Category Archives: war

Who All “Collaborated” with Nazism in Europe?

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 366-368:

The frequently reiterated assertion that the clearance of German populations from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary has in some way prevented the outbreak of World War III is a proposition so obviously false as hardly to deserve rebuttal. What made for peace in Europe was a lengthy occupation of Germany by both superpowers, which in itself offers a complete explanation of why, so long as it continued, no danger was to be apprehended from that quarter. The successful rehabilitation of the German political system, the inculcation of democratic habits and instincts among the people, and the binding together of postwar Germany within a larger European union are nearly as important factors in the transformation that has taken place in the character of European nationstate interactions since 1945. In these circumstances, the continuing presence of significant ethnic German minorities in Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Russia has not threatened the peace of the continent. There is no reason to suppose that if others had remained in their ancestral homelands a greater menace was to be apprehended.

Lastly, the suggestion that the ethnic Germans were, as presumed fifth columnists before the war or eager Nazi collaborators during it, especially if not uniquely deserving of punishment is no easier to sustain. As we have seen, a rule specifying a minority nationality’s unconditional duty of loyalty to a state to which it has been unwillingly attached that can be depended upon to vindicate the Czech or Slovak nation’s stance in 1918 [deserting in great numbers to fight for Russia rather than Austria-Hungary] and to condemn that of the Sudetendeutsche twenty years later is difficult to formulate. As for their wartime record, evidence is scanty that it was any worse than, or different from, that of the German people as a whole. Unquestionably that is quite bad enough, and I should not wish to be interpreted as contending otherwise. But even if all Germans, ethnic or Reich citizens, were equally guilty, not all Germans were equally severely punished. Why the Volksdeutsche, who if the worst that can be said about them is true came late to Nazism, should have been imprisoned, expropriated, and deported when the people of the country that originated Nazism and exported it abroad by the most brutal means suffered none of these things is hard to square with notions of strict and impartial justice.

More to the point, it conveniently elides the wartime record of the majority populations, which itself did not always bear close examination. Many Slovaks, for example, bore little less responsibility for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Conference than did the Sudeten Germans. For most of the Second World War, Slovakia was a German client state; Slovak troops took part in the invasion of Poland alongside their German allies in September 1939, and of the Soviet Union in June 1941. With only a single dissenting voice in the Slovak parliament, the great majority of the country’s Jewish population was expelled to German-controlled territory, from which only a comparative handful returned alive. Yet few Slovaks were punished after the war for these offenses, and none expelled. Besides, at a more mundane level the postwar meaning of “collaboration” was highly variable, with the same actions—or inactions—attracting either official toleration or condign penalties based on one’s ethnicity. During the Great War of 1914–18, J. R. Sanborn points out, some of the inhabitants of central and southeastern Europe “held affinities for one occupying force or another … but most people wisely tried to keep their heads down, to stay out of danger when they could, and, when all else failed, to run away. Nothing got you on the end of a rope faster than taking sides in a fluid war with an uncertain outcome.” In the Second World War also, this inglorious but time-tested formula for survival was the most popular strategy practiced by ethnic Germans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and most other peoples who were given the opportunity to do so by their Nazi overlords, or, in eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941, their scarcely less vicious Stalinist counterparts. (Tragically, it was an option denied to Jews, Sinti, and Roma.) For only the Germans, though, was it adjudged a “passive war crime” at the end of the conflict.

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Turning German “Resettlers” into “New Farmers”

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 322-324:

The Soviets had no intention of allowing the “resettler” question (the term “expellee” was deemed politically incorrect in the East, as implying undue harshness on the part of the removing governments) to hang over their occupation zone indefinitely. The focus instead was on completing the task of resettlement and assimilation—or at any rate declaring it completed—within a measurable period.

Accordingly, the Soviet military authorities decided to kill two birds with one stone by tying expellee resettlement to land redistribution. Because most expellees in East Germany, like their counterparts in the West, had already been placed in the countryside—in Brandenburg, nearly 55 percent of the new arrivals were living in settlements of less than two thousand inhabitants in December 1947—this solution had the further advantage that no substantial internal redistribution of the four-million-strong expellee population would be required. Agricultural estates of more than a hundred hectares and those belonging to “war criminals” were broken up and expellees settled on the new smallholdings in numbers out of proportion to their share of the population. By the conclusion of the program, some 567,000 hectares of land were in expellee hands.

