In 1936, FJM Stratton, renowned Cambridge prof astrophysicist-radioastronomer, less-known but true, GC&CS-GCHQ intelligence officer and specialist FJM Stratton, led his Kamishari Expedition to island of Hokkaido Japan to observe and study total solar eclipse of 19 June 1936. ref. Total Solar Eclipse, 1936 June 19: Report of the Expedition to Kamishari (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, V. 9, No. 9).Four years later, 1940-1942, Stratton was in Ottawa Canada attached to a Canadian intelligence unit tracking Kido Butai, as it left Hitokappu-wan on the Kuril island of Iturup (as now known since Russian occupation). My being neither astrophysicist nor radioastronomist, and not up to par with eigenvalues, Fourier transforms and all the apparatus seemingly related to those sciences, I ask if experts out there might kindly advise me as to what avenues of inquiry I might follow.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that doi.org/10.1093/mnras/97.9.663 (volume 97, number 9, July 1937) is authored by an FJM Stratton. No idea where you were going with the question... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 22 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ I got a bit lost navigating the Stackexchange app, losing the draft, then trying to recover it. To be clear, my question concerns FJM Stafford, astrophysicist and radioastronomer, and his Kashmir Expedition of June 1936, and its apparent link to British and Canadian link to the attack on Pearl Harbor of 7 December 1941. I hope my edits, which include the proper question, correct the problem. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ It is Stratton, not Stafford. My regrets. For some psycho-linguistic reason I made the slip early in my inquiries I made the mistake and occasionally fall into it. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Why would there be any connection between a solar eclipse expedition (when Stratton was not in the military) to Hokkaido in 1936 and the movements of the Japanese fleet five and a half years later? (Not to mention it's astonishingly unlikely any Western intelligence was "tracking Kido Butai" in November, 1941.) $\endgroup$ May 22 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ FJM Stratton is "Colonel Stratton" and Royal Corps of Signals officer in the Canadian Y Committee records. During the 1930's he was one of the ISOS team along with Oliver Strachey and Alastair Denniston, first Director of GC&CS, tracking German spies in London, monitoring and decryption their radio transmissions to Berlin. There are many references in the documentation that refer to his activities in SIGINT. So I have difficulty with your "not in the military" and "track the Pearl Harbor fleet, no, not at all". If you have a source or reference, please inform us, I will seriously consider it. $\endgroup$ May 23 at 1:46

2 Answers 2


Since I have access to the article in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society I think I can add some info. It starts with:

An expedition to observe the total solar eclipse of 1936 June 19 in the Hokkaido, Japan, was arranged by the Joint Permanent Eclipse Committee with the aid of grants from the Government Grant Fund of the Royal Society and from the Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge University. The party from Cambridge consisted of Prof. F. J. M. Stratton, Dr. R. O. Redman, Dr. C. W. Allen and Major R. A. Bagnold, Royal Signals; Dr. A. D. Thackeray, Commonwealth Fund Fellow, joined the expedition from Mt. Wilson Observatory. The Government of India sent Dr. Royds, Director of the Kodaikanal Observatory, to observe the eclipse, and it was arranged that he should join the expedition to Kamishari.

So, a full on expedition was sent by the Royal Society.

They interfaced with several Japanese, noting:

The Japanese authorities agreed to our request with every possible courtesy : in fact Professor Matsukuma of the Imperial University of Sendai, who had originally intended to take an expedition to Kamishari, most kindly changed his plans to make room for us and went instead to the neighbouring village of Koshimizu.


Dr. Fukumi, Secretary of the Japanese National Eclipse Committee, accompanied the advance party (Major Bagnold, Dr.. Royds, Professor Stratton) to Kamishari and made all the necessary arrangements with the Government of Hokkaido, the Prefecture of Abashiri, and the local eclipse committee for the site of the eclipse camp, the accommodation of the observers and the provision of huts, concrete pillars, electric light and power for the camp. All the preliminary arrangements made by him worked out quite successfully, all contract work such as the erection of huts and pillars being completed before the arranged date. Throughout the stay of the party at Kamishari a Government official who could deal with difficulties of language was attached to the party ; special mention must be made of the services of Mr. T. Sugawara, who spent several weeks with the party and rendered many helpful services.

