Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

Smile, You’re On Camera! – WW1 Spotlights, Surveillance and Communication Technology

During World War 1 surveillance; the systematic observation of aerospace, surface, or subsurface areas, places, persons, or things, by visual, aural, electronic, photographic, or other means, was performed by people; cameras and photography were rudimentary and crude listening devices. Communication; to convey knowledge of or information about, of what had been observed became the main thrust of developmental technology.

Prior to the technological development of electronic communication systems the primary forms of conveying information was by “line of sight.” This could be enhanced with the use of binoculars, telescopes, periscopes, telegraphy and written messaging. The written message remained a main method of communication during this war. The written message itself was carried by pigeons, dogs, men and all forms of transport; including text message shells, used by the Germans to fire paper messages to their own troops.

Semaphore and Morse Code in World War I

Historically visual signals using flags and flashlights for short distances were developed from the use of smoke, fire, drums and sunlight. During the time span of this war the two-flag semaphore system was widely used, particularly by the world’s navies. The French developed a ground based semaphore system which consisted of pairs of movable arms mounted at the ends of a crossbeam on hilltop towers. The towers were built at set visible distance intervals depending on the terrain. They were used in the trenches of Europe and the deserts, areas where electricity could not be generated because of environmental or logistical difficulties.

The carbon-arc lamp signaling devices used lenses and mirrors which could be on or off. Utilizing mechanical shutters or electronic switches they were able to send coded messages. These were used on land and at sea. Morse code had been standardized by this time.

Searchlights Lighting Up The Sky

Searchlights saw large-scale use in World War I. They were used to detect dirigibles and aircraft on night bombardment missions, as signaling devices, to assist landing parties, to locate attacking torpedo boats and were installed on many coastal artillery batteries for aiding night combat. Flares were used to illuminate the battlefield between trenches and to detect raiding parties.

Rise of The Research Council and Institutes

This war was so large, so long and covered so much territory that 24 hour warfare became the norm. In order to enhance the strategies essential for night time communications and surveillance it was necessary to develop equipment that could be used efficiently both in day and in the night time.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in the United Kingdom was founded in 1915, and the National Research Council in the United States in 1916; they encouraged industry to become involved. In America Bausch & Lomb concentrated its efforts on making rangefinders, gun sights, binoculars, trench periscopes, searchlight mirrors, optical glass and other materials for military use.

By 1916 the British Royal Engineers had 22 Searchlight Sections and an Anti-Aircraft Experimental Section established in England, to accelerate development of range finders and other equipment. By the end of the war the French alone employed 3,000 AA Searchlight personnel.

Telephone, Telegraphy and “Wireless” Radio 1914-1918

Field telephones and switchboards were soon developed and those already in existence were improved. An intricate system of telephone lines involving thousands of miles of wire soon appeared on the war’s combat fields. Pole lines with many cross arms and circuits came into being in the rear of the opposing armies and buried cables and wires were laid in the elaborate trench systems. After the introduction of the Fullerphone in 1915, a portable Morse telegraphy system that utilized the telephone wiring synchronously, overhearing of the messages was eliminated.

These vulnerable intricacies led to the development of the “wireless” radio systems. Radio engineers soon developed smaller and more portable sets powered by storage batteries and using low, inconspicuous aerials.

Because radio signals were open messages that could be heard by all, the combatants developed extensive and complicated codes as necessary adjuncts to military signaling. It was the unfamiliar technical usage of these messaging systems that was responsible for the major breakdowns and code “breakings” that occurred.

Listening devices, using directional horns to detect and locate enemy aircraft, were also invented and used with limited success.

In The End Was The Beginning

The radio, telephone, automobile, airplane, wireless communications and many other inventions developed rapidly during and more so after WW1. They quickly became reliable and efficient mechanisms used for communications in this time period in history.


World War I Communications and Surveillance Pictures