The Voice of America: Shipboard Relay Stations – VOA Ship No. 3: The Apache – The American Ship with its Australian Cargo

In our continuing series of topics on the story of radio broadcasting from ships by VOA, the Voice of America, we come to ship number 3, the American vessel “Apache”. This is the story.

The “Apache” was constructed at Reeder Shipyards in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States and it was launched in 1891 as the “Galveston”. It was 185 ft. long and 29 ft. wide, with an empty weight of 708 tons. It was a slow ship, with top speed at just 10 knots.

The ship “Galveston” saw many different forms of duty during its service of a little more than half a century. It served in the Spanish-American War of 1900; it was taken over by the governor of Texas for relief work after the hurricane at coastal Galveston in the same year; and in 1904, the name was changed to “Apache” when it was taken over by the United States Revenue Service. This ship saw wartime service during World War I, and it was rebuilt in the United States in 1941.

In May 1944, it just happened that the ship Apache was in Sydney Harbour, Australia, undergoing modification and refitting for service in the Pacific during World War II. An American serviceman by the name of Sanford Terry was in Australia at the time and he had received army orders to acquire a suitable ship and set it up as a radio broadcasting station. After inspecting two other ships, his decision fell upon the Apache, and modification began almost immediately for use as a radio broadcasting ship.

Two transmitters were obtained, both rated at 10 kW. Two International Harvester power generators at 50 kW each were obtained from American army stores in Australia and installed aboard.

The shortwave transmitter, manufactured by AWA in Sydney for use in wireless telegraphy, was in storage in Brisbane, Queensland at the time, though it is not known for what purpose nor for what location this shortwave telegraph transmitter had been constructed. It was perhaps intended for use in army communications in Morse Code. The shortwave telegraph transmitter was modified for voice usage; for use in program broadcasting and the relay of news broadcasts to the United States.

At this stage, the mediumwave transmitter was nearing completion in a factory operated by Transmissions Equipment Ltd. in Richmond, an outer suburb of Melbourne in Australia, and it is known that it was intended for installation by the PMG Department for use as an ABC mediumwave radio broadcasting station.

This mediumwave transmitter was designed for use on the channel 880 kHz, but the intended location for installation is not stated, nor is it revealed in available ABC and PMG documents from that era. There never has been an ABC station in Australia on the channel 880 kHz, and the power level of 10 kW during that era would indicate a major facility, perhaps even in a state capital city.

The original planning date for completion of the ship and its entire cargo was October 15, 1944. However, due to progressive developments up north in the Pacific, General MacArthur shortened the departure date and required the ship to depart Sydney on September 27. In haste, everything was completed on time, though the two transmitters were not yet ready to make preliminary test broadcasts.

Traveling alone along the east coast of Australia, the Apache arrived on schedule at the edge of Humboldt Bay on the northern coast of New Guinea, on October 11. However, at this stage, the Apache broke down and it had to be towed into the bay area at Hollandia, where repairs were quickly carried out.

For the first time, test broadcasts were made from the two transmitters. Just before noon on Friday October 13, 1944, power was applied successfully to the mediumwave transmitter.
This unit was then powered down, and then power was successfully applied to the shortwave transmitter. Next in this sequence, power was applied to both transmitters simultaneously, and then there was a loud pop, and the system closed down automatically.

Following the quick replacement of a blown large capacitor, the system was again activated, and voice contact was made on shortwave with San Francisco. Radio silence was imposed at 3:00 pm on all ships in the flotilla that was bound for the Philippines that afternoon. The Apache went silent now for a whole week.

A total of some 600 ships set sail from several ports along the north coast of New Guinea for the 1400 mile journey of silence towards Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. The Apache was just two hours behind the lead ships.

At 9:00 am on Friday, October 20, 1944, the Apache arrived at Leyte Gulf, and there was already action on shore. Radio silence officially ended at 10:00 am on that day, so the engineering staff began to implement the procedure to activate the shortwave transmitter half an hour earlier, at 9:30 am.

Right on time at 10:00 am, the shortwave transmitter was used for voice communication with the USS Nashville in waters nearby, and with Hollandia in New Guinea, and with Honolulu in Hawaii.

Next day, the Apache began a series of radio broadcasts beamed to all of the Philippines under the title, “Voice of Freedom” on the shortwave channel, 7795 kHz. Soon afterwards, additional relay broadcasts from VOA the Voice of America, and from AFRS, the Armed Forces Radio Service, were included in the daily program schedule.

Two days after arrival, on October 22, 1944, the Apache relayed to the world the famous “I Have Returned” speech from General MacArthur who was ashore at the time, speaking into a microphone in a mobile radio vehicle.

In addition, the shortwave transmitter was also in use for the forwarding of voice reports to the United States and Australia. Initially these reports were forwarded to Hollandia, and then to the American army station at Hemmant near Brisbane, though later these reports were beamed directly to KKR at the RCA receiver station near San Francisco in California.

New Year’s Day 1945 was slated as the last day for onward forwarding of live news reports from the Apache to the United States, though on some additional occasions the ship was called on to carry press releases beamed back home. When Press Wireless in the Philippines was re-activated, news reports to the United States were carried from this land based station.

In March, the broadcast of the American program, “Philippine Hour” was transferred from the “Australia Calling” transmitter VLC in Shepparton Australia and it was then on relay via the shortwave transmitter WVLC on board the Apache. The American callsign, WVLC had a double application. WV callsigns indicated American army; and WVLC was reminiscent of the Australian shortwave callsign VLC, which had previously carried American programming at the request of General MacArthur.

In March 1945, the Apache moved to Manila Harbor, and a long wire antenna was suspended between two damaged buildings close to the waterfront. Station WVLC mediumwave, with 10 kW on 880 kHz, was on the air for just a few weeks with local programming and announcements for MetroManila. A crane accidentally tore down the long wire antenna, and that ended the only occasion in which the mediumwave transmitter was on the air with program broadcasting.

In the middle of October 1945, another American radio ship, the Spindle Eye, arrived in Tokyo Bay and this ship took over the broadcast and communication services formerly carried by the Apache, though the Apache was monitored in Australia and New Zealand occasionally after that date.

The Apache finally moved over to Japan and she ended her days quite unceremoniously as a leisure craft in Tokyo Bay. She disappeared from the scene of action sometime after mid year 1946. We can only presume that the two transmitters, just a little over a year old, were removed and taken into use, perhaps in the Philippines, but probably in Japan.

On the QSL scene, a half dozen or more letters were received in those days by listeners in the United States, New Zealand and Australia, verifying the transmissions from the Australian shortwave transmitter WVLC aboard the American radio ship Apache. It was on the air for almost exactly one year.

From: Wavescan N135 – Sept. 25, 2011

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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).