World War I

The United States managed to remain neutral in the European conflict from August 1914 to April 1917. The nation had traditionally been isolated and protected from Old World contests by its ocean moat, but such geographic security could no longer be taken for granted when Germany's indiscriminate use of submarine warfare violated the traditional rights of neutrals. Americans' belief in an Allied victory had initially made the necessity of preparations for war seem remote. But as the war in the west developed into a bloody stalemate, the Allies' best efforts appeared able to guarantee only more of the same. On the other hand, the dire prospect of a German victory and the consequent disruption of the European balance of power jeopardized U.S. national interests and spurred the call to arms.

Despite the clamor of the preparedness movement and the loss of American lives at sea, President Woodrow Wilson moved cautiously from a policy of strict neutrality to the adoption of a moralistic crusade "to make the world safe for democracy." His insistence on neutrality until nearly the eve of war, however, severely hampered preparedness efforts by the War and Navy Departments. In his view, such activities would not be "neutral." The Signal Corps, meanwhile, faced the same difficulties as the rest of the Army in preparing its communicators for duty overseas. But the Corps' problems were complicated by dissension within its own ranks, the outcome of which would have a significant impact on the branch's future.

Trouble in the Air

As the experiences in Mexico had clearly illustrated, all was not well with the Signal Corps' Aviation Section. In fact, problems had been brewing for several years. A series of investigations into the section's activities from 1915 to 1917 revealed the growing tension between those Corps members who flew and those who did not.1

When Col. David C. Shanks of the Inspector General's Department visited the aviation school in San Diego to conduct the annual inspection in January 1915, he made the unsettling discovery that, besides the hiring of an aeronautical engineer, very little had been done in response to the previous year's recommendations. In fact, a subsequent probe revealed that Lt. Col. Samuel Reber, head of the Aviation Section, had suppressed the critical report.2 Consequently, the


Army's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hugh L. Scott, appointed an investigating board headed by the inspector general, Brig. Gen. Ernest A. Garlington, to examine the administration of the Aviation Section. (Garlington had commanded the unsuccessful attempt to rescue Lieutenant Greely and his men from the Arctic in 1883.) About the same time, Senator Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas called for an investigation of the air service. While the Senate passed his resolution on 16 March, the day after the 1st Aero Squadron arrived in Columbus, the House did not concur, and the congressional initiative ended.3

As part of its investigation, the Garlington board inquired into allegations made by Lt. Col. Lewis E. Goodier that improper disbursements of flight pay had been made to Capt. Arthur S. Cowan, commanding officer of the San Diego school, and some of his staff. These men were not, Goodier alleged, qualified pilots.4 The board, after a month of taking testimony, determined that Goodier's allegations were true. In the meantime, however, a subsequent investigation by the Office of the Judge Advocate General had ruled that Cowan could retain his aviator rating and the extra pay.5 The Garlington board also found that the officers assigned to monitor contracts with private airplane manufacturers had been accepting substandard machines. The board held Chief Signal Officer Scriven and Colonel Reber responsible for allowing unsafe aircraft to be used and further criticized Scriven for not adequately supervising the Aviation Section. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker concurred with the board's findings and censured Scriven and Reber for failing to enforce and maintain discipline and neglecting to observe military regulations. Baker also announced his intention to reorganize the Aviation Section.6 Scriven, for his part, accused aviation officers of insubordination and disloyalty.7

In April 1916, at Baker's request, the General Staff began its own investigation into the organization and administration of the Aviation Section. Lt. Herbert A. Dargue, the officer in charge of training at San Diego, aired his grievances before the committee and added his voice to those calling for the removal of aviation from the Signal Corps. He complained that the Signal Corps had no unit fully equipped for field service and no radio set for airplanes. Speaking on behalf of most of the aviation officers, Dargue stated their belief that the Signal Corps lacked an officer capable of commanding the Aviation Section. The General Staff's report, completed at the end of June, recommended that the Aviation Section be completely separated from the Signal Corps.8

Secretary Baker reacted with caution to the increasingly bitter controversy. Although he did not detach aviation from the Signal Corps, he did remove Reber as chief of the Aviation Section on 5 May 1916 and temporarily replaced him with Capt. William Mitchell. Reber's dismissal ended his official aviation duties and also effectively finished his career as a Signal Corps officer. He went overseas during World War I, but he did not receive any Signal Corps-related assignments. After returning from France, he retired in 1919 with thirty-seven years of military service. As a private citizen, he embarked upon a successful second career with the Radio Corporation of America where his Signal Corps experience served him well.9


Photo:  Captain Arnold


Baker selected Lt. Col. George O. Squier to succeed Reber as the head of the Aviation Section upon the completion of Squier's tour as attaché to London. As attaché, Squier had been able to observe European aviation and had even conducted several secret missions to the front. His contacts within the industrial and scientific communities as well as his long association with Army aviation made him a good choice for the job. Upon Squier's arrival in Washington, Captain Mitchell became his assistant.10 In his new position, Squier contended with pressure from outside as well as inside the Army. The Aero Club of America, for example, criticized the Signal Corps for failing to adequately promote aviation within the National Guard, while the press, reacting to the misadventures in Mexico, sharply castigated the entire program.11

Meanwhile, at San Diego Captain Cowan was relieved as commander of the aviation school and replaced by Col. William A. Glassford, a signal officer who had served in the Corps since 1874.12 Many of the staff and faculty also lost their jobs. Two pioneer aviators, returning to aeronautical duty after completing other assignments, served under Glassford: Capts. Frank P. Lahm and Henry H. Arnold. (While serving as the school's supply officer, Arnold eventually overcame his fear of flying that stemmed from his harrowing experience at Fort Riley several years earlier.) But despite the change in administration, the troubles at the school had not ended. Glassford, too, came under fire in January 1917 regarding his lack of vigor in searching for two pilots from the school who had crashed in the Mexican desert. Fortunately they were found by a civilian search party, alive but somewhat the worse for wear after more than a week of wandering in the desert. Consequently, the Inspector General's Department launched yet another inquiry, which recommended that Glassford and several of his staff members be relieved. Glassford retired on 11 April 1917, only five days after the declaration of war with Germany.13

With Scriven's retirement in February 1917, Squier became the new chief signal officer, and Lt. Col. John B. Bennet took over the duties of the Aviation Section. In his last annual report as chief signal officer Scriven remarked: "The plan of the General Staff, approved by the Secretary of War, contemplates, and as I think very properly, the eventual separation of the aviation service from the


Signal Corps. The separation of this service from any technical corps should take place when the Air Service is capable of standing alone. This time has not yet come."14 After all the squabbles of the past few years, the Signal Corps and its Aviation Section headed toward war still tethered uneasily to each other.

"Over Here ": Mobilization and Training

Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare forced President Wilson to request a declaration of war in April 1917. Following this action came the daunting task of mobilizing the nation's resources, both men and materiel, with which to fight. Even after war was declared the Wilson administration found it difficult to define America's role in the contest. The War Department initially felt no sense of urgency regarding mobilization and foresaw no massive commitment of troops to Europe. Military planners estimated that it would take about two years to raise and train an army large enough to achieve victory in Europe.15 In the meantime, the administration could only provide moral support to the Allied cause by responding to the French government's request to immediately deploy one division. In May 1917 Secretary Baker authorized the organization of the 1st Expeditionary Division (later redesignated as the 1st Division), and its elements began arriving in France late the following month. But these units needed extensive training before they would be ready to enter the line.

The type of total war being waged in Europe required military forces far greater than those the nation then had in uniform. Shortly after the declaration of war Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which President Wilson signed on 18 May 1917. Unlike the unsuccessful attempt to draft recruits during the Civil War, this bill eliminated such unfair practices as bounties, purchased exemptions, and substitutes. Moreover, local civilian draft boards rather than a federal agency administered the process. The law aroused little opposition, and about twenty-four million men registered. Nearly three million of them entered the armed forces between May 1917 and November 1918. Approximately forty-one thousand men, or slightly over 17 percent of those inducted, joined the Signal Corps.16 The selective service legislation also authorized the president to raise the Regular Army and National Guard to war strength and to mobilize the National Guard for federal service. It further created a third segment of the defense structure, known as the National Army, a force to be raised in two increments of 500,000 men each.17

For the Signal Corps, mobilization meant a rapid and vast expansion. In April 1917 the ground troops of the Signal Corps consisted of 55 officers and 1,570 enlisted men. These soldiers were divided into 4 field signal battalions, 4 field telegraph battalions, and 6 depot companies (administrative units with no fixed strength assigned to each territorial department).18 Shortly after arriving in France, Pershing called for approximately one million men to be sent over by the end of 1918. As Allied fortunes declined, Pershing increased his request to one hundred divisions to arrive by July 1919. These divisions would be organized in


Photo:  General Squier


accordance with new tables of organization calling for a "square" structure-that is, a division comprising two infantry brigades, each with two infantry regiments. The square divisions, based upon study of the British and French armies, were to be larger than their predecessors and include the necessary support troops to withstand sustained combat. Pershing's request, meanwhile, would require the Signal Corps to supply at least one hundred field signal battalions, or roughly twenty-five thousand officers and men as organized in the spring of 1917. While President Wilson ultimately approved a projected force of only eighty divisions, the Signal Corps still faced a tremendous task.19

The training of the mass of men called to the colors for signal duty overwhelmed the capacity of the Signal School at Fort Leavenworth. Thus, in May 1917 the Corps established additional mobilization and training camps at Little Silver, New Jersey (Camp Alfred Vail); Leon Springs, Texas (Camp Samuel F. B. Morse); and the Presidio of Monterey, California. In 1918 the Signal Corps transferred its activities at Camp Morse and Fort Leavenworth to Camp Meade, Maryland, where it had earlier opened a radio school in December 1917. In addition, many of the nation's colleges and universities offered technical training for prospective Signal Corps personnel.20

