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How did the Allies communicate during World War II?

How did the Allies communicate during World War II?


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I was wondering how the allied (America and England, since France was occupied by the Nazis) communicated securely with each other in 1943. I know that the SIGSALY existed, but I am most interested in how Roosevelt's and Churchill's telegrams were encrypted. Did they use the British Typex or the American SIGABA?


The communications between national leaders are normally conducted through the embassies. I.e., Churchill would send a Typex-encrypted telegram to the British Embassy in Washington, DC, it is decrypted there, and delivered in person to the White House. Similarly, Roosevelt would send a SIGABA-encrypted message to the US Embassy in London, it is decrypted there and delivered in person to Number 10. (Cold War required faster decision making, necessitating Moscow-Washington hotline).

The direct communications between the militaries were conducted via Combined Cipher Machine starting 1943-11-01.

The machine looked like a typewriter (all of them did, including Enigma) and was operated by a technician.


The Secret Way the Allies Won World War II

The United States and the United Kingdom supplied more than 21 million tons of aid to the Soviet Union during the war, including thousands of tanks and warplanes.

Here's What You Need to Remember: It’s unlikely the aid turned the war entirely in the Soviet Union’s favor, as the German military was overstretched even during the 1941 invasion. That vulnerability was exposed terribly during the Red Army’s 1941–1942 Moscow counter-offensive — and it’s unlikely Germany would have won the war even if it had captured Moscow.

Around 80 percent of the more than five million German military deaths in World War II occurred on the Eastern Front. This terrible conflict with the Red Army consumed great quantities of men and material until the Soviets decisively ended the war by capturing Berlin in May 1945.

During that time, the Red Army underwent a radical transformation, having been decimated by Joseph Stalin’s purges before Hitler’s armies invaded on June 22, 1941, inflicting horrendous losses.

But as the war progressed, the two sides effectively traded places, with the Red Army honing a mechanized “deep battle” doctrine that more closely resembled earlier German tactics — just as the German army fell into disarray as war-time casualties took their toll.

All the while, the Western Allies provided enormous quantities of supplies and other aid under the Lend-Lease policy. The United States and the United Kingdom supplied more than 21 million tons of aid to the Soviet Union during the war, including thousands of tanks and warplanes.

But the question of how much this aid affected the outcome of the war would become important not only for historians, but as a matter of national pride, as the Soviet Union went on to diminish Lend-Lease’s role in helping turn the tide of battle. Western historians would, perhaps for similar reasons, overstate the role of the aid in Soviet success.

The reality was a bit more complicated — and perhaps inconclusive. Most likely, the Soviets would have won regardless, as the Eastern Front for the Germans was unwinnable after the Battle of Stalingrad, before most of the aid to the USSR arrived. But Lend-Lease also certainly helped shorten the war and saved lives.

The Allies supplied more than 12,000 tanks to the Soviet Union. More than 5,000 came from the United Kingdom and Canada and included Valentine, Churchill and Matilda tanks. The United States, for its part, supplied nearly 1,400 M3 Lee tanks and more than 4,000 M4 Shermans.

While a substantial amount, these numbers were small in comparison to the tens of thousands of T-34s — the Red Army’s mainstay — produced during the conflict. The T-34 boasted superior armor, maneuverability and firepower.

The British tanks, having been supplied earlier in the war, were particularly handy in 1941 and 1942, the most decisive period in the war. But Soviet tankers were not fond of the British machines, especially the early-generation Valentines and Matildas, which had small turrets and underpowered cannons.

To be sure, the tanks were better than nothing, but outmatched in direct tank-on-tank combat with the latest German Panzers then rolling out of the Third Reich’s factories. David Glantz, a historian and author of When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, noted that Soviet tankers preferred the American tanks to the British ones, but preferred Soviet ones most of all.

“[The Sherman’s] narrow treads made it much less mobile on mud than its German and Soviet counterparts, and it consumed great quantities of fuel,” Glantz wrote. “In fact, U.S. Army Ordnance planners had standardized this width early in the war to ensure that Shermans would fit onto ocean transports and across existing U.S. bridging equipment, two considerations that meant nothing to the Soviets.”

Which is something of an irony. The Sherman’s standardized tread width, which the Soviets didn’t like, helped get the tanks from the United States to the Soviet Union in the first place.

The Soviet Union and the Western Allies took different approaches to air power during the Second World War. In the West, advocates of strategic bombing and interceptors won out, and resulted in air arms which were well-equipped at striking deep into Germany.

The Soviet Union had different priorities, and preferred aircraft suited toward striking targets on the battlefield. The armored Ilyushin Il-2 ground-attack plane embodied this different concept — and the Soviets produced more than 36,000 during the war, more than any other military aircraft in history.

