Voices of the Code Breakers: Personal Accounts of the Secret Heroes of World War II

By Michael Paterson | Go to book overview

1
CODES AND WAR

The ether was open. Into it all nations
could discharge messages of the highest
importance. Equally important was the
complicating factor that all nations
might, if they wished, receive or stop
these messages. We were all involved in
the problem of safeguarding our own
information, of discovering and
nullifying that of the enemy. It was not
enough merely to prevent the latter
from giving messages to its own forces
and allies. It was vital that we should
receive those messages and turn them to
our own purpose.i

Parallel with the open conflict that raged between 1939 and 1945 there were other, hidden wars, and what they all had in common was that they were wars of communication, in which success depended on a flow of concealed and closely guarded information. Sometimes this meant a smuggled written message, at others a secretly transmitted wireless signal, or weeks and months of eavesdropping on the radio traffic of the enemy.

Many thousands of people took part in these secret wars. Some trained for long periods to carry out sophisticated campaigns of espionage; others committed a single impulsive or premeditated act of defiance. One of these hidden conflicts was the struggle of underground forces against the occupying Germans or Japanese. Another was the battle to obtain secrets, or carry out sabotage, by the spies who served both sides. A third was the war waged by armies of clerks, typists, linguists, analysts and assorted academics to discover the intentions and weaknesses – of the enemy by breaking its codes. In Britain, it was only in 1974 that the publication of Group Captain FW Winterbotham’s book The Ultra Secret revealed the huge significance of this work and the extent to which it had contributed to victory.

The war imposed the necessity of secrecy not just on official and military personnel but on people who found themselves displaced, imprisoned or in some way unable to express their feelings freely. One example was the deliberate damaging of Axis war materiel made by forced labour in German-controlled countries. Alfred Spickett, a wireless officer in the British Merchant Navy, recalled an attack on his vessel by enemy aircraft in which little damage was done:

What none of us realized at the time was
that we had in fact been hit by two
aerial torpedoes. Very fortunately for
us, both had failed to explode
.

Anyone reading this might think it
odd that both torpedoes had failed to
explode. I must admit I did myself. A
possible explanation, given later by a
naval bomb expert in Rosyth, was that
they were getting quite a number of
torpedoes and bombs which failed to
explode, and they were sure it was due
to sabotage in a number of factories in
German ‘occupied’ countries. I
remember this same chap telling me
that in one of the bombs they had
subsequently dismantled (which had
been dropped near London) they had
found a hand-written note in the front
section of the bomb which made it clear
that it had been made in the Skoda
works in Czechoslovakia. Written in
English, the note had gone on to say:
‘This is the best we can do to help you.’
These particular factory workers were
successfully interfering with the
mechanism in both bombs and

-3-

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Voices of the Code Breakers: Personal Accounts of the Secret Heroes of World War II
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iv
  • Foreword vi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- Codes and War 3
  • 2- Bletchley Park 26
  • 3- 1940- A Fateful Year 46
  • 4- Battle of the Atlantic 60
  • 5- North Africa and Italy 78
  • 6- The Resistance 102
  • 7- Towards Victory in Europe 130
  • 8- War in the Pacific 149
  • Endnotes 175
  • Chronology 176
  • Bibliography and Sources 179
  • Acknowledgments 181
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