The Dungeon

David's Corner


Submitted By David Aiken 7/13/02 (see his page)

From: Bill Price

To: "david aiken"

Subject: Fw: SPEECH ON HYPO by CAPT Biard

Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 21:37:52 -0700


The following is a speech give by CAPT Forrest R. "Tex" Biard USN (Ret) to the National Cryptologic Museum Foundation. It was OCRed from a copy furnished by him Jon Houp (CDR USN Ret) accompanied him from Dallas.

Baird and four others were studying Japanese at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. They were the last of several groups to take this multi-year course. They managed to get out on a freighter to Shanghai in September 1941. They were assigned to the group called HYPO at Pearl Harbor. Tex Biard was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He was 24th in a class of over 400. Don't forget Bill Tremblay at FRUMEL.



On 7 December, 1941, some 10 officers and about 30 enlisted men were serving in a highly secret operational intelligence group in the basement of the Administration Building in Pearl Harbor. This group was a fairly new unit --- the newest of the U. S. Navy's three World War II code-breaking stations. It had been placed in operation only seven months earlier -- on I May 1941. The senior and oldest of the three stations was in Washington, D.C. A second station was operating in the Philippines on the island of Corregidor in the entrance to Manila Bay.

Less than ten weeks earlier -- on 30 September -- four other young officers and I, all fresh from studying the Japanese language inTO ALL

"Gentlemen, here are your desks. Start breaking Japanese codes."

fortunately, my desk was next to Rochefort's. People in the basement came to him with problems or just to discuss the day's developments. By eavesdropping on these discussions I learned much... and quickly developed an undying respect for this brilliant, fast-thinking Rochefort.

During that first seven months of its existence the basement group had been assigned and was working on three Japanese naval codes and ciphers which, unfortunately, either yielded no really useful information when we could read them or which we could not break at all. The net result was that we detected absolutely no warning of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. A broken - hearted Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on that 7 December, 1941, certainly had scant reason to thank our basement group for anything. But that was hardly our fault. Later, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz , who succeeded Admiral Kimmel, said of that same -- well, almost the same -- basement team:

"For several months after the outbreak of the war with Japan the very fate of our nation rested in the hands of a small group of very dedicated and highly devoted men working in the basement under the Administrative Building in Pearl Harbor."

We, in that small group, had a more descriptive term for that unventilated enclosure in which we worked. We, more appropriately, called it "The Dungeon."

Permit me to digress here to say that the code-breaking unit on Corregidor was evacuated to Australia in February through April of 1942 and was re-established in lovely Melbourne, where it operated for the remainder of the war. I was one of the very few World War II code breakers who served in all three of the Navy's code breaking units and, I hasten to say, that Melbourne was a most wonderful place in which to enjoy the sweet revenge from breaking the enemy's codes and ciphers.

I now return to the previous discussion. As Admiral Nimitz indicated in the remark just quoted, in a very few short weeks our small group changed from an essentially ineffective unit to one of the nation's most important wartime assets. Without us there would have been no victory at Midway and the United States quite well might, by early 1943, have lost the war in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

The story of just why and how that change occurred in our Dungeon unit has been partly - but only partly - told. The two authors who have written most knowingly about it knew us well, but not quite well enough. Since no one has told the full story - and only three persons alive today can fill in the blanks - I think it appropriate here to add a few remarks of my own.

First, by hindsight, I can say that four miracles blessed us in the Dungeon during that otherwise tragic December. Each of these four miracles was essential and absolutely necessary. Not until much later could we perceive just how very well we had been blessed.

The first miracle was performed on 7 December. The Japanese bombed and badly damaged the battleship TENNESSEE causing it to settle to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. But in doing this they made one fatal mistake. They spared a very special one of her officers, a certain Lieutenant Commander Joseph Finnegan, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1928, Tokyo-trained Japanese linguist, usually gregarious but sometimes reclusive, intuitive, brilliant, volatile, and a professional U.S. Irishman from Boston. The Japanese paid a high price for that mistake. It cost them the war.

