SIGNAL PLATOON WINS COMMENDATION
SIGNAL PLATOON WINS COMMENDATION
Learning Wireless In A Few Weeks--Sterling Work Of Field Buzzers--With Assaulting Columns--Wires Repaired Under Shell Fire--General Ironside's Commendatory Official Citation.
In the North Russian Expedition the doughboy had to learn to do most anything that was needful. A sergeant, two corporals and four men of the Headquarters Company Signal Platoon actually in four months time mastered the mysteries of wireless telegraphy. This is usually a year's course in any technical school. But these men were forced by necessity to learn how to receive and to send messages in a few weeks' time.
They were trained at first for a few days at Tundra, the wireless station used by the British and French for intercepting messages. Later at Obozerskaya and at Verst 455 they gained experience that made them expert in picking messages out of the air. At one time the writer was shown a message which was intercepted passing from London to Bagdad. It was no uncommon thing for a doughboy to intercept messages from Egypt or Mesopotamia and other parts of the Mediterranean world, from Red Moscow, Socialist Berlin, starving Vienna and from London.
At one period in the spring defensive of the Archangel-Vologda Railroad, this American wireless crew was the sole reliance of the force, as the Obozerskaya station went out of order for a time, and the various points, Onega, Seletskoe and Archangel were kept in communication by this small unit at Verst 455. "H" Company men will recall that out of the blue sky from the east one day came a message from Major Nichols asking if their gallant leader, Phillips, had any show of recovering from the Bolo bullet in his lung. The message sent back was hopeful.
The record of the signal platoon under Lieutenant Anselmi, of Detroit, shows also that several of these signal men rendered great service as telegraphers. One of the pleasant duties of the doughboy buzzer operators one day in spring was to receive and transmit to Major J. Brooks Nichols the message from his royal majesty, King George of Great Britain and Ireland, that for gallantry in action he had been honored with election to the Distinguished Service Order, the D. S. O.
But it is the field telephone men who really made the signal platoon its great reputation. General Ironside's letter of merit is included later in this account. Here let us record in some detail the work of the American signal platoon.
Thirty men maintained nearly five hundred miles of circuit wire that lay on the surface of the ground and was subject in one-third of that space to constant disruption by enemy artillery fire and to constant menace from enemy patrols. The switchboard at Verst 455 was able to give thirty different connections at once at any time of day or night; at 448, ten; and at 445, six. This means a lot of work. The writer knows that the field telephone man is an important, in fact, invaluable adjunct to his forces whether in attack or in defense. For when the attack has been successful and the officer in command wishes to send information quickly to his superior officer asking for supplies of ammunition or for more forces or for artillery support to come up and assist in beating off the enemy counter-attack, the field telephone is indispensable. Hence the doughboy who carries his reels of wire along with the advancing skirmish line shares largely in the credit for doing a job up thoroughly. At the capture of Verst 445 the signal men were able to talk through to Major Nichols at 448 within four minutes of the time the doughboys' cheers of victory had sounded! And within fifteen minutes a line had been extended out to the farthest point where doughboys were digging in. There they were able later to give the artillery commander information of the effect of his shells long before he could get his own signals into place for observation. The British signals were good, but, as the writers well recall, it was especially assuring when the buzzer sounded to have an American doughboy at the other end say he would make the connection or take the message. They never fell down on the job.
General Ironside's commendation is not a bit too strong in its praises of the signal platoon. We are glad to make it a part of the history, and without doubt all the veterans who read these pages will join us in the little glow of pride with which we pass on this official citation of the Commanding General's, which is as follows:
"The Signal Platoon of the 339th Infantry, under Second Lieutenant Anselmi, has performed most excellent work on this front. Besides forming the Signals of the Railway Detachment, the platoon provided much needed reinforcements for other Allied Signal Units, and the readiness with which they have co-operated with the remainder of Allied Signal Service has been of the greatest service throughout.
"Please convey to all ranks of the platoon my appreciation of the services they have rendered."
G. H. Q., 23rd May, 1919.
And our American commander, General Richardson, in transmitting the letter through regimental headquarters said, "Their work adds further to the splendid record made by American Forces in Europe."*****
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