The Soviets were thus disappointed in the 4,700 U.S. P-39 Aircobras — although they were effective — and 3,000 British Hawker Hurricanes supplied under Lend-Lease. Far more consequential were the thousands of Western transport aircraft which bolstered the Red Army’s logistical backbone, and A-20 Havoc light bombers which contributed to Soviet offensive maneuvers.

Everything else

The most significant chunk of Lend-Lease was less obvious. Trucks by the hundreds of thousands enabled the Red Army to mechanize itself, thereby allowing it to deepen and capitalize on armored breakthroughs through German lines, worsening Axis losses and speeding up the pace of the war.

This was the “deep battle” doctrine’s circulatory system and was key to the eventual Soviet victory. Without trucks, thousands if not millions more Soviet soldiers could have lost their lives in attacks on prepared German positions, as the Germans would have had more time to fall back and prepare.

With the trucks, the Soviets could continue pressing the Axis armies, keeping them off balance, all the way back to the Berlin.

The Allies also supplied vast quantities of fuel, clothing, machine guns, ammunition, metals, radios and industrial equipment — all of which softened the war’s blow to the USSR’s agricultural and industrial base.

“Without Lend-Lease … the Soviet economy would have been even more heavily burdened by the war effort,” Glantz noted.

But it’s unlikely the aid turned the war entirely in the Soviet Union’s favor, as the German military was overstretched even during the 1941 invasion. That vulnerability was exposed terribly during the Red Army’s 1941–1942 Moscow counter-offensive — and it’s unlikely Germany would have won the war even if it had captured Moscow. And that was when Lend-Lease was just beginning.

But Lend-Lease certainly helped in many ways. “If the Western Allies had not provided equipment and invaded northwest Europe [our emphasis], Stalin and his commanders might have taken twelve to eighteen months longer to finish off the Wehrmacht,” Glantz noted.

“The result would probably have been the same, except that Soviet soldiers would have waded at France’s Atlantic beaches rather than meeting the Allies at the Elbe.”


Communication During World War II

There were many forms of technology during World War II. Many, but not all, of these were new developments, never used in previous wars. The types of communication during World War II included: Propaganda, Newspapers/Magazines, Radio, Airplanes, Telegraph, Telephones, Mail, Animals, and Cryptology. Each one specializing is specific situations allowing Americans to be more connected with one another than ever before.

There were many forms of propaganda used. Movies, commercials, and posters were the most popular. They all had the same general message though, which was to do whatever you could to help win the war. Whether it was women helping in the workforce while their husbands are away fighting the war or Americans remaining loyal to their country and not talking to possible enemies, which is where one of the slogans “Loose lips might sink ships” comes from. An example of a movie that was a form of propaganda was “The Best Year of Our Lives.” “Almost immediately, the film attracted large crowds, eager to understand the ways in which the war had changed American society.” (Mintz & Kellogg, 170)

Newspapers and Magazines

Newspapers and Magazines now gave a sense of opinion to the public with the idea of editorials and letter-to-the-editors along with their initial role which was just to spread news to the public. “Letters-to-the-editors of various newspapers throughout Arkansas reflected strong feelings against the employment of married women in the nation’s defense industries.” (Smith, 21) People would now write in about what their stance was on specific, and at times, controversial topics. “Newspapers and magazines gave enormous publicity to stories of wives who had been unfaithful to their servicemen husbands. “(Mintz & Kellogg, 171)

The radio was “split second communication among all members.” (Britannica) It served as a way for troops and generals to communicate between one another. This could be between generals discussing strategies or it could be between soldiers to generals discussing positions of themselves or enemies. Radio was also another form of propaganda. It helped “to explain to Americans what their country was fighting for and to make the war their own.” (Gerd, 43) Lastly, the radio was the only possible form of communication between the ground and the air for airplanes.

Airplanes served as a way to quickly deliver something. This included care packages or letters from back home. It also helped to deliver messages that couldn’t be delivered on the ground because the trip would be too dangerous since it dealt with the enemy and their territory.

Telegraph was still a popular form of communication during World War II. However it had evolved since the last war. The teletypewriter was a device for transmitting telegraph messages as they are keyed and for printing messages received. With these teletypewriters there were conferences which were called telecons. “A commander or his staff at each end to view on a screen the incoming teletypewriter messages as fast as the characters were received. Questions and answers could be passed rapidly back and forth over the thousands of miles separating them.” (Britannica)

Telephones helped to connect the nation to almost immediate communication between one another. It also served as a way for troops to communicate between one another. However, it wasn’t always available between families and troops so mailing letters was still the most popular form of communication between families and their troops.

Mail served as a way for the troops to get caught up on what was going on at home. “Civilians were encouraged to write their service men and women about even the most basic activities. Daily routines, family news, and local gossip kept the armed forces linked to their communities.” (Smithsonian) It helped to boost troop’s moral and keep them from getting lonely. This is also when V Mail became extremely popular. V Mail was a way to quickly deliver a lot of mail to troops.

