Military field telegraph in Afghanistan

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and of Electricians

London, England
vol. 10, p. 232-253, col. 1


ON THE CONSTRUCTION AND WORKING OF A

MILITARY FIELD TELEGRAPH (BASED UPON

EXPERIENCE GAINED DURING THE CAMPAIGN

IN AFGHANISTAN IN 1878-79-80).

 

By S. P. V. Luke, C.I.E., Member.

 

Before entering upon the general question of a military field telegraph, a short account of the work done in connection with the electric telegraph in Afghanistan during the recent campaigns, from which the experience embodied in this paper has been gained, may prove of interest.

It will be remembered that, on the declaration of war against the Amir of Kabul, our army invaded his country by three different routes, known as the Kandahar, Koorum Valley, and Khyber routes respectively. A field telegraph accompanied the column advancing along each of them, and the total length of telegraph line constructed beyond the frontiers, in connection with the military operations, by the Government Telegraph Department, amounted to very nearly 500 miles.

As, however, my charge was limited to the Khyber line, my remarks are confined to the telegraph constructed from Peshawur to Kabul through the Khyber Pass, a distance of 180 miles.

The war was commenced by the taking of Ali Musjid on the 21st November, 1878; but, owing to the unsettled state of the country and the hostility of the Afreedi tribes, it was not until the 26th December that permission was given to commence to lay the telegraph. Three days after, an office was opened at Ali Musjid, but it was an unfortunate start, for the very next night the line was totally destroyed by the Afreedis for 5 miles, and the wire carried off. This caused further delay until better arrangements for the protection of the line could be made; but on the 8th January, 1879, a more successful attempt was made, and by the 29th the telegraph was taken, via Lundi Kotal and Dakka, to Bosawul, 53 miles from Peshawur.

Meanwhile the Bengal Sappers and Miners had taken all their telegraph train right through to Jelalabad, and, working back, met my line at Bosawul. The construction of the semi-permanent line was, however, continued on to Jelalabad, in order that the Sappers' lighter material might be set free for use further on in case of an advance.

Jelalabad was the terminus of the telegraph until April, when it was continued on to Gundamak, 117 miles from Peshawur. On the signature of the treaty of Gundamak, in June, 1879, and the withdrawal of the troops, the wire was rolled up as far back as Lundi Kotal, and all the telegraph material brought back to Peshawur, except the supports, which were abandoned for want of carriage.

During this first campaign the telegraph was working for about six months; and some idea of the annoyance caused by tribes, and of the difficulty of keeping up communication, may be formed when it is stated that the wire was cut 98 times, and about 60 miles, on a total length of 117 miles, were stolen and never recovered. What they did with all this wire it is hard to say, except that they carried it away to distant villages. Occasionally it was cut up into slugs and fired into our camps.

War broke out again on the murder of Sir Louis Cavagnari and Embassy in September, 1879 ; and on the 3rd October the construction of a telegraph by the Khyber route was again taken in hand, beginning this time from Lundi Kotal, up to which point the line constructed during the first campaign had remained in operation.

On the opening of the second campaign, there was nothing to delay the start: the material brought back from the first campaign was available, and the country, as far as Gundamak, was well known and tolerably safe.

The construction was pushed on with all possible speed, and on the evening of the 21st October I met the Sapper line, the material for which had been carried forward as before, nine miles out of Jelalabad. At the end of a month from starting, the line was finished to Gundamak, a distance of 80 miles from Lundi Kotal, notwithstanding considerable delay being caused by difficulty in procuring poles.

Meanwhile an officer of the Telegraph Department, Mr. Josephs, had accompanied General Roberts in his advance on Kabul, via the Koorum Valley, and commenced laying the line from the Kabul end.

On the 19th November, a junction between the two lines was effected at a place called Jagdalak, and through communication between India and Kabul established.

From this time the line worked almost uninterruptedly until the commencement of the siege of Sherpur. On the 11th, 12th, and 13th December, there was severe fighting round Kabul, and on the 14th all our troops retired into the Sherpur cantonment, and the siege began; but, curiously enough, it was not until the morning of the 15th that the wire was cut. Notwithstanding that fighting was going on all round, and that thousands of the enemy were passing under the line, communication with India was carried on successfully. All the urgent telegrams were sent off, and the Kabul office was quite clear of work on the night of the 14th. This was probably because the enemy did not understand or know the value of the telegraph.

Early on the 15th the wire was cut, and it was afterwards ascertained that the line was entirely wrecked as far back as Pezwan, a distance of nearly 50 miles.

