Whistles in World War II

A presentation at Whistles in World War II by Emma Young

There were many uses for whistles in World War II. In this article, we take a look at some of these uses and how they helped to save the lives of many people during the war. 

Over the top

Whistles were used during battle as a way of communicating orders to troops. They have a distinct noise that can be heard for miles, despite the other noises surrounding the battlefield, such as gunfire and grenade explosions. Troops were trained to listen out for the whistle and respond to the different orders accordingly. One order was the signal for troops to go over the top and attack the enemy. When troops were ordered to go over the top, they needed to climb out of their trenches with their heavy and cumbersome weapons and go into the enemy line of fire. This is an order that was swiftly followed by a lot of bloodshed and casualties. Many soldiers that survived World War II have given their accounts of the fear and dread that surrounded the order to go over the top.

Incoming missiles

Another common use for whistles on the battlefield was to signal to troops that there was an incoming missile. The ability to communicate this message in a matter of seconds and across great distances helped soldiers to react quickly and take measures to get out of the way. Many stories describe how troops were saved by their fellow soldiers from their quick thinking and alert signals using their whistles. 

Ditching whistle

Whistles were also used in the RAF. The main way that whistles were used in the RAF during active battle was to attract attention when a plane had gone down, and members of the RAF were still alive in the water. At this point, these troops are very vulnerable; the cold temperature or heavy current of the water could result in their death very quickly. Troops often sustained injuries when their plane went down, making it imperative they were noticed and rescued quickly. Whistles were used to cut through the noise of the water and battle to help rescue teams find RAF troops stranded in the water. 

Each RAF member was issued with a whistle that was then attached to the collar of their uniform. This kept the whistle in reach in the event of an emergency; the RAF pilot and other members of the team could easily reach their whistles if they were submerged in the water. This whistle used, an ACME Thunder, was also referred to as the ditch whistle in World War II, as it was used when pilots had to ditch their aircraft and wait for assistance. These aviation whistles have a very loud sound which makes them far easier to hear when needed. If you’re interested in RAF whistles and want to get your hands on the original flight jacket whistle, they’re still available to purchase online. These whistles make a great present for anyone with an interest in history, especially World War II and the RAF.


Whistles were also used to train soldiers, although many soldiers didn’t receive much training before being expected to go onto the front line and fight for their country. However, they did need to understand how to respond to the whistles on the battlefield and the basics of firing their gun. Many parts of the training focused on the soldiers’ physical fitness and getting them ready for battle. Countries needed soldiers on the battlefield as quickly as possible to replace those that had been injured and killed and to keep the enemy at bay. This meant many soldiers only received a few weeks to a few months of basic training, not nearly enough for most people to be as effective as possible in battle.

Whistles played a huge part in history both in World War I and World War II. Many historians and war enthusiasts choose to buy original or remakes of the whistles used during the war. They form parts of collections at history museums where you can learn more about all of the equipment soldiers were issued and how each part of their equipment played a critical role in the war.