Many historians believe the earliest efforts of navy cryptology was radio intelligence exploitation against the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) started in the early 1920s.  However, recent documents discovered show navy cryptology was involved in exploits against Germans in WWI. 

These documents and census information are provide in the post.

This remarkable discovery surfaced while Mr. Mark Neighbors was researching navy cryptologic history in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) II Archives at College Park, MD.  In his research, he discovered memorandums with the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) letterhead dating back to 1918 that identifies the name and work of YNC Herman Earle Burt. These documents are one of the earliest known to exist regarding navy cryptology and clearly show navy cryptology was involved in cryptologic operations against Germany during WWI.

The intent of this post is to ask Station HYPO readers to email any additional details about the life or career of YNC Herman Earle Burt to Station HYPO.

Census/Statistics Data

Thanks to efforts of CTICM Matt Zullo (Ret.), listed below are the census/statistics data on YNC Burt.

Herman Earle Burt
Chief Yeoman
Service number 114-29-40
Born 24 Oct 1895 Wellsburg, NY
Assigned to Washington Navy Yard 7-26-17 thru 11-11-18
Discharged 5-26-19 3rd Naval District, NY, NY
Lived in Babylon, NY thereafter
Died 10 Oct 1958, possibly Babylon, NY

Why this matters?

  • YNC Burt was a true navy cryptologic pioneer.  His contributions need to be understood and his story needs to be told.
  • 1918 memorandums pre-dates RMC Kidder intercepting Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) while stationed in Peiping, China. Many navy cryptologic historians believe navy radio intelligence efforts explicitly focused on the IJN.
  • YNC Burt exploits and training pre-dates On-The-Roof gang training by 10 years.
  • The memorandums directly link YNC Burt to decrypting German/Mexican radio messages.
  • YNC Burt referenced Captain Yardley and therefore the Black Chamber under the State Department. He mentioned cryptographic techniques used by the Germans (WWI) and described the British War Office Code and Cipher Bureau level of success attacking the German cipher systems.
  • LT Laurance F. Safford (Father of Cryptanalyst) mentioned YNC Burt by name and states ONI had no information on him in a handwritten note on the memorandum, dated 1924.
  • Given the dates of these memorandums, there is a possibility YNC Burt served with YNC Agnes Meyer (pre Driscoll).  Mrs. Agnes Meyer trained many officers in cryptanalysis, including Joseph Rochefort.  Did YNC Burt receive this training?  Did he train officers?

Memorandums Documents

Document 1:

Memorandum for CDR Draemel dated December 11, 1918 on Officer of Naval Intelligence (ONI) letterhead which comes one month after WWI’s conclusion and notes the wartime cryptologic exploits of YNC H.E. Burt.  Note: in September 1924, LT Laurance F. Safford made a penciled comment stating, “We have one report signed by Burt.  ONI knows nothing about this. Can’t find anything – but they have no record ever sending any of it to C & S (Code and Signal).

Document 2:

Extracts from Reports of YNC Burt regarding German exploitations.