The military alphabet, also called the phonetic alphabet, is a standard list of words used to identify letters. All services use the phonic alphabet; some words more are more recognizable than others: Zulu, Lima, Charlie, for example. This alphabet is known internationally as well.
Many versions of the phonetic alphabet have been around since 1913, but the official alphabet we recognize today has been around since 1957. It’s also known as the international radio-telephony spelling alphabet.
Many believe the military alphabet to be a code, but it is not. It’s just a word representation of a letter. Some of the uses of the alphabet may be when pointing out an enemy location. For example, the letters P and B sound very close, but describing Papa and Bravo over the radio, makes them much more distinguishable to prevent mistakes from occurring.
Interesting Fact: The 1913 edition of The Bluejackets’ Manual has one of the earliest printed versions of the phonetic alphabet. Alongside the alphabet, was the Alphabetical Code Flags, as defined in International Code. The meanings of the flags and alphabet were selected by an international agreement and later went on to include Morse code as well.
This book was instrumental in creating Naval signaling flags, which developed into the 5 governing flags. These flags when raised, conveyed specific information to allies:
· Afirm (Affirmative)
· Int (Interrogatory)
· Negat (Negative)
· Option (Optional)
· Prep (Preparatory)
The phonetic alphabet was substituted during World War II by the words in the parenthesis above, to communicate with Allied Forces by the Navy.