More portable wireless sets were developed, though portable is a relative term. The components of a “knapsack” station could be divided into roughly twenty-pound packages, to be carried by four men. It was claimed that such sets could be reassembled and functioning in fifteen minutes, when and where needed. (1)
In practice, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
One British wireless operator described being ordered to accompany an assault on the German lines, and to establish a wireless post at a designated spot. They were eight in the party: apart from an officer and his batman there were two operators and four men to help carry the “weighty apparatus, the set, accumulators, dry cells, coils of wire, earth mats, ropes, and other details”.(3)
It took them eight hours to reach the position, struggling across a “stricken wilderness,” with successive waves of attacking infantry before and behind them, and lines of casualties and of German POWs moving in the opposite direction. In addition to the wireless equipment, they carried ground sheets, gas masks, iron rations, rifles and fifty rounds of ammunition. Those rifles, however, were without bayonets and were not loaded: “our only means of defence was apparently fists. Why wireless operators were not allowed to load their rifles we never learned.”
As soon as they reached the designated spot, they had to erect their aerial on eighteen-foot masts (“It was an uneasy task erecting this fully exposed to the vicious enemy fire,” he commented afterwards), and begin transmitting officers’ messages and listening for replies. This, at least, they could do in the relative safety of a dugout.(3)
(1) An unidentified 1915 newspaper report quoted in “The Wireless War on Land,” part of the Marconi Heritage site.
(2) The image is from the Royal Canadian Signallers site.
(3) B. Neyland. Memoir (originally published in 1930 in Everyman at War, ed. C. B. Purdom). Available from the diaries section of http://www.firstworldwar.com.
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”