In April of 1951,the United States Coast Guard Cutter Courier, a 338-foot, 5,500 ton vessel, was acquired as part of a joint operation between the United States State Department and the United States Coast Guard to become a mobile transmitting facility for the U.S. Information Agency's "Voice of America" program. The operation was designed to provide a ship-borne radio relay station to transmit Voice of America programs behind the "Iron Curtain."
Originally it was planned to have six additional ships, but due to the high cost, only the Courier was put into service. To ease political sensitivities, it was decided that the Coast Guard should operate the vessel and the ship was not allowed to broadcast on the high seas and only permitted to operate within the territorial waters of a country which granted permission.
The Courier contained the most powerful communications radio transmitters ever installed onboard a ship, including an RCA BT-105 150-kilowatt medium-wave distilled water cooled transmitter and two air cooled Collins 207B1 type 35-kilowatt short-wave transmitters. The transmitters filled most of one cargo hold, while a second hold contains diesel generators which were capable of producing 1,500,000 watts of electrical power. A Collins 231D-20 three kilowatt transmitter was used for ship to shore communications.
The Courier initially used 35' x 69' barrage balloons launched from a special midship deck platform to elevated wire antennas. The balloons carried the medium wave antenna aloft to an altitude of around 900 feet. The lines were secured to the flight deck by a winch. The Courier carried a total of five such balloons at a cost of $18,000 each. Each balloon contained 150,000 cubic foot of helium.
On more than one occasion, a balloon broke free when cables snapped in heavy winds landing in Turkey with some property damage. Eventually it was decided to replace the balloons with a mast-supported wire antenna between the forward and main masts. The experiment proved to be successful and the balloons were retired from use. Additionally, several innovative antennas were designed and implemented to thwart Russian jamming and fading caused by atmospheric conditions.
There have been some claims that the Courier's offshore broadcasts inspired such offshore pirate radio stations as Radio Mercur and Radio Caroline in the late 50's and 60's. A balloon-raised antenna similar to that used by the USCGC Courier was attempted by the pirate station Laser 558 in 1984, with similar results.
The Courier was stationed in the waters off the eastern Mediterranean off the island of Rhodes, Greece, operating while anchored at undisclosed locations in those waters. A receiving site was constructed on a hill south of the city of Rhodes with a VHF link used to send program material out to the ship. Rhodes is a Greek island approximately 11 miles southwest of Turkey in the eastern Aegean Sea. The ship had a small studio and control center if program announcements or originations were needed. The Courier was "on the air" for 11 1/4 hours per day, seven days a week, broadcasting in 13 different languages. She was the only "mobile" transmitter in the Voice of America's world-wide network that consisted of 78 transmitters located at 10 overseas relay bases.
In 1964 a land based station was built on the island of Rhodes and the Courier's days of broadcasting came to an end. All the transmitting equipment and generators were off loaded in Athens and given to the Greek Government as the ship made it's way home. The Courier also held the record for longest deployment overseas being on station from July 17, 1952 to August 13, 1964, off the island of Rhodes, Greece. The Courier was ordered home in July of 1964 and she returned to the U.S. after 12 years on station overseas.
United States Coast Guard Cutter Courier, a 338-foot, 5,500 ton vessel, moored off Rhodes, Greece. The Courier broadcast the Voice of America in several languages during the cold war from 1952.
The Courier initially used 35' x 69' barrage balloons launched from a special midship deck platform. The balloons carried the medium wave antenna aloft to an altitude of around 900 feet. The lines were secured to the flight deck by a winch. The balloons were eventually taken out of service when several broke away causing some damage upon landing in Turkey.
Voice of America Broadcasts From Coast Guard Cutter
(Top) RCA BT-105 150-kilowatt medium-wave distilled water cooled transmitters and (bottom photo )two air-cooled Collins 207B1 type 35-kilowatt short-wave transmitters.
The concept of the Iron Curtain symbolized the ideological fighting and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991. It was a fictional name given to people living in communist countries. In simplest terms, the Iron Curtain referc to the boundary, both physical and ideological, which divided several European countries from 1945 to 1991. This period can also be referred to as the Cold War period of political, military and economic tension between the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and Western countries, particularly the United States.
The countries that were divided by the Iron Curtain belonged to the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries. Warsaw Pact countries were made of communist Central and Eastern European countries which included the Soviet Union, Albania (until 1968), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany (until 1990), Hungary, Poland and Romania.
North-Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO countries, were different independent member countries who had democratic governments. Some of the NATO countries include the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, Italy and the United States.
What was the reason for this divide? Even before the Second World War, tension had been building up between the West and the Soviet Union. This tension could be traced back as early as the Russian Civil War of 1918-1920, when the United States supported the movement against the Bolsheviks. Relations between the West and the Soviet Union continued to decline over the latter’s support of Germany’s economy right before the onset of the Second World War.
During the course of the Second World War, however, the Soviet Union was united with the West against the Axis forces. Once World War II drew to a close, the Soviet Union began to dominate many of its surrounding countries. Growing suspicion that the Soviet Union may be building an empire prompted Winston Churchill to coin the phrase, “the Iron Curtain” during an address on March 5, 1946.
Courtesy of Fred Haney, VOA Engineer on board the USCGC Courier.
The island of Rhodes is located at the crossroads of two major routes of the Mediterranean Sea, between the Aegean Sea and the coast of the Middle East such as Cyprus and Egypt. Rhodes is the largest island of the Dodecanese archipelago and serves as the capital of the Greek Islands. Located between the isles of Karpathos and Kos, Rhodes is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece. Rhodes is most famous for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Colossus was a large statue that stood over 30 meters high before it was destroyed in an earthquake in 226 BC. Over the years, there has been much debate over whether to rebuild Colossus (to attract more tourists to the island). In the fall of 2008, Dr. Dimitris Koutoulas announced that he would be in charge of constructing a “light sculpture” of Colossus that will cost over 200 million euros to create.
However, even without Colossus, millions of visitors flock here each year to visit the well- preserved Venetian castle constructed by the Knights of Saint John in the beginning of the 13th century. Rhodes’ numerous Byzantine churches are also a major tourist draw. In addition, the citadel of Rhodes is one of the most famous medieval towns in all of Europe, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988
References & Resources courtesy of:
U.S. Coast Guard- U.S. Courier historic image gallery
On the Shortwaves.com
Lt. Robert Haldi , USCGC Courier 1959-1961 and Clint McAuliff
Dave Newell, President of the USCGC Courier Association