To fight a total war such as that in Europe, the nation, and the Signal Corps in particular, had to mobilize its technological, scientific, and economic resources as never before. Consequently a huge bureaucracy emerged, familiar to us today as the military-industrial complex but unparalleled at that time, to coordinate the many war-related activities. Not only did the War Department balloon in size, but the civilian side of government likewise underwent tremendous expansion.21

To obtain needed technical expertise in communications, the Army called upon the private sector. While the United States lagged behind Europe in some major technological areas such as aviation, it led the world in the field of telephone technology, thanks largely to the achievements of the Bell System. Unlike its European allies, the U.S. government did not control the national telegraph and telephone systems in peacetime. As a preparedness measure, the War Department in 1916 had begun issuing commissions in the Signal Corps Officers' Reserve Corps to executives of leading commercial telephone and tele-


graph companies. John J. Carty, chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), figured prominently in this group. Commissioned as a major in the Signal Reserve, Carty undertook the recruitment of men from the Bell System and other communications companies.22 The Army needed a variety of specialists: telephone and telegraph operators, linemen, and cable splicers, to name a few. (As previously noted, the prewar Signal Corps had only four telegraph battalions.) The recruitment of men already possessing the requisite skills obviously lightened the Signal Corps' training load. Ultimately the Bell System provided twelve telegraph battalions to the war effort (numbered 401 to 412) that served at the army and corps levels. Each unit comprised men drawn from a regional company. The 406th Telegraph Battalion, for example, contained employees from Pennsylvania Bell, while the 411th came from Pacific Bell. The Signal Corps obtained another four battalions from railway telegraph organizations.23 Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of the Bell System, additionally furnished two radio companies: Company A, 314th Field Signal Battalion, and Company A, 319th Field Signal Battalion.24

In order to release men for the front lines, the Army employed approximately two hundred women telephone operators to serve overseas. These women, who retained their civilian status, became members of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit.25 They are perhaps better known as the "Hello Girls." In order to operate switchboards in France and England, they needed to be fluent in both French and English. Moreover, because the Army contained few French-speaking operators, these women no doubt made inter-Allied communications proceed much more smoothly. Beginning in November 1917, the Signal Corps recruited women from the commercial telephone companies; to obtain enough bilingual operators, the Corps also accepted untrained volunteers who met the language requirement. After a training period, the first detachment of women, in the charge of chief operator Grace Banker, departed from New York City early in March 1918. Soon members of the unit were operating telephone exchanges of the American Expeditionary Forces in Paris, Chaumont, and seventy-five other cities and towns in France as well as in London, Southampton, and Winchester, England.26

The Navy had taken the lead in mobilizing science by establishing the Naval Consulting Board in 1915. Composed of representatives of the nation's leading engineering societies and chaired by Thomas A. Edison, its major activity became the screening of inventions submitted by private citizens.27 The following year the National Academy of Sciences created the National Research Council and offered its services to the government to coordinate military-related research. The council's membership embraced governmental, educational, and industrial organizations. Chief Signal Officer Squier served on the council's Military Committee along with the heads of the other technical bureaus of the Army and Navy. With his scientific background, Squier actively promoted the council's efforts and exerted considerable control over its activities in general. First of all, Robert A. Millikan, professor of physics at the University of Chicago and the council's exec-


Photo:  "Hello Girls" operate a switchboard at Chaumont, France


utive officer, became a major in the Signal Corps Officers' Reserve Corps and served as head of the Signal Corps' new Science and Research Division, established in October 1917. The division's offices were located in the building housing the National Research Council, and many of the council's scientists donned uniforms and served under Millikan. Through the Officers' Reserve program, the Signal Corps recruited additional scientists and engineers from the private sector.28

In the past the Signal Corps' Engineering Division had performed what is now called research and development in its laboratories on Pennsylvania Avenue and at the Bureau of Standards.29 But the wartime demand for new and improved communication methods fostered a greater specialization of functions. In July 1917 the chief signal officer established a separate Radio Division with electrical engineering becoming a section of the new Equipment Division. After several reorganizations within the Signal Office, electrical and radio engineering were reunited as sections of the Research and Engineering Division in July 1918.30 Radio research activities soon outgrew the Signal Corps' existing laboratory space. Thus, in the spring of 1918, the Corps transferred this work to new facilities at Little Silver, New Jersey, where a training camp had already been established. At Camp Vail, located on the site of a former racetrack, laboratory buildings and several airplane hangars soon appeared. Later the post would become known as Fort Monmouth.31

The primary mission of the Signal Corps' laboratories was the development of new types of radios, both air and ground. The Army needed radios for many


different purposes-air-to-ground and plane-to-plane communication, aerial fire-control, direction-finding, and, of course, for ground tactical communication. Not only did radios have to be made in large numbers for the first time, they needed to be constructed sturdily enough to withstand the rigors of combat. In other words, they had to be rugged, reliable, and portable. To achieve these goals, the Radio Division devoted considerable effort to the improvement of vacuum tubes. While these devices had been used prior to the war, in particular as telephone signal repeaters or amplifiers, they had never been mass-produced. Western Electric and General Electric manufactured thousands for the Army. The engineering facilities of these and many other companies provided significant assistance to the Signal Corps in developing radio apparatus. The Army also benefited from advances in radio design made by the Navy. The profusion of new equipment prompted the Signal Corps to adopt standard nomenclature for its items, and the now familiar letters SCR began to appear. This designation originally stood for "set, complete, radio" but has come to signify "Signal Corps radio."32

Despite the conscientious efforts by government and industry, the limited duration of America's involvement in the war left little time for the development and application of new technology, and the United States relied chiefly on Allied radio equipment. Nevertheless, the Signal Corps made some breakthroughs, especially in airborne radiotelephony, an achievement on which General Squier placed great emphasis. Not only would radio allow the pilot and his observer to communicate more easily between themselves (instead of using hand signals) as well as with the ground, it would also make voice-commanded squadrons possible. An aero squadron based at Camp Vail made nearly one hundred flights per week to test new equipment. In a public demonstration held in early 1918, President and Mrs. Wilson talked with a pilot flying over the White House. While some aerial radiotelephone apparatus arrived in France by the fall of 1918, it did not see use in combat. The Signal Corps also experimented with land-based radiotelephone equipment, but it did not attain notable success prior to the Armistice. Although most of the new devices failed to reach fruition before the war ended, they had a profound effect on communications in the post­war period, for out of these wartime efforts grew the American radio broadcasting industry in the 1920s.33

The electrical engineering section's work was initially hampered by the transfer of both of the Signal Corps' laboratories to the Radio Division. With the relocation of the radio facilities to Camp Vail, electrical engineering returned to the laboratory on Pennsylvania Avenue. The section's responsibilities included the preparation of drawings and specifications for all Signal Corps equipment to be produced, except for radios. It also investigated inventions submitted to the Signal Corps by private citizens.34 The section's developmental efforts concentrated on designing and adapting equipment suitable to conditions on the battlefields of France. While the Signal Corps based its field telephone on a model manufactured by Western Electric for the Forest Service, the Corps also developed a special type of phone for use when wearing a gas mask.35 Among their other projects, the sec-


tion's electrical engineers made improvements in the design of animal-drawn wire carts, making them relatively light in weight yet strong enough to carry heavy­duty wire. They also worked on the manufacture of a new type of wire for field lines known as twisted pair, which the Signal Corps had initially tested in Mexico. This wire derived its name from its composition of two wires twisted about each other and covered with insulation. Each wire, in turn, was composed of seven fine wires, four bronze and three steel. By using twisted pair, also known as outpost wire, circuits could be made secure because they did not utilize a ground return that the enemy could easily tap. The wire was manufactured in various colors in order to readily identify connections in the field: for example, red for lines to the artillery and yellow to regimental headquarters. To enable a man on foot to lay and pick up this wire, the section designed a breast reel that held about a half-mile of wire. Unfortunately, twisted pair's original light rubber insulation led to poor performance when wet and caused at least one unit to refer to it as "please don't rain wire." The wire was subsequently improved with heavier insulation.36

In the late summer of 1916 Congress created the Council of National Defense to facilitate national economic and industrial mobilization. Despite its name, this body did not set policy but rather acted as a central planning office to coordinate military needs with the nation's industrial capabilities. The council included the secretaries of war, navy, interior, agriculture, commerce, and labor, with Secretary of War Baker serving as chairman. Congress also established an advisory commission to the council comprising seven prominent specialists from the private sector. The commission, in turn, divided its work among several committees, each headed by the member with expertise in that area. Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, chaired the Transportation and Communication Committee on which Chief Signal Officer Squier served. Both the National Research Council and the Naval Consulting Board worked in conjunction with the Council of National Defense.37

Within the War Department, decentralization hindered mobilization efforts because the various bureaus continued to act independently. The resulting chaos crippled the Army's supply system while the nation's entrance into the war necessitated better coordination. The Signal Corps competed with all the other branches for its supplies, and the War Department waited until January 1918 to establish a centralized Purchasing Service within the Office of the Chief of Staff.38 Meanwhile, in July 1917 the Council of National Defense had created the War Industries Board which, under the chairmanship of Bernard Baruch, ultimately wielded considerable influence over the setting of priorities and the fixing of prices for items purchased by both the United States government and the Allies. Although military representatives sat on the board's various commodities sections, the Army successfully resisted civilian control of its purchasing.39

American business faced the challenge of creating several new industries to replace products supplied by belligerent nations, particularly Germany. In connection with the Signal Corps' operations, most high-quality optical lenses for field glasses and cameras had formerly been imported from Germany or


