World War I: Signals and Intelligence

World War I signals
Figure 1.--Huge advances were made in military communication in the 19th abd early-20 cnturies. These advanced most concerned communications between the military high command abd field headquaters. The final step between fiekld headquarters anbd front line troops, dspecially when on the move were little changed from not only the 9th cebntury, but the 8th century. The only major change was that courriers began to use notorcycles rather than horses. The military sttill used flags for signaling. Here is a British or Canadian fegimental signals unit.

Despite all the modern technical innovations, bttlefield command an control during World War I was not greatly different than that of that of the 19th century and earlier periods. There were various methods used by commanders in rear areas to keep in contact with their various units. Runners and couriers were used with the motor cycle replacing the horse. Signal flags, mirrors, flashing lights, and other metods were used. Dogs were also used, but the tendency of front line units to adopt them as pets meant they often were not returned to headqurters. Telephone lines could be string to the trenches. The problem occurred when offensives were launched. Once an offensive was set in motion, the commanders in the rear in the chaos of battle essentially lost contact with their advancing forward elements. Innovations were attempted such as dropping messages by air, but this was not the same as two-way messaging. The telegraph and telephone had been invented (mid-19th century) and these these instruments were very effective in establishing contact between army commanders and unit commanders, but not front line units especially those on the move. Lines had to be strung. And radios were to heavy by advancing combat troops. While little progress was made in battle-field command and control, the appearance of radio sets just befire the War did revolutionize military communications, both art sea and on land. The fact that signals naval and and army commanders were transmitted for the first time meant that interception was possible on a large scale for the first time. And the War began with huge failure of signals decipline on the Eastern Front. The Russian defeat at Tannenberg was in part because of commabders ignoring regulations and transmitting many messages describing troop movements and strategic/tactical measures plain text. The Germans had committed the bulk of their army to the Western offensive and as a result a much smaller force was available to oppose the Russian offensive in the East. But the Russians essentially told the Germans the details of their offensive in East Prussia where Germany bordered on Russia. The result was the hugec German victiory at Tannenberg. The Germans also learned a great deal about Russian secure communicationss. While it was the Germans who took advantage of the security lapses, at this early stage of the War, the Germans wwere also not careful about their transmissions. The Russians did obtain a major intelligence prize. The found a code book on the the German cruiser Magdeburg and turned it over to the British. This gave the British insights into German secure communications for most of the War. Naval intelligence during the War, however, was primarily assessing the direction and volume of transmissions. The Germans upgraded their code system just before launching their hoped for war-winning offensive (Spring 1918). Allied crypto analysts were, as aresult, in the dark as the front-line troops braced for the German offensive. The Allies had, however, other sources of information. Aerial reconisance provided information on rear area movement which detected buildups. Wireless traffic annalisis was also useful. The French thus concluded that the final German blow would come between Compiegne and Montdidier, tow towns about 50 miles north of Paris. The Kaiserschlacht came at that exact location (June 9, 1918). The British and French with newly deployed American infantry managed to stop the final German thrust.

Communications

Communications is vital to any military organization and camaign. Communications is how command and control is exercized over time and distance. Military communications were largely unchanged since ancient times until the mid-19th century. Banners, pennants, fire signals, music, and messengers (horns and trumphets) were the primary methods used. Ceasar used them and so did Napoleon. The telegram revolutionized military communications and was fairly secure. Despite all the modern technical innovations, bttlefield command an control during World War I was not greatly different than that of that of the 19th century and earlier periods. There were various methods used by commanders in rear areas to keep in contact with their various units. Runners and couriers were used with the motor cycle replacing the horse. Signal flags, mirrors, flashing lights, and other metods were used. Dogs were also used, but the tendency of front line units to adopt them as pets meant they often were not returned to headqurters. Telephone lines could be string to the trenches. The problem occurred when offensives were launched. Once an offensive was set in motion, the commanders in the rear in the chaos of battle essentially lost contact with their advancing forward elements. Innovations were attempted such as dropping messages by air, but this was not the same as two-way messaging. The telegraph and telephone had been invented (mid-19th century) and these these instruments were very effective in establishing contact between army commanders and unit commanders, but not front line units especially those on the move. Lines had to be strung. And radios were to heavy by advancing combat troops. World War I armies had a half century to adjust to the telegram. While national cable systems were relartively secure. International cables were a different matter and outside Europe largely controlled by the Allies, especilly the British. The wireless was a different matter. It had enormous military potential far beyound the telegtam. But it was very new and still being developed. It was also very indecure. World War I armies and navies operated largely independently in World War I. This is one reason that navies formed infantry forces (marines). The codes used by combatant armies and navies were different. A naval ship could have a small easily secured wireless abnd coding message center. Army field units, especially mobile units, faced a more difficult challenge. And there was a need to develop new codes with the deployment of the new wireless. Telegraph codes were relarively secure. While little progress was made in battle-field commsnd and control, the appearance of radio sets just before the War did revolutionize military communications, both art sea and on land. The fact that signals naval and and army commanders were transmitted for the first time meant that interception was possible on a large scale for the first time. Wireless communications were insecure because they could be easily picked up by the enemy. It took some time for the military forces to adjust to this new reality through several years of fighting. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was unprepared for this when it arrived in France.

