The Code Talkers – early encryption & code transmissions during the world wars!


Chocataw Coders

One of the easiest ways to encrypt and code communication between two places is to ideally use a language that very few people speak and understand and native communicators of which language are stationed at both ends to encrypt and decrypt. There are machines that could do it – the Enigma from the world war for example – but it took longer and with humans that time taken was much and substantially less. Those humans were the code talkers that the American developed with their Native American Chocataw, Cherokee, Navajo language speakers – languages that were never spoken – ever outside of America !!

 Adolf Hitler, it is said was aware if them and sent in fact specialists (anthropologists in fact) into America to learn how they were used in the First World War. His agents however reverted back that it was impossible to break! Which it would have been, since besides being extremely difficult to learn. It was estimated that there were perhaps 10 – 15 non native speakers of Native American Indian language at that time. The first documented instances of the use of Native Americans in the American military to transmit messages during war was by the American 30th Infantry Division serving alongside the British during the Second Battle of the Somme. They used a group of Cherokee soldiers in September 1918. Their unit was under British command at the time.


Comanche Coders


Colonel Bloor

Around this time the Choctaw code talkers were a group of Choctaw Indians from Oklahoma who pioneered the use of Native American languages as military code. Their exploits took place during the waning days of World War I. The government of the Choctaw Nation maintains these men were the first native code talkers ever to serve in the U.S. military. An American officer, Colonel A. W. Bloor, noticed some American Indians serving with him in the 142nd Infantry in France. Overhearing two Choctaw Indians , he realized he wasn’t able to understand them. He guessed, if he couldn’t understand them, neither could the Germans, no matter how good their English skills may be! Since many Native American languages hadn’t ever been written down it would be an added degree of complexity. With the active cooperation of his Choctaw soldiers, he tested and deployed a code, using the Choctaw language in place of regular military code.

There were many others like the Comanche, Meskwaki, Basque, Seminole, Nubian and the biggest of them in terms of adoption – Navajo. Non-speakers would find it impossible to distinguish unfamiliar sounds used in these languages. Not surprisingly, a speaker who has acquired a language during their childhood sounds distinctly different from a person who acquired the same language in later life, thus reducing the chance of successful impostors sending false messages. Finally, the additional layer of an alphabet cypher was added to prevent interception by native speakers not trained as code talkers and in the event of their capture by the Japanese. A similar system employing Welsh was used by British forces, but not to any great extent during World War II. Welsh was used more recently in the Balkan peace-keeping efforts for non-vital messages.


Joe Kieyoomia – prisoner of war

Navajo was an attractive choice for code use because few people outside the Navajo had learned to speak the language. No books in Navajo existed. Outside of the language, the Navajo spoken code was not very complex by cryptographic standards. It would likely have been broken if a native speaker and trained cryptographers could have worked together effectively. The Japanese had an opportunity to attempt this when they captured  in the Philippines in 1942 during the Bataan Death March Joe Kieyoomia, a Navajo sergeant in the U.S. Army, but not a code talker, was ordered to interpret the radio messages later in the war. However, since Kieyoomia had not participated in the code training, the messages made no sense to him. When he reported that he could not understand the messages, his captors tortured him bu the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy never ever cracked the spoken code.


About Soumya
A technology enthusiast, forever enamored by all that it hath wrought and of course here is an attempt at making sense of it all and perhaps simplifying it!

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