Belgium, now occupied by German forces. Such companies as Bausch & Lomb of Rochester, New York, stepped in to fill the void. Meanwhile, citizens were urged to lend their binoculars to the military services. Germany had also produced most photographic chemicals and materials which American firms, such as the Eastman Kodak Company, now began to manufacture.40

While the majority of Signal Corpsmen served overseas, there remained important communication duties to handle on the home front. Prior to the war the Corps had installed, maintained, and operated the telephone systems at most Army posts. The tremendous growth of wartime facilities, however, overwhelmed the branch's resources, and the Army turned to the local telephone companies for assistance. The Army contracted with the Bell System to provide the central office plants and to tie the post systems into the commercial wire network. Moreover, the Army hired civilian operators to handle the increased message traffic. The Signal Corps continued to operate the Alaska communication system, and signal units performed construction, maintenance, and operations in the Canal Zone, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Meanwhile, the chronic troubles along the Mexican border kept the 7th Field Signal Battalion busy during the war years.41

The Signal Corps did not become involved, however, in the types of intelligence-gathering operations it had conducted during the War with Spain, such as the monitoring of cable traffic. Although a Military Information Division had been created as part of the General Staff in 1903 (superseding the Military Information Division within The Adjutant General's Office), it had subsequently diminished in importance, becoming a committee in the 2d (War College) Section of the General Staff. In 1917 the Army established a military intelligence section on the staff, which by the end of the war had achieved division status. During World War I the director of military intelligence, rather than the chief signal officer, acted as the chief military censor, while overseas the chief of the Intelligence Section, AEF, handled similar responsibilities.42

Likewise, the Signal Corps did not control the national civilian communication systems during World War I. The president did not take over the commercial telephone and telegraph systems until July 1918, and then he placed them under the postmaster general.43 As with other aspects of the war, however, the government created a sizable and overlapping bureaucracy to control the flow of information both within the country and with the outside world. In October 1917 the president established the Censorship Board to censor communications by mail, cable, radio, telegraph, and telephone between the United States and foreign nations. But the chief signal officer was not a member; again, the postmaster general administered those operations. In addition, the Transportation and Communication Committee of the Council of National Defense, on which the chief signal officer did serve, dealt with the adaptation of the telephone and telegraph lines to defense needs. In the case of cable communications, the Navy exercised censorship. The director of naval communications became the chief cable censor, and his authority extended to include the War Department cable to Alaska. The Navy also regulated radio trans­missions beginning as early as 1914. Stations owned by foreign firms caused par-


ticular concern lest they might be conveying military information. With the nation's entry into the war, the Navy assumed control over all radio stations, taking over those needed for naval communications and closing the rest.44

Once mobilized, the Signal Corps stood ready to provide communications at home in support of its operations overseas. In October 1917 the chief signal officer's rank was raised to that of a major general. To better handle his multifarious duties, Squier reorganized his office on several occasions as the war progressed. By April 1918 its principal divisions included Administration, Air, Civilian Personnel, Equipment, Land, Medical, Science and Research, and Supply. The Land Division had responsibility for organization and training (exclusive of aviation), telegraph and telephone service, radio station maintenance, and coast artillery fire control. Because of their significance, the activities of the Air Division will be discussed in detail below. With the wartime expansion, the Signal Office scrambled to find enough space for its personnel in sixteen different buildings scattered throughout the nation's capital.45

"Over There ": Organization and Training

When General Pershing set sail for Europe on 28 May 1917 aboard the British steamship Baltic, his key staff officers accompanied him. Among them was Col. Edgar Russel, whom Pershing had designated as chief signal officer of the American Expeditionary Forces. (Russel was promoted to brigadier general in the National Army on 5 August 1917.) A contemporary of Squier from the West Point class of 1887, Russel had begun his service with the Signal Corps during the War with Spain and for several years had headed the Corps' Electrical Division. Most recently he had served as chief signal officer of the Southern Department under Pershing's command. After stopping in England, where Russel observed British signal practices, Pershing and his staff arrived in France on 13 June and set up their headquarters in Paris.46

Within AEF headquarters, Pershing placed the Signal Corps under the Line of Communications, later redesignated as the Services of Supply, which included the AEF's technical services.47 Russel, in turn, divided his own office into several divisions, the major ones being Engineering, Telegraph and Telephone, Supplies, Radio, Photographic, Pigeons, and Research and Inspection.48

The Research and Inspection Division, modeled after similar organizations in the British and French armies, operated in conjunction with the scientific efforts being conducted in the United States. The Signal Corps maintained a laboratory in Paris, and among the civilian scientists recruited to work there was Edwin H. Armstrong, the young electrical engineer from Columbia University who had discovered the capabilities of de Forest's audion. Commissioned as a captain, Armstrong began developing the superheterodyne radio receiver, which greatly amplified weak signals and enabled precise tuning. Unfortunately, he could not perfect it prior to the Armistice. After the war Armstrong became known as the father of FM (frequency-modulated) radio.49 Another primary project of the divi-


Photo:  General Russel


sion was designing radios for tanks. Moreover, inspection detachments from this division, located at supply depots and factories, checked all Signal Corps apparatus received from the United States or purchased from the Allies before distributing them to the troops.50

For the first few months Russel and his staff undertook the planning and organization of signal operations for the AEF The chief signal officer's responsibilities included:

all that pertains to the technical handling and maintenance of the U.S. military telegraph and telephone lines and radio stations of the American Army in France. He will exercise supervision over the duties of the Signal Corps in connection with the construction, operation and maintenance of all telegraph, telephone and radio installations of the system.51

His duties did not include aviation, which was managed by a separate Air Service created by Pershing.

Russel initially leased telephone and telegraph service from the French, but they had few lines and little equipment to spare. Moreover, their equipment was antiquated by American standards, and the French did not "multiplex" their lines to allow them to carry simultaneously both telephone and telegraph traffic. Such a system required far less wire and fewer poles, an important consideration given wartime shortages of material and transport.52 Consequently, planning soon began for the construction of an all-American wire network to serve the strategic communication needs of the AEF. This system as initially conceived would run 400 miles across France to connect the initial base port of St. Nazaire with the rear of the American sector of operations at Gondrecourt.53 In September 1917 two Bell battalions, the 406th and 407th Telegraph Battalions, began construction. In keeping with modern American methods, the system ultimately incorporated repeaters, the latest in telephone technology, which had recently made coast-to-coast service possible in the United States.54 As AEF operations expanded, so did the extent of the wire network. By the end of the war, the Signal Corps built over 1,700 miles of permanent pole lines and strung nearly 23,000 miles of wire. The entire strategic network, to include wires leased from and maintained by the French, totaled approximately 38,000 miles.55

Transatlantic communication also ranked high on Russel's list of priorities, and the experience he had acquired with underwater cables in Alaska proved


Photo:  Telegraph operating room at Chaumont


invaluable. Due to the limitations of existing radio technology, cables remained the most reliable means of long-distance communication. Early in the war the British had severed Germany's cable connections with the United States, and the British and French governments had appropriated and rerouted these cables for their own use. German submarines posed a constant threat, however, and the presence of this underwater menace kept repairs from being made. To ensure transatlantic communication in the event that cable connection was lost, the Navy expanded its series of high-powered radio stations along the Atlantic coast and constructed a station at Bordeaux, France, which became known as Radio Lafayette. The Navy cooperated with the Signal Corps in the use of this system. The British, meanwhile, laid a cable across the English Channel for the Corps' use.56

While the U.S. Army established itself in France, Pershing dealt with the complexities of Allied command relationships. From the outset, in accordance with Secretary Baker's instructions, Pershing remained adamant on one point: that the Americans would fight independently and not be amalgamated with other Allied troops. He had to resist the intense pressure applied by Allied leaders who were desperate for manpower after three years of brutal combat and horrific losses. During the spring of 1917 the French Army had been further weakened by mutiny, while the British suffered enormous casualties in Flanders. Moreover, the outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in November 1917 led to the collapse of the Eastern Front the following spring, thus freeing large numbers of German troops for fighting in the west. Despite these circumstances, Pershing held his ground.


In September 1917 Pershing transferred his headquarters to Chaumont, located on the Marne River about 150 miles southeast of Paris in Lorraine province. Russel moved along with him. Some Signal Corps operations remained based in Paris, such as photography, research and inspection, meteorology, and procurement of supplies.57 Because the sector of the front around Chaumont had been quiet for some time, Pershing considered it a good place for American forces to eventually enter the line. Meanwhile, at Gondrecourt elements of the 1st Division, including its 2d Field Signal Battalion, awaited the start of combat training.58

With the arrival of American troops, tactical communication in the forward areas came under the control of the Zone of Advance. Col. George S. Gibbs, who had served with the Volunteer Signal Corps during the War with Spain and the Philippine Insurrection, became chief signal officer, Zone of Advance, as well as assistant chief signal officer of the AEF. He described his job as follows:

The day's work in the zone of the advance division was quite like that in the lost and found department of a big railroad. There were hurried trips to inspect equipment and correct requisitions. Lost shipments were traced by telephone and sometimes by automobile. Material for training was needed at once, and the normal means of delivery was neither fast enough nor sure enough. The personal service from the office Chief Signal Officer gave assistance right where it was needed, and no signal outfit was allowed to remain in doubt or in need.59

Moreover, each army, corps, and division had a chief signal officer who coordinated the signal operations of his unit and carried out the orders of the chief signal officer, AEF. In March 1918 Russel moved his office to Tours, the headquarters of the Services of Supply, while Gibbs remained at Chaumont.60