During the siege a wire was erected all round the Sherpur cantonment, and six telegraph offices were kept at work, affording a means of rapid communication between headquarters and divisional and brigade officers.

Directly the siege was over and the enemy dispersed, the reconstruction of the line destroyed was commenced. At this time the snow lay thick, and the ground was hard as iron from the frost, rendering the putting up of the line no easy matter, especially over the Latabund Kotal, a pass 8,000 feet high, but, notwithstanding all difficulties, through communication with India was re-established on the 8th January.

There was not so much annoyance from wire-cutting as during the first campaign, but, nevertheless, the wire was cut 50 times, and about 57 miles stolen.

On the retirement from Kabul, the wire was rolled up, and all the material brought back to India, and there is now no telegraph office beyond Peshawur.

We now come to the general consideration of the construction and working of a field telegraph, based upon the experience gained in the operations just briefly described.

Mr. Preece, in a lecture delivered at Chatham some years ago, on military telegraphs, divided them into four classes, viz.:—

(1.) The Permanent Line.

(2.) „ Semi-permanent Line.

(3.) „ Flying Line.

(4.) Visual Signalling.

(1.) The Permanent Line he defined to be a continuation of the commercial system of the country in which the operations are taking place ; or of the establishment of a similar system in the event of there being none, or of the original one being totally destroyed.

(2.) The Semi-permanent line he defined to be that line which maintains headquarters in its advance in communication with the permanent line ; and

(3.) The Flying Line to be the telegraph connecting headquarters with its divisions.

Owing to the great perfection to which visual signalling has been brought of late, the necessity for the Flying Line in a hilly country like Afghanistan, where the sun is rarely obscured for many days together, no longer exists. By means of the heliograph, direct communication can be kept up between points 40 or more miles apart, and messages sent at the rate of from six to eight words per minute. In an enemy's country the heliograph has enormous advantages over the electric telegraph. It cannot be cut and destroyed like the wire ; it can accompany the army, no matter how rapidly it advances; it is easily carried, and can be set working in five minutes ; it can be protected and worked even whilst a battle is going on all round.

Its great disadvantage, viz., that it can be read by enemies as well as friends, made no difference in Afghanistan, as its flashes conveyed nothing to the minds of the Afghans, and only excited their wonder and astonishment.

Visual signalling being so perfect, there is not the necessity for the hurried construction of the field telegraph which there would be if no other means of communication were possible between the army as it advanced and its base of operations. The field telegraph may now, perhaps, be defined as the line that, starting from the base of operations, where it is in connection with the regular telegraphic system, is taken into the enemy's country as soon after the advance of the army as the state of the country admits. It is little or no use constructing a line till arrangements can be made for its protection.

Since the hurried and rapid construction of the telegraph is not essential, there is no necessity for the use of very light material which would afterwards require to be replaced, but a strong semipermanent line can at once be put up, calculated to last at any rate as long as the campaign is likely to do, and which can be made permanent by addition or alteration without being entirely reconstructed.

There are two kinds of field line to choose from —

The Ground Line.

The Overhead Line.

A ground line was tried by the Bengal Sappers and Miners during the first campaign. An insulated wire, protected with plaited hemp, was laid on the ground alongside the road for the greater part of the way between Jelalabad and Dakka, a distance of 30 miles. It was not buried in any way, except where it crossed a road. This line never lived for an hour. It was cut in 20 or more places every day. The temptation was too great. Passersby, seeing a black cord running by the roadside, had their curiosity excited to know what it was, and nothing was easier than to hammer the cable between two stones till it was severed. Whether this line would have answered better had it been buried is questionable. Unless the burying had been done secretly at night, some people must have seen what was going on, and would have dug it up out of mischief or malice. Then, again, if a fault occurred in the wire itself, a thing always probable, the difficulty of localising it in a buried wire is very great, and the trouble to repair it immense.

All things considered, it may, I think, be admitted that a ground line is inferior in every way to an overhead one for a field telegraph such as defined above, and I will now proceed to the description of an overhead line, embodying the results obtained by experience in Afghanistan.

