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World War One-Series 4 (Pigeon-v-Telephone: Which work the best in the Trenches)
A matter of life and death (Part 1)
1 year ago

Battles are won and lost on the strength of an army’s ability to communicate on the battlefield.

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On the Western Front the British Army hoped wireless radio and telephones would keep its rear-echelon commanders in touch with their front line troops. But when the shelling started these lines of communication were all too easily broken or intercepted, and carefully laid plans could quickly descend into chaos.

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In the thick of battle officers in the trenches were often in need of a Plan B.

Telephones and telegraphy (Part 2)
1 year ago

The telephone was the preferred means of communication in World War One. Its immediacy allowed commanders to give orders directly to those on the front line.

Rory Cellan-Jones interviews Colin Cunningham from the Royal Signals Museum

Transcript (PDF 188 Kb)

Video

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zw6gq6f#zqhc2hv

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The telegraph, meanwhile, was incredibly effective at sending a message over distance, but each one had first to be written out, transmitted and then transcribed by the receiving operator. Both telephone and telegraph were lighter and more portable than radio, but depended on landlines which were unreliable. Lines broke for many reasons, including the clumsiness of soldiers and enemy fire, and it was not uncommon for signallers to fix 40 cable breaks per day.

Runners and dogs (Part 3)
1 year ago

When telephones lines were down it often fell to man or man’s best friend to fill the breach.

Soldier and dog during World War One

Dog-handler reading a message brought by a messenger dog, in France during World War One.

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Red badge of courage

Soldiers employed as runners had one of the most dangerous jobs in the war, as they had to leave the relative safety of the trenches and cross open ground. Exposed to enemy sniper fire, death was a constant threat.

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Runners were comparatively slow, often reaching their destination with messages that were out-of-date and inaccurate. But they were able to read maps, think on their feet and adapt to the changing circumstances around them.

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Speed and fitness were key, and as runners often worked in pairs the value of comradeship was highly prized. Many were decorated for their bravery.

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Runners wore red armbands but, as infantrymen, were required to carry weapons. They were, though, excused from carrying the full rifleman’s kit.

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Dogs of war

Around 20,000 dogs served during World War One. Until the War Dog School of Instruction was set up in 1917, they were mostly family pets donated to the war effort or strays recruited from pounds.

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Dogs were sent out during barrages or under machine gun fire when conditions were considered too dangerous for human messengers. Faster and lower to the ground, they were less likely to be shot and could cross most forms of terrain.

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Trained to return one-way to their keeper’s station, they could cover 10-15 miles in one to two hours. But the companionship of dogs was so highly valued in the trenches that men would often offer to deliver messages in their place.



This post was modified from its original form on 12 Mar, 1:01
Visual signalling (Part 4)
1 year ago

Infographic showing three communications methods used during World War One

These three forms of signalling were each based on Morse code and required a trained signaller and a trained receiver, with a telescope, pencil and notepad, at either end.

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Visual communication was more immediate than conveying messages by runner, but by its very nature could give away the position of your unit, and signallers often found themselves exposed to enemy sniper fire.

The problem with radio (Part 5)
1 year ago

Radio, patented by Marconi in 1896, was still in its infancy during World War One. It was used throughout the war, but it would be years before it became truly reliable and secure.

The first radio station established by the German army during World War One.

The first radio station established by the German army during World War One.

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In 1914 the Army’s longwave wireless sets were heavy, fragile and expensive. They did become smaller but not as small as the pool of operatives trained to use them.

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As radio transmissions were extremely vulnerable to enemy interception, elaborate codes had to be used, which slowed everything down.

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At the Battle of Tannenberg in August that year the Germans picked up unencrypted orders sent by the Russian army that allowed them to score the first great victory of the war.

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Improvements through war

The British government soon took over parts of the Marconi Company and focused it on the demands of war.

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The use of radio in the trenches, in the air and on the water led to technical advances. Kits were slimmed down, and became more mobile. Voices rather than just code could be transmitted.

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By 1917 the army was holding races between radio and telephones.

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A detachment from each would race from a trench and establish their communications 500 yards away. Radio tended to win by around thirty seconds – a potentially life-saving difference in the heat of battle.

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Radio’s biggest success in the war came in helping scout plane pilots to report in real time on the accuracy of artillery fire and the location of the enemy.

Pigeons take flight (Part 6)
1 year ago

At the start of the war the British had just 60 pigeons and 15 handlers in the warzone. By 1918 there were more than 20,000 pigeons and 370 handlers.

Rory Cellan-Jones discusses the use of carrier pigeons during World War One

Transcript (PDF 187 Kb)

Video

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zw6gq6f#zsr2yrd

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Pigeons could fly long distances and over 100 miles (160km) could average a speed of 50 mph (80 kmh). When it arrived back at its home loft the bird would trigger a wire that rang a bell and alerted the handler.

How would you have sent a message? (Part 7)
1 year ago

If your life, and the lives of your men, depended on you sending a message from the front line, which of these forms of communication would you choose?

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Telephone

US forces got around the problem of enemy interception thanks to Choctaw Native Americans. Their language was never decoded by the enemy.

Choose

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Pigeon

Pigeons were so highly regarded that it became an offence to ‘kill, wound or molest’ a homing pigeon – punishable by a six-month prison sentence and £100 fine.

Choose
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Runner or dog

Runners were often knowingly sent to their deaths, and one in four was captured by the enemy. Adolf Hitler was wounded twice working as a runner in WW1.

Choose
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Radio

In planes, radio transmitters required their own seat. The pilot had to navigate, observe the fall of shells and report back in Morse code all by himself.

Choose

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zw6gq6f#zsr2yrd

Related Threads -World War One-Series
1 year ago

Please Note: As there is a number of Articles in the World War One Series, I think it would be in the best interest of Political Derby to link all Articles together for the benefit of the Members and Hosts

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(1)  World War One-Series 1 ( Who were the real War Horses)

(2)  World War One-Series 2 (What did World War One really do for Women)

(3)  World War One-Series 3 (How Close did the World come to Peace in 1914)

1 year ago

Ray, I find these articles a great read.     People were different during this time with a strong love of their countries and for each other.   Look where we are today....sad but true. 

1 year ago

Ray, please do not stop with this kind of information.  It is so good for us to remember what those that came before us have done for our respective countries and for the people of their respective countires.  And all the different aspects of World War I is amazingly interesting.  You have, once more, been providing us with excellent history and thank you.  Hope that you have more on WWI for us.

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