Animals were even used as a form of communication during World War II. They helped to deliver hand written messages among troops. Dogs and pigeons were the most effective animals the military used.

Cryptology is the study of codes. Depicting enemy codes was a big part of World War II. Those who depicted were “sworn to secrecy. The penalty for discussing the work outside of approved channels could be death, as it was considered an act of treason during a time of war.” (Wilcox, 8) Cryptology was a whole new language. There were different meanings to every word. Both sides would receive messages through radio of their enemies and they would have to try and decode it. Once they decoded it they would then know their enemy’s positions and/or times of their attacks.

Each form of communication played a unique role in World War II, yet they were each dependent on each another in order for success. Airplanes were one of the main forms of transportation to deliver the V Mail to the soldiers and the only reason airplanes worked was because of the radio. Communication and all of the forms it had to offer during World War II helped to connect the nation as a whole.

Text Sources:

Mintz, Steven, and Susan Kellogg. Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life. New York: The Free Press, 1988—Ch. 8: Families on the Home Front.

Smith, C. Calvin, “Diluting an Institution: The Social Impact of World War II on the Arkansas Family,” The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring, 1980), pp. 21-34.

Horten, Gerd. Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda During World War II. 2003

Wilcox, Jennifer. Sharing the Burden: Women in Cryptology during World War II. Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency. 1998.


Collective security, or a system in which nations act together to stop aggression, is the most effective response to aggression. Appeasements can, and have been broken, and there is no security in solely having the word of an aggressor whose ambitions are leading his nation into chaos.

3) For Churchill, the responsibility for the lost opportunities was Chamberlain that chose to make a deal with the Nazi – The Policy of Appeasement – a deal that everyone could predict they would break….


Battle of Stalingrad (1942–1943) Generally argued to be the most significant turning point of the war, the Battle of Stalingrad was one of the Wehrmacht’s most ambitious operations, in which it committed – and eventually lost – more than 400,000 soldiers.

The United States was victorious over Japan in the Battle of Midway. This victory was the turning point of the war in the Pacific. Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union defeated Germany at Stalingrad, marking the turning point of the war in Eastern Europe.


Aircraft Carriers in World War II

Many of World War II’s greatest battles were fought at sea, making naval technologies crucial to all sides. Many kinds of ships, such as battleships, submarines, and aircraft carriers, had been used in previous wars, but the global nature of World War II made naval battles especially important. These vessels ranged from heavily armed warships to numerous support craft such as fuel ships and troop landing boats. Of all the ships used in the war, aircraft carriers were the largest. 

An aircraft carrier is a ship whose primary purpose is to bring airplanes closer to distant battle areas. Since most World War II aircraft had a range of just a few hundred miles, it was necessary to bring the aircraft to the battlefront, and using a ship to do so made a lot of sense in the Pacific where much of the fighting took place on islands and coastal areas.

The first true aircraft carriers were built by the Japanese in the 1920s. Japan remained an innovator in aircraft carrier design and construction during the years leading to World War II, operating nine of them by 1941. Their largest carriers of the war were the Akagi and Kaga, each capable of launching over 90 aircraft. The Allies, however, also had extremely effective carriers. British ships, such as the Ark Royal and the Eagle, and American ships, such as Yorktown and Enterprise, each carried 100 aircraft or more. The largest aircraft carriers, such as the Enterprise were over 800 feet (245 meters) long and 100 feet (30 meters) wide, and carried almost 3,000 crewmembers.

The first aircraft carriers had evolved from ordinary naval ships, which were fitted with landing strips built on their decks. By World War II, however, most aircraft carriers were designed for this purpose from the beginning. Small aircraft were usually stored below the deck and taken to the landing strip on elevators. Because the strip was short, a catapult (usually a piston-type device driven by steam from the ship’s boilers) helped launch the craft into the air. U.S carriers used a hook on the bottom of the plane to catch a wire, strung across the deck, which helped bring the plane to a halt. A central control tower located to the side of the landing strip housed advanced radio communication and radar equipment used to keep in touch with aviators and track both friendly and enemy craft. Although the airplanes carried on these ships were not large enough to sink the larger “capital” ships (such as battleships) at the beginning of the war, rapid improvements in carriers led to their becoming the major offensive naval weapon by 1945.

The effectiveness of large aircraft carriers was demonstrated early in the war, when dozens of Japanese fighters and bombers, launched from aircraft carriers, decimated the U.S Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in late 1941. In May of 1942, aircraft from Japanese and U.S carriers battled at the Coral Sea, the first naval conflict where the opposing ships did not make contact. This battle resulted in the sinking of the Lexington. The Japanese Navy also took heavy losses, most notably at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. There they lost four carriers and hundreds of airplanes—its naval power declined steadily after that. By contrast, ship production in the U.S accelerated dramatically in 1944 and 1945, when dozens of aircraft carriers (and other ships) were completed. Most came too late to make a major difference in the war, and many ships on order were cancelled at the end of the war in mid-1945.