I knew Joe well - very well - for years before he joined our Dungeon unit on that seventh of December.

The second December miracle occurred on 10 December, three days after the attack. Washington, on that date, gave the Dungeon permission to work on the Japanese Navy's five digit, two-part, enciphered, widely used strategic code. This major code was given the U.S. Navy designation of JN-25. The Japanese Navy referred to it as Navy Codebook D. Washington and Corregidor had already made a meaningful dent in it, but progress following that dent had been painfully slow. The Dungeon soon would help to change that state.

The third December miracle - also unrecognized at the time came when the fairly junior Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was ordered to take command of the badly battered U. S. Pacific Fleet. The miracle really was this. When we in the Dungeon produced our necessary miracle - or miracles - he stuck his neck out fifty feet and let his intelligence officer sell him what even Washington insisted was a very faulty bill of goods.

The fourth December miracle followed upon the third. It came as soon as Admiral Nimitz assumed command in the Pacific. He immediately told Admiral Kimmel's nervous and fearful staff some words that gave them heart. All of them were to remain in their positions and work for him - as long as they continued to do their work well. With these words he retained as his intelligence officer Admiral Kimmel's most junior section chief [Lieutenant] Commander Edwin T. Layton, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1924, Japanese linguist, former code-breaker and intelligence operator extra-ordinary.

With these four miracles now working for us our Dungeon group was ready to start moving.

The fastest movers in the Dungeon were five in number. And Joe Finnegan was one of them. Without any one of these five we almost surely would have had no victory at Midway, the Japanese would have continued to roll on and on, and before we could have got our war machine together and in gear we would have lost the war in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. I wish there were time for me to expand on this more fully but here I want to emphasize that those on the Dungeon first team complemented one another almost perfectly -- even miraculously. If any one -- yes, any one of these five had not been with us from December, 1941 to June 1942 the history of World War II would now be different. The Dungeon group would have performed more slowly and less confidently; estimates of Japanese intentions and movements would have suffered; and the critical time table for Midway would have been produced too late -- indeed, if it could have been produced at all. And that would have meant disaster.

The five leading miracle workers in that Dungeon crew are easy to name but far more difficult to describe. Top honors indisputably must go to our brilliant officer-in-charge, Commander Joseph J. Rochefort.

Joe Rochefort was intuitive, quick, sharp thinking, blessed with a fantastic memory of almost total recall, and was an inspiring leader for his miracle-producing associates. He came, he saw, he understood, he encouraged, he inspired, he pointed out new approaches to problems that were stopping us and, above all, the estimates and summaries he sent to the high command were almost always highly correct and, frequently, even prophetic. He kept our team working smoothly, brilliantly, and efficiently. He was the incomparable Joseph J. Rochefort, Japanese linguist, expert traffic analyst, leader among code breakers, and intelligence specialist extra-ordinary.

Second in line after Rochefort for honors is the incomparable human dynamo, the top-notch linguist, intuitive code breaker, brilliant thinker, strategic analyst, and, along with Joe Rochefort, an outstanding mind-reader of the Japanese high command, the professional U.S. Irishman from Boston, Joe Finnegan. I knew Joe well for years prior to working with him in the Dungeon. He had been a 1934 to 1937 language officer in Tokyo. In our team Joe was a Babe Ruth --- always a star, always spectacular, a home- run hitter and always a fantastic threat to the enemy, who hadn't the slightest idea that he was batting so effectively against them.

On an almost equal level with Finnegan, but always quiet and never ostensibly spectacular was the steady, unimpressive [Lieutenant] Commander Thomas H. Dyer, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1924. He helped keep things organized and in working order while we in the code-solving field were just too busy to tend to such menial --but vitally important --- tasks. Joe Rochefort called him the best codebreaker in the U.S. Navy and fully trusted and respected him as such.

