RAN/USN FLEET RADIO UNIT, MELBOURNE - FRUMEL

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visits since 14 November 2000

 

The joint RAN/USN Fleet Radio Unit, Melbourne (FRUMEL), was one of two Allied Sigint organisations in the South West Pacific area (SWPA). FRUMEL was subordinate to the Commander of the USN 7th Fleet. The other unit was Central Bureau which was attached to the HQ of the Allied Commander of the South-West Pacific area.

Fleet Radio Unit Melbourne (FRUMEL) and the other U.S. Navy units provided signals intelligence information to both Admiral Nimitz as Commander in Chief Pacific, General MacArthur as Commander of the South West Pacific Area and Admirals Somerville and Fraser of the British Far Eastern and Pacific Fleets.

"Sigint" is a code name for signal intelligence. Sigint operations were so secret that they were given their own special classification of "Ultra Secret". The word "Ultra" was used as a code name for intelligence derived from interception and decoding of Japanese military and naval messages.

The analytical section for FRUMEL was based in the "Monterey" Apartments in Queens Road, Melbourne, opposite the Albert Park Golf Course. The intercept site for FRUMEL was located at Morrabbin another suburb of Melbourne. Australian couriers delivered traffic from Morrabbin to "Monterey" Apartments by motor cycle every 2 hours. About 90% of the Australian staff were women.

Lieutenant Fabian of the US Navy and his 75 man unit of FRUMEL were based at "Monterey" Apartments. Prior to coming to Australia, Fabian and his US Navy code breakers had moved from Cavite Naval Station to a tunnel on Corregidor after the Japanese started their first attacks in the Philippines. When things became desperate, his unit and 1.5 tons of their equipment were spirited out of the Philippines by a number of submarines.

During the night of 4 February 1942 the submarine USS SEADRAGON made it into Manila Bay and docked at Corregidor. The first party of four officers and 13 men embarked. The submarine slipped out in the early morning of 5 February and set forth for Java. The evacuees disembarked at Surabaya on 11 February, and the next day boarded a train for Bandung.

1st GROUP - 4 Feb 1942 2nd GROUP - 16 March 1942 3rd GROUP - 8 April 1942
USS Sea Dragon USS Permit USS Sea Dragon
CRM Thomas Hoover CRM Frank E. Estes

CRM Antone Novak

CRM Charles Johns CRM Wilson L. Mason CRM Sidney A. Burnett
CRM Victor L. Long CRM Meddie J. Royer CRM Albert H. Geiken
RM1 Frank P. Hadley CY Rich. M. Blanchard CRM Charles Jackson, Jr.
RMC David W. Snyder CY Lewis C. Johnson CRM Joseph L. McConnel
CY Ray. V. Anderson CY Victor J. Knutson CY John E. Chamberlin *
CY Jack Y. Kochen CM1 Edward Bryan RM1 Arthur R. Irving
CY Oscar L. Osborne RMI Donald O. Couey

RM1 David L. King

RM1 James B. Capron RM1 Chas. A. Walters RM1 Harry G. Sweet
CPM Don. D. Groff RM1 Albert S. Ware Y1 John E. Kephart, Jr.
RM1 Al Monroe, Jr. RM1 Duane L. Whitlock RM1 Gordon O. Carnes
RM1 Martin H. Smith Y1 Albert E. Myers, Jr. RM1 Wesley S. Knowles
Y2 Howard A King RM1 Kenneth H. Barker RM2 William A. Rickman
LCDR S.A. Carlson RM1 Ray L. Hitson CMM J.W. Lowery
LT R.J. Fabian RM2 Harold V. Jones Y2 H.R. Gould
ENS R.W. Lewis RM1 Stephen J. Makervich CY E.F. Gaghen
LCDR Gil M Richardson RM1 Edward Otte Y1c H.F. Price
  RM1 Hubert A. Price LT R.L. Taylor
  RM2 Charles G. Quinn LT J.M. Lietwiler
  RM1 Russell W. Rogers ENS Ralph E. Cook
  RM1 Joseph E. Smith  
  RM2 Lloyd T. Smith  
  RM1 Arthur D. Swain  
  RM1 Harold P. Waldum  
  Y2 Leonard Bowers, Jr.  
  CY Mack D. Jones  
  Y1 Kenneth A. Boulier  
  Y1 Kenneth A. Boulier  
  Y1 Grover C. Foster, Jr.  
  Y2 William H. Tremblay  
  Y2 James G. Broadbent  
 

