Portable CW operation under duress: A YL in WW2


Depicted as operating from Le Chanbon sur Lignon with resistance fighter Edmund Lebrat operating the generator. (Click for larger image)

It’s not often that a portable QRPer operating CW captures the imagination of an artist.

The painter in this case is Jeff Bass and the woman at the key is Virginia Hall, aka “the spy with the wooden leg”.

Born in 1906, Hall grew up in Maryland and was educated in Radcliffe College & Columbia University before going to Europe to continue her education and study of languages.

She was in France when WW2 began, then left for England where she volunteered to serve the Allied Forces as a spy. The Brits sent her back to France for 8 months to help coordinate activities of the French Underground. To those not in the know, she was simply a journalist for the New York Post.

Hall played the key role of her section’s activities in unoccupied southern France; providing money and moral support for her fellow agents, keeping London supplied with useful intelligence, and occasionally helping downed airmen to escape but she was betrayed by priest Abbé Alesch, a double agent (who would be executed by firing squad in 1949) working for the Germans, and escaped to Spain.

Once back in England, Hall was trained in Morse Code and radio operations. She returned to France early in 1944 and was equipped with a Type 3 MK II suitcase transceiver. Her mission was to provide whatever intelligence she could as well as to arrange arms drops to the French Underground and to communicate the location of safe houses.

Hermann Göring put a price on her head, offering a reward for her capture. His orders were clear and merciless: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”

At war’s end, King George awarded her the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and General Donovan (head of OSS) presented Virginia with the Distinguished Service Cross in lieu of President Truman at her request due to the publicity that would be generated by the President.

For years, the British attemped to find Virginia, going so far as putting advertisements in numerous American newspapers. They finally realized she did not want to be found and had evidently requested the CIA chiefs withhold the information from MI6.

Type3About the radio in the painting – designed by Major John Brown, a British Signals Officer, the Type 3 Mk II was the best-known and most common of the suitcase radios produced during the war. Approximately 7000 were made from 1942-45 at Stonebridge Park, London. It operated from 3.3-16 MHz using interchangeable crystals and coils. Output power was 15 watts and the whole contraption weighed 29 lbs (13 kg).

After the war, Virginia Hall returned to the United States and eventually retired from the CIA. She passed away on her farm in Maryland in 1982.

Often denying requests for interviews, Hall would simply say “Many of my friends were killed for talking too much.”

More about Virginia Hall can be found here.



  13 comments for “Portable CW operation under duress: A YL in WW2

  1. January 4, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Great story again…Tnx. 73, Bas

    • January 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Thanks Bas – I knew you’d like it…73 my friend.

  2. January 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    From an Amazon review of the book above by John Leich:

    Virginia Hall was a friend and colleague of mine in 1950-51, when we both worked for the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), the parent organnization of Radio Free Europe, on the third floor of the Empire State Building in NYC. While we knew that she had worked with the O.S.S. duing World War II, we never knew the nature of her work in sabotaging the Nazi war effort, nor the extraordinarily dangerous nature of this work. Virginia, although perfectly sociable, was secretive about her private life. During the time she was working for NCFE, she married Paul Golliot, her French war time colleague, and never even told us anything about it. The extraordinary thing about Ms. Judith Pearson’s book is that, without ever having met her or her husband, she is able to bring Virginia so completely back to life for those of us who knew her 55+ years ago!

  3. January 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Great story John and looking forward to reading many more. Thanks for sharing.

    • January 6, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      Glad you liked it – it was interesting to dig into the story behind the painting.

  4. Jan OK1NF
    January 9, 2013 at 3:46 am

    I am interested in radio history and I love your articles on this theme. A story of Virginia Hall is another great reading. Thanks a lot, John!

    Wish you a Happy New Year , good health and many fb DX catches throughout the year 2013.

    • January 9, 2013 at 5:56 am

      Tnx Jan and the best to you in 2013 as well.

  5. José Ricardo Ahumada
    January 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Interesting, fascinating life of Virgina … … as for a movie ..Thanks for sharing
    José – LU1KAK

  6. January 10, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    I just started reading the book 2 days ago – it would make for a good movie or documentary.

  7. January 14, 2013 at 4:27 am

    Great painting, and fascinating story. Thanks!

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