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

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

by Michael Smith


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142002339
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/2002
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.58(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Award-winning celebrity chef and author Michael Smith has been creating distinctive, delicious meals for over twenty years. An honors graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he has worked in a variety of fine culinary venues: a Michelin 3-star restaurant in London, South America, the Caribbean, and some of Manhattan's best kitchens. Smith is the star of several Food Network TV shows including Chef at Home, Chef at Large, and Chef Abroad


The extraordinary achievements of the British codebreakers based at Bletchley Park in cracking Nazi Germany's 'unbreakable' Enigma cipher are widely known. This initially oddball collection of mathematicians, classicists and musicians performed unexpected miracles in the hastily constructed huts scattered around the grounds of an ugly mock-Tudor mansion in the small Buckinghamshire market town of Bletchley. The location had been selected in part because it was just far enough outside London to escape the threat of London bombs. But perhaps more importantly, it was midway between the 'glittering spires' of Oxford and Cambridge, from where most of the leading codebreakers had come.

… Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, the British and the Americans had agreed in principle to share their codebreaking resources. The two most important items on the agenda were the major machine ciphers of Germany and Japan. Bletchley Park handed over a paper version of the Enigma machine, providing the Americans with the start they needed to read the Wehrmacht's messages. In return, the US Army gave the British its most precious piece of codebreaking equipment. The Purple machine had been built to decipher the messages passing between the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the gaimushoo, and its major embassies abroad.

Although it was nowhere near as difficult to solve as Enigma, or the later German enciphered teleprinter systems known collectively as Fish, the breaking of the Japanese 'Type B' diplomatic cipher machine, by a team led by the American mathematics teacher Frank Rowlett, was one of the great cryptographic achievements of the Second World War. The Americans christened the Type B system Purple and the intelligence derived from it was given the codename Magic, probably because William Friedman, the head of the US Army codebreaking operation, routinely referred to his cryptanalysts as 'magicians.'

…The record of the US Navy on cooperation, not just with the British but with their own Army, was not merely lamentable, it was shameful. But it was not the only problem faced by the codebreakers. The very nature of the Far East War, spread as it was over many thousands of miles, made communications between the main codebreaking centers extremely difficult. If Bletchley Park and its US counterparts had problems exchanging information with the various outstations that stretched from East Africa to the West Coast of America, the stations themselves found it almost impossible to coordinate their own operations during the early years of the war.

Yet while the codebreakers were only rarely to enjoy the same influence they exerted on the war in Europe and North Africa, their achievements were many. The existing literature credits this almost entirely to the US codebreakers. In fact, with the exception of Purple, only one of the key codes was broken by an American alone and that in Australia. It was British and Australian codebreakers who led the way in breaking the majority of the Emperor's Codes. Here for the first time is their story.

