Australian Code Breakers by James Phelps

This true story takes us back to the days when WW1 had only just been declared.

Interestingly, the first shots of World War I were fired in Melbourne, Australia, on August 5, 1914. They were fired by a coastal artillery battery at Port Phillip Heads when the German merchant vessel SS Pfalz attempted to slip out of port before the declaration of war was made known.

On the outbreak of War Frederick Wheatley was seconded to Navy Office, Melbourne, to work with Captain WHC Thring and was placed in charge of intercepted enemy radio messages.

With the aid of a captured code book from the German liner Hobart, captured by a naval party disguised as quarantine officials in Australian waters, Wheatley worked out the cypher key used to encrypt messages sent by Vice Admiral Graf von Spee’s Pacific Squadron.

Wheatley’s brilliant work, aided by a dozen female co-workers, earned him the thanks of the Admiralty.

It wasn’t until Wheatley’s retirement in the 1930’s that his role as a Code Breaker was really acknowledged, and only at his instigation, and this is because the British were embarrassed that they had ignored certain communications from the Australians which resulted in a loss of life and ships.

This is a fascinating tale though not particularly well written. With all the naval battles there were too many Bang Bangs! and Boom Booms! which made me feel like I was watching Batman and Robin from the 1960’s.

The photographic materials in the Appendix more than make up for this with copies of the code books, Wheatley’s explanation of the process, and secret naval documents.

Worth a read…..

7 thoughts on “Australian Code Breakers by James Phelps

  1. Love codes and coding. I took the navy test for languages but did not pass. My masters is in linguistics which I studied a decade or more after the military. Husband is excellent with this field and with reading things, including people.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Husband recognized patterns which is why the Army send him to study Russian years ago and he passed the D-Lab. I did not pass but failed by only a little. I have good intuition but work hard with language and cryptograms: forget it.


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