Notes on Communications - 2nd Canadian Division - 1 April to 15 May 1917

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

A.D. Signals,

Canadian Corps.

Herewith notes on communication in 2nd Canadian Divisional area from April 1st to May 15th, 1917.


Before Zero forward communication was established by means of buried cable to Zivy Cave, where Central station for companies was kept, working Fullerphones back and runners forward. Cable was buried 6 feet until it reached trench mortar range where it was buried 7 feet.

As all artillery O.P's were in rear area, only the one Fullerphone line out of the 25 pair bury was in use during preliminary bombardment. The other pairs were taken up on "Y" day.

Buried laterals were very hurriedly installed a few days prior to Zero. These were not tested through until "Y" day. This work was entirely wasted. It is useless to rush such work through at the last moment. It was not possible for the 4th Brigade to secure direct laterals to flank brigades in time for the attack. In any event, if a buried system remains intact throughout the weeks of preliminary bombardment and practice barrages, it runs a good chance of holding throughout the attack itself.

Although twenty-five pairs were buried to Zivy Cave, only ten pairs were run forward in the tunnels to Phillip Crater. This caused a great deal of trouble as there were twice as many artillery pairs required forward, and many cases occurred where one group would disconnect another's wires and put their own on.

The Lines laid in Tunnels were carried forward before Zero to the foremost jumping off trench. From this point a sap was run forward to Phillip Crater, just outside the enemy's front line wire. The sap had about 20 feet head cover. The advantage of this sap cannot be overstated and in all future offensive operations a similar sap is recommended. It gave a safe means of communication to a point beyond the enemy's barrage. From this point single lines were run forward, one D5, one D3, and one D1. D3 is recommended for long lines, D5 for short ones.

Linemen, going forward to establish stations, should take signal flags with them to mark stations. Runners experienced great difficulty in locating new headquarters and generally ran back to our old lines.

Every effort should be made to carry forward one buried cable system per Division to some definite objective. Efforts were divided on two systems and labour and material were wasted. The objective should have been the O.P's on Eastern side of Vimy Ridge. For weeks no attempt was made to bury past Cramer House, with the result that O.P's were very frequently out of touch with Batteries at critical times.

Single D5 lines from Brigade to Battalions proved very satisfactory for about two weeks after the attack. When definite barrage lines in rear areas were established by enemy, laddered lines were found very useful.

Single D1 lines were used from Battalion Headquarters to Companies, but communication was uncertain and runners were largely depended upon.

Pigeons were not used. They were always kept by Battalions but never required.

Wireless was not used.

Visual was not used during the attack as telephone communication was maintained. Afterwards a visual station was maintained on Eastern side of Vimy Ridge but it has never been used except for practice messages. Smoke and mist during an action in dry weather made visual impossible.

Power Buzzers were taken over in the attack but the Amplifiers were placed too close to buried cables and all signals were completely jammed. Attempts were made to use Power Buzzers from the Quarries and from Arlieux loop at distances of 2,000 to 2,500 yards, but all attempts were unsuccessful. This was probably due to dry soil and continued dry weather.

Aeroplane contact work was not attempted.

Lieut. C.E.
O.C. Sigs, CZD.



Brigade Headquarters, for offensive, were established at PANESLEY Trench and connected by buried cable with Divisional Report Centre at AUX RIETZ, with Brigades on either side and with Battalions in MILL ST. (24th and 26th) in SAPPER's ROAD (22nd). The 25th Battalion established its Headquarters later in VOLKER HOUSE.


The Brigade was allowed a period of training of 10 days at MAISNIL BOUCHE, where practice trenches had been laid out and communications were planned and frequently practiced by Signal personnel, alone, and in conjunction with whole Brigade.


The buried cable to PAYNESLEY was continued through LICHFIELD TUNNEL and racked up at the exit leading into NO MAN'S LAND. A wireless station was established in LICHFIELD TUNNEL and an Amplifier for Power Buzzer messages located there also.


