The Captain turned to his talker and murmured, “Walk out the anchor to the water’s edge and let us know.” A moment later, he let out an agonized roar as the hook splashed into the water. Before long an abashed First Lieutenant was maintaining stoutly on the bridge that the message received from his talker was, “Walk out the anchor to the water’s edge and let it go.” Certainly the Captain issued the correct command; probably the First Lieutenant received it as he maintained; and positively both officers damned the talker.
Before heaping invectives upon the head of the talker, it might be well to review briefly early systems of interior communications. The earliest, of course, was the stentorian voice. That this method was of doubtful efficiency is attested by the story that has become part of naval tradition. As John Paul Jones thundered his famous challenge across the intervening water to the Serapis, “We have not yet begun to fight,” a gunner’s mate who had been manning his piece in blood and sweat flung his cap upon the deck and groaned, “There’s always some so and so who doesn’t get the word.”
The next step in the improvement of interior communications was the voice tube. Intelligently installed, it is still a good system for voice communication. A suitable acoustical installation consists of 3-inch thin metal tubing, with sweeping curves and a minimum number of tap-offs. Of course, the law of diminishing speech returns sets in as the length of the voice tube increases. However, most voice tube installations are poorly engineered and installed. Little thought is given to acoustics, and the tube (more often a pipe) is bent in most horrendous shapes to by-pass various obstructions or to preserve watertight integrity. Voice tubes are all too often a pipe bender’s monument, but an acoustical engineer’s nightmare.
Even with the advent of the battery- operated telephone, the voice tube did not gracefully take a back seat. In Hints for Gunnery Officers prepared January 5, 1918, is found this statement:
Excellent communications are necessary for successful control. In the past there has been divergence of opinion as to the merits of telephones and voice tubes. Telephones have been practically eliminated from torpedo defense. The ideal condition, if it were possible, would be to eliminate them from all battle stations. Voice tubes form the only reliable means of communication. They are always in position and never out of order. They can be made efficient if as much time is spent on them as is spent on telephones. Allowance of flexible voice tubing should be practically unlimited on account of its possibilities in running temporary leads before, during, and after an engagement.
Before condemning as a false prophet the officer who wrote the above, it should be noted that in 1918, the telephone was an unreliable piece of equipment. It was battery- operated and the whole system might easily become completely inoperative after the first salvo or with the first hit received. Whether or not battery-operated phones could have been made shock-proof and more or less damage-proof is a moot question. Engineering developments followed a different line and eventually came forth with the sound-powered phone.
As the name implies, the sound-powered phone needs no external source of power. It operates solely from the energy generated by the voice. It is reliable, reasonably intelligible, and, within certain limits, a rugged device. While not the ultimate instrument of the future, it will do a good job if intelligently and intelligibly used.
Paralleling the development of the sound- powered phone and more complicated ships was the introduction of the telephone talker into the naval service. No one has received the credit for this creation, but it is difficult to visualize handling the modern combatant ship without the ubiquitous and much damned talker.
As things stand now the basic method of battle communication is from officer to talker to sound-powered phone, to sound- powered phone to talker to officer. In short, a command or order passed from an officer to an officer passes through two talkers, two- sound-powered phones, and the connecting medium between the phones. Any improvement in one link of this chain means the improvement of the interior communications chain as a whole.
Of course, it requires a great deal of tact to tell an officer, particularly a commanding officer, that he should not damn the talker but that he should take a course in speech and learn some facts about memory span. Nevertheless, it may be well to examine some of the ways that an officer can, through personal effort, improve the interior communications on his ship.
The first step is to use standard commands and orders. Unfortunately, there is no such publication as a Manual of Standard Commands and Orders in the naval service. Scattered through gunnery publications, Knight's Seamanship, NavPers Seamanship, and other pamphlets, numerous commands and orders are to be found. However, these publications in many cases are classified as “Confidential,” which makes them worse than useless so far as training is concerned. The publication of such a manual was undertaken by the Interior Control Board as part of its responsibility for shipboard interior communication. At first, it seemed a simple task to collect the more common commands and orders. However, the task was not as simple as it seemed. Responsible officers were reticent to allow commands and orders to be extracted from classified publications. Security, what sins are committed in thy name! The second difficulty arose because officers would not agree among themselves as to the meaning of a command or order, or what command or order to issue in a given situation. Unfortunately, the Interior Control Board did not have the officer personnel to push the job to its logical conclusion.
