Captain Wilfred J. “Jasper” Holmes
April 4, 1900 – January 7, 1986
Wilfred J. “Jasper” Holmes was a US Naval officer, one of the Station HYPO staff, who had the idea of faking a water supply failure on Midway Island in 1942. He suggested using an unencrypted emergency warning, in the hope of provoking a Japanese response, thus establishing whether Midway was a target.
Oral Interview follows:
This is a cassette recording of an interview with Captain Wilford J. Holmes, USN Retired, otherwise known as Jasper Holmes. The interviewers are Hank Shorik, NSA Historian and Ray Schmidt, NSG Historian. The date is 13 September 1977.
HS: Captain Holmes, if I could ask you, are you aware of any shipboard intercept operations that were going on, or may have been going on between December 1941 through the Battle of Midway.
HS: Intercept operations. Did Rochefort send any people out onboard these ships specifically for interception purposes?
JH: Before the war?
HS: From say December 7th through the Battle of Midway.
That six month period.
JH: To the best of my knowledge and belief not before the war. I don’t believe they had a – we used to call them Radio Intelligence Groups that went out before the war, but when we first started the defensive against the Marianas Islands, we sent out Carrier Groups. On each of the Carriers there was an officer and I think probably three or possibly four enlisted men. Banks Holcomb went with ENTERPRISE on the attack on Kwajalein and Colomeyer was on the LEXINGTON.
HS: The first LEXINGTON or the second LEXINGTON?
JH: The first LEXINGTON. This is right after the beginning of the war.
HS: He was actually onboard the LEXINGTON when it went down? During the Battle of Coral Sea?
JH: Yes, I believe he was.
HS: That’s the rumor that we had.
JH: I know he was as a matter of fact. He was onboard the LEXINGTON when it went down and he was onboard the YORKTOWN when that went down. So he always claimed that he was the only officer on shore duty that was sunk twice during the war while he was still on shore duty. Banks Holcomb made the run with Halsey, made the attack, the first attack on Kwajalein. I remember when he came back we were all very anxious to hear what was really the first good Carrier action we had, the first offensive that we had. Then Gil Slonum was aboard the ENTERPRISE when Halsey went up to cover Doolittle, the Doolittle Raid. Or was he on the – he couldn’t have been on the HORNET. He must have been on the ENTERPRISE. He was with that group, I’m sure of it. Which Carrier he was on, I don’t know.
HS: They might have transferred at sea, couldn’t they?
JH: No, he stayed with the Admiral, I’m pretty sure, and I think the Admiral was on the ENTERPRISE and the HORNET with the Doolittle planes – Army planes on it. He was one of the first to really get any value out of this RI interception. I don’t believe that the people who were on the Carriers were able to do much before that particular action. They didn’t pick up too much. They had no way of cryptanalysis. All of that had to be simply traffic analysis that they were working with.
HS: Plain voice.
JH: At the Doolittle Raid, they ran into a line of picket boats and Slonum could hear them talking in excitedly in Japanese and also could pick up the response on the mainland. He knew that the Carrier had been sighted and they were organizing defenses. I think this possibly would have been something that influenced Halsey into the early attack. From that time on, each of the Carrier Task Forces carried a Radio Intelligence Group. There was a good of discussion in the basement. Some of the people thought it was a waste of good talent. We needed all the Kana operators we could get. We had very few and we had to have a good Language Officer on there and we had lots of work for him to do and he would be gone maybe a month or two and when he came back all he’d have was a sheaf of correspondence that was then too old to be of any great value to us. But from the time Slonum worked with Halsey, it was a foregone conclusion that we had to put those people out there and they did a very valuable service after that.
HS: Do you ever recall an individual in your Unit down in the basement by the name of Baird?
JH: Yes, yes, I know him quite well. Tex Baird.
HS: He’s the one we thought he was then.
RS: We kept seeing his name but there was no way of confirming.
JH: Yes, he was a Navy Academy graduate and a Japanese Language Officer and –
HS: That’s perfect!
JH: He went to sea in one of these groups. He went to sea with – he might have gone to sea on the YORKTOWN.
HS: That’s where we saw his name, on the logs of the YORKTOWN.
JH: Episode that I connect with Baird was he was with Theobald during the Battle of Midway up in Alaska. He was up in Alaska with Theobald. I’m quite sure. Again, this is all memory, but my recollection is that he had quite an argument with Theobald. Theobald wouldn’t believe that this Radio Intelligence was real because the Japanese would try and deceive them. For that reason he was badly positioned for the Japanese attack on the Aleutians.
