Captain Laurence F. Safford
American Naval officer and Cryptanalyst
October 22, 1893 – May 15, 1973

Interview with Captain Laurance F. Safford:

Mr. SCHMIDT:  This is CAPT. Laurance F. SAFFORD, U.S. NAVY RETIRED, discussing the manuscript by CAPT. HOLTWICK prepared in 1969 and 1970.  Comments on persons who could contribute to the first section, up to 1929, 1930.

CAPT. SAFFORD: CAPT. J. E. REINBURG is deceased.  He established the Registered Publication Section in 1924 as a “Desk” under the OP-20-G.  Prior to that time OP-20-G directly had taken over accountability for cryptographic aids.  An order signed by the CNO gave NAVAL COMMUNICATIONS responsibility for distribution and accounting for all registered publications issued by the NAVY DEPARTMENT. This was a tremendous task and REINBURG took it over in fine style.  I believe that he was relieved in 1925, or 1926 at the latest, by LT. H. McCoy JONES, commonly called “PIGGY JONES.”  He is living in Washington, I believe. I saw him a few years ago.  ADM. WENGER is deceased.  The next item, Mrs. Agnes (Meyer) DRISCOLL, unmarried, who was the principal cryptanalyst of the Navy for many, many years.  Mrs. DRISCOLL when I saw her last was about 1967 in very bad physical condition. She could hardly walk, and was living with her sister, Mrs. HAMILTON in a small apartment house on 25th Street or the vicinity between Pennsylvania Ave., and K. St., N.W. I cannot find either Mrs. DRISCOLL or her sister, Mrs. HAMILTON, in the telephone book. They probably use the apartment switchboard.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  She was not the first Navy cryptanalyst of record?


Mr. SCHMIDT:  Can you think of anyone else who was before that?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  The first Navy cryptanalyst of record was Mr. Claus BOGEL who had been with the Army during WWI and then later in an Army unit up in New York City until 1923 when he was relieved due to shortage of funds and the Navy picked him up.  When I reported in January 1924, we had in the section waiting for me, Mr. Claus BOGEL-cryptanalyst, the only one who knew anything about it, and four girls. There was Miss. Francis CASTLEMAN, stenographer and typist, Miss Nell CALNAN, the same, Mrs. DEVIRGY, and another girl who married a Marine and became Mrs. WILSON.  She was later transferred to RPS as vault custodian and was very unhappy wherever she was.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  What was the specific title of this section mentioned above?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was known as The Research Desk in the CODE AND SIGNAL SECTION.  CDR. D. C. GOODWIN was the OIC of OP-20-G.  He remained there until 15 June 1924 when he was relieved by LCDR. Howard F. KINGMAN.  Miss CASTLEMAN IN 1924 solved one of the bootlegger codes, or rather an encipherment of a commercial code, whereupon we were told to knock of the bootlegger stuff and the Coast Guard was advised to establish their own cryptographic unit which they promptly did, hiring Mrs. W. F. FREEDMAN for the job.  Mrs. FREEDMAN had been in the Navy throughout the war until about 1921 when she resigned because of a blessed event. At the same time Mrs. DRISCOLL, or Miss Agnes MEYER, had been transferred over from CENSORSHIP to NAVAL COMMUNICATIONS under CDR. GRESHAM or CDR. DRAEMEL, whichever came first. She stayed on with us, not attempting any foreign solutions, but studying our own systems and particularly solving all manner of machine ciphers submitted to the Navy Department for adoption. She solved them all and none of them were taken. About 1922 Mr. HEBERN showed up with his electric cipher machine and upon the advice and recommendation of, I think it was GRESHAM, she resigned her position and went to Mr. HEBERN to look after the cryptographic end of his machines, leaving HEBERN to be the inventor and mechanical designer.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  About what time was that resignation?

CAPT.. SAFFORD:  About 1922. That left a hole in the section; this is before they got BOGEL, and this body decided not to rely on the civilian expert, but to get a commissioned officer of the Navy to undertake the study and so that whenever he went he could be replaced and he could not go unless the Department wanted to release him.  Upon the recommendation of several classmates, including J. E. REINBURG, I was selected for the job.  I was in China at the time. This was in 1923, but they had to wait for me to complete my tour of duty on the Asiatic station, and get back so the Desk itself went empty for several months until I got back from China.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  So Miss DRISCOLL’s departure was one of the motivations for bringing you back to Washington?


Mr. SCHMIDT:  Do you know on what basis you were selected?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  They wanted somebody with an analytical mind who was slightly unusual. As Tommy DYER has said, you don’t have to be crazy to be a good cryppie, but it helps a lot. They wanted someone who they thought could make good in this arcane subject and I was selected out of all others who were available to come ashore at that time to start the thing off.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  What was your experience with or knowledge of codes and ciphers at that time, Captain?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  I had been Communications Officer of a destroyer during the war, of an armed guard transport before that. In fact, my first attempt at code solution occurred around July 1917 when my transport received a message in a British code which we had not been supplied.  I tried to solve the message, but failed miserably.  Naturally, because it was a two-part code and we would have required at least a thousand messages to make a break in it. But that was my real introduction.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Was this something you did on your own initiative?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  I was the Communications Officer.  I was supposed to read it if it was humanly possible. I finally read it after we got into port after I went around to all the other transports and destroyers until I found a destroyer that had the British code and I was able to read it. This was the warning about German submarines supposed to be in our path.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  So it was essential that you should have had the information?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Yes, but we were already in port before I knew about the submarines. (TEXT MISSING) WENGER was the coding officer, I believe, at the time.  He showed an interest in it.  He was a very capable coding officer. We were also to begin publishing cryptograms in communication bulletins and he was quite successful in solving those, so that I picked WENGER and SMELLOW for instruction later on, and then after that a year of instruction.  Then we would pick one. Well, SMELLOW, it turned out was totally color blind, so that he had to transfer to the supply corps and that put him out of the running.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  About what time was this that you tapped WENGER for this kind of work?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  In the late 20’s, just before he came ashore. It is only based upon my observation of his work in the coding room.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  At that time he was, I think, a LT.

CAPT. SAFFORD.  He was a LT., or probably a LTJG.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Now, you were speaking of CAPT. REINBURG on the list. Are there any other names that you would comment on?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  I reported for duty about 5 January 1924, and found these five people waiting for me. Claus BOGEL was simply sitting around doing crossword puzzles, because he was not a good typist.  But the four typists were very busy typing up the manuscript Mrs. HAAWORTH was writing.  She was hired as a typist because she was the only one who could read her husband’s handwriting. Her typing was so terrible that it was unusable, so these girls were busy typing copies of what later became known as the RED BOOK.  We will discuss the RED BOOK in due course.

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Next on the list are ADM. ZACHARIAS and CDR. H. C. DAVIS.  Both of them were Japanese language officers. Both senior to me considerably, and both attached to my section in 1924-25 on an unofficial and part time basis. Officially they were in Naval Intelligence. We can come to them later.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Were you actually down the hall or one room above or below the intelligence office in the main Navy building?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  We were on a different floor. We were on the ground floor in the sixth wing, and they were on the second floor of the seventh wing, I believe, the seventh or eighth wing. We were much different.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  So they weren’t adjacent to you?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Dr. HAAWORTH had a room on the sixth wing on the second floor directly over mine.  He was an ex-missionary who had lived in Japan for about 25 years.  He was translating the original characters of the RED BOOK into English.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  That was a rather lengthy process?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was a very lengthy process.  It was lengthened by the fact that Dr. HAAWORTH did not know quite as much Japanese as he thought he did. His ordinary literary language was fine, but his technical language, particularly on military affairs, was quite deficient. Part of ZACHARIAS and DAVIS’ work, therefore, consisted in retranslating some of HAAWORTH’s translations and making sense out of them.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  How long had Dr. HAAWORTH been at work on this job?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Dr. HAAWORTH had been at work for two or three years to my knowledge.  He was in a small room there, which had only two keys.  He had one key and the head of the Japanese desk of Naval Intelligence had the other key.  I was finally admitted to the knowledge of this after I had been there about six months.  I didn’t have a key.  I had to knock to be admitted. No char force was admitted in there so Mrs. HAAWORTH had to do the cleaning as well as the typing.  That was one of the most secure things in the Navy at that time because almost nobody in the Navy Department knew about it. The HAAWORTHS were being paid from a slush fund which I got to know about.  It was $100,000 given to the Director of Naval Intelligence during the war by Woodrow WILSON. And when the war was over they still had about $95,000 of it left.  That was in a private bank in the name of Director of Naval Intelligence with no accounting for it to anybody.  That was kept up until about 1930.  We profited greatly from the slush fund because they paid for Dr. HAAWORTH out of it.  They paid for his supplies and bought some special Japanese typewriters for me for my intelligence purpose. They even bought radio apparatus later on with it. About 1930 they had a very unfortunate situation.  The Director was a good man, but he was a very sick man, spending most of his time in the hospital. The Assistant Director had two other titles. One was, “six-foot-six and every inch a prick” and the other was “Bill the bastard.” He was never identified by his right name, so I won’t attempt to identify him. He persuaded the Director that that was dynamite, that he was facing a jail sentence if he used it and he persuaded him to turn it in.  Walter McCLARAN got wind of this somehow, although Walter was in communications at the time, and not in Navy Intelligence. And, he went to see ADM. PRATT about it.  Before ADM. PRATT could take action, the money was transferred, about $50,000, back to the Treasury. The Navy didn’t even get a thank you for it. The money was gone.  It hurt.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  What time was this?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  About 1930 or 1931.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  This was as the result of the official policy decision to cease and desist on “reading other people’s mail?”

