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Ground Signalling Panels - Facsimiles


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#1 MikeMeech

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Posted 14 May 2013 - 11:47 AM

Hi All

At present I am trying to convince a Museum to make some copies of WW1 Ground Signalling panels for use with the public during the 2014-18 anniversary. For this I am trying to do some as accurate as possible drawings of the devices. The problem of course is that there is limited material available, so they will probably not be 'exact' copies but will show approximately what they were like and how they operated.
The first is the 'Shutter Panel Signalling', I have not found any photos or drawings of the British one used. I have a drawing and photos of a larger French device and the same for the small Shutter panel used by the British which fitted to the end of a rifle. From these and descriptions of the British Panel (introduced in 1916, 6ft X 2ft 6in with 6-8 flaps, White with black or Green background. I have done a drawing of a panel of that size with 6 Flaps, each 2ft X 11ins fully open making a white area for signalling of 5ft 6ins X 2ft on a dark background of 6ft X 2ft 6ins.

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The second is the Popham T Panel, this replaced the Shutter Panel during 1918. This was discussed on the Forum some years ago. There appears (so far) only two photos of this device, that shows the same panel being used by American Troops, as yet there appear to be no photos of the British using them. However, the available photos do not appear to match, totally, the drawings (not to scale) of the panel that appear in the operating instructions of the period. Working on the information available I have come up with a panel 10ft X 12ft 6ins. The white 'T' is 7 ft horizontal by 8 ft vertical, the cloth being 1 ft wide. The 'numbered' arms that form the actual code when uncovered are smaller (1 to 5) at 1ft X 2ft 6ins, while the lower horizontal arms (6 to 9) are 1ft X 3ft. A difference in size can be seen on both the photos and drawings. The flaps that cover them would have to be slightly bigger to cover the white areas and be secured by buttons both in the open and closed position.

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We should remember that many of these panels would have been 'locally' produced and there may have been some variation in detail. However, if anyone has any more information on the 'overall size' of these panels (There are some documents detailling the peg attachments and size of stencilled numbers on the T Panel)I would be most interested to hear from you. Any other comments are also welcome.
The Popham 'T' Panel was replaced with another 'T' panel during the inter-war period, for that I have the measurements as they are in an AP, but the Popham and Shutter Panel details have not yet turned up, despite the documents I have gone through in TNA.
Thanks
Mike

#2 Ha Go T95

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 06:15 AM

Hi Mike,
One of the “Trench” archaeology programs produced in recent years, excavated the remains of a British signalling shutter. It was found in a forward observer’s position. I cannot remember why but they were absolutely sure that it was British.

The show may have been one of the “Finding the Fallen” series, unfortunately I do not have a copy of it. It was not a Time Team episode.

If you can locate the program you may even be able to locate the device.

The National Army Museum may be able to help you. They have provided assistance to a number of film companies producing this type of program, and they may have a copy of the film. They may even be in possession of the device.

Regards
Ross T

#3 MikeMeech

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 06:41 AM

Hi Ross

Thanks for that. I have tried e-mails to a couple of battlefield archaeologists, with no-reply. Also I have contacted museums, including the NAM, usually I end up sending them information on the subject. I suspect the TV programme was not on Freeview otherwise I would probably have seen it, but I will look out for it. I have been working on Contact Patrol related equipment and procedures for some years now and I am trying to get the importance of it the problems associated with the task, especially communications, over to a larger audience. The proposal that I have put to a museum over these reconstructions is one of the methods to do this.

Mike

#4 Ha Go T95

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 10:41 AM

Mike,
This is the small shutter, but it is not fixed to a rifle.
Regards
Ross

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#5 MikeMeech

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 12:32 PM

Hi Ross

This is not, of course, the type used for signalling to aeroplanes. The 'rifle type' that was on display at the IWM was red/white on the signal side and camouflaged on the back and was made of 'canvas' and rolled up and put in a container that could be carried by the soldier. There are pictures of this on the IWM site. The Shutter Panel I have drawn is a very much larger version of that. A drawing of the 'rifle' type is below.

Mike

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#6 MikeMeech

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 04:23 PM

Hi

Further to the previous post on the small shutter that was attached to a rifle. In a survey undertaken by GHQ at the end of 1917, this related to comments and ideas on Contact Patrol equipment used by ground troops, there were four reports relating to using this device to signal to the Contact aeroplane to indicate the location of troops on the front line. However, it was considered, by rather more people, to be "...more bulky and no more easy to see than Watson fans." Although, as yet, I have found no photos or drawings of the Watson Fan I believe it to be around 18 inches in diameter. A 'smaller' fan of 12 inches in diameter was suggested in TNA documents so the Watson must have been bigger than that.