Today, nine countries possess aircraft carriers, although the United States and Great Britain are the only military forces that rely heavily on them. The Royal Navy currently has three, and the U.S 12.


How technology helped the Allies win World War II

Washington: Courage. Devotion. Duty.

They are the words most often used to describe the brave (another adjective) Allied troops who landed on Normandy 74 years ago and helped win World War II.

The landing craft, vehicle, personnel (LCVP) or Higgins boat helped land Allied troops on islands in the Pacific as well as on beaches in Normandy. Credit: Wikicommons

Not to be forgotten, though, is this word: Technology.

World War II was won not just with courage, devotion and duty, but with American and British technological advances that gave the Allies the upper hand in many facets of battle.

The most famous and fearsome: the Manhattan Project atomic bombs that led to the surrender of the Japanese in 1945. But there were many others.

Radar helped the Allies know what was coming at them.

Bombsights employing complicated gyroscope technology allowed planes to pinpoint bomb attacks. Before WWII, pilots simply dropped bombs by hand and hoped for the best.

Nylon, the synthetic material invented by DuPont for women's stockings, was used to make parachutes, glider tow ropes, aircraft fuel tanks and flak jackets, according to Smithsonian magazine. Some people dubbed it "the fibre that won the war."

But one of the most crucial bits of technology, the one that helped the Allies launch the surprise attack on Normandy - as well as many island landings in the Pacific War -, was the hull of a boat. The Higgins boat.

You have probably seen pictures of this hulking nautical miracle, the one that carried troops right onto Normandy's beach.

Landing craft used in the Pacific during World War II. Credit: Official U.S. Navy Photo

It was built by a wily, hard-drinking inventor named Andrew Higgins, the man Dwight Eisenhower once credited with winning World War II.

"It is Higgins himself who takes your breath away," Raymond Moley, a former FDR adviser, wrote in Newsweek in 1943. "Higgins is an authentic master builder, with the kind of will power, brains, drive and daring that characterised the American empire builders of an earlier generation."

Higgins grew up in the landlocked state of Nebraska, where, at various ages, he was expelled from school for fighting. Higgins' temperament improved around boats. He built his first vessel in the basement when he was 12. It was so large that a wall had to be torn down to get it out.

Andrew Higgins, who designed the war-winning boat. Credit: Wikicommons

He moved to the South in his early 20s, working in the lumber industry. He hadn't thought much about boats again until a tract of timber in shallow waters required him to build a special vessel so he could remove the wood. Higgins signed up for a correspondence course in naval architecture, shifting his work from timber to boats.

In the late 1930s, he owned a small shipyard in New Orleans. By then, his special shallow-craft boat had become popular with loggers and oil drillers. They were "tunnel stern boats," whose magic was in the way the "hull incorporated a recessed tunnel used to protect the propeller from grounding," according to the Louisiana Historical Association.

Higgins, who died in 1952, called it the "Eureka" boat. The war brought interest by US forces in a similar style vessel to attack unguarded beaches and avoid coming ashore at heavily defended ports. The Marines settled on the Higgins boat, transforming what had been a 50-employee company into one of the world's largest manufacturers.

Though Eisenhower and even Hitler acknowledged the importance of the Higgins boat - military leaders came to call it "the bridge to the beach" - its builder went mostly unmentioned in histories of the war. That is, until 18 years ago, when the World War II Museum opened in New Orleans and recognised Higgins' life, displaying a reproduction of his boat.

Driving into the beach at Peleliu Island in the face of heavy mortar fire, Coast Guard manned landing craft deliver men and supplies. Credit: Official US Coast Guard Photo

Still, there's been just one biography written: "Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats that Won World War II," by historian Jerry Strahan.

"Without Higgins's uniquely designed craft, there could not have been a mass landing of troops and materiel on European shores or the beaches of the Pacific islands, at least not without a tremendously higher rate of Allied casualties," Strahan wrote.


How the American Women Codebreakers of WWII Helped Win the War

It was a woman code breaker who, in 1945, became the first American to learn that World War II had officially ended.

The Army and Navy's code breakers had avidly followed messages leading up to that fateful day. Nazi Germany had already surrendered to the Allies, and tantalizing hints from the Japanese suggested that this bloody chapter of history might soon come to an end. But when U.S. Army intelligence intercepted the Japanese transmission to the neutral Swiss agreeing to an unconditional surrender, the task fell to Virginia D. Aderholt to decipher and translate it.

