The Story of the Little Radio Ship, the FP47

Two weeks ago, we presented the story here in Wavescan of the now famous radio broadcasting ship, the “Apache,” with its role as a relay station for AFRS radio and the “Voice of America” during the latter part of the Pacific War.

At the time, we mentioned that the “Apache” had a co-traveller, a little vessel known as the FP47. Let’s look now at the story of this lesser known sea traveller which was in reality another radio broadcasting ship.

The FP47 was a much smaller ship than the “Apache,” at just 125 ft. long, and it was built originally for the Alaska freight and passenger traffic. This ship was also taken to Sydney in Australia at the same time as the “Apache,” where it also was completely rebuilt and re- outfitted. Two diesel generators were installed in the FP47 as power units for all of the electronic equipment, which included two American army Morse Code transmitters at 500 watts each.

In rebuilding the ship, the original masts were re-positioned in an attempt to counteract the weight of the heavy electrical equipment. However, the calculations were incorrect and the masts leaned forward, giving the appearance that the ship was moving backwards. The official radio code for the FP47 was “Bedpan”.

The original delivery date for both the “Apache” and the FP47 was planned for late November 1944. However, the events of the war speeded up, and the FP47 hurriedly sailed from Sydney Harbour with the “Apache” right at the end of September. Both ships, with their electronic equipment still untested, arrived at General MacArthur’s forward headquarters in Hollandia, New Guinea, on October 10, just two days before sailing time for the return invasion of the Philippines.

Two days later, the whole invasion fleet left Hollandia for the Philippines, with the “Apache” trailing behind, and the smaller FP47 trailing behind the “Apache”. The entire flotilla arrived in Manila Harbor exactly one week later.

The purpose for the radio ship, the FP47, was to be a subordinate radio ship to the “Apache”. The Morse Code transmitters sent war news and dispatches to the “Apache” for onward transmission to the United States. The FP47 was a communication vessel for use by newspaper and radio correspondents, whereas the “Apache” was a radio broadcast station and a navy communication facility.

The FP47 saw duty in the coastal areas of the Philippines and other islands in the western Pacific, usually in conjunction with the “Apache,” but not always. After the conclusion of hostilities, the FP47 was sent back to the Philippines, where it carried radio traffic in Morse Code, apparently in conjunction with land based stations that had been re-established.

That’s the last that is known about the little radio ship, known by number and not by name.

The Apache Indians lived in the southwest of what is now the United States, and they were made up of five different tribal groups. The Apache Indians became famous, in legend at least, as a wandering people, giving rise to the designation, the “Wandering Apache”.

There was an old ship that was built in Baltimore, Maryland, and launched in 1891. Under its original name, the “Galveston,” this ship saw duty in the Spanish-American War, after which it was renamed the “Apache”. This ship was de-commissioned in 1937, and after the American entry into World War II it resumed official duties as a troop transport.

In the year 1944, the “Apache” was taken to Sydney, Australia where it was totally rebuilt and equipped with electronic equipment for service as a radio broadcasting ship.

Generators, receivers, cables, antennas, all were installed, including two shortwave transmitters at 10 kw each.

This mobile broadcasting station sailed north from Sydney in late September 1944, arriving at General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters at Hollandia, New Guinea on October 10. Two days later the “Apache” joined a flotilla of American war vessels for the return invasion of the Philippines.

It was somewhere around mid-morning of October 20 that the “Apache” made its first transmission, a navy report to California about the new invasion of the Philippines. The allocated callsign for this radio broadcasting ship was WVLC, reminiscent of the Australian callsign, VLC in Shepparton, Victoria.

For the next one and a half years, the “Apache” was heard on the air quite often, sometimes with the relay to America of Pacific war news & reports, and sometimes with the onward relay of radio programming from the shortwave stations in the Voice of America network in California.

After a spate of on air service in Manila Bay, the “Apache” moved to the Lingayen Gulf early in the new year 1945 to cover the moving tide of warfare on the island of Luzon. At the time of the signing of the surrender documents on the USS “Missouri” in Tokyo Bay, the “Apache” was there, but it was silent, simply because the more powerful land based shortwave station at Nazaki in Japan was carrying the programming on relay back to America.

After this, the “Apache” was noted with radio dispatches and occasional programming off the coast of Korea, and then further south off the coast of China.

The saga of radio broadcasting from the reconditioned “Apache” came to an end on April 20, 1946, when the American navy vessel, USS “Spindle Eye” took over not only the radio programming but even the callsign WVLC. The “Apache” was decommissioned, and then in 1950 it was scrapped.

During its 18 months of radio history, the “Apache” served as a communication ship, an intermediate relay station for armed forces communications, and as a radio broadcasting unit carrying programs on behalf of the American Armed Forces Radio Service and the Voice of America. It is quite probable, too, that this station also carried a relay from Radio Australia on certain occasions.

The “Apache” was logged in Australia, New Zealand and the United States under three very similar callsigns. The basic callsign was WVLC. Another callsign in use for a brief period of times was WVLO, and it is suggested that this was in reality the second transmitter, which was noted subsequently under the callsign WVLC2.

Numerous QSLs exist in old radio collections in New Zealand, Australia and the United States but they are all in the form of typed letters. There is no known QSL card in existence bearing the callsign WVLC, not even for the relay of VOA and AFRS programming.

That, then, is the end of the story of the radio broadcasting ship, the “Apache,” but there is more to the story than this. Not so well known is the fact that there was another radio ship travelling with the “Apache” with the identification FP47. Ah, but that’s a story for another time!

