Posted Thursday, September 7, 2000

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ISSUE 1930, Wednesday 6 September 2000

US 'stole credit for cracking Pacific war code'

By Neil Tweedie

interceptIllustrations (from David Irving: Churchill¹s War, vol. ii) added by this website: right: a page of British intercept at Pearl Harbor time, and USS Shaw under attack at Pearl Harbor.

THE long-held belief that America played the dominant role in cracking vital Japanese codes during the Second World War has been challenged by a book that awards most of the credit to the British and Australians. For more that 50 years American historians have argued that American codebreaking successes played a major role in crucial victories in the Pacific, such as Midway, and helped to shorten the war in the Far East by up to two years.

USS Shaw Under Attack

But Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent of The Telegraph, says in his book The Emperor's Codes that Bletchley Park's success in cracking Enigma and other German codes was far from being the only British success in this secret war. Smith draws on recently declassified British material to show that in many cases the Americans took the credit because of the British obsession with secrecy. He also argues that the United States navy's reluctance to share its codebreaking successes with Britain -- and even its own army -- led to unnecessary casualties in the Pacific theatre.

The disclosures will provide more ammunition for those who say that the American account of the Second World War, both cinematic and historical, has tended to ignore or diminish Britain's role. That tendency was seen most recently in the Hollywood film U571, which shows the United States navy snatching an Enigma machine from a sinking U-boat -- a feat accomplished by the Royal Navy.

The "true heroes" of the Allied codebreaking effort, Smith says, were Eric Nave, an Australian officer attached to the Royal Navy, and John Tiltman, a British cryptographer. Although the Americans claimed that they broke JN25, the Japanese navy's operational code which contributed to the destruction of the Japanese carrier fleet at Midway, it was the work of Tiltman -- only a few weeks after it came into use in 1939. Claims that the British knew of Pearl Harbor through JN25 but kept quiet to draw the Americans into the war are dismissed in the book.

Related story:

How we achieved a Cracking Victory
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