The Radio Network that Allowed Communication with Submarines

What do you do when you need to communicate with a crew of 50 sailors submerged in a submarine in an undisclosed location across the world’s oceans? That was a difficult question to answer for Navy leaders in WWII.

Radio waves don’t easily travel through salt water, which meant that getting active communication with a submarine crew meant making the submarine surface an antenna. This was the obvious solution, but it made a previously covert submarine now a visible target.

Engineers tasked with finding a more covert solution soon discovered that radio waves with low frequencies, around 10 kHz, could penetrate saltwater to depths up to around 20 meters. They realized that if the transponders on submarines were switched to these frequency ranges, then they communicate with leadership on land.

The problem with this idea was that creating and broadcasting these low-frequency radio waves required massive antennas. Essentially, the lower the frequency of a radio wave, the longer and larger the antenna is required.

Engineers honed in on a range of frequencies lower than 30 kHz for submarine communication. The wavelength of these frequencies were roughly 10 kilometers or more, meaning that engineers would need massive antennas. The only way to produce these frequencies with such high range was to use a massive system of antennas with massive amounts of power.

Nazi engineers seeking to communicate with their fleet of U-boats designed the Goliath antenna network in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. After construction, it was operated during World War II and had a transmission power of up to 1,000 kilowatts. For comparison, that’s equivalent to the power draw of 500 average American households.

The Goliath network would regularly transmit frequencies between 15 kHz and 25 kHz. It was powerful enough to reach any German submarine located anywhere in the world submerged up 20 meters. The only time communication was hindered was when German U-boats were navigating deep Norwegian fjords.

The Goliath antenna used three different umbrella antennas. These were essentially massive antenna towers that were then draped with kilometers of guy wires radiating from the mast. These helped not support the antenna tower, but also formed part of the antenna itself.

In total, the system used 3 210 meter or 688-foot masts arranged in a triangle. The system also had cables burried around it with a total length of 350 kilometers. Once it was completed, it had an impressive efficiency of 50% at 15 kHz and 90% at 60 kHz.

This massive antenna site was undoubtedly a key strategic tool used by the German Navy in communicating with their U-Boat fleet.

After the war ended, the Soviets came in and dismantled the Goliath and shipped it to Russia. It was then erected near Moscow. Today, one of the original towers is still in operation communicating low-frequency signals with submarines and broadcasting time signals.

Trevor is a civil engineer (B.S.) by trade and an accomplished writer with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author and the producer for the YouTube channel Concerning Reality.


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