From: Wavescan 407, October 13, 2002

Ramon Jackson wrote the following addition:

While they did often appear together FP-47 was anything but a “subordinate radio ship to the ‘Apache'” as FP-47 was the operational communications ship for operations and Apache was a host for news people. I recently added extracts from the official history to be linked from my web page that has the following text you might use to correct that mistake:

General Akin himself had no doubt of the value and necessity of Army communications ships in SWPA combat. On 21 March 1944, he set up in GHQ SWPA Signal Section a separate Seaborne Communications Branch to plan for extensive communications afloat and to provide a more adequate CP fleet. The first task was to obtain ships more suitable than the Harold or the Argosy.68 Such a ship was the freighterpassenger, FP-47, acquired by Signal Corps in March 1944, at Sydney. The Army had built her in the United States in 1942, a sturdy, wooden, diesel-driven vessel only 114 feet long, but broad, of 370 tons, intended for use in the Aleutians. Instead she had sailed to Australia as a tug. The Signal Corps fitted her with Australian transmitters and receivers, also with an SCR-300 walkietalkie, two SCR-808’s, and an SCR-608, plus power equipment, antennas, and, finally, quarters for the Signal Corps operators. The Australian sets were intended for long-range CW signals operating in the high frequencies; the SCR’s were short-range VHF FM radios for use in the fleet net and for ship-toshore channels. Armed with antiaircraft weapons and machine guns (served by 12 enlisted men of the Army ship and gun crews), navigated by a crew of 6 Army Transport Service officers and the 12 men already mentioned, the FP-47 was ready for service in June. Her Signal Corps complement consisted of one officer and 12 men.

The facilities of FP-47 were needed immediately at Hollandia to supplement the heavily loaded signal nets that could hardly carry the message burden imposed by the invasion and the subsequent build-up there of a great base. Arriving on 25 June, she anchored offshore and ran cables to the message centers on land. Her powerful transmitters opened new channels to SWPA headquarters in Brisbane and to the advance headquarters still at Port Moresby. At Hollandia, and at Biak, to which the FP-47 moved early in September, this one ship handled an average of 7,000 to 11,000 code groups a day.

Before the Philippine invasion, the CP boats acquired shipboard antrac. Four Army communications ships, PCE-848, 849, and 850, and the Apache (primarily for use by news reporters), arrived at Hollandia on 2 October 1944, as the Southwest Pacific headquarters readied for the invasion of Leyte.

Later in the Philippines:

The three PCE’s constituted the CP fleet for the Leyte operation, along with two others, the FP-47 (the only holdover from Signal Corps’ first communications ships in the New Guinea fighting) and the Apache. The Apache was something new in Signal Corps experience. It was a communications ship specifically and solely intended for public relations work. General Akin’s Seaborne Communications Branch had gained enough experience in shipboard Army signals so that when the SWPA public relations officer asked for a correspondents’ broadcast ship to send press copy to the United States (there had been difficulties getting press copy through Australian Postmaster General facilities), the Signal Corps men answered “Yes.” They acquired the Apache, a 185-foot, 650-ton ship, which had served first as a revenue cutter, then as a Coast Guard vessel. Because of her age, fifty-five years, she had been sold for scrap just before World War II. Resurrected by the Maritime Commission, she was used for a while by the Navy. Then, in the somewhat sour words of her skipper, “Like everything else that nobody wants, she was turned over to the Army.”

In July 1944 her conversion to the best known vessel of Signal Corps’ CP fleet began in Sydney harbor. By dexterously combining various pieces of equipment, the Signal Corps installed a 10-kilowatt voice-modulated transmitter—a shortwave radiotelephone that could reach the United States directly. Radio relay, AN/TRC-1, was added to provide circuits to shore terminals. A variety of antenna rigs, a studio, and a control room completed the floating broadcast facility for war correspondents, who could now sail close into the theaters, pick up reports and news from shore over the VHF radio relay, and prepare and broadcast programs home quickly and directly. With a Signal Corps detachment of three officers and eleven enlisted men and with a ship and gun crew similar to that aboard the FP-47, the Apache was readied and sailed to Hollandia early in the autumn of 1944.

Designated Task Unit 78.1.12 by the Navy, the five ships of the CP fleet were readied in October at Hollandia: the PCE-848, 849, and 850, the Apache, and the FP-47, which also served press needs. Aboard the PCE-848, General Akin occupied a cabin along with one of his staff officers who handled General MacArthur’s messages (MacArthur himself sailed in the USS Nashville). Aboard the 848 also was a VHF team to operate radio relay equipment. The PCE-849 carried General Akin’s assistant, more Signal Corps men, and an intercept team of the 978th Signal Service Company. The duty of the latter, a group of a dozen officers and men under Capt. Charles B. Ferguson, was to intercept enemy broadcasts and to receive messages from the guerrilla radios in the Philippines. The PCE-850 carried Colonel Reichelderfer and his Signal Corps assistants serving General Krueger’s Sixth Army headquarters. Still other Signal Corps men worked communications circuits aboard the Nashville and the Wasatch serving Generals MacArthur and Krueger, respectively, using an assortment of radio relay and portable radio types.

The FP-47 often assisted in the transmission of news from the Apache, as operational requirements allowed, but was primarily the operational communications ship with Apache being for public relations/news.

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“Wavescan” is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave).