Captain George McGinnis
May 11, 1919 – October 11, 2006
American Naval Officer and Cryptologic Pioneer
Interview with Captain George McGinnis:
This is an interview with Captain George McGinnis, U.S. Navy retired. The interview occurred on 9 December, 2002 at Corry Station, Naval Technical Training Center in Pensacola, Florida. The interviewer was Peg Fiehtner.
PF: Is it all right if I refer to you as Captain?
PF: George, all right. I’d like to start this by asking you what brought you into the Navy in the first place – Naval Reserve as I understand it – in 1941?
GM: Okay, it’s hard probably for anyone today to realize the situation that was occurring over in Europe starting in ’39 when the war between Britain and Germany started, but it made quite an imprint here in the United States. It was obvious to most of us that war was going to occur. If you didn’t realize it yourself, your friends who had been in the military at some time or other were telling you that. In my case, I was in college at Santa Barbara in California and one of my Professors was a Reserve Officer, Naval Reserve Officer and sometime back in ’41, he said, you know, you ought to start thinking about getting into the Navy and getting in early because if you’re too late, all the good jobs will have been taken and I thought this was a pretty good idea. He talked to several other people in a kind of selected group that he’d somehow figured out and I was the only one who took him up on it.
However, something else occurred. Back about ’38, 1938, I started work on a project of my own to build a radio controlled system that would work in either aircraft or ships or whatever and the idea was to be able to control the article from the ground at any distance you wanted. I built a model on a little racing yacht and it worked quite well. It got a lot of publicity. I wrote several magazine articles about it and Paramount News picked it up and it was on a news item that you see in the movies as an extra. I didn’t realize it but the Navy took some cognizance of this. Sometime in late ’41 but before Pearl Harbor, I was approached by the Navy to be permitted to go ahead and use a patent on this equipment for some Navy gear. I wasn’t too stupid about this. I said, well, what are you going to give me for it? They said, how about if we make you an Ensign? I said, well that sounds pretty good to me. So when the draft got pretty close to me – we had draft numbers and when my number was getting pretty close – however, all of us college students were exempt while we were still in college. So I really wasn’t too worried but nevertheless when your number gets close to you, you begin to itch a little bit, so I contacted the Navy and I said, okay, let’s go, but in the meantime I want you to send a letter to my Draft Board so that they won’t somehow grab me and I want to be sure I get into the Navy and not into the Army. So this was all worked out and I was told to go ahead and start doing drills with the Naval Reserve Unit there in Santa Barbara. This perhaps was maybe August or September of 1941 roughly. Then Pearl Harbor came along and the student body of Santa Barbara all disappeared because they were either drafted or volunteered or whatever. Fortunately for me, I was a mid-term graduate, so I graduated in January of 1942, just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor and the Navy picked me up right away.
I was sent down to San Diego for my first duty. This was primarily an orientation thing just to get me started. Then they sent me to MIT for work on radar equipment up there. This fitted in pretty well with my background, which was in electronics, of course. After I finished there at MIT, it was a short course, I was sent down to Recife, Brazil. The reason I was sent down there was to be the Radar Officer for the Staff. The Fourth Fleet has just been established and the purpose of the Fourth Fleet was to take over all anti-submarine warfare in the South Atlantic Ocean starting up around Trinidad and all the way to the South Pole and half way between the South American Continent and the African Continent, the African side being under the aegis of the British, of course.
When I arrived in Recife, I discovered two or three very interesting things. First of all, they had no communications capability between the Fourth Fleet and Washington. There was just simply nothing. They were sending – they had to bring messages over to the Telegraph Office in Recife and there was a submarine cable between Recife and Washington and everything was sent on this submarine cable at a cost of about $100 per message, or something like that. Well, I proposed that they needed to build a Radio Station and at that time, although I was a Radar Officer, we had almost no radar in the South Atlantic at that time. We’re now in mid-1942. So, at this time the Communications Officer for the Fourth Fleet was a Lieutenant Commander and he was – his name was Lewis, Lieutenant Commander Lewis, and he was scheduled to be relieved and very soon was. This all happened very shortly after I got down there. The new boss was Commander P. R. Kinney, Phillip R. Kinney. Commander Kinney and I somehow or other hit it off just beautifully from the very beginning. It was one of those cases where personalities did not conflict and here I was a young Ensign and he was a very senior Commander. He’d been in the Navy since about 1925 or ’26 or something like that. He’d been in duty all over the world, but I don’t know what it was, but anyway we hit it off quite well.
I explained to him about this Radio Station and he instantly said, well, why don’t we have it already? Why hasn’t it already gotten started? I said well, I’m an Ensign and I don’t make these decisions. So, he said, you are now and you get busy and I want to know tomorrow what we’re going to do. Among the various things that were cooking in Recife was the Direction Finding Network, which was to be installed in Bahia, which is in Northern Brazil, Recife, which is on the big hump, closest point to Africa, and then in Bahia, which was the third Station and then there was a provision for a fourth Station down in Rio Grande do Sul which is quite a ways south near Rio de Janeiro.
PF: Let me go back just a second. We had Bahia, we had Recife. What was the third one?
GM: Belim. Belim is the most northern one, Recife in the middle, and then Bahia in the south.
PF: Okay and now we’re talking about…?
GM: Rio Grande do Sul. One of the things I think that made it easy for me to deal with Captain Kinney was the fact that I studied Spanish in college and about a month after I was in Recife I was speaking Portuguese like a native. There was no one on the staff who could speak. There was one other officer who wasn’t on the staff who did speak excellent Portuguese but he worked for what was called the Naval – I’m sorry, I don’t remember the exact title, but anyway, it was the shore station there in Recife that had been there since shortly before the war. This person did speak very good Portuguese, but he and I were the only two and I was the only one on the staff. So you can imagine I got called on quite often to translate things and interview people and whatever.
Commander Harper was in charge of the DF Network. I became very close friends with Captain Harper and worked with him in getting that DF Network established. He had a big job because the places this DF was to be installed was jungle area. You go out into the jungle and cut down trees and there you build your Station. The one in Recife was a little easier because it was in an existing swamp area and that one could be and was completed fairly quickly, but the other two were pretty tough. I worked on this Radio Station and then after about a year, Commander Harper made Captain and Commander Kinney made Captain about the same time and Kinney called me in and said, well, George, I’m going to be stationed up in Washington and I want you to come up there and work for me there. He said, by the way, my new title is going to be Head of what’s now called the Naval Security Group. So, that’s how I got into the Naval Security Group. Captain Kinney went up as Head and very shortly after I came along and followed. I was put in –
PF: What’s the time frame on this?
GM: We’re talking about late ’43. Now I’m at the Naval Communications Annex, the old girls’ school there at Nebraska Avenue. Captain Kinney is now the Head of Op-20G, which is what it was called at that time. He put me in GX. GX was and I guess still is the facilities setup. I was there as the Radio Engineer for OP-20GX. My main job was to work on problems that nobody else could solve having to do with the DAJ equipment, DAB equipments and any other problem having to do with the intercept stations. This was a very interesting job for me. The equipment down in San Juan, for example, had been completely put out of work. The DAJ equipment in San Juan had been put out of business because a radio station had been built close by. It wasn’t more than a mile away and the radio station was so powerful that it was just simply swamping or completely making the DAJ equipment inoperable. So they sent me down there pretty fast to work on that. I realized that the DAJ itself was causing the problem and I had to work with the Naval Research Lab to build some filter equipment and so forth to put in there. This went on for several months but it finally did solve that problem. I had some problems at several of the other Stations. I visited Winter Harbor and I went back down to Brazil and visited some of the Stations down there again and by the time I got back down there, all three of them were in operation and were working quite well and of course I was very instrumental in checking to make sure that all the Stations were operating up to par. We had an expert on the DAJ and we had an expert on the DAB, but we didn’t have, other than me, an expert on what you might consider the overall and on the installations at the Intercept Stations. Good example: Winter Harbor, a very large one; Chattam out on the Cape, a very large one; and, I was always involved in trying to get those Stations operating better.
Now, at this point, I’ll have to bring up the antenna systems. Everybody along the East Coast, starting at Winter Harbor all the way down to Bahia, Brazil were using makeshift antennas of every type that you can imagine. They just had antennas that were put up by anybody and I decided that we needed a system that would be used by everybody and that it would be state-of-the-art. So, I designed what became known as the 27 Rhombic System and we designed it in three circles of nine rhombics each. Three times being twenty-seven. The thing was arranged in such a way that the lead-ins from the antennas were reasonably short and it was feasible to do something like this, by what’s called double-ending each rhombic, that is, putting a lead-in on each end of the rhombic. It boiled down so that each rhombic was only a few degrees wide as far as its aperture was concerned and so then at each of the Intercept Stations we put up a switch which could be rotated and the supervisor could listen on his receiver and rotate the switch in such a way that the rhombic was – any rhombic, not necessarily all of them obviously – but a rhombic would be picking up the signal the loudest. So it was a rotating system that worked quite well. A rhombic antenna has an enormous gain. It can improve the signal as much as twenty, even thirty times and it also, since it has a very sharp aperture, can reduce any interference from the side and this system – I believe the first one we installed was in Recife, strangely enough. I didn’t arrange it that way. This eventually became the antenna system for the entire Naval Security Group. We weren’t able to put the entire system every place and in some cases we didn’t need to. We could arrange them in such a way that you could selectively put in parts of it that were applicable to that particular location. For example, at Recife your signals were not in towards Brazil, they were out in the Atlantic so you could arrange the antenna so that you didn’t have to install everything. You could just install the parts of it that you wanted. Very flexible arrangement. So roughly from 1944, 1945 when this system began and going on for another four or five years before all of it was installed, it was the antenna system for the entire Naval Security Group.
PF: And is that the nomenclature that the Naval Security Group gave it? The 27 Rhombic System?
GM: That was about it. I don’t think we ever gave it another name. It was the precursor to the CDAA.
PF: I was going to ask that, yes.
GM: Yeah, I don’t say that this gave the engineers the idea for the CDAA because it certainly did not, but I was able to get it installed in that period before the CDAA came along, which was late ‘50s, early ‘60s. So we had a period of almost 15, 20 years in there where this was quite good and very usable system in that interim period. I knew that the – even back in ’44, I knew that the CDAA was coming along, but I also knew that there was no way we could wait until it came along. We had to have an interim system. This 27 Rhombic was the interim system. It was always considered that, but it was good for about fifteen years. It was quite usable and very good for the Security Group.
Let’s see, what else during that period. Commander Harper, who made Captain, was down in Recife as I mentioned earlier. He came back to Washington and was Head of the Communications Security part of the Naval Security Group. This was after Captain Safford had bowed out or been retired or whatever. I’m not sure which. They were located not at Nebraska Avenue, but they were located in one of the old temporary buildings that was near the Army/Navy complex on Constitution Avenue. These were the old buildings that were built in WWI that were used as Headquarters for the Army and the Navy prior to the Pentagon and they had some temporary buildings there. Captain Harper called me up one day and asked me to come over and I came over and he showed me some of the COMSEC activity that was going on. I think he was trying to twist my arm a little bit to come and work for him, but I really didn’t want to do that.
PF: Were you still an Ensign at this time?
GM: No, I was Lieutenant by now.
PF: Oh, okay, so what time period are we talking about?
GM: Okay, let’s see, it took me a year to make JG, so that would have been about February or March of ’43 and then some time in ’44 I made Lieutenant. So I was a Lieutenant by now. Harper and I were always very close friends from down in Recife. He and Kinney and I somehow got along very well. Sometimes you don’t get along with people at all and I have a big list of those, but in the case of those two they were always very friendly and it was interesting that here was a fairly senior Captain able to sit down and talk to a young guy like myself. I was about 23, 24 years old and I could talk to them and they understood me, and they were always glad to talk to me. I guess that’s about all I can say about that.
Well, to me the war began to wind down in late ’44 and I could see that there wasn’t an awful lot yet to be done; however, there was one thing that I did want to do and this fitted in with Op-20G’s plans. We had a program for deciding which of the Atlantic Stations would not continue to be operated after WWII and which specific Stations would continue to be operated. The Head of Op-20GX was a Commander Cross, who is on my list. That’s John Cross. He’s on my big list of guys that I hate. He set up a program and called in Max Gunn to run the Pacific side and for me to run the Atlantic side and we were to visit every Station and come back with recommendations about which ones should be retained after WWII. So, I set out and visited every Atlantic Station. It took quite a long time, as you would imagine. For example, it took six solid days in an airplane to get from Washington just to Recife. This was flying every single day from about 5:00 in the morning until like 6:00 at night.
PF: I’d be interested in what your points were – your points of departure. Where were you flying into and leaving from? Six times.
GM: Okay, in the case of going to Recife, the first day would be Washington to Miami.
PF: And this is aboard Navy Aircraft?
GM: DC-3 aircraft. The old – called Dakota sometimes. It’s a DC-3. It was the standard workhouse of the Navy for cargo and people. Second day would be Miami to San Juan. Third day would be San Juan to Trinidad. Fourth day would be Trinidad to the northern edge of South America and there were three countries. Dutch Guiana, French Guiana and British Guiana. They now have different names, but they were called that in those days and we had base rights in Dutch Guiana and British Guiana, so we’d land in one of those places. The next day would be to Belim, Brazil and the next day would be Recife. I think that’s five days. I’d have to count them.
PF: Let’s see, 1-2-3-4-5-6, that’s six days.
GM: All right. Then if I had to go on to Rio de Janeiro, that was one more day and then if you went on down to Montevideo, Uruguay, that was one more day. And sometimes we did that. This was really a tedious process. You sat in a bucket seat along the edge of the plane. You didn’t have seats. It was an aluminum bucket seat without a cushion and you just sat there and you stared at cargo, which was straight ahead of you in the center of the airplane and if you liked to do that for five days in a row, be my guest and I made that trip many, many times. It’s the reason I now wear hearing aids.
Anyway, to get back to the problem of Stations we’re going to retain. I came back and made a report. Max Gunn came back and we met there in Washington over a period of about a month. We mulled over this thing very carefully. This was not just a flash in the pan type thing. We carefully studied everything. We talked to people and what the post-war problems might be and what we’d be listening to after WWII because everybody saw that the war was coming down. We’d almost beat Germany and we were already on Okinawa in the case of Japan. It was coming. We knew that. So, we finally decided that in the case of South America, we would keep Recife and in the case of the Caribbean, we would keep San Juan and then along the Atlantic Coast, we wanted to keep Dupont, which is in South Carolina. We wanted to keep Cheltenham, Maryland and we wanted to keep Winter Harbor. Those were the principal ones. We also had a few of the DF Stations we wanted to keep, but those were the big Stations. Those are the ones where the 27-array thing had been built.
PF: Do you remember which Stations were closed or were recommended for closing?
GM: Yeah, okay. Bahia DF Station, the Belim DF Station, several Stations in the Caribbean that were DF Stations, including a few along the Texas coast. I can’t remember what else. Jupiter, Florida. The one at Pointer’s Hill, North Carolina. We wanted to move and I found some land that was probably – or is the land that Northwest inherited or was very close to where it was. I never was able to figure this out. Anyway, I found the land there and this was when we were doing this study and we wanted to get Pointer’s Hill, which was out on a sand dune out of there as fast as we could. It was a terrible Station to try to maintain and live at. It was just living on top of a big boulder of sand. That was all it was. The Station should never have been put there. It was a mistake from the very beginning, but it was there so I was trying very hard to get that out of there and recommended that it be moved on the mainland. That was the reason that Northwest finally was built.
PF: What about Chatham?
GM: Chatham we didn’t need because we had Cheltenham and it was only a temporary WWII type Station anyway. There was nothing even partly permanent about it. Everything was borrowed, begged and stolen. We wanted to keep Winter Harbor, of course. The ones up in Greenland we didn’t want. The one in Jan Mayen Island we didn’t want. We felt the logistics were too difficult and they weren’t really that important. They were important during the war, but not after. That’s all I can recall.
PF: Where was Net Control after all this?
GM: Okay, actually it ended up being there at Headquarters. At this point, I guess after this survey of the Atlantic and Pacific and after the agreement of what was going to be retained and so forth, this became an official list and in those days with a list like this you had to go to the Bureau of Ships which was a place where all of the planning for Shore Stations, a place for all the equipment for Shore Stations, things of that nature, had to be either sanctified or built or whatever. We had to go to them with our new list. We had to go to BUPERS of course telling them which Stations were to be closed and which people could be moved out and where people could be moved to and all of that. It was kind of a coordination thing that went on for months, but anyway, when this official list was put out and it included both Atlantic and Pacific – I’m sorry I don’t know much about the Pacific. I never went out there during the war so Max Gunn was very fine about that one. It was a very, very good project and I’ll give Commander Cross a plus for that one, but I’ll give him a minus for everything else.
Then at this point, I was looking at myself, my career. What did I want to do in the post-war? Captain Kinney said, George, you’ve got to stay. He said, you’re the kind of guy we want to stay in the Navy after the war and you’ve just got to do it. I wasn’t really against this. I thought it was a pretty good career. I certainly enjoyed it and there was nothing out yet about how to put in for post-war Navy. At this point nobody else knew, I guess. So, I decided that I wanted to get a little more education. I asked Captain Kinney if it would be all right if I went into the Post-Graduate Electronics Course and he said, fine.
PF: Are you still a Lieutenant at this point?
GM: Yes. The course was normally taught at the Naval Academy and I put in for it and I was accepted and then I was told no it’s not going to be given at the Academy any longer. It’s going to be put up at Harvard. So, I ended up going to Harvard University for a one-year post-graduate course and it was a pretty good course. I enjoyed it. I was glad I was able to go. I didn’t feel that I had slighted the Navy because I felt I had done all I could. The war really was winding down very, very fast. We were moving people out of the Atlantic faster than you could imagine. We were sending them out to the Pacific where needed, but most of them weren’t needed. A lot of people were getting out, so I went to Harvard and enjoyed that. It was very fine. I enjoyed the course and got along quite well. Made good grades. The only thing about it that really burned me up was the fact that the Navy made no provision for us to get a Masters Degree out of this. Everything we were doing there led directly to a Masters. We should have been given one, but we were not. This was just one of those things that goes on.
I got married during the period up at Harvard. I met my wife down in South Carolina and we got married during the Christmas vacation of ’45 and lived up there until I graduated from there about June, I guess, of ’45. Then, I expected to go back to Headquarters. In the meantime, an order had come out that you could apply for retention in the Navy and they had a procedure for doing this. So, I filled out all the forms. Of my class at Harvard, I think we started with 50 students and during the period that I was there, the war in Europe ended. In fact, I’d only been up there a few months when the war in Europe ended and of course, I’d foreseen this and everybody else had too. So, what you had to do was write a letter to BUPERS and indicate a few of the things you’d done in the Navy and ask to be retained. I did this and of my class of 50, I think only about a half a dozen of us put in because everybody wanted out. It was just one of those things. Boy, we’d been in the war and I want to get back to civilian life. A few of the guys, by the way, said I want to become a Harvard student and one or two of them did that. You know, transfer over to either the Master’s Program or whatever and with the GI Bill, which also came along, it made it real good because those guys were in effect getting their education whatever they needed there at Harvard free. So, these letters were acted on pretty fast. I was kind of surprised at that and I got a reply back within a few months saying okay, you’re in. So it was no longer USNR, but now USN and I was still a Lieutenant, married.
So then I expected to go back to Headquarters and I was very surprised when I got a letter that said you’re going to work for Mr. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy’s Office. It kind of shocked me. I couldn’t believe it because the rest of the letter said your radio engineer skills are needed. I didn’t know what to do. Of course, I had my orders. So I went to Washington and I checked in with Mr. Forrestal and he said, well, what we’re looking for is somebody to assist on the Bikini Atom Bomb Test. What they were doing on Bikini, they were going to set off a Hydrogen Bomb in the center of the island and they had ships all around at various places and what they were going to do was test the blast and what the affect on ships was. They also built some houses around. It was a very well thought out test and so that was interesting. Then when it was over, I asked Mr. Forrestal what he wanted me to do now and he said, well – I’d only been there about six or eight months, I guess – he said, well, I’ve got some jobs for you. So he put me on a few little things he wanted me to do and I decided that I’d like to get back over where I thought I belonged. At this time, Captain Harper, who had as I mentioned earlier had come to Washington, had been Head of the Communications Security aspect and was now Head of the Naval Security Group. He had taken over from Captain Kinney. Kinney had retired. I called up Captain Harper and I explained to him my situation and he said, hey, I’d be delighted to have you come back. Come on, but will your boss let you go? I said, well, I don’t think it will be a problem. I’ll talk to him and find out. I was given assurances there would be no problem. So Harper put in for me and I came back to Nebraska Avenue. I’d been gone about two years – one year at Harvard and one year roughly with Forrestal.
When I got back it was now early ’47 I guess and I talked to Captain Harper and he said well, we’re going to put you back in GX and I said, well before you do that, I said, I’d like to have some education in the other sides of the Naval Security Group. I said, I never really – everything was compartmented during the war. You didn’t even know what was going on in the next room. I said I’d like to find out a little bit more about cryptology, the real elements of it. I’d like to find out more about COMSEC and he said, okay, fine. We’ve got a little school going and we’ll put you in the school. So, they had a – I’ll have to characterize it as a half-ass school and that’s really what it was. By any standards, it was pretty putrid, but nevertheless, we had about 15 to 20 people, civilians and military, one of whom was Commander – I’ll think of him – he’s quite a well known individual. I’ll think of his name in a minute. And there were two or three others that I had known and we were in this school and we were taking the standard Navy Cryptology Course and this is one Captain Safford started –
(End Tape 1, Side 1)
GM: This was interesting. I really had never been in this side of it. I’d worked crossword puzzles and, of course, just from osmosis I’d learned quite a bit about it just by talking to people. Although we had this very, very strict compartmentation at Headquarters, it didn’t work. It really didn’t. I knew what was going on with those Bombes all the time. I knew exactly where they were, whether they were working well or not.
PF: You’re talking about the ENIGMA Bombes?
GM: Yeah. Yeah. Of course, that was a big job that we were doing there, you know. That was our big job and if that didn’t work right, then we were in trouble. I can’t remember exactly how I learned all this stuff, but I’m sure that everybody else in the place, as well, were learning all this. You weren’t supposed to talk to anybody and, as a matter of fact, you really didn’t. But somehow or other the word was leaked around and, of course, I was very interested in the Atlantic DF Net. I was quite privy to all those things that were going on there. All the Stations were sending in their bearings and they were being plotted right there at Headquarters and I could watch them plot that stuff and figure out which subs – they would try to identify it by submarine because the Bombes and the ENIGMA were giving them, in many cases, the name of the submarine, the Captain of the submarine, what it was doing, how much fuel was left, what they were going to do next, what their course and speed was. You know the stuff you’d really like to know, so by DF they were trying to plot – to identify that submarine. So, all that stuff – I was privy to all that. The Bombes, of course, were the big deal in Building 4, a building that was constructed just for that purpose. There were 50 on each floor, each deck, and at one time I was asked to help arrange for the transportation of one of them. It was one of the later ones from Dayton. It was interesting how they did this. They put it in a boxcar completely sealed and they put two guys in there with guns. They had a carbine and pistols. They said, ok now, here’s your food and here’s your water and keep the door locked and when it gets to Washington, we’ll bang on the door and that’s the first time you can open it.
PF: And how long did it take for them to get from Dayton to DC?
GM: It was at least 48 hours. At least 48 hours. I realize I’m backing up here, but I guess that’s okay. Before I went up to Harvard, one afternoon somebody came in to GX and said, we’ve got to have a guy; we’ve got to have a guy. I looked up and wondered what do they need a guy for and whoever it was rushed over to Lieutenant Daniels who was Cross’s Assistant and said we’ve got to have a guy right away, right away. Who can we have? Who’s spare? Daniels looked over at me and I said, what’s this all about? See, I was single at that time. And, he said, well, maybe George can do it. So, this guy ran over to me and he said I’ve got to have somebody right now. He said we’ve got to get you out under arms to the railroad station – junction, the railroad junction. He said, go down to the Security Office and get you a .45. It was cold. He said do you have your overcoat here? I’ve got everything, so he said, all right, I’ve got a station wagon waiting out here and here’s what you’re to do. He gave me some advice and I wrote some stuff down. Well I got in the station wagon, they drove me out to some place in Washington, DC where there’s a junction and a spur line of the railroad. They said, now, look for boxcar number so and so. A boxcar is completely enclosed. You’ve seen those and they have sliding doors. Look for boxcar number so and so and beat on the door three times. So literally I walked along there looking for these boxcars and sure enough, there it was. So I went over and I beat on the thing three times and some guy slid the door open just a little bit and I was looking into a carbine. He says, show me your badge. So I showed him my badge and he said, okay, and he opened the door more. I was looking at two of the grimiest people you have ever seen in your life. They were in dungarees and it looked like somebody had dragged them through a mud puddle. It wasn’t mud, it was dirt, dust. These guys, – one of them said, I’ve got to get out of here and right away. He had to go to the bathroom. You got any water with you? I said no I don’t have any water. He said, well can you get some? I said, well I guess I could go back over here someplace and find some. He said well here’s a canteen. Go get it filled up real quick. So I drove over and got the canteen filled. He said, well, we’ve got to get this thing unloaded. I forgot to say that in addition to the station wagon, there was a truck that came with me. So we backed the truck up to the opening and we slid this great big crate into the truck. It was a Bombe. That’s what it was. I don’t know, I have no idea why that one came in that way. I don’t know if it was a special one. I just don’t know. But anyway, they loaded it in there and we took the Bombe to Building 4 where the loading platform was and we got it in there and into the elevator and it was gone. End of story.
PF: Very interesting. What time frame are we talking about? Obviously before the war ended.
GM: This would have been late ’44, I guess. They were building those Bombes literally up until the time the war ended. I’m going to guess maybe this one was more of an experimental one. I don’t know. I’ve no idea.
PF: There was something I would like to go back to. When you initially talked about talking with, I believe it was Commander Harper, COMSEC, and it was down in one of the old buildings, what had he hoped for you to do in COMSEC?
GM: Okay, they were – I stayed over there an entire day and he personally took me in and showed me what they were doing. What they were doing at that time was looking at U.S. communications and they were making various runs to see if you used traffic analysis what could be determined from those messages. Also, at that particular time and I can’t remember what it could have been, but they were running a – they were sending a bunch of dummy messages to cover an operation. I’m sorry I don’t remember the details on that, but they had some operation going and they had deliberately inflated the traffic count on those circuits, so that instead of the normal hundred messages a day now we’re getting 500 messages a day. Next day, 600 messages. Next day, 700 messages. Something has to be going on there, you know. And, they were using just dummy messages that were being sent. It was to cover some operation and so he was explaining this to me and they had some people there that were going over all these dummy messages to see if somebody could determine if they were indeed dummy messages and not the real McCoy. That was one thing. It was mostly a traffic analysis job, but in some cases they were actually breaking the messages because at this place they had the key lists for every single system, U.S. Navy system in existence, so they could break any message that came through there and they were doing a lot of that. The reason they were doing that was to see whether the individuals were putting in the right dummies at the beginning of the message. You know, there were some you were supposed to use just dummy letters. It wouldn’t be a word, but it would be x, y, p, q, d. Something like that.
PF: So were they looking for vulnerabilities or were they looking for non-compliance?
GM: Both. They were looking for both. The messages they broke were for compliance. They’d just at random pick a message, say, from CINCPAC to so and so and they’d break it and then they would look carefully at the message to be sure that it fitted all the criteria that it was supposed to. That was being done. They were using IBM equipment as an early computer. Exactly the same kinds of things we were doing at Nebraska Avenue except there we were using the IBM machines and boxes of cards for your program. Your program was in a box and you carried the box around. Well, they had all kinds of boxes there. These were programs that they had worked out for determining various things.
PF: You’re talking about communications coming from the Fleet so it’s General Service communications principally?
GM: Any message that was sent from the Navy anywhere they could get it. They would randomly tap into various circuits. You see, there in Washington at the Radio Station NSS, which was the place – the location where everything came, that was the Headquarters for any message coming into the Headquarters at Navy Department. So they could tap into any of that and did. They could just at random pick anything they wanted and they had some people that were doing this on a random basis.
PF: How effective were we in COMBSEC during the war?
GM: Well, I don’t know. The best I can determine the U.S. cryptographic machines were never broken. I don’t think anybody even thought about breaking them. We know the Japanese tried, but gave up on it. The Germans, as far as I know, never even tried. But the British – I saw this down in South America. The British Convoy Routing Code, which was a hand code was so easy to break. There in Recife my headquarters was on the ninth floor of an office building we had rented. Directly below my office was what we called the Coding Board. The Coding Board was where all the messages that we sent and received were broken. This was using the U.S. machine. We had the five-rotor machine and ten-rotor.
PF: When you say broken, you’re talking about decrypting?
GM: Decrypting, yes. Normally everything was sent in the five-rotor machine. High level stuff was sent in the ten rotor machine. Are you familiar with these machines at all?
PF: No, I’ve never heard the term ten-rotor.
GM: Okay. We had a little basket. I would guess that somewhere here we would have one of those machines. A little basket and we had a set of rotors and you put them in at random. If it was five wheels, you’d just put five wheels in. If it was ten, you added five more. Again randomly, in reverse or not. You could turn them around like that. You had a publication that told you what to do. That was the standard U.S. Navy machine and it was also used by the Army. It was the same machine and Safford and some Army guys are the ones that – a Mr. Rowlett, Frank Rowlett, who worked for the Army, a civilian for the Army. He had the patent on the machine. After the war he was given a $100,000 grant for his patent.
PF: Who was publishing the book?
GM: Oh it was put out by COMSEC.
PF: Navy COMSEC.
GM: Yes. It was a standard publication. You received the version for your area. Each area had a different set up for these wheels and you had even different wheels for different areas. It was far more sophisticated than the Bombe. The Bombe normally only had three wheels. Navy version had four. By the way, the German cryptographic ENIGMA worked exactly like the American one did and like the British one, too, by the way. British Type X. They were essentially identical machines. It was one of those things where great minds think along the same path. No question about that. They were independently invented but they all had the same arrangement. I had the impression as a matter of fact that we used some of the American machines – rewired so they became ENIGMA wheels. I think we did. Getting back to this British system. It was the convoy routing system. I knew all the guys on the Coding Board in fact I lived in the same apartment house with them. They were all buddies of mine. We exchanged information just like you and I are talking. Every day at noon, every evening, all of us knew exactly what everybody else was doing. We had a guy on our Coding Board named Graff and he had worked in a Bank and he had been one of the accountants at this Bank and Graff was a real smart guy. I used to go down to the Coding Board. Today you couldn’t do it. I mean by that the Coding Board is a sealed and locked place and you work in there and nobody gets in there unless you work there essentially. There in Recife that wasn’t quite true. I was one of the guys that was in Naval communications and I knew all these guys and I just walked in there at random. And vice versa, they came into my place the same way. Anyway, Graff and I were sitting down one day and he says, you know, here’s a British Convoy message I just got. I’m going to tell you what it says. The messages were pro forma. Ships so and so departed Trinidad such and such a time, arrival time Recife such and such a time. This is every message the same way. Any idiot could figure it out. So, he says, I’m going to tell you what this says. So, he says, now that’s decoded. I’d worked in the Coding Board so I knew how to do all this stuff. He said, you take this part of it and I’ll take this part of it. It was a five-digit code. It wasn’t a cipher. It was a five-digit code with additives. So you just went through it group by group by group, did the additives and then you looked it up in the codebook. Okay, the first additive would come out ship name, so you knew that. You just went back and forth between the additive and the codebook. It was not an easy process. You had to go through and look up all these things and it took time to do it. So to decode one of these long convoy messages, – there would be an entire convoy leaving Trinidad, coming to Recife. There would be 20 to 50 ships maybe, plus the destroyers and PE boats and everything that was going to come along with them to protect them and it gave the course, direction speed, and everything of the convoy. But as I pointed out, this is all pro forma, every single message done exactly the same way. Hundreds, thousands of them. Not just Trinidad to Recife, but every convoy in the entire Atlantic Ocean. So, anyway, he gave me part of it and I started decoding it and he was working on some part of it over there. So we got it all out and he says, see there? He had probably more than half of it right. Well, if you read any books about the German success during WWII and how they were so successful against many of our convoys, it was that code that was the weak link. Why we didn’t supercede that – it went on during the entire war, the entire war. It was almost as though the British figured well, what the heck, we can’t do any better. They could have done better. The problem was that so many of these convoys were going to places where the British either didn’t have enough machines, enough high level encoding machines to send there or maybe they didn’t want to. I don’t know. Why we used only the British system for both Britain and the United States? Again, I don’t know. But the same system was used in the entire Atlantic for all the convoys. So to answer your question, I have no qualms in saying that certainly the Germans did not break any of the U.S. Navy or Army systems. I’m sure that from time to time they were able to read random messages because sometimes your wheels got stuck. You thought they were turning but they weren’t so you were getting a mono-alphabetic system. This happened more often then you’d believe. The message may have been transmitted and then the guy would come back from the other end and say he can’t break it. So then the guy would retransmit it, see, and that made matters even worse. Except for things like that and a few random things of that nature, they weren’t reading anything. If you look over the old books and things that came out of Germany, they’ll say the same thing. When the war was over in Germany, we sent teams over there. TICOM Teams.
PF: What is TICOM?
GM: Let’s see, Technical Communications Intelligence, I think is what that means. TICOM. If I had stayed in GX instead of going up to Harvard, I would guess I would have been on one of those teams, but that’s another matter. These teams went to the places that are still in existence in Germany where we believed their communications personnel were still alive, or where their communications centers were still available. Of course, once you got to one, you could get names and then find those guys and that would be someplace else. It spread out pretty fast.
PF: What was the purpose of this?
GM: The purpose was to find out what the Germans had been doing and what successes they might have had. There’s a whole batch of them – publications on this. What I’m telling you is just kind of the tip of the iceberg. You need to get the TICOM publications. In the case of Germany – I’ve read some of the publications and I don’t know where I found them. They were at Headquarters. I had them at Headquarters. One of the publications had to do with their success against the U.S. DF Net. It was quite interesting because it was written by the German civilian who had actually worked on the process. It was written in German and translated and that was a very interesting document and I always wondered why it didn’t show up in all of this stuff. I’ve often wondered – it’s got to be there somewhere. But he described it. It was a long, long document. They were quite successful against our DF code, which was a very simple code. It was – let’s see, it was five letters, I think. Five letters or five numbers, I’m not sure which and it was a booklet about this size.
