U.S. Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association

Chapter V: First Major Use of Early Naval Cryptologic Records

This fifth article of the series continues my theme that organizations can learn from past experiences. It sets forth a number of ways the Naval Security Group Command capitalized on measures we introduced that created an architecture for systematically producing, preserving, displaying, and promoting use of official records. Our framework for all this was designed to invite—and indeed to encourage—personal accounts as part of the mix.

RADM Ralph Cook served in Navy radio intelligence beginning in World War II. As the first Commander Naval Security Group Command (COMNAVSECGRU), he had personal reasons to preserve the documents and a factual account explaining how Naval radio security and intelligence originated and developed in the early 20th century. Thus, it was no surprise when he personally challenged the office with the ambitious sixth assignment of my tenure soon after I reported on board in June 1968. He directed me to bring Captain Jack Holtwick out of retirement in 1969 and on board the Headquarters (HQ) for II years as a civilian consultant; of course, we were expected to provide him with all necessary support, specifically our early records.

Hiring Captain Holtwick proved a bit tricky because almost the entire Civil Service process was left entirely in my hands. That experience of learning and carrying through with civilian personnel procedures and forms proved to be useful later on, however, when I needed to bring three “rehired annuitants” on board the Headquarters (HQ) as consultants for our team that reviewed records under the Presidential mandatory declassification order. Captain Holtwick’s wry sense of humor set everyone at ease when he arrived in the office and explained that this task found him wearing shoes in contrast with his relaxed life in Hawaii. When all his work was done, he expressed his deep appreciation for the critical support he received from our limited staff at the HQ and elsewhere. Fortunately, everything moved forward rapidly from day one.

Captain Holtwick’s task in 1969 began with requesting documents from our Central Depository related to the development of Naval Radio Intelligence from the earliest days up to 1942. We traveled to the NAVSECGRU Central Depository where “Captain Jack” (as he asked to be called) explained in detail the documents he wanted to have sent to HQ. It was more than coincidence that the Depository crew were prepared to support this first large-scale use of the historic Naval cryptologic records. As the requested files were located, the crew shipped them to the Washington, DC HQ where they were retyped when Holtwick included them in his study.

Obviously this took many hours of clerical assistance to complete, both at HQ and in Hawaii. “Captain Jack” completed his project in three phases: First, on-site at HQ in Washington, DC; soon followed by months at the Makalapa Marine Corps Air Station near his home in Hawaii; and finally back at HQ to complete the manuscript (MS). Often known as the Holtwick History, the completed typescript consisted of documents he arranged in chronological order with his explanations of their meaning at the time to those who created them. The MS has been retyped and published by the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association, with some 15 very important appendices. It remains a valuable source for the pre-World War II era. The MS is also available in the National Archives and the Naval History and Heritage Command Library under the identification SRH #355.

Augmenting Records with Personal Views of Captain Safford

The Holtwick manuscript (MS) provided a compelling justification for a subsequent valuable seventh undertaking of my tenure: I invited Captain Laurance F. Safford to tape record his views on people and events during his initial posting as OP-20-G in 1924—the first head of the Navy Radio Intelligence Research Desk. He agreed, but had to interrupt his intensive search in National Archives files related to DF technology and operations during the 1930s. Safford believed he could find answers to questions and explain what likely happened to aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan. Their plane mysteriously disappeared in July 1937 as they flew from New Guinea to Howland Island as part of their attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Safford looked for solid evidence that he then set down in a draft manuscript, which he did not complete before his death in 1973. Thankfully, several writers, including the late CRYPTOLOG editor Robert Payne, ensured the publication in 2003 of Safford’s book, “Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday: The Facts Without the Fiction”. The mystery still has not been solved, of course, although new theories and stories with putative answers still surface from time to time.

The many official Pearl Harbor inquiries had taken a heavy toll on Captain Safford and his wife. He insisted that he had handled the “Winds Execute” message prior to the Pearl Harbor attack and promptly passed it to his seniors in the Navy chain of command. Officials who thus might have been accused of suppressing a clear war warning strongly reject his claim. Safford revealed his views, and vital information previously unknown, to Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, former Commander of the U.S. Fleet and the Pacific Fleet, who was preparing his defense against dereliction of duty. Safford never relented in his contentions or his support for Kimmel.

Our conversations with Safford mainly focused on his pre-war service to fill in details not revealed in the paper records. I tape recorded one interview with him in 1970, discussing people and developments in Navy codes, ciphers, and radio intelligence operations up to 1942. A draft transcription is attached to the NCVA copy of the Holtwick MS. Regrettably, Safford declined to comment further on the “Winds” controversy, except to assert with some passion that vital information would be released after his death.

Years later, Safford’s analysis of facts surrounding the surprise attack, titled “Rhapsody in Purple”, eventually reached the general public. CDR C. C. Hiles, a close friend of Safford, initially typed Safford’s original notes that set forth his views. Hiles added his own comments and those of historian Harry E. Barnes. Finally, RADM Dundas Preble Tucker (a World War II specialist in electronics who was director of critical guided weapons research and knew that the Navy was building Purple machines) also prepared two pages of comments that are inserted in the text.