Organizationally, signal units needed to adapt to conditions on the Western Front. Trench warfare demanded changes in the structure of the field signal battalion, specifically in the size of the outpost signal company. As originally organized with five officers and seventy-five men, the outpost company could not meet the communications requirements of a square division. Working at the front lines to connect brigade and regimental headquarters, these men had an extremely dangerous job. Consequently, upon Pershing's recommendation, the War Department expanded the company's enlisted strength to 280 men. As reorganized, the company was divided into a headquarters section and four regimental sections. These regimental sections, each containing an officer and sixty-five men, would remain attached to infantry signal platoons (part of the headquarters company of an infantry regiment) for the duration of trench warfare. In open warfare the sections would be withdrawn to form a division reserve.61 Moreover, a new unit came into existence, the depot battalion, comprising 15 officers and 400 men, which became a source of replacement personnel overseas. Finally, all Signal Corps personnel not assigned to tactical organizations became members of service companies that were located at the base ports, supply depots, and headquarters.62

Because of the scarcity of experienced soldiers in the AEF, considerable training took place in France. To this end, Pershing established a series of Army


schools at Langres that included those for technical training. This system included three schools for signal instruction: one for the training of personnel from field units; one for officer candidate training; and a third for radio operators. Due to the demand for signal officers, the candidates' school took precedence at Langres while corps-level schools trained commissioned and noncommissioned officers from field units. A three-month course for candidates was eventually developed at Langres which provided instruction in all types of signal equipment as well as in administration, discipline, and field service regulations. Besides Signal Corps personnel, the Langres schools trained communicators from the Infantry, Artillery, Engineers, and Air Service.63

Additional education took place at the divisional level in accordance with a three-phase training plan devised by Pershing. Beginning with the 1st Division, soldiers learned the techniques of trench warfare as well as the handling of such weapons as the hand grenade and the machine gun. French units conducted the preliminary training, which included the digging of practice trenches to familiarize the men with the conditions they would be facing. Members of the 2d Field Signal Battalion, the first signal unit to undergo this process, received instruction in both French and British signaling methods and went to the front to observe signal equipment in action.64 Soon they would be putting their newly acquired skills to the test.

"Over the Top ": Signalmen in Battle

On 21 October 1917 the units of the 1st Division began spending trial periods in the trenches. For a month one battalion at a time from each regiment spent ten days with a French division. A detachment from the 2d Field Signal Battalion supported each infantry battalion. Although stationed in a quiet area, the division experienced its first combat on the night of 2-3 November when the Germans bombarded and raided a portion of the sector, killing several Americans. During the attack signalmen received their initiation in repairing lines under fire.65 At the end of November the 1st Division pulled back for a final month of instruction in open warfare tactics, training upon which Pershing had insisted despite French objections. In January 1918, six months after its arrival in France, the division began defending its own portion of the line, a sector northwest of Toul.66

Pershing continued to follow a similar training sequence with subsequent units as they arrived. Meanwhile, many American officers and Secretary Baker, not to mention the British and French, grew impatient with the slow progress. Costly campaigns like that at Caporetto, Italy, in October 1917 continued to bleed the Allies white. Without substantial infusions of American troops, the Allies could lose the war.67 Fortunately, with the arrival in France of the 2d Division (half Army and half Marine), as well as two National Guard divisions, the 26th and the 42d, the Americans slowly but surely began to build their strength.68

Hoping to win a final victory before the Americans could save the Allies, the Germans launched a massive offensive in the spring of 1918. They began in


March by attacking the British lines along the Somme River, with the objective of splitting the British and French armies. Ironically, what they finally achieved was the speedier entry of American troops into the fighting. The Allies increased their pressure upon Pershing to amalgamate American servicemen with their units, but he remained firm about the eventual formation of an independent American army. After prolonged negotiations, Pershing agreed to allow the British to trans­port six American divisions to France, where they would train with British units. He further agreed that during May and June shipment of combat elements of these divisions (infantrymen and machine gunners) would receive priority, with artillery, signal, and other support units to follow. Ten divisions ultimately went to France under this program.69 While this arrangement delayed Pershing's plans for the formation of an American army, it bolstered Allied morale in the face of the German onslaught. Furthermore, during the spring crisis the Allies formed a unified command, headed by General (later Marshal) Ferdinand Foch of France, to better coordinate operations.

Meanwhile, on 28 May 1918 the 1st Division launched the first American offensive at Cantigny, in the Picardy region of northern France. This village, located on high ground in the center of a German salient in the French lines, had already seen considerable fighting. Prior to the attack the division carefully outlined and rehearsed the details of its combat debut.70

Signal planning constituted an important part of the process. In front of Cantigny the 2d Field Signal Battalion established a communications network adapted to the conditions of trench warfare. In general, from division headquarters forward, telephone lines ran to each infantry battalion as well as between adjoining battalions. But the traditional lance poles did not prove suitable for use in the trenches. Instead, the wires were strung on short (four-foot) stakes or run along the trench walls. The major trunk lines were placed in special shallow trenches (known as carniveaux) or buried several feet underground to provide protection from enemy shelling and from foot and vehicle traffic.71 At division headquarters the telephone switchboards were installed in underground dugouts where they could withstand artillery bombardment. Liaison with the artillery was maintained by telephone, and from the division to the rear, pole, or aerial, lines ran back to the corps with which it served. Forward from the battalions to the frontline companies the Signal Corps employed earth telegraphy, which worked by driving iron poles into the ground to pick up electrical currents by means of electrical induction. This system was also referred to as T.P.S., from the French telegraphie par sol.72 Earth telegraphy did not provide a very secure form of communication because the Germans could just as easily pick up the messages. Since it did not depend upon wires, however, it was less vulnerable to artillery. Due to its limited range, this technique was used primarily at the front. Wireless sets provided another means of communication, but not yet a reliable one. When necessary, visual signals supplemented these other methods.73

The thorough preparation paid off, for the 1st Division initially took Cantigny fairly easily. During the battle the signal troops went "over the top" close behind


Photo:  Signal communications at the front


the advancing infantry "and maintained remarkably satisfactory liaison throughout."74 The repair teams sustained many casualties, however, due to heavy concentrations of poison gas. While the enemy repeatedly knocked the division's telephones and radios out of action, the earth telegraphy stations remained in operation. But holding on to the town proved more difficult. The Germans launched several counterattacks, and fighting continued for three days. When the battle finally ended on 31 May, the 1st Division had suffered substantial losses but remained in possession of its prize. Moreover, it had demonstrated that the doughboys could fight.75

With this successful introduction to combat, American units began to shoulder more of the burden of warfare. The 2d Division, fighting in such costly battles as Belleau Wood and Vaux, helped the French to stop the German advance toward Paris in the area of Château-Thierry. By mid-July the German offensive had ground to a halt. For its part in the defense, the 3d Division earned the nickname "Rock of the Marne." With the influx of American troops, the Allies launched a counteroffensive, known as the Aisne-Marne campaign. The deadlock on the Western Front was finally broken, and the tide of battle began to turn.

As a result of these events, Pershing's plan for an independent American army at last was realized. In August 1918 Pershing assumed command of the newly created U.S. First Army. Lt. Col. Parker Hitt served as the army's chief signal officer.76 Comprising two corps and nineteen divisions, its initial objective


was the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient that had jutted into the Allied lines for four years. The salient spread across the plain between the Meuse and the Moselle rivers in eastern France. The First Army, supported by French units and a huge Allied aerial force controlled by Col. William Mitchell, launched its attack on 12 September.77

As always, the Signal Corps played a vital role in the operation. For example, members of the 55th Telegraph and 317th Field Signal Battalions, assigned to the V Corps, had to dig a cable trench six feet deep and one kilometer long to establish connection with the 26th Division. The trench ran through a hill of nearly solid rock, and the men had no explosives available. "For three days and two nights the signal men had one piece of bread and one cup of coffee a meal each. There was no rest. When a man fainted from exhaustion his comrades worked the harder, and even the officers in charge wielded picks and shovels with them.78 To handle communications with the French units, six of the women telephone operators served at First Army headquarters, less than fifteen miles from the front.79

The Americans carefully planned the attack on St. Mihiel and maintained its secrecy. Though the Germans expected such an assault, they did not know when it would occur. Caught unaware before they had fully carried out an intended withdrawal, they offered minimal opposition. Advancing rapidly through what for four years had been no man's land, the first American units entered St. Mihiel on 13 September. By 16 September the campaign had come to a successful conclusion; the salient had been eliminated and an all-American army had won its first victory.80

Before the fighting at St. Mihiel had ended, the Allies began preparations for a final offensive. The American contribution would be known as the Meuse-Argonne campaign. In addition to the First Army, American units participating in the Allied effort included the 2d and 36th Divisions, which served with the French, and the II Corps, which fought with the British. Beginning on 26 September, American and French divisions attempted to surround the German forces in the Argonne Forest of eastern France. Along with the British and Belgian armies fighting to the north, the Allies planned to drive the Germans out of France before winter. The Allies would then push north toward Sedan (a city that France had lost to Germany in 1870) to cut the vital railroad line that supplied the German Army. All told, more than a million Americans, most of them with little or no combat training or experience, took part in this campaign. Meanwhile the newly created U.S. Second Army (organized 20 September 1918) occupied the old St. Mihiel sector.

Although the troops initially made substantial progress, they eventually bogged down as the Germans increased their resistance. The defenders occupied a series of well-fortified positions, known collectively as the Hindenburg Line, against which the Americans made costly frontal assaults. From the Argonne foothills on the left and the Heights of the Meuse on the right, German batteries delivered devastating artillery fire upon the attackers. In addition to the enemy, the inexperienced soldiers faced difficulties of transportation and command and control. The formidable ter-


Photo:  Testing a telephone line left behind by the Germans at St. Mihiel


rain, heavily forested and cut by ravines, hindered movement of any type, and the existing roadways were usually jammed with men and vehicles. Man-made obstacles, especially barbed wire, presented additional impediments.

