History – The Legacy of LORAN

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On Monday, Feb. 8, the U.S. Coast Guard will cease transmission of the United States Loran-C signal and will commence a phased decommissioning of the Loran-C infrastructure. To read more about the termination of Loran-C, click here to read a Compass blog post.

In this post, a Coast Guard Historian talks about the legacy of Loran ….

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Post Written by Scott Price, Coast Guard Historian

“Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer panic” is how more than one Coast Guard LORAN veteran described their tour of duty at one of the dozens of stations based around the world. Others noted that their detailers always called duty at a LORAN station “the best kept secret in the Coast Guard!”

The timing room at LORAN Station Marcus Island.
The timing room at LORAN Station Marcus Island.

Operating LORAN was one of the more obscure missions ever undertaken by the Coast Guard. It was a radio-based navigation system first established during World War II under a secret program to provide the Allies with a reliable and accurate means of navigation at sea in any weather. Once a small enough receiver was developed, aircraft also got in on the action and LORAN expanded to all aspects of the military. Stations were first established in the Atlantic beginning in 1942 and then in the Pacific, most built by Coast Guard construction detachments (similar to the Navy Seabees) on islands almost as soon as they had been taken back from the Japanese. The LORAN system was then used by invasion and by the Army Air Force in the bombing campaign against the Japanese homeland.

At the end of the war, the Coast Guard recognized the value of LORAN for merchant as well as military use and it was decided to keep and expand the system (with Congressional approval of course). As such, more stations were built literally to the corners of the globe. Many of these distant stations were extremely isolated, such as Maulo Point LTS (Loran Transmitting Station), built in a former coconut grove 180 miles north of Manila on the west coast of Luzon, Philippines, the Shetlands Island station in Scotland, or “Murder Point” on Attu Island, Alaska.

The personnel of LORAN Station Lampedusa, Italy, pose in full combat gear during the heightened tensions with Libya.  The preparations were not for naught--on 15 April 1986 Libya fired two Scud missiles at the station although both fell into the Mediterranean well short of the station.
The personnel of LORAN Station Lampedusa, Italy, pose in full combat gear during the heightened tensions with Libya. The preparations were not for naught–on 15 April 1986 Libya fired two Scud missiles at the station although both fell into the Mediterranean well short of the station.

Other LORAN units were built in idyllic locales throughout the Pacific, including Hawaii, Japan,  Mediterranean and Caribbean. Some could be dangerous, such as the Maulo Point station where they were ever vigilant against a “Huk uprising” in the 1950s while Station Con Son, South Vietnam might have to fend off a Viet Cong attack. Other stations did come under direct enemy attack—Libya fired missiles at LORAN Station Lampedusa, Italy, in 1986 but fortunately they were way off the mark and the missiles splashed harmlessly into the Mediterranean (see the photo of the crew on the right). Other stations were nearly wiped out by typhoons or hurricanes but their signals were never off the air for very long.

The early stations usually consisted of a series Quonsets huts and a small airstrip set up on a few acres of cleared land while later stations had more permanent facilities constructed. Those not near a major population center had to have all of their supplies brought in by ship or aircraft, with most of the Pacific chain stations relying on the latter for all the necessities of life – and such deliveries were the highlight of their lonely life.

Admiral Thad Allen, then a Lieutenant, poses with his crew on 22 August 1975 (front row, second from the right).  Allen was the last commanding officer of LORAN Station Lampang, Thailand.  Station Lampang was part of the LORAN chain first put into use as part of “Operation Tight Reign” in support of military operations in Vietnam.
Admiral Thad Allen, then a Lieutenant, poses with his crew on 22 August 1975 (front row, second from the right). Allen was the last commanding officer of LORAN Station Lampang, Thailand. Station Lampang was part of the LORAN chain first put into use as part of “Operation Tight Reign” in support of military operations in Vietnam.

