hellogirls1The "Hello Girls" performed the vital task of connecting incoming and outgoing telephone calls for the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, and also served as real-time translators between French and American officers so that orders could be understood. This was vital for tasks such as planning operations and coordinating infantry attacks or artillery barrages.

Hidden History: The "Hello Girls" of World War I 

By Lenny Flank
via the Daily Kos web site

During the First World War, the US Army depended for most of its tactical communications upon a small group of female volunteers called “the Hello Girls”.

Between the American Civil War in 1860 and the First World War in 1914, the world’s militaries had changed significantly. At Gettysburg and Petersburg, division generals usually led from the front, and were able to examine the frontlines and see for themselves where their forces were and what situation they were in. Most tactical orders were hand-written on the spot and went by courier.

By 1914, however, armies had become so huge and so widely scattered that nobody at the front could see the bigger picture, and commanding generals were now ensconced at the rear, in a central headquarters where they had to piece together a picture of the battlefield from reports which they received from the frontline commanders, then issue their orders.

During the Civil War, some of these rear-area communications came and went by telegraph, but this was slow, vulnerable to enemy disruption, and required specially trained operators. By the First World War, a new invention had appeared—wireless radio. It promised to revolutionize military communications. But in 1914 radio was not yet suitable for use at the front: unless they were securely encrypted, radio signals could be easily intercepted by the enemy, and the process of encoding and decoding meant that radio was of limited usefulness for rapid battlefield communications.

Instead, the armies of the First World War turned to another new technology—the telephone. Unlike radio signals which could be easily intercepted, telephone signals traveled by wires which were inaccessible to enemy eavesdroppers and allowed secure communications. During the Great War, troops on all sides laid thousands of miles of telephone wires that radiated out from the rear headquarters to connect the generals with their units in the front lines. In both the Entente and the Central Powers armies, nearly every order to advance, retreat or hold ground was carried by a telephone line.

When the United States entered the war in 1917, General John “Black Jack” Pershing needed to set up a similar communications network. But in this area, as in so many others, the US Army found itself utterly unprepared for a major war: the US Signal Corps had fewer than 1600 men, and most of them were telegraph operators who had never been trained to run a telephone switchboard. 

Read the entire article on the Daily Kos web site.

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