Eric Nave

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Captain Eric Nave OBE (1899–1993) was a Royal Australian Navy Paymaster Commander and cryptographer, before and during World War II. He served in the Navy from 1917 to 1949. As a midshipman in 1918 he needed to be proficient in a foreign language to gain promotion. He said he chose Japanese because "extra pay of 6d per day was paid to those qualified in French or German, but those proficient in Japanese received 5/0d" (5 shillings, i.e. ten times as much).[1] He spent two years from February 1921 in Japan to study as an interpreter, obtaining the highest final exam score of any service interpreter. He was seconded to the Royal Navy Sigint section in 1925, then the Government Code and Cipher School in London in 1927. In 1930 he was sent to the Far East Combined Bureau, in Hong Kong and later in Singapore. He was invalided sick to Melbourne in 1940 where he set up a small RAN cryptographic unit in Victoria Barracks. The unit had a core of naval personnel, with an appreciable number of university academics and graduates specialising in classics, linguistics and mathematics, e.g. Athanasius Treweek and Arthur Dale Trendall.[2]

The unit outgrew Victoria Barracks, and moved to the Monterey building in February 1942. But Monterey also housed FRUMEL, run by (USN) Lieut Rudi Fabian, ex-Station CAST in the Philippines. Nave was eventually forced out of Monterey by Fabian, who apparently regarded him as a "security risk" – because he wanted to cooperate with the Army's Central Bureau. According to his staff, Nave often kept keys to new codes passed on by the Americans and British to himself, which might have been acceptable as a training exercise in peacetime, but not in time of war. Treweek said: "We always looked forward to his day off. We’d get the keys to his safe and find all this material in there." Nave also had difficulties with his superior, Commander Long, the Director of Naval Intelligence, whom he considered a man of no great ability.[3]

Nave eventually joined the Central Bureau at Brisbane. Joe Richard said that "[i]f Fabian did not want Nave, the US Army codebreakers were very happy to have him ... Fabian's dislike of Eric Nave was very fortunate for us. Nave became an indispensable person" in "reading air-to-ground messages containing the weather" which "gave away the intended target for the day."[4] Nave and his department were in large part responsible for MacArthur being able to predict the Japanese military moves such as Milne Bay. The Australian codebreakers were responsible for warning the US Navy on 2 December 1941 that by the end of that week end USA would be at war with Japan. The response was that there were no hostile acts west of the date line. They were later warned that following Doolittle' bombing raid the emphasis was changed from New Guinea to Midway Islands where the Japanese thought the bombing raid had come from. Later these code breakers warned MacArthur that Milne Bay was to be invaded (then part of Australian Protectorate) in one month's time in late August 1942. This enabled a hurried reinforcement of Milne Bay.[5] The Battle of Milne Bay was decisively won, mainly by Australian soldiers and US engineers; it was the first time the Japanese had been defeated on land by the allies.

Much of his 1991 book co-authored with James Rusbridger reflects Rusbridger’s views rather than his own, particularly the claim that Churchill concealed warnings about Pearl Harbor from Roosevelt in order to get America in the war. In a 1991 interview on Japanese television Nave "repudiated a large slice of what Rusbridger had written, calling it speculation."[6]

Nave was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1946 and joined the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation[7]


  1. ^ Ian Pfennigworth 'A Man of Intelligence: The Life of Captain Eric Nave, Australian Codebreaker Extraordinary', Rosenberg 2006, p22.
  2. ^ Jenkins (Battle Surface), pp. 43-44.
  3. ^ Jenkins (Battle Surface), p. 159.
  4. ^ Smith (2000) page 171.
  5. ^ Boettcher, B., The Codebreakers in the South West Pacific (2009) ("Eleven Bloody Days - the battle for Milne Bay"; Chapter Three, pp. 16-23).
  6. ^ Elphick Chapter 9 (p. 182 of the 1997 paperback version).
  7. ^ Smith (2000) page 278.

External links[edit]


  • Elphick, Peter. Far Eastern File: The Intelligence War in the Far East 1930-1945 (1997 & 1998, Hodder & Stoughton, London) ISBN 0-340-66584-X
  • Jenkins, David. Battle Surface: Japan’s Submarine War Against Australia 1942-44 (1992, Random House, NSW Australia) ISBN 0-09-182638-1
  • Pfennigwerth, Ian. A Man of Intelligence: the life of Captain Theodore Eric Nave, Australian codebreaker extraordinary (2006, Dural, NSW) ISBN 1-877058-41-6
  • Rusbridger, James and Nave, Eric. Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: how Churchill lured Roosevelt into War (1991, O’Mara, London) ISBN 1-85479-162-1
  • Smith, Michael. The Emperor’s Codes: Bletchley Park and the breaking of Japan’s secret ciphers (2000, Bantam London) ISBN 0-593-04642-0