Then we had another most unusual person --- unusual because he always seemed to be anything but unusual. He was a tall, somewhat thin, redheaded Marine Corps major, a Japanese linguist who had been in Tokyo from 1935 to 1938. He was Major Alva B. (Red) Lasswell. If Joe Finnegan was our spectacular Babe Ruth, Red Lasswell was our steady, dependable, long-enduring, right-as -rain Lou Gehrig. It was hard to see Red because of Joe, but without Red, Joe would have been far less the hero. When Joe went wild and had to be pulled back to earth Red could do the job without upsetting the house that Finnegan and Rochefort built. Red did not want to be a code-breaker. His favorite game was top-notch competition rifle shooting. But by working so effectively in the Dungeon he shot thousands and thousands of our enemy in a different but very effective manner. I liked and admired Red very, very much.

The last of the top five greats was (Lieutenant] Commander Wesley A. Wright, U. S. Naval Academy Class of 1926, better known as "Ham". "Ham" was an almost look- alike for Wallace Beery, a film actor of the 1920's and 1930s. The comparison is not necessarily a flattering one. "Ham" worked with and under Tom Dyer, keeping things in order and solving many knotty problems in the code-breaking area. It was "Ham" Wright who, together with Joe Finnegan and just barely in the nick of time, engineered the solution to the extremely important month-and-day-of-the-month (usually called "date time") code group. This was a "garble cipher" which, when solved by Joe and "Ham", finally gave Admiral Nimitz the exact time (day of the month) sequence for the various moves in the Aleutians-Midway Operation! What a fantastic gift to present to a very anxious Admiral Nimitz! And to the U.S.A.!

Then there was a person -- a very special person -- who did not serve in the Dungeon with us but who deserves a very high ranking place in the list of five expanded to make it six. He, luckily, worked above ground in fresh Hawaiian air. He was another human dynamo, sharp, quick thinking, fast acting, intuitive, fast to comprehend, and extremely aggressive. In prior assignments he had been a Tokyo Japanese language student and later a code breaker. And, on December 31, he moved from Admiral Kimmel's staff to continue on as Admiral Nimitz's young intelligence officer. He was (Lieutenant) Commander Edwin T. Layton, Naval Academy Class of 1924. Layton and I found many intelligence interests in common having almost nothing to do with Dungeon work, so I came to know him very well and to appreciate fully his tremendous contributions to our results.

Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton were close friends of long standing. They had studied the Japanese language together in Tokyo from 1929 to 1932. Here at Pearl Harbor they worked together in complete harmony, forming an almost perfect team. Rochefort gave Layton remarkably clear and reliable estimates and analyses. The quick-witted Layton might then add comments and suggestions or more analysis. After that he had to sell the final product to Admiral Nimitz. Thank Heavens a very hard-pressed Admiral Nimitz quickly learned to trust the Rochefort/Layton duo that brought him this very restricted, highly secret information which some others on his staff at first were prone to put down as guesswork --- even as dangerous guesswork.

If time permitted I would add more names -- including:

Lieutenant Commander Thomas A. Huckins USNA Class of 1924 Valuable radio traffic analyst


Lieutenant John A. Williams USNA Class of 1928 Valuable radio traffic analyst working with Huckins.


Lieutenant Commander Jack S. Holtwick USNA Class of 1927 A man of many and varied talents. He ran our IBM machines at that particular time - and did so superbly.


Each of the people listed did, prior to the history-shaping Battle of Midway, make unique and absolutely vital nation-saving contributions to the work on JN-25. Without the unique contributions of each of these five the breath-taking tight time-schedule required for victory at Midway could by no means have been formulated and successfully carried out. Victory at Midway just would not have been possible without even any one of these giants.

Huckins, Williams, and Holtwick did not work on JN-25 itself. That was not their type of work. But the support they gave us was vital and critical. By no means should we exclude them from our winnerís circle. And Eddie Layton. He was the sixth member of our five-man team and by no means the least important of that magnificent group.

