[78thASA] For the _Ditty-Boppers_

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 20 23:25:29 UTC 2013

On Sun, Jan 20, 2013 at 7:35 AM, Dave Wilton <dave at wilton.net> wrote:
> The British "Special Operations Executive" or "SOE" was formed in 1940 to run espionage, reconnaissance, sabotage, and resistance operations in occupied Europe.

Interesting! Back in my day - late '50's to early '60's - it was said
that the voice-intercept operations of the Security Agency's
signal-intelligence program was a clone of a British
military-intelligence program known as "M[ercury] G[rass] scanning."
Though I was an "MG-scanner," the meaning of "Mercury Grass" was and
is a mystery to me.

You know, it's just occurred to me, Why not google it?

The relevant Google URL


is blocked. Hiwever once something is on line, it can be (re)searched.

Edward Vert
Regarding Mercury Grass (MG), if it's any help to you, Paul, our
detachment at RAF Gatow began intercepting what became known as
Mercury Grass in the late summer of 1957. I was posted to Gatow in
February 1958 and the popular belief there at that time was that MG
had been accidentally "discovered" by I. Corps Corporal Graham Smith.

The story goes that he was idly doing some postcoital knobbing in the
VHF band (80-100 Mc/s) of the radio at his girl friend's flat in
uptown Berlin. Voice ops in those days only trawled the HF band (2.5-4
Mc/s), so Graham was surprised to hear Russian voice traffic which -
although quite unlike the tank-tank stuff which was our daily bread
and butter - nevertheless sounded a bit military-like. On returning to
camp, he was able to reproduce this phenomenon. Recordings were made
and sent to GCHQ for identification. The order came back to give
priority to the logging of this traffic under

the code name Mercury Grass, the Grass part allegedly in recognition
of GRAham Smith.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of this little tale because Graham had
already been demobbed when I arrived on the scene. However, by that
time 2 splendid new Eddystone 770R receivers had been installed
exclusively for MG traffic.

As distinct from HF traffic of the type which were were familiar with,
MG -apart from usually being loud and clear - was not essentially
tactical. Indeed, often a certain Soviet major would call the operator
and say "Give me the flat," upon which he would be put through to his
wife at their private living accommodation.

Another unique feature was the use of a voice scrambler. The operator
would say "Switch over to the second" which would prompt us to switch
on our own descrambler - known as the D90 - and carry on logging as
usual. If the command "oduvanchik" (the Russian word for dandelion)
were given, the Soviet operators would switch from voice to
teleprinter communication - which we could also read.

To my knowledge, bearing in mind that I left the army in March 1960,
MG was only intercepted by us at RAF Gatow and by the Americans at


If the above isn't already TMI, cf.


Someone asks,

"Does ANYONE really know what was going on?"

The answer to that is clearly a resounding "No!" I've found out more
than I'd known before. Nevertheless, I have information that the
posters don't have about the full extent of the Security Agency's
activities.  The Brit mentions "80-100 Mc/s." The ASA intercepted
50-60 MHz. (It's bizarre, that use of the
already-in-the-'50's-obsolete-in-the-US "Mc/s.") But not very much of
it! Besides, after a half-century, I've forgotten a lot.
All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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