First, as regards line material:

For posts it is undoubtedly best to rely as much as possible upon the resources of the country through which the line has to be made. If it be known beforehand that no timber of any kind can be procured locally, then it becomes necessary to collect poles of some sort at the base of operations. But it is extremely improbable that an invading army would traverse a country utterly devoid of timber of some kind. Take the Peshawur to Kabul line as an example. From Peshawur, through the Khyber Pass to Dakka, where the Kabul river is struck, a distance of 40 miles, not a stick of any kind that could be used for a pole can be got. From Dakka onwards no great difficulty was experienced in getting poles. Good deodar and pine saplings were either procurable from villages under the Safed Koh, or, coming down the streams in rafts, could be purchased at places along the banks of the Kabul river. At Kabul itself, any quantity of excellent poplar poles, admirably adapted for a telegraph, were procurable.

But whatever the resources of the country through which the line will pass, it is advisable, in order to avoid any delay at starting, to have at least 10 or 12 miles of poles ready at the base of operations, so that the line can be commenced at a moment's notice, and, whilst the 6rst 10 miles are being put up, arrangements can be made for a further supply.

The question is what is the best kind of pole to have. For the line from Peshawur towards Kabul a quantity of bamboos were collected at Peshawur, averaging about 20 feet long and about 3 inches diameter at the butt, rough and untrimmed, and were found to answer admirably.

In a country where there are no roads and no wheel carriage, the question of transport is the first one to be considered, and it may be taken for granted that men, camels, ponies, or mules are the only means available. A camel will carry poles in 10 feet lengths and a mule in 7 feet, but the shorter the better. Then, a^ain, all animals will drag poles, which is perhaps a better way than carrying them, and then the length up to 20 feet is immaterial.

A jointed pole of any kind does not seem to answer, except for a very light wire, say, 150 lbs. to the mile. The joint is always a weak point.

If bamboos are used at all, they should be not less than 18 or 20 feet long, in one piece. There is no great object in their being perfectly straight, and they are best only roughly trimmed. Bamboos of this description, planted 20 to the mile, with every fourth support formed of two bamboos erected like shears, make a very strong and durable line, capable of carrying a 300-lb. wire with ease. The objection to them is difficulty of transport, owing to their length, but they can be dragged by camels or mules or donkeys, or carried by porters. They have the advantage of being cheap, and in a dry country like Afghanistan, where there are no white ants, will last six months at the least. Some bamboos used in the Khyber Pass were found quite good after being up for a year.

Besides bamboos, there are what are known in India as "bullies "—that is, young trees or saplings of teak, pine, deodar, poplar, and other wood—to be considered. In selecting, the point is to combine strength and durability as much as possible with lightness. For a military field line big heavy poles are out of the question : they cannot be carried, and it is better to have a larger number of smaller poles. Where height is required, two small poles can always be lashed together with wire, such a joint being perfectly reliable. If the poles are too weak for use singly, they can be used two together like shears, which gives great strength.

It may happen that the telegraph line goes through a wooded country, in which case the wire should be supported as much as possible on the trees. The best way to do this is to nail a bracket of dry wood to the tree, and attach the wire to it by screwing another piece of dry wood over it, taking care to have the tree inside the wire at angles. Another way is to fasten a stirrup of dry wood with wire to a branch, and bind the line wire to the centre of the stirrup, it being always understood that insulators of any kind are out of place in a dry country like Afghanistan, as being unnecessary, and making extra weight to carry.

The only case where insulators seem desirable is where rocks are met with so precipitous that spikes can be driven into them, and the wire supported on insulators attached to the spikes. Such rocks, however, will rarely occur. About a dozen rock insulators were utilised in the Khyber Pass.

The wire used for the field lines in Afghanistan was of galvanised iron, weighing 300 lbs. per mile, or No. 12 Indian gauge, equal to No. 9 (about) B.W.G. This answered admirably, but is perhaps unnecessarily heavy. For the distance that a field line is ever likely to extend to, or (say) up to 300 miles from base of operations, a wire weighing 200 lbs. per mile' would answer every purpose. A wire of this size has great advantages. It should be in coils weighing 100 lbs. each, so that a good mule or pony will carry 2 coils, or 1 mile, and a camel 4 coils, or 2 miles. It is easy to manipulate and joint, and a block and tackle, or other appliances for straining, are not required. The diameter of all coils should be exactly the same, to avoid delay in placing them on the wire reel. It is a good plan to have each coil wrapped round with a band of tarred canvas, to preserve the wire from injury during transport. An ordinary galvanised iron wire, weighing 150 lbs. to the mile, answers very well for short distances; but it does not give a sufficient margin of strength, to stand accidental blows, for a semi-permanent line. If a camel breaks down a post, the wire will most likely break too.