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Oh no! This was because I can’t even remember the bastard’s last name now. He was just against anything.  He was “instructions” from beginning to end. Because he was no good, they sent him to Naval Intelligence just because the other man was a sick man, he was sent to Naval Intelligence.  Naval Intelligence was kind of a dumping ground for the misfits in the Navy for a long time.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  That was not universally true, was it Captain?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  That was generally true at that time. They had some younger officers who were excellent, such as Walter McCLARAN and ZACHARIAS, and some of those people. They had one good, energetic Director of Naval Intelligence around 1920, CAPT. WATSON.  He had been Naval Attaché in Japan before that.  When CAPT. WATSON went to sea he had the misfortune to try to take a destroyer squadron overland at Honda. His career was washed up. It was most unfortunate.  Aside from that navigational bust, he was a very, very capable officer.  He had the courage of his convictions, which most senior officers in the Navy at that time did not have.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Thank you for your comment on that, Captain. May I ask you another question now, getting back to 1924 when you first reported in?  Who were your closest colleagues and the people you worked with every day in your job after you reported to the CODE AND SIGNAL SECTION?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Well, Rick STRUBLE had the visual signal desk at the time.  I was in close touch with him because he had another project which was turned over to me at about the end of three months.  I was told about it then. That was the GRESHAM so-called CM or Communications Machine.  It was a machine which involved the cipher principal invented by Mrs. DRISCOLL way, way back, and then the mechanical details worked out by Pop GRESHAM.  I had to redesign the damn thing. They had four of them built with brass and were very heavy and they didn’t work very well. With the aid of a Navy Yard draftsman, we redesigned it as well as we could and made it more practical. We substituted aluminum for brass wherever we could.  At one place we had a rod which we had to keep brass. We changed the method of disengaging and re-engaging the racks. But it was still a mess.  When brand new, it gave difficulty, and after it got old a bit, the messages couldn’t be deciphered. As a matter of routine in the Navy Department, whenever they sent a message in it, they re-enciphered it in the next day’s key and had it ready so that when they were called upon for verification repeat, they were prepared. That machine stayed in effect for several years, but I don’t think it was actually used after about 1930.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  This was called the “Cipher Machine” or “CM”?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  The “Cipher Machine” because of its tremendous unreliability I learned a lot about ciphers from that.  It was a fact that reliability came first, regardless of what the theorists say about it.  If it couldn’t get a message through, it was no good to you.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Can you tell me briefly what the cryptographic principle was?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It used strips which were loaded into metal racks. The metal racks were engaged, one side for plain and one side for cipher. They were connected through gear wheels and a shaft. There were three concentric shafts.  The outer shaft never gave trouble; the middle one, sometimes; but the inner one would always take a permanent set and throw you out sometimes a half a letter, and sometimes as much as a full letter. That was the main thing wrong with it. Sometimes things abound; there was trouble all the way through. It was the most unpopular cipher machine, with the users, that we ever invented. It was limited to the Commanders in Chief.  It was the first high command cipher we ever had.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  It was the only automatic or non-manual device or system at that time?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was the first system we had which dispensed with the codebook.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Yes, fine.  Would you sat it was polyalphabetic system?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was a polyalphabetic system and it used interrupters, according to some keyings. There were three different interruptions on the thing, so you eliminated some of the strips. If it had worked, it would have been fine.  But it was a mess.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  You said you redesigned it in some way.  Other than replacing brass with aluminum, what other changes did you make?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  In order to set for the daily set up, you had to disconnect the racks on the right side from the ones on the left side.  You had to set them by hand. Then you had to re-engage them. That meant that one side had to be raised and lowered.  One system used bell cranks, and the other used screw threads.  I forget which is which.  I think the bell cranks were replaced by the screw threads. Anyhow, it was a mechanical simplification and a great mechanical improvement. That part was all right, but the inherent troubles were in those darned shafts. Also, the ciphers were printed at the same time at the Government Printing Office. They were only approximately spaced with the stylus holes in the racks. So we had to load them by hand.  We cut them in groups of about three letters. Then we slid them in, and then three more, and got them as best we could.  But after a while, they would start to travel. That was one of the troubles. Aside from that, the big trouble was the permanent set of the friction of the inner shaft.  Everyone admitted it meant one/third on the inner shaft, one/third on the middle, and one/third on the outer shaft. There was no way to make the thing any stiffer. We looked into that; we recognized all the troubles with it.  It did my best on the thing so you could ask me. It was just one of those ideas that didn’t work.  Later on, we had very much the same trouble with a machine that WENGER invented.  It went into production.  This I will refer to as WENGER’s Strip Cipher Device.  He had system of interrupters whereby certain strips would be kept from moving and could not be used.  When brand new, the system was fine because we used paper strips and we didn’t have to bother about racks.  But as soon as the machine got old, and this is particularly true in the Navy Department where they got used so much, the little pins would drop out.  