Let me now discuss the Japanese Navy's important strategic code system, the JN-25.

It was 10 December, just three days after the attack on Pearl, that Washington gave a very dispirited Dungeon crew permission to join in on the attack on JN-25, a system that was a stranger to almost all of us. Unfortunately, a major change had been made in it on 4 December. The complicated, lengthy, and very difficult cipher applied to the code was changed. That was bad. But, fortunately, the code-book itself, which had been in use since 1 December 1940, was not replaced. That was good. In spite of the very limited success achieved with that system we did not want to have to start again completely from scratch. Washington and Corregidor had spent much time and effort getting that start on the codebook itself.

Corregidor was quick to make a break ' into the new cipher. They accomplished this in only four days --- two days before we at Pearl received the go-ahead to start work. That fast break-in helped, soon the old-timers Rochefort, Finnegan, and Lasswell were making progress. We, the newcomers, were learning too. By the end of January things were moving right along. Progress was steady and we were obtaining significant bits of information in more and more messages. We could see we were becoming a team--a good team.

February brought more progress and more and larger fragments of information. We at Pearl were working our way up the line and we knew it. Wright, Dyer, and Holtwick were right in there, also, keeping a horrifying mass of code and cipher data as well as files of messages under usable control. They, too, were outstanding.

But not all was to remain sweetness and light. Before long discord came onto the scene. Washington and the Dungeon could not agree on some important items, including a difference of opinion regarding predicted Japanese operations being discussed in JN-25. In a disagreement of this type Washington had one very important advantage. They had personal access to the ear of the all-powerful, very determined, and extremely unforgiving super boss, Admiral Ernest J. King. Most happily the Rochefort - Lasswell-Layton, etc., team was seldom caught off base -- in fact, they almost always were right on the proper wave length, a fact that was not lost on Admiral Nimitz. But the problem did not go away.

The bits of operational intelligence we did, even at that time, succeed in pulling out of JN-25 sometimes were verifiable, as in the case when we could put a submarine on the track of the carrier KAGA. KAGA was returning to Japan for repairs after hitting a shoal off Malay. Unfortunately the submarine skipper could not approach close enough to fire torpedoes, but this and other analogous cases soon proved that we were not just putting out dangerous guesswork -- nor even guesswork.

Operational bits continued to improve --- they became more frequent and the readable text was usually longer.

Then came April and the Dungeon gang was hotter yet. It was in the middle of April that Admiral King -- very unusually - requested Rochefort to send him an estimate of the enemy's probable intentions over the next two months or so. There isn't time to go into that here other than to say that some Japanese language war history books I have read use Rochefort's reply as valid reason to rank him among the great prophets of all time.

But along with April also came something that just never should have been -- the 18 April Doolittle raid on Japan - usually called a raid on Tokyo. Carriers HORNET and ENTERPRISE had been sent on a foolish grandstand mission when they should have been heading for the Coral Sea.

But this patently foolish mission immediately became a blessing. The Japanese high command vastly-over-reacted to this loss of face in several important ways that furthered the Allied cause tremendously. It even furthered the cause in the Dungeon, where greatly increased volume of traffic, much of it from units normally sending few dispatches, gave us a line-up on Japanese fleet organization far superior to anything we had worked out previously. This would help tremendously with our intelligence for Midway.

It was now obvious to Rochefort and to Layton, and hence to Nimitz, that an important move southward from Rabaul, the major Japanese base northeast of Australia and northwest of the Solomons Islands probably to the important Australian port and army and air base at Port Moresby in Southeastern New Guinea, was in the offing. An accompanying move to occupy a potential seaplane base at the island of Tulagi in the Solomons also appeared to be scheduled in the same operation. The information gleaned from JN- 25 as to the forces and the time schedule for this move paid off handsomely. Nimitz was able to get Carrier Task Forces 16 and 17 with carriers LEXINGTON and YORKTOWN on the scene in time for what is now known as the Battle of the Coral Sea --- the first carrier versus carrier battle in history.