The transportation problem exacerbated the already severe supply shortages suffered by the Signal Corps in particular and the AEF in general.81 The Signal Corps further lacked sufficient numbers of vehicles to haul its equipment. In May 1918 control of all motor vehicles had been placed under the Motor Transport Corps, and "the officers handling Motor Transport never understood that Signal Corps combat motor vehicles used for laying wires and maintaining lines were


technical instruments of that business, not just so much truck tonnage."82 Consequently, signalmen sometimes had to carry poles on their backs for several miles. Despite the exertions of the Signal Corps, communication between divisions and corps often broke down, particularly in units experiencing their first combat. As Pershing remarked regarding the 317th Field Signal Battalion, assigned to the V Corps, this unit "joined on the eve of battle and had to learn its duties under fire."83

In this last ditch defense, the Germans hurled some of their best battle-hardened units against the Allies. Nevertheless, despite slow progress and mounting casualties, the French and American forces inexorably pushed the Germans back. By 10 October, with the addition of more seasoned soldiers from the St. Mihiel area, the Americans controlled the Argonne Forest. But much bitter fighting remained between the Argonne and the Meuse River before the Americans completely penetrated the Hindenburg Line. Exhausted and demoralized after four years of combat, the Germans had no fresh troops to throw into the fray, and the unrelenting pressure applied by the Allies led the German government to sue for peace.

While diplomatic negotiations proceeded, Pershing prepared for the final thrust by reorganizing his forces. Maj. Gen. Robert L. Bullard became commander of the Second Army on 12 October, with Col. Hanson B. Black as his chief signal officer. Four days later Maj. Gen. Hunter Liggett assumed command of the First Army. Pershing, meanwhile, took control of the new army group.84 After restoring his battered troops to combat readiness, Liggett resumed the offensive on 1 November. Forcing the Germans to withdraw behind the Meuse, the Americans pursued them in the direction of Sedan. During this rapid advance, the Signal Corps succeeded in maintaining communications by using the German permanent lines.85 American units had reached the outskirts of Sedan when the signing of the Armistice ended the campaign and the war on 11 November 1918.86

Each signal unit participating in this campaign made its own unique contribution to victory. One that merits specific mention is the 325th Field Signal Battalion of the 92d Division, the only black signal unit to serve in World War I. Arriving in France in June 1918, the 325th had first undergone training and then served in the trenches of the St. Die sector for four weeks before heading for the Argonne. A platoon of the 325th, supporting the 368th Infantry, saw action during the battle. In addition to their signal duties, several platoon members volunteered to take a German machine gun nest encountered while scouting a location for a new command post. One of these signalmen, Cpl. Charles S. Boykin, was killed during this engagement, which ultimately succeeded in capturing the enemy position.87

Throughout the Meuse-Argonne campaign, members of the Female Telephone Operators Unit continued to work at First Army headquarters, now located near Verdun, with the initial complement of six supplemented by seven additional women. On 13 October a fire broke out in the barracks housing the main switch-


Photo:  Members of the 325th Field Signal Battalion string wire in no man's land


board. The women remained on duty until they were finally forced to evacuate, but they returned to their posts within an hour. Their devotion to duty won them a commendation from the chief signal officer of the First Army.88 A detachment of women also served at Second Army headquarters, but not during active operations. Grace Banker, who was chief operator at First Army headquarters, received a Distinguished Service Medal for her wartime efforts.89

While most signalmen served in France, some saw action in other locations. In September 1918, Company D, 53d Telegraph Battalion, arrived in Vladivostok to provide communications for American troops in Siberia. The following month the 112th and 316th Field Signal Battalions, belonging to the 37th and 91st Divisions, respectively, went to Belgium to participate in the fighting in the Ypres district. The Army also sent a detachment of signal soldiers to Italy to serve with the signal platoon of the 332d Infantry.90

As for signaling methods, wire communications, in particular the field telephone, proved to be the chief means of signaling used by the United States Army during World War I. A field telephone could operate over a range of from fifteen to twenty-five miles, and a field telegraph, which required less current, could relay messages up to hundreds of miles.91 The Signal Corps soon found, however,


that it had to make some adjustments to its equipment. It learned early that the buzzer, which had operated well on the Mexican border and was best suited to use on improvised field lines, could be easily intercepted by the enemy. Later in the war improved buzzerphones came into use.92 Furthermore, the inadequate insulation of outpost wire enabled the Germans to intercept messages by means of leaks through the ground. The introduction of heavier insulation alleviated the problem. Since the signalers left most of this wire where it lay, the Army used tremendous quantities. By the summer of 1918 the United States manufactured twenty thousand miles of outpost wire per month.93 To increase mobility, the Signal Corps developed portable telegraph and telephone stations, mounted on truck chassis. Because the truck's engine supplied power to the storage batteries, each station could operate independently. Myer's telegraph train had entered the age of the automobile.94

The Germans, influenced by the successful use of the telephone by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War, had discarded the telegraph as obsolete in 1910. They entered World War I entrusting their communications to the telephone and the radiotelegraph. The shortcomings of these methods, especially for long-distance communications, soon caused the German Army to reinstate wire telegraphy as part of its signaling system.95

Although radio held great promise for military communications, the instruments available during World War I proved unsuitable for extensive frontline use. The prewar radios used by the Signal Corps had been relatively high-powered sets designed for a large operating area; they were not meant to be used in the restricted conditions of trench warfare where their inability to be finely tuned caused them to interfere with the sets used by the Allies. Moreover, the spark-gap equipment weighed too much-up to 500 pounds-to be easily moved and often broke down. With the assistance of European radio experts, the Signal Corps developed its own models and had approximately twenty-five different types in production when the war ended. In the meantime, American forces used French radios. Despite some improvements, particularly in the production of vacuum tubes, "radio carried little of the war's communications load," a fact that had a direct impact on the battlefield.96

The high combat casualty rates of World War I can partly be attributed to the lack of a reliable wireless communications system. Once soldiers went "over the top," they found themselves isolated. During deafening artillery barrages a commander could not control his men with his voice, and vision became limited amid the fog of battle. In order to maintain contact, troops tended to move in groups that made them easy targets for enemy machine gunners. Although wire lines were portable, they could not last long under constant and withering artillery bombardment that chewed them to bits; what the shellfire spared often fell victim to the treads of tanks or other vehicles. With their communications cut off, attackers found it difficult if not impossible to call for reinforcements or artillery support.

The situation did not improve significantly under defensive conditions. Shelling continued to destroy wire lines, and standard radio antennas proved a


popular enemy target. To solve the latter problem, the Signal Corps developed a loop set with a receiving antenna that lay on the ground and a small loop connected with the spark gap that served as the transmitting antenna.97

Radio's chief role was for intelligence purposes. While aviators handled reconnaissance and intelligence gathering from the air, the signalmen on the ground used their radios to obtain information about the enemy. The Radio Division of the chief signal officer, AEF, had responsibility for both air and ground radio operation, including radio intelligence, and a radio section served with each field army.98 At intercept stations, Signal Corpsmen copied coded messages sent from German ground radio stations and forwarded them to the radio sections for decoding. In addition to those in the field, the Signal Corps operated an intercept station at general headquarters. (At listening stations located in no man's land, the Signal Corps similarly monitored enemy telephone and telegraph messages.)99 Using goniometry, or direction finding by means of measuring angles, Signal Corpsmen also obtained bearings on enemy radio transmitters so that the location of the stations could be identified.100 Goniometric stations could also detect incoming airplanes from their radio signals. Furthermore, from the amount of radio traffic, the strength of enemy troops could be determined. Radios could also be used to divert the Germans away from where attacks were being planned by broadcasting false radio traffic. The Signal Corps successfully exercised this ploy prior to the resumption of the offensive along the Meuse on 1 November 1918. The radio section of the Signal Corps worked closely with the radio intelligence section of the General Staff, passing along the information it collected for transcription and analysis regarding enemy operations and intentions.101

Although cryptography, the enciphering and deciphering of messages according to specified codes, had been included in the curriculum of the Signal School since 1912, the Signal Corps had not strictly practiced communications security prior to the war. The new War Department Telegraph Code of 1915 had chiefly served as an economy measure to reduce the length of transmissions, rather than as a means to assure their secrecy.102 In the AEF, however, the office of the chief signal officer included a Code Compilation Section where officers devised the so-called River and Lake Codes, which were distributed to the First and Second Armies, respectively, for use in both wire and wireless communications. Maj. Joseph O. Mauborgne, future chief signal officer and head of the Research and Engineering Division, developed an improved field cipher device which replaced the cipher disk. Mauborgne's apparatus, a cylinder with twenty-six rotating disks, bore a striking similarity to one invented by Thomas Jefferson when he was secretary of state to protect diplomatic correspondence. However, the existence of the earlier device remained unknown until 1922, when a researcher found its description among Jefferson's papers.103 To enforce security, listening stations monitored friendly traffic for lapses in procedure.104 While signal officers per­formed cryptography, military intelligence officers conducted cryptanalysis, or the breaking of unknown codes.105


Despite advances in speed, electrical communications could not always be relied upon to get the message through. Wire communications, in particular, were extremely vulnerable to artillery fire and the ravages of wheeled and tracked vehicles, not to mention enemy wire cutters. Thus, the Signal Corps built a mea­sure of redundancy into its communications system as insurance. Traditional communication methods, such as runners and mounted messengers, continued to perform their services, with the use of motorcycle dispatch riders constituting a modern variation. Signal repair parties also used motorcycles, when they were available, to travel to the scene of a problem.106

