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.
Thanks to efforts of CTICM Matt Zullo (Ret.), listed below are the census/statistics data on YNC Burt.
Herman Earle Burt
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?
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).
Extracts from Reports of YNC Burt regarding German exploitations.
20 July 2022 at 19:49
Superb! Will print all of these documents and study them.
It’s long been my opinion, despite “evidence” to the contrary, that the United States Navy was reading Japanese naval message traffic in the period leading up to 7 December 1941. I felt this way about four years prior to the publication of Robert B. Stinnett’s DAY OF DECEIT: THE TRUTH ABOUT FDR AND PEARL HARBOR. The more I’ve studied this matter over the years since 1994-1995, the more I’ve come to believe a massive cover-up was made. This cover-up was probably made in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
If my hunch is correct, our friend, Captain Laurance Frye Safford, was involved in the post 7 December 1941 cover-up of the Navy’s communications intelligence on Japan obtained prior to 7 December 1941. There is reference to a list Safford put together in the fall of 1941 as to naval cryptanalysts who would wish to remain in this field after the United States became involved in war. Safford testified to the JCC on Pearl Harbor that Sunday, 7 December 1941 was his “day off.” He stated that after being called into the Navy Department he declined going into work that day. Sometime after 7 December, Safford worked to have OP-20-G broken into two parts. In February 1942, he requested to be given responsibility for the security of U.S. naval communications. If my hunch is correct, the man most responsible for securing evidence of Japanese intentions prior to 7 December 1941 is the same officer assigned the task of covering that information up after that date.
To make a long story short, my first book on Pearl Harbor will be written without trying to attempt to prove the U.S. Navy was reading JN-25 (a.k.a. 5-numeral code) prior to Pearl Harbor. The focus of my first book is solely to convince people that the same high-level of intelligence and the same war plans that were available to officials of the War and Navy Departments in Washington, D.C. was also available to senior officers in Hawaii.
Because a huge effort was made—including by Captain Safford—to make it appear that Admiral Kimmel did not have the benefit of “Magic” (intercepted diplomatic and consular message traffic), and because for many years this information was considered highly classified, I have no desire to write something that could possibly work against our national security or our military services. In his testimony to the Joint Congressional Committee in February 1946, Safford said that in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor he could not see how anyone with the information Kimmel had could have been taken by surprise. (I’ve never seen this stated in any book or article on P.H. Writers seem to not read the thousands of pages of testimony; they prefer to read the 580-page Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. Some writers outright lied in some of the material that appears in their book(s). A late British historian, who wrote or helped write several P.H. related books, claimed he was surprised to find a document in the National Archives long after the war that indicated then Captain T.S. Wilkinson had told the Roberts Commission in December 1941 that Admiral Kimmel was receiving the same intelligence Washington had. Had that British writer read Wilkinson’s Roberts Commission memo (to CNO Stark) and his JCC testimony from Dec. 1945, he would have known that this truth had been known since late 1945. It wasn’t only Admiral R.K. Turner who believed Kimmel had the same intelligence the Navy Department had.) Secondly, Safford let it be known that he, then Commander Safford himself, made the assignments as to which of the Navy’s ComInt units would do any particular work. He also said something to the effect that he gave Rochefort a free hand in what HYPO would be doing if he agreed to become OIC of the communications intelligence unit at Pearl Harbor. According to Safford, Rochefort also had a free hand in choosing the people he wanted assigned to CIU, Pearl Harbor.
I believe that in time someone will discover the Navy’s communications intelligence unit on Oahu had its own “diplomatic Purple machine.” (A.K.A. Japanese Type-B code machine.) Both Army and Navy had “Purple machines” in the Philippines. (See Clausen Investigation affidavit of Colonel Joseph K. Evans.) A close reading of Rochefort’s Roberts Commission testimony from January 1942 indicates HYPO had hundreds of decoded Japanese consular messages “over there” (in its basement). Rochefort referred to the consular message traffic as “just plain trash.” He made clear that the Japanese naval message traffic was far more valuable. (Rochefort and E.T. Layton both appeared before the Roberts Commission on 2 January 1942. During Admiral Kimmel’s Roberts Commission testimony, he called his fleet intelligence officer “an idiot.” Admiral Kimmel’s testimony and his book, ADMIRAL KIMMEL’s STORY, are in stark contrast to what I expect of a military or business leader. Everything that happens is someone else’s fault. This is, of course, how it had to be in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.)
On 4 July I took eight days off. I needed to get away from this work to clear my head. Since late April I had been exchanging emails with someone who describes himself as a “Pearl Harbor historian.” This other person refers to President Roosevelt, General Marshall, Admiral Stark “and two others” (whose names change from one week to the next) as having all been “murderers.” He believes these men were responsible for the deaths of the Americans who died on Oahu on 7 Dec. 1941. The man in question believes a Clifford M. Andrew ran the Army’s ComInt unit on Oahu in 1941. He believes Andrew’s facility was located in the basement of Iolani Palace in Honolulu. He refers to Andrew as a “lieutenant colonel.” This is the rank the man retired in. Andrew entered the Army from Kansas circa 1930-1932. He was an enlisted man. He was commissioned in early 1941. If my analysis is correct, Clifford M. Andrew would have been a second lieutenant in 1941. I seriously doubt he was officer in charge of the Army’s crypto effort of Oahu in 1941. I’ve also been told that Andrew received a message directly from President Roosevelt ordering him, Andrew, to withhold intelligence from the Hawaiian commanders. It’s this kind of B.S. (excuse the language) that keeps me from writing what I believe truly transpired in the period leading up to 7 Dec. 1941. I’ve had many years to consider what happened, how it happened and why it happened. I believe American leadership from the President on down through the Washington and Hawaiian chain of command did the right thing in bringing a unified American people into the Second World War. Lives were lost on 7 December 1941. But serious precautions (i.e., “defensive deployments”) were taken—in Hawaii by senior officers of the Army and Navy—to reduce lives lost to the minimum number possible. Had we entered the war on Hitler’s or the Axis timetable, our losses would have been far worse. In fact, I believe, had we waited too long the Allied side may have lost the Second World War. (Shortly before taking an 8-day off-island vacation earlier this month I sent this other “historian” the two page letter Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt on 2 August 1939. Imagine what possibly could have happened had Nazi Germany had the atomic bomb before the United States had it.
I believe the world is a much better place because of Pearl Harbor and U.S. participation in World War II. My personal politics have been vastly different from FDR’s for most of my life. But over the past thirty-eight years, Franklin D. Roosevelt has become my favorite President. And our military leadership in Washington and Hawaii is responsible, in my opinion, for saving humanity.
I have the greatest respect for all of you who work in communications intelligence and give your work your maximum effort. Thank you, All!
And thank you, Mario, for providing daily information that makes everyone who reads it “THINK.”
Andy McKane, 20 July 2022, P.O. Box 98, Maunaloa, Hawaii 96770
21 July 2022 at 18:51
While it would be interesting to know more about YNC Burt, the “newly discovered” material appears in SRH 355, which was written by Captain Jack Holtwick. Holtwick also links the ONI’s “short-lived” cipher bureau to comments by Yardley in “The American Black Chamber.”