Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

Jun 4

Stealing the Enemy’s Secrets

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 11:34 AM

Stealing the Enemy’s Secrets

Lt. Commander Philip H. Jacobsen, USN-Ret

by Ronald Russell 

(This post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)

Upon graduation from high school in 1941, Phil Jacobsen knew that he wanted a career in radio electronics, but there was no money in his family for college. He turned to the Navy as a training resource, and succeeded in getting into radio school after boot camp. Freshly trained in radio operation, equipment maintenance, and message handling procedures, his class was sent to Pearl Harbor where the Navy decided the new radiomen could best serve as laborers at the ammunition depot! Jacobsen and several others were rescued from that drudgery when CDR Joseph Rochefort, in charge of the Combat Intelligence Unit at Pearl Harbor, directed the expansion of Japanese intercept operator training to support his growing cryptologic operation.

The new intercept operators were trained at Wahiawa, in the center of Oahu. They were immediately immersed in learning the 48-character Japanese equivalent of Morse code, as well as both the katakana and romaji variants of written Japanese. In time they became proficient on a special typewriter that printed romaji characters, and were also taught Japanese communications procedures, message formats, and operating signals. They also learned radio direction finding techniques.

By May of 1942, RM3/c Jacobsen had completed training and was standing watches at radio intercept “Station H” at Wahiawa. The operators were informed of the possibility of a forthcoming large-scale Japanese operation, and to be extremely alert for any unusual activity or ship’s movements. Enemy message traffic gradually increased in level as the month progressed giving a further clue to the radiomen that something big was in the wind. Jacobsen recalls seeing the officer in charge at Station H and his chief radioman examining a chart with two tracks of ships converging on Midway.

The skills practiced by RM3/c Jacobsen and his comrades at Wahiawa during that time provided a vast quantity of remarkably clear raw material for CDR Rochefort’s cryptanalysts at the Combat Intelligence Unit. There the Japanese signals were decrypted and analyzed, leading to an extraordinary understanding of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s intentions at Midway weeks in advance of the attack. That enabled Admiral Nimitz to plan what was to become the greatest American naval victory of all time. There are many reasons for the triumph at Midway, principally centered on the incredible bravery of the men manning the guns and flying the planes as the battle raged. But the success achieved there started with a few enlisted radiomen capturing the intelligence from the airwaves that made the victory possible.


Jacobsen in 2005

Late in 1942, Jacobsen transferred to Guadalcanal with a team that established a new radio intercept and cryptologic unit there as the battle for the Solomon Islands raged, and he served at other Pacific sites as the march toward Japan continued. He retired from the Navy in 1969 after 28 years of service, nearly all in communications intelligence.

Dec 7

Pearl Harbor through the eyes of Tai Sing Loo

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 1:00 AM

Tai Sing Loo was the official Navy photographer of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In this excerpt from Air Raid: Pearl Harbor edited by Paul Stillwell, Mr. Loo provided a unique account of his experiences that day.

Tai on his famous "put put" wearing his trademark helmet.

How I Were at Pearl Harbor

By Tai Sing Loo

On the 6th of December, Saturday afternoon, I had made arrangement with [Platoon] Sergeant [Charles R.] Christenot to have all his Guard be at the Main Gate between 8:30 to 9:30 o’clock Sunday morning to have a group of picture taken in front of the new concrete entrance as a setting with the “Pearl Har­bor” for Christmas card to send home to their fam­ily.

Sunday morning I left my home for Pearl Harbor after 7:00 o’clock. I was waiting for my bus at corner Wilder Avenue and Metcalf Street.

Saw the sky full of antiaircraft gun firing up in the air, I call my friend to look up in sky, explain them how the Navy used their antiaircraft gun firing in practising, at that time I didn’t realize we were in actual war. Our bus stop at Bishop and King Streets. We heard the alarm ringing from the third story building of the Lewers & Cooke, Ltd. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 23

A 16″ AP: Direct hit on the importance of military history and it’s place in the human experience

Friday, April 23, 2010 12:38 AM


Bon Hom Richard

Sgt Dan Daly, USMC, 2nd MOH, 1915

U.S. Navy Aircraft

This blog was launched a few weeks ago with the intent to provide an open enviornment to encourage discussion and more importantly, interest in Naval history and to highlight the essential role that navies have played in the human experience. Germain to this subject is the direction that studying history has taken as it has been presented, or ignored, in all levels of education, from grade school to the most prestigious institutions. A recent post on the USNI Blog by the intrepid CDR Salamander hits the this target with the precision and force of a 16\” Mark 7

A failure of historic proportions

Just what does that phrase mean? What kind of intellectual background does it take to even make that statement?