The results, though, generally bore out the prognostications of those British officials who had successfully diverted Ernest Bevin from pursuing a similar will-o’-the-wisp in 1944. The land reform program was an expensive failure. “Even at the end of 1946, three-quarters of the Neubauern (new farmers) had to work without horses … and only one third of the land reform farmers owned a cow. Only one farmstead in four was equipped with a plough, one in five with iron harrows and only one in fourteen with reapers and threshing machines.” Those who received livestock and equipment, moreover, tended to be members of the indigenous population, who profited from their superior connections in the rural communities to those overseeing the redistribution, while “resettlers” were largely overlooked. Lastly, exorbitant and unrealistic state requisitions and quotas, which forced the new farmers to turn over even their seed grain and sowing potatoes to the government, made it impossible for many to generate the minimum required for bare survival. As a result, living standards for the Neubauern were, as state inspectors reported in 1950, “almost unimaginably low,” while the cost of the program, which by 1953 had reached the alarming figure of 900 million marks, was described by Heinrich Rau, the Minister of Planning, as “a bottomless pit.” Rather than acknowledge the failure of the experiment and, as West Germany progressively did, recall the expellees from their initial billets in the countryside to the cities and towns as jobs and houses became available for them, the Soviet military authorities doubled down on their losing investment and announced a large-scale rural housing program in 1947. With practically the entire housing budget of the east going into building farmsteads that the resettlers were rapidly abandoning, reconstruction of war-damaged cities was virtually halted. As one Neubauer recorded, “The despair and anger among the settlers know no bounds…. Whole groups of settlers leave the settlements at night and have fled to the West …” Not until 1950 was this costly scheme discontinued, with very little to show for it.

By then, however, the authorities were ready to declare victory and move on. The Central Agency for Resettlers was dissolved in July 1948 and responsibility for its functions transferred to a small and low-profile section of the Ministry of the Interior. From that point on, even the term “resettler” (Umsiedler) became almost as taboo as “expellee” had become: all were to be equal citizens of the new German Democratic Republic, without distinction.

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Removing Traces of German Settlement

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle p. 280:

In each of the expelling countries, governments, residents, and ecclesiastical authorities struggled mightily to eradicate all indications that Germans had ever been present. As Edvard Beneš urged his compatriots, “We must de-Germanize our republic … names, regions, towns, customs—everything that can possibly be de-Germanized must go.” Place names were changed overnight, often by direct translation into the new language (e.g., the substitution of “Zielona Góra” for “Grünberg”); statues and memorials demolished; and fanciful local histories composed that airbrushed into oblivion centuries of German presence. “In Wrocław the government had special teams that roved for years painting over and chiseling out German inscriptions. Derelict German cemeteries were converted into parks, and headstones were used to line ditches and sewers.” The most ambitious—and unrealistic—attempt to accomplish this objective was an order by Commandant Srević of the Banat military region in Yugoslavia that all German signs on buildings be removed within twelve hours, on pain of the immediate execution of the German occupants. Nor was this a passing phase. As late as 1989, applications for visitors’ visas to Poland from Germans born in the Recovered Territories were routinely rejected if the applicant used the former German place name when stating his or her place of birth. The de-Germanization effort extended not only to penalizing the use of the German language, but to putting pressure on residents to abandon German-sounding personal names. The success of the campaign, however, was mixed. Cultural and sometimes physical clashes ensued between settler Poles and many of the indigenes of the Recovered Territories, who had absorbed over the years a high degree of Germanization. New place names could also be rejected by the local population, who sometimes “boycotted new names and even broke road signs that identified the new name…. For them, place name changes on the lands in which they had been living were never the processes of re-Polonisation, but rather Polonisation against their will.”

Consigning evidence of German settlements to George Orwell’s “memory hole” was one thing; putting self-sustaining communities in their place entirely another.

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Czech and Polish “Wild West” in 1947

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 255-257:

The removal of the ethnic Germans was not just an enormous logistical undertaking. It was also the source of a highly disruptive economic and social transformation of the affected areas, one whose impact remains to the present day. In much the same way that the wartime cooperation of ordinary Germans (and, indeed, Poles, Ukrainians, and other nationalities) in the persecution and removal of Jews had been obtained by the opportunity it provided to appropriate Holocaust victims’ property, Czechoslovak, Polish, and Hungarian citizens’ enthusiasm for the expulsions owed a great deal to the prospect that they would profit from the confiscation of their German neighbors’ wealth. The new borderlands, however, proved to be no Eldorado, and the new economic and social realities that were produced under abnormal circumstances brought a fresh set of unforeseen complications in their train.

