World War II: Theaters of War

Signal units served in every theater, from the zone of interior to the most isolated outposts. Courage and technical expertise were needed, as well as a vast amount of sheer hard work; signalmen shed both sweat and blood in order to play their part in the worldwide drama that ended with Allied victory. The brief survey of signal operations that follows can only suggest the magnitude of the task and the effort.

Defending the Hemisphere, December 1941-June 1943

The first need was to provide for hemisphere defense. Army planners defined the Western Hemisphere to include all of the land masses of North and South America, plus Greenland, Bermuda, and the Falklands (but not Iceland or the Azores) in the Atlantic area and, in the Pacific, all of the islands east of the 180th meridian as well as the Aleutian chain.1

Along with Oahu, the Panama Canal constituted the major outpost of continental defense. Because of the potential danger from attack or sabotage, the Army had already placed a sizable force in Panama prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. About one-third of the Signal Corps' units and most of its radar equipment had been installed there before December 1941. Afterward, with a Pearl Harbor-like strike upon the canal seemingly imminent, the need for radar in Panama assumed even greater urgency. To guard the Atlantic approaches to the canal, the Signal Corps installed radar throughout the Caribbean.2

In addition to reinforcing its continental defenses, the United States needed to obtain bases on foreign soil in Latin America and the Caribbean.3 The island of Puerto Rico (which was also important for the protection of the canal) lay along the principal air route to Brazil. Consequently, the United States built a major air base on the island. Signal units provided aircraft warning and communications support here and along the string of island airfields making up the airway.4

Meanwhile, Germany's occupation of Denmark in the spring of 1940 threatened possible enemy intrusion into the Danish colonies of Greenland and Iceland. In fact, during the summer of 1940 the Germans established radio and weather stations in Greenland, which the British later eliminated. Following the signing of an agreement with the Danish government on 9 April 1941, Army engineer units departed in June to begin construction of military airfields on the island, and signal personnel installed aircraft warning radar.5 While Iceland did not fall within


the usual definition of the Western Hemisphere, it did lie astride the vital sea lanes between the United States and Great Britain. To protect their lifeline, the British had occupied the island in early May 1940, and during the summer of 1941 British forces there were gradually replaced with American troops. In August, advance elements of the 50th Signal Battalion traveled to the remote island to install radar to cover the convoy route through the dangerous North Atlantic waters. The rest of the unit arrived in January 1942 to install wire, poles, and cables and faced a forbidding task amid lava fields in the dark of winter.6

Equally cold and just as vulnerable was the vast territory of Alaska. Only weakly defended prior to the war, Alaska witnessed an extensive military buildup during 1942. On Kodiak Island, site of the Navy's main base in Alaska, the Army constructed Fort Greely, named for the former chief signal officer in recognition both of his national fame as an Arctic explorer and as builder of the Alaska Communication System.7 This was fitting, for the ACS provided the backbone around which the Signal Corps carried out its wartime expansion in the territory. Prewar improvements to the system had included the reconditioning and restoration of the cable to Seattle, whose return to operation on 3 December 1941 reestablished secure communications with the mainland.8 Anchorage, headquarters of the Alaska Defense Command, also served as the hub of the wartime ACS network. Initial expansion plans called for ten new stations and for improvements to existing facilities. In addition to the administrative network, the Signal Corps engineered and built post telephone systems, harbor defense control systems, and radar sites.

The improvements were welcome for the enemy was close. On 3-4 June 1942, nearly six months to the day after they had bombed Pearl Harbor, the Japanese as part of their Midway campaign struck the naval base at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians and followed up with the occupation of Attu and Kiska Islands at the western end of the chain. From these outposts the Japanese could harass American lend-lease shipments to Russia and threaten the continental United States. There they remained until ousted by force from Attu in the spring of 1943, after which they abandoned Kiska voluntarily.9

The enemy presence on American soil for almost a year stimulated work that was already under way to make Alaska more defensible. In collaboration with Canada, the United States Army in March 1942 began building the Alaska (Alcan) Highway, stretching over 1,400 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, to Big Delta, Alaska, where it connected with the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks. This roadway provided a land route to Alaska and a means of supplying a number of military airfields stretching across northwestern Canada.10

The Signal Corps furnished communications for the engineer troops building the Alaska Highway. While radio provided the necessary mobility, it was unreliable in the far north due to atmospheric and magnetic interference. It also posed a security problem. Better communications were necessary. Consequently, in the summer of 1942 the Signal Corps took on the task of installing an open wire (bare wire) telephone line parallel to the road, using civilian construction crews and uni-


Photo:  A typical problem along the Alaska Highway telephone line


formed operating personnel. Because the Signal Corps had few construction units available, civilian crews performed much of the work. Commercial companies, particularly Western Electric, supplied technical specialists and equipment. The 843d Signal Service Battalion furnished the operating personnel. With a capacity of six voice and thirteen teletype circuits, the line required the setting of 95,000 poles in frozen, snow-covered ground and the stringing of 14,000 miles of wire.11 Completed in just fifteen months, it represented a spectacular construction feat as well as an excellent example of military/civilian teamwork.12

By the summer of 1943 the Japanese foothold in North America had been pried loose, greatly reducing concern over Alaska's security. Consequently the Army began to transfer many of the troops stationed there to more active theaters outside the hemisphere. In fact, the Army's focus had shifted from Axis attack to Allied counterattack-a change that had already taken thousands of American soldiers overseas to fight in the South and Southwest Pacific, Asia, and Africa. Signalmen went with them.

Signal Support for the Pacific Theater, 1941-1943

The first units to face the enemy in the field were located in the Pacific. In December 1941 the Japanese coupled their attack on Pearl Harbor with assaults on American air bases in the Philippines. After destructive air strikes, the main


Japanese invasion of the islands began on 22 December 1941, forcing the American and Filipino forces on Luzon, commanded by General Douglas A. MacArthur, to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula, across the bay from Manila. The Japanese entered that city on 2 January 1942. MacArthur, meanwhile, had removed his headquarters from Manila to Corregidor, the island fortress at the entrance to Manila Bay. Japan's blockade of the islands and its superiority in the air made reinforcement of the beleaguered defenders impossible.