Visual signaling had likewise not entirely disappeared from the Signal Corps' arsenal. The familiar red and white wigwag flags remained in use to a limited extent, but the flagstaff underwent some changes. Since the wooden staffs broke rather easily, the Corps contracted with a fishing rod company to manufacture steel staffs.107 Other visual signaling methods included pyrotechnics (rockets, flares); battery-powered electric lamps, based on a French model, to replace the previously used acetylene type; and projector lamps. The heliograph remained in the Army's inventory but received little if any use. To communicate with airplanes, ground troops placed panels in various prearranged patterns upon the ground.108

Carrier pigeons contributed another "low-tech" but effective means of communication. In July 1917, impressed with the French and British pigeon services, Pershing requested that pigeon specialists be commissioned into the U.S. Army. The Signal Corps had used the birds rather unsuccessfully in Mexico, but without properly trained handlers. In November 1917, the Signal Corps' Pigeon Service received official authorization, and a table of organization for a pigeon company to serve at army level was published the following June. The company comprised 9 officers and 324 soldiers and provided a pigeon group to each corps and division.109 By the war's end the Signal Corps had sent more than fifteen thousand trained pigeons to the AEF.110

Probably the most famous use of pigeons occurred during the fighting in the Argonne Forest in October 1918 when elements of the 77th Division, commanded by Maj. Charles W Whittlesey, became separated and trapped behind the German lines. These units became known as the "Lost Battalion." When runners could no longer get through, Whittlesey employed pigeons to carry messages back to division headquarters requesting supplies and support. After several days without relief, with hope for survival fading and friendly artillery fire raining down, the men pinned their lives on their last bird, Cher Ami, to get word back to silence the guns. With one eye gone, his breast bone shattered, and a leg missing, Cher Ami completed his mission. In recognition of his remarkable accomplishment, Cher Ami received a medal and a pension.111

Although the Signal Corps had been taking pictures since the 1880s, World War I marked the first time that photography had been assigned to the branch as an official function. In July 1917 the Corps established a Photographic Section responsible for both ground and aerial photography at home and abroad.112 A


Photo:  Signal Corps photographer operates a camouflaged camera in France


school for land photography opened at Columbia University in January 1918, followed six weeks later by an aerial photography school at the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York.

Signalmen began documenting the war aboard the Baltic, taking still and motion pictures of Pershing and his staff. The Army controlled all combat photography, and civilian photographers were not permitted to operate within the zone of the AEF. A photographic unit served with each division and consisted of one motion-picture operator, one still photographer, and their assistants. Each army and corps headquarters had a photo detachment of one officer and six men.113 Photographic units also served with such private agencies as the American Red Cross and the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) to document their activities. Photographic technology had progressed considerably since the days of Mathew Brady, and a combat photographer in World War I could develop a picture in fifteen minutes using a portable darkroom. By 1 November 1918 the Signal Corps had taken approximately 30,000 still pictures and 750,000 feet of motion pictures that were used for training, propaganda, and historical purposes. Wartime censorship kept the public from seeing the most graphic images, however. The Signal Corps' invaluable photographic collection resides today in the National Archives.114


Aerial photography included pictures taken from planes and balloons. As a new discipline, it required the development of suitable equipment and techniques. The Signal Corps' aerial photographers performed photo reconnaissance and aerial mapping that provided valuable intelligence about enemy forces and their disposition. Edward J. Steichen, who later became one of the world's most famous photographers, served as an officer in the Photographic Section of the Air Service, AEF.115

Another Signal Corps function, dormant for many years, gained new prominence: meteorology. Before the United States entered the war, the British, French, and German armies had created meteorological sections. Commanders needed meteorological information for many purposes: to support antiaircraft and long­range artillery; aviation; sound ranging to detect enemy artillery; and general operational planning. The use of gas warfare also required knowledge of wind currents and velocity. Russel soon discovered that he, too, needed weather warriors and requested that trained observers be sent overseas. Consequently, in June 1917, the Signal Corps established the Meteorological Section, and Lt. Col. Robert A. Millikan of the Science and Research Division drew up plans for the meteorological service both at home and in Europe.116 Because the Signal Corps no longer contained trained meteorologists, Squier sought the assistance of the National Research Council and other outside agencies to obtain qualified men. Ironically, many of the Corps' wartime meteorological personnel came from the ranks of the Weather Bureau.117 One such individual, William R. Blair, received a commission as a major in the Signal Corps' Officers Reserve Corps and became chief of the Meteorological Service in the AEE.118 Beginning in May 1918 the section established stations at aviation and artillery training centers. Stations in the combat zone were normally linked to corps headquarters by telephone but transmitted information to tactical units by radio. The meteorological section of the AEF eventually numbered 49 officers and 404 men divided among 33 forecasting and observation stations.119 Meanwhile, within the United States the Signal Corps set up its first weather station in November 1917 at a familiar location, Fort Omaha, Nebraska. Eventually the Corps had stations at most Army posts and flying fields.120

Through a variety of means, the Signal Corps successfully supplied communications to the front lines, and its casualty figures reflected that fact. Its total of 2,840 casualties ranked second only to the Infantry. This figure is particularly impressive because the Signal Corps (less its Aviation Section) comprised only about 4 percent of the total AEF.121 Over three hundred decorations, both American and foreign, were awarded to Signal Corps personnel, but none of them received the Medal of Honor.122 Following the Armistice, Pershing had warm words of praise for his signal soldiers who "in spite of serious losses in battle, accomplished their work, and it is not too much to say that without their faithful and brilliant efforts and the communications which they installed, operated, and maintained, the successes of our Armies would not have been achieved."123


The Signal Corps Loses Its Wings

The European powers, utilizing the aviation establishments they had developed in the preceding years, made World War I the first air war. Germany entered the conflict with nearly one thousand planes; France with about three hundred; and England approximately two hundred fifty.124 Despite being the first country to give its army wings, the United States was not prepared for participation in aerial combat. In April 1917 the Signal Corps' Aviation Section comprised just 52 officers and 1,100 men plus 210 civilian employees. Its inventory contained just 55 planes, all of which were training models.125 The Signal Corps had no combat aircraft because it continued to stress aviation's reconnaissance mission. The War Department reinforced this view by retaining aviation within the Signal Corps instead of making it a separate service. Although Congress had finally appropriated substantial sums for the aviation program, "the sudden availability of funds," as Maj. Benjamin D. Foulois observed, "does not buy an instant air force."126 This lesson, unfortunately, would be learned the hard way.

As with other aspects of the war, the Army had done little planning for aviation, and the small scale on which aerial activities had previously been conducted provided few lessons upon which the Aviation Section could draw. Furthermore, while the United States remained a neutral power, the Allies had been reluctant to allow American observers to study air operations. When asked by Congress in 1914 whether we were keeping up with foreign developments, Colonel Reber had replied, "As far as it is possible to say, we are keeping abreast of conditions that we do not know anything about."127 There had been a few exceptions, however. In addition to Squier's secret visits to the front while an attaché in England, another signal officer, Maj. William Mitchell, had gone abroad in March 1917.128 Yet the United States had gained very little current information on which to base its aerial program.

Once the United States entered the war, the Allies expected it to contribute significantly to the aviation effort. After three years of fighting, their air as well as ground forces were nearing exhaustion. In a telegram to President Wilson dated 24 May 1917, French Premier Alexandre Ribot requested that the United States provide 4,500 planes, 5,000 pilots, and 50,000 mechanics by the spring of 1918. He further asked that the Americans build 2,000 airplanes and 4,000 engines each month. Unfortunately, the cable did not specify the types of planes or the proportions in which they should be produced. Ribot's request nonetheless became the basis for the War Department's aviation program.129

Fulfilling the order would be quite an accomplishment for a nation that had no aviation industry to speak of: only about one thousand planes, both military and civilian, had been built in the United States from 1903 to 1916.130 In fact, the nation had only about a dozen aircraft manufacturing companies, the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation being the largest.131 Nevertheless, various government officials, including the members of the Council of National Defense and the Aircraft Production Board, optimistically assumed that the automotive industry could quick-


Photo:  Generals Foulois and Pershing


ly convert its mass production techniques to the building of aircraft.132 They believed America would rise to the challenge. As Howard Coffin, former president of the Hudson Motor Car Company and now head of the Aircraft Production Board, remarked in a speech in New York on 8 June, "The road to Berlin lies through the air. The eagle must end this war."133 In the press, headlines heralded that American planes would soon "darken the skies of Europe." Even Chief Signal Officer Squier remained undaunted by the job ahead and spoke of our "winged cavalry" that would "sweep the Germans from the sky."134

The onerous task of turning Ribot's cable into a concrete pro­gram fell to Major Foulois. Sharing the prevailing optimism but with a sense of urgency, he came up with a total figure of nearly 17,000 planes (12,000 for combat and 4,900 for training) and 24,000 engines to be manufactured during the next year. He estimated the cost of such a program at nearly two-thirds of a billion dollars.135 In keeping with the Signal Corps' emphasis on reconnaissance, observation and pursuit planes (to protect the former) predominated in Foulois' plan over the offensive aircraft that had become so important as the war progressed. Foulois, having recently been promoted to brigadier general, became the chief of the Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer on 30 July 1917, and he served in that capacity until November 1917 when he went overseas to direct aviation at the front. Hap Arnold, having been promoted to full colonel in August 1917, became the division's executive officer.136

Despite its ambitious goals, the aviation program suffered from a fatal flaw-decentralization of control. In addition to the Signal Corps, a large number of agencies and individuals, both military and civilian, had a voice in its development: Coordination between them proved difficult if not impossible.137 In 1915, Congress had created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight" and also "to direct and conduct research and experiment in aeronautics."138 The committee consisted of up to 12 members appointed by the president: 2 from the Army; 2


from the Navy; 1 each from the Smithsonian, the Weather Bureau, and the Bureau of Standards; and up to 5 other qualified individuals, either civilian or military. Initially Scriven and Reber were the Army's representatives, with Scriven serving as chairman in 1915 and 1916.139 The Aircraft Production Board, created by the Council of National Defense in May 1917, supervised the manufacturing activities of both the Army and the Navy. Both General Squier and his naval counterpart, Admiral David W Taylor, sat on this board along with various prominent businessmen. It became a separate entity in November 1917.140 A third body, the Joint Army and Navy Technical Aircraft Board, also formed in May 1917, attempted to standardize the types of aircraft built by each service.141