PF: About 8” by 10”.
GM: Yeah, roughly that size and it had words – it was just a code. It was unenciphered code. The theory was that if we could prevent them from breaking it for as much as 24 hours, we didn’t really care. That was the theory of the code and they were certainly doing that. They were getting into it very fast. But what were they getting? They were getting DF bearings. But what good does that do you really? Once in a while in the DF code, and I used it a lot when I was visiting all the Stations and when I was down in Brazil with Harper, occasionally we would send an administrative thing in the code, but not usually. It was kind of difficult. It was set up for DF bearings. That was really what the purpose was, but if you used it, it did have a bunch of words in there and it had a speller so that if you wanted to spell out “McGinnis” well you could do it. It would be one group for each letter of my name and it would be a thing that long, but you could do it. I remember a few occasions where I wanted to send a message from Recife up to Belim or something and maybe just “I’m going to come tomorrow. I’ll be there at nine o’clock” or something like that. It was simpler to put it into that code and send it then go through the ECM – Electronic Coding Machine, which would take a long time to encode and all that. I didn’t care whether anybody knew I was going to arrive at nine o’clock. It really didn’t make any difference. Anyway, the Germans did break into that.
This will be interesting because they broke into this part of it. It was included in this document. When Captain Harper first set up his DF Net, he had to go through a process to get your call signs, like NSS and so forth. Recife was NKM and I forget what Bahia was but each Radio Station has its own three letter call sign. In order to get these call signs assigned, you had to send a message to Washington. They screwed around with it for two or three weeks or a month and then they’d come back and give you the letters. So when Harper got his Stations all in line, he said okay, I’m going to go ahead and start the Network even though we’re not really in business yet, but just for test purposes and get the guys used to how you use the system and work out all our problems ahead of time. So he started the Network, but he didn’t have call signs. So, he said, okay, “Boy” “Cat” “Dog” and he said just use those call signs. So for as much as a month he operated the DF Net taking bearings and in some cases he didn’t even report the bearings to Washington, because his Network was still not official. If the DF Network had discovered a submarine out in the middle of the South Atlantic, we would have sent the bearings in but normally he didn’t. He was just practicing. Okay, the Germans picked this up and this poor guy in Germany – it drove him nuts. They’re using calls signs like Cat and Boy it must have a nefarious meaning behind it. What in the world could that be? We’ve got to find that document. But anyway, that was an interesting thing. They did break into our DF code. It didn’t give them very much. I guess from that they could deduce where all the Stations were located, but here again, so what?
PF: Your TICOM is the one that has that written up?
GM: There’s a series of TICOM reports. They cover an enormous amount of stuff. I’m just giving you the tiniest tip of the iceberg.
PF: You said this was against the Germans. Did they do the same thing in Japan?
GM: Yes, oh yes. A friend of mine made the Japanese trip and again, they interviewed all the people over there who were still alive and once they got the name of one guy, they’d talk to him and he’d give them ten more names. I’ll tell you an interesting one about Germany. There’s a town in Germany called Rosenheim. It’s down near Munich. Hitler’s old hideaway. In Rosenheim, the Germans had a huge communications set up and they were using it both for their own communications and for communications intelligence. When the war ended, they took all of their equipment, put it in boxes, wrapped the boxes in waterproof paper, dug up the street in front of their building, and buried all this stuff under the cobblestone street in Rosenheim, Germany. When we sent the TICOM teams in, somebody talked to some guy who told them about this and they couldn’t believe it. So he said, I’ll go there and show you. So they took him down to Rosenheim and dug up the street and, sure enough, there it all was. So they unearthed it and took it back and set it up and the stuff was still operational and they were able to – some of it as I recall was operating against the Russians. It was a complete cryptographic high-level system that the Germans had used and it was very valuable because it gave us some insight into some of the Russian stuff.
PF: A curious question for you. I’m going to go way back. You talked about Recife and setting up those other places and it was mostly jungle. Where did you live when you were out there?
GM: You mean at these bases?
GM: Okay, I’ll take it one by one. First of all, Recife. The one at Recife was built out of the swamp. This was actually relatively easy to build because one edge of the swamp was such that they could build a road up to one of the main streets right into Recife, so the guys there put in some Quonset huts and the guys lived in Quonset huts there on the base. Captain Harper lived in one of the Quonsets too. He got his own Quonset hut just for his office.
PF: So they transitted back and forth then. Is that what you’re saying from where they were living?
GM: They lived on the base at Recife in Quonset huts so they could walk to work.
GM: The last picture of Recife that I saw was taken by one of our guys, NCVA guy, who happened to go back to Recife for some reason and took a taxi out to the base and they wouldn’t let him in. It was a Brazilian Base now, but he had his camera and he took some pictures and we published some of these in the CRYPTOLOG. This was like – let’s see we left there in ’46. This was at least fifteen years later. Relatively recent times. So the Brazilians were still using that base.
Okay, now, Belim was really out in the jungle, but you could get – and here again they used Quonset huts and I think only Quonsets for the men to live in and then you could drive back to Belim with a jeep. In Bahia it was the worst one because it was on an island. You had to go by boat to get over there.
(End Tape 1, Side 2)
GM: It was the worst one because it was on an island and you had to go over there by boat and I’m sorry I’m a little vague on that one but the guys had to have lived there, so I guess we must have had Quonsets over there, too. To get back to the City of Bahia was kind of an arduous process. You didn’t just get on a boat and go over there. I would guess it was almost an entire day’s trip or at least half a day’s trip to get over to the Station.
PF: How large was the contingent over there? How many people?
GM: Each of the DF Stations in Brazil had small complements. They had either a JG or – to begin with JGs in charge and these guys weren’t really very incompetent individuals. I knew all of them. They were just – it was pretty typical of what happened during WWII. You grabbed up any guy you could. If he had a college degree, you gave him an officer’s rank and hoped that he could do it and these guys were pretty much that way. I don’t mean to imply that they were stupid individuals. They weren’t, but they had no background. They didn’t know anything about electronics. They weren’t electronic engineers. They had nothing to do with radio. They probably worked in a Bank or maybe they’d just finished college like I had or you don’t know. Each Station had an Officer in Charge, they had a Chief in Charge, and they had a Radio Material Man, now an “M” Brancher. Some of these “M” Branchers were pretty sharp guys. Bob Jones was very, very sharp. He’s dead now, but Bob was one of those. He was down in Recife. That’s where I first met him and he went up to Bahia and worked up there for a while. Then they had – let’s see, I think there were four men on a watch and they had three section watches, so that’s 12. They had about in the vicinity of 20 people at those Stations.
PF: So who provided the support to these people? What were their Messing Facilities like?
GM: They had their own. They had their own little Galley and they cooked their own food. It was all do-it-yourself.
PF: So somebody was making supply runs.