As the situation deteriorated, President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur in mid­March to proceed to Australia to take command of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific.13 Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright then assumed command of the doomed garrison. Brig. Gen. Spencer B. Akin, MacArthur's signal officer, accompanied MacArthur to Australia, while his assistant, Col. Theodore T. Teague, remained with Wainwright. Akin continued to serve on MacArthur's staff throughout the war and became a member of the group of MacArthur's close associates known as the Bataan Gang. As such, he enjoyed a freedom of decision and action unknown to other theater chief signal officers.14 Teague was less fortunate. Bataan fell in early April, and the remaining Americans held out on Corregidor, where they endured several weeks of intense aerial-artillery bombardment that turned the once luxuriant island into a no man's land. Under the hail of bombs and shells, maintenance of wire lines became futile. Wainwright's headquarters took refuge in Malinta Tunnel, an extensive underground system originally built to move supplies from one end of the island to the other.15 The tunnel complex also housed a hospital, machine shops, and storehouse. From this subterranean location, the Army's last radio station in the Philippines continued to operate. By the end of April, however, much of the command was suffering from malnutrition and disease. Having virtually destroyed its defenses, the Japanese landed on Corregidor during the night of 5 May 1942. With defeat inevitable and supplies of water and ammunition nearly gone, Wainwright was forced to surrender the next day. After broadcasting their final messages, signal personnel gutted their equipment and destroyed as much of it as possible. Fifty signal officers, including Teague, and 662 enlisted men became prisoners of the Japanese.16

Communication between the Philippines and the Allied forces in Australia was maintained surreptitiously by soldiers who had escaped into the hills and by Filipino guerrillas. Through a network of coast watchers using radios secretly landed by American submarines, MacArthur received valuable information about Japanese troop movements and naval activity. In addition, the Signal Corps organized a unit, the 978th Signal Service Company, to infiltrate the islands and cooperate with the guerrillas. Comprised largely of Filipino volunteers, the members received training in the building, operation, and maintenance of radio stations; weather forecasting and aircraft warning; the use of cameras and cryptographic systems; and jungle living and guerrilla fighting. The heroism of these men, some of whom were captured by the Japanese and tortured to death, helped pave the way for the eventual Allied liberation of the Philippines.17


Photo:  Inside the Malinta Tunnel


In the Pacific, the Signal Corps' first experience of ground combat as attackers rather than defenders occurred during the battle for Guadalcanal, part of the Solomon Islands group. Operations in the South Pacific Area were controlled by the Navy, first under Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley and, after November 1942, under the command of Admiral William E Halsey. The Allies invaded the southern Solomons in the summer of 1942 to prevent the Japanese from cutting the line of communications between the United States and Australia. The offensive began on 7 August 1942 when the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal where the Japanese were constructing a large airfield. The Japanese, taken by surprise, did not oppose the landing, but they soon struck back violently. For six months the combatants waged battles on the ground, in the air, and on the sea for control of the island. For the Americans, the marines handled all of the ground combat until October, when Army reinforcements began to arrive, just in time to help thwart a major Japanese counteroffensive.

The Army eventually committed two infantry divisions to Guadalcanal: the 25th and the Americal. The divisional signal units, the 25th and 26th Signal Companies, respectively, arrived in December 1942 and participated in large-scale offensive operations launched in early January 1943. These units soon became familiar with the vagaries of communications in the tropics. Because radios did not always work well in the jungle, wire lines remained important. Stringing the lines proved a herculean task, however, as the signalmen, without bolos or


machetes, "pulled the wire by hand through the mysterious and malevolent jungle, moist and stifling with its stench of vegetable decay."18 Other signal units on Guadalcanal included the 69th Signal Service Company, complete with a pigeon detachment, and the 162d Signal Photographic Company. The struggle for Guadalcanal finally ended in early February 1943 with a decisive victory for the Allies, and the hard-won island became a base for further offensive operations in the South Pacific.19

Passing the Test in North Africa and Italy

While these bitter but small-scale battles raged in the Pacific, the Signal Corps became involved in combat on a far greater scale in North Africa. Here the United States Army undertook its first extended offensive operations in the combined invasion of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, French colonies then under the control of the collaborationist government that had been set up after France surrendered to the Germans in 1940. American units made up the bulk of the invasion force, and an American, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, acted as the overall Allied commander. Eisenhower's staff consisted of British as well as American officers, but the chief signal officer was an American, Brig. Gen. Jerry V Matejka. Matejka headed the Signal Section of Eisenhower's Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ), advising him and coordinating signal policy throughout the theater. At the start of the campaign both AFHQ and the signal communications center were located deep within the British fortress on the Rock of Gibraltar.20

On 8 November 1942, British and American forces launched Operation TORCH, presenting the Signal Corps with its first major test of the war.21 A special company had been organized to handle shore party communications.22 Yet every aspect of the operation, including the signal problems, showed the inexperience of the Allies in conducting amphibious warfare. Until the troops landed, the message centers remained on shipboard, but the shock of naval gunfire knocked out many shipboard radios. Meanwhile, companies of the 829th Signal Service Battalion, one per task force, attempted to set up the administrative communications net for which the Signal Corps had responsibility.23 These units had intended to use SCR-299 truck and trailer radio sets immediately upon landing to connect the widely separated landing areas and to communicate with Gibraltar. Unfortunately, the weighty sets had been stowed deep in the holds of the convoy ships and only one could be unloaded in time for use during the initial assault. Luckily, the British had outfitted two communications ships; they filled the gap.

Despite efforts to waterproof using canvas bags, salt water damaged much signal apparatus. Even vehicular radio sets could not withstand being drenched. To add to the difficulties, units often became separated from their equipment, and a scarcity of vehicles slowed operations in general.24 Yet once communications onshore became stabilized, the 299s provided the chief means of long-distance signals until permanent ACAN stations could be installed. Originally designed as


radiotelephones with a range of 100 miles when in motion, they proved capable of communicating up to 2,300 miles when operated as radiotelegraphs.