Crew size varied but usually never more than around 8 to 25. The stations were typically commanded by a junior officer fresh off cutter duty and thrust for the first time into the vagaries of running a shore station far away from any higher command. There they had to deal with all manners of problems—with the equipment or with their personnel—and also act as an ambassador of sorts to the native population as he/she was typically the highest ranking U. S. official in the area.

Communication with the outside world early on was by radio only and the transmitters had to be “on” 24/7. The LORAN personnel’s job was to make sure the transmitters were functioning around-the-clock. With the advent of LORAN-C, which began entering service in the 1970s, operations were more advanced and became more automated. Crews turned from primarily standing watches to making sure the equipment was maintained and operating properly. LORAN was a significant operation for the Coast Guard, by 1974 the service ran 45 stations around the globe and supported those stations with a significant logistical “tail”.

In the 1990s the foreign-based LORAN stations were turned over to their host governments, bringing an end to the era where Coast Guardsmen served on lonely stations in far-away lands. The Coast Guard continued to man and operate stations based in North America—many of these isolated as well—Dana, Indiana, Havre, Montana, Searchlight, Nevada, Baudette, Minnesota , and Attu, Alaska to name a few.

Now, on Feb. 8, these 23 stations are scheduled to close (with some remaining operational for a few months due to some international agreements) along with their support unit at Wildwood, New Jersey.

As this chapter closes on a historic mission of the service, we should recall that the Coast Guard’s LORAN history was instrumental…supporting America’s military operations since World War II… the growth of the world’s maritime commerce… assisting countless hundreds of thousands of mariners, their ships, and their operations… and gave the Coast Guard exposure the world over, even in those areas of the globe where the locals had never even heard of the United States Coast Guard.

For more information, see the great website developed by ETCM Bill Dietz, USCG (Ret.). Additionally there are some wonderfully written LORAN stories at Jack’s Joint. We’ve posted more photos and other information on our website too.

16 comments on “History – The Legacy of LORAN”

  1. It was a long time ago…but I had the honor of being a part of Coast Guard history by serving at a LORAN C station in Tan My Vietnam and a LORAN A station in Galveston, Texas. I was a seaman in the USCG from 1970-’74. Few would remember the pseudo rate of SnEW…electronics watchstander. Yes, I was an SnEW. I assume there will be no more SnEWs.It was an experience I would never trade or soon forget.

  2. WOW! They are finally shutting LORAN down. LORAN has been sort of like the Energizer Bunny – it just kept going and going. On one level it is long over due, but on the other hand I’m sort of sorry to see it go.

  3. Was stationed at Cape Sarichef Loran Station in the Aleutian Islands in the early seventies My memories are of a long year, Alaskan brown bears and hours and hours of boredom, and of course an Nuclear bomb test on Amchitka Island. I retired as a CWO in 1987.

  4. ET1, Lead ET, Lorsta Attu AK – 1980
    ETC, Electronics Div Ch, Lorsta Kargabrun TU – 1986
    CWO, STO/XO, Lorsta Lamedusa IT – 1989

  5. Small world. I was stationed with Gary in Gavleston and worked the Anchitka nuclear blast that Lewis mentioned. The CG was a special place to be, in a very special time.

    LorSta Port Isabel, TX
    LorSta Adak, AK
    LorSta Gavleston, TX

  6. I was lucky enough to be stationed at LORSTA Sylt, Germany from June 1968, to June 1970. Came in as an SNET and left as an ET2. It took a while to get used to the long summer days and long winter nights. I remember waking up at 3 AM in June with the sunlight pouring in the windows thinking “man it must be 10 o’clock and I’m in big trouble”, only to look at the clock. We had a great crew. The CWO’s were excellent at figuring out problems we would be scratching our heads at. The techs and watch standers were very sharp. It was a good experience. I stayed in electronics and recently retired after 30 some years in the television broadcast industry. I’d love to get in touch with the other crew members.

  7. I am writing this for dad who was stationed on Attu from Mar 1946 – Aug 1947. Back then they received supplies every 2 weeks by boat and always reported ‘favorable surf’. Now it is (was) every 2 weeks by plane. I say ‘was’ because on Thurs., Aug. 26, 2010 Attu was closed down. My dad attended the ceremony along with someone else he served with way back when. Boy, does he have some stories about that time. There were 13 men stationed and a couple of others are still left.

