How the military alphabet was used in WWI and WWII

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How the military alphabet was used in WWI and WWII

If there is one thing global history has taught us, is that no good can come from active warfare. In the same breath, it’s quite difficult to understand that war has also brought change, revolution, and radicalization for millions of people shaped new relationships and forged a pathway towards the modernization of humanity. Although today, some countries are still locked in wars of their own, two of most the most notable and unforgettable wars ever fought on a global scale were World War I and World War II.

Both these wars were caused by decades of foreign and international conflict which led to global powers and western governments sending millions of brave men and soldiers to the frontline, battling against the enemy to secure their rightful place as a global influence and ultimately as the most powerful government in the world.

During these times, when both wars were in full swing, those serving in the frontline, or perhaps behind enemy lines had to find means of communicating with one another. It’s quite understandable that both these wars were fought in a time where radio and telecommunication development were still only starting to become used in active warfare. This posed a massive problem for troops, military and aviation personnel, higher officials, and active troop leaders. To combat this growing issue, researchers and war veterans established the ‘military alphabet’ or more known today as the ‘phonetic alphabet.’

The origin of the military alphabet in WWI & WWII

During the early 20th century, and the start of WWI, the use of A, frequency radio helped pilots to communicate their exact coordinates and location with ground control. Although at the time, development for this was still quite slow, which meant poor signal and radio interference became a major issue.

World War I

To make things easier, foreign flight associations started using their own set of terminology, or words to replace confusing letters. During this same era of WWI, the British Royal Airforce brought to life the RAF Radio Alphabet. This meant, that during the war, personnel would be able to make use of certain words assigned to each letter of the alphabet to help eliminate blurred communication.

It was only years after WWI that the International Telegraph Union (ITU) created a more urbanized spelling alphabet for telegram communication. As the research, development, and field testing outgrew the confines of war and military usage, the phonetic alphabet was already used by most commercial airlines around the world when WWII commenced.

World War II

It wasn’t until the Second World War in the 1940s when the use of the military alphabet, and then only again in the 1970s during the American-Vietnam war that the alphabet became more prominent for military troops and later on public use.

The Joint Army or Navy Phonetic Alphabet was established by the United States Defense, which governed a set of standardized spelling and uses of the alphabet across all its already established armed forces. This meant that troops, aviation personnel, and anyone working on the frontline could easily make use of this alphabet to have clear and concise communication with each other. Although by this time radiofrequency was already quite established and advanced, there we still certain issues that came to light during an active shooting, bomb drills, and when military personnel finds themselves in high-stress and hard-hearing situations.

Today, however, the use of the military alphabet can be heard in hundreds of military-related movies and popular films.

Post-World War II

After the Second World War, the United States and NATO took the development of the military alphabet to the next frontiers. This meant that the current alphabet which we now use has become the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA), or the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Each of the words or codes as the International Civil Aviation Authority calls it has undergone vigorous field-testing. This means that more people, from various dialects, language groups, and cultures can speak and easily understand the alphabet, making cross-communication during active war or interior conflict simpler.

The military alphabet is used under strict tactical and military communication purposes and its usage is intended to act and liaise phrases, or words during times of distress.