Monday, August 25, 2014

Captain Eric Nave - Australia's Captain Joseph Rochefort

Captain Eric Nave, an Australian naval officer, was the first to unravel Japanese telegraphy and to break Imperial Japanese Navy codes.  Yet few have heard of the exploits and achievements of this exceptionally talented man who did so much for the safety and security of our country (Australia).

Ian Pfenningwerth


Wiki Pedia said...

Captain Eric Nave (1899–1993) was a Navy Paymaster Commander and an Australian cryptographer, before and during World War II. He served in the Navy from 1917 to 1949. As a midshipman in the 1920s, he was required to learn a foreign language and chose Japanese: "with French and German you got sixpence a day extra, (but) for Japanese you got five bob" (ten times as much). He spent two years in Japan, and transferred to the Royal Navy Sigint section in 1925, then the Government Code and Cipher School in London in 1927. In 1930 he was sent to the Far East Combined Bureau, in Hong Kong and later in Singapore. He was invalided sick to Melbourne in 1940 where he set up a small RAN cryptographic unit in Victoria Barracks. The unit had a core of naval personnel, with an appreciable number of university academics and graduates specialising in classics, linguistics and mathematics, e.g. Athanasius Treweek and Arthur Dale Trendall.[1]

The unit outgrew Victoria Barracks, and moved to the Monterey building in February 1942. But Monterey also housed FRUMEL, run by (USN) Lieut Rudi Fabian, ex-Station CAST in the Philippines. Nave was eventually forced out of Monterey by Fabian, who apparently regarded him as a "security risk" – because he wanted to cooperate with the Army's Central Bureau. According to his staff, Nave often kept keys to new codes passed on by the Americans and British to himself, which might have been acceptable as a training exercise in peacetime, but not in time of war. Treweek said: "We always looked forward to his day off. We’d get the keys to his safe and find all this material in there." Nave also had difficulties with his superior, Commander Long, the Director of Naval Intelligence, whom he considered a man of no great ability.[2]

Nave eventually joined the Central Bureau at Brisbane. Joe Richard said that "[i]f Fabian did not want Nave, the US Army codebreakers were very happy to have him ... Fabian's dislike of Eric Nave was very fortunate for us. Nave became an indispensable person" in "reading air-to-ground messages containing the weather" which "gave away the intended target for the day."[3] Nave and his department were in large part responsible for MacArthur being able to predict the Japanese military moves such as Milne Bay. The Australian codebreakers were responsible for warning the US Navy on 2 December 1941 that by the end of that week end USA would be at war with Japan. The response was that there were no hostile acts west of the date line. They were later warned that following Doolittle' bombing raid the emphasis was changed from New Guinea to Midway Islands where the Japanese thought the bombing raid had come from. Later these code breakers warned MacArthur that Milne Bay was to be invaded (then part of Australian Protectorate) in one month's time in late August 1942. This enabled a hurried reinforcement of Milne Bay.[4] The Battle of Milne Bay was decisively won, mainly by Australian soldiers and US engineers; it was the first time the Japanese had been defeated on land by the allies.

Much of his 1991 book co-authored with James Rusbridger reflects Rusbridger’s views rather than his own, particularly the claim that Churchill concealed warnings about Pearl Harbor from Roosevelt in order to get America in the war. In a 1991 interview on Japanese television Nave "repudiated a large slice of what Rusbridger had written, calling it speculation."[5]


Capt. Eric Nave, 94; Broke Japan's Code Before Pearl Harbor
Published: July 13, 1993

Capt. Eric Nave, an Australian who broke Japanese codes for Britain during World War II and was the co-author of a disputed 1991 book about Pearl Harbor, died last month, London newspapers reported last week. He was 94.

In reporting his death, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian did not give its cause or say where he lived.

The Daily Telegraph said Captain Nave was "one of the most important pioneering personalities in the secret world of code-breaking" and his "long years in intelligence made him almost compulsively secretive."

Born in Adelaide, he joined the Australian Navy in 1916 and later spent years in the British Navy. In 1919 he decided to study Japanese, learning it so well that in 1924 a Japanese admiral called him a genius.

Ina pfennigwerth said...

Thank you for hosting reviews of my book on Eric Nave. It was my first - there have been seven others since - and it is still the one that attracts most comment. In fact I'm giving another representation on Eric and his works next month in Sydney to a distinguished audience.

If it is of any significance, Eric died in Brighton Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne, where he lived most of his life in Australia. As for being 'secretive' he displayed the same sense of reticence as most of the people of his generation in that line of business did. This contrasts with some of the wilder claims made by members of the US codebreaking community in the NSA series of interviews on breaking the Japanese codes.

Ian Pfennigwerth

Mike Lambert said...

@ Ina Pfenningwerth

Please send me your e-mail address to

I'd like to communicate further about your book. I'd like to have your mailing address. Or can I write to you through your publisher or agent?

Mike Lambert said...

Sorry, I meant Ian not Ina.