The Day I Learned Some Humility
or "Don't Ever Send QRQ To SUQ"

Uncle Sam kept me busy in my youth as a Navy radioman, sending me on many expense-paid cruises to all manner of exciting places, including several cruises to the Mediterranean Sea as part of the 6th Fleet.

After a few years at sea I fancied myself a pretty hotshot Morse operator.

Some of you out there who sailed in the 6th Fleet during the late 50's/early 60's may remember the famous "Task Group Commanders Circuit", commonly called "SIXES-ALFA". This was a high speed Morse net which routinely clipped along at 40WPM with busy spurts somewhat faster. It was a matter of some pride that only holders of an official "Speed Key Certificate" were allowed on the circuit, and only the best of those were qualified as NCS. (Yes, before you could use a Vibroplex on a Navy circuit, you had to pass an examination and obtain a certificate.)

Anyhow, as a qualified NCS on SIXES-ALFA, there was no doubt in my inflated ego that I was one of the hottest seagoing ops to ever key up a TBL. (TBL was a big black 100W MF/HF CW transmitter fitted in WW-II/Cold War era destroyers.) Certainly there was no mere civilian radioman out there to challenge my skills.

In those days the US Navy maintained a small presence in the Red Sea/Persian Gulf called the "Mid East Force". The Commander of this force was a Commodore who maintained his flag not on a warship, but on a seaplane tender (mother ship for seaplanes, which the Navy no longer even flew) docked at the Brit base on Bahrain. It was a pretty low-key military backwater. His "force" usually consisted of a couple of destroyers on loan from the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. These destroyers rotated to this duty for about 2 months by a transit of the Suez Canal.

Vessels transited the canal in convoys, northbound and southbound, which were coordinated to meet and pass at a "wide spot in the road" at the Great Bitter Lake. If there were any warships in the convoy, they were the lead ship, and the lead ship carried a UAR canal pilot.

Communications between the pilot and the Suez Canal Authority was via an MF (420 Kc/s) Morse circuit between the lead ship and the UAR station SUQ at Ismailia.

In early October of 1961, my ship, USS Henley DD762, drew the short straw and was sent off on Red Sea patrol.

After a last liberty port at Piraeus, Greece (remember "Fix" beer) we transited to Port Said and embarked our pilot for the trip through the canal.

The pilot had me file a departure report to SUQ and promptly at 0700 we started our transit. Periodically (at passing El Ferdan and Deversoir, if I recall correctly) he issued short progress reports which I sent to SUQ.

In due time the convoy entered Great Bitter Lake and anchored to allow passage of the north-bound convoy coming up from Port Suez. Prior to weighing anchor for the remainder of the passage, the pilot was required to obtain updated instructions from the Canal Authority. Turned out this happened just as I was due to be relieved on watch for noon chow.

Wanting to turn over a "clean" log to my relief, I was somewhat impatient that the operator at SUQ was operating at a rather leisurely pace (perhaps "only" 25WPM). Surely this lowly civilian operator could send just a bit faster?

So I slid the weights back to the rear stop on my Vibroplex and sent.....


What happened next still causes me regret every time I contemplate that short cocky transmission. An image comes to mind of a swarthy-complexioned mustachioed Egyptian with a wicked gleam in his eye, chomping an unlit cigar, pulling the weights completely off his key, and muttering "I'll show this gob some real QRQ!"

The crisp Morse transmission which came back to me was utterly off the chart in terms of speed. No operator on the vaunted SIXES-ALFA had ever even caused me to really concentrate, but I was missing every other character this fellow sent. In embarrassment, I sheepishly unplugged my speed key, broke in, and on the pump handle sent....


..... and turned the circuit over to my relief.

Never again, and I mean NEVER again, has the opsig QRQ ever passed my fingertips.

73, de Hans, K0HB