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Battles with critical breakdown of communication

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by Foolish Mortals, Feb 6, 2018.

  1. Foolish Mortals

    Foolish Mortals New Member

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    Hi. I'm interested in learning about battles where communication broke down, and this breakdown or disruption of communication proved important to the result of the battle. Radios were notoriously unreliable in those days, so I imagine there were lots of instances with them breaking at crucial points.

    A famous example that I read about in the book 'A Bridge Too Far' is the British 1st Airborne Division in Operation Market Garden. They landed behind enemy lines, and were tasked with taking the all-important Nijmegan bridge. Unfortunately their American supplied radios weren't tuned to the proper channels, and were rendered worthless. Being unable to communicate with other units (and England) led to the paradropping of supplies right into German hands. Although perhaps Market Garden was doomed from the start, the breakdown in communication made a bad situation even worse, and was a crucial factor in the battle.

    What other examples are there? They don't have to be major battles; small battles can also provide interesting stories.

    This research is for a game I'm making, where you control your forces solely through a radio,
     
  2. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude Patron  

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    I've read that in the Battle of Wake Island, the decision to surrender was largely influenced by the commander of US forces lost communication with much of his command. He thought that their positions were overwhelmed and lost, when actually the commo lines were cut and the Marines were in fact still resisting successfully at the time. There were other issues that complicated the matter as well, but go and dig around and read for yourself about the battle and the effect that lost or poor communication has on a fight.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
  3. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Hmm how will this game work?

    There was a wargame where you had to draw a card to see if the radios were netted in before you could move a unit.

    WW2 era radios were much more fragile than modern micro-chipped devices. Valves could be broken. The analogue sets needed careful tuning and would drift off frequency as the valves heated up. Battery life was limited - especially for man portable sets, and perfromance was only as good as the aerial. A lot depended on net discipline. This did not end with the transistor age.

    You can listen here to a command post exercise recorded in 1980 as we prepared to fight WW3. Tit ends with the regimental signals warrant officer tearing and a strip from all signallers for miserable radio discipline as calls signs 1 and 2 fail to answer as radio silence is cancelled. (You also hear a young Sheldrake under instruction talking to the guns on the gun tannoys).


    How do you plan to incorporate the radio confusion? Will a player be stranded unable to take any action because the signaler on watch at midnight forgot to change frequncies?
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
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  4. Foolish Mortals

    Foolish Mortals New Member

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    This sounds promising. I'll take a look!

    Yeah, old radios sound extremely finicky and error prone. Amazing what radio operators had to put up with.

    My game is going to be a bit higher-level than twisting the knobs on the radio itself. You'll have a physical map, be sending orders to units via your radio, and unlike other strategy games you can't see where your units. You'll have to rely on what they tell you, and figure out what's going on in the battle. You can read or watch my concept of it here.
     
  5. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Another good example of radio failure is in the Normandy battles in 1944. The Allies pinpointed German HQs by their radio traffic and targeted them. Even if the transmitting aerial was a ways away from the HQs, the Aerial was smashed. Therefore, the Germans were reduced in many instances to resorting to using runners which was very slow (and dangerous).
     
  6. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Are you including comm's security in the "radio failure" definition? If so there's a lot of examples.
     
  7. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    You are describing a kind of wargame known as a Kriegspeil. The late (and great ) Paddy Griffiths used to run games of this sort, both at his work at the RMA Sandhurst and in wargame clubs. There is a version of chess played like this. Kriegspiel (chess) - Wikipedia

    This is also the model for command post training exercises in the pre simulator era. The team being exercised was a brigade or battlegroup HQ. With them would deploy higher controllers representing Div HQ and flanking formations and lower controllers representing the units or sub units reporting to the HQ being exercised. HQ would issue orders and the lower controllers would conduct recce's on actual ground and prepare their own orders. (Usually in some country pub) After a recce day all then retired to the training centre. The controllers sat around the big map on the floor while the HQ staff deployed to a mock up HQ. Run the exercise for 24 -36 hours. The enemy appeared and did their thing under er an enemy. The Lowcons reported what they would see etc.

    A long time ago at a university wargame club I recall ref-ighting Austerlitz with the different parts of the battle fought in three different rooms. Napoleon was allowed to visit other rooms . The allies weren't and refused to help each other!

    Back from fond reminiscence. Here are some thoughts about your game.

    #1 Commanders don't just rely on radio or telephone messages. Those that do are "dugout generals" and famously don't win battles. They should go forwards, meet subordinates and see for themselves. One problem with reports from subordinates is that they are not always accurate and influenced by the personality and performance under stress. In Paddy Griffiths' Vietnam themed games he would allow the commander to make a personal helicopter reconnaissance. The player would get in the car and be driven around the block a few times while Paddy told him game master style what he could see.

