Tag Archives: The Royal Navy

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

Bomber Harris, not a happy man (6)

In his excellent book, “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command”, Roy Irons is not slow to reveal the fact that it was absolutely typical of the attitudes of the RAF in the 1920s and 1930s to have carried out absolutely no research whatsoever on new bombs for the any future war. No attempts whatsoever were made to produce a very large bomb of a very high standard that would do the enemy very real harm. Instead, bombs, quite simply, did not ever change and new aircraft were designed just to accommodate the old bombs rather than to carry a four thousand pounder, an eight thousand pounder or even a twelve thousand pounder, bombs which were  actually quite simple to produce. Here is the 4,000lb “cookie”:

And the 8,000 lb cookie, made by joining two 4,000 pounders together, with a large spanner and a few nuts and bolts:

And the 12,000 pounder “cookie”, produced in pretty much the same way:

Thin skinned and full of high explosive, this was one of the earliest “blast bombs”. None of the three would fit into any of the old bombers without modifications.

Here are the old style bombs being put into the bomb bay of an antiquated Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Even the tractor looks tired:

The real issue, though, was the incorporation of aluminium into the explosive mix of British WW2 bombs. The addition of aluminium as a fuel for the explosion really makes things go with a bang, as you might say. The Germans knew all about this, and all of their bombs contained aluminium, and could be up to 80% fiercer than a British bomb of the same size.

Harris was continually incensed about the way different groups in the civil service and the armed forces would rather fight each other, than the enemy. This statement is totally typical of Harris’ opinion of civil servants:

“individuals in civil service departments seem to be fighting a different war, if indeed they are fighting a war at all.”

The aluminium in bombs is a fine example. The Royal Navy had known all about it since the beginning of the First World War in 1914. So had the army, who used aluminium based explosives to blow up Messines Ridge in 1917. In this case it was ammonal:

But neither they nor the Navy had bothered to tell the fledgling RAF, perhaps because they wanted to cause the new force harm in any way possible. Harris complained of the:

“failure of communication between departments responsible for strategy, for raw materials and for research”.

As far as the latter is concerned, by the second and third years of the war, there was such a shortage of aluminium that the RAF was unable to carry out hardly any research at all. Only by late 1943 and 1944 were aluminised bombs being dropped over the Reich. Churchill himself said that it was all the fault of the Static Detonations Committee. Their role, admitted Churchill, the Prime Minister, was

“More static than detonating”.

Exactly the same kind of problems with lazy, self centred civil servants was encountered with incendiary bombs. Four million incendiaries were dropped per month, but completely separately. Falling from four or five miles up, but weighing only four pounds, they could fly or glide literally miles from the target. There was absolutely no control over them:

The problem was that a cluster bomb of some kind was needed. A weapon that would weigh perhaps 12,000lbs and contain 3,000 incendiary bombs. It would be dropped from 20,000 feet and release all of its little fireflies at 5,000 feet. Harris asked again and again for the weapon to be developed but by May 8th 1945, the government departments had done absolutely nothing and cluster bombs of this type were never used during WW2. Nowadays they are banned by the majority of countries:



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History