BRITISH WARSHIP RADIO CALLSIGNS EXTANT IN THE 1930-1931 PERIOD

It makes sense to say [and to think] that any one who is a devotee of British naval history, knows full well the stories of the second world war, and all the other wars of course.

They will know all about those splendid ships which fought for the liberty of all against the dreaded Hun, and they can tell you all the facts of every event from sightings, to engagements to the subsequent carnage, destruction and terrible loss of life.

Some of the ships which fought that war were new when the war started in 1939, but many of them, and perhaps the most famous of them, were built ten years or so before the war and were in commission in the 1930-31 period.

 Before moving to that period, one [but by no means the only one] of the famous ships built between 1931 and 1938 was the Ark Royal, the 3rd ship to bear that name, and the first one of that name to be built as an aircraft carrier. At the start of the first world war in 1914 the navy sourced a merchant ship, converted it into a sea plane carrier and named it Ark Royal [the second of that name].  Her radio callsign was firstly QBNT and she performed well in WW1.  By 1919 her callsign had been changed to GQJD at a time when she was describe as a Special Services Vessel.  The 1930's version of international callsigns records her as being GEXK.   As the 'drums-of-war' sounded for WW2, and the need for a new and purpose built aircraft carrier was obvious, the Special Services Vessel Ark Royal was renamed Pegasus to release the name for the new carrier, completed in 1938, but Pegasus kept her radio callsign.  Ark Royal was sunk in the Mediterranean in 1941 with the loss of one life when she was only three years old - a mighty blow to the British. The radio callsign she used in her short life is, at the present, not known to me, but I am researching it - everything was so secret during the war for obvious reasons, and callsigns plus pennant numbers were kept secret.

Jumping ahead of 1930-31 but staying on the same subject of the Ark Royal and radio callsigns.  In 1930-31, there was a British merchantman called the 'URLA' and her radio callsign was G K X S . She was also sunk in the Mediterranean in 1941 by an Italian submarine, but all hands [42 crew] were saved.  Thus, the radio callsign GKXS was dead on the sea bed.  In the 1950's, they built the fourth ship to bear the name Ark Royal, a mighty aircraft carrier [virtually 50000 tons - over twice the size of the current Ark Royal].  She was given the radio callsign G K X S resurrected from the sea bed, which has been passed onto ship number five, now, through recent modification, weighing in at about 20500 tons  - a baby by comparison to the 1950's ship.

Back to the 1930-31 period and my theme above in paragraph 2.  However, what most of these devotees will not [or do not] know, is the radio callsign of these 1930-31 ships, which, next to the ships name proper, which is of universal interest, and the ships pennant numbers [train spotters {!}], is the next most important identifying icon of the ship and used by all sea farers.

So, below I have stated some of those famous ships and their radio callsigns.  To a radio man, the sound of these haunting letters being tapped on a morse key, adds a new dimension to being a devotee.  Listen to the following sound file HOOD SIGHTING BISMARCK.wav.  The contents of the file are in my imagination and they are not intended to be of any historical worth. Nevertheless, the callsign G E C V 
is that of the mighty Hood.  The message reads "All British Warships, this is the Hood Break Bismarck sighted 074 degrees 25 miles away Break ". In actual fact, although much too much data for a sound file, Hood would have reported four quite separate element on the enemy report, namely WHAT, WHERE, WITHER and WHEN. The report is known as a LOCATING REPORT {an LR} and the first sighting of an enemy unit receives a number i.e. LR1:  any amplifying information for that target [for example the enemy changes course and speed] is transmitted as LR1/1 etc. Hood's report might have looked something like this:

BREAK LR1 - 1BB 1CC - 58 48'N 20 10'W - 160 - 25 BREAK 1807Z

MEANING - First sighting report - 1 Battleship [Bismarck] 1 Cruiser [Prince Eugen] [she was a Hipper class heavy cruiser] - their geographical position {a figure out of the blue!} which can be stated in several ways [grids, relative to etc] - their course and speed - sighted at 1807 GMT.

Here is the list of others all taken from the 1930 book of Callsigns.

SHIP RADIO CALLSIGN
BENBOW GEBJ
CENTURION GEBL
COLOSSUS GEBN
CONQUEROR GEBQ
EMPEROR OF INDIA GEBR
IRON DUKE GEBV
KING GEORGE V GEBW
K8  [Submarine] GLAD
MALAYA GEBX
QUEEN ELIZABETH GECF
RAMILLIES GECJ
RESOLUTION GECK
REVENGE GECL
ROYAL OAK  GECM
ROYAL SOVEREIGN GECN
SUBMARINE 01 GMAS
FROBISHER GECP
HERMES GECQ
VALIANT GECS
VICTORIA AND ALBERT [Royal Yacht] GFUR
WARSPITE GECT
HOOD GECV
LION GECW
RENOWN GECZ
REPULSE GEDB
COURAGEOUS GEDK
GLORIOUS GEDM
ARK ROYAL GEXK
SUPERB GLEF
NELSON GMAN
RODNEY GMAP
BARHAM GEBF
....and although not a "big hitter" what about this! The type of ship we would all have liked to have served in  HMS FLAT CALM callsign GFBV
If you had a relative on any BRITISH SHIP - WAR or MERCHANTMAN - in the 1930-31 period, say plus and minus 15 years, and you want to know the ships callsign, send me an email.

 

See also the page other radio callsigns of interest 1930-1931