The Army’s diversity is reflected in its different branches. Each of these branches has its very own set of distinct skills and capabilities, yet they are at their strongest and most successful only when they work together. Specialised equipment is used to overcome a wide variety of challenges. Learn more about the Army’s signal corps.
The signal corps ensures information system–based communications within the Army on operations and during exercises. Signal corps forces are among the first troops in theatre, moving in at the beginning of an operation and employing their personnel and state-of-the-art technology to provide the telecommunications and data communications the Army requires.
The task of all signal corps personnel is to transmit information with as little delay as possible and in a quick and targeted manner and thus to contribute to mission success. For (voice) telecommunications as well as for teleprinter, fax and data communications, the signal corps employs landline telecommunications networks along with radio and radio relay communications as well as satellite communications. The signallers’ core task is to establish the communications and information network of the German Army within bi- and multinational formations of NATO during training, exercises and operations in Germany and abroad.
Element of a Multinational Formation
The branch is characterised by the wide range of demands placed on its approximately 7,200 service members and their expert knowledge of modern, advanced information technology, and by the fact that the performance of their function is essential for the command and control capability of the Army.
The signal forces’ mission is as unique as 610 Signal Battalion. It is unparalleled within the German Army. The battalion is part of the multinational signal forces of Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland. As an element of the corps, 610 Signal Battalion takes part in selecting locations to accommodate command posts. The unit’s main task is to set up and operate command posts, subcommand posts and IT (information technology) and communications infrastructure for approx. 350 subscribers of a headquarters. When up and running, the battalion provides communication services for voice, image, text, video and data transmission within command posts and manages the relevant encryption tools.
To ensure readiness of combat service support and command support, the Prenzlau/Brandenburg-based battalion trains its soldiers in a variety of fields. At regular intervals the battalion conducts exercises on a national and multinational scale as pre-deployment measures for its commitments with Multinational Corps Northeast. These exercises also qualify the soldiers to be integrated into national and multinational formations.
610 Signal Battalion is also responsible for the trouble-free supply of spare parts, food, consumables and maintenance services, i.e. whatever logistic support it takes to run command posts.
Besides 610 Signal Battalion, the soldiers of the Army’s signal forces serve with another three different units.
German/Netherlands CIS Battalion
The binational Communications and Information Systems (CIS) Battalion in Eibergen in the Netherlands with one German signal company is an element of NATO’s High Readiness Forces. It is assigned to 1 (DEU/NLD) Corps in Münster/North Rhine-Westphalia. The battalion is responsible for the communications and information links during training, exercises, and operations at home and abroad, and thus ensures telecommunications within the corps and with its subordinate units and formations.
Signal Company, Eurocorps
The signal company of Eurocorps, based in Lebach/Saarland, is assigned to the German element, Multinational CIS Brigade of Eurocorps. During training, exercises and operations at home and abroad, the company is responsible for establishing and operating the rear command post of Eurocorps, whose headquarters is at Strasbourg/France.
Signal Company, Special Operations Forces Command
The signal company of the Special Operations Forces Command (SOFCOM) in Calw/Baden-Württemberg, is assigned to the Rapid Response Forces Division. The company is responsible for setting up and operating command posts as well as the communications and information networks for SOFCOM (Special Operations Forces Command) during training, exercises and operations both inside and outside Germany’s borders.
Army Signal Forces
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This is our Equipment
The signal forces establish a connection and transmit messages between the forces and their leadership using wire, radio, radio relay, and satellite communications. This includes almost all voice radio, telephone, teletype and radio relay links as well as data and image transmission, and telefax connections. Static communication services install and operate fixed telecommunications installations and connect them to make up networks.
For that purpose, the soldiers rely on a great variety of special equipment. Telecommunications installations are permanently fitted in containers or cabins. These, in turn, can be loaded quickly and transported flexibly with all-terrain trucks, allowing signal forces to work with them on site.
The logistics behind this are ensured by the signal forces using their own handling equipment. Employing mobile cranes or all-terrain wheeled loaders, the signal forces are capable of setting up command posts consisting of containers, tents, cabins and many kilometres of data lines.
History of the Signal Corps
To integrate the Rhine provinces of Prussia which were separated from the heartland into the political and military leadership of the monarchy, an optical telegraph line of almost 550 kilometres was established between Berlin and Koblenz in 1833. The personnel required to operate such a telegraph line were pooled in the Royal Prussian Telegraph Corps and directly assigned to the Prussian General Staff.
This may be considered the beginning of military telecommunications in Germany. With the invention of the telephone and the establishment of telephone exchanges, the first telegraph battalions were founded in 1899. Ever since, military telecommunications have constituted a branch in itself. By the outbreak of World War I, three training wings, seven telegraph battalions and eight fortress signal companies had been configured.
With the mobilisation of 1914, the number of telegraph soldiers soared. It turned out, however, that many high-ranking commanders were at a loss how to use the means of communication at their disposal and their technical potential and, above all, as operationally and tactically required. The failure of the German troops at the First Battle of the Marne, the expansion of the Western Front and the transition to trench warfare in the East had a lasting impact on the further development of military communications in the period that followed. At the end of the war, the signal forces – excluding intelligence detachments – comprised 4,381 officers and approx. 185,000 other ranks serving with more than 2,800 headquarters and units.