I n the matter of Tools, the digging tools should be adapted to the habits of the people who have to use them. A good wire reel for paying out wire, strong and portable, is essential. It should be so constructed that it can either remain stationary and the wire be dragged out from it, or be carried on men's shoulders and the wire paid out, according to the nature of the ground. It should also be fitted with a crank handle, and be adapted for quickly coiling up the wire when taking down a line.

Paying out wire from the backs of animals is not to be relied on in a difficult country, and it is improbable that the roads will admit of carriages of any kind for the purpose.

For linemen engaged in the construction of the line, a tent of the pattern known in the Indian Ordnance Department as the " Followers' Pal'' was found to be the best for wet, heat, and cold. It should be made of three cotton cloths, the outside one white and inside one blue. It should open at one end only, the door to lace-up with brass eyelet holes; poles of male bamboo. The dimensions are as follows: 12' long, 10' wide, 6' 6" high, 1' 6" walls, three upright poles each 6' 6", two ridge poles each 6', twenty-six wooden or iron pegs, and one mallet. This tent will hold 12 natives, and weighs 120 lbs. A good mule or pony will carry two of these tents complete, or shelter for 24 men.

The " Followers' Pal " also answers very well for a field telegraph office. In the inner half of the tent is room for two signallers' cote, so that two soldiers can sleep there, while in the outer half there is room for the office table, batteries, boxes, etc. It is too hot for Europeans in the hot weather, but, if the office is to remain stationary for any time, a thatched roof can be built over it, which makes it cooler than a double fly tent. Of course, if an office is an important one, and required for a length of time, a much larger tent, or a building of some kind, will be necessary, but for a field telegraph office proper, the tent described will answer perfectly.

An admirable little tent, known as the " Officers' Servants' Pal," was made by the Elgin Mills Company, Cawnpore. It will hold two natives comfortably, and was found well adapted for the linemen attached to a telegraph office for interruption and repair duty. It only weighs 32 lbs. and is very strong and serviceable.*

Next, as regards "office equipment:"

In India the "sounder" is the only instrument used, and for a field telegraph it leaves nothing to be desired. Three kinds of sounder were sent up to Afghanistan: an ordinary Siemens' sounder with relay, for use at the terminal and important intermediate offices; a direct working sounder, for small offices; and a portable sounder, for interruption duty and opening out anywhere on the line.

The " lightning dischargers " used were Siemens' brass-plate pattern for two lines, fitted into a mahogany case to keep out the dust.

The alarm bell was of the ordinary trembling pattern. This, with a vertical galvanoscope and a portable American clock, completed the necessary instruments.

The batteries sent for use in Afghanistan were— The ordinary Minotto form of Daniell's cell as used throughout India.

A box divided into twelve compartments, each fitted up as a Minotto cell.

The patent Leclanche portable battery, made by tie India Rubber, Gutta Percha, and Telegraph Works Company.

A small portable battery, for use with the portable sounder.

All these, except the last, had their disadvantages. The first was too heavy and cumbersome ; the second almost invariably leaked ; the third was found to get broken and injured in transit. The solution of the question of the best battery for a field telegraph was certainly not arrived at. The special points to be considered are lightness and portability, strength, and consequent immunity from injury in transport: the battery should come quickly into action, and, above all, be easily cleaned and renewed.

The plan adopted for supplying offices during the Afghan campaign with petty stores and stationery was to have two boxes, each measuring 2' 3" x 1' 2" x 1' 4", for each office: these two boxes form one mule-load, and contain, the one a supply of stationery and printed forms, and the other petty stores, such as office tools, message draft box, eyelet press, small copper eartii plate, etc. The stationery and forms required depend upon the system of working in vogue in the country of which the field telegraph is an extension. The point to be borne in mind is to keep separate the things that are not quickly expended and those that are. For instance, a set of office tools—consisting of cutting pliers, screw-drivers (large and small), wedge for opening packing cases, knife, sand-paper, round-nose pliers, gimlet to bore holes for connecting wire—will last the whole campaign, as will the message box, eyelet press, letter clip, etc. The first equipment supplied to each office should contain all these ; and at the base of operations supplementary equipments, containingonly message forms,envelopes, and other articles quickly expended, should be kept in readiness to issue to each office as its stock becomes exhausted.

A folding camp table, '3' 6" x 2' 6", with teak-wood frame and deal top, answers as well as anything. Small offices require two, and larger offices according to the number of instruments in use. Generally speaking, one table is required for each instrument, plus one for the signaller in charge to write at. It is better to have a separate table for each instrument than to have large tables.

