Bainbridge Island Naval Radio Station
5/14/1998 by SkewsMe.com
When Tokyo talked, Bainbridge Naval Radio Station listened.
— ‘East Wind Rain’; Bainbridge’s day in history: Dec 7, 1941, Seattle Post Intelligencer, 7 Dec 1971, 108(341).
A vital link in the Navy’s communication system in the Pacific, [the Battle Point Naval Radio Station was] declared surplus by the Department of Defense and turned over to the General Services Administration. The 800 foot high steel transmitter tower,…some 200 feet taller than the Space Needle, reputedly once was the tallest tower in the world. The station is said to be the first point in the continental United States to receive word of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It intercepted coded Japanese radio messages during World War II.
— Charles Aweeka, 800 foot Bainbridge tower due to go down into history, The Seattle Times, 23 April 1972.
At 1:28 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941,…a Navy radio man stationed at the southern tip of Bainbridge Island near Seattle intercepted a final message from Tokyo to Japan’s ambassador in Washington, D.C. The message told the ambassador to state Japan’s final position to the U.S. by 1 p.m. Washington time. One p.m. Washington time was 7:30 a.m. at Pearl Harbor. So Bainbridge Naval Radio Station plucked from the air waves…the timetable, if not the target, for Japan’s attack.
The island…housed one of the most effective and least known…spy operations of World War II.
On Nov. 19, 1941, Bainbridge intercepted Japan’s plans for the famous “winds” code in which a weather forecast would signal the end of diplomatic relations. [From] “Building eleven” at Bainbridge,…the contents of those…dispatches…[were then] forwarded…to Washington by teletype for decoding.
The very existence of such a place as Building Eleven, a two story brick structure housing an operation called “security group” or “supplementary radio,” was and remains one of the best kept secrets of the war.
Some of Bainbridge’s undercover role was revealed by the Navy in 1946 during Congressional investigation of Pearl Harbor events. There is no apparent reason for secrecy today.
Secrecy haunts the veterans of “Station S,” the code name for Bainbridge. Over on Bainbridge,…people still say things like “loose lips sink ships.”
The Naval Radio Station was built in 1939 on the abandoned site of Fort Ward, an Army facility. The station handled communications for the 13th Naval District, broadcasting on a 50,000 watt transmitter. Station S was control center for a Pacific Coast network of radio direction finder (RDF) stations used to track both friendly and hostile craft. Bainbridge copied all of the Japanese government messages between Tokyo and San Francisco, and guarded the radiotelephone band of the same circuit for voice transmissions.
It was Bainbridge’s secret assignment, as much as the nearness of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, that led to the sudden evacuation of 225 Japanese Americans from Bainbridge on March 30, 1942. It was the first forced evacuation of its kind on the West Coast. Few knew at the time of the evacuation that the Navy on Oct. 27, 1941, translated messages sent by a Japanese agent “Sato” from Seattle to Tokyo, describing warship repairs at Bremerton.
[Some] operators at Bainbridge Dec. 6 and 7 were diverted to a strange new assignment –…somebody in Washington wanted badly to know about the wind direction. In case Japan U.S. relations were in danger, the code words would be…“east wind rain.” For Russia,…the signal was “north wind cloudy.” For Great Britain, the words were “west wind clear.” (Navy Commander Laurence F. Safford later insisted in the face of official denials that the U.S. had received all three wind code signals on Dec. 4 or 5. Japanese agents in Hawaii said they did not hear the “east wind rain” signal broadcast until two hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked.)
The message setting a 1 p.m. timetable to break off talks war completely intercepted at Bainbridge by 1:37 a.m. Relayed to Washington by teletype, the code was instantly recognized as “purple,” Japan’s toughest crytographic system. At 11:30 a.m., the message was in the hands of General George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff. At the same moment the Japanese Zeros were tearing through the sky 200 miles north of Pearl Harbor. Marshall’s last minute alert message, warning of the Japanese ultimatum due at 7:30 Hawaii time, reached Honolulu at 7:33 a.m., and even then was not immediately delivered to military commanders.
In Building Eleven, Station S, Bainbridge Island, the diplomatic circuits were still, as if dead. But there was noise, lots of it, from the Japanese Navy. In the sky over Pearl Harbor, Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida looked down from his high level bomber, saw that complete surprise had been achieved, and radioed the words “Tora, tora, tora.”
Years later, when the tide of war had turned…a signal from a Japanese radio man in the Kurile Islands …stopped, and suddenly, in plain language, he was sending the words: “They’re coming, they’re coming they’re coming.”
— Walter Wright, Building 11 and the fateful Japanese message, Seattle Post Intelligencer, 7 Dec 1971, 108(341), p. A17.
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