At Zero hour, artillery and infantry linemen left LICHFIELD TUNNEL and carried their lines across NO MAN'S LAND just in rear of assaulting troops.

Infantry signallers carried the following:
i. Telephones and wire.
ii. Flags and flappers.
iii. French lamps.
iv. Power buzzers.
v. Pigeons.

The Buried cable was laid across NO MAN'S LAND and along VOLKER TUNNEL as soon as the assaulting troops had cleared the enemy from the RED OBJECTIVE.


Telephone communication was almost entirely used as the comparatively light German shelling left the liens in working order most of the time.

Visual signalling was employed to good advantage immediately after objectives had been reached, for communication between companies and Battalion Headquarters.

Power Buzzers were not found to be of any service because of the interference in the amplifier of the incessant telephone communication from front to Brigade Headquarters.

Pigeons were used but little as the other means of communication appeared to be adequate.

Lieut. C.E.
O.C. Sigs, CZE.


Most of the preparations for communication for this attack consisted of installing and perfecting the Buried Cable System. This was run right to the front line and in the case of that used by this Brigade was taken half way across No Man's Land by means of a mine gallery. I had all linesmen of the section become familiar with the cable ditch and the test boxes in our area as they were completed. Instructions were issued to Battalion Signal officers to give their men plenty of practice in Visual Signalling and my men were also brushed up in this work.

As we were to use the Power Buzzer during the operations a demonstration of this means of communication was arranged with the Divisional Wireless Officer, which was attended by Battalion Signal Officers and a few men from each of their sections. A few hours practice was had with these instruments and they worked very well under favorable circumstances, but it may be stated here that they were never any use to us in action. A Power Buzzer was taken forward by the 28th Battalion and they attempted to send a message at about 1800 yards range, to the amplifier at Zivy Cave, but no signals were received. This was partly due to all the earth return lines that had been run in the captured area by that time.

I had arranged with the Battalions to provide me with 2 extra runners each, but these men were to "go over" with their Battalion Headquarters and then make their way back to Brigade Headquarters, so that the route to each Battalion H.Q. would be known. This was done successfully by each pair of runners.

The Brigade was to have H.Q. in Zivy Cave for the commencement of the attack, along with the 4th Brigade, and to move forward to a suitable position near Les-Tilleuls when Battalions reported capture of all objectives. Our units were not to move forward until 4th Brigade had captured the Red Objective.

On the night 7/8th April I went forward with a few men to Zivy Cave and installed our Exchange, tested our lines, and made all ready for the operations to take place at dawn 9th April.

The 29th, 28th and 31st Battalions were to attack from the Red Objective with 27th Battalion in support, Battalion H.Q. going forward with the last wave of their own troops. The 27th Battalion to go through from the Green Line, capture the guns, dig themselves in and hold, and push out patrols to Farbus village. This, roughly was the scheme of our attack and was eventually carried out in every detail without a hitch.

It was my intention to get two earth return lines over to Les Tilleuls corner by men who would go over with the 27th Battalion last wave, these lines to commence from the end of the buried cable in Philips Crater. I had 2 pairs to this point tested, tagged and ready jointed to two small drums of cable for the linesmen to start off as soon as our 27th Battalion men should be seen passing. However, before our Battalions reached this point, a tank broke down just in front of the shaft entrance to Philips Crater, drawing enemy fire to such an extent that all hope of getting lines out from there had to be abandoned for the time being.

There was an exit from the gallery to our old front line and I at once decided to take our cables out from there. I then realized that I had made the mistake of not foreseeing this trouble, for I had not selected our pairs at the foot of the exit as I should have done and some time was lost in picking them out. In the meantime I got men out on the parapet of our old front trench and they at once picked up the 28th Battalion by visual, using small flags at Les Tilleuls. Several messages were received by this means reporting the progress of our troops, and although the men were very much exposed and under fairly heavy shell fire, they worked well and quickly. It was at this time that the 28th Battalion reported they were calling us on the Power Buzzer, but we were unable to get anything from them. This visual station was maintained for about one-half hour when two lines were got across, one to 28th Battalion, and one to 31st Battalion, who had taken up H.Q. in a dugout in Thelus. An extension was also run from the 28th line to the 29th Battalion H.Q. which was in Les Tilleuls Cave, about 100 yards north of the cross roads.

