Huff-Duff and the Coast Guard
by Bruno Yoka
After more than 55 years, many incidents that occurred during World War Two are just now beginning to surface. One such operation was "Huff-Duff". Its origin was traced to the Greenland Patrol.
It was little-known, when the COMANCHE escorted the first convoy to Greenland in June, 1941, that the ship also carried two special radiomen monitors--Steward Wright, RM1c and William Rabe, RM1c, who spent endless hours monitoring illegal radio transmissions originating in Northeast Greenland.
The small 6x6 foot wooden hut atop the after deckhouse contained an extra-sensitive radio receiver and portable HF/DF equipment. This little radio room differentiated the COMANCHE from the other 165-A cutters of her class. She was the only one that had her 3"/50 caliber gun on the quarter deck rather than atop the after deck house.
Occasionally, in Greenland, these two men would carry their portable direction finder to high ground for better bearings on radio transmissions and soon confirmed more than one illegal radio station.
The bearing procedure was time-consuming and, with the help of bearings from other sources, pinpointed the first of these stations to Shannon Island in Northeast Greenland.
When analyists began to list the various options to cope with the U-boat menace in the North Atlantic in 1941, surprisingly, the HF/DF method to trace U-boats went to the top of the list. Radio engineers improved the slow, manually operated equipment, designed a quicker all-electronically operated unit and nicknamed it "huff-duff," after the HF/DF principal of obtaining bearings. With the assistance of other HF/DF units to form a triangulation plot, it could accurately pinpoint the origin of radio transmissions.
In an extraordinary move, the NORTHLAND was sent to the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen to deliver 30 tons of equipment with 41 officers and men to establish a shore-based HF/DF station.
Enemy submarines also carried an old form of manually operated HF/DF, which they could use to home in on the spotter sub, who then would send radio signals for their wolf pack to rendezvous. Our specially trained operators monitoring their operating frequencies would then take bearings on their transmissions within a matter of seconds.
When ship sinkings reached their peak in May 1943, records show the cutters CAMPBELL, SPENCER, and other 327-footers on convoy duty were already equipped with the HF/DF equipment before Navy ships.
The North Atlantic and the area surrounding the Greenland Sea were the most active for enemy submarines. With the assistance of Huff-Duff and the Navy Hunter Killer (HUK) groups operating with CVE's ("baby carriers") rapidly diminished this menace from beneath the sea.
Navy Patrol Frigates (PF) manned by Coast Guardsmen on the weather/plane guard stations were also equipped with the latest HF/DF, and operated by trained operators to pinpoint what was left of the U-boats in the North Atlantic.
The importance of Huff-Duff did not stop there. During a two-year tour of duty in the Pacific in 1954, this writer was assigned to Rescue Coordination Center at Ft. Shafter on Oahu. The HF/DF net of the Pacific was then being downsized for lack of funds. A series of Coast Guard-manned stations were in operation on Johnston, Palmyra, and Midway Islands, and were valuable in pinpointing planes having difficulty in navigating the wide expanses of the Pacific, or were having other flight problems and required assistance. In those days, a reduction in crews for planes, the pilot would become the navigator as well, causing navigation to become secondary.
With a boom of about 12 feet, a Huff-Duff station could differentiate the sky wave from the ground wave.
As far as history of the Huff-Duff goes, the equipment continues to exist--today the Federal Communications Commission uses it to locate illegal radio signals and stations.
Return to Coast Guard Stories