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Signal Corps worked closely with private industry to provide equipment for Allied soldiers

by Lisa Alley

In addition to the Signal Corps' own pre-WWII research-and-development contributions in its laboratories, it worked closely with private industry on other advances and its equipment procurement.

In fact, until 1941, 9/10ths of the corps' equipment was commercial, according to Dulany Terrett, coauthor of The Signal Corps: The Test, a book in the branch's official WWII history series.

GE and Westinghouse played key roles in radio's development. Some of private industry's later contributions, established from pre-WWII contracts, included IBM and AT& T's work on radioteletype; Bell's on spiral-four cable-carrier line, adapted from captured German cable; Galvin Manufacturing Company's (now Motorola) and Philco's on FM walkie-talkie; the Fred M. Link Company's on antrac equipment; and Western Electric's on submarine-killer radar.

These are just a few examples; the three books of the Signal Corps' World War II history discuss more.

Of course, the Army's experiences with private industry were not all good. For example, Bendix procrastinated on delivering the expected and badly needed SCR-522.

The Signal Corps also drew a number of its officers from private industry. According to Terrett, the corps had arranged with the communications industry for it to furnish a number of Reserve officers, who were placed on active duty to help the Signal Corps solve various R& D problems.

But this was done in secrecy. "Both sides were at pains to make certain the public did not become aware of any agreement between (the Signal Corps and the communications industry) in the matter of mobilization," Terrett wrote, "but the interrelationship between the Signal Corps and the giants of the commercial communications networks was fundamental to any (Chief Signal Officer)'s administration."

Military and civilian Signal Corps members attended schools sponsored by the Bell System. Manpower and wartime industrial mobilization was based on what the industries said were their capacities.

The Chief Signal Officer also belonged to a number of private boards, including the Interdepartmental Radio Advisory Committee and consultative boards on international, national or joint Army-Navy levels, in addition to the Signal Corps' boards and technical committees with other Army corps: quartermaster, engineer, medical, chemical warfare, ordnance and Air Corps.

Other Signal Corps connections were to other governmental departments; Congress; science, engineering and industrial boards; international boards stemming from the Hague Conference or League of Nations; or the International Conference on Electrical Communications in the 1920s.

World War II, the Signal Corps' supply problems and the 1943 reorganization changed all this.

Ms. Alley, who holds a degree in communications, is editor of Army Communicator.


Last modified on:
April 04, 2012

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