Ernest Bivans

Signal Officer Served in Post-War Germany


AHS Class of 1937

"Honoring Our War Heroes" appears every other week in the Santa Barbara News-Press


Sunday, April 22, 2012


Ernie holds photo of shell-damaged

church steeple in Bremen, Germany

where he was stationed


Ernest Bivans was one of the many thousands of soldiers in the war against Germany who was not involved in the fighting, but whose hard work was vital to securing the peace.


Ernest and his family moved to Georgia in 1931. In high school, he joined the ROTC. His interest in the military led him to apply to his senator for entrance to West Point. He was turned down because he is somewhat color-blind. Ernest then applied to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, but was again turned down due to his color-blindness.


He went on to college, earning a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in June 1943.


After graduation, he was sent to Fort McPherson GA for induction in the U.S. Army. He finished basic training and was sent to Signal Corps School, which he quickly finished because of his training in electrical engineering.


Ernest and a number of others in his class were then sent on to Officers Candidate School. He graduated as a second lieutenant and was sent to Harvard University for a three-month advanced training course in electronics, basically designing radio circuits.


Afterward, he was assigned to MIT for four months where he worked developing the highly secret radar systems that became so important to winning the war. “At one point I was sent to Camp Wheeler GA to install a large, 20 – 30 foot radar antenna with nine sets of crossbars. Copper was rare after the war began so we had to use silver.


“The treasury sent us a number of silver ingots, 5 inches wide and 1 inch think. We had to drill and shave them to the correct size. There was a treasury agent present at all times o the correct size. There was a treasury agent present at all times to collect the shavings and scraps.


"I then received a two weeks notice to go to Europe, where the war against Germany was winding down. I sailed on the USS United States.


"The gyros, which kept the ship balanced, had been removed in order to transport a larger number of troops. We were hit by a terrific storm halfway across the North Atlantic.


"The ship rolled 45 degrees in each direction. We had to be strapped to our beds and needless to say most of us were sick for the duration of the storm.


"We landed safely at Le Havre, France shortly after Germany had surrendered (Victory in Europe Day was May 8, 1945).


"We went to Osterholz near Bremen, Germany, where I was made exec officer, Headquarters 3125 Signal Service. Since we were living on canned Spam and vegetables, including canned lettuce, we sometimes avoided the food monotony by hunting deer with our rifles and Tommy guns.


"The base had two 50,000-watt AM radio stations that could reach anywhere in the world and were mainly used to coordinate the Allied forces after the war. In addition, we had a manual phone exchange.

"I had four men who owned small telephone companies in the United States and they oversaw the numerous Germans working for us to repair lines and help re-establish the German central telephone exchange. In addition, we had a platoon of engineers helping Denmark re-establish its telephone system.


"Even though the war with Germany had officially ended, the occupying forces still faced danger. In Northern Germany, including Bremen where I was stationed, there were German terrorists whose goal was to shoot U.S. Army officers. There were 23 killings in one week.


"Although this information was kept classified, most of us knew of the danger and we never went off base unarmed. I was shot at only once when my men and I were asked to help search a nearby house for weapons, which we found in abundance.


"In October of 1945 a merchant ship whose radar had failed came into a nearby port. I and another officer were sent to repair it. I had to climb to the top of the mast to get the damaged radar down and replace it with a new one.


"Even though it was somewhat nerve wracking, we managed the replacement and were rewarded with a fabulous meal.


"I had the wonderful experience of meeting Pope Pius while on leave in Rome. Several of us met him in his private chapel room. He thanked us as members of the American army. He then blessed us and I shook his hand instead of kissing his ring (oops). We later were guided down a secret staircase and actually touched the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The famous Pieta was just sitting on the floor unprotected.


"I came home in August 1946 aboard a Kaiser Victory ship made of cement. Wouldn't you know it, we were caught in bad weather and everyone was sick just as it had been when I sailed to Europe."


Ernie worked in so many capacities after the war that only a few of his endeavors can be mentioned here.


In 1946 Ernie went to work for Cambridge Research Center, working to encode radar signals to digital signals that could be sent over telephone lines to computers.


He was later instrumental to the air defense system by teaching Air Force personnel how computers could talk to the radar system. This system later became basic to the civilian air traffic control system.

In 1956 he was sent to the NATO Air Defense Tech Center to help them develop an air defense system for Europe.


In 1967 he was sent to Vietnam and worked on devices that could be planted on the South Vietnam northern border to detect insurgents trying to enter from North Vietnam. The project was top secret and he worked directly out of Gen. William Westmoreland's headquarters.


Ernest Bivans

Birth Date: Oct. 9, 1921

Born: Ojus, Fla.

Residence: Santa Barbara since 1961

Military branch: Army

Years served: 1943-August 1946

Rank: Captain

Family: wife, Patricia; two sons; one daughter; three grandchildren, one great-grandchild


Honoring our War Heroes appears every other week in the Santa Barbara News-Press, written by Frank Cox who is solely responsible for its content. Any opinions are those of Frank Cox and not necessarily of the News-Press. If you would like to be profiled as a veteran, please contact Frank Cox at



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