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  • #66671
    John D Salt
    Participant

    It’s COW this weekend, and my contribution (the first for many years) will be an updated version of SPI’s “Firefight” boardgame, re-scaled to 100m hexes, including the British, and with a few new rules like allowing for armour thickness (a prominent omission in the original). I have provisionally entitled the game “Gunner, Sabot, Tank!”, but if people have better suggestions for a title I am at least half ears.

    The reason for my posting is that I would like to solicit any information people have on the radio callsigns used by NATO and Warsaw Pact armies during the Cold War (any time from 1945 to 1991 is of interest to me). I was myself a signaller in Exeter UOTC 1981-83, and I still have my signals aide-memoire lying around somewhere, so I don’t especially need to know how the British Army did it at that time, thanks. I would, however, be very interested to know how callsigns were allocated in USAREUR, the Bundeswehr, French Armee de Terre, the Canadian, Dutch, Belgian and Danish armies, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. My focus of interest is battalion and below, and the game goes down to individual vehicles and sections.

    Anyone?

    All the best,

    John.

    #66676
    Gaz045
    Participant

    There was/is in theory a NATO standard in radio procedure ( phonetics especially) and having seen the Spanish forces in training, they adopted the US Field Manuals verbatim and are in doctrine essentially US Army. I expect that the French have their own approach entirely however!

    The US Army often sticks with call signs related to formation nicknames….Devildog, Ghost etc followed by the numeric code relevant to that sub unit.

    "Even dry tree bark is not bitter to the hungry squirrel"

    #66685
    Just Jack
    Participant

    Granted I was in the military after the period you’re discussing, but my understanding of the US military is that it was essentially the same, and I know there are some guys here (Tinman) that served during the Cold War that will hopefully make it by.  Hell, I think a lot of this stuff goes back to the Vietnam War.

    In any case, each battalion gets to choose its own names for the comm plan (“CEOI” – I don’t recall the acronym’s definition, but I’m sure you can Google it), and the numerics flowed from a standardized structure.  So a (maneuver) battalion would have the CO and staff as a name, with each staff member having a different number, and each line company would have a name, with the CO and various leadership (XO, 1st Sgt, etc…) having a number, and each platoon having the same name and a different number.  For example:

    Geronimo 6 – Battalion Commander
    Geronimo 5 – Battalion XO
    Geronimo ‘x, y, x’ – Adjutant, Intel, Ops, Logistics, and other H&S folks

    Apache 6 – A Company’s CO
    Apache 5 – A Company’s XO
    Apache ‘x, y, and z’ other leadership as necessary
    Apache 1, 2, 3, and 4 – Platoons, with the platoon commander being ‘actual,’ i.e., “Apache 3 Actual” and the platoon sergeant being “Alpha,” i.e., “Apache 3 Alpha”

    Blackhawk – Bravo Company, same as above
    Cherokee – Charlie Company, same as above
    Little Wolf – Weapons Company, same as above

    For armor, each vehicle had its own call sign associated to the battalion, but for convoys of softskins (HMMWVs, 5-tons, etc…) they were just known as “Victor” and a two-digit number, assigned as the their serial in the convoy (if there were twenty five softskins in the convoy, you’d have Victor 01 to Victor 25, and you could address all of them as “All Blackhawk Victors,” or “All Victors this net”).

    When individuals wanted to speak to each other, i.e., a Sergeant in one platoon/company needed to talk to a Sergeant in another platoon/company, he’d call up using his platoon/company callsign to the desired platoon/company callsign, then relay he needed to speak to the other guy, using alphanumeric rank and phonetic first letter of last name.  So Sgt Smith of 3rd Platoon, A Company (Apache 3) would call 2nd Platoon, C Company (Cherokee 2) and ask for Sergeant Johnson (Echo Five Juliet).

    The CEOI changed every 24 hours; the callsigns didn’t change, the freqs, standard pro-words, signal plan, supporting elements (transport, air, arty), and (most importantly) the fills (COMSEC) would.  Now here I will point out that things may have been different from the Cold War; we didn’t change callsigns because we were covered and freq-hopping; I’ve heard that before freq-hopping units would change callsigns because of OPSEC concerns, but I’ve talked to guys that said they changed every 24 hours, I’ve talked to guys that said you were supposed change every 24 hours but they’d change once a month or two months or if they thought there was a compromise, and then I’ve talked to guys that said they never changed unless directed by higher HQ (which would be due to a compromise).  I think we used to call that a “Bead Window.”  If there was a compromise the -2 or the -3 would get on the radio and call out “All Geronimo callsigns: Bead Window, say again, Bead Window,” and that meant there was a compromise, so you’d roll freqs, pack up, and displace, the fear being enemy artillery was about to come raining down.

