Book Review: Missed Signals on the Western Front: How the Slow Adoption of Wireless Restricted British Strategy and Operations in World War I


by Mike Bullock & Laurence A. Lyons

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. Pp. viii, 228. Illus., appends., notes, biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 0786449373

In what is the first book on British signals during the Great War since 1922, the authors argue convincingly that the British Army seriously mismanaged its use of wireless signaling during the conflict, with significant deleterious effects on its performance in the field. 

Opening with an overview of the early history of wireless and a short look at signal technologies on the eve of the war, the authors then examine developments in military communications during the first two years of the conflict.  This sets the background for the meat of their case, that in 1915 the Royal Flying Corps developed a reasonably portable wireless telegraphy system that could easily have been in the hands of the troops by 1916, in time to influence the entire course of the war.   In a series of short chapters they then describe the actual use of signals on the Somme in 1916, at Passchendaele and Cambrai in 1917, and during the “Hundred Days” offensive that ended the war in 1918, and contrast these events with counter-factuals in which wireless telegraphy is used to suggest its possible influence on the operations. 

While the authors, respectively a member of the Centre for First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham, England, and an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at the University of West Florida and the University of South Alabama, may be stating their case a little strongly, and the discussion occasionally becomes rather technical, this is an essential read for anyone interested in World War I, communications, or the problem of identifying and adopting new technologies in wartime.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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