Mike

#7 bigjohn

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 04:38 PM

The signalling panel that was found on the dig, I think was found around Ypres IIRC.
John

#8 MikeMeech

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 05:21 PM

Hi John

Thanks for that info.

Mike

#9 Druid_Ian

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Posted 15 May 2013 - 09:53 PM

There is some more information on the Signal panel in SS135 The Division in Attack. I have a PDF copy which can be read on my Scribd Achive here http://www.scribd.co...ision-in-Attack

#10 MikeMeech

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Posted 16 May 2013 - 07:42 AM

Hi

Yes, SS 135 Appendix'B' is one of the documents I have used for the reconstruction project. However, it does not contain the measurements. I have also looked through the files in TNA relating to the Popham 'T' Panel and although there are documents relating to the materials used on prototype panels, problems on speed of sending and 'weights' for the flaps (buttons used) and the problems of '0' they do not include measurements either. There should be a file somewhere with this detail but I have yet to find it. No files have come up on the British Shutter Signal Panel details either. So the drawings are my best guess so far, if anyone has detailed drawings of these devices or more photos of the British using them I would be very interested.

Mike

#11 MikeMeech

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Posted 17 May 2013 - 09:53 AM

Hi all

The problem of '0' was solved in part with the Popham Panel by using the display of all the number flaps 123456789, although there was also suggested (Third Army, 31/8/18 document) the use of inverted 'V' white arms at the bottom of the Panel to indicate '0'.
The Popham, and other panels, were not used by themselves there would also be the formation symbol and letters visible. The battalion half circle ground sheet ceased to be used later in 1918, with the Popham Panel with the ID letters indicating a battalion (these letters would be positioned above, below or to the side of the panel to indicate a particular battalion of a Brigade). The Brigade three quarter circle remained in use with the ID letters by it.
For interest I have attached a page from AP 1632 - RAF Signal Manual Part V, Ground Signal Codes (Provisional), 1940 reprint from 1938 original, this shows the replacement 'T' Panel used in the inter-war period, this sometimes gets confused with the Popham 'T' Panel of WW1.

Mike

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#12 MikeMeech

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 08:59 AM

Hi

Further to previous posts. In the lead up to the introduction of the revised SS 135 (issued in November), including the Appendix 'B' there were a lot of ideas coming from different sources. From 15th Wing, RAF, came a 'cut & paste' April 1918 edition of Appendix 'B' including the idea of getting rid of the need to take the Brigade 3/4 circle forward. This was done by adding material to the Popham Panel, as seen in the attachment.

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This method of indicating a 'Brigade' actually dates back to April 1917 with a different signal panel the 'Pelly Panel', this was rejected in favour of the Popham during the trials of late 1917 early 1918.

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For interest the 'Committee' involved in 15th Wing producing this draft update were:
Lt. Col. J.A. Chamier, DSO, Commanding 15th Wing RAF.
Maj. C.J. Mackay, MC, Commanding 59 Sqn. RAF.
Maj. F.le.H. Harvey, MC, RA attached 15th Wing RAF.
Also Maj. Pirie, MC, commanding 6 Sqn. RAF, was co-opted to write the Cavalry Appendix.

Mike

#13 MikeMeech

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 09:46 AM

Hi

The signs that distinguished HQs appear to have been 12 feet in diameter, although during 1918 these may have been reduced to 6 feet in diameter. Certainly the post war standard was 6 feet in diameter, as laid down on page 11-12 of AP 1176 - 'Employment of of Army Co-operation Squadrons' of 1926. From TNA there is a home defence letter that has drawings of these signs:

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Interestingly the full circle of the Divisional HQ tends not to appear on documents relating to the Western Front, indeed SS 191 - 'Intercommunication in the Field' of November 1917 does not have the full circle in. It does have the sign for the Divisional Report Centre, which is a 'X' with a single strip underneath. The 'X' is made up of two 15 ft x 3 ft strips with a strip the same size underneath it. The Corps Report centre had two strips beneath the 'X'. Post war in the 1926 document the full circle for the Division has returned.

