SIGNAL CORPS METEOROLOGISTS IN WWI

By Paul A. Roales



[Much of the information for the first part of this page is taken from "Thor's Legions" by John F. Fuller (American Meteorological Society, 1990). Two photographs are from "Modern War Depends on Weather" (Popular Mechanics, May 1936, p. 722).]

When the U.S. Entered World War I on April 3, 1917 the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) was formed under General "Black Jack" Pershing. In July Pershing requested Meteorologists be sent to France. Robert A. Millikan (1868-1953, Physicist, Nobel Physics Prize in 1923) was put in charge of forming the Signal Corps Meteorological Service. His planning committee recommended a staff of 21 officers and 156 enlisted men for the A.E.F. and another 15 officers and 200 enlisted men for the domestic U.S.. This was later changed to a total request for 27 officers and 475 enlisted men. The Signal Corps Meteorological Service was formed in late August, 1917 under Major Millikan's command. Major William Blair was put in charge of the A.E.F. forces and Captain Bertram Sherry was in charge of the domestic meteorologists.

125 of the 475 requested enlisted men were obtained from the Weather Bureau either by volunteers or by the draft. Other meteorologists were trained at the Signal Corps School at Camp McArthur, TX which was moved after one month to Texas A&M University at College Station, TX. In total the Signal Corps Meteorological Service sent 15 officers and 300 enlisted men to the A.E.F. and another 200 were kept stateside working on research and to support Army Airfields, Ordnance and Gas Warfare Proving Grounds, and Coast Artillery Stations.

The first of the Signal Corps meteorologists trained in the US arrived in France in March of 1918 and Major Blair ran a Meteorology School at Langres, France from March 24 until August 4 to provide on-the-job training of the meteorologists in the use of the French and British meteorological equipment and data. The first 5 Signal Corps Weather Stations in France were established on May 2, 1918 and by war's end 22 weather stations had been set up. They supported A.E.F. Headquarters, aviation, balloon, artillery, gas, and engineering units. Most were only 4-6 miles from the front lines.

[The following quote and chart are from US Army Training Manual No. 30, "Meteorological Observer" (Government Printing Office, 1927). The chart shows the table of organization of a Meteorological Company , Signal Corps (war strength), July 5, 1921.]

"The distribution of stations of the Meteorological Section, Signal Corps, American Expeditionary Forces, was on the regional plan and practically ideal. Six stations served the entire front from the Moselle River to the Argonne forest. These stations each observed every 4 hours of the 24. Data obtained in each observation were immediately transmitted by radio to air, artillery, and sound ranging units in the vicinity. Special observations were made when called for by any unit. Observations for gas units have been made as frequently as four times an hour during critical periods. Data were transmitted to gas units by telephone. These front-line stations were located from 8 to 18 kilometers back of the front trenches. They operated in pairs, the hours of observation being staggered, thus avoiding interference in sending by radio and making data available every two hours in the sector served by a pair of stations. The first pair observed in even hours, the second in odd, and the third in even hours again."

"Eighteen stations of the type "Observation stations S. 0. S." served all fields and ranges used for training. Their distribution, however, was such that no squall got through to the American sector undetected and for which due warning was not given all units concerned. These stations were also well placed from the forecasters' point of view."

"A "field headquarters" and "forecast station Z of A" combined was located about one-half mile east of Colombey-les-Belles. This station was fully equipped for its work in every way, including a 24-hour telegraph and telephone service as well as a "listening" radio station by means of which the work of the front line stations could be followed and reports regularly received from German stations on the other side of the line. The 24 observing stations reported into the headquarters station by telegraph or telephone. These reports, together with reports from French and British sources received in exchange, formed the basis of the forecasts issued four times daily, and on special occasions as called for, by the headquarters station."

After the war ended on November 11, 1918 the U.S. Government dismantled the Armed Forces and by April 1919 the Signal Corps Meteorological Service had only 11 officers and 49 enlisted men at its 11 U.S. Weather Stations.


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