Central Bureau

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The Central Bureau was one of two Allied Sigint organisations in the South West Pacific area (SWPA) during World War II. Central Bureau was attached to the HQ of the Allied Commander of the South West Pacific area, Douglas MacArthur. The other unit was the joint RAN/USN Fleet Radio Unit, Melbourne (FRUMEL), which was subordinate to the Commander of the USN 7th Fleet. Central Bureau's role was to research and decrypt intercepted IJA (land and air) traffic and work in close co-operation with other SIGINT centres in the USA, United Kingdom and India

Plaque at 21 Henry St, Ascot, Queensland

Background[edit]

General Douglas MacArthur had his own signals intelligence unit, Station 6, while he was in command in the Philippines before the War started, and was not fully dependent on the U.S. Navy for that type of information. However, most of the signals intelligence he received was from the Navy unit, Station CAST, originally at Cavite in the Manila Navy Yard, and evacuated to Corregidor Island after Japanese successes. Prior to the war, it had to be sent by courier, which caused some delay and annoyance.

General Douglas MacArthur escaped from Corregidor in the Philippines in a PT boat to Mindanao and flew to Australia from Del Monte on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. He made his way to Melbourne, arriving there on 22 March 1942.

The Signals Intelligence units operating in Australia at the time of MacArthur's arrival in Melbourne were as follows:

  • No. 4 Australian Special Wireless Section at Park Orchards near Ringwood in Melbourne
  • A small Diplomatic and Press intercept section at Park Orchards
  • A Diplomatic cryptographic and intelligence section at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne
  • Some British Army Signals personnel from the Far East Combined Bureau who had escaped from Java
  • A small RAAF Intercept section in Darwin
  • A small RAN intercept and Direction Finding (D/F) organisation
  • A small RAN cryptographic and intelligence section at the Navy Office in Melbourne

and, eventually, after evacuation from Corredigor by submarine,

  • the personnel of Station CAST, the US Navy SIGNIT group in the Far East

One of his first decisions when he arrived in Melbourne was to expand the SIGINT operations already existing in Australia. Some personnel of the United States Navy crypto group in the Philippines, evacuated in early January 1942, was operating in Melbourne. They were responsible for channeling all SIGINT information to OP-20-G in Washington.

MacArthur was not happy to depend on the Navy's discretion in handling his SIGINT requirements. He felt he had experienced problems with such an arrangement when he was in Manila. MacArthur's Intelligence Officer (G-2) was Major General Charles A. Willoughby.

Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin, MacArthur's Chief Signals Officer held discussions with Major General Colin Simpson. They agreed that a Research and Control Centre to handle Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) was needed. MacArthur subsequently issued orders for the formation of two complementary groups:

  • An Intercept Organisation known initially as No. 5 Wireless Section
  • A Research and Control Centre known as the Central Bureau.

Central Bureau's origins[edit]

Central Bureau was a joint American-Australian SIGINT organisation, established on 15 April 1942 under the command of Major General S. B. Akin with headquarters based in Melbourne.

General MacArthur advised Washington of his decision in a dispatch on 1 April 1942. He described the role of the group as "the interception and cryptanalyzing of Japanese intelligence".

A small group from Australian Naval Intelligence, led by Paymaster Commander R.E. Eric Nave and Professor Arthur Dale Trendall also became part of the secret new unit. They had been working on Japanese diplomatic codes.

Central Bureau was established in a gabled, ivy-clad mansion called "Cranleigh" in Domain Road, at South Yarra, Melbourne.

Central Bureau's role was to research and decrypt army and air intercept traffic and work in close co-operation with other SIGINT centres in the USA, United Kingdom and India. Mic Sandford was appointed AIF Commanding Officer at Central Bureau.

Major Abraham "Abe" Sinkov, a mathematician, was appointed Assistant Director of Central Bureau. Sinkov had previously been a senior cryptographer in the US Army Signals Intelligence Service under William F. Friedman. Sinkov had previously been in charge of an intercept station in Panama. He had visited Britain in 1941 to facilitate the exchange of cryptographic information.

The existing experienced RAAF intercept Kana operators at Townsville were assigned to the new Central Bureau. The RAAF at the time had a number of Kana operators being trained and were about to train a further 13 WAAAF personnel. (Katakana is one of the syllabic forms of written Japanese).

The cryptanalysts who had operated from the Malinta Tunnel during the Battle of Corregidor got out to Australia by submarine in two groups. Their equipment was pushed into Manila Bay. They were used to assist the Australian Wireless Group units. A group of cryptographic, cryptanalytic and translator personnel from the Japanese section of the Washington Signal Intelligence Service were also moved to Australia. More Australians were also recruited to Central Bureau after it was established.