The results were not all we might have wished. But in the engagements on 7 and 8 May the Japanese threat to Port Moresby was stopped; however we lost LEXINGTON, and the carrier YORKTOWN suffered uncomfortable damage.

A really valid story of the Battle of the Coral Sea has yet to be told. I wish I might say more on that -----

Before the end of April the Japanese navy gave strong indications that it was interested in the Aleutian Islands, and Joe Rochefort was seeing additional evidence that another move might be made in the central Pacific. Washington now was very insistent upon protecting the important points of Samoa, New Caledonia, and Fiji on the vital lifeline to Australia. Admiral Halsey with carriers HORNET and ENTERPRISE had failed to get to the Coral Sea on time for that battle but now were to be left in the Southwest Pacific area. These were Admiral King's wishes-and wishes of Admiral King were akin to the Ten Commandments chiseled in stone. Could Admiral Nimitz dare call them back to Hawaii?

During all these days of late April and early May both Finnegan and Lasswell were magnificent and Rochefort was superb. Rochefort knew his team. And they knew him. And they understood each other. Finnegan would make fearful quantum leaps. Fortunately, he was almost always right. When he wasn't right the steadier, smoother moving Lasswell usually would be the one to pull him and his thoughts, not too abruptly, back to the realm of reality. Our work on JN-25 was hot.

It was on 5 May that Yamamoto, having run out of other lands to conquer, finally received the official go-ahead for the occupation of Midway. It had been a hard-sell for Yamamoto. He had to agree to occupy the Aleutians, too, and then, a few weeks later, to go after Samoa and Fiji.

No U.S. Navy intercept stations copied Yamamoto's first dispatch placing the MI (for Midway) operation on a high priority time schedule. But other messages soon became quite interesting -- - messages ordering various ships to do this and that, to proceed to here and to there, arriving at places we could generally identify by dates we could not ascertain. Washington and the Dungeon might disagree as to dates by as much as ten days, and sometimes more. Worse yet, Washington said the move would be toward Fiji - Samoa - New Caledonia, while the Dungeon was convinced that everything was pointing to Midway (and the Aleutians).

By 14 May Rochefort via Layton had convinced Admiral Nimitz that the Japanese were going to move against Midway, while Admiral King "wished" that HORNET and ENTERPRISE protect the Australian life line. And that was far from Hawaii and Midway.

Japanese wartime histories show that on 15 May, radio traffic from Pearl Harbor suddenly increased tremendously and remained high --- particularly in volume of high priority traffic. That state of affairs continued on and on and on----.

It was on that 15 May that Nimitz went against the "wishes" of King and started calling his carriers back to Pearl in preparation to defend Midway. Brave, brave Admiral Nimitz. Going against King's "wishes". No man could ever have trusted the Dungeon more! Thank Heaven for Admiral Chester W. Nimitz!

While the Dungeon (Rochefort, Finnegan, Lasswell, and Layton) were crying "MIDWAY!! MIDWAY!" Washington was stoutly maintaining that we were "WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!" It was Oahu, or the West Coast, or even Fiji - Samoa - New Caledonia. The other point of disagreement was the time schedule. Rochefort found solidly verifiable arguments that Midway was to be in early June; Washington still insisted that date was much too early.

By 20 May Rochefort had hard evidence that the move was to be against Midway with a diversionary raid and occupation was taking place in the Aleutians.

By 26 May HORNET and ENTERPRISE were back in Pearl. They would have to leave by the 29th. YORKTOWN, damaged, made it back on the 27th. It had to be band-aided and got out, mostly with new air units, on 30 May! Poor, over-worked, battered, hard pressed YORKTOWN!

