Allied military phonetic spelling alphabets

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NATO Phonetic And Morse Code Alphabet, from the US Navy Signalman 3 & 2 training manual, 1996. This table combines the ICAO international spelling alphabet and the ITU International Morse Code.

The Allied military phonetic spelling alphabets prescribed the words that are used to represent each letter of the alphabet, when spelling other words out loud, letter-by-letter, and how the spelling words should be pronounced for use by the Allies of World War II. They are not a "phonetic alphabet" in the sense in which that term is used in phonetics, i.e. they are not a system for transcribing speech sounds.

The Allied militaries – primarily the US and the UK – had their own radiotelephone spelling alphabets which had origins back to World War I and had evolved separately in the different services in the two countries. For communication between the different countries and different services specific alphabets were mandated.

The last WWII spelling alphabet continued to be used through the Korean War, being replaced in 1956 as a result of both countries adopting the ICAO/ITU Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, with the NATO members calling their usage the "NATO Phonetic Alphabet".

During WWII, the Allies had defined terminology to describe the scope of communications procedures among different services and nations. A summary of the terms used was published in a post-WWII NATO memo:[1]

  • combined—between services of one nation and those of another nation, but not necessarily within or between the services of the individual nations
  • joint—between (but not necessarily within) two or more services of one nation
  • intra—within a service (but not between services) of one nation

Thus, the Combined Communications Board (CCB), created in 1941, derived a spelling alphabet that was mandated for use when any US military branch was communicating with any British military branch; when operating without any British forces, the Joint Army/Navy spelling alphabet was mandated for use whenever the US Army and US Navy were communicating in joint operations; if the US Army was operating on its own, it would use its own spelling alphabet, in which some of the letters were identical to the other spelling alphabets and some completely different.

WWII CCB (ICAO) and NATO alphabets[edit]

The US and UK began to coordinate calling alphabets by the military during World War II and by 1943 they had settled on a streamline communications that became known as the CCB. Both nations had previous independently developed alphabet naming system dating back to World War I. Subsequently, this second world war era letter naming became accepted as standard by the ICAO in 1947.

After the creation of NATO in 1949, modifications began to take place. An alternative name for the ICAO spelling alphabet, "NATO phonetic alphabet", exists because it appears in Allied Tactical Publication ATP-1, Volume II: Allied Maritime Signal and Maneuvering Book used by all navies of NATO, which adopted a modified form of the International Code of Signals. Because the latter allows messages to be spelled via flags or Morse code, it naturally named 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 NATO have become global.[2] However, ATP-1 is marked NATO Confidential (or the lower NATO Restricted) so it is not available publicly. Nevertheless, a NATO unclassified version of the document is provided to foreign, even hostile, militaries, even though they are not allowed to make it available publicly. The spelling alphabet is now also defined in other unclassified international military documents.[3] The NATO alphabet appeared in some United States Air Force Europe publications during the Cold War. A particular example was the Ramstein Air Base Telephone Directory, published between 1969 and 1973 (currently out of print). The US and NATO versions had differences, and the translation was provided as a convenience. Differences included Alfa, Bravo and Able, Baker for the first two letters.

The NATO phonetic spelling alphabet was first adopted on January 1, 1956, while the ICAO radiotelephony spelling alphabet was still undergoing final changes.[4]

Wartime CCB and post-war NATO
Letter 1943 CCB (US-UK)[5][6][7]
(same as 1947 ICAO)
Jan 1 – Feb 29, 1956[8] March 1, 1956 – present[9]
A Able Alfa Alfa
B Baker Bravo Bravo
C Charlie Charlie Charlie
D Dog Delta Delta
E Easy Echo Echo
F Fox Foxtrot Foxtrot
G George Golf Golf
H How Hotel Hotel
I Item India India
J Jig Juliett Juliett
K King Kilo Kilo
L Love Lima Lima
M Mike Mike Mike
N Nan Nectar November
O Oboe Oscar Oscar
P Peter Papa Papa
Q Queen Quebec Quebec
R Roger Romeo Romeo
S Sugar Sierra Sierra
T Tare Tango Tango
U Uncle Uniform Uniform
V Victor Victor Victor
W William Whiskey Whiskey
X Xray X-ray X-ray
Y Yoke Yankee Yankee
Z Zebra Zulu Zulu
0 Zero
1 Wun
2 Too
3 Thuh-ree
4 Fo-wer
5 Fi-yiv
6 Six
7 Seven
8 Ate
9 Niner