Head of one of the Army's language units, Aderholt was a master at the cipher the Japanese used to transmit the message—teams crowded around her as she worked. After the Swiss confirmed Japanese intent, the statement was hurried into the hands of President Harry S. Truman. And on the warm summer evening of August 14, 1945, he made a much-anticipated announcement: World War II was finally over.

Throngs of Americans took to the streets to celebrate, cheering, dancing, crying, tossing newspaper confetti into the air. Since that day, many of the men and women who helped hasten its arrival have been celebrated in books, movies and documentaries. But Aderholt is among a group that has largely gone unnoticed for their wartime achievements.

She is just one in upwards of 10,000 American women codebreakers who worked behind the scenes of WWII, keeping up with the conveyor belt of wartime communications and intercepts. These women continually broke the ever-changing and increasingly complex systems used by the Axis Powers to shroud their messages in secrecy, providing vital intelligence to the U.S. Army and Navy that allowed them to not only keep many American troops out of harm's way but ensure the country emerged from war victorious.

The information they provided allowed the Allied forces to sink enemy supply ships, gun down the plane of Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, and even help orchestrate the invasion of Normandy. During the later years of war, the intelligence community was supplying more information on the location of enemy ships than American servicemen could keep up with.

"The recruitment of these American women—and the fact that women were behind some of the most significant individual code-breaking triumphs of the war—was one of the best-kept secrets of the conflict," writes Liza Mundy in her new book Code Girls, which finally gives due to the courageous women who worked in the wartime intelligence community.

Some of these women went on to hold high-ranking positions—several even outranking their military husbands. Yet to this day, many of their families and friends never knew the instrumental role they played in protecting American lives.

The Navy women worked in three shifts a day constructing the many gears and gadgets that make up the Bombes—the machines used to decrypt the German Enigma cipher. A separate unit of women were tasked with the challenging job of running the finicky machines. (National Security Agency) The Army had an African-American codebreaking unit, but little is known about these women. Led by William Coffee, shown here in the middle of the image, the group remained strictly segregated from the rest of the codebreaking efforts. They were tasked with monitoring enciphered communications of companies and banks to track business interactions of Axis powers. (National Security Agency) A former private school for women, Arlington Hall housed the Army codebreaking operations during WWII through most of the Cold War. (National Security Agency) Adolf Hiitler shakes the hand of Baron Hiroshi Oshima, a Japanese diplomat and Imperial Army General. Oshima commonly used the Purple cipher to transmit detailed reports, including many comprehensive Nazi plans. By cracking Purple, the U.S. gained insight into many of the Axis strategies, which was instrumental in the Allies' preparation for the invasion of Normandy. (National Security Agency)

Mundy happened upon the story while her husband was reading Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner's book on the Venona project, a U.S. code-breaking unit focused on Russian intelligence during WWII and the Cold War. One particular detail of Venona surprised Mundy: the project was mostly women.

Curiosity piqued, she began digging into the topic, heading to the National Cryptologic Museum and the National Archives. "I didn't realize at that point that the Russian codebreaking women were just a tiny part of a much larger story," she says. "I thought I would spend a week in the archives. Instead, I spent months."

Mundy, a New York Times bestselling author and journalist with bylines in The AtlanticThe Washington Post and elsewhere, dug through thousands of boxes of records, scouring countless rosters, memos and other paper ephemera. She filed declassification reviews, which turned up even more materials. "It turned out that there was a wonderful record out there, it just had to be pieced together," she says.

Mundy even tracked down and interviewed 20 of the codebreakers themselves, but for some it required a bit of cajoling. During the war, it was continually drilled into them that "loose lips sink ships," she says. And to this day, the women took their vows of secrecy seriously—never expecting to receive public credit for their achievements. Though many of the men's tales have leaked out over the years, "the women kept mum and sat tight," she says.

"I would have to say to them, 'Look, here are all these books that have been written about it,'" Mundy recalls. "The NSA says it's okay to talk the NSA would like you to talk," she would tell them. Eventually they opened up, and stories flooded out.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, which propelled America's entrance into the war, Army and Navy intelligence employed a couple hundred people. The intelligence field was in its infancy. The CIA didn’t yet exist and the forerunner of what would later become the NSA had just been established.  W ith war on the horizon, federal agencies were already working to recruit potential  codebreakers  and intelligence officers, but  men were also  needed for the armed forces, prepping for war. So as the agencies located suitable candidates, the men would be “gobbled up by the active militaries," Mundy says.

Many men also weren't interested in the job. At the time there was little prestige in the work the battlefield was where heroes were born. Those who worked behind the scenes could say little about their accomplishments. And the work was seen as secretarial in some ways, Mundy notes.

