Communicating the Military Way

Military Alphabet

Ever since humans first developed into its own species on planet Earth, whether they used body language, spoken sounds, or even drawings on the walls of caves, they have attempted to communicate with one another. Over time, peoples that resided on various parts of the planet developed different sounds which would mean different things, for example, in early Semitic, a pictograph representing a house would have the translation of "beth" when verbalized, but on the other-side of the world, the Mayans word for house was "nahil".

An aside: for the English alphabet, the alphabet used by the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, a letter was typically developed by taking the first sound of the spoken word. In the case of "beth", the initial sound became the second letter of the alphabet we use today¹.

Differences in how we communicate persist to this day, and to ensure the communications between each other can be absolutely understood, clear and standard methods of communicating were developed. Three of those methods are via the Phonetic Alphabet, Morse Code, and Signal Flags.

Military Phonetic Alphabet

The Phonetic Alphabet is used widely in military communications. The phonetic alphabet, a system set up in which each letter of the alphabet has a word equivalent to avoid mistaking letters that sound alike, such as B (Bravo) and D (Delta) or F (Foxtrot) and S (Sierra). The pronunciation for each letter's phonetic word is contained in the parenthesis below it.

Morse Code

The letters of the alphabet in Morse code are represented by dots and dashes in the chart below. Radio operators usually substitute the expressions "dits" and "dahs" for the dots and dashes which resemble the tones of the telegraphic hand key when "speaking" the code. The groups of dits and dahs representing each letter must be made as one unit, with a clear break between each dit and each dah, and a much more distinct break between the letters. A dit is one-third the length of a dah.

Signal Flags

It is very rare that words would be completely spelled out in Navy flag hoist signaling due to the length and number of flags required; not to mention the time it would take to handle all the hoists. To make the process easier and more practical, the signal book was produced. The signal book defines the flags to be used to communicate various messages. Separately, each signal flag has its own meaning, and for the Navy, those meanings are listed alongside each flag below.

Military Alphabet, Signal Flag and Morse Code Chart

Military alphabet, signal flag, and Morse Code comparison chart.
Navy Code of Signals – Phonetic Military Alphabet
LetterPhonetic Military AlphabetMorse CodeSignal FlagsFlag meaning (Navy)
A Alfa "AL-FAH"• — Di dah
Diver down; keep clear and maintain slow speed.
B Bravo "BRAH-VOH"— • • • Dah di di dit
Taking in, discharging or carrying dangerous cargo.
CCharlie "CHAR-LEE"— • — • Dah di dah dit
DDelta "DEL-TAH"— • • Dah di dit
Difficulty maneuvering; keep clear.
EEcho "ECK-OH" dit
Directing course to starboard.
FFoxtrot "FOKS-TROT"• • — • Di di dah dit
Disabled; communication requested -- or flight operations are underway.
GGolf "GOLF"— — • Dah dah dit
Harbor pilot required.
HHotel "HOH-TEL"• • • • Di di di dit
Harbor pilot on-board.
IIndia "IN-DEE-AH"• • Di dit
Coming alongside.
J Juliett "JEW-LEE-ETT"• — — — Di dah dah dah
Dangerous cargo aboard and on fire; keep clear.
KKilo "KEY-LOH"— • — Dah di dah
Communication requested.
LLima "LEE-MAH"• — • • Di dah di dit
Advise, stop your vessel immediately.
MMike "MIKE"— — Dah dah
Vessel is stopped.
NNovember "NO-VEM-BER"— • Dah dit
OOscar "OSS-CAH"— — — Dah dah dah
Man overboard.
PPapa "PAH-PAH"• — — • Di dah dah dit
All personnel return to ship (in port).
QQuebec "KAY-BECK"— — • — Dah dah di dah
All boats return to ship.
RRomeo "ROW-ME-OH"• — • Di dah dit
At sea: preparing to replenish. In Port: Ready duty ship.
SSierra "SEE-AIR-RAH"• • • Di di dit
Conducting flag hoisting drill.
TTango "TANG-GO" Dah
Do not pass ahead.
UUniform "YOU-NEE-FORM"• • — Di di dah
Beware, you are running into danger.
VVictor "VIK-TAH"• • • — di di di dah
Assistance required.
WWhiskey "WISS-KEY"• — — Di dah dah
Medical assistance required.
XX-ray "ECKS-RAY"— • • — Dah di di dah
Stop your intentions and watch for signals.
YYankee "YANG-KEY"— • — — Dah di dah dah
Ship has communications duty (visual).
ZZulu "ZOO-LOU"— — • • Dah dah di dit
Tug required.

Written by NCCM Thomas Goering USN (RET).
Date Page Published: October 28, 2009.
Date Page Modified: May 30, 2020.

¹ Information related to the development of the letter B was derived from the Funk & Wagnalls'® New Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pg. 412. published 1990.

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