That could have been changed by using screw threads, though that would have made it much longer to change the pin settings.  In fact, the original machines did use screws, and this use of spring-held pins was considered an improvement when teletype made it. But the other trouble-there were little fingers which came up, burnt in copper, and they would take a permanent set. So sometimes they would stick up when they shouldn’t and some times they wouldn’t stick up when they should. And so that ended up with very much the same thing as before.  We hung onto that until we got the ECM in production. And then as soon as the ECM came out, we scrapped it. Everybody heaved a great sigh of relief, but WENGER took it to be a reflection on him or something personal.  I don’t know why.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  In what respect?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Because we had scrapped the thing. He took it as a matter of personal jealousy or something like that. Actually, when the ECM came out, we designed a special stowage on the cover to take the strip thing of WENGER’s. We didn’t scrap the WENGER cipher until the ECM had been pretty well developed and Dick ZERN had developed the “strip elimination” feature. That was done on my orders.  I said, “Dick, this thing of WENGER’s is good in principal, but it’s a louse in practice. Now you have got to think up some idea that will keep the good ideas with a very simple strip cipher, which we have and is being made in the Washington Navy Yard and never gives any trouble.”  Dick came up with this strip eliminator feature.  I told him to do it, but the rest was Dick’s.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Who was Dick ZERN?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  He had the year’s instruction. He is the brother of another ZERN in the Marine Corps.  At the end of one year’s instruction he took over the Code and Cipher Desk, GC.  Did a very nice job on the thing. Also, he was on the MARBLEHEAD at the time she was bombed. He was the Communication Officer. That was very interesting when he told me because they had just met up with some COLLIER and she had a shipment of ECMs for the Asiatic Fleet. They put them on board destroyers and the MARBLEHEAD. They hadn’t had them more than a couple of weeks when she was bombed by the Japanese.  They picked the ECM up off the desk and threw it down on the deck. They picked it up, turned it upside down, shook the glass out of it, and it was still working. Then later on they ran out of paper, so they took adding machine tapes and put them on a lathe and cut the rolls into narrow tapes to fit the ECM.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  When did the ECM replace the cipher machine?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  There were two ECM’s. There was one put out when I was at sea.  It had started off all right and had my blessing.  It was supposed to be a machine that (TEXT MISSING) had been developing down at the Navy Yard.  We set up this code and signal laboratory in the Washington Navy Yard. The purpose of building the chipper machine—when we gave up any hope of pinning old man HEBERN down and coming up with a practical design. Every time, the things we liked he would get rid of and he would come up with some new things that wouldn’t work. That was a very safe and sane machine. It was turned over to teletype and they kind of bungled the job.  The only thing that can be said of it is that it didn’t cost the Navy anything because it was done with WPA funds.  That was a big, heavy two-unit machine and three units later on, because when the new AC machines came out, they had to put a motor generator on to give it DC to run the thing.  When ADM. ROCLIFF, who was then DNC, saw it, he just snorted.  But it was too late, they were coming along and we had to have something. They were given to the Pacific Fleet destroyers and above.  They were awfully big and very unpopular. Also, the bolten wires in the controls gave all kinds of trouble, one of which was that there was no means of lifting out the cipher unit except for grabbing hold of the bolten wires. That would generally put a crimp in them. It gave you trouble.  That was cleaned up later on by substituting a new replacement unit for the bolten wires, the bolten replacement which used bailes. That worked all right. There were all manner of other things wrong with the machine. One of the big things was that they used a very poor conductor to hook the two units together, so we had a lot of trouble with poor contacts. The time we gave the thing up, we were still getting the bugs out.  WRIGHT could tell you more about that than I could because that was one of WRIGHT’s main duties when it first came out in the fleet: to keep those things running in Pacific Fleet.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  About what time was that?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  They were issued in early 1936, because I know that when I left NEW MEXICO ours had just come aboard in a huge packing box about as big as this desk, and I wasn’t permitted to see it, because I wasn’t cleared for it.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Even though you helped redesign it?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Then I got all the brunt from it. They had done some very foolish things. They had forbidden it to be seen by enlisted personnel, under any circumstances. That meant that only commissioned officers could work on it for routine repairs, etc., and that nearly drove WRIGHT crazy. Then a whole shipment, about twenty or thirty were sent around on a transport, and they put them in a lower hold, locked it up and the hold flooded. We had to get the CNO to reverse his original rule.  Of course, he had merely signed the letter.  I think that was WENGER’s fault that they put such goofy restrictions on who could see it. Then we allowed selected enlisted men to see things for the mechanical overhaul because they were wrecks after being flooded for thirty days in hold.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Selected by the Captain of the ship?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Yes. Then, later on, when the new ECM’s came out, MARK II’s, we found out that some people were causing so much trouble that we had to have a series of qualified men for ECM’s. The Commanding Officer could recommend men, but the qualification came from Washington, so we could stop some of these people from ruining the machines. There was one chief who probably ruined half the ECM’s in the fleet before we caught up with him and put a stop to him. He meant well; he was trying to repair them, but he was just a bungler, that’s all. Everything he put his hand to came out wrong.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Did the machine do what it was intended to? The ECM (642) that you were describing which came out in 1936.

