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Since this is a question about historical detail, I think it suits more this site than Movies SE.

The miniseries Gallipoli tells the story of the invasion on that peninsula during the Great War. I think the movie tries to be quite historically accurate, hence I am baffled about this device.

enter image description here

General Birdwood, the commander of the ANZAC troops is given this device just before the planned offensive with information that "when the needle will start moving, it means that the men have landed in the Suvla Bay", for which most of the general staff reacts with curiosity.

Initially, I thought that this is some sort of a telegraph, but by 1915 those devices were already highly advanced and well-known. Marconi's radio was mass produced since 1912, but this device has no speaker (or headphones), only a needle.

What is this device? How can it be used in communication?

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  • To everyone unfamiliar with the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, the location was Suvla Bay, not Suva Bay. Suva is a city in Fiji. – Fred Jun 25 at 10:36
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    Lay a loop of wire in the shallows. Wait for magnetised iron ships to sail over. – user_1818839 Jun 25 at 13:20
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It's technically a galvanometer. Available then in principle for quite some time.

They were the first instruments used to detect and measure small amounts of current.

It was used before and during the war as metal and gun detector, and perhaps even as a very sensitive seismometer.


If you want to get one you may find it under "Vintage Military Detector":

enter image description here

World War II military detector W.E.M. Co Ltd No2753 1942. This is a WW2 British dated 1942 Detector Q & I A.T.PIT Reads On The Dial Detector Q & I.A.T.P. (WAO275 ) W.E.M Co LTD No 2753 1942

— src: Vintage World War II Military Detector 1942 W.E.M.CO Ltd NO2753

Another listing decribes such a device as:

Antique Edison & Swan Q & I detector meter galvanometer […] for a larger view. Description: Brand: Edison & Swan Condition: Antique VTG Old Weight: 600 gr Antique Edison & Swan "Q and I" detector meter CA 1917, was made by Edison and Swan United Electric Light Co. Ltd An elementary galvanometer made for telegraph, telephone and other types of electrical maintenance workers to make rough battery checks, find faults, number wires, and other similar tests.

Or:

Edison and Swan "Q and I detector," – This British Q and I detector is an elementary galvanometer made for telegraph, telephone and other types of electrical maintenance workers to make rough battery checks, find faults, number wires, and other similar tests. It is not intended to measure absolute current or to be part of a working telegraph set. The "Q and I" stand for "Quantity and Intensity," 19th century electrical terms, which are misleading terms to describe the coils. The "Q" coil has a resistance of .2 ohms. The "I" coil has a resistance of 100 ohms. The "intensity" coil is used for localizing faults in lines using a series resistance. The "quantity" coil is used primarily for battery testing.

The uses for that were apparently quite widespread:

Edison and Swan Q and I detector

The company Edison and Swan was a joint venture company formed in 1883 between the American inventor Thomas Edison and the British inventor Joseph Swan. Both had clashed over the invention of the electric light bulb in 1878.
This instrument was apparently used by telegraph linesmen for checking batteries, finding faults, and identifying and numbering wires. It comprises two coils, the Quantity (Q) coil rated at 0.2 ohms and the Intensity (I) coil rated at 160 ohms.
The Q coil is used for testing batteries and the I coil for localising faults.
A current of 140 mA in the Q coil should produce a needle deflection of 30 degrees and 10 mA through the I coil should cause a deflection of 50 degrees.

This instrument carries the markings “Edison and Swan, No. 22386” is dated 1918 and comes with a leather carrying case.

— Computer Networking and Telecommunications Research: "Telegraphy: The birth of modern communications", University of Salford, undated.

These could be used as follows:

Historically, the first reference to gun detectors was in a patent filed by C. N. Clark on 12 April 1895 (Patent No. 541, 719).

Clark placed in a building a large air coil electromagnet connected to a galvanometer relay. He claimed that when persons came near to or walked away from the coil, the needle of the galvanometer would be deflected.

In his patent application, Clark stated,

"It is further understood, that any stationary iron in the magnetic field would not produce a deflection. But whenever a person having metal upon his body moves into the magnetic field or away therefrom, the galvanometer is actuated. On the other hand, a piece of soft iron may be suspended or arranged near the coil, so that when a person not having any iron on his body approaches or moves from the magnetic field, the jarring of the floor or other part of thie structure causes the soft iron to vibrate and disturb the magnetic field of the coil and conse- quently, causes a deflection of the galvanometer." The idea, then, of gun detection based on magnetic principles is at least 77 years old.