United Kingdom military spelling alphabets[edit]

British Army radiotelephony spelling alphabet[edit]

British Army radiotelephony spelling alphabet
Letter 1904[10][11][12] 1904[13] 1914[10] 1914–1918[13] 1918[13] 1956–present[9]
A Ack Ack Ack Apples Ack Alfa
B Beer Beer Beer Butter Beer Bravo
C C Cork C Charlie Cork Charlie
D D Don Don Duff Don Delta
E E Eddy E Edward Eddy Echo
F F Freddy F Freddie Freddy Foxtrot
G G George G George George Golf
H H Harry H Harry Harry Hotel
I I Ink I Ink Ink India
J J Jug J Johnnie Jug Juliett
K K King K King King Kilo
L L London L London London Lima
M Emma Emma Emma Monkey Emma Mike
N N Nuts N Nuts Nuts November
O O Orange O Orange Orange Oscar
P Pip Pip Pip Pudding Pip Papa
Q Q Quad Q Queenie Quad Quebec
R R Robert R Robert Robert Romeo
S Esses Esses Esses Sugar Esses Sierra
T Toc Toc Toc Tommy Toc Tango
U U Uncle U Uncle Uncle Uniform
V Vic Vic Vic Vinegar Vic Victor
W W William W William William Whisky
X X Xerxes X X-Ray Xerxes X-ray
Y Y Yellow Y Yorker Yellow Yankee
Z Z Zebra Z Zebra Zebra Zulu

Royal Navy radiotelephony spelling alphabet[edit]

Royal Navy radiotelephony spelling alphabet
Letter 1914–1918[10] 1921[13] 1956–present[9]
A Apples Ac Alfa
B Butter Beer Bravo
C Charlie Charlie Charlie
D Duff Don Delta
E Edward Edward Echo
F Freddy Fox Foxtrot
G George George Golf
H Harry How Hotel
I Ink Ink India
J Johnnie Johnnie Juliett
K King King Kilo
L London Love Lima
M Monkey Monkey Mike
N Nuts Nan November
O Orange Orange Oscar
P Pudding Pip Papa
Q Queenie Queen Quebec
R Robert Robert Romeo
S Sugar Sugar Sierra
T Tommy Toc Tango
U Uncle Uncle Uniform
V Vinegar Vic Victor
W William William Whisky
X Xerxes X-ray X-ray
Y Yellow Yoke Yankee
Z Zebra Zebra Zulu

RAF radiotelephony spelling alphabet[edit]

The RAF radiotelephony spelling alphabet, sometimes referred to as the "RAF Phonetic Alphabet", was used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to aid communication after the take-up of radio, especially to spell out aircraft identification letters, e.g. "H for Harry", "G for George", etc. Several alphabets were used, before being superseded by the adoption of the NATO/ICAO radiotelephony alphabet.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb of the Polish 303 Kościuszko Squadron showing the RAF squadron code "RF" of 303 Squadron and the individual aircraft letter "D" which would be spoken, D-Dog
Instruction page from WW I U.S. Army trench code, Seneca edition, with spelling alphabet for telephone and radio use


During World War I battle lines were often static and forces were commonly linked by wired telephone networks. Signals were weak on long wire runs and field telephone systems often used a single wire with earth return, which made them subject to inadvertent and deliberate interference. Spelling alphabets were introduced for wire telephony as well as on the newer radio voice equipment.[14]

The British Army and the Royal Navy had developed their own quite separate spelling alphabets. The Navy system was a full alphabet, starting: Apples, Butter, Charlie, Duff, Edward, but the RAF alphabet was based on that of the "signalese" of the army signallers. This was not a full alphabet, but differentiated only the letters most frequently misunderstood: Ack (originally "Ak"), Beer (or Bar), C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, eMma, N, O, Pip, Q, R, eSses, Toc, U, Vic, W, X, Y, Z.