Those who have raised children in the last three decades know the state of history education in our schools. We also know that our centers of higher education have more or less purged their history departments of military historians. Required history courses – where there are some – more often than not do not cover military actions in any kind of context or depth. When you fold in the fact that the Navy has an institutional bias towards technical fields of education – then it is no surprise that historical illiteracy runs rampant from E1-O10. Is this a bad thing, or just a nuisance?

From $100 dollar questions such as, “Which nation is younger, Belgium or the USA?” to $1,000 questions such as, “What is the source of the border conflicts between Bolivia, Chile, and Peru?”, we simply do not do history well. As a result, when we work with our partners we regularly embarrass ourselves from ISAF to UNITAS as we demonstrate our ignorance of not only our history – but that of the rest of the world.

Even when we narrow the scope down to naval history – historical blindnesshas had real, definable costs. When you look back at some of the Navy’s worst errors in the last decade from LCS, DDG-1000, and the influence of the Transformationalist Cult – they all derive from a poor understanding of the lessons of history; i.e. – Battle Cruisers and Patrol Hydrofoils proved decades ago the seduction of speed is not worth the tradeoffs; regardless of technology the MK-1 Mod-0 eyeball is the primary sensor in the littorals; every successful shipbuilding program has been the result of evolutionary instead of revolutionary change. The examples are legion when you expand the relearned basics during this war by the Army and USMC.

There are notable exceptions though. Ironically, two of the best leaders of this war, Gen. Petraeus, USA and Gen Mattis, USMC – are both men steeped in history. Especially Gen Mattis, his love of good books and fine history are well known. There is a lesson there, but let’s move on.

Read more: A failure of historic porportions

Apr 1

Historical Correspondence: Arleigh Burke to Ike

Thursday, April 1, 2010 12:01 AM

Received this example of correspondence between a couple of warriors from a friend sometime back — thought it might bring a smile. . .

Mar 27

Why I Joined the Navy

Saturday, March 27, 2010 7:45 PM

USS Zeilin APA-9

Air Attack Guadalcanal

By way of an introduction, I want to take the time to explain how a former member of an unnamed branch of military service came to become a guest blogger on a site devoted to naval history. Two words best describe that reason. Duty, a word coming from the 13th century Middle English word duete, meaning conduct due parents and superiors, done with the force of moral obligation; and the word Honor, as in the Biblical Commandment to one’s father and mother. These two words led me to have an unabated interest in naval history and gave purchase to a quest to know the man who was my father.

I was six years old the last time I saw my Dad. My last recollection was of a tall dark haired man, dressed in Levis, a white shirt and wearing a fringed leather jacket. He hugged me and my brother and walked out of our lives, leaving a void that took fifty years to fill. As I grew up, my mother continued to relate the stories of my father and how he had served in the Navy during World War II. He left a few treasures behind, two being, scale model balsa-wood Hellcat and Helldiver airplanes, that to my great regret became kindling after my brother and I conducted a mock dogfight one day when our mother was next door. It took me a long time to understand why she wept so, after scolding us for our transgression. She never told us until years later, that Dad had just left us. I was raised on the notion that he had been recalled to duty in the Korean War and never returned. This led to me devoting much of my interest in learning everything I could about the war in the Pacific and the Korean War, in an effort to honor the memory of my father. A fews years later, a school-mate unintentionally outed me in class, after I had given a much repeated show and tell story about my dad, the “Dead War Hero.” I confronted my mother and she revealed the truth. I was left with an even deeper void of wondering who my father was, and why he never returned.

