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Sprechtafeln
Message translation table

Sprechtafeln (talking tables), also known as Parolen- und Gesprächstabellen (expressions and conversation tables), were manual cipher systems or message substitution tables, that were used by the NVA, 1 the Army of the former DDR (East-Germany), as a low-grade tactical cipher system thoughout the Cold War. The system greatly resembles the British SLIDEX on which it is based.

The image on the right shows a real message table that was used by the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA), the People's Army of the DDR. It was issued in 1969 and was known as Parolen- und Gesprächstabelle (expressions and conversation table). Apparently series of different tables were in use, as this one is marked as SERIE 'E' and 'F'.

Inside the book are two pages. At the left is a table or matrix with 100 cells, arranged as 10 rows by 10 columns. Inside each cell is a word, expression or part of a complete sentence. At the bottom left, the page is marked as 'SERIE E'.
  
Close-up of the matrix on page 1

Along the left side and along the top of the page is an orange plastic sheet, that allows it to be written with a pen or pencil. In most cases, letters or letter pairs would be written before each row and above each column. The combination of a row/column pair was used to identify the desired cell. In order to further obscure the contents of the message, a numerical table on the second page was used to convert the letters (used for the rows and columns) into numbers.

The book is red, to indicate that it is secret, and measures 20 x 13 cm. Once a coded message had been created by means of the table, it was send via radio in morse code, either manually, or by means of a so-called burst transmitter; a device that transmits the pre-recorded data at high speed in order to minimise the risk of interception and evade radio direction finding. Apart from words and frequently used expressions, each table cell also contains a single letter to allow other words to be spelled, plus a number to specify times, frequencies, distances, directions, etc.

  1. NVA = Nationale Volksarmee.

The red code book as used by the East German Army (NVA) during the Cold War. Close-up of the cover of the East German Parolen- und Gesprächstabellen. The matrix on page 1 Close-up of the matrix on page 1 The translation table on page 2 Close-up of the translation table on page 2 Close-up of the bottom right corner of page 2 Typical view of the book
A
×
A
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The red code book as used by the East German Army (NVA) during the Cold War.
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Close-up of the cover of the East German Parolen- und Gesprächstabellen.
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The matrix on page 1
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Close-up of the matrix on page 1
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The translation table on page 2
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Close-up of the translation table on page 2
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Close-up of the bottom right corner of page 2
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Typical view of the book

Serie F
Below is another example of a Serie F table. According to the title, it was used for point-to-point, or line-of-sight (LOS) radio links.




GST training tables
In the former DDR (East-Germany), young people were encouraged to join the Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik (GST), the Sport and Technology Association. The GST was one of the DDR's mass organisations that provided the means, equipment and structure for people to fill their free time, whilst at the same time contributing to the militarisation of the DDR by training them [1].

The GST also was a pre-military training facility for everyone who wanted to join the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA), the National People's Army, by handling the so-called VA or Vormilitärische Ausbilding (pre-military training) for the NVA.

The GST allowed people to persue their hobby by providing the equipment, such as motorcycles, aircraft and radios. As an example: during the Cold War, radio amateur licences were issued, but only to GST members. If you wanted to be a HAM, you had to join the GST, where you were trained in morse code and in radio operation.
  
GST training table. Photograph kindly provided by Karsten Hansky [2].

Within the GST, radio amateurism was seen as a sport discipline and people who joined the East German Amateur Radio Association were encouraged to persue Nachrichtensport (news sports). Apart from learning radio technology, morse code and radio procedures, the members were also trained in sending coded messages by means of message substitution tables such as this one [2]:

GST training table. Photograph kindly provided by Karsten Hansky [2].

The table shown here was issued especially for the GST in 1964 and was not secret, which is why its cover isn't red. Although it was only intended for Nachrichtensport training puposes, it clearly shows that in reality people were prepared, and probably recruted, for the DDR's military service.

GST substitution table GST substitution table Instructions Rear side
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GST substitution table
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GST substitution table
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Instructions
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Rear side

References
  1. Wikipedia, Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik
    Retrieved May 2016.

  2. Karsten Hansky, Images of GST Parolen- und Gesprächstabelle, Ser. No. 0294
    Ag 300/GST 1194/64/DDR - V/18/4 - 8696. 1964. Retrieved June 2016.
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Monday 30 August 2010. Last changed: Monday, 10 July 2017 - 07:32 CET.
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