Even when the equipment worked well, however, inadequate training prevented many signal personnel from using it competently. Technical problems were great: Signalmen had to communicate in nets that included the British Army and Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the Army Air Forces; conflicting codes and ciphers caused confusion that was compounded by last-minute changes in the radio procedure plan. The signalmen had to adapt to the chaotic situation as best they could.25

After the assault phase ended, wire lines carried more of the communications load. With the cooperation of local French authorities, signal units assumed control over the existing commercial telephone system. The lines, however, were in poor condition and unable to handle the large volume of message traffic. The Signal Corps then found itself facing a problem in the North African desert that it had not seen since the days of the frontier telegraph lines: lack of local timber for poles. For such situations the Corps had developed the rapid pole line (RPL) method of construction, which substituted two 20-foot building studs nailed together for the standard 40-foot pole. The studs were easier to handle and transport, but proved to have problems of their own. They were, for example, unable to carry the weight of crossarms, insulators, and hardware. Furthermore, the studs were subject to twisting and warping in the sun and rain. Consequently, RPL proved only a limited success.26

The North African campaign was a learning experience for the whole Army, the place where amateurs became veterans. The theater witnessed a significant innovation in communications-the integration of radio and wire into a system known as radio relay. By this means messages could travel from a radio transmitter over the air, into a receiver and onto wire, to a switchboard, and then to an individual's telephone set, or vice versa. This development stemmed from Eisenhower's wish for a personal radiotelephone in his car with which he could call his headquarters, whatever the distance. Due to security considerations, Eisenhower received a mobile radioteletype, which allowed his messages to be enciphered, rather than a radiotelephone that would broadcast conversations in the clear. Nevertheless, the system worked much like cellular telephones, with radio signals beamed between line-of-sight relay stations placed on high elevations about 100 miles apart. Besides General Eisenhower, II Corps used radio relay to transmit large numbers of messages and press reports between Algiers and Tunis.27

Signal Corps ground radar also found its first extensive combat use in an air defense role. In particular the SCR-582, the first American microwave radar, debuted in North Africa. Intended for coast defense, it proved successful in detecting low-flying aircraft and was quickly converted to a truck mount for mobility. The 582 could also be used for detecting surface vessels and providing navigational assistance to ships. Even the British, who heretofore had judged American radar to be poor, found this model superior.28


Photo:  Repairing telephone lines in Tunisia


In addition to these modern methods of communication, some less sophisticated techniques, including signal lamps and messengers, were used when other means were unavailable. Even pigeons flew many missions in North Africa, particularly during periods of radio silence or when wire lines had not yet been installed or had been destroyed.29

Despite its initial problems, the Signal Corps passed its first test in North Africa and contributed to the successful campaign, which ended in mid-May 1943 with a sweeping victory in Tunisia. The Corps' central role in coordinating the air-ground-sea operations of the Allied forces received increasing recognition from line units. As General Matejka declared, "This is a signals war," and the communication facilities in North Africa continued to be important as the area became the staging base for the subsequent invasions of Sicily, the Italian mainland, and southern France.30

The invasion of Sicily (Operation HUSKY) had several goals: making the Mediterranean safe for Allied shipping, forcing Italy out of the war, and diverting the Germans from the Russian front. General Eisenhower once again was the theater commander, but a British officer, Maj. Gen. Leslie B. Nicholls, replaced General Matejka, who had returned to Washington to serve in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.

During the predawn hours of 10 July 1943, amid heavy seas, the Allies began landing on the southeastern coast of Sicily against light opposition. This amphibi-


ous operation, larger than TORCH, involved more than nine thousand signal troops, including those that belonged to the Army Air Forces. In planning the assault the Signal Corps applied lessons learned in North Africa, with particular emphasis on making certain that its equipment was adequately waterproofed. This time the Signal Corps installed SCR-299s in special moisture-proof houses aboard amphibious trucks (DUKWs), which enabled the sets to be operated either offshore or on land. Despite some problems, communications for HUSKY were much improved over those for TORCH.31

After five weeks of fighting the Allies drove the Germans out of Sicily. During this period signal troops rehabilitated 4,916 miles of telephone wire; laid almost 1,800 miles of spiral-four cable; and handled over 8,000 radio messages.32 The Germans had sabotaged many of the existing lines and mined the pole line route from Palermo to Messina. Thanks to the SCR-625 magnetic mine detector, most mines were found and removed harmlessly.33 Col. Terence J. Tully, the American officer who served as Nicholls' deputy, reported to General Ingles: "We mounted the Sicilian campaign very successfully, and it was said that this particular group of signal units was the best-equipped that ever went into combat."34

The fall of Sicily in late August proved significant, leading to the ouster of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and shortly afterward Italy's decision to quit the war.35 Germany, however, remained determined to resist the Allies, using its former Axis partner as a battleground. On 9 September the U.S. Fifth Army launched Operation AVALANCHE to seize the port of Naples. After landing at Salerno, it fought its way to Naples, while the British Eighth Army conquered the heel and toe of the Italian boot. Then the Allies combined to advance on Rome.36

Yet the campaign that had begun so well quickly bogged down amid mud, mountains, and winter weather. Not only did the Germans fight with determination and skill, they took full advantage of Italy's forbidding topography. Its rugged interior heavily favored the defenders and presented particular problems for communicators. Mountain peaks interfered with radio transmissions and the irregular terrain made laying wire difficult and dangerous. Telephone lines in forward areas were frequently broken by enemy shelling or by vehicles. When possible, the lines were strung overhead. Where standard military vehicles could not go, linemen used mules, carts, jeeps, and sometimes bicycles to carry the spools of wire. If all else failed, the men had to unroll the huge spools by hand, a back­breaking task. Pigeons also flew many missions, at some headquarters conveying up to three hundred messages a week. At Colvi Vecchia in October 1943, the Signal Corps' pigeon, G.I. Joe, saved a British brigade by flying twenty miles in twenty minutes to deliver an order to cancel the bombing of the city which the troops had entered ahead of schedule. (The bird later received a medal for gallantry from the Lord Mayor of London.)37

