History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Cablehead (RM) as remembered by
Cablehead (RM) as remembered by Major S.F. (Rudy) Rudolph, October 1945 – June 1951I was sent to France in October 1945 as a replacement for the GIs returning home from the war. On the troop ship named Pvt. Joe E. Martinez, I met Ed Minarciny. Ed and I became good friends and we debarked at Le Havre and boarded a troop train for Liège, Belgium. We went from Liège to Brussels, to Antwerp, and back to Brussels. We finally got our assignment—the Cablehead at Urville-Hague was in need of a teletype operator and a diesel mechanic. Ed said he would like to be the mechanic and I said, I would be the teletype operator. Ed never saw a diesel in his life and I did not know what a teletype machine was used for nor what it looked like. We went back to Le Havre and were met with our transportation to Cherbourg to Urville-Hague.
We were met with open arms but when the CO, Lt Malcolm Starr, found out we knew nothing about our assigned tasks, he decided both of us would learn the cable operations.
One of the first things that I noticed when entering the operations building was a sign over the entrance. The sign read, “Through these portals pass some of the best technicians in the world”. I do not know what happened, but a few days later, the word “some” was missing.
At this time, the operations staff was manned by US civilians. I recall there were Bill Clark, Pete Peters, Charlie Watts, Danny Crean, Wilder and Swanson. Bill was a top-notch technician and taught me the operations. Pete was also well versed in maintenance and I learned quite a bit from him. I recall that during my first week in operations, the direction control switch stuck on send and we lost hours in sending messages to nil. Being the only GI there, I caught the blame for this mishap although I did not know anything about the switch or what it was used for. I became a fast learner.
The facilities at the Cablehead were very primitive and very few. The latrine (restroom) was a four-hole community out-house: “Knock before entering”. The dining area was adequate and the food prepared by the German POWs was of the highest quality. We had Spam at a minimum of four times a week. There were no medical, dental facilities or medical personnel, and your hair was cut by a POW for a few cigarettes. We got our provisions from Carentan, but when the troops moved out we had to go to Paris (210 miles).
After three or four months, things got better. The POWs built separate restrooms with flush toilets and showers. A large building was erected to house a new dining area, kitchen, dance floor and pool table. There was also a stage for shows and an orchestra. The POWs had a marvelous dance band and copied their style of playing from records of the “Big Bands”. I operated the 16mm movie projector. We had movies twice a week and a dance on most Saturday evenings. We also had a Guest House built to accommodate visiting dignitaries.
After about six months, all civilian positions were terminated and I was promoted to be the NCOIC. Also at this time, Lt Hawthorne was replaced by Capt. Lonnie Temple. I had Ed plus a POW (who decided to remain in France), and a French civilian (Gilbert LeRouge [born 1923, died 2015]) on my staff.
On the 21st of December 1947, I married a French Teletype operator (Jeanne LeGoupil). Eleanor Roosevelt was strictly against GIs marrying foreign women as these marriages do not last. As a note, Jeanne and I will celebrate our 62nd anniversary this December 2009 and are still very much in love.
The Cablehead ceased operations on a temporary basis for four or five months in November 1947. There was a dispute between the Army and Western Union over fees for using the cable.
In February 1948, I contacted Hepatitis A and was sent to the 120th Station Hospital in Bayreuth, Germany. I was there for two months. The hospital treated only hepatitis cases. It was full of patients, the treatment was excellent.
I rotated back to the States in September 1948 and was discharged from the army in November 1948. After a few weeks, I started receiving telegrams from Capt Temple asking me to come back to the Cablehead. It did not take much coaxing as civilian work positions were non-existent. I re-enlisted in January 1949 and was immediately flown back to Europe.
The equipment in the Cablehead was very durable. Very few problems occurred. On certain occasions, I had to replace vacuum tubes in the amplifiers, a few resistors and capacitors in the power supplies. Of course, we practiced strict preventative maintenance habits. You would think that dust would be a great problem, however; it was not. The translators, transmitters, teletype monitors, printers, relays, etc., received a monthly inspection and were cleaned using carbon tetrachloride. It was a good cleaning agent but you had to make sure all parts were thoroughly lubricated after cleaning.
I recall that there were only three problems with cable leakage during my time. The first time, a Mr. Perry and a Mr. Benn from Western Union, England came to the Cablehead. Mr. Perry told me that he was responsible for locating the cut cable for the initial startup of the Cablehead. He said he found the cable and marked it with a 55 gallon drum. When he went back the next day, the drum was not there. He re-located the cable again and tied it to another drum. The next day, no drum. He again re-located the cable and tied it to another drum but this time he put it under surveillance. He was shocked to see the some GI’s were using the drum for target practice.
The cable was made up of a single core with shield. At about twenty miles out, the cable was spliced with a dual core cable (core to core and core to shield). The core to shield was known as the “long sea earth”. At the cable terminal, a large copper sheet was buried in the ground and was known as the “short sea earth”. The core, long sea earth and the short sea earth entered the building terminating in a cable box.