GM: Yes, yes. The supplies in the beginning – most of the stuff had to be purchased from Brazilian sources and that was pretty lousy. But after we got organized – by the time those Stations were finished, we were pretty well organized down there and we had Navy supplies in all of these towns. Navy stores so that you could go to them and get just about anything you wanted, including fresh meat. That was one nice thing about Brazil. We had all the meat we wanted. They got it out of Argentina and Southern Brazil.
PF: Well, living in jungle conditions I presume would have subjected these people to certain health conditions.
GM: Yes, yes, that’s right. I wrote a story about – called “Brazil” that’s in one of the CRYPTOLOGs. I go through a lot of that. The biggest problem was a little insect called a marowheim. In this Brazil story I talked about the marowheims and I also tell you the scientific name. I finally ran it down. These were a tiny, little insect smaller than the head of a pin. Just so tiny you could hardly see them. They had billions of them down there and any time you were out in the jungle, within seconds you had swarms of marowheims all over you. They stung. When those guys would get on you, almost instantly your skin would start to burn, and the only way you could get rid of them would be to put a netting over you and if it wasn’t a real fine net, they’d get through it and if you slept at night, you had to have a netting over you. There is a deadly – you’d have to look at this Brazil story because I went into it in there.
PF: About when did you publish that story?
GM: There’s a copy here. It was about fifteen years ago, or ten years anyway. I know they’ve got copies of it here. It was a separate thing called Brazil. You can get a deadly disease from the marowheims and within the last ten years I had the Doc test me to see if I had it. Fortunately, I don’t. Let’s see, we’ve got mosquitoes of course. We had snakes. When we built those Stations and tore the jungle down, one of the big problems was snakes, deadly snakes. You had to wear high, heavy boots and you had to continually worry about snakes being all over the place. I remember up in Bahia one time – Bob Jones told me this story when he was up there – he said, – you had a lot of Brazilians working for you, too, by the way. These were Mess Boys and guys that would clean up your barracks and jeep drivers and logistics people. We always had them. They were very inexpensive and generally speaking you’d have a pretty good group of guys. He heard these guys out there screaming one day. So he looked out the door and he said there was a boa constrictor about 15 feet long coming onto the Station. These guys had their machetes out and Bob ran over there to see what was going on and he said these guys weren’t afraid of the boa constrictor but they were arguing and screaming at each other to decide who was going to get the skin.
PF: Was it a marketable commodity?
GM: Oh yeah. That’s a huge skin. You can make purses out of it and shoes. All kinds of stuff. So it was a very valuable thing. In this Brazil story, I have a picture that somebody gave me and it shows the little bridge they had to get over to cross over to one of the equipments and on this bridge is a snake. Just by chance – I don’t think the guy realized when he took the picture that the snake was on the bridge, but it is and if you look it was a snake about 3 or 4 feet long. Okay, what else?
PF: I have something here that says you were at NSGA Futenma, Okinawa. What was going on there?
GM: I had some really nice guys at Naval Security Group Headquarters that I got to know and I had some awful enemies there, too. But Captain Wenger was my friend. Captain Dennis was my friend. Harper, Kinney, of course. These were guys that I could sit down and talk to and it wasn’t a case of having to stand at attention before you talk to them and so forth. I could talk to them just like I’m talking to you and would get good feedback and all. Dennis was Head of the Naval Security Group in ’55. I happened to be over at NSA at that time and I was working for General Canine. Canine liked me very much, too, by the way. I thought he was just great. Canine called me in one day and said well, George, as you know your tour is about up here, where do you want to go next? I said, well, I haven’t quite figured it out, but I didn’t know you were going to ask me the question and he says, well I tell you where you’re going. He says you’re going to the Naval War College. I said, well General, I’m sorry, you’re wrong because they don’t accept anybody but a Line Officer up there and I’m a Restricted Line Officer. He said Yeah? I didn’t know that. The Army will take anybody. I’ll send you to the Army War College then. But I want you to go to the Naval War College. I said, General, you just can’t do it because they don’t accept anybody but a Line Officer. He said, I think I can fix that. General Canine was the 12th ranking officer in the U.S. Pantheon. In other words in all the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, he was number 12 and these guys all knew each other and they also knew who outranked who. I didn’t know that.
PF: Lineal numbers.
GM: Exactly. So, Canine called his Secretary and he says get me – he says what’s his title? I said he’s the Commandant of the War College. He says, get him on the phone. So a couple minutes later she came back in and said Admiral so and so is on the phone. He got on there and he said Admiral, this is General Canine and I’m Head of the National Security Agency and I’ve got a little problem. He says, I’ve got an officer here by the name of Commander George McGinnis and I want to send him to your next class. I was just hearing one side of it but the guy apparently said okay. There’s a little problem though, he’s a Restricted Line Officer. So this guy was saying sorry about that and Canine was saying oh, no, I’m going to send him. This guy was saying no you can’t do that and then Canine says, he’ll be there and he hung up. I was the first Naval Security Group Officer – first Restricted Line Officer to go to the War College.
PF: Essentially because you showed up after the conversation?
GM: Oh, no. I have no idea what went on but I got my orders and I went.
PF: We got up to Lieutenant. When did you make Lieutenant Commander?
GM: Okay. When I was at Harvard, I’d been a Lieutenant then about two and a half to three years and they started putting out the promotions to Lieutenant Commander and what they were doing for every – based on your entry month in the Navy, they were taking it a month forward at a time and they started three months before my month so that these guys that were three months ahead of me were made Lieutenant Commander. It was just a blanket promotion. By the way, it worked that way throughout the war. Everybody was promoted on a mass basis. It wasn’t a case of just by name or anything like that. If your date of rank was such and such, you’re now a JG or you’re now a LT or whatever so that’s what they were doing with the Lieutenant Commanders. So it started three months behind me. These guys made it and then one month later the guys who were two months behind me made it. Then the next month they didn’t come out with anything so I figured well, that’s it. And believe it or not another month later I made it. So I made Lieutenant Commander from the time I was an Ensign in about three and a half years.
PF: And then Commander?
GM: Okay, Commander was slow. Commander was very slow because I made Lieutenant Commander before the war ended – just before WWII ended.
PF: And Commander was post-war.
GM: It was years before I made Commander because they had to catch up with all this stuff. I was Commander when I went to the War College. That was ’55. I’d been a Commander for several years. I think it was like six or seven years before I made Commander, along with everybody else. But by this time it was by name. The war was over and the Navy had really turned down a lot – by that I mean the numbers of people. It was a very small number of people by then. What else have we got?
PF: Is there anything else you can think of that you would like to add to this?
GM: Well, let’s see. I liked working at NSA. Almost none of the Naval Officers did. In most cases you had to drag and haul a Naval Officer to NSA and he was screaming and kicking the whole way. To me it was always a sad affair because I felt the real brains – and things were happening at NSA whereas they were not happening at the Army, Navy and Air Force Headquarters and I always like to be where it was happening. That’s why I liked to be at NSA. I had a lot of very nice assignments there. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I never met anybody at NSA that I didn’t like and a lot of them liked me. I’m sure I had a lot of enemies there as well but I did not dislike any of the people that I worked for. I can’t say that with the Navy because there were an awful lot of people in the Navy I just could not get along with. But people at NSA treated me very well and I always had good jobs and I worked hard at them, too, by the way. My last job was as Executive Officer at the National Cryptologic School and –
PF: So you retired out of NSA then?
