I'm listening to Fluckey's "Thunder Below" about the USS Barb's exploits. He mentions a mission to shell a Japanese "cable station" in the Kuril Islands, but doesn't explain what it is for. He does mention that the consequence of a successful attack would mean that Japanese ships would be forced to rely more on radio communications, enabling US eavesdroppers.

So I'm deducing it's a cable as in a physical cable link for communications - an undersea cable relay of some kind? But how would that help ships? Or is the idea that with the cable station in place, they could broadcast on a shorter-range set and then the communication would go the rest of the way via secure hardline, while without the cable station they would have to use longer-range broadcasts that were more vulnerable to eavesdropping by US codebreakers?

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    IIRC, the term usually referred to a telegraph cable station. – sempaiscuba Sep 19 '19 at 1:31
  • Exactly as you said, these were relay stations that helped with transmissions and partially secured them . Btw, don't make too much of that book. It mixes real historical events with fictionalized accounts and boasting ("we are the best, we won the war single-handedly ..." ) This kind of literature was popular in 20th century until the advent of internet and cross-checking of data . – rs.29 Sep 19 '19 at 3:49

It's probably referring to the same thing as exists nowadays and your guess is correct.

When transmitting a signal through a medium (wire, air, or fiber optics nowadays) over long distances, you need repeaters every so often to boost its amplitude and overcome attenuation. In some specific cases you could also change the medium altogether -- e.g. to air from wire, so you're able to reach warships. The further your recipient is from a radio emitter, the higher powered a radio signal you need to emit so it reaches its intended recipient, and thus the more far reaching the signal it is and the more prone it becomes to eavesdropping.

One small caveat: these signals were encrypted. Encryption then was nowhere near as strong as modern encryption methods (asymmetrical key exchange came later) but it was good enough that simply eavesdropping wasn't enough. (Aside, to give you a sense of the logistics involved: to work around encryption related hurdles, namely equipment and physical key exchanges, the US resorted to code talkers to exchange tactical messages.)

  • more precisely, wouldn't that have been an undersea telegraph cable? atlantic-cable.com/Article/1944CableStationRM/index.htm – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Sep 19 '19 at 6:08
  • Thanks! As regards eavesdropping, I know the US had broken Japanese ciphers and was listening, though erratically as they were sometimes changed (the Ultra program). However, it occurred to me that the average submarine captain wouldn't have known about one of the most top-secret programs during the way. – raindog308 Sep 19 '19 at 14:21
  • Quick little point about the code talkers. The messages weren't just in Navajo, they were also encrypted. The Japanese had previously interned several American civilians who coincidentally could speak Navajo, and they were unable to decode the messages. I guess they may have just bluffed their captors, but it seems like a pretty big risk. – Ryan_L Sep 19 '19 at 19:58
  • @Ryan_L - The Navajo code talkers also utilized a simple substitution cipher, for which the codebooks were not permitted to leave the training facilities (and which therefore ran on memorization). Military terms were given somewhat-descriptive names in basic Navajo (e.g. destroyershark). To someone not familiar with the code, even if they spoke Navajo, the communication would come across as meaningless gibberish. – Sebastian Lenartowicz Jan 1 at 23:56

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