Military defeat and the German Revolution in late 1918 had engulfed the nation in a deep crisis.
In 1919, the German delegation accepted the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and thus reduced its army to seven infantry and three cavalry divisions with a total maximum strength of 100,000 soldiers. In 1921, seven division signal units with a manpower of approx. 2,500 soldiers made up the new Reichswehr Signal Corps.
It was during this period that valuable work was done for the further development of military communications.
Merely a few days after he rose to power, Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to be rebuilt. From 1933, new branches were established, and the number of command personnel multiplied many times over. In 1939, the re-establishment of the Army Signal Corps was complete with the corps now consisting of:
one command staff and 19 corps signal sections, and
45 division signal units, among which there were three armoured signal and three mountain signal sections as well as the signal training and experiment department at the German Army Signal School.
After the mobilisation of the Army Signal Corps had been covertly initiated in late July 1939, its key elements and units were operationally ready and available as early as in August 1939:
11 signal regiments, one of which was a command regiment;
23 signal sections of the General Commands of the Army Corps;
35 signal sections of the first-wave infantry divisions;
19 signal sections of the second-wave infantry divisions;
10 signal sections of the motorised infantry and armoured divisions;
3 signal sections of the mountain divisions;
5 mixed signal companies of the four light divisions and the cavalry brigade;
7 radio intelligence companies;
12 field intelligence detachments assigned to the Army Group Headquarters and Field Army Headquarters;
45 independent field trunk cable construction, telephone construction and telephone operating companies, as well as
14 Signal Corps replacement units.
In the last days of May 1945, German signal forces ceased to exist after a dynamic history spanning almost 50 years. It is the tragedy of history that the German signal forces had to prove their efficiency in two terrible world wars.
The official date of birth of the Bundeswehr signal forces is considered to be 11 January 1956, the day the “General Directive No. 1/56 for the Buildup of the Army” (Grundsätzliche Weisung für die Aufstellung des Heeres Nr.1/56) was issued. The first signal elements to be formed were five division signal battalions as well as two brigade signal companies. The remaining units, among which were three corps signal battalions, one signal intelligence battalion, three cadre-strength signal companies, one signal training battalion, and the Army Signal School, were established shortly after.
German Army Structure 2 shaped the period from 1959 to 1970. Among others, three corps signal headquarters as well as another three corps and five division signal battalions are considered the most important formations to be established in those days. In addition, the structural basis was laid for electronic warfare and the newly formed elements of the signal forces for territorial defence.
The subsequent development phase of German Army Structure 3 from 1970 to 1979 was characterised by the fusion of the field army with the forces for territorial defence. In this context, signal units were formed for the Bundeswehr command level. It was during this period that, among others, 900 Command Telecommunications Brigade with two regiments and five signal battalions came into being. This was also the time when the Army automated communications network (AUTOKO) and modern radio and radio relay technology were introduced.
German Army Structure 4 from 1980 to 1992 was also referred to as a phase of optimisation. It was during this period that the then six military districts and nine brigade signal platoons established headquarters for the signal commanders. Regarding equipment, the introduction of a new generation of radio equipment and the second development stage of AUTOKO brought further technological progress. By late 1989, the signal forces consisted of 34 battalions.
Following German Reunification, the first stage of reform from 1990 to 1996 brought about Army Structure 5, a new structure for the whole Army, which led to a drastic reduction of Army personnel in general. At the end of this development stage, the signal forces of the Bundeswehr consisted of only 22 regiments and battalions.
The second stage of the reform, referred to as German Army structure “New Army for New Tasks” was set into motion in 1997. The Army reduced its numbers yet again, and the requirements to be met by the Army were adapted to fit those of international operations. In 1997, the signal forces consisted of four communication and information systems (CIS) support brigades, one signal intelligence brigade, seven CIS support regiments, and numerous other units and installations.
In 2000, the German federal government adopted another comprehensive reform, the reorientation of the Bundeswehr. For joint tasks, the Joint Support and Enabling Service (Streitkräftebasis, SKB) was established. In the course of this, all communication and information systems support elements were disbanded and their tasks assumed by regiments and battalions. The “Directive on the Further Development of the Armed Forces” (Weisung zur Weiterentwicklung der Streitkräfte) led to the “New Army” structure, which was to upgrade signal forces and CIS forces both in quantitative and qualitative terms.
To perform its function as intervention forces, 1 (DEU) Armoured Division was assigned 1 Signal Regiment. The Specialised Operations Division and the Airmobile Division, as well as the four stabilisation brigades were given one signal battalion each. In addition, one signal battalion was established as a German element for the Multinational Corps Northeast, and one signal company was assigned to 1 (DEU/NLD) Corps, while the Eurocorps - for the first time ever - was given an organic CIS company. The Army Signal School was placed under the command of the Joint Support and Enabling Service in the summer of 2005, and renamed Bundeswehr Communication and Information Systems School. Since then it has been the joint training centre for signal soldiers of the German Army as well as of CIS forces of the Joint Support and Enabling Service.