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SNAFU Sailor, Airman and Soldier Slang of World War II from Osprey Publications

Sailor, Airman and Soldier Slang of World War II


By Gordon L. Rottman

Military slang has been with us since the dawn of warfare. Nicknames for officers, equipment, uniforms and other articles surrounding the military have become part of the lexicon of the military man and even carried over to our everyday speech. This covers the slang of the World War II soldiers, sailors and air force personnel. This volume not only covers that of the United States, but also that of the British military and that of the German military.

To give you a taste of what is included, can you identify these terms:

  • Blue Water Navy – The Fleet, the big ships – battleships, aircraft carriers and cruisers
  • Combustible, Vulnerable and Expendable –The description of escort carriers (CVE).
  • These were originally designated as aircraft escort vessels (AVG) until August 1942 when they were redesignated as auxiliary aircraft carriers (ACV) then aircraft carrier escort (CVE).
  • Bamboo Bomber – USAAF Cessna AT-17 Bobcat twin-engine advanced trainer. It was so named because the wings were made of wood.
  • Barracks 13 – The guardhouse, an unlucky place to spend the night.
  • Chicago Piano – A submachine gun or automatic rifle. So named because of the gangster reputation of Chicago.

These are from the American section, notable from the British

  • Bible Puncher – The Chaplin, also “Holy Joe” or “Devil Dodger”.
  • Mickey Mouse – An electric bomb-dropping mechanism so called because of the intricate mechanism portrayed in early Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From the German comes the following:

  • Udet Boje – Udet Buoy. Nickname for the 30 Quartermaster-General Rescue Buoys anchored off the French coast. They served as havens for downed airmen, and not just German ones. They were rectangular or hexagon-shaped enclosed buoys 8.2ft across (hexagon) with a 6ft-high oval “conning” tower. There was space for four men in the large buoy compartment.

These terms and hundreds more are included in the three sections of the book. Each of the three parts includes slang used by naval, air and land forces from the Americans, British and German. Not all of the slang included is suitable for “mixed” company, many terms referenced to the sexual and scatological aspects of military vocabulary appear with the disclaimer by the author that such terms were a normal part of the conversation of military men.

There are five Appendices in the back of the book which cover such things as the Nicknames of US and Royal Navy ships, aircraft names and other bit of information.

I found this book very interesting and a treasure-trove of information, not only to the slang used by the major militaries of World war II, but also the background information regarding many facets of the equipment used and the rations provided for the men on the ground, in the air and on the seas.

I recommend this book to any reader who wants a more in-depth insight into the workings of the forces engaged in WWII. Much of the information is available from other sources, but here it is in one place with the addition of the German military slang not usually readily found to be accessible.

This book is available from Osprey Publishing .

Hardback  $15.95 (Out of Print)

eBook ePub $11.16

eBook PDF  $11.16

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