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The Emperor’s Codes – Bletchley Park’s Role in Breaking Japan’s Secret Ciphers

Michael Smith

Paperback - 978-1-906447-12-0

As the title suggests, this book is about the part that Bletchley Park played in breaking the Japanese ciphers. It takes the reader back to the post World War One intercepts and the breaking of the Japanese diplomatic ciphers by the young John Tiltman; it covers German Japanese alliance and the information gleaned by the British by continuing to read the Japanese ciphers; it introduces the Australian sailor Eric Nave recruited to work for the British, who, through his mastery broke into the Japanese naval ciphers.

This book takes the reader across the world, out of Bletchley Park, to the Far East and beyond to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand and introduces the often forgotten war which was being waged outside of Europe. It introduces the men and women on the other side of the globe who set up and manned the Y stations intercepting those messages; the code-breakers and the linguists who broke into those ever changing ciphers reading diplomatic, military and naval messages.

Smith peppers his well researched volume with the personal memories of some of those people. By doing so he dispels the myth that the Americans were the only ones to break the Japanese ciphers and confirms some of the mistrust between the allies with regards to the sharing of information.

Returning to Bletchley Park the reader is introduced to the eccentric Hugh Foss and the record keeping, code-breaking teams in Huts 7, 10 and to the group of ladies working on Japanese codes, coincidently stationed in the farthest most office, at the end of the longest corridor (known as the Burma Road) of the largest building, (F Block) in Bletchley Park. Once again Smith peppers the highly informative account of breaking the Japanese ciphers at Bletchley with a range of veterans’ memories and introduces the reader to this long ignored element of the work undertaken at Bletchley Park and by other members of the then Empire to break into Japanese ciphers.

This book is crammed with substantiated fact, well supported by twenty three pages of reference notes, a four page bibliography and fourteen index pages. For those who wish to understand codes and ciphers there are excellent explanations and examples in the twenty page appendixes. In his usual matter of fact way, Smith draws attention to the work undertaken by the members of the commonwealth and the integral parts that they played alongside and independently of Bletchley Park in breaking the Japanese codes.

However, in a book about the cold calculus of code-breaking, whether by intent, good management or shear fluke Smith certainly hits an emotional cord. Towards the end of the book, recounting the end of the war in the Far East, Smith presents the short yet moving account of a lady sent out to repatriate Japanese prisoners of war.

Personally, in some places, I did find the book hard going, simply through my own ignorance of the subject and subject matter. This I see as positive, I have been educated, informed and certainly support Michael Smith in getting the Japanese code-breakers of Bletchley Park and beyond the recognition they deserve.

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