War Emergency Radio Service (WERS)

Jeffrey Herman jeffreyh at HAWAII.EDU
Mon Jul 13 15:11:16 EDT 1998

Someone on the newsgroups asked about WERS, so I searched through
the booklet "50 Years of the ARRL" and came up with the following
Jeff KH2PZ

First a bit of background: In 1939 there were 51,000 US hams. In Sept. of
that year war came to Europe. Of the 250 DXCC countries, 121 of them
immediately went off the air (including Canada and the UK). The US
maintained the strictest sense of neutrality. This was re-enforced by
the ARRL, which came up with a neutrality code for amateurs. Hams were
asked by the ARRL to voluntarily abide by the code, which they did
en masse; this earned additional support for the amateur radio service
in governmental circles.

(In an effort to streamline its operation in preparation for possible
US involvement in the war, the FCC at this time introduced multiple-
choice tests.)

By June 1940, the US invoked the Telecommunications Convention
prohibiting US amateurs from contacting hams elsewhere; at the same
time all portable and mobile operation below 56 MHz was banned (except
the ARRL Field Day). At the request of the ARRL, the ban was modified
to allow the League's Emergency Corps to continue work on the lower
frequencies for training and drills. All licensees were required to send
a set of fingerprints, a photo, and proof of citizenship to the FCC.

The FCC needed 500 radio operators to man listening and direction-
finding stations - they asked the League's assistance - the League
put out the word in QST and within days of that issue, the FCC had
the 500 operators it needed. (It's important to note for the duration
of the war, the military and government always turned to the ARRL
when radio operators and equipment were needed; the League would put
out the call in QST and over W1AW, and the quotas were always filled in
short order. Of the 51 kilohams mentioned above, 25k enlisted, and 25k
remained at home to teach radio and electronics, serve in the
communications industry, and serve in WERS.)

By June of 1941, tubes and other components were in short supply;
each time the military asked hams to donate parts, they were flooded
with whatever was needed. Many US hams were recruited for a Civilian
Technical Corps to operate and repair British radar equipment.
Also at this time, the Office of Civil Defense, at the offering of
the ARRL, created a CD comm system with ham radio as its backbone
(this relationship between between CD and ARS exists even today).
Because the Army needed 80m, the FCC gave hams 40m phone privileges
for the first time, to make up for the loss of 80.

December 7, 1941, the US entered the war; hams were immediately ordered
to go QRT. By special FCC order, the ARRL's W1AW was to continue its

At the request of the ARRL, the War Emergency Radio Service (WERS) was
created in June 1942. The GPO was inundated so the rules for WERS appeared
only in QST. At the League's insistence, the FCC continued to offer
amateur licensing throughout the war; this to provide standards for
WERS applicants, and more importantly, to enable amateurs to prove
their ability before enlisting in the armed services.

The purpose of WERS was to provide communications in connection with
air raid protection, and to allow operators to continue their role
in providing comms during times of natural disaster as they'd been
doing as hams (WERS was not part of the amateur service, but was
manned by hams; non-amateurs were permitted to serve in WERS in
low level positions). WERS was administered by local CD offices;
WERS licenses were issued to communities, not individuals.

WERS operated on the former amateur 2 1/2 meter band (112-116 MHz)
and on higher frequencies. Again, WERS was not part of the amateur
service but hams were asked by OCD to join - and they flocked to it.
Until the end of the war, if a ham wanted to operate he could only
do so as a WERS operator. QST fully supported WERS by publishing
technical articles on building WERS gear and modifying existing
2 1/2 m ham equipment so as to meet the rigid WERS standards. Nearly
every issued of QST contained WERS articles - two examples:
Oct. 1942: WERS operating procedures; how to train auxiliary
(non-amateur) operators. Feb. 1943: OCD's plan for selecting frequencies.
A sample of WERS operations: May and July 1942 - comms support for
flooding of the Mississippi and Lake Erie; 1944 comms support after
an Atlantic Coast hurricane; 1945 - Western NY snowstorm early in the
year, spring flooding, and a September Florida hurricane.

After VJ Day in 1945, hams were given authorization to begin
operating again on the 2 1/2 m band, on a shared basis with
WERS. WERS was terminated in mid-November. By the 15th of
that month, the FCC released bands at 10, 5, and 2m for amateur
use. The post-war era of amateur radio had commenced.

This is probably more than you wanted to know! I love radio history
and enjoy sharing it with others who express an interest.

73, Jeff KH2PZ

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