For large offices, stools of some portable kind are required ; at small ones, the stationery equipment boxes can be used to sit on.

The weight of one complete office equipment, including the office and linemen's tents, as described above, is 800 lbs. The regulation allowance is 160 lbs. per mule; hence it required five mules to carry the equipment for one office, but, as in the case of the wire, this weight could perhaps be reduced on a future occasion.

As soon as it has been decided to erect a field telegraph, the first thing to do is to establish an agency at the base of operations, for receiving and forwarding stores. A responsible officer should be placed in charge, and to him should be consigned all the telegraph material required for the campaign. On arrival of the stores at the base agency, they should be considered to have reached their destination, and receipts for them should be given by the forwarding agent.

The simplest, if not the only plan, to keep the accounts of the stores of a field telegraph, is to write off all stores against the work as soon as they reach the base of operations, and, on the conclusion cif the campaign and dismantlement of the line, to credit the work with all stores brought back to or remaining at the base.

Having described the equipments of all kinds used, and supposing them to have reached the base of operations, the next point is the carriage beyond the base.

Starting, as it probably does, with an indefinite amount of work before it, it will be impossible for the field telegraph to provide all its own carriage. It must rely in great measure upon the transport department, and on whatever local means may be available. But it is very necessary that the field telegraph should have some carriage of its own, and the want of it was very much felt in the Afghan campaign.

It being impossible, as remarked above, to keep up an indefinite quantity of carriage, the best plan is to keep the smallest amount actually required, that is to say, sufficient for the carriage of the working party and their tools, and for one unit of material, the unit of material being taken as 10 miles of line and one office: this is not to include the carriage of posts, which must be provided for specially.

Taking the strength of a working party at 1 Inspector and 50 men, the weight of their tents, tools, clothes, and one unit of material, with 3 days' rations, will amount to 7,520 pounds, and converting this into mule carriage at 2 maunds per mule, 47 mules would be required. With 47 mules, at the rate of 1 driver to 3 mules, 16 men will have to go, and will require rations for themselves, as well as for the animals, requiring 4 more mules, or (say) 5, allowing for the carriage of their own rations. This brings the total of mules required for a working party and one unit of material up to 52, allowing none spare: allowing 10 per cent. spare for sickness and sore backs, we arrive at a total of 57 mules. But, as before remarked, the weight of the equipment can easily be reduced, and wire used weighing 200 lbs. per mile instead of 300 lbs.; besides which, good mules will easily carry considerably more than 2 maunds, or 160 lbs. Taking these points into consideration, a properly equipped field telegraph train of 50 mules will suffice, always supposing that the heavy carriage and distribution at different points along the line will be done by the transport department or other local means. Fifty mules is, therefore, the amount of standing carriage which should be kept up for the field telegraph department.

The question of the equipment of these animals is of the first importance. Unless fitted with proper gear, they will get sore backs after the first day's work. The experience gained in the Afghan campaign has shown that the best pack-saddle is that known as the " Ordnance " pattern, manufactured at Cawnpore. This is better than the " Otago " pattern, which is perhaps the next best. But even the " Ordnance " saddle has disadvantages. Each animal requires to be fitted with its own particular saddle, while even if a mule gets out of condition the saddle is likely to give a sore back. A universal adjustable saddle which will fit any animal has yet to be designed.

The question of camels has not been entered into, because they would never do for standing carriage, mules or ponies are so far superior. If nothing but camels can be procured, one camel may be calculated to carry as much as two mules. They are very slow compared to mules, more difficult to manage, and will not stand a cold climate, at least the Indian camel will not.

Loading the animals is a most important duty, and one likely to be carelessly performed. The men should be practised at it before starting, to accustom them to load properly and also quickly, for a great deal of time is generally lost in the operation. One point very difficult to attain with natives is to get them to make up the same loads daily. If left to themselves they will never load an animal twice alike.

Next, as regards the "working party :"

The great point is, taking into consideration the difficnlty of commissariat and transport in an enemy's country, to have as small a party as is consistent with efficiency. A working party to erect a field line in India would be composed somewhat as under:— 1 officer in charge of the work. 1 Inspector in charge of the party. 6 trained linemen. 44 coolies or ordinary labourers. Distribution of poles is not provided for in this estimate ; it is supposed to be done by local labour, or animals of some sort.

Instead of the ordinary labourers, it would of course be better to have all trained workmen, but this is generally impracticable.

The Inspector should be mounted, and look after the party generally, especially the distribution of the material.