Dates were still uncertain and disagreement was high. Then, on 26-27 May, two of the Dungeon's greats, Joe Finnegan and "Ham" Wright, using the scantiest material ever to produce world - shaking results, solved the date-cipher "garble" table used to encipher dates inside the JN-25 system.

The Aleutians would be attacked on 3 June --- a diversionary raid. Carriers would attack (start softening up) Midway on 4 June. Midway would be occupied on 7 June.

AND THESE DATES NOW WERE DEFINITE! THE DUNGEON DID IT! And Nimitz's hurried schedule built on Dungeon's earlier and less certain estimates, would hold just fine!

And on 27 May, the Japanese Navy, after almost two months of trying to do so earlier, changed both the codebook and the cipher of JN-25. We knew this would happen. Thank Heaven their hopes to change the system as early as 1 April had proved to be impossible.

So now all of our feverish activity came to a sudden halt. We mostly sat on our thumbs and waited. The Japanese now had a horrifying seven days --- one entire week --- in which, unknown to us, to change their plans and ruin everything, or even to cancel the entire operation. In either case they would make monkeys of us in the Dungeon and a martyr of Admiral Nimitz.

We in the Dungeon waited --- that was all we could do- anxiously, hopefully, nervously, fretfully, anticipatingly -until! Until early on the morning of 3 June Ensign Jack Reid, flying a PBY patrol plane from Midway, found the slow-moving Occupation Force where the Rochefort-Layton duo said it would be sighted at that time. Operation MI was still on! Joe Rochefort, Eddie Layton, Joe Finnegan, Red Lasswell, Tom Dyer, Ham Wright, Tom Huckins, John Williams, Jack Holtwick, Jasper Holmes, Allyn Cole, Banks Holcomb, John Roenigk, Art Benedict, Gil Slonim, and Forrest Biard all could now relax and smile again, could hope, could chew their nails, could close their eyes and pray for our forces, out men, our flyers, and our ships and planes and submarines at sea, in the air, and on land at Midway and in the Aleutians.

Our prayers, there, too were answered. When the final results were known we could hardly be described as elated. More appropriately, perhaps, we were thankful. How very thankful! We were emotionally exhausted.

I am as proud today as I was on that night of 4 June 1942 --Our Dungeon group had done its job superbly. And we won --thank God --- but only by the very skin of our teeth. A cliffhanger? Was there ever a higher, more terrifying precipice?

No one not in that Dungeon group can ever know, can ever feel, can ever appreciate how superhumanly magnificent our giants and their helpers were.

And Layton, and Admiral Nimitz, and Admiral Spruance, and those who fought and lived and especially those who fought and died at AF.

Remember W________________? AF was always MIDWAY!



It was a heroic time. It was not the doing of any one man or any one of our navy's three code-breaking stations; it required the collaboration of many persons in different but closely related and highly dependent fields, though from first to last the deeply creative and subtle and critical spirit of Joe Rochefort at our Pearl Harbor station guided, deepened, and finally transmuted the enterprise. It was a period of impatient work, of crucial experimentation and daring actions, of many false starts and many untenable conjectures. It was a time of earnest communication and hurried conferences, of debate, criticism, and brilliant analytical improvisations.

For those of us who participated, it was a time of creation; there was terror as well as exaltation in our new insight. It will probably not be recorded very completely as history. As history, its recreation would call for an art as high as the story of Oedipus or the story of Cromwell, yet in a realm of action so remote from our common experience that it is unlikely to be known by any poet or historian.

(Taken almost verbatim, with modifications, from John Robert Oppenheimers's "REITH LECTURES OF 1953", later published as a small volume "SCIENCE AND THE COMMON UNDERSTANDING". The original theme was the period of 1920 and 1928 that produced the new physics of Quantum Mechanics and which completely changed the physicistís view of nature and the physical world. With apologies to the memory of John Robert Oppenheimer by Forrest R. Biard).