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Q: History of Battlefield Communications ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: History of Battlefield Communications
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: dallas2000-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 09 Nov 2003 12:04 PST
Expires: 09 Dec 2003 12:04 PST
Question ID: 274167
I would like to find some information on the history of battlefield
communications.  Specifically, the types of communications used to get
orders from top officers to troops in the field in three main eras:
The Civil War to 1920, 1920 - 1960, and 1960 to present.  I would also
like to know the major technological advances in each of these eras.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 09 Nov 2003 15:51 PST
I've found a document that covers the main strategic and technological
developments of military communications from the civil war up through

It is a brief, concise but thorough summary, and includes signalling,
early use of balloons, airplanes, radar, VHF, satelite communications
and so on.

Obviously, a lot has happened since 1988, as you can easily see by
tuning into to CNN coverage of military operations in Iraq, but the
document contains all the basic advances up through recent times.

Should I post this link, along with a few other documents, as an
answer to your question?  If not, please let us know in a bit more
detail how you would like us to proceed.


Clarification of Question by dallas2000-ga on 18 Nov 2003 20:07 PST
I apologize for the delay, but yes this would be great.
Subject: Re: History of Battlefield Communications
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 19 Nov 2003 06:51 PST
Rated:3 out of 5 stars
Hello again, and thank you for your question.

The document I referred to in my earlier comment is a brief history of
the Signal Corps, and can be found at this link:

Although the document is very informative, it is also a bit difficult
to read on the rather distractingly-designed website, so I?ve included
the entire text of it here for convenience:


The Signal Corps Regimental History


Signal Corps Regiment's History Albert James Myer, an Army doctor,
first conceived the idea of a separate, trained, professional military
signal service. He proposed that the Army use his visual
communications system called "wigwag" while serving as a medical
officer in Texas in 1856. When the Army adopted his system on 21 June
1860, the Signal Corps was born with Myer as the first and only Signal

Major Myer first used his visual signaling system on active service in
New Mexico during the 1860-1861 Navajo expedition. Using flags for
daytime signaling and a torch at night, wigwag was tested in Civil War
combat in June 1861 to direct the fire of a harbor battery at Fort
Calhoun (Fort Wool) against the Confederate positions opposite Fort
Monroe. Until 3 March 1863, when Congress authorized a regular Signal
Corps for the duration of the war, Myer was forced to rely on detailed
personnel. Some 2900 officers and enlisted men served, albeit not at
any one time, in the Civil War Signal Corps.

Myer's Civil War innovations included an unsuccessful balloon
experiment at First Bull Run and, in response to McClellan's desire
for a Signal Corps field telegraph train, an electric telegraph in the
form of the Beardslee magnetoelectric telegraph machine. Even in the
Civil War the wigwag system, dependent upon line-of-sight, was waning
in the face of the electric telegraph.

The electric telegraph, in addition to visual signaling, became a
Signal Corps responsibility in 1867. Within 12 years, the Corps had
constructed, and was maintaining and operating some 4,000 miles of
telegraph lines along the country's western frontier.

In 1870, the Signal Corps established a congressionally mandated
national weather service. With the assistance of Lieutenant Adolphus
Greely, Chief Signal Officer Brigadier General Myer, by the time of
his death in 1880, commanded a weather service of international
acclaim. The weather bureau became part of the Department of
Agriculture in 1891, while the Corps retained responsibility for
military meteorology.

The Signal Corps' role in the Spanish American War of 1898 and the
subsequent Philippine Insurrection was on a grander scale than it had
been in the Civil War. In addition to visual signaling, including
heliograph, the Corps supplied telephone and telegraph wire lines and
cable communications, fostered the use of telephones in combat,
employed combat photography, and renewed the use of balloons. Shortly
after the war, the Signal Corps constructed the Washington-Alaska
Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS), introducing the first
wireless telegraph in the Western Hemisphere.

On 1 August 1907 an Aeronautical Division was established within the
office of the Chief Signal Officer. In 1908, the Wright brothers made
test flights of the Army's first airplane built to Signal Corps'
specifications. Army aviation remained within the Signal Corps until
1918 when it became the Army Air Service.

The Signal Corps lost no time in meeting the challenges of World War
I. Chief Signal Officer Major General George O. Squier worked closely
with private industry to perfect radio tubes while creating a major
signal laboratory at Camp Alfred Vail (Fort Monmouth). Early
radiotelephones developed by the Signal Corps were introduced into the
European theatre in 1918. While the new American voice radios were
superior to the radiotelegraph sets, telephone and telegraph remained
the major technology of World War I.

A pioneer in radar, Colonel William Blair, director of the Signal
Corps laboratories at Fort Monmouth, patented the first Army radar
demonstrated in May 1937. Even before the United States entered World
War II, mass production of two radar sets, the SCR-268 and the
SCR-270, had begun. Along with the Signal Corps' tactical FM radio,
also developed in the 1930s, radar was the most important
communications development of World War II.