Tucker had taken possession of the MS along with related materials and bequeathed Safford’s entire file to the Archives of Contemporary History at the University of Wyoming in 1978—an action Safford had hinted at during the early 1970s. The NCVA holds a copy of the typescript, as does the Naval War College in the papers of RADM Edwin T. Layton, confirming that it has been reviewed by knowledgeable Navy cryptologists and intelligence specialists.

One recent book stands out among the vast publications that examine and opine on those early December 1941 attacks against the U.S. naval base. It appeared on the eve of the 75th anniversary, well over four years ago. The authors introduced new evidence surrounding the confusion prior to and especially during the eight wartime and post-war official investigations into Pearl Harbor. Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan correctly interpreted a belatedly declassified 1942 analysis of MAGIC information prepared by LT John V. Connorton, one of several historians mobilized to serve the war in uniform who served OP-20-G in both Washington, DC and Hawaii.

Summers and Swan’s 544-page book, “A Matter of Honor—Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice” (New York, HarperCollins, 2016), reaches well beyond the Kimmel family’s generations-long advocacy for exoneration of Admiral Kimmel for failing to prevent the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This book argues a case for the reassessment of every point of view concerning the culpability and responsibility for misinterpreting the intelligence threat and failing to prepare for the attack. It helps serious students of history understand Captain Safford’s firm belief that official judgments about culpability for the attack were fatally misdirected.

Efforts to Create a Naval Cryptologic Oral History Program

It would have been rewarding to interview other veterans on tape. OP-20-G personnel who created the organization four decades earlier were in their 70s and 80s as of the early 1970s. Everyone realized that the window of opportunity for capturing their reminiscences was narrow and closing. My request for funds to purchase a cassette recorder/player was denied, however, and borrowing one on a regular basis from other Headquarters staff elements imposed too many obstacles. It turned out that interviews would be far too few and much too brief.

Despite cautions, I personally invested in a recorder-player and tapes that I had to keep at home and outside the office. Over the following months, I took annual leave to interview Vince Chamberlain at his private home overlooking the water south of Annapolis. As I recall, it was a pleasant drive leading to a productive conversation outlining his personal opinions of the early days of Navy Radio Intelligence. Although I never transcribed the tape, I left it for my successors when I departed HQ. Thus, my eighth task or initiative, to interview retirees in the greater DC metropolitan area, did not gain traction at the time. Later, however, I learned the good news that NAVSECGRU personnel carried out a program to preserve memories at NCVA meetings. I look forward to hearing more about this from some who participated in those interviews.

Related Actions to Deliver Consequential Naval Cryptologic History

An interesting alternative to taped interviews emerged in 1969 after Captain Holtwick completed his task. Captain Joseph F. Finnegan was a brilliant linguist and cryptanalyst who also served with Holtwick in the Hawaii Combat Intelligence Unit. Finnegan was placed in my care for any insights he might provide after the Naval History Division had completed its extensive interviews with him, but Navy funding was still available. His 84-hour shifts and reliance on amphetamines working for Joe Rochefort in the “Dungeon” had ruined his health, leading to a mental breakdown after the war.

Although he could no longer provide pertinent historical detail for us, recalling his wartime experiences resulted in a medical board at Bethesda Naval Hospital declaring him competent and free from drug addiction during his time with us.

Another opportunity for participating in oral history arose when RADM Chester G. Phillips was interviewed as part of the videotaping program at the National Security Agency at the end of his tour as Commander, NAVSECGRU in 1974. I was invited to join the NSA staffer who led the session. That production resembled TV programs seen today in technical quality, differing because it carried security classification.

We also hosted RADM Lester Robert Schulz, head of the Naval Security Group twice during the early 1960s, who used the bay-window office in the Museum for months to write a classified article for NSA. Of course, we discussed his delivery of transcribed decrypted secret Japanese communications to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House on the evening of 6 December 1941. No formal interview was necessary because he had testified before the Joint Congressional Committee investigating the Pearl Harbor attack in February 1946. Nevertheless, he was a unique source on the Naval Security Group and the history of Naval cryptology. Later during the 1970s, Mr. F. Taylor Grimm, retired deputy head of G-60—the HQ Communications Security office—volunteered to conduct research and write articles for the NAVSECGRU Bulletin. We retained him as an unpaid consultant for several years until I departed in 1981. He, too, provided perspectives for the record on paper that were unavailable in any previous form.

