by Michael E. Bigelow, INSCOM Command Historian
COL. HAYES PROPOSES CONCEPT FOR TACTICAL RADIO INTELLIGENCE
On 1 December 1943, Col. Harold G. Hayes recorded his personal observations concerning the American experience with radio intelligence in its first year of combat operations. Based on his experiences at the theater level, this commentary provided a prescient perspective on how the American Army would conduct tactical radio intelligence in Europe for the remainder of the war.
The 36-year-old Hayes was a career Signal Corps officer. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, he spent the 1930s in a variety of divisional and corps positions. In August 1938, he attended the Signal Intelligence course, graduating in June 1940. This placed him with William Friedman’s Signal Intelligence Service (SIS) when the United States entered World War II. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he briefly served in England in mid-1942. In September 1942, he became the chief American signal intelligence officer for Allied Forces, Headquarters. For the next fifteen months, he coordinated policy and operations for the American tactical radio intelligence operations during Operation TORCH and the subsequent campaigns in North Africa.
In late 1943, Maj. Gen. George Strong, the Army G-2, asked Colonel Hayes for a brief report on radio intelligence within the theater, together with recommendations to improve its operations. For his part, Hayes believed “certain sound principles of organization and operation have been determined” over the last year or so of combat. A fundamental of those principles was the policy of decentralized operation with centralized control. Furthermore, Hayes noted, “the intercept and local evaluation of enemy messages in plain language and in low grade code was of inestimable tactical value to local commanders” [emphasis in original document]. With these two concepts in mind, he outlined the optimal organization of radio intelligence units in the field.
At the lowest echelon, Hayes recommended a small, mobile, and specially organized radio intelligence unit. This unit combined the intercept and direction-finding operators who gathered the material with an intelligence staff who evaluated it. The latter exercised control over the entire undertaking while guiding the operators. To work effectively, the unit was self-sufficient for administration, supply, and movement. Although tactically separate, none of these operated independently of other radio intelligence units. Each needed the assistance of adjacent units and rear analytical centers to provide results for the local commander. While a Signal Corps organization, the unit worked directly for the supported command’s G-2.
“Corps headquarters,” Hayes noted, “has been found to be the lowest echelon at which signal intelligence units should be employed.” Within each corps, a radio intelligence company performed intercept and direction-finding operations. Meanwhile, an ad hoc intelligence staff provided direction and analytic support for these operations aimed at the enemy regimental and divisional radio nets to the immediate corps front. The radio intelligence team promptly turned over any critical intelligence to the corps G-2 who placed it in the hands of the subordinate commanders who were able to take effective action. “The amount of intelligence to be gained,” Hayes noted, “from plain language and low-grade codes is of unappreciated magnitude and can normally be depended upon daily.”
At the corps level, the radio intelligence team was not resourced to undertake research or any time-consuming tasks. It concerned itself solely with what Hayes called “the intercept of the moment,” and passed unreadable messages back to the next higher radio intelligence unit at army headquarters. The field army had a larger unit that undertook the intercept of both enemy medium-grade and low-grade code traffic. The army-level radio intelligence staff worked to exploit this traffic locally whenever possible. It sent intercepted raw traffic to army group or theater radio intelligence units for further analysis.
In his report, Hayes stressed, “the principle of decentralized operation with centralized control has proven itself as the only means of assuring successful exploitation of signal intelligence.” This centralized control was exerted through direct channels of communication flowing from the theater signal intelligence organization through army group and field army and down to corps radio intelligence units. Over these channels flowed a continuous exchange of technical information without which no unit could furnish timely intelligence. This control, Hayes pointed out “does not imply command nor administrative supervision.” Both of those, he stressed, continued to rest with the local commander.
In his report, Hayes also emphasized the importance of standardized training and the establishment of a centralized signal intelligence agency for the Army. The core of his report, however, remained the outline of radio intelligence organization and operation within a theater—a framework that would be followed as the U.S. Army fought across Europe.
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