    There were a lot of channels; the ones I remember:
    -Battalion net (VHF, HF, later SATCOM too)
    -Battalion Fires (VHF, HF)
    -Battalion Log (VHF)
    -Dedicated Air (VHF)
    -Air Guard (UHF)
    And then each company had its own net (VHF).  There were probably more, but that’s what I recall off-hand.

    Hope that helps.

    V/R,
    Jack

    #66818
    Patrice
    Participant

    I probably still have my old booklet and forms somewhere but can’t find them now. I was DLO (Détachement de liaison et d’observation) officer in a French 155mm artillery unit during my (compulsory) military service in 1980. Radio communication was just between me and the battery or other batteries of the same regiment, so the radio names were basic.

    Actual training in the field was scarce so I don’t even remember exactly if my radio name was 30 or 31 (or perhaps both, depending on the situation for some reason) this meant DLO of the 3rd battery (3+X depending on your position in battery/regimental communications). If I can find my old booklets I’ll tell you.

    http://www.argad-bzh.fr/argad/en.html
    https://www.anargader.net/

    #66833
    McKinstry
    Participant

    I know my son said their company (Apaches) call signs in Afghanistan were different from those stateside. I don’t recall the stateside one but they moved to (example – not his -No Mercy) once in country because the French AF was using their old one when they got there. The USAF assigned all air call signs at a theatre level/tasking order and they were assigned at the task force level. Units can submit options and of course, they as anyone else, want cool sounding ones.

    The tree of Life is self pruning.

    #67432
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I probably still have my old booklet and forms somewhere but can’t find them now. I was DLO (Détachement de liaison et d’observation) officer in a French 155mm artillery unit during my (compulsory) military service in 1980. Radio communication was just between me and the battery or other batteries of the same regiment, so the radio names were basic.

    Actual training in the field was scarce so I don’t even remember exactly if my radio name was 30 or 31 (or perhaps both, depending on the situation for some reason) this meant DLO of the 3rd battery (3+X depending on your position in battery/regimental communications). If I can find my old booklets I’ll tell you.

    Thanks — I hope the booklet turns up!

    If I can have a quick supplementary question about artillery fire control doctrine — do French DLO officers send requests for fire, or fire orders?

    I’d be interested in the answer to the same question from people who know the answer for any other NATO nation, apart from the UK and the US, which I already know (orders for the UK, requests for the US). I seem to recall that the NATO CFF (Call For Fire) message format has a one-character field that is filled in 1 for nations having one doctrine and 0 for those having the other, but I do not recall seeing a list of which nation used which.

    All the best,

    John.

    #67436
    John D Salt
    Participant

    [snips]
    For armor, each vehicle had its own call sign associated to the battalion, but for convoys of softskins (HMMWVs, 5-tons, etc…) they were just known as “Victor” and a two-digit number, assigned as the their serial in the convoy (if there were twenty five softskins in the convoy, you’d have Victor 01 to Victor 25, and you could address all of them as “All Blackhawk Victors,” or “All Victors this net”).

    Now that’s interesting! Did you have a suffic for empty APCs/IFVs? IN the British Army, when a section (US squad) debuses, it keeps the callsign, and it’s carrier uses the same callsign with Z tacked on the end. This means that people refer to empty IFVs as “Zulu Warriors”. If they are not going to do anything interesting, the place they go to wait for their passengers to finish doing their stuff is called a “Zulu muster” (previously a Zebra muster, so this convention mucy go back at least to 1956). IS there any equivalent in US usage?

    When individuals wanted to speak to each other, i.e., a Sergeant in one platoon/company needed to talk to a Sergeant in another platoon/company, he’d call up using his platoon/company callsign to the desired platoon/company callsign, then relay he needed to speak to the other guy, using alphanumeric rank and phonetic first letter of last name. So Sgt Smith of 3rd Platoon, A Company (Apache 3) would call 2nd Platoon, C Company (Cherokee 2) and ask for Sergeant Johnson (Echo Five Juliet).

    I think our signals people would go potty if anyone tried to talk to a named individual, instead of an appointment title.

    The CEOI changed every 24 hours; the callsigns didn’t change, the freqs, standard pro-words, signal plan, supporting elements (transport, air, arty), and (most importantly) the fills (COMSEC) would.