    #2 . There is a time lag in formation HQ. The watch keepers in the operations cell plot information received from units. But there may be a time lag from that units own subordinate elements. Information from the front line may be well hours out of date and better informed on own units than the enemy. A classic problem from WW1. The planning cell does not fight the moment to moment battle but is planning some time ahead and preparing orders. The intelligence cell maintains information on the enemy. Even basic collaborative game can be interedting a limited
     
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  8. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large Patron  

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    Even today comms are hard to maintain. Atmospherics and terrain play hell with communications, it's a physical characteristics of radio wave propagation, method of modulation, power, antenna height and the relation of the antenna length to the radio wave.
     
  9. Foolish Mortals

    Foolish Mortals New Member

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    Ah, that's interesting. The enemy communication caused them to take damage. Was this because the Allies could hear the messages they were broadcasting, or were they using some sort of radio triangulation?

    You mean the enemy being eavesdrop on what you're saying? Yes, that would be interesting to hear about as well (and could be easily be added to the game if it makes it more interesting).

    Huh, never heard about that version of Chess. Sounds cool interesting. You'd need to maintain a mental model of what you think the enemy is doing. I imagine professional chess players would do well at it since they have very good memory.

    I'll definitely do some reading on these training exercises, as my game will pretty much be an automated version of that (and hopefully more fun).

    That Austerlitz example is funny. 'Allies' is a strong word for 'enemy of my enemies'. I suppose no General wants to take orders from another countries' General.

    #1. For sure. I know that some generals drove around to get status reports, but adding that feature to my game would take far too much effort, (creating an entire 2D or 3D battlefield would be a huge amount of work). Getting unreliable information will be an integral part of the gameplay. Units will often over exaggerate the amount of danger they're in, and panicked units won't give you any useful information. If I have the time I might add limited aerial reconaissance, where it returns you an abstract 'photo\ of one specific area of the map showing what units are in that area.

    #2. That certainly would make planning even more difficult, but large time delays n radio reports would probably be too frustrating and make matches take too long. Some simplification will be necessary to make it still an enjoyable experience.

    I'm not an expert on signals, but I imagine when the radio can't be used, satellite communication would be used instead).
     
  10. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large Patron  

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    Ah not so much. Satellite communications for small portable units with limited transmitter power is problematic due to the bandwidths used, UHF, SHF and EHF/Ka band. These frequencies are highly directional and the first two are easily attenuated by rain or moisture in the air. Additionally, EHF is also easily attenuated by various gasses found in the atmosphere. Because they are highly directional they're limited to LOS, visual horizon and depending on the width of the wave used sometimes even require bore siting to the receiving station. Best case you have a geosynchronous satellite, you know the approximate azimuth where it's located, weather/atmospheric conditions are not such that the signal is so attenuated that it's too weak for the satellite to pick up, or is so degraded as to be unusable. UHF is fairly good at penetrating buildings, trees, vehicles, etc, but the other two are easily blocked by the same. If the satellites position is low enough on the horizon in relation to your position it can easily be masked by terrain features such as hills and mountains, preventing communication. Man portable units are limited in power by the weight of the batteries and antenna size. Vehicle mounted units are better due to higher power output but are still limited by the directionality of their antennas, terrain and atmospherics. If the satellite is not geosynchronous then you only have a small time window to communicate with the satellite while it is overhead and once it passes the horizon you're out of comms until it's next pass. Ever have a cellphone drop a call because you're driving between hills? That's because of the LOS aspect of the UHF frequency. Ever had a satellite TV signal degraded because of rain? That's attenuation. Your satellite TV dish/antenna is fairly large, is precisely pointed at the satellite when installed and has sufficient power to transmit a robust signal and amplify the received signal. Cell phone towers are tall to avoid terrain obstructions and have numerous parabolic antennas hung on them to capture signals coming from all directions. If you're communicating for a headquarters with large, heavy transmitters and receivers, stationary parabolic antennas and ample power in an appropriate location it's reliable. If you're an infantryman in the field, not so much.
    If you were operating in Europe or the US where there are a large number of possible satellites to communicate through you have an easier time. If you're in central African, not so much. It just depends. If you're on a patrol in a valley somewhere, best case is you have a radio/relay position set in at some high point where you have LOS past your @2 mile horizon and reasonable LOS to your position (waves in the VHF and UHF spectrum while LOS do bounce and scatter off obstacles, so a receiving station with a good antenna located in close enough proximity can still pick up a weakened signal). The radio relay then retransmits the signal to the receiving station either by VHF/UHF or microwave (SHF), or for really long communications can use HF gear and skip the signal off the ionosphere.
     
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  11. harolds

    harolds Member

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  12. Terry D

    Terry D Active Member

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    1. For communications failures in naval warfare, take a look at Jutland. There it was a matter not only of communications which failed (though that happened as well), but communications which weren't even used. The standard of reporting was very poor in the RN; critical engagements were fought which the British C in C didn't know about until hours later.

