Notes on Communications - 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade - Attack on FRESNOY - 3 May 1917

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The following is the text of an original report.[1]


Attack on FRESNOY May 3rd 1917, Ref.WILLERVAL 1.20.000

Means of communication within the Brigade were telephone, Power Buzzer, Wireless, Visual Signalling, Pigeons, and Runners.

Locations of units at ZERO Hour were as follows:

Bde Headquarters. 8.8.c.7.c. FARBUS WOODS.
  "   Report Centre 8.4.d.9.9. East of ARLEUX Loop
3rd Battn on right 8.5.d.6.2
2nd   "   in centre 8.5.c.8.8.
1st    "   on left T.29d.3.8.
4th    "   in support 8.4.d.9.9 1/2.

Telephone lines were laid overland by a selected route from Bde. to Report Centre, also another pair was laid, utilising the German buried cable part of the way. This buried cable was very valuable as it made a fairly safe line through a well straffed area. At Report centre which was an unfinished German Sap near the ARLEUX Loop trench, an exchange was installed and metallic lines were laid to Headquarters of Battalions. Laddered earth-return lines were also laid as an emergency line and the Battns. were furthermore connected laterally.

Previous to ZERO hour which was 3.45 a.m. 3rd May, no telephones were in use in advance of Brigade Headquarters, and would strongly advocate that at least four days before a contemplated attack, all telephones forward of Battalion Headquarters be withdrawn.

There was considerable hostile shelling in the hours preceding ZERO. Being bright moonlight, the enemy could undoubtedly see some of the troops going to their jumping off positions.

This shelling caused a number of breaks in the lines before they came into use at all and one line had to be relaid within 30 minutes after the first was put through. All lines during the night and next day were continually being broken by shell fire, but having practically a triple system, the occasions in which there was no telephone communication to a battalion were few.

No lines were laid forward of battalions until some hours after the objective had been attained, and in fact, no line would have lasted any time under the heavy shelling.

It would appear that in a shelled area, lines laddered at every 30 feet are the only lines that will last more than 5 minutes. One of our laddered lines had eighteen breaks within a short distance, but was still working through.

Power Buzzers were in use by the 3 attacking Battalions with a 2 Valve amplifier at Report Centre to pick up their messages. There was also a Power Buzzer at Report Centre, this place therefore serving as a transmitting station with a further amplifier located at 8.3.d.6.X, in WILLERVAL. This latter was connected by telephone over the German buried cable to Brigade Headquarters.

Although the Power Buzzers and Amplifiers were very little used, they proved to be a most valuable form of communication. The amplifier at WILLERVAL received Signals quite clearly through the operations, from the Battalions forward. Each Power Buzzer worked on a time card and therefore obviated jamming.

There are undoubtedly great possibilities in the apparatus in an attack of this nature.

Wireless Station were located at Willerval and Farbus Wood. Both stations were out of the usual routes and were not used by the Brigade.

The station of Willerval was moved up during the afternoon of the 4th to the Report Centre.

Visual Signalling stations were established at Brigade Headquarters with transmitting station at Report Centre. During the first phases of the attack, and visual signalling forward of Battalions was impossible the smoke was too dense, mingles with brick dust of ARLEAUX and FRESNOY. Lamps however were used with advantage on the evening of the 3rd.

Pigeons were very little used.

Runners were employed extensively and suffered heavy casualties. For the first phases after Zero hour runners were the only means of communication between companies and battalions, and there were long periods during which no runner could go through the barrages.

A Brigade O.P. connected by phone was established well forward and some valuable information was gained and acted upon.

(Siged) H.T. May, Lt.


  1. Library and Archives Canada, RG 9, III, C.5., Volume 4438.