It wasn't until after Pearl Harbor that the real push to grow the ranks of intelligence began. In the weeks leading up to this fateful day, there was a sense of impending danger, but exactly where and when that assault would take place remained a mystery. Just days before the attack, the Japanese changed up part of their coding system. The codebreakers scrambled to crack the new intercepts—but it was too late.

Why the U.S. was caught by surprise would be hashed and rehashed over the years—from conspiracy theories to congressional hearings. But the loss emphasized the growing need for enemy intelligence. And with an increasing number of men being shipped out overseas, the government turned to an abundant resource that, due to sexist stereotypes of the day, were assumed to excel at such "boring" tasks as code breaking: women.

The Army and Navy plucked up potential recruits from across the country, many of whom were or planned to become school teachers—one of the few viable careers for educated women at the time. Sworn to secrecy, these women left their loved ones under the pretense of doing secretarial work.

Unlike the men, women code breakers initially signed onto the Army and Navy as civilians. It wasn’t until 1942 that they could officially join with many lingering inequities in pay, rank and benefits. Despite these injustices, they began arriving in Washington D.C. by the busload, and the city's population seemed to swell overnight. Exactly how many of these women contributed to wartime intelligence remains unknown but there were at least 10,000 women codebreakers that served—and "surely more," Mundy adds.

America wasn’t the only country tapping into its women during WWII. Thousands of British women worked at Bletchley Park, the famous home of England’s codebreaking unit. They served a number of roles, including operators of the complex code-breaking computers known as the Bombe machines, which deciphered the German Enigma intercepts. While the American codebreakers did assist the Allies in Europe, the majority of their work focused on the Pacific theater.

Just as women were hired to act as "computers" in astronomy to complete the rote, repetitive work, "the same was true with codebreaking," says Mundy. And though it was repetitive, the job was far from easy. There were endless numbers of code and cipher systems—often layered to provide maximum confusion.

Codebreaking entails days of starting at strings of nonsensical combinations of letters, seeking patterns in the alphabetical chaos. "With codes, you have to be prepared to work for months—for years—and fail," Mundy writes.

Over the years, the teams learned tricks to crack into the messages, like looking for the coded refrain "begin message here," which sometimes marked the start of a scrambled message. The key was to discover these "points of entry," which the code breakers could then tug at, unraveling the rest of the message like a sweater.

Many of the women excelled at the work, some showing greater persistence than the men on the teams. One particular triumph was that of junior cryptanalytic clerk Genevieve Grotjan, who was hired at age 27 by William Friedman—famed cryptanalyst who was married to the equally brilliant cryptanalyst pioneer Elizabeth Friedman.

Always a stellar student, Grotjan graduated summa cum laude from her hometown University of Buffalo in 1939. Upon graduation she hoped to go on to teach college math—but couldn’t find a university willing to hire a woman. Grotjan began working for the government calculating pensions but her scores from her math exams (required for pay raises) caught Friedman’s eye, Mundy writes.

Friedman's team was working to break the Japanese diplomatic cryptography machine dubbed Purple. When Grotjan joined on, they had already been working on it for months, forming hypothesis after hypothesis to no avail. The British had already abandoned the seemingly impossible task.

The men on the team had years or even decades of experience with codebreaking, Mundy notes. But on the afternoon of September 20, 1940 it was Grotjan who had the flash of insight that led to the break of the Purple machine. "She's a shining example of how important it was that Friedman was willing to hire women," says Mundy. "Inspiration can come from many different quarters."

The ability to read this diplomatic code allowed Allied forces to continually take the pulse of the war, giving them insight into conversations between governments collaborating with the Japanese throughout Europe.

But the work was not all smooth sailing. Shoved in crowded office buildings in the heat of the summer, the job was physically demanding. "Everybody was sweating, their dresses were plastered to their arms," Mundy says. It was also emotionally draining. "They were very aware that if they made a mistake somebody might die.”

It wasn't just intelligence on foreign ships and movements—the women were also decrypting coded communications from the American troops relaying the fate of particular vessels. "They had to live with this—with the true knowledge of what was going on in the war … and the specific knowledge of their brothers' [fates]," says Mundy. Many cracked under the pressure—both women and men.

The women also had to constantly work against public fears of their independence. As the number of military women expanded, rumors spread that they were "prostitutes in uniform," and were just there to "service the men," Mundy says. Some of the women's parents held similarly disdainful opinions about military women, not wanting their daughters to join.

Despite these indignities, the women had an influential hand in nearly every step along the path toward the Allies' victory. In the final days of war, the intelligence community was supplying information on more Japanese supply ships than the military could sink.

It wasn't a dramatic battle like Midway, but this prolonged severing of supply lines was actually what killed the most Japanese troops during the war. Some of the women regretted their role in the suffering they caused after the war’s end, Mundy writes. However, without the devoted coterie of American women school teachers reading and breaking codes day after day, the deadly battle may well have continued to drag on much longer.

