Thursday, January 10, 2019

When the Best-laid Schemes go askew: Project BGSPEED: The Propaganda Vessel for Albania, Part 2 Posted by Richard H. Cummings

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

(From the Poem by Robert Burns, in modern English)

As we read in Part 1, the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) vessel, JUANITA, arrived in Greece on March 25, 1951, to perform the following mission under Project BGSPEED:

At the time the JUANITA was purchased there was no certainty that permission would be granted by any country for her to operate within that country's coastal waters. It was understood, therefore, that the broadcasts might have to be conducted from open sea, that the vessel obtained for this role would have to be sufficiently seaworthy for open sea operations, and the equipment capable of broadcasting from a considerable distance at sea. The JUANITA was equipped, accordingly, to broadcast medium wave into Albania, utilizing the skip wave technique. 

This skip wave, unlike the ground wave which exists both day and night, becomes effective as darkness falls and the ionosphere descends, and becomes ineffective as the sun rises and the ionosphere ascends.) During the night hours the beam from the antenna strikes the ionosphere and bounces back to earth, permitting reception much farther from the transmitter than is normally possible by ground wave--which follows the ground sixty or seventy miles or so, depending on terrain, and grounds out.) 

Here is an illustration * of the difference between skip wave (sky wave) and ground wave techniques.

After JUANITA’s arrival in Greece, the serious problems began; below is a summary of these problems, extracted from declassified OPC and CIA reports -- in no particular order of importance.

1.    From March 25thto June 9th, no tests of the radio equipment were made, although it cost between $4,000 and $6,000 per month to maintain the crew and vessel.

2.    A contract engineer was sent to Greece to review the JUANITA operation. He wrote:

The JUANITA was intended to broadcast medium wave--skip wave into its target from a distance of 175-300 miles, came to light during a meeting with Washington communications men two days before my departure to Athens…On arrival in Athens I found that the men (both operations and communications) had apparently been unacquainted with this intention…They expressed surprise, in fact, that Washington intended to depend on skip wave, for they believed skip wave had never been depended on before for medium wave broadcast.

3.    “The Albanian
 area is greater than the noise level off the U.S. east coast. Radio stations in the Balkans make a Babel of voices, move up
and down the dial…and operate
with many times the power the JUANITA was given.”

4.    “The JUANITA was designed for coastal yachting, not for constant Mediterranean service. The duty, to which she has been subjected, not so strenuous as actual operations, has already rendered her temporarily inoperative. 

a.    Rolling and pitching, her bows under even in mild seas, made the operation of her equipment difficult and dangerous. 
b.    The chance, ever present in open sea operation, of a wave through the wheelhouse door or through the hatch over the transmitting room threatened to fry the communications men at their posts and disable the equipment permanently.” 

5.    “The distance between masts does not permit reasonable antenna length.” 

6.    “While the space allowed for sleeping quarters is more than ample, the space allowed for communications operation is so small that it denies the operators minimum movement. There is no ventilation in the transmitting room. The heat and smell when the equipment in operation is intense enough to cause sickness, a condition aggravated by semi-tropic weather and the violent movement of the ship.” 

7.    “Rigging and handrails become electrified during transmission endangering the life of all men topside.” 

8.    “The vessel's house-type wiring causes repeated fires. The vessel was delivered in the U. S. with its original wiring, which is of the house type, and is not suitable for marine use. This is evidenced by numerous minor fires which have occurred on board, and the extreme difficulty which the engineer has had in maintaining electric current throughout the vessel.” 

9.    “Generator power is insufficient both for communications operation and for ship's housekeeping.”

10. “Navigational charts
of the Hydrographic Office and the British Admiralty are frequently based on surveys of the last century. 
a.      There are numerous uncharted rocks and shoals. 
b.     Lights are frequently found too weak to be seen the listed distances, if they are lighted at all. 
c.      The risk of the loss of the vessel would be less important if the vessel were the best in design and condition. For
any vessel in these waters the risk exists. For a black broadcasting ship seeking secluded coves on outlying islands the risk is accentuated.”

11. “At anchor in a sheltered island cove, one finds oneself but a few hundred yards from village dwellings. After fall of darkness the large white yacht, whose presence has brought excitement to the otherwise dreary existence of the islanders, lights up (when transmitting) like a Christmas tree. Spreader lights and running lights begin to glow, and brilliant flashes play about the rigging.”

12. “In May 1951, the JUANITA sailed to the Corfu, Greece, area to survey the coastline for a sheltered cove suitable as a permanent operating base for medium wave-ground wave broadcasts into Albania.
a.    The Corfu survey necessitated 28-hour passage through a mined area, 14 hours through Greek and Albanian mine fields, and passage through a channel 500 meters from the Albanian coast. The rudder went out in the middle of the minefield, necessitating 20 minutes repair.
b.    The JUANITA went aground off Corfu -- at a point where the chart (showed 29 fathoms of water. Pertinent to grounding, as noted above, a vessel lending assistance to a vessel in trouble has the right to tow her to any port of the salvager's choosing. In this case it might easily have been Albania, several miles away.”

13. “A radar set, weighing 4,288 pounds (not including cable, weighing an estimated 500-600 pounds), was purchased for the JUANITA at a cost of $15,000. The set was air freighted in thirteen crates to Greece at a cost of $1,500. Men sent from headquarters, whose mission included installation of the radar, found the set to be large enough for a Navy Light Cruiser. It was not suitable for the JUANITA.”

14. “In August 1951, the JUANITA was docked in the Piraeus harbor with
a.      One engine gone, 
b.     The other engine half-gone, 
c.      Dry rot under the galley, 
d.     Water tanks ready to collapse into the bilge, and
e.      A winch, which, endangering the fingers of the man who uses it, will raise only the starboard anchor.”

One conclusion of the JUANITA’S history was: “It was not necessary to buy a yacht, equip her, man her, sail her across the Atlantic, and maintain her in Greece for half a year to demonstrate that her transmitting equipment would not work.”

In one OPC report, there was this commentary

I wish to reiterate my belief that there need be
no apologies by anyone for a decision now to liquidate this particular experiment. It has provided a number of people
with valuable experiences and has taught a number of lessons
that could not have been learned had not the basic proposition been tried out in actual practice. It has, however, taken up a great deal of time that might better now be directed to more pressing and fruitful activities. 

In March 1952, Acting Assistant Director for Policy Coordination wrote a memorandum to the Assistant Director, Office of Communications, in which he summarized the principal failures of Project BGSPEED, part of which read:

A great many things have gone wrong in the implementation of this project, and it was finally terminated in October 1951. No actual broadcasting ever took place.

Much of the onus for the failure can be attributed to shortcomings within OPC. These include lack of seasoned judgment on
the pert of various OPC officers concerned with the project, lack
of continuous, adequate supervision unfortunate selection of a vessel: etc. On the other head, the communications equipment provided proved totally inadequate for the contemplated operation.

This constitutes an expensive lesson for OPC. 

The JUANITA was purchased for $80,000 in 1951 and sold in May 1953 for $10,000. 

Although this project was a failure that did not stop OPC/CIA from transmitting clandestine broadcasts into Albania, as we will see in a future blog post.

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