To a substantial degree, the scramble for booty dictated the breakneck pace of the expulsions, as local authorities, militia bands, or politically connected individuals rushed to grab the most desirable German properties for themselves before others, or the central government, got in ahead of them. The lion’s share of the loot, nonetheless, wound up in the state’s hands, where it became an important instrument of communization. Before the Second World War, Communist parties had been negligible influences throughout central and eastern Europe. The Nazi-Soviet Pact; Stalin’s treacherous attack on Poland’s eastern frontier when the country was fighting desperately for its life; the expulsions and massacres that had followed, at the Katyn Forest and elsewhere; and the Red Army’s cynical abandonment of the Polish Home Army to the Nazis in the Warsaw Rising of August 1944 did nothing to persuade ordinary Poles that the Russian leopard had changed its spots. Though the USSR’s standing in Czechoslovakia was higher—thanks in large measure to the perception that Moscow, in contrast to the appeasement-minded Western powers, had been ready to assist Prague militarily before the Munich Conference—there was little enthusiasm for state socialism on the Soviet pattern. Because Communists controlled the Ministries of the Interior and of Agriculture in both countries after the war, however, they were also in a position to decide the redistribution of confiscated German property. They took full advantage of the rich sources of patronage this provided to buy, if not the support, then at least the acquiescence of citizens in their continued rule. The expulsions, then, provided the material basis that enabled the governments of the Soviet satellites to solidify their domestic standing at the moment of their greatest vulnerability.

As the dispute over the Jelonka Hotel demonstrated, though, property redistribution could be an instrument of social disruption as well as social cohesion. Disputes over the true ownership of a confiscated house or farm, in a situation in which the premises might have changed hands several times over the card table in a single weekend, would clog up the court systems of the expelling countries for years into the future. Overnight, the borderland areas were stripped not just of population but of agencies of government: when a German town was cleared of its residents, its local council, police force, municipal administrators, and providers of essential services like waste removal or water supplies usually went with them. Even in those relatively rare cases when replacement officials from the majority population could be found to take their place, Soviet military commanders, preferring to concentrate the skeins of power in their own hands, often prevented them from taking up their positions. In a literal and not merely a metaphorical sense, then, many of these districts became lawless areas—as the hapless Kazimierz Trzciński had discovered when he tried to take possession of his hotel. For several years after the change in jurisdiction, a vacuum of state authority existed and the rule of the gun prevailed. It was hardly surprising, then, that fewer people than resettlement authorities hoped were willing to put down permanent roots in such areas; or that a disproportionate number of those who did, like Trzciński himself, turned out to conform poorly to the image of the sturdy, self-reliant pioneer depicted in Communist propaganda. The name that both Poles and Czechoslovaks gave to their frontier regions after the war—the “Wild West”—reflected their awareness that even after the Germans’ departure, these were places that remained alien in many respects from the countries of which they were nominally a part.

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German U-Boat Losses, 1943-44

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 280-281:

After the carnage of 1942 and early 1943, the Allies had seen a stunning turnaround in the Atlantic. By September 1943, most U-boats had been swept from the Atlantic waters. This was thanks not only to the new high-speed bombes but also to a host of other Allied war measures: advances in radar, sonar, and high-frequency direction finding; more aircraft carriers and long-range aircraft; better convoy systems. The Allies changed their convoy cipher, and Dönitz could no longer read it. The tables turned. During the summer, American hunter-killer units used code breaking along with other intelligence to find and sink big German submarines that were sent out to refuel U-boats. These refuelers were known as milch cows, and between June and August, American carrier planes sank five. In October, they finished off all but one. The refuelers were critical to the U-boats’ ability to stay so far away from their home base, and as the milch cows went down, the U-boats began to drift homeward.

