Warfare has, for millenia, been a rich source of myth and legend, and one of the main reasons many historians proclaim Herodotus to be the first to ply their trade is because, at least, he discounted divine intervention as the prime explanation for the ebb and flow of battle. Myths, however, persist to this day, one of the most popular in our industrialized culture being a common belief that technological development accelerates in wartime. In many cases this might be true; the First World War, for example, saw much innovation (this author hesitates to use the word “progress”) in the development of tanks, aircraft, submarines, and chemical warfare. In that same war, however, communications technology did not keep apace, ironic (especially in the British Expeditionary Force) given commanders’ insistence that they needed to control their troops if they were to win battles. Though much has been said of the impact of machine guns and quick-firing artillery on the Western Front, another important source of heavy casualties was the lack of communication between the troops in combat and the officers responsible for providing artillery support or sending in reserves; as a result men died in hopeless, unsupported assaults or were overwhelmed by counterattacks after capturing their objectives. Communications were further complicated by the addition of aircraft to the battlefield, with artillery observation and photo reconnaissance adding the war over land to the war on land. Maintaining contact between aircraft and the troops they were supposed to support would be an ongoing challenge.

An indication of the state of the art in 1914 could be found in the the most technologically advanced arm of the British Expeditionary Force—the artillery. Batteries could call on wireless aircraft to correct fall of shot, and in December what had simply been called the wireless unit became 9 Squadron, which supplied aircraft and crews to other units as required, though its pilots did not lead easy lives, as the transmitter they carried was so bulky they could not take an observer. Further, it required so much space in the small observer’s cockpit there was no room for a receiver, so the pilot could not be entirely sure his corrections were being monitored. As he had to carry out the observer’s duties as well as his own, with no one to keep a look-out for enemy aircraft, it could not have been popular work. Radio-telephony, the transmission of human speech by wireless, had been under development since 1910 but had not moved beyond basic experimentation at the end of 1914.