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"Radio Transmission" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Comments on radio security based on a capture Italian intelligence report, from the Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



A captured Italian Intelligence Report states that in communications during field operations the British have made "abundant use of abbreviations, conventional words, names, and agreed phrases." The Italians admit that these methods have proved effective. "In particular," the report says, "key words for deciphering messages giving fresh positions have been well thought out. It has been observed that, by way of a change from past practice, two different codes have been used in a single message, one code in numbers and the other in words. For example, 'Position of Pura is Jsy. A5N.' Such messages take our cipher expert so long to unravel that the information they contain is useless to us."

This is good news—for our side. Nevertheless, from the same source the American soldier can pick up a few tips about how not to send radio messages in the field. The British used to rely heavily on frequent changes of names, frequencies, and key words or numbers. Instead of confusing Axis listeners, this kind of thing tended to make them more alert. The British soon learned that instead of changing codes frequently, it was better to change them cleverly. For example, certain units, whose code names had been changed had been including references to earlier messages transmitted under their former names; these references specifically mentioned the old names and dates. In these cases identification of the unit by the Axis was a simple matter. Also, apparently unimportant messages helped in identifying certain infantry battalions about which the Axis had very little information.

It is interesting and useful to know what communication methods make field operations easier for the enemy and what methods make them more difficult. The captured Italian report reveals that the British often have puzzled the enemy by using cockeyed slang and double-talk. It must be stressed, however, that this method does not guarantee safety. For example, the American expression "Keep your shirt on" might mean nothing to the enemy, but on the other hand it might mean a great deal—because the Axis armies include many men who have lived in the United States.

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