— James H. Henry, Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA): "Theory And Application Of Magnetic Weapon Detectors", Protection of Public Figures, Symposium Proceedings, U.S.Army Mobility Equipment Research, And Development Center, Fort Belvior, Virginia, May 16–18, 1972. PDF

So it is a device that comes from the field of electricity and was indeed widely used in telegraphy. The early patent granted for a military application of it leads me to not being able to answer the subquestion: How that device lead to astonishment by the other soldiers present?

As Andrew's answer notes, the actual monitoring of the landing progress apparently was not done with 'advanced technology'. That leads to the assumption that this slightly vague detail in the TV series is not entirely historically accurate to begin with. Which leaves us with a lot of speculation over how such a galvanometer could be used for such a task, of which there a quite a few possibilities imaginable (some found in the recommendable other answers on this page). And further speculation as to why the writers included the device.

For the latter, a working theory might revolve around Lawrence Bragg, an Australian, who won in 1915 a Nobel Prize and in the same year developed the technology of sound ranging (SR) for artillery fire that involved a string galvanometer, shortly after his brother was killed at Gallipoli.

All these points towards a connection with the theme of the show. However, as was correctly noted in comments already, the actual real SR technique was not suitable at all for the conditions found at the landing. A setup from the time looked more like this:

enter image description here
enter image description here enter image description here
— src: UK Military Survey Historic Archive

More on Bragg and SR:

— Richard Daniel Costley Jr.: "Battle eld Acoustics in the First World War: Artillery Location", Acoustics Today, Vol 16, No 2, 2020. doi
— William Van der Kloot: "Lawrence Bragg's Role in the Development of Sound-Ranging in World War I", Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 59, No. 3, 2005, pp273–284.

Altogether this makes it quite in my eyes quite plausible that the writers connected quite a few dots and conflated the info on 'Australians, new invention, galvanometer' into this little device as 'newest tech' without much needed and/or detailed explanation on screen?

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    ? How could this detect men landing at Suva bay? I'm not challenging the conclusion, just seeking to understand the mechanism. – MCW Jun 24 at 12:03
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    Wasn't for me. It might be clearer if the exact patent wording was merely linked to rather than quoted, and the answer here instead contained a high-level summary of what it does, and how that might have helped them detect a landing in Suva Bay. Not everyone (or perhaps its just me?) knows off the top of their heads what an "elementary galvanometer" is. – T.E.D. Jun 24 at 12:34
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    @MCW I found quotes of the thing used in military from earlier on, quotes of it used in WW1. There will come up a quote of the exact usage and workings in that example case mentioned (not necessarily hist exact in the movie, but in principle). But my current understanding and guesstimate is that this is indeed used much more passive than "building a large coil", more like a lie-detector/e-meter. – LаngLаngС Jun 24 at 13:11
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    @MCW BTW: I read the question as "What is this", not "How does that work" (and thus answered). I agree completely that 'but how?' is interesting and adding it would make a much better/complete answer indeed. Only, I'll abstain from speculation for a plausible explanation now, and prefer an exact ref. Not 'how could', but 'how was'. Will dig further. – LаngLаngС Jun 24 at 13:19
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    @LаngLаngС - That is an entirely reasonable position - you are quite correct; you answered the question that was asked. But the question "How did this device work in this environment?" is so closely related, that I'm reluctant to open a new question. How can a handheld device detect a gun 15km away through rough terrain? How did it discriminate between hostile units and friendly units? How did it detect motion in Suva bay rather than anywhere else in a 15km radius? These questions are (at least to me) implied by and inseparable from OP question. – MCW Jun 24 at 13:23
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Assuming that it is indeed a galvanometer, as LаngLаngС suggests (and I think they're right), then my suspicion is that it is indicating something to do with the telegraph signalling system from the landings.

There is a detailed appendix in the war diary of the GHQ Director of Signals (WO 95/4268, Ancestry). This sets out the signals work at Suvla; a party was sent ashore in the night at Nibrunesi Point, overlooking Suvla Bay, to bring ashore a cable. The idea was that they would then be able to relay signals between the landing divisions, the ships, and headquarters until those units could also be connected to the telegraph system.