RS: He was four hundred miles out of position.
JH: He was doing something other than what he ought to have done. It seems to me that he always referred to the Japanese Cruiser as the Ton[ay] and the Admiral would say, ah it’s just the Tone, would do you mean? He might have been on the YORKTOWN with the Battle of Coral Sea. Is that correct? Yeah, that’s possibly right.
HS: The correct pronunciation of that Cruiser was Tone?
JH: Tone, yeah.
HS: We had to learn a little poem when I first came into the Navy back in ’42 to remember the name of the Japanese Cruisers: one of them was the Tone. I remember that. You couldn’t remember those Japanese names otherwise. So there was a little poem with all the names.
JH: I remember we used to write out the Japanese Order of Battle every week because or the changes and send it around mimeographed. We got word of one Cruiser. We didn’t know what her name was, so I put down No Name, she became Noname before long.
RS: That sounds like a perfectly legitimate Japanese name, doesn’t it?
HS: Captain when you went down into the basement to work for Rochefort’s Unit, did you have any special briefing on the COMINT. Did you have to sign any special oaths or –
JH: No, I didn’t.
HS: – anything like that at all?
JH: No. As I explained this morning, I didn’t know what was going on down there. I wasn’t supposed to ask questions and I didn’t ask questions. I carried out my own little operation, but eventually I was absorbed into it. I always explained that I came into RI through the back door. And it was the back door getting into the basement. Down through the Port Director’s Office.
HS: And you had no knowledge of any Radio Intelligence or operations, or COMINT operations, or cryptologic operations prior to that time?
JH: No, I did not.
RS: Let me interject here a moment –
JH: Afterwards I learned a lot about it but at that moment I didn’t know anything about it and if you look in the Report of the Hearings on Pearl Harbor, I was interviewed by – I’ve forgotten what the man’s name was – and he wanted to know what my involvement was before Pearl Harbor and I was able to say immediately that I didn’t know what was going on. I was down there in the basement. I had no knowledge whatever and this was the truth. I think probably I became involved just about the time of Pearl Harbor. They needed somebody in there and I started keeping a log of events.
RS: Captain Holmes, who was the first person in the cryptologic business, or in the RI business at that time? Who gave you the orientation and introduced you to –
RS: How did you make contact with him?
JH: Well, he was in the same – in the basement and he had the same office and I think he was given the job of supervising my activities as well.
RS: You mean Combat Intelligence?
JH: Yeah and keeping track of the Merchant Ships, plotting. I became his Plotting Section not only for the Merchant Ships but anything he wanted in the way of charts. By this time I had acquired a nice portfolio of charts from the Coast Guard and the Coast Pilots and so on. So he wanted anything done in the way of chart work, it came to me and he also had the idea that sometime he was going to have to display the situation to an Admiral or somebody that came in so we had a big wall chart made and pasted it on the wall so I could display where the ships were, and what ships there were. This was more or less unsuccessful. He immediately adopted me. I can remember an instance maybe I shouldn’t tell about but two nights after the attack we had a voice tube with the Operations Office and also a message drop and when the Operations Officer wanted to know much about anything they contacted me and that tube came right down by Rochefort’s desk. He’d call me and I’d go over and answer. So in the middle of the night they called in and wanted to know where the WILLIE WARD BURROUGHS was. I said I could an estimate where it is. I had her positioned so and so, but I don’t know where she’s gone since then. They said, all right what’s your best estimate. So I gave them the best estimate and they said, that’s wrong. I think the Captain of the Yard was the one up there. Well, I said, that’s the best estimate I’ve got. I hadn’t gotten any reports on her position but there she was at such and such a thing and assuming she turned bow when she was ordered to turn about, she’d be about here. This argument went on and suddenly the Captain of the Yard’s voice came down and said, come up here and report to me immediately. Rochefort was sitting there listening to us. He says, I’ll take this. He reached over and put on his coat and he went up and he came back later laughing. He says, you know what the problem was? I said, no. He said they were really out to get you for giving misinformation but they had a strange Plotting Officer up there that didn’t know East Longitude and West Longitude. I was giving the West Longitude for position for the WILLIE WARD BURROUGHS and they were plotting east lines to it over by Guam. As soon as he saw them it was the last I ever heard. It was an example if any of Rochefort’s people were in trouble, he was going to stand right there and take it. He was the man who was going to respond. And he did.