As winter descended, signalmen found themselves wading and swimming across icy mountain streams, now swollen by the autumn rains, to establish communication lines.38 German defenses known as the Winter Line were domi-


Photo:  SCR-584 in Italy


nated by the stronghold of Monte Cassino. In an attempt to break the stalemate, the U.S. VI Corps staged an amphibious landing on 22 January 1944 in the rear of the enemy lines at Anzio, a coastal resort about thirty miles south of Rome. Here the Signal Corps benefited from the experience gained during its previous amphibious operations. In addition, the SCR-300, better known as the walkie-talkie, received its first use in combat. Lt. Col. Jesse F. Thomas, signal officer of the 3d Infantry Division, declared it the "most successful instrument yet devised for amphibious communication."39

Although the landing was unopposed, a fierce German counterattack halted the advance and drove communications underground. Luckily, the Signal Corps could employ a new and highly accurate gun-laying radar, SCR-584, that proved lethal to German bombers and resistant to the enemy's jamming techniques. Although they failed to wipe out the beachhead, the Germans kept the Allies pinned down and unable to achieve a breakout for several months.40

Finally, in May, the main body of the Fifth Army along with the British Eighth Army breached the Winter Line and joined forces with the Anzio beachhead. The Allies then continued their push toward Rome as German resistance began to weaken. The Signal Corps, hampered by a dearth of personnel, especially wire construction men, strove to keep up with the rapidly advancing armies. Rome fell on 4 June 1944, but much of Italy remained in enemy hands and the Allies continued to fight their way north toward the Arno River. By late summer they stood facing the formidable Gothic Line across the northern Apennines. Weary signalmen faced what the 34th Signal Company's historian later called "another Mud, Mountain, and Mule affair."41

He was right. Throughout the fall signalmen again endured the rigors of providing communications in trackless mountain terrain where sometimes only pigeons could get the message through. Although fighting slackened during the winter months, the need for communications continued. When the offensive resumed in the spring, signal units participated in what soon turned into an


Photo:  Operating the SCR-584


enemy rout as the Allies pursued the Germans across the Po Valley to the Alps. With their escape routes into the mountains blocked off, the Germans were trapped. The prolonged struggle that had lasted nearly twenty months came to an end when the German forces in Italy surrendered on 2 May 1945.42

Signal Soldiers in Europe: D-Day and After

Meanwhile, planning had proceeded for the long-awaited cross-Channel attack. Since early 1942 the Allies had sought to open a second front against Germany to divert its forces from their drive to Russia and hasten its final defeat. In preparation, the United States slowly began building a huge logistical base in the United Kingdom, an effort that received the code name Operation BOLERO. By the eve of the invasion more than a million and a half American soldiers were stationed there.43

Communications planning was a key aspect of the buildup. Before he was assigned to Africa, the future General Matejka had worked in England, making arrangements for the Electronics Training Group and later becoming chief signal officer of the United States Army Forces in the British Isles (USAFBI). After the 827th Signal Service Company arrived in March 1942, the men installed a signal center at 20 Grosvenor Square in London;44 in mid-July a direct ACAN link was established to Washington; and shortly afterward the overcrowded signal center moved to the annex of Selfridge's department store in London, "a


sizeable steel and concrete structure blessed with deep basements running 45 feet down."45

The organization of the U.S. forces in the United Kingdom paralleled that of the War Department in Washington with separate commands for ground, air, and support services. Hence the Signal Corps became part of the Services of Supply. In June 1942 the European Theater of Operations, United States Army (ETOUSA), was organized to replace the USAFBI, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed command. Brig. Gen. William S. Rumbough became the theater's chief signal officer as well as the chief signal officer of the Services of Supply. While Rumbough reported to Cheltenham, ninety miles northwest of London, where the headquarters of the Services of Supply had been established, Matejka remained at Grosvenor Square as the Signal Corps' representative at theater headquarters until being tapped to serve under Eisenhower in North Africa.46

As the European theater's chief signal officer, Rumbough faced a tremendous task. The invasion of Normandy, the largest Allied military operation of the war, presented the Signal Corps with the biggest challenge thus far in its history: The scale of communications would be roughly twenty-five times greater than that for TORCH.47 In October 1943 Rumbough became a member of the Allies' Combined Signal Board, set up to conduct high-level coordination between the combined air, naval, and ground elements. It handled such matters as establishing a system of priorities for telephone traffic and allocating radio frequencies for the 90,000 transmitters expected to be in operation.48

In January 1944 Eisenhower received the appointment as the European theater commander with the title of Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. In tactical matters the new Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), supplanted ETOUSA. Although General Rumbough continued his job as chief signal officer on the ETOUSA staff, his duties were now confined primarily to the administration and supply of American signal units in the theater.49 Tactical and strategic signal matters would be handled by the signal division of the supreme headquarters where a British officer, Maj. Gen. C. H. H. Vulliamy, held the position of chief signal officer, SHAEF Brig. Gen. Francis H. Lanahan, Jr., of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, served as Vulliamy's deputy. While the signal division conducted detailed planning and coordination, the Combined Signal Board determined policy.50

On 6 June, through rough seas and under cloudy skies, American forces landed on the Normandy beaches designated as UTAH (VII Corps) and OMAHA (V Corps).51 To support this vast undertaking, the First Army (the major U.S. ground component, under the command of Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley) had assembled 13,420 signalers.52 Col. Grant A. Williams served as First Army's signal officer. The signal troops included three units of a new type, the Joint Assault Signal Company, or JASCO, originally created in the Pacific in late 1943 specifically to furnish communications during joint (Army-Navy) amphibious operations.53

The organization of JASCOs demonstrated one of the ways in which the Army's amphibious assault doctrine and techniques had matured since the North