It may be possible to get a working party from a regiment on service. In Afghanistan the native soldiers, especially the Sikhs, did capital work; moreover, they liked the work, getting of course extra pay. Men of the "pioneer" regiments are specially well adapted for telegraph work, accustomed as they are to the use of tools. If 50 men of a pioneer regiment can be spared for the field telegraph, nothing could be better. It would be a good thing if erecting a field telegraph were made a special feature in the drill of a pioneer regiment.

If military labour cannot be obtained, men must be got from villages along the route, but this does not answer well, for the villagers will never go far from their homes, and new men have to be put on the work daily. They, therefore, never learn their work properly, and the constant and close supervision thereby necessitated is a cause of delay.

The linemen and any labourers permanently engaged should be properly fitted out with clothing and shoes before they cross the frontier. The weight allowed each man for his cooking pots and clothes other than what he carries on his back should be limited to 30 lbs. Every man should bo armed with a short sword, and Inspectors should be supplied with revolvers.

The party of 1 Inspector and 50 men, as described above, is calculated to put up from ,3 to 4 miles of line a day. Taking into consideration that in an enemy's country the working party cannot camp out between the fixed military posts, which are from 10 to 12 miles apart, and therefore have a long distance to go and return from work; that the nature of the country is often difficult for a telegraph line; and that delays occur in the supply and distribution of pole3, 90 miles per month for a semi-permanent line may be considered good work : 5. G, or more miles a day may occasionally be done when tl.e country is open and the digging easy, but that is exceptional, and an average of 3 miles a day is all that can be counted on, with the strength of party as given.

The first thing to be done is the marking out, which isgeuerally the work of the officer in charge. For alignment, the great point is to keep close to the road or track, of course cutting off sharp angles, but on no account should the wire be out of sight from the road. The reason for this is obvious, patrolling and inspection being borne in mind. The posts should not be planted so close to the road as to endanger their being knocked down by camels or carts. They should be erected as mnch as possible in spots not easily reached by animals, and, in a hilly country, above rather than below the road. Every advantage should be taken of the nature of the ground to reduce the number of supports, by making long spans wherever practicable. For an uninsulated line, stmts should always be used at angles, and never stays. Besides the fact that wire stays act as faults in wet weather, they are not easily seen, and camels go blundering up against them, and perhaps bring the post down. For joints in wire of the size used, the " twisted " is the best and quickest made. There is no occasion to solder joints on a semi-permanent line. On the Peshawur to Kabul line no bad communication ever resulted from the joints not being soldered. For attaching the line wire to the posts, stranded binding wire is the best, being more pliable than ordinary wire. A good plan, if time will allow, is to cut a small nick in the aide of the post, about 6 inches from the top, in which to rest the wire, and then bind it firmly there. If tightly bound, the nick may be dispensed with. If large rivers are likely to be met with, special arrangements for crossing them should be made: span3 are preferable to insulated wire cables. In a hilly country, where the nature of the ground permits, very long spans can be made with safety. One span at Kabul with | mile of wire in it never gave any trouble.

When the line is once up, the question in an enemy's country is how to protect it. That this is an important question will be gathered from what has already been said, viz., that the wire was cut 98 times in the first, and 50 times in the second campaign, and over 100 miles of wire in all carried off between Peshawur and Kabul alone. This question of protecting the line seems to divide itself under two heads, viz. :—

(1.) How to keep the people from cutting the wire. (2.) How to catch the people who cut it. Under the first head comes the plan of subsidising the tribes, through whose country the line passes, to protect the wire. This answered fairly well in certain districts, but was by no means generally successful. Then there is the method of making certain villages re^ponoible for the safety of the wire in their particular district, and fining them whenever it is cut. But the villages are often few and far between, and the excuse of the head men is, " We have enemies, and they have come and cut the wire in our neighbourhood in order to get us into trouble." This plan would doubtless answer if each case of wire-cutting was followed by severe measures, such as hanging the head man or burning the village responsible, but such severity would be looked upon as an atrocity. In a country like Afghanistan, infested by robbers, in which our influence did not extend half-a-mile on either side of the road, the best means of protecting the wire has yet to be devised.

