Phonetic Alphabet



Phonetic Alphabet

Phonetic Alphabets were used throughout the Twentieth Century by the Canadian Army as an aid to communication, especially when using telephone or wireless equipment. The phonetic alphabet was an aid to spelling out words and numbers to avoid mis-communications. They are also used in other situations, such as naming landing beaches, for example (perhaps most famously, Juno Beach in Normandy was divided into sectors named for letters of the phonetic alphabet).

The "phonetic alphabet" referred to in military history differs from the linguistics term "phonetic alphabet", which refers to a set of symbols which describe the pronunciation of words. The century older International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is often confused with the NATO phonetic alphabet owing to their similar names. Nevertheless, phonetic alphabet has acquired the alternate meaning of a spelling alphabet through long use, including its official use with that meaning by national and international agencies.

First World War

The 1904 alphabet in use throughout the British Army in the First World War was:

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

Some slang derived from this alphabet survived into the Second World War, such as "Don-R" for a Despatch Rider.

Second World War

In 1927, the British phonetic alphabet was standardized and Canadian soldiers took it with them into the Second World War (differences from above version in bold)

Ack Beer Charlie Don Edward Freddie George Harry Ink Johnnie King London Monkey
Nuts Orange(s) Pip Queen Robert Sugar Toc Uncle Vic William X-ray Yorker Zebra

Midway through the Second World War, the American phonetic alphabet was standardized among the western Allies.

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

Soldiers in infantry companies (which were usually lettered A,B,C,D and named after the phonetic equivalent) at the time of the changeover were sometimes dismayed to find out that they no longer belonged to "Don" Company but to "Dog" Company.


According to Wikipedia:

The NATO phonetic alphabet is a common name for the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet which assigns code words to the letters of the English alphabet so that critical combinations of letters (and numbers) can be pronounced and understood by those who transmit and receive voice messages by radio or telephone regardless of their native language, especially when the safety of navigation or persons is essential. It is used by many national and international organizations, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It is a subset of the much older International Code of Signals (INTERCO), which originally included visual signals by flags or flashing light, sound signals by whistle, siren, foghorn, or bell, as well as one, two, or three letter codes for many phrases. The same alphabetic code words are used by all agencies, but each agency chooses one of two different sets of numeric code words. NATO uses the normal English numeric words (Zero, One), except for 5 and 9, which are pronounced "fife" and "niner", whereas the IMO uses compound numeric words (Nadazero, Unaone).

The alphabet's common name arose because it appears in Allied Tactical Publication ATP-1, Volume II: Allied Maritime Signal and Maneuvering Book used by all allied navies in NATO, which adopted a modified form of the International Code of Signals. Because the latter allows messages to be spelt via flags or Morse code, it naturally called the code words used to spell out messages by voice its "phonetic alphabet". The name NATO phonetic alphabet became widespread because the signals used to facilitate the naval communications and tactics of the United States and NATO have become global. However, ATP-1 is marked NATO Confidential (or the lower NATO Restricted) so is not publicly available. Although a NATO unclassified version of the document is provided to foreign, even hostile, militaries, even they are not allowed to make it publicly available.

The NATO standard was adopted by Canada after the Korean War.

Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike
November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-Ray Yankee Zulu



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