The U.S. Army's Signal Corps
was set up to "exercise supervision over signal communications literally from the
Pentagon to the foxhole." Created in 1860 at the suggestion of a military doctor,
originally used a system of flag waving for messaging dubbed "wigwag" and graduated
to overseeing the nationwide telegraph network six years later. By 1870, members
were tasked with establishing and operating a weather forecasting service, so in
1907 when they created an aeronautical division it was just in time for facilitating
the nation's rapidly growing cadre of aircraft pioneers (recall the Wright brothers
had flown four years earlier at Kitty Hawk) by providing en route weather information.
Having already mastered the state of the art that was radio and telephone by 1937,
the Signal Corps then undertook the challenge of a sophisticated new technology
called "radar." Their motto is "Watchful for the Country." This is the first of
four articles on military communications from the December 1950 edition of Radio &
Planning Integrated Signal Communications
Born in Sliver Creek, N. Y. in 1900. Entered Regular Army in
1921. Received MS in communications engineering from Yale in 1929. Commander of
Aircraft Radio Repair section (San Antonio) in 1937. Become chief of Communication
Liaison Div. in Office of Chief Signal Officer in 1939 and in 1942 was named assistant
director of the Plans and Operations Div. He went overseas In 1942 as director of
Communications Div. of Communications Zone HQ in European Theater. Returned to U.
S. in 1944 to become chief of Plans and Operations Div. Named director of that division
in the southwest Pacific Theater in 1945. He become chief of the Army Communications
Service Division in the office of Chief Signal Officer in 1947.
By Brigadier General Wesley T. Guest, USA
Chief, Signal Plans & Operations Division
Office of the Chief Signal Officer
A Signal Corps achievement - planning and operating an earth-girdling electronic
communications network geared to the speed and mobility of modern warfare.
Communications, the means of coordinating the fighting team, are, in fact, an
indispensable element in creating a team from separate and often widely dispersed
forces. No amount of force can be effective in repelling an enemy unless there are
brains and nerves to direct it. Communications are the nerves of fighting power.
Communications do not just grow; they are planned. In the Army, the planning
is the responsibility of the Signal Corps. That planning is largely guided by a
concept which we call "integrated communications." The planning, engineering, and
operation involve the development of equipment that will fill the tactical requirements
of the integrated communications system.
It is well to remember that as technical developments have made warfare more
complex, communications have grown more complex to keep pace. When the Signal Corps
was created during the Civil War as the only branch of its kind in a modern army,
wig-wag flags were quite new and modern and the magnetic telegraph was just appearing.
Today, military communications are geared to the speed of light by earth-girdling
That is the extent to which communications can be integrated. Integration is
required by the speed and mobility of modern war. Delay can be fatal. The relaying
of information takes time and causes delay, unless it is accomplished swiftly through
the integrated system.
This thinking, it may be noted in passing, closely parallels that of the major civil
communications systems. In private affairs it is necessary for efficient service.
In military affairs it is a vital necessity for survival.
The Signal Corps is responsible for maintaining many different types of communications
both in war and peace. In the top photograph Corpsmen are shown at their job of
keeping transmission lines and antenna towers in good condition. The antenna is
a beam. 250 feet high and supports five two-element v.h.f. antennas. By means of
these antennas, this station transmits signals from all over the world to the Signal
Center in the Pentagon.
In each of the last two wars, the Signal Corps was confronted with an emergency
situation in the development, procurement, distribution, installation, operation,
and maintenance of a military communication system. In the First World War, the
situation was relatively simple. There was only one theater of operations and that
in a friendly country where communications had been established by both the British
and French Forces after several years of military operations. The American Forces
engaged in the First World War were relatively small compared with those of the
Allies and, consequently, the organizational structure was relatively simple. In
that war, Air Force communications were negligible, radar was not employed, communications
for amphibious and airborne landings were not required, and major reliance was on
wire and cable.
The problem during the Second World War was far more serious than it was in the
first. Not one theater of operations had to be served, but many. The increased geographical
coverage and the accelerated speed at which operations unfolded created difficulties
never before experienced by any signal organization, either commercial or military.
The need for a system concept - for integration - became immediately apparent.
Let us consider the organizational aspects of the Signal Corps System Concept.
We feel that the best type of organization for a communications system is one that
is established on a commodity basis. By that we mean one organization that is responsible
for all aspects of the "commodity of communications," including research and development,
training, procurement and distribution of signal supplies, and plans and operations
- all under the control and direction of one man, the Chief Signal Officer. This
is true of the Signal Corps today, and administration of the Army's far flung communications
activities is centered in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.
The reason the Chief Signal Officer must have his finger on all activities of
the Corps is that those activities are closely interrelated. For instance, training
must be geared to delivery of equipment, both the newly developed equipment and
the old. Likewise, research and development are closely related to procurement.
Signal Corps personnel install, operate, and maintain communications from the
Department of the Army to the Theater of Operations; and from the Theater Headquarters
down to the regiments. Regiments and lower units to which no organic Signal Corps
personnel are assigned, are responsible for their own communications, for tactical
reasons that will be explored presently. However, the Signal Corps is responsible
for providing signal equipment and supplies for use between and within all tactical
and service echelons. Thus, it may be said that the Signal Corps exercises supervision
over signal communications literally from the Pentagon to the foxhole.
This overall system may be considered to be composed of three networks: the global
network, the theater network, and the tactical network.
Another aspect of Signal Corps communications is shown as Corpsmen
adjust military telephone wires.
The global network is used for establishing communications circuits:
1. Between the Pentagon and the Theaters of Operations, occupation zones, bases,
2. Within the Theater where wire or radio relay circuits are not feasible, as
in the case of a large ocean area;
3. Within the Theaters as the first established circuits, until supplemented
by wire and radio relay, and then as emergency supplements to the wire and radio
4. For emergency use within the Continental United States in case of disruption
of wire or radio relay circuits.
The Theater network is the network which provides the circuits from the Theater
Command down to the senior commanders of tactical ground, air, and naval units.
This network functions under the control of the Theater Commander and serves as
the vital link between the global network and the tactical networks.
The combat or tactical networks are the parts of the communications system by
which the commanders of tactical units control and direct their commands. In the
field army we envision two general types of combat networks, one down to approximately
regimental level, which is more or less of an administrative type of network; and
the other at approximately the regimental level and below, which is a fire and maneuver
type network at all times directly under the control of the combat commander. No
combat commander is placed in the position where he is dependent on someone outside
his command for his unit communications.
The overall concept of the integrated communication system.
Principles of integration, however, are applied to the combat network. The concept
envisages, for example, that each switchboard serving a command (battalion or higher)
may have a radio set connected to it. This radio station can be operated so that
it will be possible:
1. To talk over a wire or radio channel, from any telephone connected to the
switchboard, to another switchboard, and to any user connected thereto;
2. From any telephone user's position, to call a mobile or fixed radio station
at any point within range of the calling radio-switchboard;
3. From a mobile or fixed radio installation, to cause a signal to appear at
a called radio-switchboard, bringing the operator on the line and thus enabling
the calling radio station to communicate with anyone connected to the communications
The general idea is to avoid using such huge amounts of field wire as were used
in Europe during the last war; to augment and replace cable and wire to a much'
greater extent with radio.
That, briefly, is what the Signal Corps means by an integrated system of communications
- in terms of planning. The concept must come first, of course, but to carry it
out we must have the equipment which, because of its versatility, makes integration
Posted April 28, 2023
(updated from original post on 5/1/2013)