Y3 Robert E. Dowd

 
 

Y2 Frank B. Gonder

 
  LT JG J.K. Hess  
  LT T.R. Mackie  
  ENS L.L. Mackallor  
  LTJGR.E. Veverka  

                     

PORT DARWIN

ENS L.W. Waters

Y2c Robert A. Jamison

Y3c Ken. R. Herbert

Sea1c Wm. McGinley

Sea1c Robt. W Rohr

 

CHAUMONT GROUP

Y2c James W. Densford

Y2c Sanford H. Palmer

Y3c James H. Bell

Sea1c Henry Sewart, Jr.

Port Darwin personnel were added to the first Corregidor party to be evacuated. A group from the U.S.S. Chaumont was also added. However two enlisted men CY A.B. Anderson and Y3c J.A. Harrell did not make the evacuation and nothing about them has been located.

Lieutenant Fabian and his second in charge, John ("Honest John") Lietwiler, shared a tiny office in "Monterey" Apartments and there was always one of them in the office at any time of the day or night.

Commander, later Captain Eric Nave of the RAN cryptographic unit arrived at "Monterey" Apartments in February 1942. They had outgrown their cramped quarters at Melbourne's Victoria Barracks. A number of his unit were British code breakers who had escaped from Singapore before it was captured. Commander Nave was a very secretive and mysterious person. He did not get on well with Commander Long, the Director of Naval Intelligence, nor did he get on with Lieutenant Fabian.

Nave did not get along with most people including Commander Jack Newman. However, Newman and Commander Fabian worked together famously. It is reported that Fabian requested the British to take back Nave on “security” grounds. A British officer came to Melbourne to investigate and tried to smooth things out but was unsuccessful. It is known that Newman also had difficulties with Nave and probably had something to do with the latter’s removal.

Commander Nave did not stay long with the combined Australian Navy/U.S. Navy operation in Melbourne, which was put under U.S. Navy control in mid-1942. He was sent to Central Bureau in mid-1942. Although he headed up the “Solutions” division there, most records indicate he only dealt with minor Japanese naval codes and simple substitution ciphers in spite of his Japanese language capability and long history with Japanese codes. Colonel Sinkov and his American staff worked on the high-level Japanese Army codes.

Some of Commander Nave's RAN staff included:-

Lieutenant Commander Jamieson
Professor Dale Trendall
Major Athanasius Treweek from the Greek Department of Sydney University
Eric Barnes
Jack Davies
Corporal Ronald Bond
Henry Archer - a British Foreign Office linguist from Singapore
Hubert Graves - a British Foreign Office linguist from Singapore
Arthur Cooper - a British Foreign Office linguist from Singapore

Trendall and Bond shared a flat on the 2nd floor on the Leopold Street side of the building. Arthur Cooper, a bit of an eccentric, had a pet gibbon (a small long-armed ape) called "Tertius" which he had smuggled into Australia. He took it everywhere he went.

The codebreakers at FRUMEL would receive intrecepted IJN messages, which they would then decrypt and send on to the Commander of the Southwest Pacific Force (COMSOWESPACFOR) Their expertise in breaking codes was renowned. In mid 1942 an Australian officer from the Australian Army Cipher Production Unit located at nearby "Grosvenor" in Queens Road showed off his unbreakable code to Major Treweek at "Monterey". He was astounded when Treweek took only 24 hours to unravel his unbreakable code.

Each of the groups at "Monterey" worked very independently. Some people who knew each other never saw the other person the whole time they were based at "Monterey".

Beginning in January 1942, U.S. Navy stations in Hawaii (Hypo), Corregidor (Cast) and OP-20-G (Washington) began issuing formal intelligence decrypts far in advance of the U.S. Army or Central Bureau. FRUMEL in Australia obtained IBM equipment in 1942 to replace that which was left behind on Corregidor and employed it throughout their time in Melbourne.

Chief Warrant Officer Sidney Burnett was a radioman with FRUMEL in Melbourne. He was part of the last group of men to escape out of Corregidor on USS Seadragon (see above).

