showing various Naval Wireless Stations abroad and at home

Bermuda W/T by Godfrey Dykes.


  Bermuda had been a British Base for approximately 100 years when W/T was invented. It had been garrisoned by the Army, a Naval Base had been created and it had seen its share of action during the 1812 war with the USA. It was to see more action during both world wars.

  When the British first colonised the group of Islands, they set up base in the East of the group only later moving to the West when better navigable waters were discovered. In those days of course, the only communication with the Islands were via the many ships which visited this Atlantic fortress, until that was, the early 1900's when the Army had one or two basic W/T stations. Occasionally, Royal Naval ships fitted with W/T would visit (the Colony or this area of the Atlantic) and 'liaisons' between shore and ship would be encouraged. Then at various times between 1910 and 1920, the Royal Navy set up their own W/T stations, moving technologies as they became available, from the SPARK to the ARC to the VALVE sets but invariably using the then fashionable MF frequency bands normally with an upper limit in the region of 2 MHz and with a modest power output.

  Before we continue our story of W/T on the Islands, and just for the benefit of those of you who never went to or served in that sunny spot, here is a very small explanation of 'where is where' and 'what is what'. This is a map of Bermuda and you will see it is essentially a group of very small islands interlinked by bridges. The most northerly tip of Bermuda is called Ireland Island North, and in my picture I have rested the letter "I" of the word IRELAND against the extreme north westerly tip. To the west of it is Ireland Island South (connected by a road bridge) and the letter "h" of the word South sits immediately above its western coast. Ireland Island North became THE naval base and the word North was not used.

  In this next picture of Bermuda, I have zoomed in on the three islands which were directly associated with the Royal Navy, but one of them, Boaz Island, with the RAF also: that can be seen snuggling between Watford Island and Ireland Island South and was where the aviators were based both Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm, respectively, at separate times, prefixed by RAF and then by RNAS.

 &emspThis Bermudian Naval Base, whilst of British origin, had more to do with the Naval Base at Halifax Nova Scotia Canada, than with the UK. Those of you who served in the WINDIES SQUADRON (Windies obviously an all-in-one name for West Indies (Station)) will remember Watford Island and its bridge which, after a short distance, led onto Boaz Island, and then across Grey's Bridge spanning a much wider gap between islands and onto Ireland Island South. Its most memorable feature was its large inland lagoon. The road eventually crossed a very small bridge and led on directly to the main dockyard gates of the Naval Base, and if you blinked your eyes whilst crossing this bridge, you wouldn't have been aware that you were now on Ireland Island North.

  In truth it was a barren and lonely place, well separated from the rich residents and tourists who frequented the eastern side of the Colony at St George's and Hamilton, the latter the Capital, and in many ways, it always reminded me of a sunny Scapa Flow ! However, I do recall Ireland Island South as offering good swimming (pool) and some good walks especially around the lagoon: swimming in the sea, even very close to the shore was asking to be attacked by fish like the barracuda which circled Bermuda in their tens of thousands.

  Whenever I read about Bermuda, it is as though there is a denial which is passed from author to author. Ireland Island had a Fleet Canteen within easy walking distance of the jetties and berths in the Naval Base and for countless thousands of sailors it was a place to meet in which to lets one's hair down. In ports around the world, the Navy saw the merit in having these canteens which allowed huge numbers of men to 'let off steam' in a known and an loosely controlled space, where the damage done, however quantified and described, was repairable in-house without too much pain to the individual sailor or to the Fleet. In a perverse way, operating such a canteen helped to control discipline in the long run. It was often a wild place and it was famous for sod's opera performances (SOD = Ships Operatic Department). The rest of the Bermuda was not exactly conducive to wild parties and the cost of a 'sophisticated' run ashore over in the Eastern haunts was prohibitively expensive, so banyans, sporting events, regatta's and the canteen were the norm for the masses.

  The Naval Base was frequently visited by RN warships under the overall command of SNOWI (Senior Naval Officer West Indies) plus Americans and other NATO ships, and visits from RCN ships/British submarines based on Halifax were numerous: I was in an 'A' boat belonging to the Sixth Submarine Squadron, and on one of our visits we even managed to have a mini-mutiny .

  The main Naval Base closed in the 1950's, but HMS Malabar used a small part of the original dockyard up until the late 1990's commanded by a RNO (Resident Naval Officer).

  Bermuda was always a bit-player in the overall communications systems be they DCN Fixed Services or shore-to-ship facilities. In 1928, the Navy decided to extend those limited facilities by giving the Base a S/W (Short Wave) - or HF - transmitter. Bermuda didn't get what most other shore W/T stations got, namely a S/W transmitter with a DEDICATED and FIXED AERIAL (which was in addition to other transmitters tied to yet other unique aerials). Instead, she got a power amplifier which could be fed by one of two sources - S/W or L/W (Long Wave = MF) frequency determination units, and a choice of one of two aerials which would be selected manually by the site operator. The latitude given to this operator suggests that the transmitter was not a powerful device (as the majority of shore fit gear could be) - the article does not state the power output in terms of kW on the aerial - but enough is known and understood about the sum-of-its-parts to be able to state that the transmitter was of medium power, possibly in the region of 2kW.

  Sadly, there is not much left in the 'box' which once covered W/T in Bermuda, so we thought that showing the pictures of this 1928 transmitter, and the small amount of text to support them would be a worthwhile thing to do. Note as always in the 1920's and early 1930's, every piece of kit was made to sit inside a wooden frame, metal casings becoming the norm from the mid 1930's.

Bermuda WT Transmitter of 1929