Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Unbreakable Code: Testing the Code

The Code Talker could switch from using the code words to spelling the word from the alphabet, which had at least three terms for the most frequently used letters of the English alphabet. To do this the Talker would use A, B, C to let his counterpart know he was going to spell the word out instead of using the word itself. Example: the word "abandon" is ye-tsan (run away from), but spelled out it would be Apple (be-la-sana) Badger (na-hash-chid) Ant (wol-la-chee) Nose (a-chin) Deer (be) Owl (ne-ahs-jah) Needle (tsah). Note the use of two different words for A and N so as not to establish a pattern for the Japanese code-breakers to study. One of the Anglo marines who worked with the Code Talkers said the Navajo code was American double-talk mixed with a sound like water from a jug being poured into a bathtub.

After the alphabet and code words were complete, the memory work began. This was the easiest part of the requirements since in Navajo everything is in memory. The songs and prayers and everything else was in the oral tradition.

They tested and retested their coding and decoding skills in the classroom, sending such messages as "Landing wave on beach but loss is high." They started out with messages of a few words and rapidly worked their way up to longer ones. During field trials they were amazed at how well it worked. The messages came out word for word on the other end, including semi-colons, commas, periods, and question marks. When the field trials had ended the received message matched the sent message to the letter.

The code proved to be fast and accurate, but unbreakable? United States Intelligence put it to the test. During the field trials the code was transmitted over radio and picked up by them. They worked on it for three weeks, but could discern no repetition or sequences or pattern. U.S. Intelligence could not break it.

While at Camp Elliot the Navajos received training for general Signal Corps: Morse code, panel codes, signal flags, field telephones and radio (operation and mechanics). They also received combat training. The pilot program was an unqualified success, leading to a recommendation that another 200 Navajos with the proper qualifications be recruited to continue the program. These twenty-nine members of the first class, however, were assigned to various units of the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps and 2nd Marine Division Communications Personnel and shipped out to the Pacific Theater as soon as possible.

Next: The Battle for the Pacific

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