Photo Essay 1. Passing The Word: Artillery Communications

   Forward observers in Cuthbert Crater, NE of Arras, April 1917. Observation posts were not always elaborate or safe. This one is at least reasonably dry for the observers and signalers of the 12th (Eastern) Division during the preparations for the battle of Arras.
Source: IWM photo Q5095


   RGA telephonists in a captured German dugout, near Langemarck, 21 August 1917. Communications was the weak link in battle planning in World War I. All the information these signalers were passing from forward observers back to batteries could be interrupted by a single shell that cut the lines. Wireless telegraphy technology required very large antennae, and until late 1917 the crystals were imprecise enough that W/T sets would interfere with each other if they were closer than 3,000 yards, about two miles. In the absence of huge quantities of carrier pigeons, messenger dogs, or human couriers, telephony was the best alternative, even with its attendant problems.
Source: IWM photo Q2750


   Signalers using flash lamp, near Bouzincourt, 10 July 1916. Lamps were another signaling option, but one that could only be used front-to-rear, or the Germans would have been able to intercept the messages. Semaphore flags were technically another option, and were standard issue equipment for batteries, but the number of men that volunteered to wig-wag flags on the Western Front must have been low. This flimsy dugout also shows how little protection was needed in a relatively quiet sector.
Source: IWM photo Q149


   Artillery officer issuing orders based on aerial observation, near Montauban, July 1916. This wireless set had an antenna about fifty feet long, the end of which can be seen snaking upwards along the right side of the photo. Due to weight limits, aircraft could only carry transmitters (not transmitters and receivers), and to see when the battery was ready to fire the aircraft had to circle back to see what ground panels had been laid out.
Source: IWM photo Q4036