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The EK1

This chapter deals with the German communication troops, the signalers telephone operators, runners and

1)   The evolution of the Communications/Signal troops from the higher command, divisional and Regimental/battalion level
2)   Listening posts: the “Ahrendstationen” (Here)
3)   Telephone operators at the front: Line repair under fire. (Here)
4)   The runners in the front line (Here)

Although they began the war as a rather undeveloped or neglected branch of the army, by the time the time the guns died down in 1918 the German signal troops had laid 6 million kilometers of telephone cable, enough to circle the world 15 times.

1) The evolution of the Communications/Signal troops  

Prewar German training manuals had warned that technical communications means “if used too often and particularly in combat, can lead to the danger that a field officer may loose opportunities to use his initiative”. As an alternative, messengers on bicycles, horses and on foot were suggested. The system of cavalry relay stations was highly praised.

Under technical communications were grouped, field telephones, cable telegraphy, morse blinkers, semaphore, wireless telegraphy, carrier pigeons, messenger dogs, automobiles and motorcycles. Experience gained at the outbreak of the war would soon prove that to command troops in the field all of the above methods were needed and that success depended not only on the equipment, but also to a large extent on the sacrifices made by the communications troops.  

During combat, communications on company, battalion and regimental level was originally to be done by means of semaphore. After the outbreak of hostilities this proved not only to be impractical but also suicidal and soon this method of communication was to be used almost exclusively by troops in mountainous areas as it not only gave away the units position, but also led to high casualties amongst the exposed signalers.

Above: A telephone exchange behind the front line.

During the initial mobile phase of the war and the "Race for the sea", little changed in the German signaling services (Nachrichtentruppen). They were soon to learn, particularly from the French, that the telephone cable was an important battlefield innovation. German troops advancing in the Vogesen found themselves under accurate artillery fire in areas where no French troops were to be found. The Germans were both furious and astounded to discover telephone cables leading to hidden artillery observers. This potential had not yet been appreciated by the German army.  

It was only as the armies started digging in that the use of field telephones began to spread, first connecting companies to battalions, battalions to regiments and the regiments to higher commands. The lines then stretched to include neighboring units, artillery observers, supply units and administrative offices.  

By the end of the war the German Signal (Nachrichten) troops had become a major branch of the army and consisted of

A) At the high command level
96 Kraftwagen-Fernsprech-Bauzüge (Motorized communication maintenace/building units) 
30 Fernsprech-Bauzüge (Communications maintenace/building units) 
97 Fernsprech-Betriebszüge (Communications operations unit)
20 Fernsprech-Stations (Communications station)
72 Blinkerzüge (Morse blinker sections)
Heeres-Nachrichten-Schule (Army Signals School)
Heeres-Nachrichten-Park (Army Signals Depot)  

B) At the Heeresgruppen Level (Army Group level)
5 Heeresgruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilungen (Army Group communications section)  

C) At the Armee-Oberkommando level (Army level)
47 Fernsprech-Abteilungen (Communications units)
23 Armee-Funker-Abteilungen (Wireless communications units)
20 Armee-Nachrichten-Parks (Communications depots)
17 Messengerdog Staffeln  

D) At Generalkommando level (Army Corps)
71 Gruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilungen
63 Gruppen-Funker-Abteilungen  

E) At the divisional level
242 Divisions-Fernsprech-Abteilungen
193 Divisions-Funker-Abteilungen
292 Abhorstationen (listening stations)
617 Carrier pigeon units.

Above: The Iron Cross 2nd class award document to Unteroffizier Carl Lahmann who served under the Signals officer of the 18th Army Corps. The award was made by General von Hutier himself, but document was signed by Lahmann's commanding officer.

The higher commands

In the beginning:

At the outbreak of the war the Chef der Telegraphie was in command of the Signals (Nachrichten) branch. At his personal disposition were 1 Kraftwagen-Funkenstation (Motorised wireless communications station) and 1 Fernsprech-Abteilung (Communications unit). Each Armee-Oberkommando had a staff officer of the Telegraphentruppen attached to it who acted as advisor and was responsible for technical details relating to communications. Under his command was an Armee-Telegraphen-Abteilung, a Funker-Kommando and 2 Schwere Funkenstationen. Each Generalkommando had a Korps-Fernsprech-Abteilung.  

Right: An Iron Cross 2nd Class document awarded to a Member of the "Fernsprech Doppelzug" of the 58th Infantry Division. At the time the Division was under the command of the 1st Bavarian Reserve Corps

The first reorganization:

In December 1916 Hindenburg reorganized numerous existing army command structures, including the Nachrichten services.

At Armee-Oberkommando level the position of the staff officer of the Telegraphentruppen was dissolved and an Armee-Fernsprech-Kommandeur (Akofern) was appointed, followed soon after by a Armee-Funker-Kommandeur (Akofunk).

At Generalkommando level there had initially been no higher ranking signals officer. In December 1916 however, each Gruppenkommando recieved a Gruppenkommandeur der Fernsprechtruppen (Grukofern) and Gruppenkommandeur der Funkertruppen (Grukofunk). The Generalkommando-Fernsprech-Abteilung was renamed Gruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilung with 11 Officers and 285 other ranks divided into a Stationszug, 2 Fernsprechzuge and a Gerätekolonne (Equipment column). A total of 62 Gruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilungen were formed.