RS: Let me ask you a related question. If we can set this to rest once and for all, the image of Rochefort padding around in slippers and wearing a smoking jacket down in the basement.
JH: This was true. It was true not only of Rochefort it was true of most everybody else. Remember at this time Rochefort probably didn’t leave the office more than once every two or three days. He slept down there on a cot. It was cold and when his coat got too dirty, he would go up and change in clothes in the quarters that he had, but he slept and he ate sandwiches and drank coffee and he was there all the time. He was very informal and Dyer was also very informal about his uniform. So anybody wore anything they wanted once they got in the basement. Nobody else was allowed in that basement remember. The only other person in the 14th Naval District that came down in there was Edward Block and Captain Mayfield, but he rarely came there. He would come down. So it was a group of our own and you wore any uniform you wanted. Rochefort was more comfortable with carpet slippers and with air conditioning and conditioned badly I might add, very badly, he was more comfortable in a smoking jacket. Yes, he wore a smoking jacket and slippers. The rest of us wore what we wanted. I might add that as far as uniforms were concerned, I guess it must have been about the Battle of Midway or a little afterwards, I had been retired for arthritis and the bad air conditioning in the basement didn’t help me very much and I had a nasty attack of arthritis. It was arthritis of the spine and every time I would move my back it was painful. It got so I couldn’t get around and I told Rochefort maybe I’d better go see a Doctor. He said oh, for god’s sake don’t do that. They’re going to send you back to inactive duty. I don’t want that. Let’s stand by. So, as a civilian I had a steel brace made that I could where that came over my shoulders and down my spine with a leather harness around the middle and it was difficult to wear with a uniform as you can imagine. So I went to an Orthopedic people who had made my harness and asked them to make me something light and they had lost all their material, at least most of it had been used up and they didn’t have any more, but they made over a woman’s corset for me and I wore this, but it just didn’t help very much. Finally I went back to my steel brace and as soon as I could get in the basement, I could wear this steel brace under my shirt. Everybody knew what it was but it must have been kind of grotesque for any other person. But anything went as far as – there was no attention to polish or protocol. Everybody knew who was running it and Rochefort was running it. There weren’t any special hours of work or anything else.
RS: You stood watches when it was necessary to be there?
JH: At the very beginning we divided up into two watches.
RS: Excuse me, by the very beginning you mean after Pearl Harbor?
JH: Yeah, right after Pearl Harbor we divided into two watches and that meant if we went from midnight to midnight you had to transfer a watch at midnight and night hours were longer than the day hours and there wasn’t any efficient way of dividing equitably at all without driving to and from Honolulu in the blackout. This was more dangerous than the battle was. You couldn’t show any lights so eventually you had a little blue light you could show. You could drive along the road to Honolulu fourteen miles. There was enough moon to see the road and you could do it. It wasn’t too bad. But nobody wanted to drive. No sane man wanted to be on the road after dark in Hawaii. So we shifted and tried to make it daylight hours, which we couldn’t do, but most of the key personnel that had the night watch would spend the night watch. They would get off at midnight and stay until daylight, so even the people who slept outside more often spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the basement than they did 8 or 10 and Rochefort and Dyer in particular would simply stay there until they were exhausted and had to get out. Rochefort had a bad attack of bronchitis because of the air conditioning which was badly adjusted shortly after the Battle of Midway and I know a couple of people had pneumonia and had to be sent to the hospital, some of the enlisted men had to be sent to the hospital. Of course what they had done was put in the air conditioning and nobody knew much about air conditioning. Of course I was a Mechanical Engineer and I had some idea what it was all about, but I knew that the minute I volunteered to take are of the air conditioning, I’d have it forever, so I didn’t want to do that. The maintenance men could come in and the air conditioning was outside in a machine room. They didn’t have to come in to adjust it. We’d complain to the maintenance men that the air conditioning was bad and they’d come down and adjust it and they’d adjust it so the temperature was at 70, right on the button all the time, all day and all night, but the humidity wandered all over the place and I knew that the humidity was bad. I brought a wet and dry thermometer down to find out but I didn’t know how to control it, so people were getting sick and I went over to the Doctor’s office and complained to the Doctors that something had to be done about it. So they sent a Doctor over and they wouldn’t let him in and he looked in the door and it was nicely lighted and no stink or anything and he said we were getting along fine and then they discovered that when they built the air conditioning apparatus, or when they first started up, there was a lot of construction going on. The building was still being constructed. So they closed the outside intact for the air conditioning and we had been down there without any fresh air for about four or five months by that time.