  8. I was stationed on French Frigate Shoals (Tern Island) from November 1960 through November 1961. During this time the Pacific Missile Range came to the island and tried to film the first Russian in space.

    Many air to ground pickups of data from the island and many visitors during this time made life interesting.

    Actually this tour of duty was an experience I’ve never forgotten. Great crew and great times fishing, shooting, playing volleyball and just messing around doing stupid stunts like paragliding over the reefs in a rubber raft, flying ten foot box kites,killing sharks and visiting small islands within the shoal area by boat.

    Ninety cent cartons of cigarettes along with ten cent beer with no limits on the drinking. The average cans of beer per man per month was somewhere between 300 and 500 cans give or take a few. Great fish to eat all cooked by the Hawaiian mess cook who really knew how to cook fish.

    Great duty but while there I don’t think I really appreciated the uniqueness and privilege of being stationed in such a pristine and beautiful part of the world, French Frigate Shoals.

  9. I was stationed at LORSTA Sylt from 1983-1984. I had a great time and it was a big change from my first duty; USCG Station Marathon Florida Keys.

    Both great places and a special time in my life. I look back now at 50 and think of all the good times in the Coast Guard in my early 20’s. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

  10. I was stationed at Iwo Jima in the mid 1960s. Does anyone know where I can get good pictures of the insides of the AN/FPN – 45/46 timers and transmitters?

  11. Was an aircrewman at CG AirSta Kodiak 1967-1970. We flew thousands of miles in often crummy Alaska weather to “log” the LORAN-A & C stations of the Bering Sea area: Sitkinak Island, Cape Sarichef, Adak, Attu, St. Paul Island and Port Clarence, the latter above the Arctic Circle. Let me tell you … when you “logged” Attu in an HU-16 Albatross (cruise 150 kph), it was a LONG day! We were ecstatic when the new HC-130H model Herks replaced the “Goats” and the tired old C-123, the latter nicknamed the “R.O.N.” (flyspeak for Remained OverNight) because it broke down miles from Kodiak almost every time it tried to make a Log (logistics) run.

    Every trip was an adventure, even if the weather was occasionally CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited), Stunning scenery, including active volcanoes dotted along the Aleutian Islands. Then there was a parachute drop when Attu’s snowplow broke down, open-air engine changes in Cold Bay and Sitkinak, and a plague of flat tires until we got higher spec tires that the Air Force was using in Viet Name. (Lots of primitive airstrips in Alaska then)

    Who would have thought that “delivering the groceries” would be such an adventure. Oh, the memories.

  12. I had the privlege of flying support for the LORAN stations for three years from Air Station Naples, Italy; then Air Station Guam for two years into the wonderful Paluan Islands; also several months of flying essential items during Operation Tight Reign to build the stations in Thailand and Vietnam, and from Kodiak out the Aleutian chain for three years.

    Every LORAN station was unique, and every one did their job. It was eight years of fun for me as the pilot – I didn’t have to stay for a year!

  13. Hi Good Morning,

    I am Commander Mark Condeno of the Philippine Coast Guard Aux and I am quite curious with regards to the USCG LORAN Stations, I remember there are a number of LORAN stations in the Philippines-I think one was in Palawan another in Catanduanes and one in Batanes.

    Any information as to how many LORANs were in the Philippines and when were they decactivated would be highly appreciated.

      1. Lieutenant,

        Good Morning,

        Thank you very much for the info which is very helpful,ive already downloaded some of the PDF files.

        Sincerely,

        Mark R Condeno
        Commander
        Liaison Officer, Foreign Armed Forces Attache Corps
        International Affairs Directorate
        Philippine Coast Guard Aux

  14. Hi we lived on Sangley Point between 1966 – 1968 and I am trying to find any information on my Dad, John P. Gilbert. I have many items and memories passed down to me but am not sure if he got them visiting loran stations.

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