Though the heroines of Code Girls were trailblazers in math, statistics and technology—fields that, to this day, are often unwelcoming to women—their careers were due, in part, to the assumption that the work was beneath the men. "It's the exact same reductive stereotyping that you see in that Google memo," says Mundy, of the note written by former Google engineer James Danmore, who argued that the underrepresentation of women in tech is the result of biology not discrimination. "You see this innate belief that men are the geniuses and women are the congenial people who do the boring work."

Mundy hopes that her book can help chip away at this damaging narrative, demonstrating how vital diversity is for problem solving. Such diversity was common during the war: women and men tackled each puzzle together.


Timeline: World War II, Musical Propaganda

As World War II began to rage across Europe and the Pacific, communication technology had spread to most of the world. Radio and recording allowed a unified soundtrack of the conflict shared across continents and oceans. Both sides of the war began to practice the art of propaganda in an effort to inspire their people or demoralize their enemies. Music played an important role in this effort to control the hearts of the populace as each country strove to find their musical voice during the war.

The war era saw the birth of many pieces in the “Great American Songbook”. The power of American popular music in the late 30s and early 40s cannot be ignored. Jazz, swing and the big band sound became a part of the culture in both hemispheres. And the United States was in a unique position as its artists and musicians were seemingly in agreement with their government to see the conflict end quickly and bring their soldiers home.

The United Kingdom was, in some ways, forced to embrace the dance, jazz and big band music that was coming from across the pond. They began to relax the programming of the BBC so that their young soldiers were not seduced by the radio waves coming from German-occupied Europe.

Germany enforced a strict ban on anything the Nazi party considered “unfit” for its people. Works of modernism, impressionism or expressionism were forbidden as the Nazi regime sought to project German art as the pinnacle of society. They approved of the works of German masters such as Beethoven, Bruckner and Wagner and demonized the music of Korngold, Schoenberg and Webern, largely on racial lines.

However, even in Nazi Germany there was an undercurrent, a subculture that embraced the jazz and big band sound coming from the west. By the end of the war, Goebbels commissioned a Nazi swing band called “Charlie and his Orchestra” in an effort to win the propaganda war.

Japan and Russia both embraced the power of the vocal song as a lyrical expression of patriotism. Japan also utilized radio broadcasts as means of demoralizing the Allies in the South Pacific, creating a personality the troops called “Tokyo Rose”. Stalin arranged to have Shostakovich’s "7th Symphony" performed behind enemy lines and broadcasted during the siege of Leningrad.

The power of music to influence thought and culture has been long understood. But the 20th century allowed for a single song, a single performance of a single song, to be broadcasted to every corner of the globe. After World War II the world of music was much smaller giving way to the explosion of popular music in the next few decades.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Listen through the Timeline on our new web app.


The Forgotten Colonial Forces of World War II

“There’s a scattered memory of their sacrifice all over Europe.” The Allied powers relied on colonial troops to defeat the Axis, but their contributions are not often recognized.

The latest article from “Beyond the World War II We Know,” a series from The Times that documents lesser-known stories from the war, recounts the sacrifices of colonial forces, particularly British-backed Indian troops who fought not only the Axis powers, but also their compatriots.

They fought in every theater of World War II, from North Africa to Europe and as far east as Hong Kong. They died and went missing in the tens of thousands. And they formed the largest volunteer force in history. But their contributions are often an afterthought in history books.

The colonial forces that dotted the battle maps of World War II were crucial for the Allies to fill out their ranks and keep up their momentum. While India contributed the largest number of volunteers, at some 2.5 million troops, Africans, Arabs and others fought and died for the freedom of the Allied powers, although they were under the yoke of colonial rule. “I always say, Britain didn’t fight the Second World War, the British Empire did,” said Yasmin Khan, a historian at Oxford University and author of “The Raj at War.”

About 15 percent of all the Victoria Crosses — Britain’s highest decoration for valor — awarded during the Second World War went to Indian and Nepalese troops. The honor was bestowed upon service members from other colonies as well. “If you look at Commonwealth graves, you can find burial spots of Indians everywhere,” Khan said. “There’s a scattered memory of their sacrifice all over Europe.”

While these colonial forces are often forgotten or overshadowed, they not only helped the Allied powers win their war, they also set in motion events that would eventually lead to some of the colonies’ independence.

Despite their sacrifices, these troops were never treated as equals. They were largely under the command of European or American officers, although they were skilled fighters and even helped patrol the streets of London. It was difficult for them to rise up the ranks and become officers. Their compensation was far less than that of their white peers, and it worsened the darker their skin was. As poorly as Indian soldiers were treated, their African peers fared far worse.

