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Field telephone spelling alphabets

A like alphabet

To improve accuracy of reception on noisy connections spelling alphabets were used in civil and military communications. First spelling alphabets were first published in telephone books of the late 19th century.

Already to be found on WW1 era military field instruments e.g. from Germany and Britain. Continued to be added to instruments until the end of the field-phone era. Up to now I've never seen spelling alphabets on US instruments, but on a lot of instruments from all over Europe.

The following overview includes all spelling alphabets currently in my collection. Below the comparison table you find details regarding each alphabet.

Comparison table

Examples
Language German German German German German German German German French French Hungarian Czech Serbo-croatian Swedish Finnish Nato Nato Nato
Country Switzerland Switzerland Germany Germany Germany Germany (DDR) Austria Austria France France Hungary Czechoslovakia Yugoslavia Sweden Finnland Estland Germany Norway Denmark
Instruments Art Tf
Zerlegbares T.
none FF 26
FF 33 <1939
FF 33 >1939
BRD FF 54
Norwegian EB
Modell 1932
FF 53
FF 63
M35 F-27-0 Modell 27
TM 32
AT2 41 M / TBK-1 TP 25 M-63 M/37 P-1-8 FF 54 TP-6N-A M/51
Years 1915 >1950 1926
1933
1939
1954
1941 1953
1963
1935 1980 1927
1932
1950 1941 1950 1963 1937 1938 1954 1975 1951
A Airolo Anna Anton Anton Anton Anton Adolf Anton André André Andras / Agnes Adam Avala Adam Aarne Alfa Alfa Alfa
B Bern Berta Bruno Bertha Bertha Berta Berta Berta Bernard Bernard Borbala Bozena Beograd Bertil Bertta Bravo Bravo Bravo
C Colombier Carlo Cäsar Cäsar Cäsar Cäsar Cäsar Cäsar Catherine Catherine Cegled / Csongrad Cyril / Cenek Cetinje Cesar Celsius Charlie Charlie Charlie
D Davos Daniel Dora Dora Dora Dora David Dora David David Denes David Drvar David Daavid Delta Delta Delta
E Emmenthal Emil Emil Emil Emil Emil Emil Emil Etienne Etienne Erzsebet / Eva Emil Europa Erik Eemeli Echo Echo Echo
F Faido Figaro Fritz Friedrich Friedrich Friedrich Friedrich Friedrich Francois Francois Ferenc Frantisek Foca Filip Faarao Foxtrott Foxtrot Foxtrot
G Gotthard Gustav Gustav Gustav Gustav Gustav Gustav Gustav Gustave Gustave Gabor Gustav Gorica Gustaf Gideon Golf Golf Golf
H Hospenthal Hippolyt Heinz Heinrich Heinrich Heinrich Heinrich Heinrich Henri Henri Hungaria Helena Heroj Harald Heikki Hotel Hotel Hotel
I Interlaken Ida Ida Ida Ida Ida Isidor Ida Isidore Isidore Istvan Ivan Istra Ivar Iivari India India India
J Julier Jakob Jot Julius Julius Julius Jakob Julius Joseph Joseph Janos Josef Jadran Johan Jussi Juliett Juliett Juliett
K Kilo Kilo Kurfürst Konrad Konrad Konrad Karl Konrad Kléber Kléber Kalman Karel Kosovo Kalle Kalle Kilo Kilo Kilo
L Lausanne Leopold Ludwig Ludwig Ludwig Ludwig Ludwig Ludwig Louis Louis Löring Ludvik Lika Ludvig Lauri Lima Lima Lima
M Montreux Maria Marie Martha Martha Martha Moritz Martha Marcel Marcel Mihaly Marie Mostar Martin Matti Mike Mike Mike
N Neuchatel Nicola Nordpol Nordpol Nordpol Nordpol Nathan Nordpol Nicolas Nicolas Nandor Neruda Nis Niklas Niilo November November November
O Olten Olga Otto Otto Otto Otto Otto Otto Octave Octave Olga / O-buda Otakar Osijek Olof Otto Oskar Oscar Oscar
P Payerne Pietro Paula Paula Paula Paula Paula Paula Pierre Pierre Piroska Petr Pirot Petter Paavo Papa Papa Papa
Q Quinto Quasi Quelle Quelle Quelle Quelle Quelle Quelle Quasimodo Quasimodo - Quido Kvorum Qvintus Kuu Quebec Quebec Quebec
R Rigi Rosa Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Richard Raoul Raoul Rozal Rudolf / Rehor Ruma Rudolf Risto Romeo Romeo Romeo
S Sempach Sophie Siegfried Siegfried Siegfried Siegfried Siegfried Siegfried Simon Simeon Sari / Szabadka Svatopluk / Sarka Skopje Sigurd Sakari Sierra Sierra Sierra
T Tell Theodor Toni Theodor Theodor Theodor Theodor Theodor Théophile Théophile Tamas Tomas Tetovo Tore Tyyne Tango Tango Tango
U Uri Ulrich Ulrich Ulrich Ulrich Ulrich Ursula Ulrich Urbain Urbain Ungvar Urban Uzice Urban Urho Uniform Uniform Uniform
V Vevey Viktor Viktor Viktor Viktor Viktor Viktor Viktor Victor Victor Veronika Vaclav Valjevo Viktor Vihtori Victor Victor Victor
W Winterthur Willy Wilhelm Wilhelm Wilhelm Wilhelm Willy Wilhelm William William - Dvojite V Duplo Ve Wilhelm kaksink.V Whiskey Whisky Whiskey
X Xaver Xaver Xanthippe Xanthippe Xanthippe Xanthippe Xanthippe Xanthippe Xavier Xavier - Xaver Iks Xerxes Äksa X-ray X-ray Xray
Y Yverdon Yvonne Ypern Ypsilon Ypsilon Ypsilon Ypsilon Ypsilon Yvonne Yvonne Ypsilon Ypsilon Ipsilon Yngve Yrjö Yankee Yankee Yankee
Z Zürich Zenith Zeppelin Zeppelin Zeppelin Zeppelin Zacharias Zeppelin Zéphirin Zéphirin Zoltan / Zsofia Zuzana / Zofie Zagreb Zäta Tseta Zulu Zulu Zulu
Å - - - - - - - - - - - - - Åke ruotsal. O - Åse Åse
Ä Ägeri Anna-Emil Ärger Ärger Ärger Ärger - Ärger - - - - - Ärlig Äiti - Ærlig Ægir
Ö Örlikon Olga-Emil Öse Ödipus Ösel Öse - Öse - - Ödön - - Östen Öljy - Osten Odis
Ü Ütliberg Ulrich-Emil Übel Übel Übel Übel - Übel - - Üteg - - Übel saksal. Y - - -
CH Chiasso - Charlotte Charlotte Charlotte Charlotte - - - - - Chrudim - - - - - -
SCH - - - Schule Schule Schule - - - - - - - - - - - -