RS: The reason for asking about the watches that you stood is to talk just for a moment about the Battle of Coral Sea and Midway and you may have some questions along that line, too. What I’d like to know is how you geared up, so to speak. Did people from the basement go out and serve onboard the ships? Or did you keep the same group intact there through Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea and so on?
JH: We kept the same group in the basement except for the small RI Units that went out on the individual Carrier Task Force.
RS: They came from –
JH: They came from the basement and went out on temporary duty and came back to the basement when they came back. I
HS: Had these people always been there or had they come out from Washington?
JH: At that time, most of them had been there before the war when I first came down. We gained – just before the war we gained about four young Language Officers who came to us from Japan because they closed down the Japanese Language School. That was, I think Slonum was one of them. Slonum and Benedict, Brambley, that’s all I can remember. We got about four or five young Language Officers that joined us and their first job actually that they got was to listen to the Japanese News Broadcast and try to pick up the Winds Execute. Also Finnegan. Finnegan had been at sea. He had gone to sea duty and he was detached from sea duty the day of Pearl Harbor and was sent to duty in the basement. So we started gaining personnel very rapidly. It was sometime, I think, before anybody got to us from Washington.
HS: Just out of curiosity, do you remember Red Luckenbach coming in?
HS: Red Luckenbach’s group?
RS: The CALIFORNIA Band.
HS: Do you remember them coming in?
JH: Sure I do. Yes. CALIFORNIA was sunk and the Band got off but the instruments were lost so these people were technologically unemployed. They’d lost their instruments. Rochefort at this time, just after we’d discovered that codes that had been recovered by the Corregidor group were good and the only thing we had to do was edit. I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know enough about RI to know what was going on, but going back this is what had happened. You could train a man to recover additives quite rapidly apparently. I wasn’t very bright so I couldn’t tell you. We were looking for people – Rochefort was looking for people that could help him out and he went up to Admiral Block and he said, well take the CALIFORNIA’s Band. They haven’t got any band instruments. So they brought them down and these people made out so well recovering additives that kind of a theory grew out that maybe there was some correlation between cryptography and music. They really went into it. Then long about, I guess, April or May the combat ships in San Francisco wanted the Band back, so he sends to Admiral Block and says the Band has to be returned and Admiral Block says, you can’t have them. There was a big argument between the Admirals as to what to do with it and Nimitz really had to solve it. Just said the Band was no longer musicians. They were about ready to take them away from us. I remember that very well. I remember when they became available.
RS: All of these newcomers after Pearl Harbor fitted in very quickly in your operations.
JH: Yeah. When you’re working 15, 16 hours a day, you either fit in or shortly knew that you weren’t qualified for the work.
RS: Did that happen to anyone?
JH: I can’t recall. I had a man came in to me and he proved completely unsatisfactory, but we took him over made him a Communications Watch Officer. He could type. We fitted them around one after the other. There was some considerable fitting. The productive Language Officers and the productive Cryptographers, the ones who were really good at it, were rare, but everybody else could cut wood and carry water. That’s what I was doing, just getting things done and had to be done. At this time, I had no significant part at all. Just if somebody needed someone to run for something, I could run for it. I was in a favorable position because I had been retired because of a physical disability. I came back and I was only a Lieutenant, but all of my classmates were Commanders. So everybody in the Navy Yard knew me so I could go in and wasn’t so much a question of why, I could say we needed to have this and they believed it. I could probably get more in this way than as a Lieutenant.
HS: Captain, when you were down in the basement, did you ever have occasion to know or to see that there was any liaison between Rochefort’s group and the Army people who were on Hawaii at the time at Fort Shafter?
JH: Yes, I don’t know how much information I acquired later or how much I knew at that time, but we had a message I think that – or General Short had a message to consult Rochefort about the political situation and I think as a matter of fact contact was probably was made over in CINCPAC’s office with Layton rather than – the information went from Rochefort to Layton to Short, General Short, and then one Army contact – they found the German Kuehn who was a spy for Japan and they decrypted a message which proved it without any possibility of doubt and the Army had picked him up because they were pretty sure he was a spy anyway. Then they were going to try him by court-martial and the Judge Advocate used to come down and consult with Rochefort over in the code room. Now what went on between the two of them I don’t know except it was decided they would not introduce the cryptographic information because of the possibility of compromise. They’d rather let the guy go free than let the cryptographic information leak out. They did convict him anyway. How much came from Rochefort I don’t know. He didn’t testify.