One vital legacy with two stems holds particular meaning for my family. The first stem, the On-the- Roof Gang (OTRG) organization, owes its formation to several graduates of the school on the roof of the former Main Navy Building in Washington, DC who were led by retired LCDR Pearly Phillips. We supported his searches, calling on our crew at the Central Depository to locate information that assisted Pearly in compiling the first list of members and their duty stations. RADM Paul W. “Pete” Dillingham sponsored and presided over the reunion and dedication of the OTRG memorial at HQ in 1983 shortly before his tour as COMNAVSECGRU ended. The personal connection derives from my late father-in-law who served with many OTRG members prior to, during, and following World War II, so he and I were separately awarded Associate Membership in the OTRG.

The second stem, the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association, originated from strong interest among all Navy cryptologic veterans to hold reunions around the country during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1978 the founders created a formal organization that needed a name. Their request to the Command for suggestions landed on my desk, to which I was honored to supply three alternatives. In my humble opinion, they selected the most accurate and inclusive name— accomplishing it’s mission and realizing it’s goals many times over.

RADM Ralph Edward Cook (1915-2010)

RADM CookRADM Cook was selected for what turned out to be the last Director, Naval Security Group in August 1963; thus, in June 1968 he also became the first Commander of the newly-activated command. His combined eight years made his tenure the longest on record.

HQ Plans and Policy staff knew that Cook’s career in cryptology began abruptly in December 1941. He was transferred (jokingly calling it “kidnapped”) from Navy communications to code and cipher work hours after the Japanese attack on the Philippines. Ensign Cook suddenly then had no job because the air strikes had destroyed all Navy communications facilities at Cavite. The Radio Intelligence Unit on Corregidor desperately needed his skills with IBM equipment, gained as a civilian IBM employee prior to active duty.

Consequently, as a crew member of the Navy Intercept Station C on Corregidor, Cook narrowly escaped capture as part of the last contingent of OP- 20-G and other U.S. personnel to be evacuated from the “Rock” on the night Bataan fell. He never forgot that hazardous undersea trip from 8 to 26 April 1942 on board USS SEADRAGON (SS-194) to relative safety in Australia. And he had remained in touch with other OP-20-G veterans who served in the Pacific Theater.

Captain Jack Sebastian Holtwick (1907-1987)

Captain Holtwick

Captain Holtwick was a distinguished cryptologic pioneer from the 1930s and a key officer during World War II. He served with Captain Joseph J. Rochefort in the Hawaii Combat Intelligence Unit (CIU) (basement spaces were called the “Dungeon”) from prior to Pearl Harbor; then as Officer in Charge of the Fleet Radio Intelligence Unit in Melbourne, Australia in 1943 and 1944; and finally as head of the Security Unit in Chunking, China until returning to Hawaii as head of the CIU—soon renamed the Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (FRUPAC).

As a junior officer in the 1930s, he had been noted for his skill in making the early IBM sorters, tabulators, and other data processing equipment perform tasks not envisioned by the manufacturer, but vital to cryptanalysts and traffic analysts. His cryptanalytic and writing skills showed early when he began producing Radio Intelligence Publications (RIPs) dealing with technical aspects related to communications intelligence. Promoted to the rank of Captain during World War II, Holtwick subsequently served as Head, Naval Security Group from September 1949 to April 1950.

Upon completing his tour as Head, Naval Security Group, he commanded an amphibious ship that was the flagship for the commander in charge of Operation Ivy (hydrogen bomb testing in the Marshall Islands); and retired in 1957 as Special Assistant to the Director, National Security Agency. Captain Holtwick was awarded two Legion of Merit medals, one for service in World War II and the second for his postwar service.

Captain Laurance Frye Safford (1893-1973)

Laurance Safford

Captain Safford is acknowledged as the “Father of Naval Cryptology” in recognition of his crucial role in 1924 serving as first head of the Research Desk in OP-20-G, the cryptologic unit in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. He served admirably in that position for several long tours up to 1942. Captain Joe Rochefort (1900 – 1976) also credits him with laying the groundwork for success in the Pacific by opening new intercept sites. His emphasis on use of radio direction finding expanded HFDF nets into both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which proved vital during World War II. In 1938 Safford was designated an Engineering Duty Only officer who specialized in codes and ciphers. This guaranteed that he would not need to return to sea duty as an unrestricted line officer, but also guaranteed he would not be assigned to a command position or ever promoted to flag rank.

Most cryptologists know that the U.S. Government awarded Safford $100,000 in 1958 in lieu of a patent for his cryptographic inventions. Readers may also know that Safford wrote A Brief History of Communications Intelligence in the United States in late March 1952, just before his retirement while stationed at the Armed Forces Security Agency. It is available for reading online. Less well-known to the general public is Safford’s long-secret manuscript “Rhapsody in Purple”, which states his strong views of how advance communications intelligence warnings of the Pearl Harbor attack were unused and mishandled. The entire manuscript appeared for the first time in July 1982, published by the cryptographic journal CRYPTOLOGIA. It was followed in October by publication of three related papers that RADM Dundas P. Tucker held for Safford until his own death. Both issues were edited and annotated by Greg Mellon to make the poor-quality copies as readable and true to Safford’s intent as careful study could determine.