    2. Sometimes the technical failure of communication isn't the only problem. The wording of an order or a communication, and the accuracy of the information conveyed, can be vital. Chickamauga is an example of this. Because he and some of his subordinates were poorly informed about the positions of his own troops General Rosecrans wrote an order which was unneeded to begin with and became potentially dangerous when an aide wrote it out inexpertly. Here the communication failure was symptomatic of a poorly managed staff and a general command breakdown. It's not only what you have to say, but how you say it. It was told of Grant that nobody ever had any doubt about the meaning of any of HIS orders.
     
  13. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Not even that necessarily. For instance from what I've read during the BoB both sides got a fair amount of intel by listening to the radio frequencies of the opposing planes. Just the number of signals being sent would indicate a raid forming up for instance and might give clues to its size and composition. That could que the Chain Holm operators to keep a closer eye on things and helped alert the overall air defenses as well. Then there's the HuffDuff role in the Battle of the Atlantic. One thing often ignored about Bismarck sortie is what happened to all the support ships that were out there.

    Perhaps a more famous example of this is the Charge of the Light Brigade.
     
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  14. Foolish Mortals

    Foolish Mortals New Member

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    @USMCPrice Dang, it does sound like a problem for remote regions with rugged terrain. Where I'm from it's very, very flat, so there'd be no problems from valleys or mountains.

    1. I'll add Jutland to the 'things to research' list.

    2. For sure, wording is very important. The children's game of telephone comes to mind, and it's fun to see what a message transforms into when whispered or transcribed poorly repeatedly

    Interesting. It makes sense that even if you can't interpret these incoming signals, you do at least gain information on the quantity of them. Perhaps the reverse could also be applied; send lots of false signals to keep the enemy guessing, and be unable to decipher which ones are real.

    Ah, yes I read about the Charge of the Light Brigade. Definitely a massive miscommunication, attacking the wrong place. Sometimes blindly following orders doesn't work out.
     
  15. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    On Dec 16th, during the opening day of the Battle of the Bulge, Generals Alan B. Jones (CO 106th ID) and Troy Middleton (CO VIII Corps) had a conversation discussing the precarious position of the 422nd & 423rd IR/106th ID in the Schnee Eifel. The were using the telephone to talk and Jones used coded words to explain his situation to Middleton. Middleton listened and responded "You (Jones) know how things are up there better than I do."

    The phone operators only had a single phoneline themselves to handle the switchboard and about the time Middleton said that sentence, another call came in to the switchboard and the operator disconnected Jones and Middleton to tell the caller to hold on, he'd get back to them when the single line was free. Apparently that brief moment was the the few seconds it took for Middleton to say " but I agree it would be wise to withdraw them." Jones never heard the approval of his request.

    When Jones put down the phone, he turned to his staff and said, " Well, that's it. Middleton says we should leave them in." His misunderstanding was further punctuated by a late arriving order issued earlier in the day that a line not far behind the existing front (along Skyline Boulevard) was to be held "at all cost."

    Back at Bastogne, Middleton said to his staff, " I just talked to Jones. I told them to pull his regiments off the Schnee Eifel."

    This interrupted phone conversation led the two regiments of the 106th ID and various supporting units to remain in place as the Germans executed a double envelopment and subsequently tearing a larger hole along the front of the US 1st Army, south of Losheim.
     
  16. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    RDF had limited success in targeting unless in a long-term static situation where the "target" did not move. The two most famous "successes of RDF" usually cited in Normandy, the bombing attacks on Panzergruppe West headquarters at La Caine and I. SS-Panzerkorps headquarters at Tourville on 10 June were actually the product of ENIGMA intercepts.
     
  17. Foolish Mortals

    Foolish Mortals New Member

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    This is perfect and exactly what I'm looking for! I think the Battle of the Bulge will have lots of other examples of miscommunication.

    Good to know! Of course the Axis didn't know ENIGMA had been cracked, so I'm sure the Allies played it up that it they located those headquarters by other means.
     
  18. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    I heavily paraphrased Charles B MacDonald from A Time for Trumpets (1984). If you need a page citation, I can provide it.

    Are you looking at communication issues affecting only ground forces?

    There were communication issues that directly affected the Battle Off Samar, a running naval engagement between Japanese capital ships and a US landing support task force.
     
  19. machine shop tom

    machine shop tom Member

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    Then there was the non-existent Task Force 34 during the Battle off Samar.

    "The World Wonders."
     
  20. Foolish Mortals

    Foolish Mortals New Member

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    Sure, a page citation would be great!

    Although my game will focus on ground combat, other examples are always welcome.

    Now that sounds interesting! I hadn't heard of this part of the battle. Wikipedia says 'the world wonders' was one of phrases they used to pad messages to make it harder to understand the message, but it was misinterpreted as an insult?
     

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