“All nations have learned the lessons of the World War and will probably make even greater efforts to intercept and read enemy messages in the future than were made in the past…. In a war between nations of approximately equal strength, Radio Intelligence could easily become the decisive factor.” — Laurance Safford, speech, Naval Postgraduate School, 1925
22 October 2019 at 16:57
Laurance F. Safford’s intelligence bordered on clairvoyance. Allow me to quote what Admiral James O. Richardson said of Captain Safford in his memoir, On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor: The Memoirs of Admiral James O. Richardson, USN (Retired) as told to Vice Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Ret.), see p. 469: “There is one officer, considerably junior to me, to whom I wish to pay special tribute. His name is Laurance F. Safford. Safford was of the Naval Academy class of 1916, and early in his career, he became interested in cryptanalysis, and soon became an expert in this field.
“What is accomplished in this field is a closely guarded secret within the Naval Service, and there is a galaxy of regulations and laws against public disclosure of specifics in regard to the making or breaking of codes and ciphers. So I write guardedly.
“I was on a Selection Board to select lieutenant commanders to commanders back in 1936. Safford at that time was a lieutenant commander. The Selection Board the previous year evidently had had no knowledge of Safford’s real accomplishments in the field of cryptanalysis and had passed him by. I undertook it as my mission to inform the members of the Board, on which I sat, of the great future value to the Navy of Safford’s continued promotion in the Navy.
“Part of the statement I made at that time to the eight other Flag Officers on the Selection Board has often recurred to me.
“`Should the United States become involved in war, in the Pacific, what this officer has done and can do will probably contribute more to bring victory to our Navy than the efforts of any or all [of] us who are serving on this Board.’
“In view of the disclosure, in the Pearl Harbor Investigations, in regard to our knowledge of Japanese codes and ciphers up thru the Battle of Midway, I believe the statement was borne out by events.
“Anyhow, Safford was selected by nine votes, and continued to serve the Navy with distinction in his chosen field for many years. His country and his Navy owe him a great debt of gratitude, which neither has fully paid.”
On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor was published by the Naval History Division, Washington, D.C. in 1973. As is stated in his retrospective analysis of the Father of Communications Intelligence in the United States Navy, Admiral Richardson “wrote guardedly.” Both Admirals Richardson and Dyer were careful in everything they wrote for public consumption. While in 2019 we know the U.S. Navy was reading various Japanese naval codes that proved to give the United States “a priceless advantage” in winning the Battle of Midway, the team of Admirals Richardson and Dyer hinted at more than this, by guardedly writing “up through the Battle of Midway.”
I propose that thanks to a large part to the successes of Captain Safford and his subordinates in OP-20G (and its subordinate units, Stations CAST & HYPO) in the period leading up to 7 December 1941, senior American officials had similar intelligence regarding Japan’s plans and intentions for war with the United States as they had in the period preceding the Battle of Midway, and, by the way, up through the surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945.
Someday I believe our beloved Navy that “always takes care of its own” will name a ship and at least one shore facility after Captain Laurance Frye Safford, United States Navy. Posthumous promotion to flag rank is also long overdue for L.F. Safford, United States Navy.
(Postscript: In December 2018 when my wife and I visited Admiral John C. Aquilino in his quarters at Nimitz House on Oahu, we gave the Admiral a copy of On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor. Should we have the opportunity to visit Nimitz House again this December, we would like to give a copy of another book Vice Admiral George C. Dyer wrote about a senior naval officer. That book is the two-volume The Amphibians Came to Conquer: The Story of Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner. These books, both of which were published by the Naval History Division, are priceless to any student of Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into the Second World War.)
Andy McKane, 0657, Tuesday, 22 October 2019.
22 October 2019 at 23:00
Thank you for sharing Andy. As always, your insights in history are always appreciated on Station HYPO. If you do have an opportunity to visit Admiral Aquilino in December, please give him my regards.
23 October 2019 at 01:47
It always amazes me how well the leaders of the “between the wars” understood the difference between American Freedom and totalitarianism as practiced in Europe, Eurasia and Asia.
We need another Stafford, or Rochefort, or Churchill…. ’cause we don’t anyone like them today.
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25 October 2019 at 13:08
Nothing against the Capt. contributions to the effort, but I’m not sure how the title of father of naval cryptologist applies. Capt. Jack Holtwick is officially credited with the leading the creation of the Navy cryptologist ratings among his many other achievements
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25 October 2019 at 18:16
Thanks to the “Anonymous” comment on Holtwick, I just learned a little more about the late Captain. Suffice it to say, we, or at least I, already knew Holtwick was one of the Navy’s original greats in the field of cryptanalysis. In Captain Safford’s testimony to the Joint Congressional Committee on Pearl Harbor in February 1946, Safford admitted that his, OP-20-G’s, “best” crypto people were “up at Pearl Harbor” if I remember his exact words from his testimony. Jack Holtwick was there in 1941; so, too, Thomas H. Dyer; so, too, Joe Rochefort. The new movie MIDWAY scheduled for release on 8 November has a line from the actor playing then Lieutenant Commander (later RADM) Edwin T. Layton that, “Pearl Harbor is the greatest intelligence failure ever in American history.” This is utter nonsense! Layton, T.H. Dyer, Thomas A. Huckins, John P. Cromwell and Ethelbert Watts were all among Layton’s Naval Academy classmates. A few others also worthy of note (from USNA 1924) are William C. Purple (who retired as a Colonel, USMC); Albert Julius Clausen (I wonder if he’s related to Henry C. Clausen of the Army Pearl Harbor Board and then the Clausen Investigation into P.H.); Daniel J. McCallum; Hanson W. Baldwin (Military affairs editor for the New York Times); Malin Craig, Jr.; and John C. Waldron (KIA, Battle of Midway, 5 June 1942). As an aside, two officers on attached duty to the ComInt (a.k.a. “Combat Intelligence”) unit of the 14th Naval District under Rochefort and Dyer in 1941, both of whom had “special duty assignments” on the CinCPac staff under Admiral H.E. Kimmel, were: then LtCdr. Wesley A Wright (USNA 1926), and Lieutenant John A. Williams (USNA 1928).