Semaphore Alphabet

Throughout history, armies and navies have sent messages across battlefields.
Simple orders like “Advance” or “Retreat” could be given by bugle calls or cannon-fire.

But sending reports of the battle back to headquarters needed a different system.
During the 1790’s, a Frenchman called Claude Chappe invented a signaling system called semaphore. This was a system of sending signals by means of two jointed arms at the tops of tall posts.

These arms could be moved to different positions to show different letters of the alphabet.
Each semaphore station was built on a hill so that it could be seen, using a telescope, from the next station in any direction. In this way, messages could be relayed over long distances from one station to the next.

Semaphore stations on the coast would send messages to ships at sea.

On the battlefield, there might not be a semaphore station, but messages could be sent by stationing signalers with large flags on nearby hills.
They used the same code as the semaphore arms.
An expert signaler could send or receive up to 25 letters a minute and messages could be relayed nearly 155 miles (250 kilometers) in 15 minutes.






Hand Flag

Excerpt from the book: "Carpentry & mechanics for boys: up-to-the-minute handicraft" by Hall, A. Neely (Albert Neely), Publication date 1918 / Publisher Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.

A Hand Flag of Standard Size is shown in Fig. 468, its dimensions are given in Fig. 469, and the size of its staff is shown in Fig. 470. The flag is divided diagonally into two parts, one of which is made of red muslin, the other of white. Cut the cloth enough larger than shown to allow for turning over 1/4 inch of each edge for a hem. Do this stitching on a sewing machine, it will be the best way of getting a good job done quickly. Cut the staff stick of the size shown, round the edges, and sandpaper all surfaces smooth. Then shellac it, and when the shellac has dried tack the flag to one side.


Memorizing the Code

It is not necessary to own a pair of flags to learn the code since the positions of the arms of the boy signalling determine the code letters. The flags serve to amplify the hand positions, and of course, this is necessary when sending from a distance. It is easiest to learn the code without the flags because then you need concern yourself only with the positions of your arms in forming the letters. 
As soon as you have memorized the positions, and can send at a rate of at least thirty letters a minute, you will be so proud of your achievement that you will want to own a pair of flags at once.

Memorizing the Code is not difficult, but it requires continuous practice to get to the point where one can send rapidly. The following suggestions will help you "get the hang" of it, and probably you will be able to work out schemes of your own that will help you remember the formation of certain letters.

Observe,  first of  all, that the positions of the arms in forming the letters of the alphabet are eight in number, and correspond to the positions of the hour-hand of a clock when at 6 o'clock, 7:30, 9 o'clock, 10:30, 12 o'clock, 1:30, 3 o'clock, and 4:30. Observe, also, that the arms advance clockwise, in going through the alphabet.

Semaphore Alphabet

In forming letters A to D, the left hand is placed in the position of a clock's hour-hand when at 6 o'clock, the right-hand is placed successively at 7:30, 9 o'clock, 10:30, and 12 o'clock. 

In forming letters E to G, the right hand is substituted for the left hand, and the left hand is advanced from 1:30 to 4:30. 

For letters H and I, the left hand is held at 7:30, the right hand is placed at 9 o'clock, then at 10:30. 

Letters K to N are formed with the right-hand held at 7:30, the left hand is placed successively at 12 o'clock, 1:30, 3 o'clock, and 4:30. 

For letters P to S, the right hand is held at 9 o'clock, the left hand is placed successively at 12 o'clock, 1:30, 3 o'clock, and 4:30.

For letters T, U, and F, the right-hand is held at 10:30, the left hand is placed at 12 o'clock, 1:30, and 3 o'clock. 

For letters J and V, the right hand is held at 12 o'clock, the left hand is placed at 3 o'clock and 4:30. 

For letters W and X, the left hand is held at 1:30, the right hand at 3 o'clock and 4:30. 

For letter Z, the left hand is held at 3 o'clock, the right hand at 4:30.

Remember that the letter U is like a letter U., that letter N is U inverted (same as small letter n is letter u inverted); letter Y is like a letter Y except that the left-hand is dropped one position; letter X is really the left-hand side of a letter X. 
Opposite letters are A and G, B and F, C and E, H and Z, I and X, J and P, K and V, O and W (think of O and "double-yo"), M and S, and Q and Y. Perhaps you will find it helpful to associate these letters in this way.

To Attract Attention, before starting to signal, shake the flags above your head in the positions indicated for attention. Before sending numerals, cross the flags overhead as shown for numerals. Use letters A to J for numbers. Spell out numerals when they come in the body of a message. If you make an error, signal A. To annul a message, make N. To acknowledge that the message has been understood, make R. To signify readiness, send L. Indicate a negative reply by K, an affirmative reply by P, a question by O.

Finish a Message with a chop-chop motion of the flags at the right, as indicated for "end." Abbreviations will not be confused with letters, by the receiver, if the sender follows them with the interval.
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