GM: Yes. Every tour was very different. They always put me in a different place each time. I worked at AFSA too before NSA was set up. I enjoyed that very much, too.
PF: That’s the Armed Forces Security –
GM: Armed Forces Security Agency. When it was set up, a lot of the Navy people moved over to Arlington Hall. A few of the Army people moved over to Headquarters on Nebraska Avenue. It was mostly in the other direction though. I enjoyed that. I might – let’s see, what else. Yeah, you remember I told you I took this course in cryptology after the war at Headquarters and when I finished it – oh yeah, this is interesting. I was about half way through the course and I was enjoying it very much and I was doing pretty well on it. It was a structured course and I think it had 12 lessons or something like that and each one of them took you quite a long time, but we had small groups and we were working out these problems and there was a guy named Commander Herrington, who was in charge of the school. He was absolutely useless, but that was his job. One day I was in his office and have you ever seen the magazine Scientific American?
GM: In the back of it, I don’t know if they still do it or not, but they used to have things that they sold and among other things – and I don’t know if they still sell these or not – were little blocks that you could put together in a very intricate way that would make some kind of a form, like a pyramid or a square or something. They’re puzzles, sophisticated puzzles. I always used to take the Scientific American. I don’t anymore, but anyway, I’d seen these puzzles for sale. Herrington had a set of them sitting on his desk and one of them was just in pieces. These were little tiny things. The pieces were maybe this long and this wide.
PF: So about a ½” by ¼”.
GM: It was a Chinese puzzle.
PF: Three dimensional.
GM: Yeah and you had to put them together and they would make something. He had this thing laying there. He and I were talking. I got along with Herrington okay but he was just kind of a bumbling old guy. I said, what is this you’ve got there? He said well, this is from Scientific American. I said, oh yeah, I remember that. I’ve never seen them before. I said can I see that one. So he pushed these little things to me and I started putting them together. And it was a pyramid. He says, hey, how’d you put that together? I said, well, I don’t know. You did that in about a minute. I’ve never been able to do it. He says, how far along are you in that course? I said about half way through. He said, you just graduated, you’re going to one of the crypt-outfits tomorrow. So he put me in what was called NY-4, which was on the third deck at the Headquarters. It went into what was called the loft or the attic – Yeah, the attic at Headquarters. It was the hottest place in the world. This is where NY-4 was. NY-4 included cryptographic systems (named various countries) and probably some more, but that’s all I can remember at the moment and we had – since I spoke Portuguese, I was put in the Portuguese one. Dr. Wray, ever hear of him? William Wray? He was the civilian who had worked for the Navy as a mathematician. He was a mathematician from Yale or Princeton. I forget where. He was one of their head mathematicians. You know during the war we pulled in a lot of these people to work on the Bombe problem. German linguists, mathematicians, etc. Pulled them in from all the main universities in particular in the East. The Head Astronomer from Harvard – I can’t remember his name just now. He was one. We had a real think tank there, mathematicians primarily and Wray was one of them. He was a hunchback. He was a little tiny guy. Very, very nice guy. I thought a lot of Wray. Everybody thought a lot of Dr. Wray. He didn’t have any enemies. I worked for him and we had about three or four people in the Portuguese section and we would be working against the cryptographic systems of Portugal. And that’s what I did and I did pretty well at it. I enjoyed it very much. I’d been there for about a year and Dr. Wray called me in one time and he said, well, you’ve done okay here but they want you to take over a job working for Captain Goodwin and Captain Wenger. So, I ended up Heading the – I was Assistant Operations Officer under Captain Goodwin and this involved intercept control for the worldwide Stations and Head of the DF Net for all the worldwide Stations. That was a nice little job. I enjoyed it up there at NY-4. It was a small space. I can’t imagine how much it was but in terms of square footage it was like four or five of these rooms and our Portuguese room was probably half of this room and Dr. Wray’s office was across the hall like right over there and the French section was here and the Spanish section there and we all knew each other and we all knew exactly what each other was doing and so forth. One day the guy that was working on the Brazilian stuff came in and he says you were down in Brazil weren’t you? I said, yeah. He says there’s a system here I can’t quite figure out. I took one look at it and I said I know what it is because I watched the Brazilians use it. The Brazilians had no security whatsoever. If I went, and I frequently did, to the Brazilian Naval Headquarters, Brazilian Army Headquarters, even out in the field to some of their Headquarters. It was not at all unusual to see a guy sitting out in the hallway and he would be like the Duty Officer and he’d be there working enciphering or deciphering messages right out there in the open. They had what is called a strip cipher, and it was the one that they principally used and one day I was watching one of these guys do it. This was similar to our American one. In fact, I think they got their equipment from our own people. So I went over and watched him and he said have you ever seen this? And I said, yeah, I’ve seen something like it. Well, he said, can you read the Portuguese? So he had me helping him. He was calling off the letters and I was writing it down in Portuguese and then I’d say – I could read it and I’d say, well, here this guy wants to be transferred, or something like that. So I told this guy and explained how it worked. He said okay.
PF: I take it you have no regrets for your Navy career.
GM: No, I really don’t. I have some things that I wish I could have somehow prevented from happening. I guess everybody does. I told you I preferred duty at NSA and I did. I was offered jobs over there several different times, but I said, no, I’d rather go to NSA. I think I disappointed Ralph Cook but when I was Commanding Officer here at Corry, I had one more tour and Ralph Cook and I had been friends for many years and he said, well, I want you to come back and Head the equivalent of GX. G40 I think it’s called today. I said, well Ralph, that’s a good job and I appreciate that, I said, but you know I really don’t want it and I didn’t because I knew it was a nothing job. Paper pushing job and I really don’t like those jobs. I want to be able to do something. That’s when I ended up in NSA R&D and was there the longest I’d been anywhere. I was there six or seven years. That was really a wonderful job. The kind of thing I was taught to do from the very beginning but hadn’t done much of except when I was in GX but I wasn’t able to use those skills and I finally ended up in R&D. One of my projects in R&D is still in existence down in Cudjoe Key, Florida. A project that was set up in 1965 and it’s still going on down there.
PF: Well, we don’t want to get too involved in that then.
GM: It’s just above Key West.
PF: I think we’ve done remarkably well. I thank you very much.
11 May 2022 at 21:46
A most interesting aspect of George McGinnis’ oral history. I suspect this is a synopsis of a much longer oral history. I found this extremely interesting. Thank you, Mario!
14 May 2022 at 07:33
A very interesting story of CAPT McGinnis. I worked in COMSEC at 3801 Hqs as a 1st class CTO. My
title was G622C1 – COMSEC Statistics . Reading reports from the COMSEC field stations. I also helped
updating existing publications and writing new ones. I also made trips to various bases giving COMSEC
lectures and inspections. Thank you, Mario.