German spelling alphabets

Switzerland

A Swiss specific german spelling alphabet was added to Swiss field instruments up to the Armeetelefon 47. The Feldtelefon 50 had none added anymore. On all instruments still in use in the 50ies the old alphabets were removed as a new Swiss spelling alphabet, based mostly on first names, was introduced. This new alphabet was never added to the instruments. Nowadays the Swiss army uses the international (Nato) spelling table. If there were different spelling alphabets for french or italian speaking troops I'm still trying to find out.

On older instruments, like the example below, the old spelling alphabet can still be found. That alphabet used mainly Swiss location names (Cities, Mountains, Regions) with the exceptions of K(ilo), T(ell) and X(aver). The alphabet also includes the Umlauts and the Ch.

Artillerietelephon 1915

The newer alphabet was introduced somewhere in the early fifties (An army telephony regulation of 1951 still mentions the alphabets mounted on the instruments, whereas an army radio regulation of 1955 prints the new version). The new alphabet is based around first names, it keeps only K(ilo) and X(aver) from the older alphabet. Non first names are the already mentioned K(ilo) and then also Q(uasi) and Z(enith). For the Umlauts respective combinations with E(mil) are used like e.g. for Ö: O(lga)-E(mil).

The example below is out of the Swiss army regulation 58.17d - Taschenbuch des Telegraphen Pioniers from 1967.

Germany

The german spelling alphabet has changed a few times between the two wars because of nazification. The pre-Nazi alphabet used A(dolf) which I assume that had to be replaced because is was not well suited to use the crazy big bosses name for such lowly use as spelling. D(avid), J(akob), N(athan) and Z(acharias) were dropped based on their jewish heritage, and Moritz probably because of the African heritage of St. Maurice. During that time also the civil table printed in telephone books was nazified, but after the war then also un-nazified again reinstating at least S(amuel), which was never used in the military version, and Z(acharias). Why I(sidor) and K(arl) had to go is less clear, K(arl) probably because of confusion with C(arl), if K(onrad) was a better solution though? The early Nazi spelling alphabet had also shortened F(riedrich) and H(einrich) to F(ritz) and H(einz), but changed W(illy) to W(ilhelm). The later version from around 1939 used F(riedrich) and H(einrich) again. Also Sch(ule) was added to that version. Another strange change is Y(pern), which was Y(psilon) and then became Y(psilon) again. Apparently they wanted to commemorate the abominable things they did to Ypern in WW1, like the first uses of poison gases. X(anthippe) survived all versions and she got Ö(dipus) as companion, before Ö(dipus) Ö(se), meaning lug, was used.

