This has been bugging me for a while, and my searching around hasn’t come up with a lot.
Let’s say it’s the early 1860’s in the US. The North has a group of war ships that it is sending to a southern port in order to form a blockade. When the ships leave their home port they know the basic plan, perhaps with a fair amount of detail, such as how the ships will be positioned once they get to where they are going, so there’s probably not a whole lot of intra-fleet communication that needs to happen until they get there. But since they don’t have ship-to-ship radios I assume they use some kind of a semaphore system to communicate between ships that are relatively close to each other (within a few miles) once they are in route to their destination. But how effective is a typical semaphore system during the heat of battle, or during a raging storm, or at night? And wouldn’t the enemy be able to intercept any signals between the ships? They certainly had spyglasses by then. And I realize that ships had lanterns that they could use for signaling, but would they be used during the daytime too?
I suppose if they had to they could send someone in a dingy from one ship to another as a way to relay orders, but what happens when they engage with the enemy, where tactical communications are needed to coordinate the entire fleet at the same time? Is it every ship for themselves, based on a playbook that each ship captain has, or do they use carrier pigeons to spread information? Or is there an easy way to signal each other so that a complicated attack plan can somehow be coordinated in real time? ’
Someone please enlighten me on pre-radio naval ship to ship communications…