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US The little-known story of the Navy women codebreakers who helped Allied forces win WWII

15:55  04 august  2020
15:55  04 august  2020 Source:   cnn.com

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It was a woman code breaker who , in 1945, became the first American to learn that World War II had officially ended. The Army and Navy 's code breakers had The ability to read this diplomatic code allowed Allied forces to continually take the pulse of the war, giving them insight into conversations

Though her actions helped save countless Allied lives, it takes some digging to find a record of ' Women were omitted when the story got told by men'. History behind WWII ’s great unsung female “William Friedman, like Elizebeth Friedman, was one of the great codebreakers of all time, a genius

In the annals of military codebreaking history, there is perhaps no site more famous than Bletchley Park -- the vast, English estate that produced vital intelligence and helped the Allies prevail in World War II.

a man smiling for the camera: Judy Parsons is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who worked as a codebreaker for the US Navy during World War II. © Provided by CNN Judy Parsons is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who worked as a codebreaker for the US Navy during World War II.

But for all its recognition, it wasn't the only facility that cracked the code of the Germans' secret messages.

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World War II ( WWII or WW2), also known as the Second World War , was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great

Less well known is the role of some of these staff in establishing and building the new state of Israel. In those early days of the war , the Jewish staff invited to share the Sabbath meal with Rebecca and Philip Bogush and their daughters — the only known Jewish family in Bletchley village

In fact, the US had a Bletchley Park of its own right in Washington -- and it was women volunteers who historians say did much of the heavy-lifting it took to decipher the enemy's cryptic language.

One of those women is Judy Parsons, a 99-year-old former Navy lieutenant and school teacher now living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.

"There's a bit of a misnomer, in that Bletchley Park is often discussed as the primary center where German codes and ciphers were being broken down," said Cmrd. David Kohnen, a historian at the Naval War College. "In fact, after 1943, most of that work was being done in Washington, DC, at Nebraska Avenue by WAVES like Judy."

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Would the Allies have won World War II without the help of these men and women who led the A woman works in the control surface department assembling a section of the leading edge for the Part of the vast machine shop at a Navy yard, where machine tools that took months to build are now

Betty Webb, who joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1941 – which was the women 's branch of the The Enigma was a type of enciphering machine used by the German armed forces to send Share or comment on this article: Codebreakers who helped end WWII reunite at Bletchley Park.

Today, Parsons is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

But back in 1942, she was a recent graduate of the Carnegie Institute of Technology -- now Carnegie Mellon University -- eager to do her part to help the country.

Sexism is still a very real impediment facing women in workplaces of all kinds -- including the military -- and many of the barriers blocking women from pursuing their careers stood even taller at the time of WWII.

While women played critical roles to support US Armed Forces and keep the economy humming in World War I, World War II was a game changer for women in military service.

In the summer of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Navy Women's Reserve Act, creating a new division of the US Navy known as the WAVES -- Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service -- and clearing a path for women to play a larger role in the Navy than ever before.

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From the start of the war , Colonel Marina Raskova, a Soviet pilot who was known as the “Russian Amelia Earhart,” began receiving letters But this did little to discourage the women of the 588th. Starting with an initial bombing run on June 8, 1942, the all-female squadron would harry Nazi forces

Liza Mundy's portraits of World War II codebreakers are so skillfully and vividly drawn that I felt as if I were right there with them--mastering ciphers, outwitting My mother was one of the code breakers at Arlington Hall, a largely civilian group of women who worked under the auspices of the US Army.

After graduation, Parsons -- who went by her maiden name Potter at the time -- took a job with the Army's Ordnance Department, where she worked to supply US forces with ammunition.

But one day, something in the newspaper caught her eye: The Navy was accepting women volunteers to attend its officer training school.

"That appealed to me a great deal, so I applied and I was accepted," Parsons said.

An oath of silence

After completing her officer training in 1943, Parsons was sent to Washington, where she was brought to a seminary campus on Nebraska Avenue that the Navy had converted into a military intelligence headquarters.

When she arrived, Parsons and the other WAVES were asked a series of questions to determine their next assignment.

"We were shuffled into the chapel and someone came in there and said 'Does anyone know German?'" said Parsons. "And I said, 'Well, I took two years in high school.'"

That was apparently all the Navy needed to hear.

Parsons was assigned to OP-20-G, a codebreaking division within the Navy's Office of Communications focused on unraveling encrypted messages sent by German forces.

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Liza Mundy's portraits of World War II codebreakers are so skillfully and vividly drawn that I felt as if I were right there with them--mastering ciphers, outwitting My mother was one of the code breakers at Arlington Hall, a largely civilian group of women who worked under the auspices of the US Army.

Between the Army, Navy , Air Force , the Red Cross and uniformed civilian specialists, that amounted to seven million people waiting for mail. From February 1945 to March 1946, the women of the 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion distributed mail in warehouses in England and France.

The work she was assigned to was top-secret.

And from the start, it was impressed on her and the other WAVES of OP-20-G that they'd be "hung at the gallows" if they ever spoke about what their job entailed, Parsons said.

It's a promise she says she kept for decades -- never once discussing the work she did with her roommates, friends, or even her husband, until discovering in the 1990s that it had been declassified.

Parsons can speak freely about her time in the Navy now, but says staying silent all those years was not always easy.

Parsons said people assumed she was working as a glorified secretary. Not being able to tell them otherwise was difficult.

"They'd say 'What do you do?' and I'd say, 'Well, I have a desk job.' And they'd say, 'Well, that's what we thought women would get.' And that was hard because I couldn't talk about it."

Still, Parsons felt that keeping quiet helped dispel at least some of the myths that had been used to keep women from serving their country.

"The top bananas said that women couldn't keep a secret, and we showed them that we could."

A mental battle waged in code

For Parsons and the others in OP-20-G, their battles were fought not with guns and artillery, but with code. And their primary foe was the Enigma machine -- the notorious encryption device used by the Nazis to conceal and communicate their war plans.

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Parsons' focus was on deciphering messages sent to U-boats, the German submarines that wreaked havoc on Allied shipping channels.

But breaking the Nazi codes was complex and tedious work, and doing so required the help of machines of their own called Bombes.

The Bombe machine was a hulking mass of rotors and wires, each standing 7 feet tall and weighing around 5,000 pounds. Dozens of them were installed at the Nebraska Avenue complex to help with codebreaking, and Parsons and fellow WAVES kept them humming 24 hours a day.

Once a code was cracked and a message revealed, the information was relayed to others in the Navy chain of command, where it was used to locate and, eventually, target enemy submarines.

Not all of the messages they decrypted were about war. Embedded in the traffic were personal messages -- happy birthdays, death, even birth notices.

Through the messages that were revealed, Parsons said she felt she got to know many of the U-boat skippers and their families in a way that humanized them. When they were eventually targeted or killed, she says she couldn't help but feel sadness.

"This one man was so happy because finally (he and his wife) had a little boy, and it wasn't a week later that his submarine was sunk." Parsons said. "I felt so bad about that because he'll never know his father."

By the end of the war, 95 German U-boats were sunk or captured, in large part thanks to intelligence revealed by the WAVES of OP-20-G.

And to this day, Kohnen says the story of OP-20-G is one of the most important yet little-known secrets of World War II.

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"The story of Nebraska Avenue is really yet to be told," said Kohnen. " ... in many respects we should consider Nebraska Avenue the US Navy's Bletchley Park."

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