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The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was first attracted to this book not only because I was interested in the challenge of cross-language codebreaking, but also because I was interested in the idea of codebreaking in general in WW2. I had never heard very much about these ‘unsung heroes’ of the Pacific War and I was interested in learning more; I also hoped to see a little more insight into the Japanese position during WW2. I was not disappointed in my desire for knowledge about the war and codebreaking in general. The Emperor’s Codes was exhaustive in following the progress of the war and viewing those events through the lens of the efforts of the codebreaking done by British codemakers, primarily those attached to the Government Code & Cipher School (GC&CS). From intercepting diplomatic cables during the Washington Conference in 1921, to the translation of the cables that hinted at the formation of the Tripartite Pact before any public announcement was made, to the decoding of the Emperor’s statement which led Harry Truman to make the decision to drop the atomic bomb. As a world war, WW2 is an important part of any history student’s study, and this book provides a new and interesting way to view it. This book was interesting, but for various reasons I wouldn’t recommend to anyone but the most serious student of cryptography, and certainly not to another student. First of all, it’s overly detailed. It lists every tiny facet of information, irrelevant or not, and listed off dozens of places, people, and protocols that required serious concentration and a notepad for one to keep track of all of them. This led to rambling and confusion and occasionally I had to skip over the more dense paragraphs listing some general’s obscure maneuvers in a little-known area. Second, the book relied almost entirely on quotes, recitations of records, and textbook –like paraphrasing of military maneuvers. The book had very little of Smith’s original writing or ideas; virtually every page had one to three quotes, with large paragraph block quotes every two pages or so. While I liked that it was very grounded in historical facts and accounts, it made the overall writing style dull and monotonous. Third, it was disappointing in content matter; the references and descriptions of the actual codebreaking devices were barely mentioned and mentions of them restricted to one or two sentences every chapter. The book focused more on the war, the various camps, and military maneuvers, rather than the codes, codebreaking, and codebreakers. Given the title, I would have preferred more emphasis on codebreaking. Additionally, as a former employee of the British Intelligence Corps, Smith utilizes every opportunity to prove the superiority and accomplishments of the British cryptographers over their American counterparts, sometimes with limited success. Overall, while succeeding as a history expounding on the British involvement in cryptography and the impact of its Bletchley Park cryptanalysts on WW2, it failed as an interesting book for any other than the seriously devoted student of cryptography. I would give it a 2/5 stars and recommend that any person attempting to read it be ready with a notepad, ibuprofen, and a lot of time on their hands.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author minimises the contributions along with critisim of the US role in code- breaking. The facts do not square with his views. You would never know, from this book, about the monumental assistance from the US in breaking German and Japanese codes. This is a good read an examines the personal experiences of UK codebreakers which is very interesting. Smith might want to look at the book: "A World at Arms" by Weinberg and the book "Enigma" for more objectivity. William Wantuck, Houston, TX
Guest More than 1 year ago
The history of cracking the German codes during World War II has emerged slowly over the last ten years, and is now fairly fully described. By comparison, relatively little has been revealed about the comparable efforts aimed at Japanese codes. Recent declassification of British documents, privileged access to secret Australian histories of these events, and extensive new interviews with participants by Mr. Michael Smith (who spent 9 years in codebreaking for British Intelligence) provide the basis for the most complete and interesting account yet of the efforts aimed at Japan. The book is a success as a riveting history of individuals, for explaining the techniques involved, changing your view of how the war was won, and for raising fascinating new questions about military activities (did the atomic bomb really have to be dropped, or did Truman drop the ball?). Right after World War II, the American cryptographers broke the story of how they had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code (the so-called Purple code). What was not known, until recently, is that almost all of success with the other Japanese codes involved British and/or Australian codebreakers. Even more surprising is that the U.S. Navy kept intercepts and code books from the British codebreakers despite agreements to share. Undoubtedly, many lost their lives and the war was prolonged because of these U.S. errors. But there were also errors in using the coded output. Some commanders just wouldn't take it seriously, and placed their ships in harm's way. Consider the irony of the British decoding an impending attack on their codebreaking home in Ceylon which the British Navy largely ignored after the attack was delayed for a few days. The Japanese codebreaking was much more difficult than that for the German codes because the allies had few Japanese readers to draw on. Before the war's end, the British invented a six month cram course that effectively taught code-breaking Japanese. Also, because the British lost so many bases in Asia, the codebreakers were pushed further and further away from Japanese bases and shipping. That meant an inability to get enough radio messages to be able to effectively decode. At the key turning points in the war, the British were trying to listen to Japan from a lousy station in Kenya. Go figure! Here's where the U.S. Navy could have made a big difference, because they always had lots of intercepts from naval shipping in the Pacific. 'The record of the US Navy in cooperation, not just with the British but with their own Army, was not merely lamentable, it was shameful.' Interestingly, the Japanese codes were able to be broken mostly because the Japanese assumed that no one could. So when it appeared that the codes might have been compromised, they kept using the same ones. That gave the allies an edge. The Japanese also had some habits that helped. They began many messages with similar flowery language such as 'I have the honour to inform your excellency . . . .' Find enough of those messages, and you could begin to decode. It was fascinating to see how one source of intelligence helped other parts of the war. The Japanese ambassador in Berlin was a great source of information about Nazi Germany, through the broken Purple code. He toured Normandy just before D-Day, and his rambling account tipped the allies off to the need to throw Hitler's attention towards Pas de Calais. The book also recounts how a broken message allowed the allies to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto. You also get a very fine explanation of how the coded messages were used to help win the Battle of Midway and the speed the liberation of the Philippines. Long sections of the story are presented as quoted material from partipants, which provides a change in voice and of perspective. Many of the codebreakers in the various Asian locations were women. What was it like to find a giant snake in the toilet that you so desperately wanted to use? Many of thos