There was always the chance, however, that the U-boats could come back. And they did try. In October 1943, the U-boats reappeared. But now the costs were punishingly high. For every Allied merchant vessel sunk, seven U-boats were lost. Now Dönitz was the one who could not build boats fast enough to replace those he was losing. In November, thirty U-boats ventured into the North Atlantic and sank nothing. The U-boats began lurking elsewhere, clustering around the coast of Britain, hoping to intercept materiel brought in for an anticipated invasion of France. Dönitz was always trying to innovate the U-boats, adding a Schnorchel that enabled them to remain submerged longer. He was willing to sacrifice his boats, and his men, and kept the U-boats in the water even as a way to tie up Allied resources.

But it was a losing battle. In May 1944, the Allies sank half the U-boats in operation—more than the Germans could replace. More than three-quarters of the U-boat crews were killed, suffering terrible watery deaths. The women in the tracking room were privy to the full immensity and horror.

By now the British had indeed handed over the four-rotor bombe operations to the Americans. After the war, a U.S. Navy file was made of messages from grateful—and gracious—British colleagues. “Congratulations from Hut six on colossal… week,” said one missive from Bletchley. An internal British memo acknowledged that “by half way through 1944” the Americans “had taken complete control of Shark and undoubtedly knew far more about the key than we did.”

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Japanese Shipping Losses, 1943-44

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 249, 250-251:

November 1943, one month after Dot’s arrival at Arlington Hall, marked the war’s most devastating month for Japanese tonnage sunk. U.S. subs sank forty-three ships and damaged twenty-two. American sub captains received intelligence of seventy-six movements of enemy ships. In December, American subs sank or damaged about 350,000 tons, including thirty-two ships sunk and sixteen damaged.

Behind the success of the U.S. Navy were the code breakers. “The success of undersea warfare is to a certain extent due to the success with which Japanese code messages were translated,” noted a naval report. An American naval commander pointed out in a postwar memo that sometimes a convoy might slip through, but only because U.S. submarines were kept so busy by information from decoded messages that they could not handle all the convoys they were alerted to. Over at the Naval Annex, the assembly line of WAVES identified the movements of marus [merchant marine ships] supplying the Japanese Navy. Findings from both operations found their way to the submarine captains, who could hardly keep up with the bounty of intelligence.

The devastation of Japan’s shipping had an enormous impact. Soldiers were deprived of food and medicine. Aircraft did not get spare parts and could not launch missions. Troops did not reach the places they were sent as reinforcements. On March 12, 1944, a broken 2468 message gave the route and schedule of the Twenty-First Wewak Transport convoy, sunk while leaving Wewak to return to Palau. When the Japanese Eighteenth Area Army made a “complete tabulation of shipping from Rabaul and Truk during January,” in an attempt to convince Japanese Army headquarters that it was feasible to send them much-needed supplies, these messages laid out the shipping routes and sealed their doom. Only 50 percent of ships reached the destination; only 30 percent got home.

At the end of the war, a U.S. naval report found that “more than two-thirds of the entire Japanese merchant marine and numerous warships, including some of every category, were sunk. These sinkings resulted, by mid-1944, in isolation of Japan from her overseas sources of raw materials and petroleum, with far reaching effects on the capability of her war industry to produce and her armed forces to operate. Her outlying bases were weakened by lack of reinforcements and supplies and fell victim to our air, surface and amphibious assaults; heavy bombers moved into the captured bases.” This report’s author, C. A. Lockwood, commander of the submarine force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, noted that his men got a “continuous flow of information on Japanese naval and merchant shipping, convoy routing and composition, damage sustained from submarine attacks, anti-submarine measures employed or to be employed, effectiveness of our torpedoes, and a wealth of other pertinent intelligence.” Whenever code breaking was unavailable, he added, “its absence was keenly felt. The curve of enemy contacts and of consequent sinkings almost exactly paralleled the curve of volume of Communication Intelligence available.”

He added: “There were many periods when every single U.S. sub in the Pacific was busy” responding.

In fact, he added, code-breaking intelligence made it seem to the Japanese that there were more American submarines in the Pacific than there really were. “In early 1945 it was learned from a Japanese prisoner of war that it was [a] common saying in Singapore that you could walk from that port to Japan on American periscopes. This feeling among the Japanese was undoubtedly created, not by the great number of submarines on patrol, but rather by the fact, thanks to communications intelligence, that submarines were always at the same place as Japanese ships.”