    Ah, crypto fills make COMSEC a lot easier. A bloke I worked with in Saudi Arabia had done his national service in the Czech army as a signals intercept specialist, before the wall came down. He reckoned you should be able to get their complete orbat from the Americans within 24 hours of an exercise starting just by listening carefully.

    There were a lot of channels; the ones I remember:
    -Battalion net (VHF, HF, later SATCOM too)
    -Battalion Fires (VHF, HF)
    -Battalion Log (VHF)
    -Dedicated Air (VHF)
    -Air Guard (UHF)

    A British maneouvre battalion would have a command net, alt net (usually HF), log net (also usually HF), recce net, gunner net, and probably an engr net (depending what engineer assets were assigned). The last three, looked at from a different point of view, were the command nets of the bn recce platoon or troop, the supporting battery, and the supporting engr squadron. as well as company/squadron nets, people could also run troop/platoon nets. I understand that the most badly overworked signals bloke in the whole lot was the operator in the attached engineer squadron command vehicle, who would have to monitor the engineer net, the bn command net, the log net, and his own rear link (on the engineer regiment command net).

    All the best,

    John.

    #67501
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    …and then there are rotating callsigns, which usually just apply to radio conversations in the clear.  Was reading a Vietnam memoir and in it was a partial transcription of radio traffic during a unit under heavy night attack, and the 4 callsigns broadcasting were Equal Cow, Pagan Thumb, Molly Tuesday, and Double Trouble.  DT seemed to be an artillery HQ, while Equal Cow was an FO, Pagan Thumb an infantry battalion, and Molly Tuesday was an armored unit.  After 0200 Double Trouble became Badger Radio, probably after completing their fire missions for this contact and switched callsign because a new day had begun, or perhaps a different CO came on duty.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #67581
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I could have sworn I responded to this. Was there another topic similar to this, John?

    If there was, I haven’t seen it. Les Hammond’s question about books on wireless use for early WW2 is the nearest I can think of.

    it keeps the callsign, and it’s carrier uses the same callsign with Z tacked on the end.

    At the end or the front? We prefixed Zulu at the front of the call sign. My crew in my first year on radio watch or if I was doing a foot recce would identify themselves as Zulu – two – three.

    I still can’t find my signals aide-memoire, but I’m sure we put these on the end. AFAIK Zulu was only used for empty carriers. If a commander had wandered off separately from his normal wagon, he might get the suffix Lima, so in the situation you describe — assuming you had a radio with you — you would have been 23L, while your panzer would keep its normal callsign. Prefixed letters were used to indicate arm of service where combat teams of battlegroups were formed by glomming together elements of all arms. The “host” elements would remain unprefixed. So, if you and your panzer were to have been lent to an infantry HQ, you would have been Tango 23 (as I understand you were). Conversely if an infantry element in the corresponding slot were to be task organised with an armour HQ, they would be India 23 or Juliett 23. Gunner elements were prefixed Golf, including Swingfire ATGW vehicles (FV 438s) during those periods they were under gunner control — they seemed to oscillate between RA and RAC from time to time. I do not recall any prefix for engineer callsigns, but one would guess Sierra or Echo.

    Of course my Harvey-Wallbanger-addled memory may be recalling some of this inaccurately, but if so I hope someone will chip in and put me right.

    India one two Lima out,

    John.

    #67616
    Just Jack
    Participant

    John,

    “Now that’s interesting! Did you have a suffic for empty APCs/IFVs?”
    We did not, but you have to remember, I was with regular infantry battalions, not mech infantry, so we weren’t set up for organic vehicles.  So, AAVs from a track battalion, LAVs from LAR battalion, and trucks for a Motor-T battalion had their own callsigns, but they also had their own crews, they were not our men.  And when the Marine Corps decided (on the fly) to push a ton of HMMWVs down to each rifle company, those became organic and crewed by us, but we didn’t have formal callsigns for them.  I guess the closest thing for us would be Weapons Company, which has HMMWV mounted M2s, Mk19s, and TOWs, all of which can be dismounted, but I really don’t know how they did it (CEOI), I was always with Rifle Companies.

    “I think our signals people would go potty if anyone tried to talk to a named individual, instead of an appointment title.”
    It’s certainly non-standard, and didn’t happen a lot, but it did happen, almost always for personal stuff.  I.e., ‘there’s a Red Cross message, your son was just born,’ ‘hey, you’re pay is all screwed up but we’re working on it,’ or ‘hey, congratulations, you’re on the list, you got selected for promotion.’

    V/R,
    Jack

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