Article

Communications, French Revolution to Present

Jonathan Reed Winkler

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0034
Communications, French Revolution to Present

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Over the past two centuries, communications has become a critical element of military affairs. Without an understanding of how information could, did, or did not move at every level from the technical/tactical to the strategic, it is impossible to evaluate what was possible and not possible for armed forces to do in war and peace. Despite this, the subject has received comparatively less attention from historians than other subjects until very recently. Historians have approached the subject by country, military service, level (tactical through strategic), time period, or any combination of these. Until the mid-19th century and the dawn of the electrical age, military communications worked largely as they had for millennia. Information moved as fast as a horse could ride, a pigeon could fly, a ship could sail, sound could travel, and the eye could perceive. The electrical telegraph added a new dimension to this at the strategic and operational levels, as seen in the Crimean War, US Civil War, and the Wars of German Unification, but the older methods of signaling, such as couriers or flags, remained important. To this was added wireless by the early 20th century, its importance made manifest during World War I. A third phase, that of electronic communications (based on vacuum tubes and then transistors), emerged from the 1920s to 1940s. This laid the foundations for the computer-based military communications utilized today. The subject is a complex one for historians because of the need to understand the technical details of the different technologies, the ways in which these technologies solved certain military problems (and created others), and the organization structures necessary to handle the flow of information. At the same time, the topic has broadened to include consideration of developments in detection, navigation, weapons control (artillery spotting, missile and bomb guidance), attempts to intercept others’ communications (signals or electronic intelligence), disrupt others’ communications (electronic warfare), and enhance the ability to command and control military forces at great distances. Though historians have recognized the importance of the subject, there has been remarkably little written in English about military communications in the non-Western world (which we might describe as Latin America, Africa, and Asia). Though some of the descriptions of various texts are brief (a consequence of an eponymous title or the great complexity of the subject), those interested in the topic will find this to be the most comprehensive guide to the literature available in English. There remains much to be explored in the field of military communications, the importance of which grows more every year.

Article.  8299 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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