Navy Intercept Station T

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From the NCVA Winter 1992 CRYPTOLOG

By Graydon A. Lewis,
Primary reference SRH-292.

Leno Garcia, Stanley Wilson Johnson, Christopher Nicholas, John Barnum, Robert Hynson; these are some of the Naval Security Group's almost legendary pioneers who swung the Direction Finders at Point St. George. Point St. George is one of those few intercept sites, little changed from its glory days, that can be visited. In fact, it is still far enough from civilization and still has enough free space, so a CDAA or a satellite dish could be built there today!

Now, though it is a private residence and the medical offices of Dr. Michael N. Mavris, M.D. and his wife Anastasia.

In the beginning, sometime between 1923 and 1935, the station was built and activated for Direction Finding. Commander W. M. Wynne, the radio materiel officer for TWELFTH Naval District reported "Point St. George is a very desirable site for a direction finder station. Well favored . . . . in having decidedly the least deviation shift of any D/F station in this district . . . it would be an excellent site for a high frequency direction finder station.

Point St. George is the part of California more west than any other part. Today, at the old station site, Radio Road ends. Across the street is a very large parking lot, for this is the jumping off point to a trail leading to the dunes and to the ocean beaches. A 1943 official description reads in part:

"The station is approximately five miles from the town of Crescent City, California in a north-westerly direction. Transportation to and from the town of Crescent City is accomplished by use of station truck, over what is partly a military road and the remainder of which is a county road.

The station consists of one set of bachelor quarters and four sets of married quarters, DT direction finder building, garage with stalls for six cars, power house and paint locker. The station covers an area of one and one-half acres, extending from the cliffs on the ocean front in an easterly direction to a country road. It is approximately five miles from Crescent City, California. The DT building is about one hundred fifty yards from the ocean, and the main building and the garage building are about seventy-five yards east of the DT building. Thirty feet north of the main building is the garage building and ten feet east of the garage is located the powerhouse. The paint locker is approximately one hundred yards north of the power house and adjacent to the stations three wells, from which the station water supply is obtained.

The powerhouse is forty feet north of the main building. It contains the power distribution boards for the station, and the three station transmitters, a TBK-11, a TAY, and a modified TM transmitter. An emergency power unit is also installed in the powerhouse in case of failure of power from the local electric company in Crescent City.

The main building is a large two-story "L" shaped building. It contains the bachelor quarters and a DP-4 direction finder installation in the western end of the long arm of the "L" as well as the station office. The eastern end contains two sets of married quarters and the short arm of the "L" which runs in north-south direction contains the remaining two sets of married quarters. These married quarters are occupied by the families of station personnel. The upper part of the bachelor quarters is occupied by the Marine guard, which performs the sentry duty of the station.

About ten feet east of the main building are two sixty-five foot pipe masts, two hundred fifteen feet apart and running in a north-south direction, from which the transmitting antennas for the three station transmitters are taken. The receiving antennas are taken from the station water tower, adjacent to the power house"

The building description above is still pretty accurate. [describing the photo in the article] The tall water tower is gone, and on the same location is a redwood water tank. A redwood tank similar to this served as the HFDF building located to the west. The water tank used for the DT Direction finder was on a 7-foot base. It may very well be that the DP-4, a medium frequency direction finder located in the upper west end did not require isolation from interference. Also, the DP-4, it appears, was not manned constantly it was more an aid to navigation, and for distress. A watch was maintained on 500 kcs mainly by speaker. The High Frequency Direction Finder was the heart of the intercept business.

The facilities report also indicated that recreation was very poor. A tennis court was built, but the weather at Point St. George is so poor, it got very little use. The present owner of the site, Dr. Michael N. Mavris, M.D. indicated the court was not used now because of the weather and because the concrete was crumbling.

As shown in the current pictures of the old intercept site, the front was extended to provide a waiting room for the patients of Dr. Marvis. The old brick powerhouse has been converted to a cozy guest house.

Dr. Mavris said that during the remodeling, they found a room screened in copper. More than likely, this was the room used for Teletype communications on landline.

The copper shielding came about because the station had developed a consistent error in reporting bearings. An investigation revealed the error was caused by equipment the station force had installed, and that the problem was corrected.

Then Commander L. F. Safford, "founding father" of the Naval Security Group was interested in Point Saint George as early as 26 August 1936. On that date he was awaiting a report from the Mare Island Navy Yard about the location, "to sell he idea of the Point Saint George Project to the powers that be."

On 30 December 1936, another letter indicated that the Mare Island Naval Shipyard was to install an XAB/HRO high frequency direction finder at Point St. George. This equipment had previously been installed aboard USS LEXINGTON (CV-2). By 3 March 1938, it was reported that a new Model DP-4 MFDF unit had been installed and it was calibrated on 5 February. No mention was made of the HFDF installation in this report.

By the fall of 1938, Point St. George was listed as one of the HF DF strategic tracking stations in the Pacific Coast Group. It is interesting to note that at that time HF DF sites had also been proposed for Point Arguello, California and Fort Stevens, in northern Oregon.

