AN AMERICAN VLF TRANSMITTER SITE...OR WAS IT?

A RE-TYPE OF AN ARTICLE ABOUT ANOTHER FAMOUS VLF SITE {RUGBY BEING THE MOST FAMOUS OF COURSE!}

 

NORTHWEST CAPE [AUSTRALIA] – CALLSIGN N W C

Navcomsta {Navy Communications Station} Northwest Cape lies about 850 miles north of Perth as the kangaroo jumps and for those of you who have started to hear of this place but know little about it, a brief description follows.

  After a prolonged survey of likely sites for a VLF station to cover the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas the US Navy decided in 1960 that the deserted bush at NW Cape was perfect.  Negotiations with the Australian Government followed whilst plans were drawn up and, in 1963, 18,000 acres of land were set aside for use by the US Government for a nominal fee.  In 1963 [October] the first spade was driven into the ground and anyone who knows the Australian outback will appreciate how tough a job that is.  And then, streets ahead of schedule, in August 1967 the callsign ‘NWC’ was first heard on the air.  And, judging from some reports, the callsign NWC has been heard practically all around the world.

  Originally intended only to house the new VLF station, plus administrative facilities, it was later decided to add an HF receiver and transmitter complex.  With the addition, now, of a satellite terminal, the Navcomsta NW Cape must be about the most modern military radio station.

  Apart from a Royal Australian Navy Liaison Officer, the whole complex is manned by the USN – if manned is the right word, for they have two Wave officers and some nursing sisters on the staff.  A USN Captain is the first [and present] commanding officer of a station that includes about 20 officers and 300 men.

  Being new, the station is also somewhat novel to the average Brit.  The security regulations might have been written and produced by the late Ian Fleming.  Disembodied voices invite one to ‘State your name and business’ when the appropriate door bell is pressed.  Assuming one answers this satisfactorily , a ghost [presumably] opens the door, for when I did so the door eventually opened, as they say in the adverts, ‘untouched by human hand.’

  The object of the VLF station was to improve submarine communication coverage in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.  It certainly does that, but the old polar diagram needs checking.  It’s improved reception even up the Bristol Channel according to one submarine.

  Needless to say, the vital part of this station is the VLF aerial and this needs a photograph to do it justice.  It is arranged in a rough circle, each aerial being ‘panelled’ to permit easy maintenance and, of course, the amount of wire used to arrange optimum radiation is staggering.  One thing no one told the designers.  They installed some plastic covered insulation pieces in the aerial system.  The station had hardly been commissioned when all the plastic insulation started to disappearing.  The white cockatoos were eating it.

  So, if ever your ship is in the vicinity of Exmouth Gulf, see if you cant go alongside the NW Cape Jetty and take a look at the modern wireless station.  But take a tip, don’t let anyone pipe “hands to bathe”.  The water abounds in poisonous fish of many varieties”.

  Apart from the spelling mistakes, the suspect syntax and the technical inaccuracies [e.g. HF transmitters and receivers AERIALS are not to be found at the same site], the article gave one a pretty good idea of what the new station was all about. Enroute to the UK [via the Pacific] from a two and half year commission based on Singapore [see my page ADEN.htm], we [H.M. Submarine “AURIGA”] used NWC for our signals, finally chopping to GBR on leaving Bermuda on the home leg.  It was a good station with a huge power output.

  In  telling you this story, I though I would add one of my now customary maps to help you with the geography lesson. Just as well I did I think, because the name North West Cape is misleading at least as far as ENCARTA is concerned, and all my maps come from that source. Look first at this map  of Western Australia. I have stuck two pins on the map. The one on the left {out at sea} is in fact North West Cape proper, and approximately 99 miles to the east, the second pin, is the headland on which North West Cape [NWC] is sited, only the name of the main land area is called EXMOUTH.   Australians refer to the station as EXMOUTH VLFT [Very low frequency transmitter]. . The distance between PERTH and the CAPE is in fact 675 miles [as the crow flies! – and not {as stated} 850 miles: it is about time those kangaroo jumps were calibrated].  Then in this second map I have again added two pins. North West Cape is show out at sea in position 21° 48' S 112° 33' E whilst the EXMOUTH VLF TRANSMITTER is in position 21° 52' S 114° 6' E.  The actual VLF station is sited at a location called EXMOUTH at the very tip of Cape Range, deep inside the Cape Range National Park.  The bay to the right of the VLF station is the Exmouth Gulf which clearly provides a lee against the Indian Ocean.

  Rugby [and Criggion of course] differ greatly from NorthWest Cape [but we know it is Exmouth really] in several ways probably, but for the time being I am going to concentrate on just three differences. Firstly Rugby is at…guess where?….Rugby of course – we Brit’s are good navigators whereas, as discussed, Northwest Cape isn’t……isn’t at Northwest Cape.  Secondly, Rugby was built by the British, in Britain, for the use of the British…Northwest Cape score reads US, Australia, US [with just a couple of Aussie plus UK submarines] thrown in as sweeteners!

  Rugby, you will recall,  was use for sending signals [and time signals on VLF] at LF and VLF  {respectively GYD and GBR] to warships and submarines; LF time signals [MSF] to the whole world; HF transmissions [keyed by Portishead Radio at Burnham Somerset]  for merchant ship services and warships using conventional CW ship-shore frequencies; and for HF times signals to the whole world.

  Have a look at this web page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Communication_Station_Harold_E._Holt   Harold.E.Holt was the Australian Prime Minister at the time of NWC build/commissioning, who mysteriously disappeared shortly afterwards whilst out swimming!

See also this file NORTH WEST CAPE......pdf   That is the end of my story.