CAPT. SAFFORD:  I will say that they put it into effect prematurely, for a fleet problem. In the middle of the problem they had to stop it and go back to the strip cipher because they weren’t able to read messages between the defective machines on the ships or on the flag. They had to give up on the machine. All together, we put the system into effect, called it off, and put it back about three or four times during the problem. When the new ECM came out (888,889), the small one, my ECM call it, it went to the Atlantic Fleet first.  That is, except for the very first machines which went out to the Asiatic stations, not for the ships, but for the flag out there. I think they had about six of them sent out. The Atlantic Fleet had nothing. They were still on the old strip cipher, and that’s where things were getting hot. The Atlantic Fleet got them first in effect, and then we sent them out to the Pacific Fleet later on. We sent a great big shipment out, which was delayed about three weeks in San Diego because the transport that they used was held up for some Marines. I don’t know where they were going. I think they were Marines for Wake Island or elsewhere in the Pacific. Then some more in an overland trip caught up with them. So they were loaded down with cipher machines. Around the first of November they landed at Pearl Harbor. They just filled up the bore and everything to overflowing, they had so many men. Then the ships were slow in drawing the machines. They took the idea that unless they got a personal invitation it didn’t mean anything. As a result, although we had hoped to put it into effect in the Pacific Fleet on the first of January 1941, because so many ships didn’t have it by then, we had to postpone it. Then, of course, on the seventh day of November things happened. On the tenth the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet put into effect by his orders in the Pacific Fleet, although about a dozen of his ships didn’t have the machine and they had to continue on with the old strip cipher. It was a nuisance, but it was all they could to.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Were these machines used after Pearl Harbor and during preparations for the Battle of Midway?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Oh yes. They were made effective the tenth of December 1941, and used in the Pacific Fleet. They replaced the old two-unit thing, the 642 unit, I think.  I’m not certain of the number. They were called back because the State Department was in an awful jam. They had tried to get a cipher machine. I testified for them before the budget officer, but somehow the budget officer knew more than the experts, so, he said they didn’t need it. They were stuck, so, I offered the machines to the State Department if given permission from higher authority. We got that, but we rebuilt the machine to eliminate the old cipher unit which had given us so much trouble. This gave us the opportunity to change the cipher principal all over, and not only recondition them. We made them identical with the rebuilt HEBERN machines which we were using for intelligence purposes, and had also issued to some of our Naval Attaché in sensitive spots like Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, London and Rome. In fact, it was so much better than anything the ministers held that they had been using Naval Attaché’s ciphers, going through the Navy Department, for a great many messages before that. They were sold on the idea of cipher machines.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  This was the State Department?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  The State Department. To save red tape, the Navy simply made them a gift of the whole proposition.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Who was the CDR. SEILOR that you mentioned?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  CDR. SEILOR had been a civilian draftsman at the Washington Navy Yard in the RMO’s office; later on he had done a lot of work for me and then he had helped me design a new cipher unit to replace the HEBERN cipher thing, a new stepping unit; not the (WORD MISSING) whole cipher, just the stepping unit.  Then we saw he had all kinds on ingenuity, so we set up the code and signal laboratory under him. RADM. RUBLE tried to kill the thing; said there was no requirement for it; so we got around that. Fortunately the Washington Navy Yard’s war plans came up for review. And they said that the Washington Navy Yard consisted of the Naval Gun Factory and the Navy deep-sea diving school, and the Naval Code and Signal Laboratory. Therefore, we put the lab in the war plans which were signed by the CNO.  RUBLE was spiked. He was stopped.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  And what year was this?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Around 1936-37 when RUBLE           was there. ADM. COURTNEY was DNG and this was before RUBLE was kicked out and chased to the west coast. At that time we went through the precaution of getting SEILOR a commission as a LT. In the Naval Reserve, so we would have a little better status on that. What really saved the day, however, was when ADM. COURTNEY had RUBLE chased out of Washington and transferred to the west coast.  He was a crown of thorns for the people out there, but he was off our necks.  I have just been talking to Dundas TUCKER who had the Naval Electronics Laboratory who followed RUBLE. He said that RUBLE had succeeded in convincing all the civilians out there that the line officers in the Navy were nothing but a bunch of damn fools.  TUCKER told me that when BUSIGNIES direction finder fist came to Washington, it was assigned to him to study and report to RUBLE.  He was trying to explain it to RUBLE, and he said, “You see, it works on a phase displacement just line the Selsen.”  RUBLE said, “What is a Selsen?” TUCKER didn’t attempt to answer him, but the look on his face convinced RUBLE that he had made a damn fool of himself.  RUBLE dropped the subject and he never asked TUCKER any more questions about anything.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Can we identify TUCKER more fully, Captain?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  He is RADM. Dundas Preble TUCKER, Retired.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Would you repeat what you just said about his background?

