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Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway.

Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway. By Elliott Carlson. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2011. Photographs. Illustrations. Maps. Index. Appendices. Glossary Notes. Bibliography. Pp. xvi, 572. $36.95 ISBN: 978-1-61251-060-6

The Battle of Midway, fought 3-7 June 1942, has been called variously the turning point of the war in the Pacific, the high point of Japanese expansion, and possibly the most important battle of World War II. All are true in some respects and have been and will be debated for years. Most people with even a passing acquaintance with World War II in the Pacific have at least heard of Midway It even merited its own movie. Those who have looked a further into the battle may be acquainted with the role of the Navy's code breakers in the victory. An even smaller faction may even have heard one of the leading protagonists, CDR Joseph John Rochefort.

A journalist by trade, Carlson chose one of the most enigmatic personalities in a genre populated by perplexing personalities. Rochefort was bright, sharp-edged, and competent, as attested to in most of the personnel evaluations cited in this carefully and prodigiously footnoted book. He was also not one to tolerate fools and was quick to make that plain, much to his eventual detriment.

The book trace Rochefort's life from a childhood of an iterant Irishman to the pinnacle of a career as a cryptanalyst providing ADM Nimitz with the vital information that allowed him to place his limited resources advantageously to counter the Japanese attempt to take Midway.

The role of naval intelligence has been chronicled in many books; most acknowledge and some document Rochefort's role. Rochefort was more than a codebreaker. First and foremost, he was a cryptanalyst--one who takes in all aspects of information, synthesizes it, and produces a thoughtful observation, leaving the final choice to the operator. Rochefort was adamant about producing an observation and avoiding the recommendation.

Carlson traces development of US naval communications intelligence (COMINT), something viewed by many in the line Navy as a black art of little consequence to a strategic intelligence unit. Ironically, Rochefort developed just such a unit to divine Japanese intentions. Carlson also well traces and documents the palace politics that led to Rochefort's exile after his crowning achievement, his professionalism while in a seemingly backwater assignment, and his return to grace late in the war.

Only the middle half of the book chronicles the roll of COMINT in the Midway battle. Expanding beyond that, it is a treatise on the application of COMINT, where it works, and where it doesn't. Unfortunately, Carlson fails to credit British cryptanalysts for their significant contribution to breaking the main Japanese fleet code, JN-25. Generally, however, he does an excellent job of giving proper recognition to the roles of those along the way who contributed to Rochefort's successes.

This book should appeal to a wide audience. Those interested in World War II at a macro level will find solid information on Japanese tactics and movements early in the war. Those with an intelligence bent will see analysis applied to COMINT. And those interested in how new methodologies often fight for acceptance will gain much insight through the trials and tribulations experienced by practitioners. Lastly, this is an excellent biography of a man who played a pivotal role in a dramatic victory, at a time when victories were frequently the result of generous interpretations by public affairs officers.

MSgt. Al Mongeon, USAF (Ret.)
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Author:Mongeon, Al
Publication:Air Power History
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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