallicrafters SX-25, among a few other vintage shortwave receivers.  Inquiring about it, I learned that Bill, one of the owners, was a shortwave aficionado, and that we both served in the same National Guard unit, albeit 40 years apart.  I bought the SX-25, but there are still some other clean-looking vintage shortwave receivers there for anyone looking.  They’ll probably need a little servicing and aligning, but afterwards they’d be a nice addition to someone’s radio collection.

NEAR-Fest and the Nutmeg Hamfest are this weekend. I’m thinking both would be a good venue to look for the PM-23 speaker that’s in the picture with the radio.

Posted in military history, New York, Photography

A New Printer/Scanner, and Some Old Pictures

Our old printer/scanner unit died not too long ago, and my wife replaced it with a Canon MG2522 she found on sale/clearance somewhere for under $20. Getting it up and running under Mint Linux was pretty much plug and play.

Around the same time, while doing some cleaning we found a box of old photographs. In the box were some 35mm prints from a visit to Northern NY and VT in 2001. Among them, I had some pictures of the aircraft on display at the former Plattsburgh AFB in New York. There is a B-47 and FB-111 on display there. Needing something to test the scanner with, I used the pictures of the two aircraft and decided to share them.

plattsburgh_b47The B-47

FB-111_PlattsburghAFB
The FB-111

 

Posted in amateur radio, living history, military history

PRC-25

Being both a student of military history and an Amateur Radio operator, it was natural to combine the two hobbies and put military surplus radios on the air. It was at some time in the early 1990s that one of my elmers gave me my first “green radio” as they are called.  It was a PRC-25, an earlier version of the PRC-77 VHF manpack transceiver I learned to operate in Basic Training a little before then. 

The PRC-25 and PRC-77 weigh about 14 pounds and put out a couple watts of wideband (by today’s standards, ~10 KHz. deviation) FM RF from 30-75.95 MHz. in 50 KHz. steps. I was a Technician class ham at the time, and noted that the radio would operate on the 50-54 MHz. Six Meter band.  At the time Six Meters was not very popular in the NY Metro area because of its close proximity to TV Channel 2, WCBS in New York City. Six Meters would almost certainly bleed over to TVs tuned to channel 2 (54-60 MHz.), and running FM would ensure that your neighbors would hear you and your identifying callsign loud and clear. Having no desire to earn the Worked All Neighbors TVI Award, one stayed away from Six Meters in places where there was that interference potential.

Since then, cable TV systems started becoming more prevalent, and people replaced their TV antennas with a 57+ channel feed from a service provider.  More recently, analog NTSC TV has been replaced with digital ATSC, and many of the stations on Channel 2 have switched to a UHF channel.  These three changes in American television have greatly reduced the interference potential on Six Meters.

Speaking of TV, back in the analog days, PRC-25s and 77s worked really well for hearing the audio on TV channels 2-4, and I suspect that if we ever get Five Meters back (Ireland already has it), those of us with VHF milsurp radios will be among the first to be QRV on the old/new band.  The old pre-World War II 5 Meter band was 56-60 MHz., which still remains within the frequency range of TV Channel 2 in the US.

After moving back East, and reconnecting with old friends who share similar interests, I find myself doing living history displays again, with FDR being my first event in a long time. Much like an SCR-300, the PRC-25 is one of those milestone radios that might be considered a “must-have” for a green radio collection. So when a fellow ham who is also a green radio enthusiast had a complete PRC-25 for sale, I took the opportunity to add one to my collection again, having swapped out my original PRC-25 many years ago.

The PRC-25 (and PRC-77) make a good first radio for the beginning green radio enthusiast. They are relatively inexpensive, their accessories are readily available, they are easy to power up, and are ready to go on Six Meters.  Technical information is downloadable right off the Internet, and if you are lucky a local old-skool Army/Navy store might have some of paper TMs in their inventory of military manuals.  All you really need to get one on the air is a power source that provides 12V and 3V DC, a handset, and a 6 Meter antenna.  That last item can be anything from a base antenna, to a telescoping whip used on HTs, to something you put together out of zip cord (the civilian equivalent of WD-1) from FM 24-18 or MCRP 8-10B.11.
.

fm_24-18_tactical_single_channel_radio_communications_techniques_0000
Download manuals at
https://archive.org/details/milmanual-fm-24-18-tactical-single-channel-radio-communications-techni
and
https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/MCRP%208-10B.11.pdf.
Practicals available at https://www.n6cc.com/antenna-system-ideas.

The big question with milsurp VHF sets is whether or not they’ll be able to talk to other 6 FM ham rigs. The FM voice deviation of a PRC-25 is somewhere around 10 KHz. Modern 6 Meter ham gear is closer to 5 KHz., although I’ve seen some rigs that are pushing 7-8 KHz., usually older stuff.  If you yell into the handset mic of your PRC-25, someone listing with an FT-817, for example, would hear some clipping off the audio peaks. Likewise, someone running the standard <=5 KHz. deviation out of their civilian ham rig is going to sound a bit on the soft side when listening with your ’25. The other issue is the 150 Hz. “new” tone squelch, but you can turn it off on the PRC-25 if you’re trying to communicate with a civilian radio (or an older military radio that uses “old squelch” for that matter).