OK, so this is a big expedition, needing a lot of liaison work to get everything set. Then:

The main party of observers arrived at Kamishari six weeks before the date of the eclipse, rather more time than usual being allowed for the work of preparation owing to uncertainty as to the conditions under which the work would have to be carried out. The site suggested for the camp, an open piece of ground at the back of the primary school, well away from the road and protected from dust by a belt of trees, proved attractive and was accepted readily. Owing to the kindness of Professor Nakaya of the Imperial University of Sapporo the workshop of his physical laboratory was made available for any instrumental repairs that might prove necessary, and advantage was taken of this for certain minor repairs.

Still more connections. And as time was drawing near:

During the last three days an additional group of observers, including Dr. F. W. Aston, Principal G. H. Marsden of the Scott Christian College, Nagercoil, S. India, Professor Nakaya, Mr. T. Sakurai, and a party from the British Embassy at Tokyo, joined the expedition in time for full rehearsals of the work that each was to carry out at the eclipse.

Quite the party then...

So, what did Prof. Stratton do during the eclipse?

Sky-polarisation.-An attempt to examine the polarisation of the sky-light in the immediate neighbourhood of the eclipsed Sun was made by photographing the Sun and surrounding sky through a 1-inch Nicol prism and a Savart plate (kindly lent by the Cavendish Laboratory and Professor Newall respectively). ... On the plate there is no more than a suspicion of bands to be observed, and as their presence cannot be confirmed by the microphotometer no statement as to the result can properly be made. Professor Stratton had charge of this instrument.

So, no luck getting that experiment to work. Stuff happens in experiments. They did note that there were clouds causing a "varying and broken background" which may have impacted the effort.

I would also note a brief note by FJM Stratton in the October 23, 1937 Nature where he passes on observations of a Prof. Sekiguti of lines in the emission spectrum of the corona. (Although Prof. Rikiti Sekiguti of the Tokyo Astronomical Observatory wrote letter just before FJM Stratton's in that issue of Nature).

All in all, we have an astronomer at Cambridge, well connected across the world, with a publication record extending from 1905 to at least 1945. It would not be unusual for a science professor to be brought in to war work of some kind. How closely related to their previous work was always a little wonky, given how military buearaucracy works.

Wikipedia has an entry for FJM Stratton, which shows that he started in the Cambridge University Rifle Volunteers in 1901, started their Communications Company as a cadet, was commissioned in the Territorial Army in 1910, serving as an officer in the Royal Engineers in signals. He was awarded a DSO in 1917. He was awarded an OBE for his service in 1929. In 1939 he volunteered again, and was "given a special-duties role concerned with radio security."

An obituary/commemoration of FJM Stratton written by W.H. McCrea, is available at the Harvard archive. Quite a read, very well connected internationally. Towards the end it notes

He [Stratton] returned to the Army for the duration of World War II, again with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Signals. Most of the time he was on Special Duties, connected with radio security which took him to every corner of the globe. After the war he served a term as Deputy Scientific Adviser to the Army Council. Stratton thus achieved a military career far exceeding the aspirations of most professional soldiers.

So, while Stratton may well have been in Canada for some time, he was busy with fairly high level matters and not with any supposed tracking of the Japanese fleet at any time.