Structure[edit]

Central Bureau comprised:

  • administrative personnel
  • supply personnel
  • cryptographic personnel
  • cryptanalytic personnel
  • interpreters
  • translators
  • a field section which included the intercept and communications personnel

Major General Akin's Executive Officer, Joe R. Sherr had been evacuated from the Philippines and was responsible for arranging for the first group of US "SIGINT" personnel to come to Australia.

Initially Central Bureau was made up of 50% American, 25% Australian Army and 25% RAAF personnel.

On 25 April 1942 the small RAAF Intercept Station operating in two back-to-back houses at 21 Sycamore Street and 24 French Street in the suburb of Pimlico in Townsville was given its new name of No. 1 Wireless Unit and became part of Central Bureau.

The newly named Unit included 7 RAAF, 1 AMF and 4 United States Army personnel in No. 1 Wireless Unit at Townsville. This RAAF Unit had started earlier in March 1942 as a small intercept station located in the initial two houses at Pimlico under Wing Commander Booth.

Commander Nave moved to Central Bureau in mid-1942 from the combined Australian Navy/U.S. Navy operation in Melbourne known as FRUMEL, which was put under U.S. Navy control in mid-1942. Although he headed up the “Solutions” division there, most records indicate he personally dealt with minor Japanese naval codes and simple substitution ciphers in spite of his Japanese language capability and long history with Japanese codes. Colonel Sinkov and his American staff worked on the high-level Japanese Army codes.

21 Henry St, Ascot, Brisbane

Central Bureau did not break any high level Japanese Army codes until mid-1943 with the Water Transport code. In January 1944, one main line Japanese Army code was broken with help from a buried trunk found at Sio, New Guinea, left by retreating Japanese Army troops.

By 6 July 1942 the intercept operator numbers at Central Bureau had increased from six to twenty nine.

On 20 July 1942, General MacArthur moved his Headquarters to Brisbane. Central Bureau immediately relocated to Brisbane, establishing its headquarters in "Nyrambla", a huge house at 21 Henry Street, high on a hill in the suburb of Ascot, not far from the new American airfield at Eagle Farm Airport. Another source indicated that CB's Headquarters were at Ascot Park at Hamilton.

Another separate Intelligence operation was located in the same general area in a building called "Palma Rosa" at 9 Queens Road, Hamilton. "Palma Rosa" was commandeered by the Counter Intelligence Corps, G-2 Section, Headquarters U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (U.S.A.F.F.E.).

Central Bureau had banks of IBM punched card equipment, which were used by the cryptanalysts to help analyze intercepted cyphertext. They were located in the garage at the rear of 21 Henry Street

The IBM machines were later moved from the garage at 21 Henry Street to the Fire Station at Ascot Park. After the IBM machines were removed from 21 Henry Street the garage was occupied by No. 11 Australian Cypher Section. The garage was filled with Typex machines which were operated mostly by Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) personnel.

Beginning in January 1942, U.S. Navy stations in Hawaii (Station HYPO), Cavite/Corregidor (Station CAST) and OP-20-G (Station NEGAT, at Washington) began issuing formal intelligence decrypts far in advance of the U.S. Army or Central Bureau. FRUMEL in Australia obtained IBM equipment in 1942 to replace that which had been left behind in Manila Bay on leaving Corregidor and employed it throughout their tenure in Melbourne.

Central Bureau moved to a new location at 45 Eldernall Avenue, Hamilton, sometime later.

Japanese POW's were interrogated at a house called "Tighnabruaich" at Indooroopilly in Brisbane.

Central Bureau at 21 Henry Street, Ascot, in Brisbane decrypted a Japanese Army Air/Ground signal intercepted by 51 Wireless Section in Darwin that contained Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's itinerary for an upcoming trip to Rabaul. Admiral Yamamoto, was the Commander in Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Central Bureau reportedly sent the decrypted message to FRUMEL where it was reportedly translated by a U.S. Navy linguist. Although Central Bureau may have decrypted the message, the interception of his flight was based on decrypts of Japanese naval messages by FRUPAC/Station HYPO in Hawaii, FRUMEL, OP-20-G in Washington and Station AL on Guadalcanal. Major Lasswell USMC in Hawaii decrypted the Japanese Naval message first and Captain Layton (Pacific Fleet Intelligence in Hawaii) gave it to Admiral Nimitz who authorized a shootdown attempt after determining from ComNavAirSoPac that it could be done with by one of his Army Air Corp units on Guadalcanal.

Central Bureau is probably the precursor to the Defence Signals Directorate.

References[edit]