But the fact remains that the job can be done. A Manual of Standard Commands and Orders should be issued. Such a manual should represent the consensus of opinion as to the meaning of a command or order. No one expects that an officer of thirty years’ experience will refer to a Manual of Standard Commands and Orders. However, the placing of such a manual in the hands of every midshipman at the Naval Academy, students of the N.R.O.T.C. Units, and officers of the stand-by Naval Reserve would exert pressure on all concerned so that a healthful standardization would eventually result.
Another advantage of such a manual is that it would enable the commands and orders to be checked for their phonetic efficiency. To the lay mind phonetic efficiency means nothing but a mouthful of words used as a test for inebriation. But to the psychologist (experimental phonetician) it means words and phrases that sound so unlike that no confusion can possibly result. The Psycho- Acoustical Laboratory at Harvard University during the war conducted elaborate studies relative to the selection and pronunciation of words. Their reports issued to various commands made it possible to choose effectively digit pronunciation such as “niner” for “nine” and “fi-yuv” for “five.” Choices such as these reduced greatly the confusion between phonetically similar words. In addition, code words were recommended which could not possibly be confused in TBS and other radio communications. Many other related problems of voice communications were studied by various research organizations. At present, a vast amount of practical research material is available for future use.
In view of existing data and training materials, the responsibilities of the officer for good battle telephone communications can be easily and sensibly summarized as follows:
(1) He should use a standard command or order.
(2) His message, if long, should be broken into short, sense-making units so the talker can relay it piecemeal if necessary.
(3) He should talk loudly, slowly, and clearly so the talker can understand and also because good clear speech sets an example for the telephone talker. Officers who murmur commands or orders with a cigar or pipe in their mouths have no business howling “damn that talker.”
(4) He should drill men on his circuit while he wears the phones to check errors before they become bad habits.
The next unit in the chain of communications is our hero, the talker. What can be done with him in view of the fact that we may damn him, but we can’t eliminate him?
It was recognized early in the war that the talker was an integral part of the ship’s communication system and that he must function with speed and precision analogous to that of his telephone. It was further recognized that an organized program of training would have to be initiated in place of the time-consuming methods that were traditionally used on board individual ships.
The National Defense Research Committee (Project N-109), hereinafter, as a lawyer would say, referred to as the NDRC, was requested to set up a project studying the talker and his problems. This group of scientists working with the Bureau of Naval Personnel, the Commander of Operational Training Command, Atlantic and Pacific, and the Interior Control Board did an excellent job. The, scientists, Ph.D’s or no, took a realistic view of the whole problem. As a group they were singularly effective for they were able to talk to both the enlisted man and the flag officer, each in his own language.
A preliminary study of the problem indicated that it divided itself into two parts: a problem of selection and a problem of training. As psychologists, the NDRC people were interested in a thorough program of selection. At one time, the division of talkers into seven categories was suggested. These categories ranged from the superior man with perfect speech and memory to the “unusable” man with a stutter, cleft palate, or a zero memory span. Again, realism reared its ugly head. In the opinion of responsible officers about 70 per cent of the crew at one time or another would have to wear the phones. This meant that a minute selection system would have little value. Further, busy officers did not have the time to use a complicated system of selection.
The selection system as it was finally approved divided all personnel into three categories: “Well Qualified,” “Qualified,” and “Not Qualified.” Surely, this system was as simple as could be made. The “Well Qualified” talker was tabbed for use at the bridge or at any other location where intelligence and good speech were required. The “Qualified” talker was tabbed for any of the usual talker billets on board ship. Naturally, the “Not Qualified” talker, due to poor speech, low intelligence, or any other reason, should not be allowed to wear the phones.
Under current planning, talkers will be selected after brief periods of elementary training. Two factors will be considered: (1) Intelligibility and (2) Memory for Naval Commands. This test has been standardized and published by the Standards and Curriculum Division of the Bureau of Naval Personnel.
It would be ideal if by a selection process we could separate the sheep from the goats. Unfortunately, no selection process can result in enough sheep to supply the need. In other words, a thorough system of training, plus selection, is the only way possible to transform enough goats into acceptable sheep.