The nazified version from 1939 was continued to be used in Germany and Austria after WW2, in east Germany slightly adapted going back from B(ertha) to B(erta) and Ö(dipus) to Ö(se). The Bundeswehr started later to use the NATO version.

Feldtelefon 26, but with the early nazified version, probably adapted after 1933.

Feldtelefon 33, with the early nazified version found on pre-1939 FF33.

Feldtelefon 33, with the later nazified version found on post-1939 FF33.

Norwegian Elektrisk Bureau Modell 1932 (Similar build than the Austrian M35), with the later nazified version with the exception of Ö(sel). Probably an instrument adapted after the occupation of Norway by someone who didn't got the Ödipus memo.

Feldtelefon 54 used by the german Post, still with the nazified version.

East german Feldtelefon 53 and 63 with a slight adaption of the nazified version, B(erta) instead of B(ertha) and Ö(se) instead of Ö(dipus).

Austria

Austria used always more or less unaltered german versions. On old instruments the original WW1 version and on new instruments up to at least the 80ies the nazified version.

Feldtelefon Kapsch M35, with the german pre-Nazi version. No Umlauts.

Feldtelefon Siemens SFT800 F-27-0, B(erta) instead of B(ertha) and Ö(se) instead of Ö(dipus).

French spelling alphabets

The french are the only who managed to stick to the first name concept without exceptions. No relevant differences over the years. On the latest I own (1950) S(imon) changed to S(imeon).

Modele 1927, Telephone Militaire 32, Telephone AT2 (1950).

Hungary

The Hungarian alphabet is an extended latin alphabet, some letters are a base letter marked by an acute or umlaut indicator, like O, Ó and Ö. Others are indicated by combining two letters, like S and Sz. In above comparison table I simplified this by placing the different options mostly on the same line than the base letter. Interesting is also that Hungarian does not use the letters Q, W and X. Most letters are represented by first names with a few exceptions like H(ungaria) and Y(psilon).

Hungarian field-phone 41 M / TBK-1.

Czechoslovakia

The czech alphabet has also a few additional letters which I added to the same line as the base letter in above comparison table. Most letters are again represented by first names. An interesting exception is W which is spelled as Dvojite V (double-u) and CH(rudim) which is a city.

Czech field-phone TP 25 (1950), the alphabet is distributed between the left and right edges of the bakelite lid.

Yugoslavia

The Yugoslavian (Serbo-croatian) alphabet uses mostly place names. Interesting are the letters Q - Kvorum, X - Iks and Y - Ipsilon represented by words that do not use the letter they represent. Some additional letters added after Z(agreb) I ignored in above comparison table.

Yugoslavian field-phone M63. A number spelling table is also present.

Sweden

The Swedish alphabet uses again mostly first names but for the Umlauts and Z(äta) which is the letter itself in Swedish.

Swedish field-phone M/37 (One of the longest serving models, developed in the early 30ies and manufactured up to the 70ies and in service up to the 21st century). The model in the picture was made in 1966. A number spelling table is also present.

Finnland

The Finnish alphabet uses also mostly first names or for some cases e.g. Q - Kuu or Z - Tseta the name of the letter itself.

Finnish field-phone P-1-8, this model was made for the Finnish army by Tartu Telefoni Vabrik in Estland in the late 30ies. A number spelling table is also present. The alphabet on my instrument is a self-made reproduction.

English spelling alphabets

The us and uk armies started to use spelling alphabets already prior to WW1. But until WW2 often different army branches used their own versions. During WW2 us and commonwealth troops agreed on a Allied spelling alphabet defined by the Combined Communications Board. After WW2 an international spelling alphabet was developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization which become known as the NATO phonetic alphabet.

The only letter continuously spelled equal from the early 20th century spelling alphabets up to the NATO alphabet is X(-ray).

I do not possess a early british or us field phone with spelling alphabet attached, on the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals militaria website you can finde a picture of a WW1 british fieldphone with spelling alphabet.

NATO spelling alphabets

On newer west European field phones the NATO spelling table is used. Sometimes extended with local letters like e.g. Å in Norway and Denmark.

German Feldfernsprecher 54 OB/ZB. Minor deviations from NATO table: F(oxtrott) with tt and O(skar) with k.

Norwegian TP-6N-A. Minor deviation from NATO table: W(hisky) and not W(hiskey).

Norwegian FF33. The Norwegian Army used "inherited" German FF33 up to at least the 70ies. The spelling alphabet on the box was updated with a Norwegian NATO version including a pronunciation table.

Danish M/51. Minor deviation from NATO table: X(ray) and not X(-ray).

Sources

So long, and thanks for all the letters.


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