Monday, February 16, 2015

Over the Years With PWI

In our continuing series of topics regarding the shortwave stations operated by PWI, Press Wireless International, we look at the wartime years over in islandic and continental Europe.  During this era, the Press Wireless factory on Long Island, quite near to their shortwave transmitter station at Hicksville, manufactured many shortwave transmitters at various power levels, including their now famous 40 kW unit, as well as their low powered mobile units. 

These PWI transmitters were shipped to England and subsequently to continental Europe by both navy and commercial vessels, usually with each consignment split and conveyed by different ships.  In this way, if some ships were sunk by enemy submarine attacks, then only a partial consignment was lost, not a complete consignment of electronic equipment.  It is known that at least one mobile station was lost in 1944 due to enemy action, and that station still lies to this day on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

Actually, Press Wireless began their European operations in 1932 with the opening of an office in Paris France, and the leased usage of transmitting and receiving facilities from the French PT&T authorities in nearby country areas.  Their Paris operation collected the news flow from other countries in Europe and fed the information to the United States via the PWI receiver station at Little Neck on the north side of Long Island, New York.

As the onset of the European Conflict progressed, PWI moved its European operation in the summer of 1940, initially from Paris to Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast in the south west of France, and then to Tours, almost in the center of France, and finally to Vichy France, though that location was soon afterwards closed. 
Towards the end of the War in Europe, PWI began to send shipments of radio equipment from the United States, beginning in the early part of the year 1944.  The first of the 40 kW PWI SSB transmitters to arrive on the other side of the Atlantic was installed at Lingfield with the receiver station at Swanley Junction, both in Surrey in the south of England.  The purpose for this station was to establish communication circuits with the United States. 

Two more of these 40 kW transmitters were transported to England; and the teams of technical radio personnel associated with these units received their training on a similar unit located at PWI Hicksville.  In 1944, the technical equipment and personnel were taken by ship to the British Isles. 

One ship in use for this purpose was the ex-passenger liner, Mauretania" which travelled across the Atlantic alone, without convoy.  It was considered to be a fast ship that could outrun any other seafaring vessels that might be in pursuit.  The equipment was landed in Scotland and taken south by road.

The radio personnel installed one of these PWI transmitters at an army camp located at Stowe-on-Wold in Gloucestershire, almost in the south of England.  This transmitter was used for two purposes.  One was to broadcast fake communication transmissions that would give the impression that the coming invasion of continental Europe under what became D-Day would take place in Calais, or perhaps even in Norway, instead of the intended Normandy; and the other purpose was for army communications back to the United States. 

Following the installation of the transmitter in England, the PWI team landed in France and began work on the installation of the other unit at Les Essarts, an outer suburb of Paris.  Originally, this 40 kW PWI transmitter was planned for installation at Renne in France.  However, with the progress of events at the front line, a more advanced location, Les Essarts, was chosen.

The electronic equipment for this station was delivered in 1,000 crates & boxes, and it was re-assembled in 25 days by 45 personnel.  This transmitter facility was installed in buildings commandeered for the purpose and the receiver station was located in an old farm house further down the same road. 
Power came from three Cummings diesel generators, and rhombic antennas were beamed on the United States for communication with PWI Little Neck, New York.  This new and rather substantial shortwave station was activated in September 1944.  A photo at the entrance way to the station shows the callsign as CZ2T, though it identified on air simply as Radio Paris.
            The main purpose for this PWI station in Paris was to relay news items and news commentaries from SHAEF Supreme Headquarters American Expeditionary Forces back to the United States for insertion into the broadcast programming of the Voice of America.  On several occasions, international radio monitors in the United States, New Zealand and Australia noted PWI Hicksville & Paris in communication with each other for the transfer of radio news items.
For example, in March 1945, Radio Paris CZ2T was noted on 15920 kHz with a program relay to the United States; and in September this station was noted on 15293 kHz with program inserts for the NBC Blue Network.  In the reverse direction, PWI Hicksville was noted calling SHAEF Paris on several occasions.  The Hicksville channel callsigns at the time were WPJ on 11640 kHz & WJQ on 10010 kHz.

Apparently someone in the radio world had an insight into the workings of PWI Paris, because in September 1945, a column editor in Australia stated that the permanence of this station was doubtful.
However, the story does not end here.  In addition to the single 40 kW PWI transmitter at Les Essarts, there was a multitude of other transmitters, maybe even 15 or more.  One of these was a 10 kW shortwave broadcast transmitter that was installed in a subsidiary building at the Les Essarts station for the relay of radio programming from Radio Diffusion Francaise in Paris.  The main coverage area from this unit was intended to be Europe & Africa.
As far as is known, this shortwave broadcast transmitter operated on only one channel, 9560 (9550) kHz.  The programming was always a relay from Paris, and often in parallel with shortwave transmitters at other locations.  This station was often heard in the United States, and sometimes in Australia & New Zealand.  It was also listed in several early editions of the World Radio Handbook.

It appears that the power of the French shortwave station at Les Essarts was raised from 10 kW to 100 kW somewhere around the year 1947.  It is possible then that the power level of the 40 kW transmitter was raised in the era after peace was resumed in Europe, and after the American personnel had returned to their homeland.

So there you have it.  This PWI shortwave station located on the edge of suburban Paris was on the air with news for newspapers, and voice reports for radio & TV stations in the United States, as well as with program relays for re-broadcast by the Voice of America.  In addition, this shortwave station also operated as a relay station for the international shortwave service of Radio Diffusion Francaise.
            More about PWI in Europe on another coming occasion.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 312)