Thursday, April 21, 2011

Communications at the Battle of Arnhem

In February 2004, on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, John Berry, the Managing Director of radiocommunications specialist ADTI, Ltd., conducted an in-depth technical analysis and published a White Paper entitled, ‘Communications at the battle of Arnhem: A modern day technical analysis’ which can be found at: Subsequent to the publication of that analysis, and drawing upon its findings, Maj John Greenacre of the British Army published a paper entitled, ‘Assessing Reasons for Failure: 1st Airborne Division Signal Communications during ‘Operation Market Garden” in the journal, Defence Studies of Autumn 2004 which can be found at:

It is hoped that most readers will acknowledge that ranked even higher than logistics and intelligence, effective communications has been and remains, the most important element of warfare.

Without going into the in-depth details of each author’s analysis (which those interested certainly can do using the cited URLs), two fundamental concluding points are made.
The first, by Perry, being that the technical performance capabilities of the two major wireless sets employed, the Wireless Sets No.22(vehicle borne) and No.68(man-pack) were capable of achieving a range of > 6 to 10db signal to noise ratio (modern military communications planning uses a 13db ratio as excellent) sufficiently adequate for reliable voice communications from the on-set of operations on September 17, 1944.

British Army Wireless Set WS No. 22 circa 1944 (with credit
to Pye Telecom Historical Collection)

Another view of a Wireless Set No. 22 (with credit to Peter PAOPZD
at Signals Collection)

Maj Greenacre’s analysis concurs with this assessment, He attributes the failure to lack of implementation/maintenance of correct communications procedures by commanders and signals staff of the 1st Airborne Division. He further states, ‘Many risks were accepted during the planning of Operation ‘Market Garden’. One of those risks was that communications for 1st British Airborne Division would be stretched. Deane-Drummond advised Divisional HQ of the difficulties that were likely to be encountered and the risk that this represented. ‘It was known, it was explained, it was recognised, it was accepted.’ The signals plan therefore had to be formed in the knowledge that they would be operating at the very limit of their resources. There was little flexibility available in the signals plan and adequate safeguards against breakdown either were not available or possible or were negated by the situation during the battle. Consequently when procedural mistakes were made the plan did not stand up to the situation.’ In conclusion he cites a prophetic quotation, ‘No signal plan [is] an isolated affair’.

British Army Wireless Set WS No. 68 circa 1944
(with credit to Pye Telecom Historical Collection)

In a addition to a background in intelligence, which initiated my original interest in the Battle of Arnhem, I have a reasonably extensive background in systems engineering. Essentially systems engineering is the discipline used to integrate total systems in order to achieve a given quantifiable level of performance, as well as maintaining, reliability (redundancy), maintainability (ease/speed of repair), availability(operability) and survivability also at given measured levels, all achieved within what is called a life cycle cost. It incorporates, the total operational environment, human operator(s), hardware subsystems, software subsystems, data transfer, normal operational, as well as alternative (casualty), modes of operation/ procedures, and most importantly the specific detailed interfaces between each of these elements. It includes the use of operational research, computer modeling/simulation, systems analysis, and various other engineering knowledge. In most final system design configurations a carefully balanced compromise of all these factors must be struck. Given that background I would like to draw an analogy to the delicate and demanding task of airborne operational planning as it evolved in World War II, and specifically in the case of Operation Market Garden.

With that perspective I would like to discuss what can be termed comprehensive negative synergy or ‘the perfect storm’. It is my personal opinion that this is precisely what resulted from the planning leading up to Operation Market Garden. Any one erroneous planning factor can impose a risk factor. However, when almost a comprehensive set of planning factors are in error, this does not constitute a balanced compromise. It is a preordained recipe for failure. My contention is that planning decisions that were made resulted in the following:

• Loss of the initial advantage of the element of surprise
• Loss of mass (Effectively down to brigade strength for 2 days, due to having to hold the DZ/LZs for the 2nd lift)
• Degradation in communications (Impact of DZ/LZ distances to objective on range of available communications equipment)
• Loss of effective command and control (Due to lack of communications)
• Severe degradation in logistics, loss of re-supply including spare wireless sets and batteries (Due to lack of communications)
• Degradation in concentration of available firepower (Due to lack of communications)
• Loss of available, albeit limited, maneuver element (Due to lack of communications)

If you have further interest in how communications and communications planning effected the outcome of the battle, please click on the home page menu bar 'Operation Market-Garden' for a detailed analysis of the planning for the operation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,
I'm unable to open (even to find) the two links you mention in this blog. Please can you help me. I'm very much interested in the communiations issues atArnhem. I have done some sudies by myself (but not publised them) and I'm very much interested to see what other telecom specialist say on the matter.
please Mail me at

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