../s3_ae.gif 1940. Transmissions in the Maginot Line
Radio: use in 1940
Document carried out starting from information of very diverse origins. ©2008-2010 Autoédition Cima.


The radio is a subject which annoys the French ego, each time one evokes it in connection with the French Army of 1940. It is obvious that the High command saw it of an evil eye, was hostile even there.

In this file we stressed, with some examples, on the behavior of the Staffs of the time, vis-a-vis these recent means of communication.


Maurice Gamelin (1872-1958) is chief of general staff of the French Army between 1935 and on May 19th, 1940, dates to which he is dismissed and replaced by the general Maxime Weygand (1867-1965). The error of judgments of the Gamelin General (to be made divide by many policies of the time) so much on the strategy to be adopted vis-a-vis in Germany than on the tactics to be implemented vis-a-vis the mechanized armies, belong to the causes of the French defeat of May 1940.

As since its PC of the castle of Vincennes, Gamelin refuses to communicate by radio, its messages in the direction of the received troops and its information thus forward only by telephone or couriers. The telephone is appropriate little for troops moving and the couriers miss speed seriously…

Use in 1940
Ministerial directive

Ministerial directive of November 7th, 1936. (Extracts)

In 1939 this document was always of topicality since it was repeated in the direction of the chiefs of Staffs.

Radio telegraphy

It makes it possible to communicate only in Morse (C-W communication).

§80.Avantages- the radiotelegraphic installations are not very visible and not very vulnerable. The radio telegraphy allows:
- to maintain the relations between two authorities, when the enemy distance, ground, shootings or any other reason prevent the establishment or the good performance of the other transmission resources;
- to make follow an authority in all its displacements by a station which can serve it within a short time.
Certain stations are even able to emit and receive moving. They make it possible the command to ensure the continuity of its relations during the movements. Only, among all the processes of transmission, the radio telegraphy allows the simultaneous diffusion, with an unlimited number of correspondents, of the same telegram.
§81.Inconvénients- the capital disadvantage of the radio telegraphy is its indiscretion.
- The enemy can listen, far with the back (the sensitivity of the specialized apparatuses of listening is much larger than that of the receivers of the units, so that the enemy radiotelegrams can be collected at a distance notably exceeding the official range of the transmitters), under very good conditions, the unfavourable emissions, which obliges to quantify in theory the telegrams dispatched by radio telegraphy, and even it can, by radiogoniometry, to determine the sites of the heard stations and, consequently, the sites of the headquarters. The whole of the information collected by enemy listenings can provide to the adversary of the important data on the battle order and, to a certain extent, the intentions of the command. Also, in certain circumstances, the command it is led to prohibit partially or completely the use of the radio telegraphy.
In spite of the high number realizable wavelengths at present, the need for avoiding jammings limits the number of the networks which can be made up in a unit.
The reception of the radiotelegraphic stations can be scrambled:
- by normal emissions of the enemy;
- by systematic emissions of this last - if he agree to support itself the consequences of this jamming;
- by atmospheric parasites.
The relations established by radio telegraphy are, in comparison with telephone relations, of poor yield, in consequence of the need:
- to make, generally, work the network terminals, which implies that only one station can emit at a given moment;
- to quantify in theory the telegrams;
- to exchange for the corresponding stations of the communications of service before and after the transmission of the telegram itself (Call of the station shipper, indication which the recipient is ready to receive, signal of end of telegram, acknowledgment of delivery of the recipient, etc)
The whole of these contingencies can reduce the productive flow of a radiotelegraphic station for less than 100 groups (of 5 letters or figures) per hour.
Consequently, any telegram to be dispatched by radio telegraphy will have to be as condensed as possible and written using special documents benches for this purpose.
The radiotelegraphic stations cannot be usefully implemented that by a carefully educated personnel.
Lastly, the material not comprising apparatuses of call, it is necessary to ensure a permanence of listening each station.


It makes it possible to communicate by Morse and the voice (phone).

§85. Generally, the radiotelefony has the same above mention characteristics of employment as those for the radio telegraphy. However first presents, by comparison with the second, the following advantages and disadvantages:
Favor the stations of radiotelefony can be exploited by a personnel not knowing to read with the sound (To understand the Morse). Possibly, this process makes it possible two authorities to converse between them;
Disadvantages All equal things besides:
- the range of the stations of radiotelefony is in the actual position of two to three times less large than that of the stations of radio telegraphy;
- the number the wavelengths available is twice weaker than in radio telegraphy;
- the reception can be more easily scrambled;
- the risks of indiscretions are even greater, especially if the stations are used for conversations.
The discipline of exploitation must thus be very strict. It is very difficult to ensure. It must be carefully controlled by the obligatory organization of a system of listening of the friendly transmissions. The conversation should in theory be practiced only in station-with-station.

As it is noted, the radio does not seem to have the favors of the ministry for the war [spokesperson here of the French High-Command].

Radio Frenchwoman in 1940

Radio not very brilliant Frenchwoman

In connection with the use of the transmissions in shift, in the ministerial directive of November 7th, 1936, repeated in 1939, the “radioelectric means” seem to have well little comparative advantages with their disadvantages! It is undoubtedly the reason for which the French radio operator apparatuses were of doubtful quality, inter alia compared to those of the other countries.