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Japanese Transport Code Language

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 244-246:

The language of the 2468 [transport code] messages was telegraphic in style. Short, straightforward, and no-nonsense, the messages consisted of sailing schedules, harbormaster reports, reports on the water levels of ports and transportation of cargo. Sailing schedules were the simplest. These included the transport number, the date, the time the maru [ship name] would be arriving or leaving, and its destination. Others concerned the movement of troops or equipment. A few dealt with transportation of the wounded or ashes of the dead. The marus out there in the Pacific Ocean carried everything: food, oil, supplies, human remains.

When a new message arrived, Dot looked for stereotypes, which were words that occurred frequently in the same place. “Maru” was a common one, but there were others as well, depending on the origin and the goods being transported. For example, one station transmitting from Singapore—the #3 Sen San Yusoo—sent a regular report on the shipping of oil to Hiroshima, Manila, and Tokyo. Stereotyped words might include ship names and numbers; the number of kiloliters of light oil, crude oil, heavy oil, aviation gasoline, or other gasoline aboard; how many trips each ship would take, and when. Another Singapore station transmitted to Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Moji a report of ships leaving for Palembang. Stereotypes might include the ship number or name, the date and hour of departure, the speed, the course, and the date and hour of scheduled arrival at the mouth of the Musi River.

Another transmitted a daily weather report with data including wind velocity and direction, temperature, and condition of the surface of the Andaman Sea, the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and other faraway bodies of water. Dot handled a lot of weather reports. Sitting at her table in Arlington, Virginia, Dot was amused at how many bits and pieces of information she knew about what the weather was like eight thousand miles away.

Another station transmitted a report on small boats available for supply services. Mentioned might be steel barges, wooden barges, special boats, small boats, twenty-metric-ton boats, plywood barges, and cargo submarines.

A station at Surabaya originated a report on the departure of ships escorted by a single Navy plane, including the names and types of ships (motor, sail, fishing), number of barges being towed, date of departure and destination, speed, scheduled date of arrival, route, and daily position of ship on consecutive days at given hours. A report from Shanghai about a supply ship might include a message spelling out that the probable route was “from Shanghai along the coast to the Yangtze River up the Yangtze River to WUU (Buko) down the river to Nanking and finally across the East China Sea to Moji.”

Here is how Dot did her work: Let’s say she knew that the code group for “arriving” was 6286 and she knew where this word was likely to appear. She would find that place in the message and look at the GAT [“group as transmitted”] before her. Books at Arlington Hall listed common code words as well as possible enciphered versions. She would look for a match, or she could do the math in her head and strip out the additive herself. Sometimes—when they were desperate—the code breakers would take the code groups and encipher them with every possible additive. A smattering of 2468 code groups included:

4333 hassoo—to send things [発送]
4362 jinin—personnel [人員]
4400 kaisi—beginning, commencing [開始]
4277 kookoo—navigate, to sail [航行]
4237 toochaku yotei—scheduled to arrive [到着予定]
4273 hatsu yotei—scheduled to leave [発予定]

There were vocabulary words associated with sailing schedules. According to training materials compiled at Arlington Hall, atesaki [宛先] was “destination” or “address”; chaku [着] was “arriving”; dai ichi [第一] was “first”; honjitsu [本日] was “today.” Maru [丸] was “commercial ship”; sempakutu [船舶通] was “ship” [-tu for 通行 tsuukou ‘traffic, passage’?]; sempakutai [船舶隊] was “convoy unit”; teihaku [碇泊] was “anchoring”; yori [より] was “from”; yotei [予定] was “schedule.” Gunkan [軍艦] was “warship.” Chu [中] was “now [or ‘in the middle of, i.e., underway’].” Hatsusen [発船] was “ship leaving.” Hi [日] was “day”; hongetsu [本月] was “this month”; senghu [sic; 船上 senjou?] was “onboard ship”; shuzensen [修繕船] was “ship being repaired”; tosai sen [搭載船] was “ship loading.”