One of the leaks in the cable was located at the splice of the two cables. When the cable ship was working at the splice, I received a message from Paris that the ship wanted me to perform a “magneto test”. I had no idea what they wanted. So, after about fifteen minutes, I connected a field EE-8 telephone to the cable and very gently said hello into the phone transmitter. A voice came right back to me asking where I had been. I now learned what a magneto test was.
Another leak occurred later on and I ran some tests on the cable using the cable testing equipment and the oscillograph. I made my calculations and compared my readings with Horta (HO) in the Azores. We both agreed on where the leak was. However, the cable ship did not agree and determined the leak was at the two cable splice. The ship retrieved the cable and opened the splice. They found no leak and spliced the cable back together and then proceeded to the area where HO and I had indicated. We were correct in our calculations. Much later on, I got a message from Paris that the leak was repaired and to re-establish operations. I went on Morse code to HO but the code was very erratic. We re-aligned the distributor and tried sending messages over the cable monitor. All we got was a bunch of errors. I am sorry to say but it took me about two hours to figure out the problem. The cable ship opened the splice and when they put it back, they reversed the core and deep sea earth. All I had to do was open the cable box and reverse the core and deep sea earth. All worked out well.
My MOS was 197, Submarine Cable Station Technician. One day, I received a phone call from our headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany letting me know that I had to take an exam to retain my MOS. However, there was no exam material for this MOS and would I be so kind as to draft questions they could use. I did so. A few weeks passed when a LTC called me to give me the exam over the telephone. Of course, I aced the exam. Later on the 197 MOS was discontinued as I was the only person so designated. I got the new MOS of 187, Fix Station Carrier Operator.
The teletype messages transmitted over the cable must contain continuous pulses. This was a must. However, some coded messages contained blanks which had no pulses. Prior to transmitting, these messages had to be run through a B-2 Table, which inserted a pulse for the blank, and the receiving station had to run a reverse process. It was decided that a less time consuming process was needed, so WU devised a new relay panel to eliminate the B-2. I worked 16 hours for two weeks wiring in the panel. One evening the new CO, Major Allison D. Melvin, walked into the station and introduced himself to me. He explained that he knew nothing of the station operation but would be glad to assist me. I used his help in that he held the wires while I soldered. When the project was completed and tested out positive, he presented me with another stripe.
I possessed a radio operator’s license and applied for a French Radio Amateur License. I was granted the license with the call sign of F7AL.
In 1950, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed the NATO Commander for the Allied Forces in Europe. His headquarters were in Paris, France. The General and his wife Mamie departed by ocean liner (the Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary) from New York with the destination of Cherbourg, France. They would arrive in Cherbourg at the Gare Maritime in the wee hours of the morning at 3 am.
The American Vice Consul in Cherbourg was Jack Leary. Jack and his wife Nancy were very good friends of my wife Jeanne and myself. We socialized together with some partying and bridge playing. When the Eisenhowers were due to arrive, Jack asked me if I would do him the favor of being the escort for his wife and the double duty of being her chauffeur. He would be at the Gare hours ahead of the arrival time to make sure all was in readiness. Of course I consented.
There was a nice reception with speeches, toasts, etc. When the festivities tapered down a bit, Nancy told me to go meet Ike. I was hesitant but finally moved towards him. He saw me coming and extended his hand in greeting. He had the big grin on his face that he was famous for. He asked me where I was stationed and when I replied, he asked “what do we have here in Cherbourg?” I told him that I was at the Cablehead and I gave him a brief synopsis. I finished by telling him that the Cablehead was his secondary means of communications to the United States by backing up the primary radio transmitters. He was quite receptive and he thanked me very much for the information. We again shook hands and he wished me the best of luck.
The photograph, a double-exposure, was taken by M/Sgt Ted Liska. Ted was in the first wave landing at Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944. Ted apologized for the photo. He said he was so overwhelmed seeing Ike that he forgot to advance the film.
Double-exposure or not, I still cherish the memory of meeting Ike. It’s something I shall never forget.
In June of 1951, I decided that I would continue on with the army as a career. When I had completed my basic training back in August 1945, I was selected for Signal Corps OCS. But the war with Japan had ended and there were no quotas for new officers and I received the letter of regret. I mentioned this to Maj. Melvin and told him I would seek a commission and would he approve my applying for the school. He was very receptive and queried our headquarters in Frankfurt. I received a letter of approval and orders were cut for my return to the States to attend Signal Corps OCS and upon completion of my schooling, return back to Europe for assignment to the Cablehead. This letter was signed by the European Chief Signal Officer. I was commissioned in March 1952. I did return to Europe but with the assignment to Allied Land Forces Central Europe (ALFCE) at Fountainebleau, France. Attempts by Frankfurt for my release from ALFCE and be assigned to the Cablehead failed. I did visit the Cablehead in 1952 which was then commanded by Capt Cecil Nutt.
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