Espionage

The most famous spying case occurred a decade before World War I--the Dryfus Affair (1905). There was a German spy, but it was not the unfortunste Cpt. Dryfus. The history of espionage is not as extensive as during World War II, but there was espionage activity. The two best known incidents were the execution of two female spies, nurse Edith Cavell in Belgium and exotic dancer Mata Hari in France. All of the major combatant countries conducted espionage activities. Here the United States less involved than the others, probably because it entered the War at a rather late date. The United States was, however, a target of German espionage. Franz von Papen from the German Embassy organized an espionage and sabotage ring. The Secret Service and still small Federal Bureau od Investigation (FBI) closed it down. Von Papen would go on to become a Weimar Chancellor and play a role in Hitler's appointment as Chancellor. One American concern was its large German minority which had strong pacifist sentiments. Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 a few months after entering the War. The Act priohibited any effort to interfere with military operations, to support U.S. enemies during wartime, to promote insubordination in the military, or to interfere with military recruitment. The individuals arrested under priovisions of the Act challenged it in the courts. After the War, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Schenck v. United States that the Act did not violate the freedom of speech. The most significant activity often included under tge rubric of espionage was more political activity than efforts to ferrit out enemy secrets. The Niedermayer-Hentig Expedition was a German diplomatic mission to Afghanistan (1915-1916). The purpose was to encourage Afghanistan to declare independence from Britain, declare war, join the the Central Powers, and attack British India. The Germans also tried to stir up trouble for the British among Indian nationalists. Sir John Arnold-Wallinger (18691931) was the British Indian intelligence officer who led the Indian Political Intelligence Office (1909-1916) seeking to control Indian nationalism. German Fireign Minister Zimmermann attempted to sign an alliance with Mexico to distract the United States which instead resulted in America entering the War. Zimmermann was also active in supporting Irish and Russian revolutiionaries. In Ireland the result was the Easter Rebellion. In Russia, allowing Lennin to cross Germany in a sealed train led to the famous scene at the Finland Station and ultimately the Bolshevick Revolution.

Sabotage

Sabotage was much less a factor in World War I than World War II. The major reason for this was the German occupation area in the West was limited. It was more sustantial in the East, but the area of the Russian Empire occupied had pppoulation that was generally happy to have the Russians driven out. The most significant sabotage activities during World War I were German efforts in the United states to disrupt war productuion and shipments to the Allies. This begun before America entered the War and continued after the declaration of war. Sabotage was much less a factor in World War I than World War II, primarily because the Germany Army did not suceed to the same extent, at least in the West. Here they occupied only Belgium and northern France, although combined aemies occyoied Serbia abd Rimania. The Germans did have considerable success in the East, but much of that success came in the non-Russian areas of the Russian Empire (Poland, the Baltics, and the Ukraine). I most of these areas, the local population was glad to see the Russiand driven out. There was, as a result, no wide-spread support for a resistance movement carrying out sabatoge,

Codes and Signals Intelligence

World War I armies had a half century to adjust to the telegram. The wireless was a different bmatter. It had enormous military potential far beyound the telegtam. But it was very new and still being developed. It was also very indecure. World War I armies and navies operated largely independently in World War I. This is one reason that navies formed infantry forces (marines). The codes used by combatant armies and navies were different. And there was a need to develop new codes with the deployment of the new wireless. Telegraph codes were relarively secure. Wireless communications were insecure because they could be easily picked up by the enemy. It took some time for the military forces to adjust to this new reality. Codes and encription became necessary for critical messages. The navies were quicker to adjust than the armies. The navies had an easier task in this regard than the armies. Each country varied in how they adjusted to the new realities and the codes which they developed. Developing the codes, however, was only part of the problem. Ger the soldiers to use them proved to be a daunting challenge. Major military campaigns were affected by the interception of signals. One incident in favt help being America into the war. The interception of secure information in World war I was no much the result of code breaking as the failire of signals discipline.







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Created: 10:16 PM 2/24/2011
Last updated: 12:08 AM 3/9/2015