Sidney Burnett's first task at FRUMEL was to reassemble his old DT which had been taken from Corregidor to Java and then to Melbourne by the first group of men that escaped from Corregidor. Sidney Burnett was the direction-finding man on Corregidor and had operated that piece of equipment. The DT is a so-called walk-around high frequency direction finder which comprises an antenna that revolves around a receiver. Sidney Burnett had helped to develop this equipment under Commander Safford back in 1937. Once the DT was operational, it was shipped to Exmouth Gulf.

Sidney Burnett was keen to get closer to the action and as such he was dying to be posted to the Radio Station at Adelaide River in the Northern Territory. Chief Warrant Officer Sidney Burnett and LTJG Keith (Keg) Goodwin selected the site for the new US Navy Fleet Radio Unit Radio Site at Adelaide River on 28 January 1943. The new site was operational by the end of March 1943.

Sidney Burnett helped to establish a number of forward intercept units including Adelaide River and Townsville which were both very successful. The station at Cooktown in north Queensland was not as successful. There were problems obtaining enough people and equipment to do the work. Plans for the intercept site at Cooktown began in July 1943. Personnel were finally sent to Cooktown in February 1944. They used receivers from the RAAF and a broken generator from Melbourne. Cooktown was a problem site as they ran out of food and water. They could not obtain a tank to pump water in, and the US Navy ships were too busy moving and supporting General Douglas MacArthur's campaigns.

FRUMEL moved out of "Monterey" Apartments in October 1944 and moved to nearby Area 1.


Photo:- via Joan O'Connor (ex Reilly)

Joan O'Connor, Ex WRAN, Monterey

 

Joan O'Connor, an ex WRAN Writer during WW2, was seconded by the US Navy to work with FRUMEL at "Monterey" Apartments. Joan has worked as a Guide at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. One of the ex WRANS that Joan had mentioned to me was Thora Edmunds.

 


Photo:- via Joan O'Connor (ex Reilly)

Annual Luncheon in 1997. All except one (lady in blue) are ex WRANS who worked at Monterey during WW2.
Joan O'Connor is standing at the far left. Lady in blue is Esme Melville, Transport Driver ex Victoria Barracks.

 


Photo:- via Joan O'Connor (ex Reilly)

Victorian ex WRANS marching up the forecourt of the Shrine of Remembrance on Anzac Day 2000 in Melbourne

 

On 18 June 2001, I was contacted by Bill Price, a Battle of Midway historian. In the 1950s Bill worked at NSA where he knew CDR Ralph Cook and Agnes Driscoll. In 1955 or so, Ralph introduced Bill to Bill Tremblay who decrypted the Japanese Fleet Plan message for the attack on Midway. At that time Bill Tremblay was still living in Protem, Missouri, and Ralph Cook in Hawaii. Bill stated "unfortunately, FRUMEL has never received any recognition while at Melbourne or previously at Corregidor. I'm trying to gather that information to give them due credit." Bill Tremblay discovered the Yamamoto message at 11:30 PM on 20 May 1942.

 

Intercept of the Yamamoto Message of 20 May 1942
by Bill Price

 

The Missing Key to History
by Bill Price

 

Signal Intelligence Units in Australia during WW2

 

Did you work in FRUMEL?

If you did I'd like to hear from you.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Philip H. Jacobsen, Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy (ret.) for his assistance with this home page. Philip is a researcher and writer for the Cryptolog and other cryptologic publications.

I'd also like to thank Joan O'Connor and Joyce Barker, ex WRANS, who both worked at Monterey.

I'd also like to thank Bill Price for his assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

Maneski, Sharon A., "The Quiet Heroes of the Southwest Pacific Theater: An Oral History of the Men and Women of CBB and FRUMEL", 1996

Jenkins, David, "Battle Surface - Japan's Submarine War against Australia 1942 - 44", Random House Australia, 1992

Drea, Edward J., "MacArthur’s Ultra”

Spector, Ronald H., “The Eagle and the Sun”

Holmes, W.J., "Double Edged Secrets"

Prados, John, "Combined Fleet Decoded"

Layton, "And I Was There"

 

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 Peter Dunn 2003

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This page first produced 14 November 2000

This page last updated 26 May 2012