Military phonetic alphabets

An opportunity for recruit training

Phonetic alphabets are used on voice radio communications to ensure that important data is conveyed accurately. They also assist in accurate communication where language is a problem, Saying "E" may be misheard over a poor-quality voice link but saying "Echo" is more likely to be correctly heard.

Successful communication only occurs if the sender and receiver can understand each other so it is essential that they use the same alphabet. Historically, radio communication was only desirable within national groups, except for Radio Amateurs who specifically intended to communicate internationally. So different national groups and even different branches of the same countries armed forces used different phonetic alphabets, which reinforced national identities and incidentally impeded casual interception of enemy voice communications. One innovation as a result of the attacks at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii in 1941 was the United States' Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet.

International civil aviation and also NATO produced a requirement for standardisation. Around 1955 an international phonetic alphabet was defined which is now preferred for voice communication over radio. It defines twenty-six words, which represent the letters of the alphabet. Numerals can also be represented in a standard way, usually in English plus the speaker's native language.

The words asigned to the letters are supposed to be readily learnt and difficult to confuse. In practice, learning the phonetic alphabet can be a problem - or a sadomasochistic opportunity. An effective way is to look at car registration plates and repeat them in the phonetic alphabet. More fun is disciplined learning with a strict teacher who imposes forfeits for mistakes. This approach has been used in military situations as it offers many opportunities for forfeits of a physical nature, for example push-ups or corporal punishment (CP). Fatigue sets in, which impairs accuracy. The argument for continuing through exhaustion and pain barriers is to ensure that the recruit has learnt so thoroughly that he will use the phonetic alphabet accurately and instinctively even when severely tired or stressed in a combat situation.

Collecting historical precursors, mnemonics to assist learning the Morse code and modern variants from the NATO/IATA phonetic alphabet is close to trainspotting as a potentially endless activity. For example UK police use "Indigo" instead of "India". Fast learners and punishment pigs should try both PGP Word Lists (and should go out more).

Here are both the current NATO/IATA phonetic alphabet and some language variants, which accommodate the accented letters of the French and German alphabets.

The NATO phonetic alphabet (1955)
Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey Xray Yankee Zulu

Pre-1954 U.S. Navy Radio Alphabet
Able Baker Charlie Dog Easy Fox George How Item Jig King Love Mike Nan Oboe Peter Queen Roger Sugar Tare Uncle Victor William X-ray Yoke Zebra

RAF 1942-43
Apple Beer Charlie Dog Edward Freddy George Harry Ink Jug/Johnny King Love Mother Nuts Orange Peter Queen Roger/Robert Suga Tommy Uncle Vic William X-ray Yoke/Yorker Zebra

[note: aircraft in Dambusters raid: A-Apple B-Baker C-Charlie E-Easy F-Freddie G-George H-Harry J-Johnny K-King L-Leather (officially L-London) M-Mother N-Nuts O-Orange P-Popsie S-Sugar T-Tommy W-Willie Y-York Z-Zebra]

British Army 1927
Ack Beer Charlie Don Edward Freddy George Harry Ink Johnnie King London Monkey Nuts Orange Pip Queen Robert Sugar Toc Uncle Vic William X-ray Yorker Zebra

RAF 1924-42
Ac Beer Charlie Don Edward Freddie George Harry Ink Johnnie King London Monkey Nuts Orange Pip Queen Robert Sugar Toc Uncle Vic William X-ray Yorker Zebra

Royal Navy 1917
Apples Butter Charlie Duff Edward Freddy George Harry Ink Johnnie King London Monkey Nuts Orange Pudding Queenie Robert Sugar Tommy Uncle Vinegar Willie Xerxes Yellow Zebra

British Army "Signalese" 1916 (Battle of the Somme)
Ack Beer Charlie Don Edward Freddie Gee Harry Ink Johnnie King London Emma Nuts Oranges Pip Queen Robert Esses Toc Uncle Vic William X-Ray Yorker Zebra

U.S. Army 1916
Able Buy Cast Dock Easy Fox George Have Item Jig King Love Mike Nap Opal Pup Quack Rush Sail Tape Unit Vice Watch X-ray
Yoke Zed

Modern French - Code d'épellation
Anatole Berthe Célestin Désiré Eugène Émile François Gaston Henri Irma/Isidore Jean/Joseph Kléber Louis Marcel Nichole/Nicholas Oscar Pierre Quintal Raoul/Robert Suzanne Thérèse Ursule Victor Wagon/William Xavier Yvonne Zoé

Modern Canadian
Alice Bernard Charles David Édouard François Georges Henri Isabelle Jacques Kilo Louis Marie Nicolas Olivier Pierre Québec Robert Samuel Thomas Ursule Victor William Xavier Yvonne Zoé

Modern German - phonetische lautschrift
Anton Berta Caesar Dora Emil Friedrich Gustav Heinrich Ida Julius Kaufmann Ludwig Martha Nordpol Otto Paula Quelle Richard Samuel Theodor Ulrich Viktor Wilhelm Xanthippe Ypsilon Zacharias/Zeppelin

0 numeralzero nadazero zero ou nul
1 numeralone nuunaone unite
2 numeraltwo bissotwo deux fois un
3 numeralthree terrathree deux et un
4 numeralfour kartefour deux fois deux
5 numeralfive pantafive trois et deux
6 numeralsix soxisix deux fois trois
7 numeralseven setteseven quatre et trois
8 numeraleight oktoeight deux fois quatre
9 numeralnine novenine cinq et quatre

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