B-52 bombers deployed to Europe (for an exercise) using a special radio callsign: the name of a Libyan city

Even if, during peacetime operations, radio callsigns used to identify military flights in radio communications with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies are usually squadron standards (Ghost Rider xxx, Panther xx, Bogey xx, Weasel xx, etc.) or picked among specific “patterns” (car types, animals, currencies, etc. – as done during exercises) under certain circumstances they can be chosen so as to celebrate specific events.

Last night, two U.S. B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on their way to the Czech Republic, where they will take part to the NATO Exercise Ramstein Rover, used a very special, never heard before, callsign: the two strategic bombers flew to Ostrava, where they landed on Sept. 18, using callsign “Tobruk 41″ and “Tobruk 42”.

I’m pretty sure that most of the readers of this blog don’t know that Tobruk is actually the name of a port city located on eastern Libya, near the border with Egypt. Tobruk is located slightly less than 400 km from Benghazi.

The two planes were not involved in any combat mission in response to the attack at the U.S. consulate that cost the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American officials. Nor they will if Washington decides to launch a strike against the Libyan jidahists whose camps are believed to be located in the desert of East Libya (since other assets would be used).

Still, I can’t believe that the 307th Bomb Wing/93rd Bomb Squadron used that callsign in place of the usual “Scalp”, by coincidence only.

Maybe the U.S. Air Force just wanted to send an indirect message to those listening the planes crossing the Pond on HF and UHF frequencies, that what has happened in Libya, will not be forgotten.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Most probably this is just a speculation, however the communication power of military radio callsigns should not be underestimated.

Anyway, AlertNewEngland has recorded a part of the radio comms and you can clearly hear “Tobruk 41″ calling.

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Toburk is also a battle that took place in 1941 between the British Army’s Desert Rats and the German’s Africa Corps.

    So the callsign could be a tribute to to that??

  2. Minor correction. The 917th “Wing” no longer exists, it was deactivated 1 1/2 years ago and it was not a bomb wing, it was a composite wing because an A-10 squadron was assigned to the wing.The wing was redesignated the 307th Bomb Wing wihen its combat mission moved to becoming the B-52 Formal Training Unit (school house). The 93rd BS is still the flying squadron, but assinged to the 307th OG/ 307th BW Air Force Reserve Command

    The 917th Fighter Group is at Barksdale and has the 47th FS assinged to it as a GSU reporting to the 442nd FW at Whiteman AFB.

  3. Tobruk also has a lot of significance for Australians too (There were Australians trapped in the siege with the British) – The ‘Rats of Tobruk’ are considered legendary heroes by many Australians.

    So I did some quick digging as I realised I didn’t know much more than the basic story. I’m guessing that if the refuelling calls were “last night” in the article, then the flights would have landed on the 18th of Sept. – From my quick, unverified’ research:

    “Australian troops of the Australian 9th Division and the 18th Brigade of the Australian 7th Division under Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead made up more than half of the Allied presence in Tobruk with a total strength of over 14,000 men. The rest of the garrison was made up of 12,000 British (the 3rd Armoured Brigade, 4 artillery regiments) and Indian (the 18th King Edward’s Own Cavalry) troops.”

    09/18 being the “American” arrival date, it may be related to the Australian division – or a purely random coincidence.

    Either way, I’m glad it led me to look up and learn a bit more of the history of my country.

    I love the fact that the names they took for themselves as badges of honour were from the insults of the enemy commander trying to demoralize them.

  4. I stand offended, Signor Cenciotti!! Every Brit, Aussie or Kiwi knows the name of Tobruk very well indeed – as must all Italians who fought in the western desert, and their families, and I’m sure the same goes for survivors of the Afrika Korps and their families in turn. The siege of Tobruk was a famous action, probably the best known name in the desert campaign until it was eclipsed by El Alamein. (That’s Egypt, BTW.)

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