Reserve Army G.A. 6/1/3
X Corps G.405
Stamped Headquarters 14th Infantry Brigade 22 JUL 1916
The following remarks on methods of Signal communications are the result of consultations with Signal Officers who have taken part in the recent attacks.
- Various methods of communication have been used, which may be classified as
- Communication by wire.
- Earth currents.
- There is a complete consensus of opinion that every effort should be made to obtain communication by wire as far forward as Battalions, and this has generally been successful. In front of Battalions, runners are generally considered the most satisfactory means, except when the country happens to be suitable for visual. Pigeons have given excellent results in some cases, but the numbers available are not sufficient for their employment with every Battalion, much less with every company. Wireless has been little used, as the wires have been generally available. Apparatus for earth currents is not yet available except in a few isolated places.
All Signal Officers are agreed that it is a mistake to try for more than two methods in one unit, (of which wire should be one) owing to the difficulties caused by overloading the available personnel both physically and mentally, and I recommend that this should be considered as a principle for adoption.
- COMMUNICATION BY WIRE. In order to meet the inevitable changes of location of units the wiring of an area should be laid out as far as possible on the ‘chess board’ system – main routes parallel to the front being constructed to serve Corps Headquarters, Divisional Headquarters, Artillery Groups, Heavy Batteries, Brigade Headquarters, Artillery observing stations if in rear of the trenches etc. The number of these routes and the offices on each, must depend on local circumstances. Plenty of spare wires are necessary, and all telephone circuits should be metallic. These communications should be laid out under Corps supervision and Armies should ensure that the systems of neighbouring Corps meet satisfactorily.
Routes perpendicular to the front should be similarly laid out.
These routes should be overhead where the area is reasonably safe from shelling, and buried at least 6 feet deep in shelled areas. A carefully arranged system of labelling and test points is required, and test dug-outs on a buried system must be proof against all but a direct hit by 11” shell.
No company telephones should be allowed in trenches, as they are a fruitful source of information to the enemy. A route should be pushed forward from each Battalion Headquarters to a point selected as collecting station, and messages sent to this by runner. Electric bells from companies to this point for S.O.S. The Brigade Signal Officer should be in charge of all cables in the trenches, assisted by a permanent party of 1 officer and 10 men detailed from the Brigade.
The number of circuits in the routes should be sufficient to allow of Artillery requirements being met, and the Artillery system should be maintained by Signals, arrangements being made as regards provision of linemen and working parties by the Artillery, who would work under the Signal Officer attached to Artillery in each unit.
When an attack is being prepared these forward routes should be pushed on up to the front trenches, and got ready for extensions by tunnelling forward to the enemy’s lines. Working parties should be detailed to carry forward this route – still 6 ft deep – to a dug-out in the enemy’s front line.
As an attack goes forward cables should be laid on the surface in triplicate from this point, using single wire circuits only, the cables diverging on leaving the dug-out, and converging again at another selected dug-out perhaps half a mile on, where a test office and lineman station should be established. The route taken being that selected for the advance of battalion headquarters. Every advantage will of course be taken of existing trenches.
When the move of Brigade headquarters is determined on, one of these routes should be selected for improvement; the circuits added to and made metallic, and as far as possible buried 6 feet deep. These ‘perpendicular’ routes should be joined by others parallel to the front as it moves forward, thus maintaining the chess board system.
When time and labour do not admit of a properly laid route in 6 feet trenches filled in, it is considered that the best results are obtained from cables laid in open trenches, preferably trenches not used for walking in. Even an eighteen inch trench gives considerable protection, but it is not worth incurring the difficulties in fault finding caused by burying unless a 6 feet trench can be made.
- COMMUNICATION BY PIGEON. The results of this method have been very variable; in some cases excellent times have been made by the birds even through a heavy barrage, in others no messages have been sent, in a few the pigeons have been very slow in coming in. I think when the results have been bad they have been due to faulty training of the pigeoneers, and lack of appreciation of their value by the Officers to whom the pigeons have been attached.
I recommend that if visual is unsuitable, pigeons should be considered as the alternative method to cable. In such cases it will be necessary to arrange for enough trained men and birds to send up to eight birds with each attacking battalion, which is a considerable increase on present establishments.
If visual is adopted as the alternative method, the existing pigeon establishment of 2 men per brigade might well be allotted to liaison officers, apart from the Signal Service. I am convinced that Signal Officers cannot be expected to look after more than two means of communication.
- COMMUNICATION BY VISUAL. If there is a suitable ridge in rear of our lines, on which receiving stations can be located, this method should be very satisfactory. Of course fog or heavy storm will render it temporarily useless.
The apparatus taken forward must be of the simplest and most portable description otherwise it will be thrown away. Collapsible shutters and discs are generally preferred.
A good deal of previous practice is necessary to give the regimental signallers – who are usually without much experience – confidence in sending back their messages four times over to a receiving station that cannot acknowledge. And receiving stations must be specially trained to pick up signals over the area they are watching.
Daylight lamps are generally considered too cumbrous to push ahead of battalion headquarters.
Visual to contact aeroplanes has been much practiced, but I cannot find out that the results have been commensurate with the time expended.
- COMMUNICATION BY TRENCH WIRELESS. The sets are fragile and heavy to carry, and they and their personnel cannot be replaced. They should not therefore be placed in front of Brigade Headquarters, where they would be useful as an alternative to cable if a 6 feet buried route cannot be obtained. A set would be usefully placed in a post which is intended to hold out even if surrounded.
Commanders are naturally averse from using wireless owing to the difficulty of using code or cipher, which greatly limits its practical usefulness. I am afraid there is no way out of this, as the messages can be tapped some way back in the enemy’s lines, where he has undisturbed arrangements. Really urgent messages however will probably be worth sending in clear even at the expense of his probably reading them.
- EARTH CURRENTS. A valve amplifier (IT) can read earth currents from a suitable instrument to a range of about 2000 yards. Little of this apparatus is however available at present, and certain undoubted disabilities require further experiment before it can be worked into any scheme of attack.
- GENERAL REMARKS. I have noticed the following difficulties which appear to be preventable:-
- Bad signal work caused by lack of accommodation in dug-outs. Operators work long hours, and the accuracy and speed of their work necessarily falls off if their position is cramped and the atmosphere bad.
- Lack of consideration of existing signal communications in siting headquarters of newly introduced formations, or in moving existing ones. If the ‘chess board’ system is in thorough working order this difficulty should be reduced to a minimum. Otherwise much expenditure of material is involved, and the system suffers by the exhaustion of the signal units in running new lines, and failing thereby to give sufficient attention to maintenance.
- Lack of supervision by the higher unit in transfers of area between lower units. This is always a difficult operation as regards signals, and can only be brought off successfully by close supervision on the part of the higher unit.