It was decided to have Brigade Advanced H.Q. in Les Tilleuls Cave and so I took 2 sections of French Exchange and 2 operators, and 2 more linesmen, and went forward, setting up an office at this place. We got a line through to the 27th Battalion who had a H.Q. in the Green Line, nearly 2000 yards forward, about 2 p.m., their signallers meeting our men about half way. We had little or no trouble with our lines during the night, but next day, the 10th, the line to 27th Battalion was continually broken during enemy counter attacks. We were relived on the night 10th/11th by 1st, and 4th Brigades, moving back to Mont St. Eloy.

During the operations I found that our Battalion signallers had made much use of visual signalling from companies and outposts to Battalion H.Q. The small rifle-flapper was used a good deal by day, and the lamp by night. One Battalion who had one of the new Lucas lamps sent it forward to a Company and had great success with it both by day and night.

Pigeons cannot be said to have been a failure, as they were used very little, but 2 reports were sent in by pigeon message from a 2th Battalion outpost, which at least saved runners.

Enemy shelling, on the whole, was really very light and this enabled us to maintain our lines and saved many runners particularly between Brigade and Battalions.

During our subsequent trips in the line communication consisted of earth return lines laid on the ground. Visual signalling was provided for by establishing a station on the Ridge and notifying all Battalions of it's location, but beyond testing through, we never used this as a means of communication. I find that our Staff and Battalion Commanders have come to depend so much on the telephone that they are at a loss without it, and really don't consider they are in communication unless they can talk to one another.

Fullerphones have been extensively used since our front line has been advanced from the Ridge, but they are still somewhat "beyond" Company signallers, and in some cases Battalion signallers. One thing I have discovered and now know to be a fact, is that nearly one-half of all trouble with Fullerphones is really line trouble. D3 signals will get through on a line which no Fuller can work over. I shall make a special effort of training with Fullerphones when the Division is in rest.

Buried cable has at last been started in the area, but it is too bad it was not commenced a month ago. Hostile artillery has seldom been too heavy to stop working parties at night, whereas the length of ground lines we have had to maintain has made the work of our linesmen colossal.

I have, whenever possible, run metallic lines, but it must be borne in mind that they are nearly twice the trouble to maintain and a good deal more difficult to run out. The D twin cable, I find, is strongly objected to by all linesmen, both of our own section and Battalion Signal sections. They claim it takes much longer to joint than "Twisted D5". This I can readily believe.

In the one or two cases where we have used Laddered lines we have had little or no benefit from them. It seems that enemy shelling of our back country usually takes the form of a barrage, nowadays, and simply cuts all lines in its path. We have had no more difficulty in maintaining two or three single lines laid widely apart and they give much better signals and are infinitely better speaking circuits.

A certain amount of German buried cable has been discovered in the area and made use of. It appears to be a good seven feet in depth and in good condition. The Corps Signals should take these routes into consideration when planning new buried routes.

In summing up I should say that, in my opinion, nothing new in Brigade communications work has developed since the Somme operations, with the exception that this country lends itself better to visual signalling and, therefore, this means of communication was more used. Buried cable is of the utmost importance and for the rest, resolute linemen, and good runners, I have found will always carry one through.

Lieut. C.E.
O.C. Sigs, CZF.

The 13th (British) Brigade was attached to this Division, going over the 5th Brigade on the left, but no report on their communications is available.


Prior to the offensive Divisional Headquarters was at Chateau D'Acq. Air lines ran forward from here to Mont St. Eloy and Berthonval Wood. From these points forward, the lines ran through the buried system to Brigades at Aux Rietz and Territorial.