HS: On those same lines, do you recall the Stanley-Johnson episode?
HS: The reporter for the Chicago Tribune.
JH: No, except that I remember that we got the word that the Chicago Tribune had printed that article. I don’t know that I ever saw the article. I think I got this off of Dyer. Dyer was, of course, incensed. That’s all I know about it.
RS: You said earlier this morning that the number of people required for cryptologic work multiplies several times when you shift from defensive operations to offensive operations.
JH: For all intelligence work the emphasis shifts from cryptographic work to photo intelligence or whatever.
RS: Considering that the Coral Sea and Midway Battles were defensive in nature, how many people were involved down in the basement with Commander Rochefort at the time?
Forty, 50, 100?
JH: Probably forty or fifty. Probably not as many as that during Coral Sea, but I imagine by the time of Midway we must have had at least fifty because at that time – and the space became limited. They had to knock a hole in the bulkhead to expand into the rest of the basement. So, we must have exceeded a half a hundred by that time I should think.
RS: How did the operations of the Combat Intelligence –
JH: This is a guess on numbers, a wild guess on numbers.
RS: How did your work in Combat Intelligence and in Rochefort’s work change as a result of Coral Sea or Midway? Was there any noticeable variation in the routine? Would you have known what was going on?
JH: You mean – well, of course, by the time of the Coral Sea I was fairly well involved.
RS: You had been indoctrinated?
JH: Oh yeah, I knew something was going on, yes, in the questions that they asked and partly as a result of Finnegan needing more information. He needed the newspapers and he needed all this other stuff. I could get ahold of them. Just before the Battle of Midway Mike Showers came down. He was my Assistant and his first job was to get all the Honolulu papers that we had to have. This was one of the things we had to do. We weren’t doing any cryptography. Well, a little in a way. They would say, here’s three letters of a place name, see if you can find the rest of them. So we’d go through all the gazetteers and coast pilots and charts and work on them and sometimes we would find them and sometimes we wouldn’t.
RS: Did you have information coming from other than the basement? Cryptologic information, that is did you get RI from Washington, or from Australia?
JH: It came in in a crypto system that was decrypted back in the machine room where I didn’t go. Holtwick had this and whether it was identified – I think it was identified so I would know if I looked it up, but I wouldn’t be able to tell which message came from who. Very often we would pick up a message – we would intercept a message and then there would be holes in it and next we’d get copies of it that would come up from Melbourne and you could piece in the holes and part of it from Op-20G until finally you would get a good copy. It might be the copy transmission might have been bad. This was one of the things about Melbourne. They were down there where they had better interception.
HS: Admiral Cook says that that happened in terms of Midway, the operation. They found it in a garbled box in Melbourne and they radioed the same message number to Washington and to Pearl Harbor and they found it.
JH: The operation blew the whole whistle on Midway. I think it was intercepting all three of them. The best copy – I find out later, came from Melbourne. We had part of it.
HS: Did you have any liaison at all with the British?
JH: Of course at that time, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know – somehow became aware that we had an outfit in Corregidor and that we had a big outfit in Washington, but nobody ever told me any of these things. It was just something that you pick up and I couldn’t tell when I picked this up, but of course Corregidor had liaison with the British in Singapore. But I didn’t know about that. Much later in the war we had British Liaison Officer working with us, but this must have been 1944.
HS: That was after JICPAO and all those. For several years before the war, before Rochefort’s time, 20G had a Communications Security organization. I think it was on the staff of CINCPAC or maybe CINCUSPAC. But I can’t find that they were still in operation at Pearl Harbor’s time or
JH: Security reasons?
HS: No, I think they’d been disestablished or had been transformed into this Rochefort COMINT thing. Did you see any traces of communication security –
JH: One that would be a vestige of that was Ham Wright was ordered as a Cryptographic Intelligence Command, I’m sure to CINCPAC staff. Wright worked in the basement. He worked under Rochefort but he wasn’t really attached to Rochefort’s outfit. He was attached to CINCPAC’s staff.
HS: Well, this was to protect our own codes and ciphers from errors made by our own people.