The second reorganization:

Another reorganization took place in  August-September 1917

The Akonach:
The Akofern and Akofunk fell away and an Armee-Nachrichten-Kommandeur (Akonach) took over all the Nachrichten units within the A.O.K.s, excluding those under Generalkommando or Divisional command. The Akonach was responsible for the coordination, readiness and communication regulations and security within his area of command and were centrally numbered from 1-26.

The Grukonach:
The Grukofern and Grukofunk gave way to a Grukonach whose duties were more or less the same as the Akonach, but at a lower level. The Grukonach were numbered as follows: The Grukonach in an Active Generalkommando or Generalkommandoes z.b.V. took the number of the Generalkommando and added 600, Reserves added 700. Only the Garde- and Gardereservekorps Akonachs were named according to their unit. 4 Grukonach were maintained at Heeres level, these were numbered 202, 203,204 and 206.

In the Etappe (rear area) Fernsprechdepots and Funkerdepots existed which pooled reserves and were responsible for repairs. After the spring of 1917 reorganization these were reformed and each Armee had a Armee-Fernsprech-Park and Armee-Funker-Park attached to it. An emergency reserve was formed at Heeres level with two Armee-Nachrichten-Park. On the Western front in 1917 the Heeresgruppen-Kommandos formed their own much needed Fernsprech formations. These were called Heeresgruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilungen and were numbered 200, 201 and 202. With the increase in Heeresgruppen in 1918 a 203 and 204 were formed.  

Above: Morse code could be sent by the men of the Blinkerzug

Divisional level

The cavalry divisions had gone to war with a Nachrichten-Abteilung consisting of one Schweren- and two Leichten-Funkenstationen (Heavy and light communications stations).  

The active and reserve infantry divisions had gone to war without homogenous Fernsprech or Funker units, but it was soon realized that these were desperately needed on a divisional level.  

In the Autumn of 1915 the divisions finally received their telephone units, a Fernsprech-Betriebszug (operators) and a Fernsprech-Bauzug (Line laying and maintenance). These were combined within their respective divisions to form a Doppelzug. (There were also independant Betriebs- and Bau-Zuge at Armee level.)  

The experiences gained at Verdun, where artillery fire constantly destroyed wires and disrupted communications led to a number of innovations and changes. Some innovations included older methods like carrier pigeons and messenger dogs as well as signal rockets and signaltrupps who used blinkers but the most important innovation was the use of Funker units within the divisions (Wireless communications).  

Independant Funkenstation were formed to be attached to forward infantry units. As the war had progressed lighter wireless sets had been developed and were issued to these signal troops. In July 1916 these were named "Funker-Abteilung (Kleinstationen)" .  

The Funker-Abteilungen (Kleinstationen) were initially only attached to divisions when and were they were needed. They were renamed Funken-Kleinabteilungen in November 1916. On the 30th May 1917 they were renamed Divisions-Funker-Abteilungen  and became a permanent element within the divisions. To achieve this, their numbers were increased from 102 to 192. These Abteilungen had 6 officers and 222 men, divided into a Funkenstation and 2 Funkenzügen. Their maximum communications range was 100 kms.

Under Hindenburg in December 1916 there was a structural and name change for the Fernsprech troops at divisional level. The Divisions-Doppelzug was renamed a Divisions-Fernsprech-Abteilung with 11 officers and 350 men divided into Stationszug and 3 Fernsprechzüge. A total of 250 Divisions-Fernsprech-Abteilungen were formed. In the same reshuffle a new position was created at divisional level, that of Divisions-Nachrichten-Kommandeur (Divkonach). The Nachrichten networks within the divisions had grown to a point where a responsible (in the form of the Divkonach) was needed to assure a uniformity of communications and methods of communication within the Division.  

Regimental and battalion level  

When the German army mobilized in 1914, cable telegraphy was only used at divisional level and higher and wireless telegraphy for Armee level communications to the highest command levels. At the Regimental level and lower the field telephone would be the standard method of communication for the duration of the war. Although not having Telephone units of their own at the outbreak of the war, the infantry did have Fernsprächgeraete (telephones) issued to them and using these, formed their own internal Fernsprechtrupps.  

Each battalion had 12 telephone operators with a grand total of 12 kms of cable for use in static positions. Each company had an Unteroffizier and 3 men who were designated as telephone operators. Only in 1917 was an independent Truppen-Nachrichten-Abteilung formed at regimental level. Commanding this was an Officer at Regimental headquarters and at battalion level a Vizefeldwebel with a Zug under his command. The Batallion Zug had 4-5 Fernsprechtrupps, each with an NCO and 4 men, 2-3 Blinkertrupps with an NCO and 3 men, 4-6 dog handlers with 2-3 dogs and 2-3 men in charge of signal rockets and flares. At company level runners were provided to take messages between the units.

By February 1918 the Nachrichten units at the Regimental and Battalion levels became formal Truppennachrichtenzüge. These did not consist solely of the Fernsprechtrupps but also included messenger dogs, carrier pigeons, flares, signal horns, sirens, bells and various kinds of signaling flags. Also included in their area of responsibility were special marker and illumination rounds used by the Minenwerfer as well as special rounds which could fire messages to the rear. Infantry companies had messengers and two bicycles and at battalion and regimental level there were often a handful of mounted messengers detached from the cavalry.

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