Mike

#14 MikeMeech

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 04:14 PM

Hi

Although the Popham 'T' Panel (also known as 'Panel Mark III) was designed to be used by the Infantry it was also issued to Tank and Cavalry HQs in 1918. The use of the Popham Panel by the Artillery was also laid down in the 1920 edition of SS 131, some use may have been made of it in late 1918 but have yet to confirm that.

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I should also mention that during 1916 thare was a larger Shutter Signalling panel in use as well, this was 9 ft X 4 ft, otherwise similar to the one I have drawn, this is nearer in size to the French Window Shutter Panel. I believe this ceased to be issued from February 1917, as a TNA document 'Notes to conference at HQRFC, 12 February 1917' states:

"No large panels will be supplied in future, but there will shortly be a considerable quantity of small signalling panels available for issue to the different units."

So I am presuming 'small' means 6 ft X 2 1/2 ft, as drawn.

Mike

#15 MikeMeech

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 08:48 AM

Hi

The 'signal apparatus' in use in June 1918 can be found in the TNA files, a letter from GHQ to the War Office gives a description of these. Part of which is below, this includes the specialist cavalry equipment.

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Note the Cavalry Corps Report Centre marking giving measurements of 11 ft 3 ins for external diameter, 7 ft 7 ins for internal diameter and 3 ft 10 ins for each side of the triangular index. This device appears on in a Sept. 1915 document; 'Instructions for Communication between Aeroplanes and Cavalry', in this the measurements are given as an inside diameter of 8 ft, outside diameter as 10 ft and the triangular index sides as 4 ft each. It should be remembered that changes (even minor ones) continued throughout the war.

Mike

#16 MikeMeech

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 10:09 AM

Hi

The Tank Brigade and Battalion HQs also had their own signs, an example for the 1st Tank Brigade, in late 1918 (TNA doc), is below:

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Three 'white strips' are used with letters for individual Battalion HQs. Tanks of course had the 'white/red/white identifier with individual numbers to ID a particular tank from the air in late 1918.
Again as with Infantry and Cavalry formations a combination of 'symbol' and letter/s is used for ID purposes.

Mike

#17 MikeMeech

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 09:01 AM

Hi

The British were not the only Army using 'signs' to indicate HQ locations or signalling and where they worked with other Armies the RFC/RAF would have to know about their systems. Because of this there is quite a lot of documentation in the British National Archives giving details on other systems, this includes Italy. To indicate their HQs the Italians used the following:

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the sides of these white (or red on snow) cloths were 3 metres, each of the commands would have three strips of fabric 5 X 1 metres, which could be set out to form 11 conventional signals to send to aircraft. The Cavalry also had a set HQ indicaters made out of strips, as below:

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All these were in use during 1918.

Mike

#18 MikeMeech

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 01:23 PM

Hi

Moving on to the French (we should remember that the British based their instructions for Contact Patrols at the start of the Somme in 1916 partly on the French instructions and experience during Verdun), we are lucky in some respects as the US Army used a lot of French procedures when they entered WW1 mainly due to the bulk of their army being in the French sector of the line. This meant that they translated a lot of French documents to use on operations with their own army. One of these was the December 1917 edition of 'Instruction sur La Liaison pour les Troupes de Toutes Armee' translated as 'Liaison for All Arms', this contained the ID panels for unit HQs as seen below:

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It appears from some US photos that at least some of the HQ identifier panels may have been reduced in size later in the war. Again we should remember that changes were being made throughout the war with equipment and procedures due to experience on the battlefield, that is why revised editions of documents are introduced.

Another translated document 'Aerial Observation in Liaison with Artillery' contained a description of the French 'Window Shutter Panel' (Panneau a persienne), this was generally larger than the British Panel, 2.80 m X 1.50 m, and did not have any backing cloth. So when it was not showing 'white' it showed 'khaki' cloth with the bare ground inbetween. The drawing is below:

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I hope that is of interest.

Mike

#19 MikeMeech

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 02:10 PM

Hi

The Germans also had panels, procedures etc. as all the nations had similar problems to solve. Again the British National Archives have copies of translated captured documents that means we can follow at least some of their development. One document translated as 'Communication between Infantry and Aeroplanes or Captive Balloons' dated 1st January 1917, so this would have incorporated the german 'lessons learned' during Verdun and the Somme, was translated and issued by the British as S.S. 563 by 25th May 1917. It contains an Appendix of the signals used at that time:

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There were later changes to the signal cloth signals. However, the Regimental and Battalion HQ panels appear to have remained the same. Judging by a photo in Alex Imrie's book 'Pictorial History of the German Air Service', page 145, these panels were 'square' with sides the same length as, presumably, the large 'signal cloths' which are given in the translated document as 8 ft 2 ins, so the nearest metric equivalent to that. For the signal messages they are actually similar in method to the Italians.

