CARMA Colloquium

4:00 pm

Thursday, 12th May 2016

V205, Mathematics Building


John Mack

(The University of Sydney)

The breaking of Japanese Army and Navy codes during WW2

In 2000, after investigating the published literature(for which I had reason then), I realised that there was clearly confusion surrounding the question of how WW2 Japanese army and navy codes had been broken by the Allies.

Fourteen years later, my academic colleague Peter Donovan and I understood why that was so: the archival documents needed to perform this task, plus the mathematical understanding needed to interpret correctly these documents, had only exposed themselves through our combined researches over this long period. The result, apart from a number of research publications in journals, is our book, "Code Breaking in the Pacific", published by Springer International in 2014.

Both the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) used an encryption system involving a code book and then a second stage encipherment, a system which we call an additive cipher system, for their major codes – not a machine cipher such as the Enigma machines used widely by German forces in ww2 or the Typex/Sigaba/ECM machines used by the Allies. Thus, the type of attack needed to crack such a system is very different to those described in books about Bletchley Park and its successes against Enigma ciphers.

However, there is a singular difference: while the IJN’s main coding system, known to us as JN-25, was broken from its inception and throughout the Pacific War, yielding for example the intelligence information that enabled the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway to occur, or the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto to be planned, the many IJA coding systems in use were, with one exception, never broken!

I will describe the general structure of additive systems, the rational way developed to attack them and its usual failure in practice, and the "miracle" that enabled JN-25 to be broken - probably the best-kept secret of the entire Pacific War: multiples of three! Good maths, but not highly technical!



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