American Military Radio in the Solomon Islands During WWII
By Martin Hadlow © 2006
Expansion And Contraction
As AES-Guadalcanal continued to develop, it was joined by other new stations in The Mosquito Network. On April 3, 1944, AES-Munda (New Georgia), opened transmissions, having taken over from the unauthorized station already in operation, with AES-Bougainville, following on April 15, and AES-Espiritu Santo, on August 4, 1944 (*collected from an archival search by author).
With the war situation changing, staffing movements within The Mosquito Network began to gather speed as some stations closed and program and technical staff were transferred to new theaters. One of the first to go from AES-Guadalcanal, was T/5 Hy Averback. In September 1944, after just over 6 months with the station, he was transferred to WVUS, Noumea, with plans for onward travel to the AES operation in Auckland, New Zealand. However, the latter move never eventuated (*A. Botzer, 1944, personal communication). Averback was replaced at AES-Guadalcanal, by T/5 Jimmy Lake. At the same time, Corporal Allen Botzer was promoted to Sergeant, and one of the station’s key engineering personnel, T/5 Rudolph Luukinen, was transferred to AES-Espiritu Santo.
Management changes were also in the offing. On September 18, 1944, Captain Spencer Allen was promoted to Major and transferred to Noumea as Chief of the Armed Forces Radio Service with the title South Pacific Command Radio Officer (SoPacBaCom) (S. Allen, personal communications, 1983–1989). Following Allen’s departure, the engineering officer, Captain Wilford Kennedy, assumed responsibilities as Station Manager of AES-Guadalcanal (A. Botzer, personal communication, 1944).
One of Kennedy’s first actions was to upgrade the transmission aerials of the station. Allen Botzer watched the system being erected. “We have a new antenna being put in and in order to clear for the 90 foot poles and the guy wires, several palm trees had to be pulled down and pushed over by bulldozers. That’s quite a process in itself” (A. Botzer, personal communication, 1944). A long-wire was strung between the poles, giving much better broadcast coverage, the upgraded AES-Guadalcanal, signal being heard even by radio listeners as far away as New Zealand. At the same time, the radio station’s broadcast frequency changed from 730 kilocycles to 690 kilocycles (Tune-In magazine, 1945).
Network In More Than Name Alone
Across the board, the AES outlets were improving the quality of their technical output. This resulted in an experiment being conducted to see whether The Mosquito Network, a “network” in name alone until then, could broadcast programs simultaneously. The attempt was made in November 1944. The New York Times reported the success of the venture:
Coming over the transmitters of the American Expeditionary Station at Guadalcanal, they heard the voice of an announcer from “AES-Noumea,” which is in New Caledonia. They heard the same voice over “AES-Espiritu Santo,” in the New Hebrides and over “AES-Auckland,” in New Zealand. The whole South Pacific couldn’t be “island happy.” Last month, the Headquarters of the AFRS in the South Pacific announced they weren’t. The four stations had done the impossible. Without telephone lines or “point-to-point” pick-ups, they had rebroadcast one program picked up from a central transmitter.
(*New York Times, 1944)
On March 13, 1945, AES-Guadalcanal, broadcast its first anniversary program (A. Botzer, personal communication, 1944). The program was presented “live” from what was called the Tropicana Theater, an outside venue in Lunga Camp. Messages were presented on-air by Major-General Maxwell Murray, Commanding General, Guadalcanal, and other dignitaries, with music from the Foxhole Four and various other groups and bands (W. Kennedy, personal communication, 1990).
The anniversary performance marked the highpoint in the existence of The Mosquito Network. A month later, the US Military Command structure in the Pacific changed. The islands of Bougainville and New Georgia stayed under Southwest Pacific Command auspices, while Guadalcanal was absorbed under Pacific Ocean Command that combined the former South Pacific Command and Central Pacific Command (*DeLay, 1951).