Pershing further complicated matters when he created the Air Service, AEF, in June 1917. In his words, "as aviation was in no sense a logical branch of the Signal Corps, the two were separated in the A.E.F. as soon as practicable and an air corps was organized and maintained as a distinct force."142 Although this separation worked well on the battlefield, it created complications at home. Once the leaders in Washington put the aviation program into place, they had to respond to orders received from Pershing and his staff that often conflicted with the advice given by officers in Europe reporting directly to the Signal Office. Members of Allied missions to Washington also added their advice. The constantly changing requirements for airplanes resulted in frequent revisions to the production program, thus creating more delays than planes. The lack of a clear direction to the aviation program, coupled with its decentralized control, led to serious problems.143

The Joint Army and Navy Technical Aircraft Board was the first to consider Foulois' proposal, approving it on 29 May. Having leaped this hurdle, Squier decided to save time by bypassing the chain of command and sent the plan directly to Secretary Baker. Baker, for his part, endorsed the proposal and forwarded it directly to Congress without consulting the General Staff. Responding to widespread public enthusiasm for aviation, Congress appropriated $640 million, the largest sum appropriated for a single purpose to that time, and President Wilson approved the sum on 24 July.144

From the start, manufacturers faced a serious obstacle that hampered production: the maze of patents controlling the manufacture of airplane components. The automobile industry had earlier solved a similar situation with a cross-licensing agreement through which the manufacturers pooled their patents. The NACA, with Squier as a key participant in the negotiations, played a critical role in working out a comparable arrangement for the aircraft industry. In this case, the Manufacturers Aircraft Association was formed to administer the agreement.145 It charged a flat fee for the use of each patent within the pool and, in turn, reimbursed the patent holders. This consensus finally brought an end to the patent fight between the Wright and Curtiss interests.146

Through Squier, the NACA became involved in the selection of a site for an aviation proving ground for the Signal Corps. The location chosen, what is now known as Langley Air Force Base in Newport News, Virginia, also became the


site of the NACA's Langley Aeronautical Laboratory.147 As an active committee member, Squier also helped develop nomenclature for the emerging aircraft industry. For example, he urged the adoption of the word "airplane" to replace the previously used term, "aeroplane."148

Even with the patent licensing agreements, the United States still faced serious aircraft production problems. The assumption that the nation's automobile industry could be easily converted to the manufacture of airplanes did not prove valid. American airplanes were still chiefly custom-built and could not readily be adapted to mass production. To secure the necessary technical expertise, the government requested that France, England, and Italy send to this country experienced aircraft pilots, engineers, and designers to assist in developing both manufacturing and training methods. To obtain up-to-date information from the front, the chief signal officer dispatched a fact-finding mission to Europe. Headed by Maj. Raynal C. Bolling, and hence known as the Bolling Commission, the group left in mid-June to discuss aviation matters with the Allies and to determine which types of aircraft the United States should build.149 At the end of July the group issued its report recommending four major types of planes: the British De Haviland DH-4 for observation and daylight bombing; the French SPAD and British Bristol for fighters; and the Italian Caproni for night bombing.150 They even sent home models of these planes for the manufacturers to follow. For training purposes, the Army adopted the Curtiss JN-4 (nicknamed the Jenny). With these guidelines, the American production effort began.151

In addition to administrative obstacles, there remained many other hurdles to clear before the aviation program got off the ground, especially the procurement of the necessary raw materials. World War I planes remained relatively fragile structures fashioned mainly of wood, preferably spruce, which is lightweight yet strong and less prone to splintering than other softwoods. The Allies, however, could not supply enough aircraft quality timber to meet their wartime needs. Although the forests of the Pacific Northwest contained bountiful supplies of the needed spruce, labor strife prevented the mills from meeting the demand. Therefore, the Army stepped in. In November 1917 the Signal Corps created the Spruce Production Division with headquarters at Portland, Oregon. Its operation represents one of the more unusual aspects of the Signal Corps' aviation-related activities during World War I. Under the command of Col. Brice P Disque, the division eventually employed nearly thirty thousand "spruce soldiers" in the forests and lumber mills of the Northwest. In a successful effort to ease the labor unrest, the Army organized civilian forestry workers into a new union, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen.152

Planes also required fabric, usually linen, for covering their outer surfaces. Before the war Belgium, Russia, and Ireland had been the principal suppliers of flax. With Ireland remaining as the sole source following Belgium's occupation by the Germans and the Russian revolution, another material had to be found. Scientists at the Bureau of Standards developed a suitable substitute made of mercerized cotton. With the change in fabric, a new formula also had to be creat-


Photo:  De Haviland airplanes with Liberty engines being manufactured at the Dayton-Wright Company


ed for the "dope," a varnish-like substance used to coat the fabric to protect, tighten, and waterproof it. Consequently, the government oversaw the establishment of factories to produce the required chemicals.153 The Signal Corps became involved in yet another new endeavor when it became necessary to obtain castor beans from India and cultivate over 100,000 acres of them to yield the oil used to lubricate aircraft engines.154

Other impediments to production included the need to translate the metric measurements used in European aircraft designs into inches and feet. Besides the planes themselves, the Army also had to supervise the manufacture of numerous auxiliary items, such as instrumentation; machine guns, bombs, and other armament; radios; cameras; and special clothing for the pilots.155 American pilots did not carry parachutes until the postwar period.156 Finally, shipping delays, with priority given to the movement of ground troops, slowed the delivery of the planes and engines once they had been built.

While the United States depended heavily on European aircraft technology, it did contribute something new and noteworthy to military aviation: the Liberty engine. Designed by two automotive engineers, Jesse G. Vincent and Elbert J. Hall, the initial eight-cylinder model generated two hundred horsepower and was


produced in less than six weeks. The twelve-cylinder version achieved over three hundred horsepower, and further modification increased its output to more than four hundred. The twelve-cylinder Liberty went into mass production and became the standard American aircraft engine both during and after the war.157

The Liberty finally solved the dilemma faced by the Wright brothers and their successors since 1903 of finding an engine that was relatively light yet could generate sufficient horsepower for sustained flight.158 While the Liberty engine itself met with success, efforts to adapt the selected European-designed planes to accommodate it did not. Only the De Havilands underwent successful conversion and mass production by American manufacturers. De Haviland planes fitted with the twelve-cylinder Liberty engine were called Liberty planes.159 Unfortunately, the De Havilands became better known as "flaming coffins" because of their vulnerability to explosion upon being hit.160 American factories had produced over 15,000 Liberty engines by the end of the war, but only a fraction of these reached the front.161

Although Congress made generous wartime appropriations for aviation (Squier requested a billion dollars for fiscal year 1919 and received $800 million), the United States did not succeed in putting many planes into the air. Fewer than one thousand American-built planes saw action, despite the promises of darkened skies. Throughout the war American pilots relied mainly upon French machines.162

While the Army struggled with its production plight, it had no trouble attracting aviation personnel. Thousands volunteered, lured by the romance of the Air Service and the possibility of becoming an "ace." To screen these candidates, the Signal Corps pioneered in the use of psychological testing.163 It lacked, however, the training facilities to turn these men into pilots. At the outbreak of the war, the Army had just two permanent flight schools, one at San Diego and another at Mineola, Long Island, which had been established in 1916 for training National Guard and Reserve personnel. A third field, a temporary facility at Essington, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia), had opened just five days before the United States entered the conflict. As part of his planning function, Foulois had selected sites for new installations, and eventually the War Department was operating twenty-seven training fields within the United States. These included Wilbur Wright Field, located on Huffman Prairie not far from Dayton, Ohio, where the brothers had conducted many of their early experimental flights and which is now part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.164

During the summer of 1917, while the new fields were being built, the Canadian government provided flying facilities in exchange for the use of American fields during the winter. Moreover, many cadets, especially in these early months of American involvement, received their training in England, France, and Italy. In addition to the training fields at home, the United States eventually constructed sixteen flying fields in Europe, the largest being the aviation center at Issoudun, France, that covered an area of thirty-six square miles.165


As the problems at San Diego had indicated, however, pilot training was not a simple process. While it took three to four months to train a ground soldier, the time required to adequately train a pilot could be anywhere between six and nine months.166 First, prospective pilots underwent two to three months of ground, or pre-flight, training at several leading universities where they studied the theory and principles of flight.167 The students next moved on for six to eight weeks of preliminary flight training at the Signal Corps aviation schools, which culminated in a solo 60-mile cross-country flight.168 They then graduated to advanced training where they specialized in reconnaissance, pursuit, or bomber flying. Once overseas, the pilots underwent combat training behind the lines.169 In addition to flying, all pilots were instructed in aerial gunnery. Specialized radio and photographic personnel also had to be trained, as well as mechanics to keep the planes in the air.170

The Air Service, AEF, could not make its presence felt at the front until the last months of the war, and a detailed discussion of its combat operations will not be given here. When the United States entered the war, only the 1st Aero Squadron had been immediately available to serve overseas, and it had arrived in Europe on 1 September 1917. The unit received training in France as an observation squadron and became part of the I Corps Observation Group under French tactical control.171 Although their service was relatively brief, American aviators gave a good account of themselves.172