African campaign. JASCOs operated as part of engineer special brigades, units designed to organize invasion beaches for supply.54 The joint companies provided the critical communications link between the ships offshore and the assaulting units on the beach as well as among the assault teams themselves. JASCOs also coordinated both naval and aerial fire. Much larger than the standard signal company and commanded by a major, the joint company contained as many as five to six hundred communication specialists from the Army (Signal Corps and Field Artillery), Army Air Forces, and Navy. The JASCO was divided into a battalion shore and beach party communication section, a shore fire control section, and an air liaison section, with each section further subdivided into teams.55

The Signal Corps also contributed significantly to the execution of the assault through the use of radio countermeasures (RCM). These included jamming the enemy's radar electronically and such deceptive practices as dropping strips of aluminum foil from planes to blind hostile sensors by producing false echoes.56 In southeast England the 3103d Signal Service Battalion set up a simulated radio net to mislead the Germans into believing that the Pas de Calais area would be the actual invasion point-a successful ruse that undoubtedly saved the Allies thousands of casualties.57

Members of the Signal Corps participated in airborne assaults by the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions that preceded the landings. Twenty-eight men from the 101st Airborne Signal Company became the first signalmen to land in France. Fighting as infantry, they assisted in the capture of Pouppeville at the southern end of UTAH Beach. Other members of the company arrived in France by glider, bringing with them a long-range SCR-499 radio set, the air-transportable version of the SCR-299. On D-day and for several days thereafter, this set linked the two airborne divisions to England. Meanwhile, members of the 82d Airborne Signal Company either dropped with the division near Ste. Mère-Eglise or came in by glider, losing many men and much equipment. Although scattered during the jump, these airborne forces secured vital roadways and other strongpoints that eased the way for the oncoming ground troops. The landing on UTAH itself met with only light opposition, and the 286th JASCO came ashore quickly to set up wire communications. Both the 82d and the 101st Airborne Signal Companies received the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for their contributions to the Normandy invasion.58

Meanwhile, on OMAHA Beach the invasion forces met with heavy enemy resistance. During the opening hour of the assault, members of the 2d Platoon, 294th JASCO, had to hand-carry much of their equipment ashore after their landing vehicles stalled in deep water and were struck by enemy fire. Nevertheless, they managed to set up the only communications system on the beach until noon of D-day when additional platoons arrived. A detachment of the 293d JASCO, which followed the 294th ashore, lost one-third of its vehicles and one-half of its radio equipment when a shell hit its landing craft. These losses did not, however, prevent the unit from carrying out its mission of providing communications for the 6th Engineer Special Brigade.


Photo:  Photograph taken by Captain Wall during the D-day invasion on OMAHA Beach


The First Army's photographic unit, the 165th Signal Photographic Company, covered the action with detachments serving on both beaches. The company commander, Capt. Herman V Wall, documented operations on OMAHA. Wall also became an early casualty of the Normandy invasion. Despite suffering serious wounds, one of which resulted in the amputation of his left leg, he made sure that his film was delivered to the proper authorities in England for processing. Wall's pictures were the first received of the actual landings on 6 June.59

Due to the initial confusion on UTAH and OMAHA, the JASCOs were unable to run wire lines out to the headquarters ships as planned. Thus radio provided the vital links between commanders and troops. During the early phase of the operation, these ships played an important role. The radio nets aboard them furnished communications between the echelons of the First Army afloat and ashore, as well as with the army rear back in England. By mid-June newly laid cables across the English Channel handled large-scale communications with England. Radio was also used to connect UTAH and OMAHA until wires could be laid. Even pigeons found a job on the busy beaches, carrying ammunition status reports, undeveloped film, and emergency messages.60


Multichannel radio, or antrac, received its baptism of fire during the Normandy landings. Perched atop an ancient signal tower on the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England, where observers once had watched for the arrival of the Spanish Armada, twentieth century signalers operating an antrac station anxiously awaited word from the invasion beaches, which they finally received at D plus 2. With its facsimile capability, the antrac could send reconnaissance photos back to the beaches in seven minutes, where they were put to good use by gun control officers.61

After six weeks of bitter fighting, the First Army finally broke out of Normandy's hedgerow country in late July. Having pierced the German lines, the Allies then advanced with astonishing speed. The spectacular success of the breakout, however, placed strains upon the logistical system. Such critical items as gasoline and ammunition began to run low, and resupply was often agonizingly slow. The rapidly moving forces consumed enormous quantities of signal materiel and soon depleted the Signal Corps' stockpiles on the Continent. For some items, such as small radio sets, replacements could be shipped by air from the United Kingdom; in other cases, signalmen were able to supplement their supplies with captured enemy equipment.62

During this period of highly mobile warfare, events frequently outran communications. First Army, containing some of the best trained and most experienced signal units, devised mobile communication centers mounted in vans that enabled command post moves to be made fairly smoothly. The more rapidly advancing forces of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army encountered greater difficulties. Organized in September 1944, the new field army suffered from shortages of both signal units and equipment. Wire lines, which carried the bulk of communications, both tactical and administrative, became particularly strained as the armies used up nearly three thousand miles of wire each day. Even at that rate, line construction could not keep up with the needs of higher headquarters. Moreover, the existing French lines had been so badly damaged by the Germans that they could not be readily repaired. Although radio and messenger service could sometimes take up the slack, serious problems of command and control arose.63

Communication between corps and divisions proved especially troublesome. The commander of Patton's VIII Corps, Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton, found that he could not maintain contact with his 6th Armored Division as it sped through Brittany. Neither high-powered SCR-399 radios nor radioteletype could satisfactorily bridge the distances between headquarters. Messengers, when they could get through at all, often arrived with orders that had become irrelevant. Thus, the division commander frequently had to act without authority from higher headquarters and could sometimes exert little control over the division's subordinate units.64