In another sign of the changes then taking place, Major Spencer Allen, as South Pacific Command Radio Officer, decided, in March 1945, to introduce call letters for all the radio stations within his Command area. He did this because “announcers were more used to the W and K call letters of the USA” (S. Allen, personal communications, 1983–1989). The AES station on Guadalcanal became WVUQ and, according to Allen Botzer, first used this new call sign on May 24, 1945. However, the other stations used their new calls earlier. AES-Munda, was assigned WVTJ; AES-Bougainville, announced as WVTI (although WSSO was another call given to this station in the early days of its existence, probably because it was originally a Special Service Office operation); and AES-Espiritu Santo, went on the air as WVUR (collected from an archival search by author).
Staff changes increased apace. Both Ivan Saddler and Rudolph Rubin were commissioned as Second Lieutenants and later transferred from Guadalcanal to Noumea (A. Botzer, personal communication, 1944). On June 5, 1944, Captain Wilford Kennedy stepped down as Officer-in-Charge and was re-assigned to AES-Espiritu Santo. Sergeant Allen Botzer was, nominally, then in charge of the Guadalcanal station. However, as he noted at the time: “This station has been in operation so long that there really isn’t much to worry about. There are no salesmen, no accounting department, no money to be made or lost. Just stay on the air really” (A. Botzer, personal communication, 1944).
In July 1945, Major Spencer Allen and the majority of the AES—Noumea, team began preparations to establish AFRS stations in newly liberated wartime locations, such as the Philippines. In consequence, the group was airlifted to Manila, gathering equipment and personnel along the way (*S. Allen, personal communications, 1983–1989). However, history had its own ending in store. On August 6, 1945, the US Army Air Force dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. Another, 3 days later, destroyed the city of Nagasaki.
For Major Spencer Allen, the detonation of the atomic bomb occasioned an opportunity for him to end his service career. He had reached the Philippines from Noumea when the bomb was dropped. Because there was no need for him to continue on to Japan and take up a role within the occupation forces, he was transferred from Manila to Hawaii and onward to mainland USA. “I had enough years of service to leave the Army, which I did” (*S. Allen, personal communications, 1983–1989).
Mosquito Network Loses Its Sting
Earlier in 1945, the AES had started to close down its Mosquito Network stations as US military forces moved to new operational theaters from rear staging areas. The first to close was the AES station in Auckland, which was returned to the local authorities in January 1945. Also in January, AES, Bougainville, left the air. By April 1945, AES-Munda, on New Georgia had also closed down, with some of the staff being re-assigned to AFRS stations in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines (*A. Botzer, personal communication, 1945).
As AFRS crews left the American Expeditionary Stations, operations were often taken over by other Units, such as the Army Air Force Communications System (AACS) or the US Signals Corps, and kept on the air under local auspices. By July 1945, AES-Noumea, AES-Guadalcanal, and AES-Espiritu Santo, were the only three AFRS stations still broadcasting using staff who had been with the original teams trained in Los Angeles. Elsewhere, the AACS kept local radio stations on the air with their own specialists handling programming and engineering duties.
With the war coming to an end, it was Allen Botzer’s turn to leave Guadalcanal, which he did in late August. He was assigned to an AFRS station in the Philippines and handed-over the reins of the Guadalcanal operation to Richard Sinclair. (*A. Botzer, personal communication, 1945).
However, AES and the Mosquito Network had little time to live. Its purpose in the Southwest Pacific was almost over. Now, the AFRS would take on a new life broadcasting to US forces based in the Philippines, occupied Japan and elsewhere in north Asia. Meanwhile, a joint military plan was prepared to enable the Army Air Force Communications System (AACS) to completely take over radio broadcasting from The Mosquito Network. The AACS, primarily responsible for air-traffic communications and point-to-point transmissions between the Pacific and the US mainland, would not only have engineering responsibility for the radio stations, but would also provide its own staff for programming and announcing duties (*R. Sinclair, personal communication, 1945).
In October 1945, only AES-Guadalcanal, AES-Noumea, and AES-Espiritu Santo studio were operational as AFRS units. By November, all that had changed. According to the AES-Guadalcanal, Station Manager, Corporal Richard Sinclair, AES-Noumea, was shut down by Lieutenant Ivan Saddler and the WVUS transmitter flown by U.S. military air transport to Guadalcanal that month (*R. Sinclair, personal communication, 1945).