CAPT SAFFORD:  TUCKER served with me on the First Fleet problem during which we introduced cryptanalysis. We were working against the old cylindrical cipher device. We used TUCKER’s “X” method very carefully to solve it.  TUCKER was just an Ensign then; I gave him a very nice write up in my fitness report of him.  Then TUCKER took the radio-engineering course. At this time he was back in; had the section in the electronic division that roughly corresponded to my own. The cipher machines were on to him and so were high-frequency direction finders and anything pertaining to communications and intelligence. Then, he went to sea. In fact, he developed the circuit that was used in the first model of the new ECM and which used a reciprocal alphabet so we wouldn’t have to have an encipher-decipher switch. We built the first model and it worked fine for encipher and decipher. But when we used it on the plain setting, half of the letters would come out correctly and half would come out incorrectly. Then we discovered SEILOR discovered this-not-me-that there was a sneak circuit in there and that there was a transformer action. So that when you hit the letter, it would trip two letters. Whichever the little finger in the machine came to first, it would print, so that half the time it got the correct letter and half the time the one corresponding to the cipher maze and so we had to scrap the thing, encipher-decipher, which is better cryptographically, but required the extra encipher-decipher switch. When we started to analyze it, the only thing in the old MARK I ECM, which hadn’t given us trouble, was the encipher-decipher switch. That was the one thing that we could afford to carry over!  Again, mechanical reliability means more in importance than cryptographic principles.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Then going on with TUCKER—The rest of his career.

