This week, we’ll be celebrating our proud history as we approach March 11th, the recognized anniversary of Naval Cryptology. This week’s posts will reflect on our heritage, culminating in a very special guest post on March 11, 2016.
Naval Cryptology has a long, proud history. From the Battle of Midway in 1942, to leading the Navy’s current efforts in cyberspace, the community’s expertise in SIGINT, Cyber Operations, and Electronic Warfare has played a key role in power projection and sustained combat operations worldwide for more than 80 years. Indeed, the U.S Navy’s victory at Midway was founded on knowledge of the enemy’s force construct and disposition provided by Naval Cryptology.
Station HYPO, located in Pearl Harbor and headed by Commander Joseph Rochefort, collected and decrypted the Japanese naval code, known as JN-25. The site’s exploitation of Japanese naval communications was sufficient to provide daily intelligence reports and assessments of Japanese force dispositions and intentions. These reports were provided to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas. This allowed Nimitz to position his forces at the right place, designated Point Luck, northeast of Midway, placing the U.S. fleet on the flank of the Japanese. Had Station HYPO’s efforts failed to provide this critical information, Admiral Nimitz would not have had enough time to thwart what might have been a surprise Japanese attack.
Station Hypo set the standard for Naval Cryptology, and is often celebrated as our community’s defining moment. While the efforts of Station Hypo are the most visible, our history precedes Midway, and continues to be written to this day. The origins of Naval Cryptology date back to 1924, with the establishment of a research desk in the Code and Signal section of the Department of Naval Communications. Laurance F. Safford, the “father of U.S. Navy cryptology,” headed the effort more or less constantly until shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Re-designated OP-20-G in 1928 under the Director of Naval Communications, it became known as the “On the Roof Gang” because its founding members were trained in the art of coded communications in a secure facility on the roof of the old Department of the Navy building. OP-20-G continued to grow, culminating in the formation of the Naval Security Group on March 11, 1935.
By the time America entered World War II, OP-20-G boasted near 100 percent coverage of German naval circuits. Many of these circuits were used for high frequency (HF), long range shore-ship, ship-shore, and ship-ship communications. Following years of heavy merchant losses to German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, the U.S. TENTH Fleet was established on May 20, 1943 to better coordinate and prosecute anti-submarine warfare against the German U-boat threat. The rudimentary geolocation of German U-boats, led by the U.S. TENTH Fleet, helped to vector offensive patrols and enable attack by Allied forces, thus taking the offensive in what had previously been a strictly defensive game.
The contributions of Naval Cryptology during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Cold War, and Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM, though lesser known, are equally laudable to the accomplishments of Station HYPO. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, members of our community deployed in large numbers to the Middle East, flying airborne reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan and Iraq, or serving at sea in the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Many applied their skills from remote sites in a manner unheard of during the days of Station HYPO. Others served on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, augmenting the U.S. Army as Electronic Warfare Officers. A select few participated in high-risk, Naval Special Warfare operations.
As Naval Cryptology has enjoyed many successes, our history is not without sacrifice. In 1967, the USS LIBERTY was attacked during the Six Day War. Two-thirds of the ship’s crew were casualties,
with 34 killed, 23 of whom were Navy Cryptologists. From the EC-121 shoot-down to the fire at Kamiseya, the crash of Ranger 12 to the loss of Navy Cryptologists in ground combat in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, many of our own have made the ultimate sacrifice. In the words of RADM Ned Deets (Ret) at the Cryptologic Community’s 76th Anniversary Ball, “For 62 years our cryptologists have been in the back of airplanes going in harm’s way. For 76 years our cryptologists have been in ships and later in submarines, and on foreign soil risking their lives for all we hold dear.”
As we move forward, we must ensure our service honors those who have preceded us, as well as those we have lost along the way.