Fortunately, the new technology of radio relay came to the rescue. The equipment could be made operational very rapidly and needed little maintenance. A single terminal could furnish several telephone and several tele-


graph circuits, each of which became part of the whole communications net­work, quickly connected with any telephone or any teletypewriter in the system.65 While not as secure as wire communications, it could be duplexed as radio could not. A further advantage resulted from the fact that fewer men were needed to install radio relay than to run a wire line. To help introduce the equipment and report on its performance, the Signal Corps sent two of its civilian engineers, Amory H. Waite and Victor J. Colaguori, to Europe. These men pioneered a novel concept, the new equipment introductory detachment (NEID), which became a necessity with the rapid appearance of highly sophisticated items in the combat theaters. Waite and Colaguori later received Bronze Stars for their efforts.66

Sometimes distance was not the primary problem, as in the case of close-support communications between infantry and tanks. Here the communications gap resulted from the fact that an infantryman's walkie-talkie did not operate on the same frequency as a tanker's radio. Climbing onto a tank to communicate with the occupants was a difficult and dangerous undertaking in the midst of battle. Although the Signal Corps attempted various solutions, such as putting telephones on the rear of tanks, none proved completely satisfactory and the dilemma remained.67

Yet many of these problems reflected the Allies' overwhelming success. In late August they liberated Paris, and in just six weeks the Allied armies advanced from the Normandy beaches to the German frontier. Meanwhile Paris became the theater communications center, second only in size to station WAR in Washington, and also a part of the ACAN system. Like the "Hello Girls" before them, WACs shortly arrived to operate the center's switchboards. The Eiffel Tower served as a radio relay terminal.68

But lengthening supply lines and the severe shortages that resulted stalled the Allied march to an early victory. The delay allowed the Germans to regroup and make a last-ditch stand to defend their homeland. As winter approached, the lightning drives of summer gave way to vicious battles in such places as the Huertgen Forest and the Vosges Mountains, where the Germans made the Allies pay dearly for the ground they won. Then, hoping to regain the initiative in the west and secure a negotiated peace, Hitler ordered an ambitious counteroffensive. On 16 December 1944 the Germans attacked in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg, used by the Americans as a rest and refitting area. The resulting confrontation became known as the Battle of the Bulge for the salient created in the Allied lines.

Though taken by surprise, the Americans continued to fight in small and isolated units. Thanks to a flexible wire system, communications likewise withstood the onslaught. At no time did General Bradley, now commanding the 12th Army Group, lose contact with his armies. Bradley's signal officer, Col. Garland C. Black, had made certain that alternate routes existed for important circuits. The Americans made extensive use of French underground cables backed up by open wire lines.69


Photo:  Message Center, 101st Airborne Division by Olin Dows, 1945


As the Germans advanced the group's radio relay stations had to be frequently relocated. Crewmen manning a relay site near Jamelle, Belgium-a critical link in the 12th Army Group's communications network-stayed on the job even after the Germans overran the area on 24 December. During the day the sounds of battle and troop movements veiled the noise from the station's power unit. At night the men shut down the station to avoid detection. Finally, after three days of surreptitious operation, they were forced to abandon their position. Three of the signalmen failed to reach Allied lines, but their efforts had not been in vain. They had bought enough time for other Signal Corps crews to establish an alternate route.70

Despite the confusion communications were maintained with minimal disruption at army and corps level. At the division level, however, signalmen had more difficulty keeping lines open. Germans jammed the radios, and enemy artillery and infantry fire continually destroyed wire facilities. When the wires were down radio relay came to the rescue.

At the vital road center of Bastogne, the 101st Airborne Signal Company labored feverishly to assemble a radio relay set before the Germans encircled the town. Capt. William J. Johnson, the company commander, called it "a necessity in the situation, when we found ourselves surrounded with no other possible ground contact to higher headquarters."71 From an underground shelter the 101st kept communications open throughout the siege. For its efforts at Bastogne the company received its second Presidential Unit Citation.72

The tide of battle turned in the Americans' favor on 26 December when elements of Patton's Third Army broke through the German encirclement and relieved Bastogne. Although much hard fighting remained, the breakthrough signaled the ultimate failure of the Ardennes attack. By the end of January the Allies


had destroyed the salient and pushed the Germans back behind the Siegfried Line and within their own borders. The Allied drive across Europe had regained its momentum.

The Allies then began their final assault across the Rhine into the German heartland, crossing the river at Remagen on 7 March. On 25 April American and Russian forces met at the Elbe River at Torgau, an event recorded by the 165th Signal Photographic Company.73 The formal linkup occurred the next day. Faced with the certainty of defeat, Hitler committed suicide a few days later, and the German government surrendered on 7 May at Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims, France. The next day, 8 May, President Truman proclaimed V-E Day, the official date of the end of the war in Europe.

But peace did not bring a holiday for Army communicators. Some began the task of setting up lines for the occupation troops; others made preparations for the postwar conference at Potsdam; and still others quickly found themselves on their way to the Pacific to take part in the final showdown with Japan.

The Asiatic and Pacific Theaters, 1943-1945

During the struggle to defeat Germany, operations in the Pacific and in China, Burma, and India had received a lower priority in manpower and equipment allocations. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 Admiral Ernest J. King estimated that the Allies were allotting only 15 percent of their resources to those theaters.74

In numbers of men and units, signal soldiers committed to the war against Japan were much fewer than those in the war against Germany. Despite the lack of communications personnel, the War Department initially denied the Signal Corps' request for WAC units in the Southwest Pacific Area. Army planners questioned the assignment of large numbers of women to a theater where they would face physical conditions considerably worse than those in Europe-extreme heat, primitive housing, and tropical diseases. However, with the men needed for combat, WACs finally began arriving in Australia in mid-1944. Although 5,500 women ultimately served in the Southwest Pacific Area, relatively few handled communications duties-only about 3 percent of the total as compared to roughly 25 percent in the European theater. Though few in number, they performed well under difficult circumstances.75

The war against the Japanese was bitter and hard-fought, and it brought the Signal Corps unique problems to solve. Instead of operating in a concentrated area with established communications and extensive road systems, the Signal Corps had to provide communications over enormous distances where tiny dots of land were separated by vast stretches of ocean. The remote islands contained few if any wire lines, and roads had to be hacked out of the dense vegetation. Leafy jungle walls absorbed electromagnetic radiation, inhibiting radio communications and particularly affecting the relatively weak early walkie-talkies (SCRs 194 and 195). The arrival of the new model, SCR-300, registered a


marked improvement. The familiar problems of jungle heat, humidity, and fungus growths on equipment and insulation plagued subsequent operations in the Southwest and Central Pacific as they had at Guadalcanal.