As a piece of amateur radio equipment, a PRC-25 gives you a QRP (~2 watts) FM transceiver on the 6 Meter Band. Six meters is the most fun VHF band to operate on (especially during band openings), and although the weak signal operators prefer SSB for DX voice work, anyone who listens to the VHF-Low band regularly knows that FM will also work when band conditions are right.  The radio is simplex only, and the 50 KHz. channel spacing renders it impossible to get on the 6m national simplex channel of 52.525 MHz. However, hams who are green radio enthusiasts will be found at hamfests, living history events, and vehicle rallies operating usually on 51.0 or 51.6 MHz.

In TM 11-5280-398-12, Uncle Sam specs out the range of the PRC-25 at five miles. I’m thinking that’s with the standard tape antenna.  Reports from other hams indicate that depending on the terrain, antenna used, and band conditions, you could get as much as 10 or more times that distance.

 

prc25

My PRC-25 is not “mint,”  but neither is it all beat up. It has character. I sometimes wonder where it served, and what stories it might tell. Did it spend some time in the Central Highlands of Vietnam? Did it help watch over the Fulda Gap?  Maybe it’s last tour of duty was in the commo section of a National Guard unit where it was only used one weekend a month, or maybe it ended its career as part of the inventory belonging to a post like Ft. Jackson, SC or Ft. Sill, OK where trainees used it while learning how to shoot, move, and communicate.  The stencils on the radio are very quiet in that regard. Regardless where it’s been and what it did, it’ll spend its retirement communicating with its brethren on 6 meters,  acting as a point of reminiscence for those who carried one in the service of their country, and honoring the past by helping teach an important part of American history.

Posted in living history, military history, New York

Living History Display – FDR Home, Hyde Park, NY – Memorial Day 2019

Last Memorial Day, I was asked to help with a living history display sponsored by my friends, The Duffle Bag and Associates, held at the FDR Home in Hyde Park, NY.  The theme was World War II, being that this year is the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France. There were, however, living historians and reenactors representing periods from Colonial America to the Post-Cold War era.

Being that World War II was very well represented, I was encouraged to portray a different era. Being that my primary interest is the Cold War period, I picked the 1980s. Similarly, combat arms soldiers are well-represented at these events, so I opted for a combat support impression. This is a popular avenue to pursue among older enthusiasts, as it does not require one to wear 20+ pounds of field gear in 80-90 degree weather.  Being an Amateur Radio operator and electronic hobbyist, Signal or Ordnance Corps.  is the obvious choice.  Although as a former U.S. Army 13E (Field Artillery Fire Direction Control Specialist), it might be nice to eventually put together a manual FDC setup from the era when I served.

img_20190525_115822357

My modest display at the venue, consisting of a few pieces of radio gear representative of the Cold War era from the late 1940s (SCR-300/BC-1000 on the left), to the 1960s/Vietnam War era (PRC-74 on the left), to the 1980s/1990s (AN/URC-92/Sunair GSB-900X in the center). I also included the iconic Steel Pot (aka M1 Helmet) and a 1980s/early 1990s vintage MRE to add a little more flavor to the display. A little write-up was created to be displayed with each item.

fb_img_1558906521752

Yours truly in docent costume, standing in front of a sculpture made from pieces of the Berlin Wall. The uniform is 1980s era OD Green straight-pocket jungle fatigues,  put together as a junior Warrant Officer from the Army Material Command.  Warrant Officers are technical  experts, and often have come up through the ranks as enlisted men. The AMC is responsible for material logistics and maintenance, as well as research and development until 2018. A major sub-command of the AMC is the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, which might help explain a junior warrant officer in jungle fatigues.

Being a participant in the event didn’t leave much time for taking pictures, but I did manage to take a few of one of the more interesting groups there, the Italia, Avanti! Living History Association. They are a non-political living history group preserving the history and honoring the sacrifices made by the men of the Italian Armed Forces during World War II.  Despite the country’s initial affiliation with the Axis Powers at the beginning of the war, the Italian people in general had little, if any, love for Nazi Germany, and even less for Benito Mussolini as the war progressed. In 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III deposed and arrested Mussolini, and Italy joined the Allies.  This is a good example of a typical living history display, as in addition to the field gear, uniforms, and weaponry, personal items, effects, and ephemera  were also shown. The latter items are the sign of an advanced living historian, and what makes a good display into a better display.

 

The gentleman in the picture is fellow living historian Chris C., who does various eras and countries in addition to the Italian soldier he portrayed at this event.

I also took a walk around the grounds with the family, as my wife and kids had never visited FDR Home, and it had been a while since I last visited.

img_20190526_120542197

Gravesite of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt.

img_20190526_120721246

The Springwood Horse Barn. Built in 1886.

img_20190526_112844629

My wife and younger daughter, with Eleanor and Frank.

Next year, 2020, marks the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II, and there will be a similar event next year at FDR. It is a family friendly event, with activities for all ages. If you are within travel distance of FDR, please come visit, and even if you can make Memorial Day 2020, you should at least take the family to visit the FDR Home in Hyde Park, NY. History is an important part of American Civics, because by understanding our country’s history, you can understand our country’s present, and help our country’s future.

And if you can’t wait until then, come enjoy a nice dinner, and do a little dancing with your significant other, at the Swing ‘N Patterson D-Day Liberation – 1944 Dinner and Dance on November 9th, 2019 in Patterson, NY.  There will be a jazz orchestra playing period music, living historians, and swing dancing. You don’t have to come in 1940s attire, but it is encouraged.