JH: Oh yeah. I wasn’t aware of that.
HS: I think that effort somehow fell by the wayside before Pearl Harbor and wasn’t reinstituted until 1942, ’43.
JH: We were mostly interested in keeping our own secure and free from traffic information. I don’t think we ever really did, but I know after the work up to Coral Sea we decided we had to send so many urgent operational priority messages every day to conceal the volume of traffic and be particular about the classification in our code so I would have to write up a dummy message and I used to send – I had been teaching thermodynamics so I used to send them all as a thermodynamics operation as priority.
HS: When would that have been? What dates?
JH: That would have been between Coral Sea and Midway.
HS: That early?
JH: But picking up some of the information from Japan, they were very suspicious. The Japanese RI were very suspicious that something was going on because of the big change in volume of radio traffic. By that, they meant not ours, but all radio traffic, particularly operation priority. Evidently other organizations didn’t try to maintain this constant level.
HS: I’d like to ask you a question if I could and this dates back to your earlier service. You were in the submarines then?
JH: Yes, until 1934.
HS: When did that start?
JH: When did my service start?
JH: Well, I went into – I graduated in 1922 and I went to my first submarine in 1923 without going to Submarine School. I was the Second Officer of the 0-11. Second Officer of the 0-11 meant you were the junior officer of the 0-11. There were only two officers onboard. The Commanding Officer and one other officer who did everything else. I stayed in the 0-11 maybe a year or so. She went out of commission in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and then I went to Post-Grad and then I went to Submarine School.
HS: Were you using radios on those subs then?
JH: Yeah, we had a radio and of course all the S-Boats had radios. I can’t ever remember ever originating a message on the 0-11, but yeah, we had a radio. I remember the radio antenna. Wasn’t very good. Nobody ever used it very much.
HS: We’re trying to find out what was done in terms of intercept by the Navy in WWI. We know there was some.
JH: I haven’t any idea.
HS: I’m just curious myself when radio was actually – became the primary means of communication for the Navy. I have a feeling it may have been 1913 or ‘l4 somewhere around in there. And Hoover had a lot to do with that.
JH: When I was a Midshipman I remember standing Communication Watch when I was a Midshipman and that was maybe about 1919 and they had a voice radio between ships but nobody could use it so they put the Midshipman on it to stand watch over the thing. I don’t remember a message ever going over there. I had to stand watch on the thing.
HS: When you took your instruction at the Naval Academy, did you have courses in Intelligence, or did you have any Intelligence training?
HS: None at all.
JH: No, I became – I did become interested in it despite the fact that I wasn’t – I guess perhaps there was – oh, when I was an officer on the S-32, I was Communications Officer then which was a nominal assignment. It meant you were responsible for the confidential publications. We used to get a bulletin, a Communications Bulletin and it came to me. That Communications Bulletin had a little cryptogram in it that you could solve and you could send it in and then they would tell you whether it was correct or not. I became interested in this and I used to solve the cryptograms and send them in.
HS: It’s funny you didn’t get a letter back that said, listen. A lot of people found their way into 20G that way.
JH: By the time I got to Pearl Harbor I got to be Engineer Officer and somebody else was Communications Officer and I got very much interested and I wrote for the books and I had Flebins Harvey Signal Corps. You’re probably familiar with it. I’ve lost it. I haven’t got it anymore.
HS: Elementary Cryptanalysis? Or Military Cryptanalysis I, II, III?
JH: Kind of a rare volume now isn’t it?
HS: Yeah I suppose so. I haven’t seen one lately.
JH: Well I got interested in it to that extent, and I knew very well I was not a cryptanalyst and never would be probably.
HS: Did you pass on radio intelligence to the Submarine Command?
HS: Did you do that through Admiral White, probably?
JH: No, White was down in the Southwest Pacific.
HS: Who was his predecessor?
JH: Lockwood most of the time, but English was before him. Admiral English. He was killed and Lockwood replaced him.
HS: As I understand it, you gave them the information and they sent it to the subs.