Secondly, regarding catching the people who cut the wire. During the recent campaign the wire was never cut during the day, but always at night. One plan is to patrol the places where the line is frequently cut, but this duty is very harassing for the troops. On one occasion only was the patrol successful. One night during the second campaign, near the village of Batikot, a patrol party concealed themselves. The marauders came, and the soldiers killed two and wounded ten or twelve. This had a very good effect, but only a temporary one. The question of laying traps to catch the marauders has also been gone into. One arrangement was to put a permanent current on the line between two offices, in such a manner that the cutting of the wire caused a bell to ring in each office. Sowars, or native cavalry, were ready to go out from each end at a moment's notice to intercept the thieves, or at any rate prevent their carrying off much wire. The great objection to this plan was that it stopped the through communication on the line all night, and with a heavy message traffic it could only be carried out at the expense of great delay to messages. The idea of having some kind of torpedo connected with a post, which would explode when the post was interfered with, was mooted, but this threatened as much danger to friends as enemies, and was not tried. This point of how to catch the men who cut the wire is the one of all others that requires suggestions and plans, and it is to be hoped that before another campaign some means for doing so may be devised. Admitting that the line will be frequently cut, it becomes necessary to make arrangements for its speedy repair. In order to do this, it is necessary to have offices not more than 10 or 12 miles apart, that is, at every military post. This was done during the recent campaign, and at each office two trained linemen were stationed, with complete sets of line tools and a fixed stock of spare wire and poles. On the Peshawur to Kabul line the quantity of spare wire was five miles for each office.

When an interruption occurred, the officer commanding the station on each side of the break was applied to (notice being given over night if possible) for a sufficient guard, and a certain number of porters to carry spare wire, poles, etc., to attend the telegraph office at daybreak. The linemen, with porters and guard, started, as soon as it was light, along the line from either end. The time taken in restoring communication of course depended on the damage done. If anything less than a mile of wire was removed, the line was probably repaired in a few hours: only very rarely did interruptions last over one day. Fortunately, as a rule the posts were not stolen, but merely pulled down. The robbers seemed to care only for the wire. The question of having mounted men, provided with light copper wire, to repair the line temporarily was considered, but involving as it did an additional and mounted escort, and an establishment of ponies, and specially trained men, the plan was not adopted, nor would it have been worth tne extra trouble and expense. In addition to going out to restore the line when interrupted, it is the duty of the linemen to patrol the line half-way to the next office on either side, every second or third day, going and returning with the escort which accompanies the daily convoy. By this means the line is kept constantly in a state of repair, and small defects, such as crooked poles or wire too low, are at once remedied.

Next, as regards the " system of working " :

There are two ways of looking at a field telegraph line : first, from a military point of view; secondly, from what may be called a general one. The greatest value of a military telegraph is the use it can be put to to warn a station of an impending attack, to arrange movements of troops, convoys, etc., and for this purpose it is absolutely necessary to be able to get any station at any hour day or night. On the other hand, its general importance in carrying long messages from headquarters to the base of operations, concerning the conduct of the campaign, commissariat and transport arrangements, besides news telegrams for the Press, cannot be overlooked. No doubt the proper plan is to have two wires, one working from station to station only, and the second a through wire. But this may not be possible, and the point is how to make the best use of one wire. On the Peshawur to Kabul line the traffic was so heavy that it was found necessary to erect a second wire from Peshawur to Jelalabad, half-way ; and even then the line could only just carry the traffic without serious delay. On a single wire line exceeding a certain length, say, 80 miles, on which there are more than about six offices, the best plan seems to be to divide the offices into classes, and not to allow them all to occupy the line equally, for the terminal and certain intermediate offices will always have most work.

On the Peshawur-Kabul line the offices were divided as follows :

(1.) Offices of observation.

(2.) „ doing limited duty, called second-class offices.

(3.) „ always open, called first-class offices.

As remarked in a preceding paragraph, for the speedy repair of the line in case of interruption, it is necessary to have offices every 10 or 12 miles; but it is not necessary they should be allowed to send and receive messages, except in cases of great emergency. These offices, which in Afghanistan were kept only for the sake of keeping up the communication, were called offices of observation. Only when the line was interrupted on either side did an office of observation keep open. In this case the signaller received all messages, and forwarded them across the break by the heliograph or best means available. Second-class offices were those to which certain hours were allowed for the use of the wire. Their instructions were to come in the first thing in the morning, from 10 to 11 a.m., from 3 to 4 p.m., and the last thing at night. In case of any expected attack or disturbance, particular offices were ordered to come in more frequently. Firstclass offices were the terminal offices, and two or three important intermediate ones, which W6re always open day and night.

At first-class offices the sounder with Siemens's relay, before described, was the instrument used. At each second-class office two direct working sounders were used, while at offices of observation one sounder and a galvanometer were found sufficient.