By 1921, the RAF "Telephony Spelling Alphabet" had been adopted by all three armed services, and was then made mandatory for UK civil aviation, as announced in Notice to Airmen Number 107.[15]

In 1956, the NATO phonetic alphabet was adopted due to the RAF's wide commitments with NATO and worldwide sharing of civil aviation facilities.[16]

RAF radiotelephony spelling alphabet
Letter 1921–1942[15][17] 1942–1955[16][13] 1956–present[9]
A Apple Able/Affirm Alfa
B Beer Baker Bravo
C Charlie Charlie Charlie
D Don Dog Delta
E Edward Easy Echo
F Freddie Fox Foxtrot
G George George Golf
H Harry How Hotel
I Ink Item/Interrogatory India
J Jug/Johnnie Jig/Johnny Juliett
K King King Kilo
L London Love Lima
M Monkey Mike Mike
N Nuts[a] Nan/Nab/Negat/Nectar November
O Orange Oboe Oscar
P Pip Peter/Prep Papa
Q Queen Queen Quebec
R Robert Roger Romeo
S Sugar Sugar Sierra
T Toc Tare Tango
U Uncle Uncle Uniform
V Vic[b] Victor Victor
W William William Whiskey
X X-ray X-ray X-ray
Y Yorker Yoke Yankee
Z Zebra Zebra Zulu

a The choice of Nuts following Monkey is probably[citation needed] from "monkey nuts" (peanuts); likewise Orange and Pip can be similarly paired, as in "orange pip".
b "Vic" subsequently entered the English language as the standard "Vee"-shaped flight pattern of three aircraft.

United States military spelling alphabets[edit]

US Army radiotelephony spelling alphabet[edit]

US Army radiotelephony spelling alphabet
Letter 1916 Signal Book[18]


FM 24-5[19]


FM 24-5[20]


FM 24-12[21]




A Able Afirm Afirm Able Alfa
B Boy Baker Baker Baker Bravo
C Cast Cast Cast Charlie Charlie
D Dock Dog Dog Dog Delta
E Easy Easy Easy Easy Echo
F Fox Fox Fox Fox Foxtrot
G George George George George Golf
H Have Hypo Hypo How Hotel
I Item Inter Inter Item India
J Jig Jig Jig Jig Juliett
K King King King King Kilo
L Love Love Love Love Lima
M Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike
N Nan Negat Negat Nan November
O Opal Option Option Oboe Oscar
P Pup Prep Prep Peter Papa
Q Quack Queen Queen Queen Quebec
R Rush Roger Roger Roger Romeo
S Sail Sail Sail Sugar Sierra
T Tare Tare Tare Tare Tango
U Unit Unit Unit Uncle Uniform
V Vice Victor Victor Victor Victor
W Watch William William William Whiskey
X X-ray Xray Xray Xray X-ray
Y Yoke Yoke Yoke Yoke Yankee
Z Zed Zed Zed Zebra Zulu
0 Zero Zero Zero Zero
1 Wun Wun Wun Wun
2 Too Too Too Too
3 Th-r-ee Th-r-ee Thuh-ree Tree
4 Fo-wer Fo-wer Fo-wer Fow-er
5 Fi-iv Fi-yiv Fi-yiv Fife
6 Siks Siks Six Siks
7 Sev-ven Sev-ven Seven Seven
8 Ate Ate Ate Ate
9 Ni-yen Ni-yen Niner Niner

'Interrogatory' was used in place of 'Inter' in joint Army/Navy Operations.