There is no doubt that during the war Stratton was deeply involved with codes. That in no way means that the 1936 expedition had anything to do with espionage. Stratton was also a very accomplished astronomer. This includes a 1925 textbook, organizing expeditions to eclipses (the obituary notes one in 1926 that he was on, hence a leading role in organizing the 1936 expedition). He was the General Secretary of the International Astronomical Union from 1925 to 1935. He was also the General Secretary of the International Council of Scientific Unions from 1937 to 1952. He was well known in astronomy, having quite a career there, and well known within the British Army for his signals work. The two do not have to always overlap.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, Stafford and two other GCHQ personalities, Oliver Strachey and Alastair Denniston spent months in Ottawa 1940 - 1942, attached to two Canadian signals intelligence units, one responsible for Japanese etc civilian traffic, the other, a Canadian military intelligence unit, for German, Japanese traffic. I interviewed a man who had been an analyst in the military unit, tracking Kido Butai. The man, postwar an important personality in Canadian SIGINT, had led the Section responsible for tracking Kido Butai and was personally responsible for its success. Perhaps this explains my interest. $\endgroup$ May 23 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ "Fairly high level matters"? Yes indeed, including membership of Canada's "Y Committee", responsible for directing and managing all wartime Canadian signals intelligence; liaison with the Canadian intercept network; US signals intelligence services; liaison with British Security Coordination (BSC); GCHQ; among others.Perhaps you might tell us of the "high level matters" of which you speak. $\endgroup$ May 23 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ Stratton and tracking of Kido Butai, I have from my source and documentation. Not my question. But in November-December 1940-41 Stratton was in Ottawa in tracking Kido Butai. Coincidence? I don't think so. I think there was an astrophysics, radio intelligence purpose for Stratton's Kamishari Expedition, related to radio wave propagation, ionospheric and other factors related to reception, detection, identification, tracking naval vessels. When Royal Navy Intelligence was aware of the growing Japanese threat in the Pacific with Hitokappu-wan was the likely, or known, naval staging area. $\endgroup$ May 23 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ The Canadian government set up its first code breaking unit in June 1941 in Ottawa. It would be entirely natural to send a UK liaison group to set up all the technology, protocols, policies, and procedures to share intercepts and deciphered texts. The Canadians had multiple intercept stations in British Columbia that could record transmission and get directional fixes. Stratton did not need the 'cover' of the 1936 expedition to be well aware of signals propagation and intelligence - he had already served in WW1 in that capacity. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 23 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ There is not much arcane in doing direction finding on HF radio. Ham radio folk do it every day. Not everything Stratton did was Signals related - he was a career astronomer as well. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 25 at 12:58

Inspection of the publication record of Stratton in the 1920s and 1930s shows that he specialized in optical emission-line spectroscopy, especially of novae, as well as on reporting solar-eclipse observations. The actual report from the 1936 expedition mentions numerous successful and unsuccessful observational attempts, all of which involve optical (including near-UV and very near-IR) observations.

So Stratton was not in any way, shape, or form a "radioastronomer", nor was there any radio-astronomy component to the 1936 expedition. This is not remotely surprising, since radio astronomy basically did not exist in the 1930s. There actually were attempts to detect radio waves from the Sun in the 1890s and early 1900s, but these were failures which discouraged further investigation. The first detection of radio waves from the Sun was made in 1942, mostly by accident as a side effect of investigating German radio jamming. (Source: the chapter on radio astronomy in John North, Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology.) So naturally no one would have bothered trying to make radio observations of a solar eclipse in 1936.

(As an aside, I will note that the idea that British intelligence would be interested in a far northern anchorage like Hitokappu Bay makes very little sense, since they would have been worried about possible Japanese threats to Malaya and Singapore, and so would focus on southern bases and anchorages. And the idea that some group in Canada was "successfully tracking Kido Butai" in 1941 -- when we know that strict radio silence was maintained even before the fleet arrived at Hitokappu Bay -- is clearly nonsense.)

  • $\begingroup$ The Canadians did have intercept stations in British Columbia for the purposes of intercepts and DF of Japanese units. These started somewhat later in BC than the efforts covering the Atlantic. These were all in cooperation with the UK and later the USA. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 23 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster Radio DF and intercepts are not useful if the enemy units are not making radio transmissions, as was the case from the time Kido Butai left the Inland Sea of Japan for the Pearl Harbor attack. (And I'm extremely skeptical that radio intercept stations in BC would have picked up transmissions from e.g. the Kido Butai raid into the Indian Ocean in the spring of 1942.) $\endgroup$ May 23 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that tracking of the Pearly Harbor attack fleet was not doable. However, they would be intercepting all communications and DF-ing what they could starting in 1939. As a ham radio operator I have no doubt that the Canadian stations (and US and UK) would be able to pick up HF radio transmissions from all over the globe under many conditions - that is how they did DF. Sri Lanka to Japan is roughly the same distance as Japan to Vancouver, so if clear fleet communications to Japan were possible, DF from Canada would do fine. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 23 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ The Royal Navy asked Canada to establish an intercept station for Japanese naval traffic at the Canadian naval base at Esquimalt, BC, I believe in 1921. Ottawa was a main intercept site for Japanese traffic, other sites assigned to that traffic. Radio propagation is a complex subject, my limited understanding is that ionospheric effects mean that distance often does not matter. I suspect that Stafford was collecting intelligence about the ionosperic background affecting Hitokappu-Wan, variability and radio propagation effects. $\endgroup$ May 25 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ Why does astronomy or astrophysics have anything to do in particular with HF radio propagation (beyond, of course, the sun spot cycle)? $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 26 at 15:16

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