Decades passed and I went off to my own war, and returned to get on with my life. A turn of events led me to get the chance to return to school and with it came the key to unlock the mystery of what had happened to my father. The Internet and research techniques learned when I returned to college, led me to discover the true history of my Dad’s service in the war, and perhaps understand why he just walked away that day, back in 1952. I learned he had joined the Navy December 8, 1941, and shipped out on the USS Zeilin AP-3 just in time to carry the 3rd Marine Defense Battalion to Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. His ship then continued to support operation “Watchtower” until after being attacked and nearly sunk during a bombing raid on November 11, 1942; they retired to the states for repairs. My father continued to serve in the Zeilin’s Second Division manning the 20mm’s and the boats and participating in four more invasions; Attu, Kiska, Bloody Red Beach at Tarawa, and Kwajalein, before returning stateside for a 30 day leave, during which he married my mom. He was then sent East to become a plank owner on the new carrier Bonhomme Richard CV-31. The notations on the final page of his Enlisted Man’s Jacket, list participation in fifteen carrier air strikes and operations from June 8, 1945 to the final strike that was recalled on 15, August, 45, due to Japan’s surrender.

The search for my father also led to the discovery that I had three other brothers, two of which I was able to connect with. My new-found brother Vince was able to fill in many of the blanks of our father’s life and relate how much he loved the Navy and never for a second, forgot his shipmates and the devotion to duty that they all shared. Perhaps the best illustration of that love, occurred when Vince returned from boot camp dressed in his “Cracker Jacks” and how Dad’s eyes welled up with pride and recognition that his son was following in his footsteps. He sat him down and shared many of the stories that he had held closed in his heart for forty years. His greatest regret as related to Vince was not getting back together with his two older sons and saying how sorry he was for not being there for them. I realize now, after learning myself of what my father experienced during the war, that the experience of war sometimes drives the strongest of men away, to suffer the memories alone.

I am not writing this as a personal self-serving homage to my dad, but to let the readers of this blog understand how honored I am to be invited to symbolically join the Navy and honor the memory of all who have served, by writing about the history of this indispensable branch of military service. Naval history is more than the ships and the great captains; it is the everyman, the seaman, and the marine who manned those ships and did their duty and honored the commitment to service and country.

With that, I ask your permission to come onboard.

Mar 26


Friday, March 26, 2010 5:00 AM

perspective: Function: noun Etymology: Middle French, probably modification of Old Italian prospettiva, from prospetto view, prospect, from Latin prospectus —  a : the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed <places the issues in proper perspective>; also : point of view b : the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.

For all of us who have some connection with the Navy – whether we wear the uniform, love someone in the service or just admire it from afar, history, especially naval history plays a central role in who we are. There wasn’t a day, for example, that when I stepped onto the flight deck of whatever carrier I happened to be flying off that I didn’t have a flash back to those who went before, be they air crew in jungle weight flight suits strapping into an F-4 bound for downtown Hanoi or khaki-clad aviators who formed that thin line that slugged it out with the superior forces of the kido butai at Midway.

History gives us perspective – of who we are and why we do what we do. It builds our culture and informs our ethos. It’s why we have traditions and customs. It serves as sign posts of progress — and warnings.

Indeed, we have much still to learn from the examples history affords us — and our own history is abundantly rich in that regard. We can build upon the experiences of those who went before as long as we understand the context and setting of those experiences.

In that context, the launch of the Naval History blog is an exciting prospect for me. We live in a time when the records formerly available to those willing to spend long hours plying through dusty stacks, delving through handwritten notes, drawings, yellowing photographs in the pursuit of revealing new insight, new perspectives if you will into the historical record is greater than ever before. Through the offices of organizations like the Naval History and Heritage Center which strives to make more original information available via the web, the field of researchers is expanded beyond those who are fortunate enough to reside near archival repositories. As one who has spent considerable time in official and personal research, I am particularly appreciative of that.

So, it will be much of that experience that I will bring to these pages — fruits of research in the operational and aviation archives tempered and flavored by my own experience over the course of three plus decades in uniform or working with the operational Navy. As the resident brown shoe, most – but not all, will focus on naval aviation. Given that 2011 is the 100th anniversary of US Naval Aviation, one of the regular features I will post will be highlights from that 100-year history. Let the journey begin.

One faces the future with one’s past.

– Pearl S. Buck

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