US Navy radiotelephony spelling alphabet[edit]

The US Navy's first phonetic spelling alphabet was not used for radio, but was instead used on the deck of ships "in calling out flags to be hoisted in a signal". There were two alternative alphabets used, which were almost completely different to one another, with only the code word "Xray" in common.[22]

The US Navy's first radiotelephony phonetic spelling alphabet was published in 1913, in the Naval Radio Service's Handbook of Regulations developed by Captain William H. G. Bullard. The Handbook's procedures were described in the November 1917 edition of Popular Science Monthly.[23]

US Navy phonetic alphabets 1913 to present[24]
Letter 1908[22] 1913–1926[25] 1927–1937[26] 1938 WWII[27] ICAO


A Actor Ash Able Afirm Afirm AFIRM Alfa
B Baker Back Boy Baker Baker BAKER Bravo
C Canteen Chain Cast Cast Cast CHARLIE Charlie
D Diver Dog Dog Dog Dog DOG Delta
E Eagle Egg Easy Easy Easy EASY Echo
F Fisher Fox Fox Fox Fox FOX Foxtrot
G Gangway Gig George George George GEORGE Golf
H Halliard Horse Have Hypo Hypo HOW Hotel
I Insect Ice Item Int Int INT India
J Jockey Jake Jig Jig Jig JIG Juliett
K Knapsack King King King King KING Kilo
L Lugger Lash Love Love Love LOVE Lima
M Musket Mule Mike Mike Mike MIKE Mike
N Neptune Net Nan Negat Negat NEGAT November
O Oyster Oak Oboe Option Option OPTION Oscar
P Pistol Page Pup Prep Prep PREP Papa
Q Quadrant Quail Quack Quack Queen QUEEN Quebec
R Reefer Raft Rush Roger Roger ROGER Romeo
S Shipmate Scout Sail Sail Sail SUGAR Sierra
T Topsail Tide Tare Tare Tare TARE Tango
U Unload Use Unit Unit Unit UNCLE Uniform
V Vessel Vast Vice Vice Victor VICTOR Victor
W Windage Winch Watch William William WILLIAM Whiskey
X Xray Xray X-ray X-ray X-ray XRAY X-ray
Y Yeoman Yacht Yoke Yoke Yoke YOKE Yankee
Z Zebra Zoo Zed Zed Zed ZEBRA Zulu

Joint Army/Navy radiotelephony spelling alphabet[edit]

The Joint Army/Navy (JAN) spelling alphabet was developed by the Joint Board on November 13, 1940, and it took effect on March 1, 1941.[28][29] It was reformulated by the CCB following the entrance of the US into World War II by the CCB "Methods and Procedures" committee,[29] and was used by all branches of the United States Armed Forces until the promulgation of its replacement, the ICAO spelling alphabet (Alfa, Bravo, etc.), in 1956. Before the JAN phonetic alphabet, each branch of the armed forces had used its own radio alphabet, leading to difficulties in interbranch communication.

The US Army used this alphabet in modified form, along with the British Army and Canadian Army from 1943 onward, with "Sugar" replacing "Sail".

The JAN spelling alphabet was used to name Atlantic basin storms during hurricane season from 1947 to 1952, before being replaced with a new system of using female names.

Vestiges of the JAN spelling system remain in use in the US Navy, in the form of Material Conditions of Readiness, used in damage control. Dog, William, X-Ray, Yoke, and Zebra all reference designations of fittings, hatches, or doors.[30] The response "Roger" for "· – ·" or "R", to mean "received", also derives from this alphabet.

The names Able to Fox were also widely used in the early days of hexadecimal digital encoding of text, for speaking the hexadecimal digits A to F (equivalent to decimal 10 to 15), although the written form was simply the capital letters A to F.

Joint US Army/Navy radiotelephony spelling alphabet
Letter Joint Army/Navy[31]
A Able ABLE Alfa
B Baker BAKER Bravo
C Charlie CHARLIE Charlie
D Dog DOG Delta
E Easy EASY Echo
F Fox FOX Foxtrot
G George GEORGE Golf
H How HOW Hotel
I Item (or Interrogatory)[32] ITEM India
J Jig JIG Juliett
K King KING Kilo
L Love LOVE Lima
M Mike MIKE Mike
N Nan NAN November
O Oboe OBOE Oscar
P Peter PETER Papa
Q Queen QUEEN Quebec
R Roger ROGER Romeo
S Sail/Sugar SUGAR Sierra
T Tare TARE Tango
U Uncle UNCLE Uniform
V Victor VICTOR Victor
W William WILLIAM Whisky
X X-ray XRAY X-ray
Y Yoke YOKE Yankee
Z Zebra ZEBRA Zulu
0 Zero Zero Zero
1 One Wun Wun
2 Two Too Too
3 Three Thuh-ree Tree
4 Four Fo-wer Fower
5 Five Fi-yiv Fife
6 Six Six Siks
7 Seven Seven Seven
8 Eight Ate Ate
9 Nine Niner Niner

