De­ci­pher­ing en­emy se­crets

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Loosley

con­trib­ute con­sis­tently and con­struc­tively to the Al­lied sig­nals in­ter­cep­tion and de­cod­ing ef­fort from 1942 to 1945, de­ci­pher­ing mes­sages and analysing Ja­panese mil­i­tary strat­egy and move­ments.

Ja­pan’s de­luded war aims opened the door to pre­cisely this man­ner of crypt­anal­y­sis. Ja­pan was de­ter­mined to dom­i­nate the Asia-Pa­cific war zones from the Aleu­tians to the An­damans. To com­mu­ni­cate with its far-flung ar­mies and navies, Tokyo re­lied heav­ily on coded ra­dio sig­nals. And as with grand ad­mi­ral Karl Doenitz’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions with his U-boat com­man­ders in the North At­lantic, Al­lied code­break­ers metic­u­lously re­con­structed mes­sages and broke open the codes.

And like their Ger­man al­lies, con­fi­dent that Enigma was un­break­able, Ja­pan re­lied on the com­plex­ity of its chang­ing Kana syl­la­ble clus­ters, its code­books and the am­bi­gu­i­ties of its lan­guage to pre­vent de­ci­pher­ing. The Ja­panese gam­bled might­ily and lost badly.

Among the out­stand­ing Al­lied code­break­ers was com­man­der Eric Nave of the RAN, who had spent years in Bri­tish ser­vice in Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore. Hav­ing bro­ken J19, the Ja­panese diplo­matic code, it was Nave who de­ci­phered the “Winds” mes­sage to Ja­panese em­bassies on what must be done in the wake of an out­break of hos­til­i­ties. The fi­nal warn­ing from Tokyo was to be in­cor­po­rated in a weather re­port.

The Aus­tralian con­tri­bu­tion to sig­nals in­tel­li­gence — with in­ter­cept sta­tions from Park Or­chards out­side Mel­bourne through to Townsville — along with naval anal­y­sis at FRUMEL (Fleet Ra­dio Unit Mel­bourne) and the Cen­tral Bureau for the army and air force, was con­stantly sub­ject to the ten­sions and tides of Al­lied co-oper­a­tion.

The Amer­i­cans had ar­rived in Aus­tralia in strength after the fall of Cor­regi­dor in The Philip­pines. In­deed, Col­lie’s chap­ter on Cor­regi­dor is the high­light of the book. It is pos­si­ble to sense the heat and per­spi­ra­tion, un­der bom­bard­ment, of the con­fined spa­ces in the Mal­inta Tun­nel.

How­ever, some among the Al­lied code­break­ers seemed to spend as much time war­ring with their own side as con­cen­trat­ing on the fight against the Ja­panese. Col­lie sheds new light on the Aus­tralian war ef­fort, mov­ing steadily yet miss­ing lit­tle of sig­nif­i­cance in the Pa­cific, from Lae to Leyte.

There are lighter mo­ments, as in Col­lies’ ref­er­ences to artist Don­ald Friend’s war, from back­break­ing labour on the Bris­bane docks to code­break­ing.

Col­lie notes acidly that un­less Alan Tur­ing or Bletch­ley Park ap­pear in the story, Al­lied code­break­ers are rou­tinely de­nied hon­our and recog­ni­tion.

Per­haps, but Code Break­ers wards fill­ing this void. trav­els far to- is a vis­it­ing fel­low at the US Stud­ies Cen­tre at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney.

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