Mike

#20 MikeMeech

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Posted 20 May 2013 - 04:55 PM

Hi

For those that wish to compare the German signal codes made out of cloth strips and the Italian codes out of similar, here is a translation of an Italian document in use in 1918:

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Mike

#21 MikeMeech

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Posted 21 May 2013 - 08:33 AM

Hi

As mentioned the Germans did change their 'cloth signals' slightly. This was found again in captured documents, the one below dated, as captured, on 31st July 1917:

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Mike

#22 MikeMeech

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Posted 21 May 2013 - 09:51 AM

Hi

The German Army, like the other nations in WW1, appear to have experimented with different systems. A captured 3rd Bavarian Infantry Division document dated 2.6.17, contained the following:

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This system also used a numeral code system (eg. similar in principle to the Popham and pelly systems), examples being; '4' - 'Our own artillery is short.', '41' - 'Hostile attack in progress here.', '213' - 'Our attack succeeded.', '325' - 'Deployment is completed.', '453' - 'We require ammunition.'. This system appears to have given rather more signal options than using the cloth signal strips.

Mike

#23 MikeMeech

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Posted 21 May 2013 - 03:33 PM

Hi

The British also tried out a 'number' system. In a letter to GHQ from the Third Army (dated 19th November 1917) they mention that they had made and tried out:

"Large sheets of black calico 8 feet by 5 feet with a numeral in white..."

These were made with figures from 0 to 9 so with these 10 sheets they could lay out 100 different figures. The figures would represent code messages (like the Popham system), for use by the battalion HQ. It was considered that there would be no danger of the aeroplane observer missing an important letter as in the case of the shutter panel or lamp. A strip of white cloth would have to be placed across the top of the figures to avoid mistakes such as 6 for 9. The sheets were considered "very light and portable" by the Third Army. In the letter they also mention they had also tried the use of white calico letters, 3 ft wide and 15 to 20 feet in size, again forming a code message (similar in some ways to the artillery ground letters).

These code letters were tried out in trials at the end of the year with the other signalling ideas. It was stated that it was thought that they "...are too heavy and bulky to be carried by the Infantry." so a bit of a difference of opinion with the Third Army.

The Popham Panel was the eventual system chosen. The other sysems in the trials were the 'Pelly' and 'present pattern Morse signalling panel (mentioned earlier). Also the well known Lucas Lamp and straight and semi-circular strips, which are self explanatory. There was also the "MORSE" set out panel, the "JAMES" Panel and the "BATTYE" Semaphore, as yet no detailed information has turned up on these, does anyone know of more information on those three systems?

Mike

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#24 MikeMeech

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 04:42 PM

Hi

In a translation of the 'Joffre Memorandum' (Instructions on liaison with the Infantry by aeroplanes), dated 17.4.16, page 7, found in TNA, includes a wooden lath device to stretch the 3 metre diameter divisional signs on, see below:

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Obviously this is quite a cumbersome device for Infantry to carry forward and it disappears in later documents, it was presumably found that pinning the cloth signals direct to the ground was just as effective. Indeed documents on these signal methods for all the WW1 combatants are always seeking to make the equipment lighter and easier to carry forward.

Mike

#25 MikeMeech

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 02:14 PM

Hi

During WW1 the problems of communicating with aeroplanes from the 'Front Line', whether with 'signalling devices' from HQs or 'advancing troops' to indicate their location, was considered quite important. Indeed in the British files nearly 'everyone' has their own ideas on it and judging work I have undertaken on other nations, Germany, France (also USA) and Italy included, they also regarded it with some importance and concern (along with a fair few other problems). So does anyone have any more information on the devices I have mentioned, know of any existing examples at all?
Also does anyone know any information on what the Russian Army and Austro-Hungarian Army (presumably something similar to the Germans) used?
In my research I have found there is a bit of 'mis-understanding' over equipment and procedures that took place in WW1, also a fair lack of knowledge in museums (after contacting a fair few I have ended up sending them information). This is a much broader subject than just the 'signalling panels' but I am trying to get a greater appreciation of the subject to a wider audience on what had to be developed, in WW1, to help solve problems on the battlefield and integrate a new technology (aeroplanes) into battle.
Has anyone any comments on this thread or on this subject generally?

Mike