HS: How did that procedure work? You got it from Rochefort –
JH: The procedure worked because I didn’t know anything about it. I think what happened was messages would start to come in and I can see that they are of immense value to the submarines and so I asked Rochefort if I could take them over there. Take the pile over and give it to the Submarine Force. He said, no, I couldn’t. Then the Japanese had about ten Carriers and we had four. I remember we got a position on a Carrier and I said, for gosh sakes, I know there’s a submarine out there, let’s send that information in to him. And finally he said, all right, don’t tell anybody you’re doing this. You go over and you know somebody in the Submarine Force you give him this information and tell him you aren’t going to tell him where it comes from except that you know it’s good information and if he’ll send it out under those circumstances, I’ll let you do it, but you can’t take anything out of the office. You can’t a piece of paper out of the office. I used to then copy the latitude and longitude on the palm of my hand so I wouldn’t transpose a number and go over and tell Commander Schtier who was the Chief of Staff, SUBPAC, that here was the target at such and such a point on such and such a day. It was very unsuccessful mostly because of the torpedoes. I know the GATE turned down out of Kwajalein and surely would get one of those Carriers. She fired fours of her shots and all of them missed. It was a long while before we would hear anything about the Carrier.
HS: Did he know where you were from when you were telling him this information?
JH: No, I didn’t tell him where I was from.
HS: And he accepted it?
JH: He accepted it because I’d known him for a long while and he knew me for a long while and I’m sure he guessed it came from the basement. This really didn’t do nothing for a prime service until English was killed and was replaced by Lockwood and Captain Bogey came up as a Submarine Operations Officer and Captain Bogey was an old friend of mine and he got ahold of me about the first message I came back and he said, boy, this is something we’ve got to develop. Between the two of us, I guess it was about that time that Rochefort was detached.
HS: This was after Midway.
JH: Between the two of us we developed a system to handle that information. It was a 24 hour service with Watch Officers on both ends of a private telephone. A telephone like they used to have in the old railroad days. Magneto. You rang up and it was just a direct line between the two.
HS: Was somebody –
(End of tape)
4 April 2023 at 16:34
Very interesting oral history transcript! There are some mistakes. If you want, Mario, I can print this out later today (so as to have page numbers using 12-point font as printed), and tell you what the various typos are that I’ve spotted.
As a couple of examples, I suspect this interview was handled by Henry F. Schorreck. He was the NSA’s historian quite a few years ago, back in the day when Captain Holmes was still alive.
A page or two before the end of the interview, there is reference to a “GATE.” I suspect this refers to the submarine USS GATO (SS-212).
Elsewhere there’s reference to “Edward Block.” I suspect the tape is old and someone transcribing it, had the tape not been worn out, would have realized Captain Holmes was referring to Commandant, 14th Naval District, then Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch. (Prior to becoming Com14, Bloch had actually served as Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. Claude Bloch was CinCUS immediately prior to James O. Richardson.)
Claude Charles Bloch was USNA class of 1899. James O. Richardson was USNA class of 1902. Husband E. Kimmel (and William F. Halsey) were USNA class of 1904. I long ago read somewhere that President Roosevelt personally asked Admiral Bloch to serve as Com14 after Bloch had been relieved as CinCUS. Bloch wore four stars as CinCUS and two stars as Com14. It’s important to bear in mind that Claude Bloch was quite a bit senior to Husband Kimmel on the Navy List. (Some of this stuff would probably be better said in an email.)
Captain Holmes, long after his passing, became a friend of mine. When Debbie and I visit Punchbowl, we normally visit his and his first wife’s resting place before looking for other graves. Jasper Holmes’ book, DOUBLE-EDGED SECRETS: U.S. NAVAL INTELLIGENCE OPERATIONS IN THE PACIFIC DURING WORLD WAR II, U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, was published in 1979. I consider this book THE single most interesting book I’ve read over the past thirty-nine and a half years. Station HYPO subscribers can purchase used copies of DOUBLE-EDGED SECRETS from ABE.com if they are no longer available from the USNI. If I’m correct, the last time I saw DOUBLE-EDGED SECRETS listed in a Naval Institute book catalogue, it was a paperback. I have several hardcover copies in our house here on Molokai: 2 copies in my office; 1 copy in my library; a copy in a guest room on the lower level, and a copy in Deb’s office.
As far as I’m concerned, DOUBLED-EDGED SECRETS is a must read for anyone interested in the Pacific War or in World War II era and newer cryptographic intelligence.
Thank you for this outstanding interview, Mario! Would it be possible for me to obtain a transcript of Captain Holmes’ entire NSA interview? Also, if anyone has ever seen and has a copy of the alleged Midway fresh water condenser dispatch, I’d love to see a copy of that, too.
You’ve made my day, with today’s Station HYPO blog posting, Mario!
4 April 2023 at 21:34
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