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Military Communications
December 1944 Radio News

December 1944 Radio News
December 1944 Radio News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

You've to to take a look at this article if only to see the comic. Mentioned but not expounded upon is the man who was the progenitor of the U.S. Army's Signal Corps (beginning in 1860), Major Albert J. Myer, a medical doctor who took up long distance communications as a hobby. As an extension of his interest in Morse code, he developed a system of using a lantern (nighttime) or a signal flag (daytime) to effect a visual form of code. It was dubbed "wig-wag signaling," or "aerial telegraphy." Unless some sort of cryptographic encoding was used, the messages could be easily intercepted by enemy forces, but it served both sides well until wireless sets were available. Coming in the middle of World War II, this Radio News magazine article summarizes the electronic communications capabilities of Axis and Allied militaries at the time.

Military Communications

Military Communications, December 1944 Radio News - RF Cafe

"They're too long. You're supposed to be on shortwave."

By Sydney A. Clark

Office of Chief Signal Officer

A comparison of the communications methods employed by the major Allied and Axis powers.

Every army in the world vies with every other in the complex field of communications, and though the United States Army has pioneered for some 85 years, since the introduction of systematized visual signaling by Major Albert J. Myer, we always have learned from our friends and our enemies. Royal Signals in Great Britain, Sluzha Sviazi (Service of Communication) in Russia, Nachrichtentruppen in Germany and Communication Engineers in Japan are the counterparts of the Signal Corps in our own Army. Whatever the name, this branch of the service is the vital nerve that sets armies in motion and coordinates all campaigns within the structure of global strategy. Upon the efficiency of communications depends the success or failure of the smallest sorties and the most gigantic operations.

Students of comparative practice in various countries assert that in general the United States has been in the vanguard, though not invariably so. Britain pioneered in certain developments but lagged in the manufacture of good, practical radio equipment for its troops in the field - and likewise in the matter of radio security. These deficiencies showed up in certain early campaigns, but Britain took prompt steps to correct the faults. While British equipment is sometimes less neat and compartmentized than American, and therefore presents certain maintenance problems, it is very sturdily and soundly made, particularly with regard to large radios for tanks and heavy vehicles.

The Russian Sluzha Sviazi was scarcely existent in Czarist days. Although there were 5,000,000 men in the regular army in 1914, and 3,000,000 reserves, there was virtually no Service of Communication. To each division headquarters a small signal detachment was allotted and equipment was exceedingly meager. When wire, for instance, was exhausted in the early stages of any campaign, replacement was virtually impossible. Writing of the Battle of Tannenburg, Major General Harry C. Ingles, Chief Signal Officer of the United States Army, states that "probably no campaign of the (first) World War furnishes such an example of faulty signal communication and the difficulties of command arising therefrom."

But Soviet Russia has succeeded brilliantly where Czarist Russia made military mistakes. During the long months of German advance after the attack of June, 1941, most of her industrial cities were captured and occupied by the Germans and consequently Russia sank to an alarmingly low level of production, but she captured some enemy radio sets, and promptly learned how to operate them. Her communications personnel were required to master a special manual dealing exhaustively with the use of captured equipment. When Russia finally was able to set up trans-Ural manufacturing plants on a great scale and when she began to recapture her lost cities, she assumed the task of supplying most of her own needs, and her performance in regard to signal equipment, as in regard to weapons and ammunition, has aroused the admiration of her friends and the incredulous anger of her enemies. Russian manufacture and methods are now conceded to be on a par with the best in the world.

Japan is decidedly the weakest of the great powers in communications achievement. Much of her radio equipment would be considered obsolete by the other armies. Describing one of the first airborne radios captured by our forces from a downed Zero fighter (in February, 1942), Major General Roger B. Colton, Chief, Engineering and Technical Service in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, said, "The entire installation represents a command set of very crude construction. The coils are wound on bakelite forms, with poor insulation and no tropicalization. Many of the parts were either bought on American distress markets back about 1930-1932, or are very good replicas. All the tubes bear American nomenclature and are identical in construction with American glass tubes. The over-all electrical design and construction of this set is about ten years old from our viewpoint." General Colton discussed several other captured Japanese models and summed them up with this prudent caution: "It is recognized that the Japs usually are not original but are extremely quick to tool up and reproduce. Their construction often facilitates easy servicing by clearly marked parts and test panels for measuring voltage. Wiring is neatly carried throughout, and does much to dispel the idea that Japanese are capable only of copying. A number of points of design resembling American technique have been adapted rather than copied."

Organizational differences in the communication systems of the various warring powers vary substantially. Japan maintains no Signal Corps as such. Instead, the communications men operate as a portion of the Engineers. Germany maintains a large and well-organized Signal Corps and she stresses signal communications and thorough training for all army personnel intended for this service.

Both Germany and Japan have given careful consideration to the problem of making communications mobile in general warfare. The Japanese, however, give special attention to the proper use of visual signals in addition to the customary wire and radio communications. They make extensive use of small hand flags for pre directed messages, such as indicating their battle lines to their air support and signaling the direction of the attack. This is in sharp contrast to United States practice, for our Signal Corps has now relegated to an exceedingly minor status the flag signals with which the service "began life" in 1860.

It is difficult to compare in size the Signal Corps of the respective countries. The United States Signal Corps personnel bears to combat personnel a smaller ratio than that of the German Nachrichtentruppen but this discrepancy is explained by the fact that German figures include what we refer to as communications personnel. These are members of the respective branches who furnish their own communications in units not larger than regiments. If we were to include communications personnel the ratio would be approximately the same.

Tactical employment of signal communications differs in some respects in all countries. Germany and Japan capitalized on blunders which they made in their earliest conquests and thus learned by the costly process of experience many of the tactics required to get a message through. They were able, because of their unscrupulous aggressions, to use this experience before the Allied forces could be built up to oppose them strongly. Early in this war both of these Axis powers placed a great deal of stress on radio. The effective use of this medium turned many difficult situations into victories.

Germany's Afrika Korps Nachrichtentruppen displayed special effectiveness in the early stages of the North African conflict in securing detailed information concerning British units, officers, positions, equipment, and strength. This success, however, brought quick reaction from the British, who thoroughly revised their signal communications practices and thereby were aided in turning the tide of battle. A lesson learned the hard way is never forgotten.

Japanese efforts in the field of radio showed a certain cleverness in early campaigns in securing information by breaking in on American frequencies with plausibly phrased orders and questions in good "American." There were, of course, many more Japanese who spoke our language adequately than Americans who spoke theirs. There were many examples of Japanese interference, for instance, at Guadalcanal, but it was successfully combatted by our troops after a few months.

One thing has been made abundantly clear in this war. Quick successes based on treachery and sneak attacks finally break down before the steady pressure of an aroused enemy of greater potential strength. This applies to the services of communication as much as to any arm of combat and perhaps even more, since communications direct and coordinate combat. He who would win must achieve and maintain the best communications, despite the far-flung theaters of action, the rapidly changing battle areas, the deadly work of enemy bombers and the mad pace of mobile warfare.



Posted January 7, 2019

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