Phonetic Alphabets (2)

Last time we looked at a number of phonetic alphabets. There was the British Army in 1904, the  British Post Office in 1914 , the  Royal Navy in 1917 and the  Western Union in 1918. Then came the good sense of the US Army and the US Navy in 1941 to have the same alphabet (for both) in contrast with the four different alphabets used by the RAF in different periods of World War II.

But what about the foreigners?

Here’s the Luftwaffe alphabet  in 1940. The very same one was used by the Wehrmacht, the German army:

Anton, Ärger, Bertha, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppilon

It is obviously different from the Allies’ alphabet, being based on names, but that must surely have made it quite easy to learn. Incidentally, “Ärger” and “Ödipus” were used for any words which contained either ” ä ” or ” ö “. Notice too how they have a code word for Ä and Ö. There is also a quick way of doing ‘c’ and ‘ch’ with Cäsar and China along with ‘s’ and ‘sch’ with Siegfried and Schule.

The most frequent marks of the Messerschmitt Bf109 such as the 109D, the 109E, the 109F and the 109G were frequently known by their phonetic letters, the Dora, the Emil, the Friedrich and the Gustav.

Here’s a young man and an old man who are the one and the same man. He was a Luftwaffe radio operator in WW2. The shape of his ears is a giveaway. Age yourself by seventy years but you’ll never change your ears.

And here is the cloth badge to be sewed on the uniform of a crewmember that the Luftwaffe called a “bordfunker”:

The German Navy, the Kriegsmarine, had a very slightly different alphabet, but , again, it was based on names:

Anton, Ärger, Bruno, Cäsar, China, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon,  Zeppilon

The Wehrmacht used pretty much the  same alphabet with:

Anton, Ärger, Berta, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Übel, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppelin 

 I couldn’t find a guaranteed French phonetic alphabet for World War II, but I did find this one, which is obviously based on first names:

Anatole, Berthe, Célestin, Désiré, Eugène, François, Gaston, Henri, Irma, Joseph, Kléber,

Louis, Marcel, Nicolas, Oscar, Pierre, Quintal, Raoul, Suzanne, Thérèse, Ursule, Victor, William, Xavier,

Yvonne, Zoé

That was a real list of sex bombs for French soldiers of every sexual persuasion to drool over. I don’t know what a “Quintal” is, but this happy curly haired chap is Ryan Quintal:

Actually I did look up “quintal” and one website said “a hundredweight  or a weight equal to 100 kilograms”. Another website said “backyard”. I often confuse the two.

The Italians, like many other nations, base their alphabet on towns and cities:

Ancona, Bologna, Como, Domodossola, Empoli, Firenze, Genova, Hotel, Imola, Jolly, Kursaal,

Livorno, Milano, Napoli, Otranto, Padova, Quarto,Roma, Savona, Torino,

Udine, Venezia, Washington, Xeres, Yacht, Zara.

Surely we all know the telegram sent by the humourist Robert Benchley to the New Yorker magazine:

“Have arrived Venice. Streets full of water. Please advise.”

I did find a Soviet spelling alphabet. The Russian alphabet, though, uses 33 letters, so it was quite complicated.  I decided to transcribe only the words for our Western letters. That came to:

Anna, Boris, Konstantin, Dmitri, Yelena, Fyodor, Grigory,

Khariton, Ivan, Zhenya, Leonid, Mikhail,

Nikolai, Olga, Pavel, Roman, Semyon,

Tatyana, Ulyana, Vasiliy, Zinaida.

Some letters such as ‘k’, ‘q’,  ‘w’, ‘x’ and ‘y’ do not really exist in Russian. Here’s a link to some of the letters of their alphabet.

Here are some Soviet signallers, giving a report to Headquarters in an unknown German town that has just been captured:

Two final points. If you can understand this, you’re a better man than me. This is perhaps 20% of a very large presentation of the Japanese phonetic alphabet. My best guess is that a word stands for a syllable, so that “suzume” stands for the syllable “su” and so on:

And finally, here’s the weirdest phonetic alphabet I found, taken from Tasmania in 1908:

Authority, Bills, Capture, Destroy, Englishmen, Fractious,

Galloping, High, Invariably, Juggling, Knights, Loose,

Managing, Never, Owners, Play, Queen, Remarks,

Support, The, Unless, Vindictive, When, Xpeditiously,

Your,  Zigzag








Filed under Aviation, History, Humour, military, Russia, the Japanese

18 responses to “Phonetic Alphabets (2)

  1. I have rugby second row forward ears

  2. Great work on a little reviewed topic. Thank you for sharing this. By the way, I enjoyed the photograph of the Russian “communicator” sitting on the chair while the others crouched in the snow.

    • Well, we all know the old saying that “all communicators are equal but some are more equal than others”.
      On the other hand, though, would the man with the telephone gladly swap his glamorous job for an ankle length nice warm coat like the other two have got?

  3. GP

    I have a book, “FUBAR” that gives the slang for Allied and Axis armies and navies, but these alphabets must have been mandatory to learn for decoders.

    • Yes, they must have been, and the situation cannot have been helped by the fact that there were a number of different alphabets which were all just slightly different one from another.
      For me, that makes the NATO alphabet one of the greatest triumphs. Not only are all the letters different one from another, but valiant attempts have been made to make sure that all of those letters are also different from all of the letters in the original individual alphabets in each NATO country, from Portugal to Latvia.

  4. Fascinating, John. The phonetic alphabets based on people’s name would be easy to memorize. The 1908 Tasmanian alphabet is, indeed, weird. “Quintal” is the Portuguese word for (back)yard as well as a former 120-pound measure of weight, as you’ve noted.

    • THanks for those kind words. I’ve looked at the Tasmanian alphabet quite a few times and I think that every one of the people who thought it up must have been rather drunk during the evening when they originally worked on it!

  5. Very interesting as always John. I didn’t realise that 109 marks were from the phonetic alphabet, although I suppose it makes relative sense. As for Japanese goodness knows how anyone can understand that let alone learn it!

    • And yet some people do manage to learn it ! I have taught one pupil in 38 years who went on to do Japanese and he now lives and works in Hiroshima. But it is a very difficult language from what I’ve heard.

  6. Excellent post as usual. I’d love to know where that Tasmanian one came from.

  7. Fascinating. Thank you.
    We are in West Bengal for a vacation. We were in Shantiniketan from 1st to 4th. On 6th we came to Sunderbans. Today we are going to Calcutta and will return home on the 13th.
    Regards , Lakshmi

  8. My brain had a tough time wrapping itself around all this, John. Talk about complex and confusing! Information found in this post again I received an education courtesy of you. Thank you!

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