Installation of a model DT HFDF in late 1938 was confirmed by Captain E. S. L. Goodwin, in a later report. In a letter from OP-20G to Chief of the Bureau of Ships, three strategic HFDF stations were listed; Bainbridge Island, Washington; Point St. George, California and another site. A Farallon Island Point Arguello site was still being proposed.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, care was taken to have a Kana trained man at the site for the interception of Japanese traffic. C. H. Bissell was believed to have been the first Kana operator.

The Naval Security Group has always been noted for doing great things on the border of being illegal. Point St. George was no exception. Because the property near the beach where the DT HFDF was located was under the control of the Lighthouse Department of the Navy, and because the Lighthouse Department refused to give permission for the DT to be located on Lighthouse Property, station personnel mounted the DT on skids, so it could be moved off the property if they were caught!

The DT was later installed in a 16' by 12' redwood water tank, on a platform, seven feet above the ground.

After the 5-degree bearing deviation was corrected by moving the Teletype, Station "T" regularly reported 15% more bearings in response to flashes than any other station on the net. It was believed the reason for this was the fact the dipoles on the DT were tuned, and that it was operated on alternating current. The DT was designed for battery use but because Station "T" was not portable, operation was converted to alternating current.

In 1943 it was decided to upgrade the model DT HFDF to a Model DAB HFDF unit. Tests however, resulted in a negative recommendation on installation, because of restricted area resulting from the water tank tower, overhead antennas and other obstructions.

It was determined that a good location for the DAB would be approximately 1,000 yards to the east of the existing station. The unit could be installed and operational in about 90 days, at a cost of $14,000.

Plans were drawn for the expansion, and according to a message from Bainbridge Island to OP-20G, action was underway to determine the exact parcel of land needed. Ultimately, a 10-acre parcel east of the station was identified. This is believed to be the land now occupied by the beach access parking lot.

The problem was, that the owners, the J. J. McNamara family of Crescent City wanted $300 an acre for the land, considerably more than the fair price determined by the Navy. It was then decided to begin "Condemnation with Declaration of Taking," because the land was urgently needed by the Navy.

In the meantime, the war with Japan was winding down. The Naval Security Group selected a team, Commander H. S. Scott and Commander J. S. Cross to survey West Coast stations to determine which should be retained after the war. It was decided that Station "T" would be discontinued.

Although there may have been others stationed at Station T, the following are listed from existing records:

Amerling Cyril George, RM3; Ansak, Joseph, Jr., RMC; Bamus, John Richard, RM3; Beaver, John T. RMC; Bissell, C.H. RMl; Bullis, Russell W., RM3; Canaday, Robert. L. RM3; Cornell, Jack Wilborn RMC; Garcia, Lino RMl; Hamlin, Eugene Sandord RM3, Hogan, Harry T. RM3; Hynson, Robert Lear RMl, Johnson, Stanley Wilson RM2; Jones, Boardman Barron, RMC; Kebby, Maurice Harry Jr., RM3; McLain, Gerald Vern RM3; Miller, Robert James RMl; Moses, Albert O'Dell RMl; Morgan, Beverly Ariel RMC; Newman, Loyd Omer RMC; Nicholas, Christopher RE; O'Neal, Wilfred (n) RMl; Sawyers, Daniel Edwin Jr., RM2; Schurkamp, William Trego RM2; SeIser, John Carlton RM3; Shafer, Charles Russell RM2; Simpson, James William RM3; Timmons, Thomas J. RMl; Whittaker, John Stein RM3; and Wyatt, D. C. RMI.

On 15 April 1944, CNO (OP-20G) informed Commandant, TWELFTH Naval District that activity would be discontinued at Point St. George as soon as personnel and equipment other than the Model DP-4 MFDF could be transferred.

Station "T" was discontinued on 1 June 1944 and the station turned over to the Coast Guard. The station radio call NYW was cancelled. The last watch ended 1130 local.

The Coast Guard maintained the station for several years, but it too found the station to be surplus. It was sold at auction in 1956, to William Newman, Jr. Mr. Newman was a professional painter, had worked at the installation from time to time and knew it was quality construction. Newman rented out the sets of quarters.

Finally, in 1977, the station was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Michael N. Mavris M. D., and converted to medical offices in 1977.

Dr. Mavris, who speaks Greek, Russian, French, and Spanish, has always been interested in cryptology and military history. In 1965 he was in the U. S. Army Special Forces where he served until 1969, serving in Europe. Dr. Mavris had a crypto clearance and while with Special Forces, had joint maneuvers with the Army Security Agency in Europe. While he knew the property was a former Coast Guard station and that the Navy had it at one time, he was not aware of the Station "T" connection, until visited by CRYPTOLOG Editor Lewis.

Author's Note: Dr. and Mrs. Mavris, and their office staff were very cooperative and helpful. They take obvious pride in owning "Intercept Station T." In the article the tern! Naval Security Group was used, although at the time it was actually Navy Supplementary Radio.

(The above appeared in the CRYPTOLOG, Vol. 13, No. 3, Winter 1992)