Besides Colonel Philippe Truttmann has a sentence which seems to summarize the situation:

One touches an aspect there rather little brilliance of our fortification, although it did not have exclusiveness in it.

Lieutenant Cinto Kohenoff (chief of the transmissions of the 58eDBAF in 1940 - SFAM-) entrusted to us that with the radio operator material it had it had had large difficulties in establish reliable communications, for example, between the Agel Mount and the Cape Martin distant of 5km hardly as the crow flies and separated one from the other by any serious obstacle!

The problems with which we were confronted [he added] were the lack of power of the stations and the difficulty in insulating the antennas at the time of their passage through the often wet concrete. Later, in North Africa, I was impressed by high efficiencies of the American radio operator materials at side of which ours made pale figure! But it was already another time and technologies had had time to evolve!
Secrecy. Until where?

Secrecy. Until where?

In fact, the problem of evolution of the radio operator materials [or others] is closely related to the will to use them or not to use them. However in 1940 these modern information means is proscribed under pretext which information, which it makes it possible to convey, could be intercepted by the enemy.

Ultrasecret in France

The 1e Brigade of Spahis, ordered by the Colonel Paul Jouffrault, fact part of the units having taken contact with the Germans, in Luxembourg, as of the morning of May 10th, 1940.

In connection with the transmissions on the battlefield, which one suspects that the precision and the speed were factors all the more dominating as the Germans were found where they were not supposed to be, written Jouffrault:

It is necessary to acknowledge here that the only transmissions which function “apart from the civil network [Luxembourg]” are the transmissions by car, motor bikes or couriers assembled. The regulation to quantify all the messages of TSF removes the use of the waves in the course of active operations. The 1e Brigade wanted, as the Germans did it, to try to speak in light, then in pidgin [North-African dialect]: she was immediately and severely recalled to the order by the monitoring services of the army.

In the event of unforeseen, and it of it badly this May 10th, 1940 ago, it is undoubtedly more effective of being able to launch on the waves of the precise information [even in light] immediately usable, to wait tens of minutes, even hours, an obsolete circulation of protected information.

Clearly in Italy

The Italian mobile units have radiophonic stations which they use during their attacks. The conversations are listened and exploited by the French stations. Here some significant examples of collected messages, on June 22nd, 1940, in full Italian attack:

14:05. Colonel Bernini, PC. Major Serres, Battalion 42e, still of firm footing with Colla Based. Column of right-hand side led to Passo di Cuore. My advance is prevented by shootings coming from Basso Vina [Cuore]. Action for Passa Vacca [southern 500m of Grammondo] will start before long. Let us try to act by surprise. Signed Falconieri.
14:10. Here Colonel. The Battalion is going up to turn obstacle of Stuck Based. The 1e Bataillon goes towards Castellar.
18:00. Colonel Bernini. 5.CP continuation 1CP CCNN exceeded the peak of Butetta and seeks to go down to circumvent the Colla network Based. 7th Company joined the Razet Mount. One is in critical condition and request ammunition.

It is obvious that, each time, the French artillery benefitted from this information (exact) to direct its shootings.

A happy medium

Between the two attitudes (Frenchwoman and Italian) there is a happy medium all the same. One could, for example, to plan to use the radio in light to indicate where was the enemy, or if one needed reinforcements or material and to use the radio quantified to indicate its own sites.

Example of slowness in 1940…

Example of slowness…
Transmissions of orders in the French Army in May 1940


Source of the document: work strengthened of Chesnois, 2nd army (SHAT Vincennes)

When the histories of certain French units are consulted one is sometimes surprised by the slownesses noted in the chain of command.

Here we do not refer to May 10th, 1940, day special during which one could think that French learned with their depend that the speed of the transmissions was a determining factor in the success of the battles. It would be too easy. We chose a document produced on May 13th, 1940 by the General Gamelin, General-in-chief French which had proscribed the radio of its PC. May 13th, 1940 thus, it enacts its general order [important and urgent] according to:

It is now necessary to hold head with the rush of the mechanical forces and motorized of the enemy. The hour had just fought thoroughly on the positions fixed by the High-Command. There is not any more the right to move back. If the enemy makes breach locally, not only to clog, but counter-attack and begin again. Signed: GAMELIN

We can note that this order, of which we will not analyze the contents, arrives after May 19th in most fighting units [it arrives whereas Gamelin was dismissed and thus does not order any more!]. The least which one can say is that the order was any more neither of the first freshness, nor of topicality, unless one recognizes a certain gift of anticipation to the Gamelin General.

The personal history of this document in addition is very animated. After receivebeing received by its recipient, the strengthened work of Chesnois (SF Montmedy), following the French defeat it is taken along to Germany with many of other files. Then, at the end of the second world war, it is taken by Soviet who classifies it in their files “French Army”. And in 1995 the Russians resell it with the SHAT. 55 years after its drafting it returns thus to France. The loop is buckled.



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