Good Life

OLLI | World War II cryptanalyst monitors the enemy in Europe

Information about the enemy’s makeup and plans are always needed during war. Several types of intelligence agencies are employed to gather this information. During World War II, I was a cryptanalyst in one of these units during the invasion and liberation of Europe. It was not a vehicle for generating exciting stories about spies or parachute drops behind enemy lines. This is the story of a secret Army unit stationed close behind the front lines whose task was to monitor the identity, actions and location of the enemy units facing us. This information, along with intelligence from other sources, helped our commanders create, and carry out, their strategies.

My unit was the 3250th Signal Service Company, the first of 10 formed in 1944. We were attached to the 5th Corps of the 1st Army, which led the Normandy invasion in June 1944. We were a 1st Army non-combat unit that landed on Omaha Beach on D+1 (a military term to denote the number of days after D-Day). Our real function was as a Signal Radio Intelligence unit. We were stationed close to the front to pick up low-powered enemy radio traffic. We identified the enemy units by their radio operator’s signature, located the source of the signal with direction finders and broke the low-security German code used by front-line units. This is called traffic analysis. Radio traffic was all in Morse code.

The 3250th followed the 1st Army across France into Luxembourg and Belgium. We were located just north of the Bulge in December 1944 and then spent a quiet winter while the Germans were slowly pushed back to the Rhine. After the crossing of the Rhine in March, we spent April following the Allies’ drive across Germany; on May 8 (Victory in Europe Day), we entered Czechoslovakia. We spent a delightful month in Plzen waiting for the Russians to come, then to Bavaria, where we started our long wait to get on a boat for home.

I will share my experiences as a cryptanalyst during the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course “Seeing Europe During World War II as a Cryptanalyst.” To obtain a free winter 2015 catalog, call OLLI at 867-4278. OLLI is open to all adults who love to learn. There are no grades or exams — it’s just learning for pure enjoyment.