SPECIAL INTELLIGENCE BUREAU
"W" (WIRELESS) SECTION
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY (RAN)
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2
Commander Nave of the Royal Australian Navy was an expert on Japanese Naval Codes and ciphers with the Far Eastern Combined Bureau (FECB), the Royal Navy cryptanalysis and Sigint unit in the Far East. FECB was able to readily read the main Japanese Naval ciphers and many of the Japanese Army ciphers in China.
FECB had moved from Hong Kong to Singapore where Commander Nave's health was affected by the tropical environment. Nave arrived back in Australia for 3 months in February 1940 due to ill health. He was called the to Navy Office at Victoria Barracks to discuss the establishment of a cryptanalysis unit in Australia.
Prime Minister Menzies unfortunately rejected the proposal to establish a Naval cryptanalysis unit in a letter dated 11 April 1940. Menzies indicated that it would take a long time and be expensive to establish such a unit and that signals relating to Europe would be of little use to Australia, and analysing Asian traffic would only duplicate the role of FECB. Menzies sought advice from the British Government on the proposal.
Commanders Nave and Commander Newman, the Director of Signal Communications (DSC), were requested to submit a plan to set up an interception and cryptanalysis unit in Melbourne similar to the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) in the UK for a Singapore Conference to be held 22 - 31 October 1940. Their plan detailed how Wireless Intelligence could be utilised by firstly studying call signs, frequencies, operating signals, wireless routines and D/F bearings and secondly through cryptology.
Admiral Colvin supported their proposal to establish a "W" (Wireless) Section but still did not have political approval. Menzies eventually gave his approval after Newman advised that:-
- Britain supported Australia developing a cryptanalysis unit in Australia
- Netherlands East Indies and New Zealand agreed to co-operate
In mid 1941, Commander Nave invited the following Sydney University academics to join him to establish his small Naval cryptanalysis unit known as Special Intelligence Bureau at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne:-
- Professor Thomas Gerald Room (Mathematics)
- R.J. Lyons (Mathematics)
- Professor Arthur Dale Trendall (Greek)
- Athanasius Pryor Treweek (lecturer in Greek)
These academics had initially done some work on Japanese ciphers with an Australian Army intercept unit at Park Orchards near Ringwood in Melbourne. Trendall, Room and Lyons remained as civilians. Treweek was then commissioned as a Captain in the Australian Army along with Ian H. Longfield Lloyd, a Japanese linguist, who was commissioned as a Lieutenant. The Royal Australian Navy also commissioned Japanese linguist Arthur Barclay Jamieson and another civilian Keith Stafford Miller, M.Sc., as Paymaster Lieutenants.
Special Intelligence Bureau eventually moved from Victoria Barracks to Monterey Apartments in Queens Road, Melbourne.
In early 1941, Room and Jamieson went to Batavia after Newman had arranged to share cryptological material with the Dutch.
The main task for Nave's Special Intelligence Branch was to break the code for the Japanese Mission in Australia. By April 1941, SIB was breaking consular traffic and sending keys to Washington and Bletchley via FECB in Singapore. Material was shared between the British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian units to avoid duplication of effort.
SIB handled intercepts from RAN Intercept Stations at HMAS Coonawarra (Darwin), HMAS Ringwood and HMAS Harman (Canberra). SIB was successful with some consular codes and merchant navy codes and ciphers. Their main success was with traffic in connection with the Mandated Island sin the Pacific. Nave had broken the code which allowed them to report the position of most Japanese merchant ships on a daily basis.
SIB did not do any work on the Japanese JN25 code but they did received some of its content from FECB.
Intercepts from Darwin were also made available to Commander Nave's SIB in Melbourne.
"The Intrigue Master -
Commander Long and Naval Intelligence in Australia, 1913 - 1945"
by Barbara Winter
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© Peter Dunn 2006
This page first produced 1 September 2002
This page last updated 14 January 2015