The second-class offices only worked with the station on either side of them, and with the nearest first-class office. No matter for whom their message, they gave it to the nearest firstclass office (unless for the next station), and the first-class office forwarded it on ; the object in view throughout being to allow the through work, the most important in one sense, to be got off, and at the same time to give each small office a fair chance of. getting off its messages.

It must be borne in mind that the telegraph was supplemented by the heliograph, and every station had its heliographic communication with the next during the day, when not clouded over. '

Orders regarding the use of the field telegraph were issued from time to time by the lieutenant-general commanding, as necessity arose. These orders, slightly modified, if necessary, to suit altered circumstances, would probably be found effective in any future campaign. It is undesirable to put more restrictions on the use of the field telegraph than are absolutely necessary, but at the same time a single-wire line can only carry a certain number of messages, and, besides, the signallers should be guarded from overwork.

For a military telegraph, military signallers are in every way preferable to civilians. In the Afghan campaign, with two or three exceptions, the signallers were all soldiers, and may be said to have proved a great success. The late General Robinson, Director-General of Telegraphs, introduced the system of training soldiers at telegraph stations throughout India, and since the introduction of the system a large number of men have been trained and employed in telegraph offices. Had it not been for this, it is difficult to see how the Indian Telegraph Department would have been able to meet the demand for signallers in Afghanistan. As it was, every available qualified man, even from regiments on service, had to be taken.

The standard of qualification for a military signaller is to be able to read correctly by sound at the minimum rate of 12 five-letter words per minute, and to send 15 words; to know how to make up a Minotto battery, and to understand the ordinary connecting up of instruments according to the method in use in the Indian Telegraph Department. When he can do this he is qualified to work in an office, and receive remuneration at the rate of four annas, or about sixpence, a message up to a maximum of 25 rupees (about £2) a month. Military signallers when on field service in India are no longer paid by the message, but receive 12 annas, or Is. 6d., a day, and 8 annas, or Is., a day more if in charge of an office. At this rate of pay there is no difficulty in getting men to learn; on the contrary, the telegraph service is becoming very popular with the British soldier.

It seems desirable that in future a certain number of men per regiment should not only be trained, but kept in practice. It will probably not be possible for any civil administration to employ all the trained soldiers in their offices, and rules should therefore be made to ensure each trained man getting a fair share of what employment can be given, and to prevent one man, because he is a specially good signaller, getting the whole. It is no use training a man unless you keep him in practice, and every trained man ought to have so many months' work yearly in an office in his due turn.

Another point is, that for field service the signallers should never be taken from regiments actually in the field. Commanding officers very naturally prefer their regiments to go on service full strength, and object to having men detached for telegraph duty. If the system above recommended, of having so many men per regiment trained, were carried out, there would be no necessity to take men from regiments in the field.

Each military signaller should, on qualfying, be given a book in which all his telegraph service should be entered. He should be re-examined from time to time in signalling, and the rate at which he can receive and send should be noted in his book. The book should show all payments and advances made him, so that, when he is transferred, the officer to whom he goes will have no difficulty in arranging his pay. Every signaller, before going on field service, should be paid up to date, and have all advances adjusted before he crosses the frontier. Only good signallers and men of good character should be selected for field service.

There is another point which in practice crops up. It sometimes happens that a private, being a smart man and good signaller, is placed in charge of an office, with a corporal or sergeant under him. This is subversive of all military discipline, but it is difficult to avoid, because the charge carries an extra allowance with it, which should be given to the man who is best qualified for charge of the office. If some plan could be laid down for giving honorary rank to a deserving man, it would probably get over the difficulty. In the meantime, no corporal or sergeant, unless he is fit for charge of an office, should be sent to the front.

It seems a pity that there should not be a more intimate relation between the army signallers who work the heliograph, flags, etc., and the field telegraph signallers. The Morse alphabet is used by both in signalling, so that up to a certain point the system of training is the same. There is no reason why a man should not qualify for both. The telegraph service is better paid, and is preferred by the men, involving, as it does, less exposure. The amalgamation of the two systems is not advocated, but there is no reason why they should not draw their signallers from a common source, and so give more scope for the advancement of deserving men. As it is, the field telegraph and heliograph are bound to work together, the heliograph taking the work in advance of the telegraph, and also the work between stations which can communicate direct by this means, in order to save the wire from overwork.


*A photograph was shown of these tents, and also of the tools used in Afghanistan.

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Keywords:Military Telegraph : Afghanistan : Need Image
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:October 11, 2010 by: Bob Stahr;