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Then TUCKER was called into the Bureau of Ordinance in connection with the proximity fuse. There was a radar bomb that he developed, and he ended up as a Bureau of Ordinance man rather than in cryptology.  But he had his electronic background in engineering in Bureau of Ships.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  And was he a great asset?

CAPT: SAFFORD:  He was a great asset every way.  He was been a very close friend of mine since 1924 or 1926.  I don’t believe that ADM. DRAEMEL has anything to offer that I cannot supply.  I was a shipmate with Captain P. S. KING on the WYOMING, but never associated with Naval Communications, so I think we can count him off.  ADM. KINGMAN was a great asset in getting the section established, particularly the research desk, because he had served as aide to ADM. HUGHES.  He could go over everyone else’s head and talk to ADM. HUGHES directly, after the Admiral had indicated disapproval of something, and get him to change his mind.  He was a real tower of strength to us. I don’t think he could add anything to this history, that I can’t. REINBERG is dead. COMSTOCK, he didn’t register for much.  He was one of the weak sisters.  ROCHEFORT, very much, but you know all about him. STRUBLE, I doubt if he could add very much that I can’t; of course, you know that he did a bang-up job in the Pacific Fleet.  He was very good.  WENGER is gone.  Mrs. DRISCOLL, I’m not certain she is alive now.  Mrs. RICE didn’t come until 1941, I believe.  She was recommended by ADM. Fairfax LEARY: she had been his secretary.  Also, he was a friend or classmate of ADM. WILSON. Incidentally, Russell WILSON gave Tommy DYER an unsat fitness report on the PENNSYLVANIA.  When he made him Ship’s Secretary he said, “At last LT. DYER is in a job that he can handle,” or words to that effect. It was a very nasty thing to do and DYER has hated WILSON like poison ever since.  It was with great pleasure that he saw WILSON make a mess of his job in the war and get relieved of command.  Mrs. Eunice WILSON was very nice, but she didn’t have anything in particular to offer.  One of the things was that she knew German. We were weak on German, so, we put her to work on some German stuff, German submarine stuff, or whatever, but she never got anywhere with it.  What she did after that I don’t know.  In my time she had actually accomplished nothing except that she was very good on the theoretical stuff. She went through the training course with flying colors. She was a very bright girl, college graduate and all that.  Now I have mentioned a couple of people who are dead.  Claus BOGEL is dead, so he can’t help you.  You want to know the early history of the girls who were there? 

Mr. SCHMIDT:  If we have time later we can come back to them, Captain.  If you have any thoughts on them, you would like to mention now go right ahead.

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Well, Frances CASTLEMAN was attending night school at George Washington University.  She left us to go to the Bureau of Standards and got a professional job in the electrical engineering department. Then she married Dr. Francis CRAIG and we started to exchange Christmas cards.  Nell CALNAN – she worked with us for a while and then she dropped out of the picture, and I don’t know what happened to her. The same for Mrs. DEVIRGY.  Mrs. WILSON, I can’t think of her name now, she went to the registered publications section, and then got Pat CRONIN the job as vault custodian. She has had what WENGER called a crucifixion complex ever since.  I have commented on the time I reported, about 5 January 1924. D. C. GODWIN was in charge of OP-20-G, and until after June week in Annapolis because I drove CDR and Mrs. GODWIN there, I think.  He was later killed in a plane crash; I believe he came down in San Francisco Bay.  Eff ODELL was another one of the weak sisters that inherited the Code and Signal Section.  His brother, “Big Eff” was a very capable officer who became a Rear Admiral, but “Little Eff” was not like his brother.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Can you say who relieved you in charge of the research desk?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  ROCHEFORT relieved me in charge of research desk about February 15, 1926.

Mt. SCHMIDT:  So, you were there approximately two years.

CAPT. SAFFORD:  I was there a bit over two years.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Do you know how long ROCHEFORT was in charge and what his rank was at the time?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  He was a LT, just as I was.  He was relieved by Bern ANDERSON, who I believe is in this index.  ROCHEFORT had about four and one/half months instruction before leaving.  He had three months instruction with some others and then when they left he stayed on as my understudy until I went to sea.  I can’t give you the exact dates for these other turnovers. Then I came back again in 1929.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  In charge of the Research Desk?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  In charge of the Research Desk. Incidentally, this OP-20GX in 1926 was the Research Desk still, not cryptographic. That is a mistake.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  I’ll make a correction there. Was the organization in 1929 when you returned, very much the same as when you left in 1926?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was the same except that it was much bigger.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  More people for each element?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  More people when I came back in 1929 we had a chief-petty officer experienced in intercept work, and he was conducting, I believe, the first class for what you might say was mass production of intercept operators. There were eight men in the class, I believe, mostly chief petty officers and all unfortunately with very large families, of which BUPERS took a very dim view.  All went out to Guam and established the first station.  I may be wrong in that the first class may have already gone out and I saw the second class; I’m not sure. They set up and we got excellent work from Guam from that time on.  Guam was the first real intercept station we had.  Before, it had been done at NAVPERSHANGHAI and at Honolulu on a part time basis. There were two chiefs; CHAUNCY and I can’t remember the other man’s name. They did excellent work when they could.  But when anything went wrong, they had to be called off it. It didn’t matter because we were just getting started. This was the first thing and Guam was picked because it was the closest thing we had to where things were.  Later on I began to push Cavite in the Philippines because I realized that Guam was too exposed except as a peacetime activity.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  We have on this list the organizational heads and we have as you know no names in charge of the Research Desk until much farther along. So people like LCDR. STRUBLE and LCDR. McCLAREN and others were in charge of the desk, but they were not the immediate supervisors?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  No, they were in charge of the section, but not the heads of desks. Then I came back in 1929.  Before I went to sea again, I stayed on as head for three years. I was able to stay on for three years on condition that I go to sea for four years instead of three. Then DYER relieved me.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  So, you were there from 1929 to 1932?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Yes, 1932.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Do you remember approximately what month you were detached in 1932? Was it in the summer?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was in the spring as I remember, about May.

