Monday, January 05, 2015

Focus on the South Pacific: New Caledonia and its American Radio Station

New Caledonian currency
A French island with a Scottish name in the South Pacific that was discovered by an Englishman, and it was overwhelmed with a temporary American population far larger than its own citizenry.  That, was New Caledonia!
            This tropical island lies 750 miles off the east coast of Australia; it has a richer biodiversity
of birds, animals and vegetation than what the noted English naturalist Charles Darwin discovered in the Galapagos Islands; and it is the locale for a home born population that speaks more than 40 local languages.  This French territory of New Caledonia encompasses more than 250 islands, 40 of which are inhabited; and the main island, narrow and long, could be described on a map as looking like a wriggly worm, swimming towards New Zealand. 
            The original inhabitants of New Caledonia were the Lapita people, who, it is said, arrived from Taiwan two and three thousand years ago.  Their culture had developed an ornate form of pottery that was discovered by two American archaeologists at more than 30 sites in New Caledonia. 
            Captain James Cook, an explorer with the Royal Navy in England, was the first European to site New Caledonia, and this was on his second voyage to the South Pacific in 1774.  He named the island New Caledonia, a Latin name for Scotland, because the terrain he saw reminded him of Scotland.  The first French visitor was Jean-Francois de Galaup with the French frigates Astrolabe and Boussole in 1788.
            For more than half a century, there was very little European contact with New Caledonia, but from 1840 onwards, the Europeans developed a greater interest in this island, due to its highly desirable sandalwood, and also mineral mining, in particular nickel.  Christian missionaries from England came to New Caledonia in the mid 1800s, and they stated that cannibalism was rampant among the local Kanaka peoples, much of which was involved with ceremonialism.
            Under orders from Napoleon 3, Admiral Febvrier Despointes took formal possession of New Caledonia as part of the French empire in the Pacific on September 24, 1853; and Noumea, the  capital city, was officially founded on June 25 of the following year, 1854.  For the next half century, New Caledonia served as a penal colony for French criminals who were imprisoned there for varying periods of time.  
            After the fall of France during the European War in June 1940, the General Council in Noumea opted to support the Free French, and the pro-Vichy governor was forced out of office; he retired to French IndoChina.
            With co-operation from Australia, New Caledonia became an important allied base during World War 2 and the first convoy of fifteen large American navy ships arrived on March 12, 1942.  During the Pacific War, more than one million American service personnel were staged through New Caledonia.  At the time, the total population of the island was only a quarter million. 
            The Americans built up the harbor facilities at Noumea, and they erected 85 steel warehouses to accommodate all of the incoming supplies for their forces in the South Pacific.  The medical facilities for the American navy included two hospitals in Noumea, each with a capacity of 2,000 beds.  Two airfields were developed, one at Tontouta 35 miles north of Noumea, and the other at Magenta Bay, across the waterway from Noumea.
            The first radio broadcasting station on the air in New Caledonia for the benefit of forces personnel was a small unit that was installed in the International Red Cross Building in Noumea.  The equipment for this mediumwave station was bought in Australia, and it was launched on September 5, 1943 apparently on 965 kHz.
            This informal broadcasting station in Noumea was taken over by American forces personnel and then replaced by an official American station in January of the following year (1944), on the same channel 965 kHz.  This station initially identified on air as All Services Radio, ASR, though this title was soon afterwards changed to AES, the American Expeditionary Station, and sometimes the Allied Expeditionary Station.
            When official callsigns in the WV and WX series were allocated to the American forces entertainment stations throughout the world, the official callsign for Noumea became WVUS.  At this time, all of the American forces stations around the world were identified under the same group nomenclature; AFRS, Armed Forces Radio Service.          
            Back at that time, three AFRS stations were set up quite simultaneously in the South Pacific; the first two were at Guadalcanal and Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, with WVUS in Noumea New Caledonia as the third, and this was followed quite quickly by another station located at Espirito Santo in the New Hebrides.  However, as was stated, the mediumwave WVUS, in the same Red Cross Building in Noumea, was better equipped than the two other stations located at Guadalcanal and Espirito Santo.
            Station WVUS Noumea, with its 1 kW transmitter now on 975 kHz, acted as the main station in what became known as the Mosquito Network, a group of similar isolated stations in various islands of the South Pacific.  The programming on each station was normally produced locally or taken off live shortwave broadcasts from the United States.  However, in November 1944, a special program produced at WVUS Noumea was picked up off air and relayed live by three other stations in the Mosquito Network: WVUQ Guadalcanal, WVUR Espirito Santo & 1ZM Auckland in New Zealand.
            Radio station WVUS in the Red Cross building in Noumea was closed in November 1945 and the transmitter was flown to Guadalcanal where it was reconditioned and installed for station WVUQ.
            However, a new WVUS was inaugurated at the airport at Tontouta, 35 miles north of Noumea in the same month, November 1945.  This new station, with different equipment, operated with the same power, 1 kW, and on the same channel, 975 kHz as the previous WVUS.  However, this station was now under the control of the United States Air Force and it was no longer a part of the informal Mosquito Network.
            This new WVUS was on the air for less than a year and it was closed at the end of the broadcast day, Saturday night June 15 of the following year 1946.  However, a weekly Australian radio magazine for November 2, 1946 reported in its radio news column that three AFRS stations in the South Pacific, each previously closed, were heard in New Zealand in late September, including the comparatively new WVUS at the American air force base at Tontouta in New Caledonia.

            Radio station WVUS on New Caledonia was often heard with a good signal by international radio monitors in New Zealand and Australia, and at least one QSL is known.  The noted Arthur Cushen in New Zealand reported in a book he wrote, The World in My Ears, that he received a prepared QSL card from this station during the era of the Pacific War.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 306)