The NDRC representatives in initiating their training program asked the Navy: “What goes over the sound-powered phone?” The Navy knew in the abstract, but had only the foggiest ideas in the concrete. The answers of various officers ranged all the way from “Commands and Orders” to a “lot of bull.” As has been indicated, no one would agree on the meanings of individual “Commands and Orders,” and information relative to a “lot of bull” was superfluous. The next best thing was to find out what actually passed over the sound-powered circuits.
The first attempt to monitor sound- powered circuits was made on the U.S.S. New Jersey, where an imaginative but long suffering executive officer was highly cooperative. Recordings were made on the 1JV, 2JV, 3JV and 5JP circuits. A most valuable recording was made on the 3JV Circuits. This recording illustrated everything that should not be done by telephone talkers. It can safely be said that every rule was violated; commands were not crisply given; whistling and singing were engaged in; a play-by-play description of a storm was given by the smoke watch; comments made upon the ancestors of the various talkers; and the remark made that one officer was in a fog. The circuit was busy but not with legitimate business. These recordings were played for the executive officer who exhibited remarkable restraint over the lack of circuit discipline even though he did mutter, “Damn those talkers.”
After an analysis was made of the New Jersey recordings, further investigations were made to ascertain what might be done to train talkers efficiently so that they would not be completely green when they reported aboard.
Well co-ordinated NDRC research indicated the directions that training should take. These research findings will be the subject for separate publications by NDRC. Suffice it to say that research, plus a practical Navy point of view, led to the development, often jointly, of the following training publications and training aids, all of which are currently “restricted” and thus distributed only to authorized personnel:
(1) U. S. Fleet Telephone Talker's Manual.— Edited from various excellent fleet manuals, with added examples and illustrations, it gives official procedures for telephone talkers.
(2) Supplement to the Fleet Telephone Talker’s Manual.—This manual gives training doctrine for the various schools, lists all the training aids, and presents typical drill materials for major circuits.
(3) A Shipboard Guide to Telephone Talker Instruction.—This is a brief training guide for the use of ships. Typical drills are given in detail.
(4) Battle Telephone Training Recordings.— These recordings are in three parts: “The Importance of Battlephone Talking,” “How to Speak over Battlephones,” and “Standard Commands and Procedures.”
(5) The Battle Telephone Talker (MN-3711a).— This motion picture film shows clearly the part the telephone talker plays on board ship, and states simply and by example the rules for effective battlephone communications.
Currently all recruits and class “P” school trainees receive battlephone instruction. This includes Naval Reserve trainees in the armory training program. Talker instruction covers procedure, simple speech instruction, and practice in the care of sound-powered phones. Such a program is not a substitute for shipboard training, but it is a start towards final training on board.
It should be noted in passing that the process of establishing a training program is a discouraging one. Officers work long and hard developing training programs. They design these programs to take the “boot” as he comes fresh caught from Peoria or Brooklyn and give him the basis of the knowledge that he will need to know on board. Training should be a smooth transition from civilian to rating. Unfortunately, again and again, the operating forces will at times completely disregard the procedure developed in training, and establish procedures of their own. For example, the Bureau of Personnel, working with the Readiness Section of the Commander in Chief’s Office and the Interior Control Board, established a procedure for reporting ranges. This procedure was judged on the basis of both speed and accuracy in the transmission of information. Upon approval, it was embodied in the Telephone Talker's Manual, training literature, and a training film. In spite of this attempt at standardization, a type commander issued an official publication establishing an entirely different system of reporting ranges. The system exhibited no advantages over standard procedures; as a matter of fact, it would probably reduce intelligibility and otherwise add to confusion.
Above and beyond all considerations there must be a standard operational doctrine, and standard training doctrine to back it up. When men are detailed from one ship to another they will then fit smoothly into the interior communications milieu of the ship to which they are transferred.
Talker doctrine is well established, and the training materials are available. With good examples on the part of officers and petty officers, and constant drill, there should come a time when “damn that talker” is heard progressively less often.
Nevertheless, there are not wanting people who think that the initiative takes away from command a part of its authority and prerogatives. That is a narrow view to take of things. Command is, above all, a moral affair, because it is exercised over men who think and act; it does not consist in the substitution of the action of one for that of all; it subjugates the wills that engender acts and not the acts themselves, in such a way that each acts as the leader would have acted. Command gives the impulse, it determines unity of action; but it neither thinks nor acts for everybody.— Darrieus, War on the Sea.