As part of its aviation program, the Signal Corps renewed its interest in lighter-than-air craft. In Europe captive balloons were being used for artillery observation, and the observers communicated with the ground via telephone. Shortly after the declaration of war the Signal Corps reopened its Balloon School at Fort Omaha.173 The Army also established balloon schools at Camp John Wise, Texas (near San Antonio); Arcadia, California (later known as Ross Field); and Lee Hall, Virginia. Veteran Army aeronaut Col. Charles deF. Chandler was in charge of the Balloon Service, AEF, and seventeen balloon companies eventually saw action.174 In addition, Millikan's Science and Research Division conducted a variety of experiments with balloons, among them attempts to use them to distribute propaganda.175

The beginning of the end for the Signal Corps' Aviation Section came in November 1917 when Gutzon Borglum (later the sculptor of the presidents at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota), a member of the Aero Club of America, accused the War Department of plotting to give control of the aircraft industry to the automobile manufacturers. With President Wilson's permission, Borglum launched his own investigation of the aircraft industry.176 Hoping to reassure the public, Secretary of War Baker announced on 21 February 1918, just before leaving for France, that the first American planes with Liberty engines were on their way to the front, giving the impression that production was ahead of schedule. Rather than ease tensions, he had added fuel to the fire. In actuality, only one DH-4 had been shipped from Dayton, and it was destroyed when the Germans torpedoed the ship carrying it to Europe. Not until May 1918 did the first


Photo:  Colonel Deeds


American-built DH-4 fly in France.177 The press, meanwhile, had been printing exaggerated stories about the thousands of American planes in France. Pershing, in response, sent a cable to Baker on 28 February in which he urgently recommended that the publication of such articles be stopped.178 As the public became aware of the shortcomings in the aviation program, the backlash began.

Borglum, in his report to the president, claimed that the Aircraft Production Board had squandered the hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated by Congress. Singling out Edward A. Deeds, head of the Signal Corps' Equipment Division and thereby in charge of aircraft procurement, as the culprit, Borglum caused a sensation. Before the war Deeds had gained prominence as a businessman in Dayton, having served as an executive of the National Cash Register Company and as a founder of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco). He was also one of the organizers of the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company.179 To conduct his wartime work with the Signal Corps, Deeds had received a commission as a colonel. Although Wilson ultimately repudiated Borglum, the wheels of change had been set in motion as Congress and other agencies began probing into aviation matters.180

Acting Secretary of War Benedict Crowell, in Baker's absence, had ordered an investigation, as did Chief Signal Officer Squier and Howard Coffin, chairman of the Aircraft Production Board.181 The Crowell committee's preliminary report, issued on 12 April, pointed out that few soldiers had possessed any knowledge of aviation when the program began, and a tremendous burden had fallen upon a relatively small division of the Signal Corps. It recommended that military aviation be immediately removed from the Signal Corps and that aviation eventually become a separate department.182 During its own investigation, the Senate Committee on Military Affairs questioned Deeds and found his answers to be satisfactory. Its final report, however, labeled the aircraft program a "substantial failure."183

Amid the controversy, Squier did receive some support. Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian and a member of the NACA, wrote to the president on 15 April urging him to withdraw only aircraft production from the Signal Corps' control.184 The public and press, however, feeling betrayed by the promises


of a vast aerial fleet, came down hard on the chief signal officer. The New York Times was especially critical of Squier, judging him a "lamentable failure."185

On 24 April 1918 Secretary Baker initiated the actions that led to the Signal Corps' loss of its aviation duties. On that date he created two new entities within the Office of the Chief Signal Officer: the Division of Aircraft Production and the Division of Military Aeronautics. The latter had charge of the operation and maintenance of aircraft and the training of personnel. John D. Ryan, former president of the Anaconda Copper Company, became head of the Division of Aircraft Production, while Brig. Gen. William L. Kenly became the director of the Division of Military Aeronautics. Kenly had served as chief of the Air Service, AEF, from August to November 1917.186 Chief Signal Officer Squier would henceforth devote his full attention to the Signal Corps proper.187 The final separation came on 20 May 1918 when the president issued an executive order completely detaching aviation duties from the Signal Corps and placing them under the direct control of the secretary of war. The Division of Military Aeronautics and the Bureau of Aircraft Production thereupon became independent agencies within the War Department. The Signal Corps continued to retain, however, responsibility for airborne radio.188

But the scrutiny of the air service had not yet ended. Beginning in May 1918 the Justice Department, at President Wilson's behest, launched a thorough inquiry into the aeronautical program. Charles Evans Hughes, former presidential candidate and future secretary of state and chief justice of the Supreme Court, headed this probe.189 After five months of work, in which almost three hundred witnesses testified, the attorney general turned over Hughes' findings to the president. Aviation's problems, the report concluded, stemmed largely from disorganization and incompetence rather that rampant corruption. Hughes had found evidence of wrongdoing, however, on the part of Edward A. Deeds, against whom Borglum had leveled serious charges.190 While Hughes cleared Deeds of Borglum's more sensational accusations of major corruption and pro-Germanism, he found that Deeds had used his position within the Signal Corps to benefit the Dayton-Wright Company. Hughes also held him responsible for grossly misleading the public in regard to the progress of the aircraft production program. His report therefore recommended that Deeds be court-martialed, since he still held his military commission.191 As for the chief signal officer, the investigation had found no "imputation of any kind upon Gen. Squier's loyalty or integrity."192 With the imminent end of the war, however, the public outcry over aviation abated, and an Army board of review subsequently exonerated Deeds of any wrongdoing.193

As in any dispute, it is easy to cast blame, and Squier received his share. Grover Loening, who became an aircraft manufacturer after leaving the Army's employ in 1915, accused the chief signal officer of being a dupe of the automobile manufacturers.194 Robert A. Millikan, who had directed the Signal Corps' Science and Research Division, described Squier as a "strange character" who "considered himself a scientist." Millikan further referred to Squier as "in no sense an organizer nor a man of balanced judgment." While Millikan credited Squier with "a will-


ingness to assume responsibility and go ahead," he nonetheless disparaged his "quick, impulsive decisions."195 Deeds, on the other hand, who had also worked closely with the chief signal officer, thought highly of his abilities.196

Whatever his strengths or weaknesses, Squier cannot be held solely responsible for the Signal Corps' loss of aviation. The separation of this function from the Corps had been impending for some time and was probably inevitable. The pilots had always chafed under the control of non-flyers. Aviation was fast becoming an armed service in its own right, although it would not achieve independent status until after World War II. Despite the controversy surrounding his wartime program, Squier's significant contributions to aviation should not be overlooked. He had played a central role in the development of Army aviation from its inception, having urged the Army to investigate the Wrights' invention and drafted the Army's initial airplane specifications.197 Moreover, he had overseen the greatest expansion of the aerial arm to date while concurrently running the Signal Corps' ground operations. That one man would have difficulty managing all these activities should not be surprising.

Less than ten years had passed from the time the Army purchased its first air­plane until the United States entered World War I and, on balance, the Signal Corps' Aviation Section had achieved a great deal by May 1918. Despite short comings and failures, which were not restricted to the Signal Corps' operations alone, the Corps had laid the foundation for the air program that the Army followed for the duration of the war. From a one man/one plane air force in 1907, the Army's Air Service had grown by November 1918 to nearly two hundred thousand officers, men, and civilian workers. During the course of the war the Army had received nearly seventeen thousand planes from both domestic and foreign manufacturers.198 With the removal of the aviation function, the Signal Corps also lost some prominent names from its rolls, among them Mitchell, Foulois, and Arnold. While passing from the pages of Signal Corps history, these men continued their notable careers with the Army's Air Service.199

The Signal Corps Comes of Age

The aviation story constituted yet another episode in the evolution of the Signal Corps' mission as changes in technology constantly redefined the nature of military communications. Once before the Signal Corps had experienced the wrenching away of a major function, weather reporting, only to see military meteorology achieve new importance under its auspices during World War I.

In the case of the weather service, the cost of what was perceived as a mostly civilian duty had grown too much for the military to justifiably maintain. With aviation, the case was somewhat different. Clearly, aviation performed a military mission, and its relationship to communication was recognized and accepted. But aviation had outgrown its early beginnings when reconnaissance was seen as its only military purpose. Now its combat value was beginning to overshadow its other roles. Although Chief Signal Officers Scriven and Squier had recognized


that aviation would eventually strike out on its own, they had not been ready to let it go. As with the weather service, it took the touch of scandal to precipitate events. But the Signal Corps' child, aviation, had grown and matured much faster than its parent had anticipated. Like any offspring, it was rebellious and agitated for independence, not only from the Signal Corps but in the postwar period from the Army as a whole.

Aviation aside, the Signal Corps as a branch was negotiating an institutional rite of passage of its own. During the war it had multiplied its strength by a factor of nearly thirty-five. Comprising just 55 officers and 1,570 men when Congress declared war, the Corps had grown to 2,712 officers and 53,277 men when the war ended. These men were organized into 56 field signal battalions, 33 telegraph battalions, 12 depot battalions, 6 training battalions, and 40 service companies.200 Besides the huge increase in size, the Signal Corps that emerged from World War I differed significantly in other ways from the organization that had entered the conflict. The Corps had become a technical leader with its own laboratories: It could no longer confine its scientific work to the basement of the Signal Office in Washington. Along with the unprecedented scale of Signal Corps operations came closer ties with the nation's industrial leaders. While the Corps gained much in strength and efficiency, it also lost something: the force of personality. Figures such as Myer, Greely, and Squier would no longer loom as prominently over and direct so closely the workings of what had become a complex bureaucracy. Although powerful and important individuals would continue to appear in subsequent chapters of the Signal Corps' history, the branch no longer functioned as the sole province of one man: the chief signal officer. In a sense, the Signal Corps had lost its innocence; as an organization, it had reached maturity.201


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