Fixed island communications required inordinate amounts of wire. The system established on Okinawa, for example, used enough wire to establish one hundred circuits between Maine and California. The amount of telephone equipment installed there rivaled that of a city the size of South Bend, Indiana.76 Once established, the island communication systems did not move forward as the troops advanced, but stayed in place. Each island remained a self-contained entity connected to others only by long-range radio, and antrac proved ideal for this purpose.77

Because joint operations were the rule in the Pacific, cooperation and coordination between the Army and Navy in communications was more necessary than ever. Only in the Army-run Southwest Pacific Area did the Signal Corps operate independently. In the Navy-run South and Central Pacific Areas joint communications procedures were followed, and Army signalmen provided support that sometimes proved of decisive importance. Because the Navy's radios had proven unsuitable for amphibious operations, naval and Marine forces used Signal Corps equipment. In the Central Pacific the Joint Assault Signal Company (JASCO) was created in late 1943, providing a model for other combat theaters. Moreover, in the South and Central Pacific joint communication centers were set up on each island to serve all the armed forces in the area.78

In addition to the Navy and Marine Corps, the Signal Corps worked closely with the Army Air Forces, especially in the South Pacific, to provide the navigational and communications facilities for the heavily traveled airways that served the islands. The Signal Corps was also responsible for the Army's Aircraft Warning Service in the South Pacific until the Army Air Forces took over that function in early 1944. After that the Signal Corps continued to handle the Air Forces' administrative communications there.79

The China-Burma-India Theater was unique, a vast inland battleground of jungles and mountains. Few Americans fought there because the British, with their colonial ties to the region, had primary responsibility for this theater. But Lt. Gen. Joseph W Stilwell commanded both large Chinese armies and the small U.S. contingent. After an Allied defeat in Burma in 1942 cut China off, the United States took charge of reopening a road to supply the embattled republic. Meanwhile, American pilots based in India flew arms and supplies "over the Hump," the high passes through the Himalaya Mountains. In 1943 American engineer units began building the Ledo (later renamed the Stilwell) Road, and the Signal Corps undertook the construction of a pole line running nearly two thousand miles from Calcutta, India, to Ledo near the India-Burma border, and across northern Burma to Kumning, China. Within Burma the line ran alongside the Ledo Road. Comparable in length to the Alcan line, this project faced different but equally daunting problems: monsoons replaced blizzards, and signalmen sloshed through flooded rice paddies instead of sinking into custard-like muskeg.


Overcoming these obstacles as it had those before them, the Corps completed the line in June 1945.80

The construction of the Ledo Road through northern Burma had been made possible by the operations of Chinese armies in Burma, aided by the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional). This unusual organization, commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill, became known as Merrill's Marauders. It customarily operated behind enemy lines, out of contact with General Stilwell's headquarters except by radio. After training in India, the Marauders entered Burma during February 1944. Always on the move, their lives depended upon the services of the long-range set, AN/PRC-1, and shorter-range SCRs 177, 284, and 300. The last set was often used to communicate with aircraft to arrange the vital airdrop of supplies.81 In addition to supporting the Marauders, teams from the 988th Signal Operation Company (Special) and the 96th Signal Battalion provided communications for the Chinese.82 As the Chinese advanced, the Marauders blocked the Japanese routes of withdrawal and cut their supply lines.

In performing their unique and dangerous mission, the Marauders faced many communications problems. One stemmed from the inexorable fact that while day­time offered the best propagation conditions for radio transmissions, the unit's operations generally forced the radiomen to wait until nightfall to send their messages, when atmospherics often blocked the signals. Moreover, in keeping with Army policy that confined signal support to division level and above, few Signal Corps radio experts served in such a combat unit, though their proficiency would have been invaluable. On the other hand, while infantry communicators received less specialized training, they were more hardened to the rigors of campaigning. One, 2d Lt. Charlton Ogburn, Jr., commander of the communications platoon of the 1st Battalion, did hold a Signal commission, but he had no experience with radio. Ogburn had, in fact, joined the Signal Corps to be a photographer.83 Nevertheless, essential communications were maintained, and Maj. Milton A. Pilcher, Merrill's signal officer, commended his men in his after-action report:

However routine their jobs may be, the work of a communications man is as important and is as arduous as that of any man in the organization. Without communications, no unit can fight well, and without communications a long range penetration unit cannot fight. A communication man's work is never done. He walks all day with his unit and at night he "pulls his shift." If traffic is heavy or radio conditions poor, he works all night. In a fight he stands by his set clearing traffic until relieved.84

Merrill's men played a decisive part in driving the Japanese from northern Burma during 1944. Although the combat in Asia was overshadowed by events in the Pacific, it nonetheless contributed to the overall Allied effort to defeat Japan.

After their initial victories on Guadalcanal and Papua (the southern tail of New Guinea), the Allies in early 1943 prepared to mount a two-pronged offensive: one in the Southwest Pacific Area under General MacArthur along the north coast of New Guinea; the other in the Central Pacific Area with Admiral Chester W Nimitz as commander in chief via the island chains of the Gilberts, Marshalls,


Photo:  Members of the 43d Signal Company carry wire reels into the jungle of New Georgia, July 1943


Marianas, Carolines, and Palaus. Each island stronghold seized provided a base for the next advance, and during succeeding months such names as Tarawa, Eniwetok, and Saipan became household words in the United States as anxious citizens followed Allied progress through distant archipelagos and atolls.