The Signal Corps' Project Diana, in 1946, successfully bounced radar
signals off the moon paving the way for space communications. On 18
December 1958 with Air Force assistance, the Signal Corps launched its
first communications satellite, Project SCORE, demonstrating the
feasibility of worldwide communications in delayed and real time mode
by means of relatively simple active satellite relays. Meanwhile the
Korean conflict cut short an all too brief peace.

Korea's terrain and road nets along with the distance and speed with
which communications were forced to travel limited the use of wire.
The Signal Corps' VHF radio became the "backbone" of tactical
communications throughout the conflict.

The Vietnam War's requirement for high quality telephone and message
circuits led to the Signal Corps' deployment of tropospheric scatter
radio links that could provide many circuits between locations over
200 miles apart. Other developments included the SYNCOM satellite
communications service and a commercial fixed-station system known as
the Integrated Wideband Communications System, the Southeast Asian
link in the Defense Communications System.

Today communications systems and facilities are still evolving as the
Signal Corps continues the commitment to its regimental insignia's
motto, "Watchful For The Country." According to LTG Thurman D.
Rodgers, commanding general, United States Army Information Systems
Command and former commander of the USASC&FG, "The future combat
environment is predicted to be technologically intensive. The success
of our Signal soldiers and indeed the entire combat-arms team will
depend to a large degree on the automation and
communications-electronics systems provided by the Signal Corps."

A major program in 1988 was the initial production and deployment
phase of the Mobile Subscriber Equipment system. This new advanced
division and corps level communications system is expected to
significantly improve battlefield command and control. MSE will
supplant the present switchboard, multichannel and communications
center system at division and corps. It will provide digital secure
communications to mobile and stationary users. As one signalmen
described it, "MSE is the equivalent of an advanced telephone system
with stationary telephones and mobile radio terminals, as well as
facsimile devices and the capability to accommodate data terminals."
This system can support the type of operations visualized in AirLand

The Signal Center played a significant role in the Follow-on Test and
Evaluation (FOT&E) and in other MSE developments. The first MSE
equipped unit was the 13th Signal Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division,
which completed the FOT&E at Fort Hood, Texas in October 1988. As a
result of lessons learned during the initial fielding of MSE, the MSE
training strategy was revised in August 1988. According to MG Leo M.
Childs, "Undoubtedly, other refinements on MSE systems networking and
operation will be necessary as we continue to gain experience." MG
Childs described MSE, scheduled to be fielded throughout the U.S. Army
by 1994, as the axis upon which the spokes of "literally hundreds of
other Signal equipment items and systems will turn. These, coupled
with continued technology enhancements, doctrine, and force-structure
changes, are revolutionizing our battlefield functional role."

Along with altering the Signal Corps' battlefield functional role, MSE
once completley fielded at corps and below may lead to a reassessment
of the Signal Corps' role in the regimental system. Designed to meet
the requirements of the AirLand Battle and to halt equipment gaps,
this completely integrated communications system will create a
uniformity (cloning) in equipment, training, and manning possibly
fostering unit rotation and other characterisitcs more closely
resembling the combat arms regimental system. In short, there is
speculation that with MSE the Signal Corps may become more closely
aligned with the combat arms regimental system leading to a
reassessment of the Corps' role in that system.

MSE along with other innovations, such as, the Army's Information
Mission Area for which the Signal Center in 1985 became the proponent
responsible for integration of the five disciplines on the AirLand
Battlefield, in LTG Bruce R. Harris' words "exemplify the dynamics
of....[the Signal Corps'] ever increasing mission and responsibilities
in supporting our Army. The professional challenge that these
initiatives represent is not new to our Signal Corps. Our history is
dominated by rapid change...." As in the past, the Signal Corps
Regiment "will continue to...[meet] these challenges with


In addition to the above, there are a few other documents worth looking over:

At this ABC News link:

you?ll find a brief overview of the history of military technology in
general, with some interesting tidbits on military communications,
such as:


From the Laboratory to the Battlefield

Fast-forward thousands of years to the Civil War, which historians
describe as one of the first technological wars. A slew of inventions
were produced and polished to aid the armies of both the North and
South....Telegraph technology also became vital during the Civil War
and wires were strung to follow the action on the battlefield. Since
there was no telegraph office in the White House, President Lincoln
would walk across the street to the War Department to hear the latest


Another brief but useful overview is given here:


Signal Corps history
Albert James Myer, an Army doctor, first conceived the idea of a
separate, trained professional military signal service. He proposed
that the Army use his visual communications system called "wigwag"
while serving as a medical officer in Texas in 1856. When the Army
adopted his system June 21, 1860, the Signal Corps was born with Myer
as the first and only Signal officer...


This site, although intended for kids, actually has a nice, concise
overview of the history of communications technology in the military. 
It?s worth a look.


I hope this information fully meets your needs.  If anything requires
further explanation, or if you want additional information on any
topic, just let me know by posting a Request for Clarification, and
I?ll be happy to assist you further.

search strategy: Google search on: battlefield communications balloon
telegraph satellite history
dallas2000-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars
Thank you, you have been very helpful.

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