On April 8th, Divisional Report Centre opened in Aux Rietz Cave. All lines had to be led down to the cave from "A" box, and the hole which the Engineers were putting through for this purpose was not opened until the morning of the 7th, so that no work could be started on the Signal Office before this time. This, of course, caused a lot of confusion at the last minute.

On the afternoon of the 8th, the Brigades moved into their forward positions; the 5th and 13th to Paynesley and the 4th and 6th to Zivy Cave. The 5th and 13th ran a joint exchange and had one Fullerphone working to Divisional Headquarters. The 4th and 6th ran separate offices but had their Fullers on a common line to Division.

The office at Chateau D'Acq was kept open for rear Divisional Headquarters. The 6th Division "G" Branch moved into the Chateau on April 8th, and some assistance was obtained from 5th Division Signals to run the office.

We also had a local office at Grand Servins and these three offices could not have been run, in addition to keeping up all the lines, etc., without some such assistance.

Some time between April 7th and noon, April 9th, the buried cable trench in Neuville St. Vaast received a direct hit with a shell which left a hole about 5 feet deep. The cable at this point being buried 7 feet was, however, not touched.

Very little trouble was experienced throughout the operation with Divisional lines. The only trouble with air lines was on April 10th, when 6 bays were blown out of the DZR route. On the same date the Forestry Battalion felled a few trees on the MD route.

When the 4th Brigade moved forward to Les Tilleuls communication was kept up with t hem by means of Twisted D5, laid overland from Philips Crater, a distance of 1 mile. We also had, as an alternative, a D1 line laid by 6th Brigade when they advanced, and worked Fuller over D1 earthed. Very little trouble was experienced with these lines.


At Zero hour a Company of 2nd Canadian Pioneers was at Zivy Cave and one Company in Paynesly tunnel, ready to extend the buried routes as soon as the situation permitted. The party on the left, under Lieut. Farr, extended the route from the end of Litchfield Tunnel across old No Man's Land into Volker Tunnel and up this to Zeischen Stellung. From there it was buried to Cramer Haus, just beyond the Lens-Arras Road. The bury across No Man's Land was completed by noon, April 9th, and was complete to Cramer Haus on the 10th.

The right party, under Lieut. Ritchie, buried forward from Philips Crater to old German support line, completing work about 3:00 p.m., April 9th.

It was our wish only to extend one of the buries, but the Staff insisted on both being carried forward. That on the right was never used, and, as far as I know, there are still 10 pairs lying there that have never been connected to anything.

When the 5th Brigade moved up on April 13th we were able to connect them up to Cramer Haus bury, and this has always been used since.

Owing to all available labour being taken for roads, etc., it was impossible to make any extension to the Cramer Haus bury until May 10th, when it was run forward over the Ridge, and on as far as one of the Battalion Headquarters. If this could have been done immediately after the first show it would have been very much better.


When Division moved into this area on February 15th we had only the one exchange at Mont St. Eloy. However, on February 20th, they moved Divisional Headquarters to Chateau D'Acq, and we opened an office there, keeping on the one at Mont St. Eloy to handle odds and ends leftovers.

On March 8th it was found necessary to open a local office at Grand Servins to handle traffic in back area. This was kept on until 17th April when it was taken over by Army Signals.

On April 5th, chiefly owing to the fact that we could not man it, the Mont St. Eloy office was closed. The Brigade rear office there handled the traffic until it was taken over by 1st Division.

On April 8th Advanced Divisional headquarters Office was opened in Aux Rietz cave, but after the line had been advanced the Staff moved above ground and on April 29th the Signal Office was moved up. On May 3rd, the Headquarters was shelled and we had to move downstairs again, after losing a Corps operator and 2 orderlies. We had to establish a new office, as the one we had before was too wet.