At the same time, the AACS established its own radio station, using a separate transmitter, at Tontouta, the huge air base just north of Noumea, rather than in the New Caledonia capital itself. The original WVUS transmitter was reconditioned on Guadalcanal by AES technicians Rubin Taylor and P.V. Johnson, and it was then placed at its new transmission site near the AACS center located on a hill close to Henderson Field. While the technicians installed the equipment, Richard Sinclair gave a hand to the incoming AACS on-air personnel and programs who would be broadcasting on the former WVUS transmitter (R. Sinclair, personal communication, 1945).
By this time, AES-Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides had already been handed over to the AACS, all the AES staff there having been sent to Guadalcanal. On the orders of senior officers, Richard Sinclair was told that AES-Guadalcanal, the last of The Mosquito Network, would go off the air on November 30, 1945. Sinclair had a plan for the final evening of transmission. In particular, he decided to use portions of the recordings made by the station since it went on air in March 1944. He wrote to his friends: “Will use a bit from George’s [Dvorak] Native News, quite a hunk from your [Botzer] first anniversary show, and several other cuts we made.” He then decided to put the final recordings in boxes and send them to the former staff members concerned. “I think that perhaps you would like some of the stuff we have made here,” he concluded (*R. Sinclair, personal communication, 1945).
When the US Marines had first landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, they had found little, if any, permanent infrastructure on the island. Later, Guadalcanal became one of the biggest Allied military bases in the world. The camp constructed between the Lunga River and Henderson Field catered to hundreds of thousands of personnel, with thousands more living on troop transport ships offshore. Hospitals, cinemas, theaters, and wharves were all built on the island. Less than 3 years later, it was all over.
At the conclusion of AES-Guadalcanal’s, last transmission on November 30, 1945, Richard Sinclair carried out the orders he had received concerning the disposal of the station’s equipment. “The Signal Corps will box up our old transmitter for shipment to Japan. All the other stuff will go in the junk pile, I guess” (*R. Sinclair, personal communication, 1945). As Sinclair left the studio on the final day, he took the banner hanging from the microphone and packed it in his kit for home. The banner bore the words The Mosquito Network.
After the departure of the AES personnel, transmissions from the AACS-operated WVUQ continued into the following year. The last reported transmission of WVUQ, Guadalcanal, was in September 1946. A listener in New Zealand heard the station on September 21 on 690 kilocycles. However, when a letter was sent to WVUQ later that month, it was returned by the Post Office bearing the words, “Unclaimed. Moved—no address” (*NZDXTRAmagazine, 1946). An era was over.
- AFRTS. (2004). The American armed services radio (www.afrts.osd.mil)
- American Legion Magazine. (1942, February).
- Broadcasting Magazine. (1944, May 8).
- DeLay, T.S.,Jr. (1951) An Historical Study of the Armed Forces Radio Service to 1946. Unpublished thesis. University of Southern CA at Los Angeles Kirby, E.M., & Harris, J.W. (1948). Star-Spangled Radio. Chicago: Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.
- New York Times. (1944, December).
- NZDXTRAmagazine. (1946, September). Christchurch, NZ: NZ DX Club.
- Tompkins, T. (Ed.). (n.d.). FEN: The Far East Network. Tokyo: AFRTS.
- Tune-In Magazine. (1945, January). NZ Radio DX League.
This article originally appeared in Vol. 11, No. 1 of The Journal of Radio Studies (Broadcast Education Association, Washington, DC) and is being reprinted here with the permission of the author.
The Mosquito Network
Martin is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Communication for Development & Social Change at the School of Journalism & Communications, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.
He’s passionate about radio history and has a varied and distinguished broadcasting and media career across the Pacific, Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, recently holding senior positions with UNESCO in Paris.
The work of Jerry Berg and others named in this article contributes a great deal to community led radio heritage initiatives and we strongly support and endorse their activities.