The cable ship was in position at 0115, and the shore party signalled over the cable that it was connected at at 0209. They lost contact 0333-0408, but came back on the air at that point. Wireless sets did not arrive until 0515, and contact with the beaches was made at 0525. A cable down to the beaches was set up at 0550, wireless at 0615, and Morse signalling set up at 0623. GHQ noted:

Very few messages came through during the day - until 0848 nothing was recieved except SGs, and till then GHQ was kept informed of progress of landing by information from Signals.

I strongly suspect, but with the caveat that it's speculative, that this initial connection is the event that is being dramatised. The first confirmation that anyone is ashore comes from that telegraph line being connected, and presumably you would be able to easily hook another indicator into the line so that it will start flickering when there is a live circuit. That line runs through a headquarters where Birdwood is based, even though it's not formally reporting to him (he wasn't in command of the force landing at Suvla).

So my guess is that it is a galvanometer being used as a galvanometer, to indicate the telegraph line is live and thus that the shore signal station is now active.

Whether this actually happened, or if it was dramatised... I don't know. It seems a bit of an odd thing to make up, but equally it could have been an incident from elsewhere in the war that was added here for dramatic effect. I can't find any mention of it elsewhere. The Australian official history doesn't go into much detail about the landings, but on the afternoon of 7th August it notes:

Of the progress of the force disembarked at Suvla Birdwood had no information except that which his eyes afforded him. (p 646)

The official history doesn't seem to mention any specific notification of the landings overnight, and it is not in Birdwood's memoirs. I have not been able to track down anything from other eye-witnesses. Ian Hamilton (to whom the signals were all ultimately going) noted an "All landings successful" cable in the early morning and since then 'no direct news'. (memoirs, vol 2, p. 56).

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  • If this is indeed an electric current meter, then it could be used to detect ANY electromagnetic signal, generated for example by a Tesla coil or other high-power device. Spark-gap transmitter works similarly, but I'd thought that it would be well-known and a bit more sophisticated in 1915 than just a galvanometer sitting on a desk. – Yasskier Jun 24 at 22:09
  • @Yasskier the signals plan explicitly mentions radio - it was included as a backup to the cable (two man-portable sets to be landed with the Nibrunesi party overnight, and a reciever set up at GHQ). These would have been standard morse-telegraphy equipment I think. There is no mention of any direct radio signals planned or recieved from the beaches, so I think that's unlikely to be the explanation. I agree it's theoretically possible, but I can't imagine the signal staff forgetting to mention this had been set up! – Andrew Jun 25 at 8:35
  • I've checked and there's also no mention of special signals in the overall landing plan (a copy is in 11th Division war diary). – Andrew Jun 25 at 8:53
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One possible explanation is the use of "sound ranging".

During World War I, a team of scientists developed a technique called sound ranging which worked using a system of microphones and a device called a string galvanometer.

The purpose of the equipment was to determine where enemy guns were positioned by analysing the length of time it took sound impulses from the firing of guns to arrive at the allied front.

The equipment would have had six "microphones", the signals from which were recorded simultaneously on the film recorder.

Another, possibly more applicable to masses of troops disembarking from ships and exposing more of the ships' hulls as the ships got lighter, at the start of the Suvla Bay campaign and thus creating a larger disturbance in that location of the Earth's magnetic field.

"As a matter of actual personal experience," said Dr. Tesla. "it became a fact that the small iron-hull steam mail-packets (ships) plying up and down the river Seine at a distance of 3 miles would distinctly affect the galvanometer!"

... this magnetic method of locating or indicating the presence of an iron or steel mass might prove very practical ...

The device in the picture looks like a signals galvanometer. Such devices were used to monitor signals traffic, by measuring changes in the localized magnetic field produced by spark Morse code transmitters, that would have increased as the campaign commenced.

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    Sound ranging is a red herring here, as it requires a network of multiple, very precisely placed, detectors. (It's based on detecting minute differences in the arrival time of the gun blasts.) That was possible behind the lines on the Western Front; but would have been much more difficult at Gallipoli and could not have worked with a single galvanometer. The rest of your answer has promise however. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 25 at 11:38
  • My current working theory is as well that it indeed is (well: 'might be') a conflation of sound ranging and taking that piece to conveniently symbolize 'newest tech' on screen. Please feel free to take the hints in the comments under my answer to explore that angle more in this answer. That tech was advanced by Australians like Bragg in exactly 1915. – LаngLаngС Jun 25 at 14:55

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