Dot’s workday consisted of messages that, once deciphered, said things like “PALAU DENDAI/ 2/ 43/ T.B./ TRANSPORT/ 918/ (/878/)/ 20th/ 18/ JI/ CHAKU/ ATESAKI/ DAVAO/ SEMPAKUTAI/ 4/ CEBU/ E.T./”

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Occupied Germany as Ethnic Wastebasket

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 192-193:

As 1946, the year of “organized expulsions,” began drawing to a close, each of the Big Three was feeling the strain. “At present,” Colonel Thicknesse warned, “we tend to regard occupied Germany as a waste-paper basket with a limitless capacity for the unwanted waste of the world. We are not convinced that this attitude is correct, either economically or politically.” According to figures reported to CRX [= Combined Repatriation Executive], by November the Soviet zone had admitted more than 1.8 million expellees from Poland and Czechoslovakia; the U.S. zone approximately 1.7 million from Czechoslovakia and Hungary (including 160,000 who had arrived via Austria); and the British zone more than 1.3 million from the Recovered Territories: a cumulative total of almost five million people. To this figure could be added a number which could not be precisely calculated—but certainly one in the hundreds of thousands for each occupation zone—of Volksdeutsche who had made their way under duress out of their countries of origin, but entered Germany as unregistered “infiltrees.” All were arriving in a country whose urban centers the Western Allies had gone to immense trouble and expense during the previous five years to level to the ground, an endeavor in which they had enjoyed considerable success and which had left Germany with “a worse housing problem than has ever before existed in any area of comparable size and population.” Even after every available camp, military base, school, church, barn, air raid shelter, and, in some cases, cave had been filled with expellees, the onrushing human tide continued to overwhelm the best efforts of the rudimentary German administration upon whose shoulders the occupying forces thrust the responsibility. As a rule, according to reception officers in all three occupation zones, the expellees were arriving in possession of little more than the—usually insufficient—clothing in which they stood. The overwhelming majority were women and children. Few could make any meaningful contribution in the short term to their own support. Hundreds of thousands needed immediate care, in hospitals, old-age homes, orphanages, or residential centers for the disabled, though the shortage of resources meant that a great many would not receive it.

This was not at all how the Allies had envisaged the population transfers when they had been sold on the idea during the war. Then the stated rationale had been to remove a cohort of “dangerous” Germans—above all, fit men of military age—who might threaten the security of the countries in which they lived. Instead, it had been the least dangerous Germans who had been deported, while the fit men were being held back for forced labor, and in many cases pressured to take out Polish or Czechoslovak nationality against their will. The occupying powers thus found themselves presented with a first-class social, economic, and humanitarian crisis that threatened to undo whatever plans they had made for German reconstruction, as well as to disrupt the economies of the expelling states for years to come. Predictably, each of the Big Three with the benefit of experience discovered its enthusiasm for this novel method of “stabilizing” the European continent shrinking to the vanishing point. After coping—or failing to cope—with the “wild expulsions” of 1945, and finding the “organized expulsions” of 1946 from their perspective to be less satisfactory yet, each of the Allied powers entered 1947 with the same overriding objective: to put an end to what was proving an intolerable burden to it as quickly as possible.

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Cracking the Japanese Water Transport Code

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 241-242:

Ambon. Canton. Davao. Haiphong. Hankow. Kiska. Kobe. Kuching. Kupang. Osaka. Palembang. Rabaul. Saigon. Takao. Wewak. Dot Braden until a few months earlier had never heard of most of these places. Now they ruled her life. They kept her running from the big table where she worked, over to the overlapper’s console, then back again to her spot at the big table. These were the names of places, somewhere in Asia or the South Pacific, likely to be mentioned toward the beginning of messages coded in 2468, the main Japanese water-transport code, or one of the other, smaller transport codes.

Or rather, they were some of the places. Transport code 2468 was massive; 2468 was everywhere; 2468 dominated the Pacific Ocean. Anything anybody needed was sent by water. Water was how the rice was transported, and the soldiers, and the spare airplane parts. To move the goods the Japanese Army needed, the marus were always sailing. Always leaving and arriving. A maru [丸] could be a tanker, a freighter, a cargo ship, a barge, a cable layer, a motor transport. [Japanese Navy ship names never use maru.] They plied between Hiroshima, Yokohama, Wewak, Saipan, Tokyo, Manila, the Truk Lagoon. Exotic places. It was not necessary for Dot to know how to pronounce the cities and ports, but it was helpful to know the four-digit code groups that stood for them. Code system 2468 commanded Dot’s attention, controlled Dot’s movements. It filled her brain.