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Report by the Communications Electronics Coordination Section on COMMUNICATIONS (SIGNALS) PROCEDURES AND MESSAGE FORMS" (PDF).
  2. ^ "Globalization and Sea Power". Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  3. ^ Communication instructions – General Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Allied Communications Publication ACP 121(H), Combined Communications-Electronics Board, April 2007, section 318
  4. ^ "North Atlantic Military Committee memorandum SGM-217-55" (PDF).
  5. ^ a b Myers, Capt., U.S.N., G. B.; Charles, Cdr., R.N.V.R., B. P. (1945-02-14). CCBP 3-2: Combined Radiotelephone (R/T) Procedure. Washington DC: Combined Communications Board. pp. 1, 2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ "FM 24-12,:Army Extract of Combined Operating Signals (CCBP 2-2)" (PDF).
  7. ^ Alcorn, John. "Radiotelegraph and Radiotelephone Codes, Prowords And Abbreviations" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-06-03. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  8. ^ "North Atlantic Military Committee SGM-217-55 memorandum" (PDF).
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "North Atlantic Military Committee SGM-156-56 memorandum" (PDF).
  10. ^ a b c "British Phonetic Alphabets 1904-1926".
  11. ^ Skiba, Richard. "International Phonetic Alphabet" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Phonetic Alphabets – Historic, English & Others".
  13. ^ a b c d e "Phonetic Alphabets In The British Service".
  14. ^ American Army Field Codes In the American Expeditionary Forces During The First World War, William Friedman, U.S. War Department, June 1942
  15. ^ a b "Notice to Airmen", Flight,, XIII (679): 862, 29 December 1921, retrieved 11 August 2014
  16. ^ a b "'Alfa Bravo' for R.A.F.", Flight, 69 (2451): 63, 13 January 1956, retrieved 11 August 2014 – via
  17. ^ Keesing's Contemporary Archives, Volume 4, Part 2, 1942
  18. ^ "United States Army Signal Book, 1916". 1916.
  19. ^ "FM 24-5 Basic Field Manual Signal Communication, 1939". November 1939.
  20. ^ "FM 24-5 Signal Communication 1942". Washington, Govt. Print. Off. 19 October 1942.
  21. ^ "FM 24-12,:Army Extract of Combined Operating Signals (CCBP 2-2)" (PDF).
  22. ^ a b "Boat-Book: United States Navy, 1908". 1908.
  23. ^ "Popular Science, Nov 1917". November 1917.
  24. ^ Phonetic Alphabet and Signal Flags by Naval Historical Center (five phonetic alphabets: 1913, 1927, 1938, WWII, 1957–present)
  25. ^ Bullard, William H. G. (1913). United States Naval Radio Service Handbook of Regulations. United States Naval Radio Service.
  26. ^ "Communications Instructions 1928 Part II: RADIO" (PDF).
  27. ^ "FM 24-9 Combined United States-British Radiotelephone (R/T) Procedure". 1942.
  28. ^ JANAP 100, Joint U.S. Amphibious Communications. US Department of War.
  29. ^ a b "The Evolution and Rationale of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) Word-Spelling Alphabet, July 1959" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  30. ^ "Basic Military Requirements (BMR) Revised Edition, p. 328: Material Conditions of Readiness". Archived from the original on 2016-08-17. Retrieved 2016-07-10.
  31. ^ Joint Army/Navy (JAN) phonetic alphabet from alt.usage.english (at the end)
  32. ^ U.S Army FM 24-5

External links[edit]