On New Guinea, Allied forces pushed slowly up the northeast coast. In planning his strategy for this campaign, MacArthur received valuable assistance from Akin's signal intelligence organization, known as the Central Bureau. This group included American, Australian, British, and Canadian personnel, and by the end of the war it contained over 4,000 men and women.85 Thanks to ULTRA, MacArthur learned much from decrypted enemy messages about Japanese intentions and capabilities. But such information alone could not win battles.86 The Japanese, despite the debilitating effects of supply shortages and malnutrition, fought ferociously. Communicators, meanwhile, struggled with the problems endemic to jungle warfare and amphibious operations. ULTRA enabled the Allies to make successful surprise landings at Aitape and Hollandia during the spring of 1944, and the huge base built at Hollandia supported the next objective: the advance to the Philippines.

During 1944 the combat situation in the Pacific improved dramatically as the Allies gained control of both the sea and the air. As a result, they hastened their plans to invade the Philippines. At a conference in September 1944 in Quebec, Canada, where the Allied leaders reached this decision, the Signal Corps connected the Combined Chiefs of Staff by radioteletype with General MacArthur's headquarters in Brisbane, Australia.87


Photo:  GI checks dials in the power room aboard the Apache


As he had promised when he left the Philippines two years earlier, MacArthur returned to the islands. He fulfilled his pledge on 20 October 1944 when the U.S. Sixth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, assaulted Leyte in the largest amphibious operation yet conducted in the Pacific. A significant feature of the landing was the appearance of the Signal Corps' own communications ships (which became known as the Signal Corps' Grand Fleet) that had been specially designed for this purpose. Outfitted with VHF radio relay sets, the ships furnished multiple circuits for telephone, telegraph, or teletypewriter and maintained these critical connections until fixed stations could be installed ashore. One of these vessels, the Apache, was specifically intended for public relations work; communicators aboard that ship recorded MacArthur's famous "I Have Returned" speech and retransmitted it to the United States. Aware of the fleet's importance, Japanese bombers struck the vessels, and signalmen experienced a new form of combat, shipboard fighting.88 During the crucial Battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944), the U.S. Navy destroyed much of the Japanese fleet and opened the way for the liberation of the rest of the Philippines.

Although the ground campaign initially went well, it proved more difficult than MacArthur had anticipated. The Japanese, determined to make Leyte the decisive battle for the Philippines, continued to pour reinforcements onto the island. Moreover, heavy rains (23.5 inches in November alone) hampered Allied operations, particularly the construction of roads and airfields.89 Despite the commitment of much of its remaining air and naval power, Japan could not match the Allies' strength, and by December the Sixth Army had retaken most of the island.


Photo:  Naval fire control party of the 293d Joint Assault Signal Company on Luzon


MacArthur's forces then moved on to Luzon, which they invaded on 9 January 1945. Having lost Leyte, the Japanese fought an extended delaying action on Luzon to stall Allied progress toward their homeland, and the ground campaign there became the largest of the Pacific war. MacArthur committed ten divisions, five regimental combat teams, and other supporting elements. General Akin and his signal troops numbered among them. A mobile communications unit accompanied MacArthur's advance toward Manila, containing entire message centers with the necessary radios and other equipment mounted on 100 vehicles. Using antrac, spiral-four cable, and open wire lines, signalmen maintained the theater-level support MacArthur required. The unit moved so rapidly, in fact, that General Krueger complained that signal vehicles were clogging the highway and obstructing the movement of combat units and tanks. MacArthur, however, eager to enter the capital, did not find fault.90 After a month of bloody street fighting, Manila fell in early March. While the Japanese offered only scattered resistance on Bataan, the recapture of Corregidor proved more costly. By late June 1945 organized Japanese resistance in the Philippines had largely ended, although some forces held out in the mountains of north central Luzon until the end of the war.91

While mopping-up operations continued in the Philippines, the Americans proceeded to Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the last major stepping-stones on the way to their ultimate destination, the home islands of Japan. The capture of these and other islands in the Ryukyus chain would provide both air and naval bases within range of the final target. The Army played a supporting role in the month-long


battle for Iwo Jima, probably the most heavily defended Japanese position in the Pacific. The marines used a considerable amount of Signal Corps equipment, including antrac.92 For the assault on Okinawa, half a million men from the Army, Navy, and Marines participated in the invasion launched by the Tenth Army on 1 April 1945.93 Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, Jr., commanded the Tenth Army with Col. Arthur Pulsifer as his signal officer. The army included a variety of signal units to provide tactical and base communications.

Signal operations on Okinawa proved to be the culmination of the joint practices and procedures developed during the war. A Signal Corps officer, Col. Charles W Baer, commanded the joint communications activities on the island. Signal units under his command included the 75th and 593d JASCOs. The Signal Corps' fleet did not participate in this campaign, but Army signal personnel served aboard the Navy's communications ships. On shore, the Okinawa joint communication center became "the largest, most completely joint center in the Pacific."94 It suffered, however, from a shortage of skilled personnel to handle upwards of 475,000 words of record traffic per week by 2 June. Meanwhile the Japanese, who had not opposed the amphibious landing, mounted a tenacious defense from cave and tunnel positions, while from the air kamikaze pilots inflicted extensive destruction on Allied naval forces. Casualties on Okinawa were high; over 12,000 men lost their lives. Despite the fanatical resistance, the Allies prevailed and by midsummer stood poised on Japan's doorstep.95

As the Signal Corps prepared its communications plan for the proposed invasion of Japan, known as Operation OLYMPIC, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a sudden and cataclysmic conclusion.96 On 14 August 1945 Japan accepted the Allies' surrender terms. Offensive action against the Japanese ended the next day. The Signal Corps played a central role in reestablishing radio contact with Japan so that the surrender arrangements could be completed.97 On 2 September 1945, known as V-J Day, hostilities with Japan officially ceased and the Signal Corps performed its last wartime mission by flashing the formal surrender proceedings aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay around the world.98


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