A job more unlike teaching Virginia schoolchildren would be hard to imagine. No longer was Dot Braden standing at a chalkboard, explaining physics formulas to eye-rolling teenagers, or ordering senior girls to march and salute. Instead, she was sitting head down at a table puzzling over words she had never heard before she came to Arlington Hall. “Sono.” “Indicator.” “Discriminant.” “GAT.” The sono [‘that, aforementioned’] was the number appended to messages that had been divided into parts before being transmitted. Sono #1 was the first part, Sono #2 was the second part, and so on. The discriminant was the number that identified the system—for instance, 2468. The indicator was the tiny clue that told you what book to look in. GAT stood for “group as transmitted”: the code group plus the cipher. The GATs were what you saw when you looked at the message for the first time.

Dot, of course, was not to utter any of these words outside the high wire double fences of the Arlington Hall compound. People were warned never to use, outside the building, the words they used inside it. “This material is extremely secret and must be treated with the utmost care,” one training document said. “Some of the words which you will consider elementary have been used only in this code, eg KAIBOTSU SU ‘to sink a ship’ [海没す ‘sea-reject do’?]. If you should mention this word to any one connected with the Axis or in some way succeed in letting it get into improper hands, this one fact alone would betray to the Japanese that we are reading their most recent transport code.”

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Culture of U.S. Army Codebreakers, 1943

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 207-209:

Unlike the Navy operation, the Army’s code-breaking operation at Arlington Hall was polyglot, open-minded, and nonhierarchical. Anybody could be in charge of anything. There was a wide assortment of ages and backgrounds working at its wooden tables. Bespectacled middle-aged men labored alongside pin-curled young women with names like Emerald and Velvet. Which is not to say that there wasn’t sexist condescension: One of the bookish men, a New York editor named William Smith, referred to Arlington Hall’s contingent of female southern workers as the “Jewels.” It was a lofty and rather snide reference to the number of women working there whose parents had seen fit to name them after precious stones. He wasn’t wrong: In addition to a profusion of Opals and Pearls, the workforce included a real Jewel—Jewel Hogan—who worked in the machine section. And there was Jeuel Bannister, the band director recruited out of South Carolina.

At Arlington Hall there also were “BIJs,” or born-in-Japans, the term for people who grew up in missionary families and worked in the translating section. There was the actor Tony Randall—later famous as Felix Unger in The Odd Couple—clowning around (at one point he danced on a table) as he waited for the intelligence summary to be taken to the Pentagon. There was an extended group of siblings and cousins—the Erskines—who had relocated as a family unit from Ohio. There was Sumner Redstone, the future billionaire media magnate, now a young officer in the translating unit. There was Julia Ward, former dean of students at Bryn Mawr, czar of a well-run library unit. There were nannies, beauticians, secretaries, restaurant hostesses. Josephine Palumbo at eighteen was virtually running the personnel unit, plucked out of McKinley High School in Washington. Tiny Jo Palumbo, daughter of an Italian immigrant laborer, was the person who swore in newcomers, and the sight of her administering the grave secrecy oath had inspired one code breaker to write a lyrical poem in her honor.

Unlike the Navy, Arlington Hall also had an African American code-breaking unit. This was not so much because the place was unusually liberal-minded, but rather because Eleanor Roosevelt—or somebody at the top—had declared that 12 to 15 percent of the Arlington Hall workforce should be black. It was poor recompense for the fact that many of Arlington’s black residents had been pushed out of their homes by the construction of the Pentagon and other military edifices, but work was welcome and this was better than nothing. Arlington Hall’s African American workers had to take segregated transport to get there, and many, even those who were college graduates, were given menial jobs as janitors and messengers. But there also was a special code-breaking unit whose existence was unknown to many of the white workers. The African American unit monitored the enciphered communications of companies and banks to see what was being transmitted in the global private sector and who was doing business with Hitler or Mitsubishi. They kept a library of 150 systems, with careful files of addresses and characteristics of all the world’s main commercial codes. There was no shortage of qualified people to staff it: Despite its segregated school system and the inequality of resources that accompanied segregation, the city of Washington had a number of highly regarded black public schools, as well as Howard, one of the country’s premier historically black universities. One of the team members, Annie Briggs, started out as a secretary and rose to head the production unit. Another, Ethel Just, led the expert translators. The team was led by a black man, William Coffee, who studied English at Knoxville College in Tennessee, started out as a janitor and waiter at Arlington Hall, and rose to this position.

In short, in its eclecticism and, often, its eccentricity, the atmosphere at Arlington Hall was unlike anything the U.S. military had ever produced.

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