The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers

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9780142002339: The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers

In this gripping, previously untold story from World War II, Michael Smith examines how code breakers cracked Japan's secret codes and won the war in the Pacific. He also takes the reader step by step through the process, explaining exactly how the code breakers went about their daunting task--made even more difficult by the vast linguistic differences between Japanese and English. "The Emperor's Codes" moves across the world from Bletchley Park to Pearl Harbor, from Singapore to Colombo, and from Mombasa to Melbourne. It tells the stories of John Tiltman, the British soldier turned code breaker who made many of the early breaks in Japanese diplomatic and military codes; Commander Joe Rochedort, the leading expert on Japanese in U.S. naval intelligence; Eric Nave, the Australian sailor who pioneered breakthroughs in deciphering Japanese naval codes; and Oshima Hiroshi, the hard-drinking Japanese ambassador to Berlin whose candid, often verbose reports to Tokyo of his conversations with Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis were a major source of intelligence in the war against Germany. Without the dedication demonstrated by these relatively unsung heroes, the outcome of World War II might have been very different.

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Product Description:

Drawing on recently declassified British files, Australian secret official histories, this is the story of British and Australian codebreakers: remarkable individuals such as John Tiltman, an eccentric British soldier, and Eric Nave, an Australian sailor who pioneered the breakthroughs in Japanese naval codes.

Review:

While Allied Forces understandably pursued a "Europe-first" policy in the Second World War, the Japanese threat in the Far East grew with every month. Popular history credits the Americans with breaking Japanese codes and saving perhaps two years of conflict. This is not Michael Smith's view. Building on the success of Station X, which heralded British success in cracking the German Enigma cipher, The Emperor's Codes uses recently released British archive records to fill in the details of British and Australian involvement in the Far East. In fact, Smith goes further, and controversially concludes that internal bickering in the US military, compounded by a less than open exchange of information with the British, "must have cost many lives, the majority of them American". In addition, he observes that the Allies knew a Japanese "unconditional surrender", dependent on Emperor Hirohito remaining on the throne, was on the cards before the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, throwing into considerable doubt the need for such demonstratively horrific tactics.

As well as major players such as John Tiltman, Eric Nave and Joe Rochefort, Smith plays out the controversy, as well as the intricacies of cryptography, through recourse to witness statements from the "ordinary" men and women slavishly dedicated to "stripping"--that is, removing the cipher additive. The urgencies and peculiarities of war saw numerous marriages, Oxbridge linguists learning Japanese in six months (experts had predicted five years), a radio broadcast of a concert from Britain's most secret location and an over-optimistic colour-coded ticket scheme at Bletchley Park for meals; bread and butter, so to speak, for the hungry workers. Charting efforts in Ceylon, Singapore, India, Kenya, Australia and, of course, Bletchley Park, Smith's revisionist reading gives proper due to the grass roots co-operation between Allied intelligence which, though unable to prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, helped accelerate Hirohito's surrender. As he makes plain, that it succeeded more in spite of than due to senior US Navy command scathingly undermines the conventional heroic narrative the American military was so quick to proclaim. It's a damning conclusion, but an enthralling read. --David Vincent

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