Mrs. SCHMIDT:  Was it LT. or LCDR. DYER at that time?


Mr. SCHMIDT:  LT. DYER relieved you as the head of the Research Desk. We are still talking bout the Research Desk that’s doing pretty much the same function?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Yes. Who relieved DYER?  I don’t know, but I think it was WENGER.  I’m a little mixed up on this because I haven’t thought about it for many, many years.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Perhaps that name will come back later.

CAPT. SAFFORD:  When I came back in 1936, I came back about April to be OP-20-G.  GS was HARPER, Jack HARPER in 1936.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  In 1936 OP-20-GS was HARPER?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  No, GS-I don’t remember who he was.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  That’s all right.

CAPT. SAFFORD:  GX was HARPER and GY was WENGER.  GZ was BIRTLEY.  I can tell you that very definitely. They had been in those assignments for some time.  I don’t remember who GS was because they were changing pretty fast around that time. GS at that time…GS and the Navy Department Coding room came under me, which was wrong in principle.  I succeeded in getting that changed over.  I put the Coding Room under the Department Communications Officer. This mixed authority was very bad.  Divide authority, divide responsibility. In other words, I wanted to be responsible for Navy’s (TEXT MISSING), but not for Coding Room. It was bad.  It only worked because people.…this may have been MERCER at the time. I think MERCER had it in 1936, but I’m not certain because we had another fellow, I can’t remember-it was an Irish name- who may have come before MERGER.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  You’re saying that after you came back in 1936, GS, the Security Section, was taken out from under the Research Desk and placed under Communications?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Yes.  We never re-established the thing. We did on paper, in 1941, but we never put anybody into the spot.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  In 1941?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  I had several good reasons for that.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Why do you say in 1941? Was that before or after Pearl Harbor?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  This was before Pearl Harbor. We had a man theoretically in that thing before Pearl Harbor, but he wasn’t functioning on the thing.  We didn’t have the right man to do it. Then, when they broke up the section in January, they put DENSFORD there and he was the last man that they should have given it to. He had, unfortunately, had duty in the Security Section of the fleet, and couldn’t forget it. They were so bad that ADM. LEARY came back (he was the Chief of Staff) with blood in his eye and was going to abolish the thing entirely.  I persuaded him to compromise and cut it down to one man.  He would be kept busy enough on legitimate things that he wouldn’t do some of the goofy things those people had been doing.  Also, that we would send a new man out there well indoctrinated.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Your tenure, then, as OP-20-G from 1936 through 1939 was a three year tour again?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  No.  It had been intended to be that, but in 1938, with the support of ADM. COURTNEY, I was designated Engineering Duty Only with the idea and implicit understanding that I would stay in that spot until I retired.  I would forego my chance of command and flag rank, but I could stay where I was doing something.  This was supported by the then Director of Naval Intelligence.  I can’t think who he was now, but he was one of the strong Directors of Naval Intelligence.  He was a man that was VADM in command of the battleships at Pearl Harbor.


CAPT. SAFFORD:  No, not PYE, he was under PYE:  he was a Vice Admiral.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  It will come to you.  We can always check the record for that anyway.  You were designated Engineering Duty Only in 1938?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  Yes, for that.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  What then happened as the result of your designation as EDO?  How did that change the three-year tour?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It meant that I didn’t ever have to go to sea. I couldn’t go to sea. There was no spot for me. The only spot I could have gone to sea was to one of the jobs on a flag.

Mr. SCHMIDT: The Navy’s Cryptographic Bureau was set up during 1918?

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was set up in World War I; it consisted of a chief yeoman who was a fingerprint expert, taken from, I believe, the Treasury Department’s T-Men, Secret Service.  He left as his work, he left on record, a very poor account of the solution of a monoalphabetical cipher system. That was as far as the Navy ever progressed during WW I, period.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  That is certainly a definitive account!

CAPT. SAFFORD:  It was similar to some of the girls who worked for the Army.  After the Armistice, Claus BOGEL went through their desks to see what they had done, and they had taken all of these German messages and made frequency counts, wrote E under the highest frequency letter, and that was where they stopped.

Mr. SCHMIDT:  Elementary cryptanalysis.  Thank you Captain SAFFORD.


Source: NCVA