The Staff did not like the cave, so built a new Headquarters in Elbe Trench, just west of Neuville St. Vaast. Orders were issued to move into this at 2:00 p.m., May 13th, and Signal Office was completely fitted up. At 10:00 a.m., May 13th, the place was shelled and the move order was cancelled. Instead, we moved to Portsmouth at 5:00 p.m., May 14th. As the Elbe office had to be dismantled before the Portsmouth one could be set up, we were kept very busy.

The Divisional Rear Headquarters had moved up form Chateau D'Acq to Portsmouth, May 12th, and we closed Chateau D'Acq exchange that evening. When Division moved to Portsmouth the rear people moved back to Chateau D'Acq, which exchange was re-opened the moving of the 14th. We had no more office moves until relieved on June 1st.


Buried Cable.

The two buried cable routes were of the greatest value, giving us sure communication with all Brigades and Battalions. A 30 pair lateral was laid by Corps right across the front, but this was not completed in time to be racked up and tested, and, consequently, was of very little use. One pair, as a lateral between Infantry Brigades, was sorted out after much difficulty, in each direction, but as far as I know, this was the only pair used at any time. It was certainly the only pair used on our front. The labour of thousands of men was wasted on this work.

As regards the extension of buried routes after the attack, I think that all energies should be confined to taking one route forward. As mentioned before, we had to take two, one of which has never been used. This route should be pushed forward as far as possible at once, and should contain about 25 or 30 pairs.

Overland Routes.

These should be run as soon as men can get out after the attack. Immediately after the infantry go over, there is less come-back than after some time has elapsed. The saps which were run out on each Brigade front carried our men beyond the barrage before they started overground, and they did not experience very much trouble after that.

Tanks getting stranded near the lines were the chief cause of breaks, the tanks being heavily shelled. The 6th Brigade ran two earth return lines from the end of the buried cable to their advanced Headquarters, within half an hour of their Battalions going over. With only these two lines they were never out of touch with Division until about 36 hours after Zero, when both lines were out for 7 minutes.

The enemy shelling, on the whole, was so light that this form of communication was the one chiefly used. There is no doubt that telephone lines are the most satisfactory. Although other means may be as good, from a Signal point of view, the Staff are not satisfied with Signals work now unless they can speak to formations both above and under them.

In all cases the lines were laid from cable head forward, instead of sending one party out to work back and meet another party. Only in one instance did a party laying a line go astray.

All lines were first laid as earth return and later made metallic. It is not considered feasible, when the advance is going to any depth, for metallic lines to be laid at first, as the carrying of the wire becomes too big a job.


This was used extensively between Companies and Battalions, and proved of great value. The only place where it was used to any extent further back was between the 28th Battalion at Les Tilleuls and 6th Brigade station at cable head, Philips Crater. Several messages were got through here before wires were laid.

A Divisional visual station was established at a prominent point on the buried cable, to receive messages from any forward station. Although all units were informed of this, only one message was picked up, and that was not intended for this station. It seems advisable to allow Brigades to work out their own visual schemes instead of trying to make a central scheme of it.


These were very little used during the actual attack, as the necessity for them did not arise, other methods of communications holding out.

Power Buzzers.

Did not work at all. Although efforts were made to send messages by them, none were received. This was partly due to the fact that the amplifiers were installed in Signal offices where all the lines came in, and earths were run out in the tunnels containing the main cable routes, so that nothing could be picked up except from these cables. Efforts were made to use them after things quieted down again, but no results were obtained, even then. This division has never had any satisfactory work with Power Buzzers.


Sufficient use was not made of wireless. Although the Corps control station was at our Divisional Headquarters they received practically no message from our Divisional sets. Battalion enciphering officers and Battalion carrying parties did not exist.

Forward sets were established successively at Brigade Headquarters before the attack, Les Tilleuls, Thelus Cave, Gun pits in Goulot Wood, Vimy, and Battalion Headquarters in Machine Gun dugout (27D) but in none of these places were they used to any extent.

In general, nothing new was tried in this offensive except Power Buzzers, and these were not a success.

A. A. Anderson
Comdg. 2nd Canadian Divnl. Signal Company.


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