Monday, January 7, 2008
Military signals have their purposeful side, but also their humor. We're indebted to Captain Jack Broome of the Royal Navy for his 1955 book "Make A Signal!", which not only chronicled historical naval battles in terms of the signals exchanged, but included a 'scrap log' of the more humorous variety. It was republished under the title "Make Another Signal" in 1973. Both books are long out of print, but can be purchased used - see here and here.
Since I tend to look for the funnier side of life, I'd like to quote some of the more (in)famous signals that have reduced officers to tears and readers like me to helpless laughter over the years.
1. A cruiser was trying to secure to bow and stern buoys near her flagship in a congested harbor. The Admiral watched the proceedings from his quarterdeck. The cruiser made a good approach and appeared to be judging the maneuver well. The admiral signaled:
Then things started to go wrong for the cruiser. She missed the buoys and got more and more tangled up. After watching for some time the Admiral again signaled:
ADD TO MY PREVIOUS SIGNAL GOD.
2. A battlecruiser arrived in harbor after a long patrol at sea to receive a signal from her flagship saying that she - the flagship - was unable to take her turn on patrol, so the returning ship would have to refuel and put to sea again.
On setting out for the second time the battlecruiser's Marine band were on the quarterdeck, playing a tune which had very rude words. As she passed as close as possible to the flagship:
From Flagship: ON LEAVING HARBOR WHO SELECTS THE BAND TUNES.
From Battlecruiser: NORMALLY THE BANDMASTER BUT ON SPECIAL OCCASIONS THE CAPTAIN.
3. One gunboat was being followed up a Chinese river by a second. The first ship rounded a bend and slowed down to wait for the other. As her consort did not appear she called her up by radio.
WHAT IS THE DELAY.
The second gunboat had run aground, and replied:
REGRET HAVE BECOME A SEMI-PERMANENT FEATURE OF THE CHINESE LANDSCAPE.
4. From a Senior Officer after inspecting a small ship:
STANDING ORDERS PROVIDE FOR OVERALLS BEING WORN FOR DIRTY WORK ON BOARD IN WHICH CATEGORY I DO NOT INCLUDE AN INSPECTION BY ME.
5. An Admiral leading a line of carriers in his flagship watched one of the destroyer screen trying to cut through the line between his ship and the next astern. The destroyer Captain, anxious not to make the obvious mistake of getting across No. 2's bows, cut too close to the flagship's stern. Sure enough an unlucky roll brought his sea boat's davits in contact with the carrier's stern. The Admiral growled, "Make that young blighter a signal." Everyone waited to hear the great man's anger put to words.
From Flag Officer to Destroyer: IF YOU TOUCH ME THERE AGAIN I SHALL SCREAM.
6. On the Chinese station Royal Navy officers often hired local servants to do their laundry and general domestic labor, even aboard ship. This could lead to misunderstandings.
From Flagship's First Lieutenant to Senior Officer, Port: WHO DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR ADMIRALS WOMAN.
The Senior Officer ashore was most perturbed, and asked for a repetition of the signal. In due course he received this amendment:
From Flag Lieutenant to Senior Officer, Port: REFERENCE MY SIGNAL PLEASE INSERT WASHER BETWEEN ADMIRAL AND WOMAN.
7. Destroyer Diamond had just collided with Cruiser Swiftsure during maneuvers at sea. The destroyer was technically in the wrong. When they had sorted themselves out:
From Swiftsure to Diamond: WHAT DO YOU INTEND TO DO NOW.
From Diamond to Swiftsure: BUY A FARM.
8. Two frigates approaching Portland Harbor in a Channel gale, visibility nil.
From first frigate: WHEN DO YOU EXPECT TO SIGHT PORTLAND BREAKWATER.
From second frigate: FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO. ESTIMATE MY POSITION FOURTH FAIRWAY ON GOLF COURSE.
9. Narvik, the railhead of the Norwegian iron ore industry, was in German hands. To the North of the town the railway follows the coast and enters a tunnel about a quarter of a mile long.
Two destroyers were patrolling in the vicinity one sunny morning in May 1940. The second destroyer received the following signal from the first:
ORDERS FOR OPERATION LETS PLAY TRAINS. THE 11.30 FROM NARVIK IS ALMOST DUE. DESTROYER A WILL TAKE STATION TO SOUTHWARD AND HASTEN TRAIN INTO TUNNEL WITH H.E. AFTER SECOND SALVO DESTROYER B IS TO COMMENCE GREETING TRAIN IN SIMILAR MANNER AT NORTHERN END OF TUNNEL.
10. HMS Ark Royal, an aircraft carrier, on first emerging for sea trials in 1938, passed another of H.M. Ships.
Ark Royal to passing ship: HOW DO I LOOK.
Passing ship to Ark Royal: GO BACK TO LOCH NESS.
11. From tug towing battle practice target to firing cruiser whose shells are falling too close:
WE AIM TO PLEASE. YOU AIM TOO PLEASE.
12. In World War I, before the days of carriers and patrolling aircraft, an American Battle Squadron was at sea, in close formation, towing kite balloons.
From USS Texas to USS New York: PLEASE ASK YOUR BALLOON OBSERVER TO STOP PISSING ON MY NAVIGATOR.
13. A US submarine in World War II was unexpectedly diverted to an Australian base which it was customary to enter and leave by night. Being a stranger to the Royal Navy she did not know the names of British submarines. As she approached she received the following signal:
KEEP GOOD LOOKOUT FOR BRITISH SPIRIT PASSING YOU SHORTLY.
WHAT MAY BE THE NATIONALITY OF OTHER GHOSTS POLTERGEISTS OR HOBGOBLINS I MAY ENCOUNTER ROUND HERE.
14. Rear-Admiral commanding Destroyers, flying his flag in a cruiser, is at sea with his flotillas.
Destroyer to Flagship: REQUEST PERMISSION TO SEND ONE RATING TO FLAGSHIP FOR MEDICAL EXAMINATION.
Flagship to Destroyer: SIGNAL SYMPTOMS.
Destroyer to Flagship: MAN INSISTS HE IS SAINT GEORGE BUT THAT HE ONLY HOLDS ACTING RANK OF SAINT AND IS NOT PREPARED TO TAKE ON DRAGON UNLESS RATED FULL SAINT BY AN ADMIRAL.
Flagship to Destroyer: SEND SAINT GEORGE WITH ESCORT. KEEP DRAGON.