Their skill on the battlefield helped stoke nationalism at home however, the colonial forces were in many ways helping Britain maintain its crumbling empire, as it came under onslaught by Japanese, Italian and German forces.

Although the battlefronts of Europe were romanticized in novels, history books and films, much of the war was fought in and over British (and to a lesser extent, French) colonies, with front lines springing up from North Africa to East Asia as both sides vied for control of the regions’ vast resources and wealth to sustain their militaries. In June 1940, the Axis powers launched the North Africa campaign and fighting broke out across Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia as they tried to wrest those colonies from British and French rule. Japan snatched up British colonies like Singapore and Burma (now Myanmar) and tried to invade India.

It would be the entry of the world’s most vocal supporter of liberty and self-determination, the United States, that would help the Allies restore their momentum and shift the tide against the Axis.

But the alliance between the United States and Britain was forged in tension over their clashing stances on colonialism. While the United States remained on the sidelines for nearly half of the war, its calls to end colonialism irked Britain, which needed its colonies more than ever, as its financial reserves were nearly exhausted.

Indians were angry when Britain, which ruled them, declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 and exploited their resources to support the conflict. Some Indians, such as upper-caste urbanites, were loyal to the raj — British rule over India — and fought enthusiastically for the Allies, but the vast majority volunteered because they were offered land, a stable salary and steady meals. Others joined to refine their technical or engineering skills as the military modernized over the course of the war, allowing them to gain experience with more complicated machinery as it was introduced.

In August 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed what became known as the Atlantic Charter, a new vision for the postwar world, highlighting the right of all people to self-determination. Though the United States had not yet entered the war as a combatant, it was supplying military hardware to Britain and created the document as a justification for its support to the Allies, laying out its anti-fascist hopes for the world. Britain was desperate to bind itself to the United States and persuade it the join the war, and Churchill begrudgingly signed the statement, although it challenged the very foundation of the empire.

The Atlantic Charter spurred hopes of independence among the British colonies. But a month after the charter was signed, Churchill clarified that the right to self-determination outlined in the document applied only to countries under German occupation. The damage, however, was already done.

In 1942, Mohandas K. Gandhi began his Quit India movement, demanding the end of British rule, galvanizing Indians against British colonial forces and threatening the economic and natural resources London needed to continue fighting.

A star of the Indian independence movement, Subhas Chandra Bose, split with Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign and aligned himself with the Axis powers, who he believed would empower him to raise an army and win India’s autonomy. Bose toured the prison camps of Europe and Asia, building a force by recruiting Indian expatriates and Indian prisoners of war.

Bose’s military, the Indian National Army, was a roughly 40,000-strong force. By 1943, he established the Azad Hind, or the provisional government of India in exile, in Japanese-occupied Singapore and declared war on the Allied powers. Bose’s ultimate goal was to invade India and liberate it from the British. Once the I.N.A. and the Axis invaded, Bose bet, Indians would rise up en masse. The British forbade their media from reporting on the rogue force, worried it would spur Indian troop defections.

In March 1944, Bose had his chance to shatter British rule. The Japanese military, with the support of the I.N.A., launched Operation U-Go, a campaign to invade northeast India from Burma and smash a buildup of Allied forces in the area. If the Japanese and the I.N.A. prevailed, they could extract India’s resources to revitalize their war effort, perhaps prolonging the war, and use India’s strategic ports to cut off Allied supply lines spanning from East to West.

But they faced stiff resistance from Allied forces, which were overwhelmingly nonwhite — about 70 percent of the fighting force was from India and to a lesser extent, African colonies. (British forces were reluctant to serve in India, preferring the glamour of the European front lines.) The fight, known as the Battle of Kohima and Imphal, produced some of the worst bloodshed of the war in Asia.

As Britain-backed Indian troops killed their own compatriots, those under Bose’s command, they also killed thousands of Japanese, considered some of the best fighters in World War II. The Japanese 15th Army, 85,000 strong at the start of the invasion, saw 53,000 troops dead or missing by the battle’s end.

The defeat, one of the most devastating of the war for Japanese ground forces, helped the Indian military come into its own, historians believe, and helped spur nationalist movements in India and parts of Africa.

“They demanded their liberation,” said the historian Kaushik Roy, a professor at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. “There was this feeling, ‘why should we fight to preserve colonialism?’”

It took a few years after the war ended, but the nationalists prevailed. Britain dismantled its empire, and the colonial troops it used to prop up its rule across the world were rolled into the national armies of the independent states that formed out of the wreckage. India was granted independence in 1947.

“Once that lifeblood of colonialism was broken,” Roy added, “they gained confidence in their demands to rule themselves.”


Watch the video: Ο κ. Αποστολάκης Σταμάτιος αφηγείται προσωπικές εμπειρίες του Β Παγκοσμίου Πολέμου. (July 2022).


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  3. Basilio

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