World War I US Army Signal Corps

Below is a brief overview of the US Army Corp from its inception in 1860 through World War I:   The US Army Signal Corps has always quickly responded to the communication need of the US military since the Civil War.  Though the Corps first became active in March of 1863, its anniversary goes back to June of 1860 when Albert Myer proposed the US Army use his ‘aerial telegraphy’ - a form of visual communication.  His system – which used flags for daytime and a torch for nighttime signals - was adopted by the Army and Myer became the first and only signal officer of the Signal Corps.  It was first used during the early part of the 1860s during a Navajo expedition in New Mexico.     The Early Years Throughout the Civil War, Myer was involved in a number of innovations, which not only included a failed balloon experiment but also a successful electric telegraph machine, which quickly antiquated the in-sight communications of the wig-wag (flag) system.   Eventually, Myer set up an office in downtown Washington DC for the Signal Corps School.  He had to make three moves in a relatively short period of time, as he quickly outgrew each place.  Eventually, he settled at Fort Whipple, which is on Arlington Heights and overlooks the National Capital.  With its remarkable size and outstanding location, the school remained at this location for more than 20 years.  Eventually, it was renamed “Fort Myer”.   In 1870, the US Signal Corps was mandated by the congress to start the national weather service.  Within the next ten years, Myer,...

Carrier Pigeons Used During World War I

Carrier Pigeons, used to carry communications during World War I, proved to be instrumental in the war.  Because advanced telecommunications had yet to be developed, the carrier pigeon was often used by both sides, not only for critical dispatches, but also often sent from the front line carrying status report messages back to the main headquarters.  The messages could then be relayed to the proper military authorities.  In all, it is estimated that more than 100,000 carrier pigeons were used by both sides during the war.  They are recorded as having a 95% success rate in navigating successfully to their intended destination.   Crude Communications Though communications during WWI were still crude, the telecommunications at that time was still the preferred method of communication.  However, oftentimes, troop’s positions sometimes took them into areas past the existing lines.  They would have to delay their communications until new line was laid down – this sometimes delayed their transmissions for days.  In some cases, the terrain was so difficult, laying wire was impossible.   Carrier pigeons were fitted with a small carrier, which was attached to the pigeon’s leg.  Once a message was completed, it would be folded and placed inside the canister.  The pigeon would then be released to fly back to headquarters.   During the First Battle of the Marne, pigeons were shown to be the most effective means of getting messages to the French headquarters.  Astonishingly enough, even if the pigeons were gone when the pigeon lofts advanced with the troops, when they returned, they still managed to find their loft.  Their ability to find their way back to...

The Hello Girls of World War I

The story of the World War I Hello Girls will not be found in history books.  It is not because they were not useful, or not dedicated.  In fact, they were quite the opposite.  The Hello Girls in WWI actually made a significant contribution to the war.   Their story began in the latter part of 1917.  At that time, General Pershing was seeking telephone-switchboard operators who were bilingual.  His appeal was published in newspapers across the US entitled ‘Emergency Appeal’.  He asked that any women switchboard operators with Bell Telephone be sworn in to the US Army Signal Corps.  Pershing felt women had more patience and perseverance when it came to doing long, grueling detailed work.  Pershing also discovered that it was difficult for the men to operate switchboard equipment.  He felt they were better suited in the field laying wire for the much needed communication between the trenches to the A.E.F. General Headquarters in the Chaumont.  This connection between the two was the first in warfare history.   Once the women were sworn in, they were subject to the same regulations as the men, which included being Court Martial, and the ten basic rules which were intended to assure moral character.  In general, those selected could be married – as long as it was not to someone overseas – and it was expected they be at least 25 years old.   Among the first 700 volunteers, a few spoke French.  Therefore, when the first 300 were chosen, the age requirement and switchboard training requirement was waived.  This waiver included two sisters, Louise (age 18) and Ramonde LeBreton...

Interesting Facts About World War I

Below is a list of some interesting facts about World War I: 1.    To date, World War I is the sixth deadliest conflict in world history. 2.    Despite the unsanitary conditions experienced in the trenches, still close to 2/3 of the deaths in World War I occurred in battle.  A large percentage of the remaining deaths were the result of the Spanish flu. 3.     In all, more than 35 million civilians and soldiers either died or were wounded during the war. 4.    A total of 30 countries were involved in the war, 65 million men, of which almost 10 million died.  The Allies lost about 6 million while the Central Powers lost approximately 4 million.  5.    Germany was the first to use flamethrowers during this war. 6.    Russia had the largest army in World War I – 12 million troops.  More than 9 million of them were killed, wounded or went missing in action. 7.    The first prototype tank (built in 1915) in World War I was nicknamed ‘Little Willie’ and was capable of carrying a crew of three.  Its fastest speed was only three miles per hour. 8.    Artillery and other arsenal were so loud, they could sometimes be heard as far as 140 miles away. 9.    Canines were used in World War I as messengers (often carrying orders to the front lines in a capsule attached to their body) and to lay down wires for the telegraph.  10. The 48-ton howitzer used by the Germans was referred to as Big Bertha.  This ‘wonder weapon’ was capable of firing a 2,050 lb. shell a distance of 9.3 miles. ...

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, USN

Born on November 23, 1878, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King’s service career began at the US Naval Academy.  He is considered by some to be one of the top US Navy Admirals of WWII.  While in his senior year, King achieved the rank of Midshipman Lieutenant which at that time was the highest ranking for a midshipman.  He graduated in 1901 fourth in his class.   At the time of the Spanish American War, King was attending the academy, serving for a time on the USS San Francisco.  After he graduated, King served on a survey ship, a cruiser and a number of battleships as junior officer.  In 1912, he returned to Annapolis for shore duty.  Two years later, in 1914, King was given his first command – the USS Terry (destroyer).   Early Years King served on the staff of the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet - Vice Admiral Henry Mayo – during which time, he received the Navy Cross.   As assistant chief of staff of the Atlantic Fleet, King would frequently visit the Royal Navy and sometimes witnessed action as a bystander on board some of the British ships.  It was during this time frame, his dislike for the English began to emerge, though the reasons for it are not clear.   As a captain (after the war), King was placed in charge of the Naval Postgraduate School.   Together with Captains Knox and Pye, King put together a report regarding naval training.  In the report, he suggested a number of changes to the training and career paths.  A majority of the recommendations became policy.  ...

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz is no doubt one of the top US Navy Admirals and is well-known for his role in World War II, though this was only a small portion of his career which spanned from 1905 to 1966.  Born on February 24, 1885, Nimitz originally wanted to go into West Point in hopes to become an officer of the US Army.  However, no appointments were available.  He was given an opportunity to apply to the Naval Academy.  With only one position available, he spent additional time studying to vie for the position.  He received the appointment in 1901 and on January 30, 1905, he graduated 7th from a class of 114.   Early 1900’s Nimitz was first appointed to the battleship Ohio but was later transferred to the cruiser USS Baltimore.  Once he completed his required two years at sea as a warrant officer, Nimitz was commissioned as an Ensign.  In 1908, the destroyer under his command – the Decatur – became stuck on a sandbar in the Philippines.  Ensign Nimitz was later found guilty due to neglect, received a letter of reprimand and was court-martialed.   As a result, he returned to the US and began receiving instructions in the First Submarine Flotilla in January of 1909.  Within five months, he would be given command of this fleet.  Over the next few years, he would be given a number of duties and commands, eventually supervising the manufacturing of the diesel engines for the Maumee – a tanker under construction at that time.   World War I After studying diesel engines abroad during the summer of 1913,...