chapter deals with the German communication troops, the signalers telephone
operators, runners and
evolution of the Communications/Signal troops from the higher command, divisional and Regimental/battalion level
posts: the “Ahrendstationen”
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.
evolution of the Communications/Signal troops
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Kraftwagen-Fernsprech-Bauzüge (Motorized communication maintenace/building
Fernsprech-Bauzüge (Communications maintenace/building units)
Fernsprech-Betriebszüge (Communications operations unit)
Fernsprech-Stations (Communications station)
Blinkerzüge (Morse blinker sections)
(Army Signals School)
(Army Signals Depot)
B) At the Heeresgruppen Level (Army Group level)
5 Heeresgruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilungen (Army Group
C) At the Armee-Oberkommando level (Army level)
47 Fernsprech-Abteilungen (Communications units)
23 Armee-Funker-Abteilungen (Wireless communications
20 Armee-Nachrichten-Parks (Communications depots)
17 Messengerdog Staffeln
D) At Generalkommando level (Army Corps)
E) At the divisional level
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.