The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

The Navajo Code Talkers

A major reason for the Allied success during World War I was German overconfidence in the Enigma.  Because of their overconfidence, they were unaware that the British were deciphering their messages.  Although this played a large role, it is not the sole cause for the victory of the Allies.  In order to win the war, the Allies also had to have some defenses of their own.  One of these defenses came in the form of code.  The United States was in need for an impenetrable code so that its communications could be secure.  The answer came in the form of the Navajo, a Native American tribe.

The Navajo language is incredibly complex; it is unique and does not stem from any other language.  Singh quotes Philip Johnston, the mastermind behind using the Navajo language as code, “the Navajo tribal dialect is completely unintelligible to all other tribes and all other people.”  The United States government employed 420 Navajo code talkers.  With these code talkers, the United States had a secure means of communication, which allowed for them to prevent disasters from happening and anticipate potential threats.  After the war, the Japanese even admitted that they had not made a dent in breaking the Navajo code.

Having a secure code is vitally important.  This is evidenced by the German failure to keep a secure code.  Once the British had broken the Enigma, German communications were readily available to the Allies.  This allowed for the Allied forces to gain the upper hand.  On the other hand, with the United States having a secure code, the Allies were able to communicate without fear of German or Japanese decipherment.  The Germans and Japanese may have been able to intercept the messages, but without knowledge of the Navajo language, decipherment was essentially impossible.


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  1. Julia

    I agree with your point, Sara. The Navajo code was a major reason for Allied success because it was an incredibly secure and indecipherable code. Many Germans had studied Native American languages, but the Navajo was the only tribe that was devoid of German students. This elevated the security of using the Navajo code, as did the fact that the code was developed beyond the original language to add security to it. A lexicon of Navajo terms were used to replace otherwise untranslatable English words, and when words had to be spelled out, multiple Navajo words were used to represent the same common letter to protect against potential frequency analysis. Another factor that contributed to its security was the eagerness of the Navajo people to help. If the Navajo code talkers had not been so loyal, it’s possible that some sort of treachery could have occurred. You mention that the Navajo code allowed the Allies to communicate without fear of German or Japanese decipherment…do you think that this was a good idea? Or, should you always be wary of a code regardless of how secure it appears?

  2. Stone Edwards

    TSAIS, you are very correct about the Navajo language being a key factor in the Allies defense against German cipher-analysists. As the Germans progressively got more relaxed and confident in Enigma’s abilities, they became vulnerable. This opening allowed Alan Turing to crack the Enigma code and create a huge opening for the allied forces to take advantage of. The allies used the Navajo code talkers to pry open the hole that Alan Turing made int he German forces. The Navajo Code was almost unlike any other. This was due to the small amount of people who knew the language as well as the deciphering of the language itself making the cipher one of the most solid yet. I think the Navajo Code was superior to Enigma. The Navajo Code, unlike Enigma came directly from humans rather than a machine. All machines run by formulas and algorithms, the same goes for ciphers. This means that all ciphers, codes, and machines have a pattern that can be broken. What makes the Navajo Code different is not only the scarcity of fluent speakers but the human aspect. Humans have a much more complex algorithm compared to machines making each cipher different and allowing ciphers to be dynamic. This advantage is what greatly benefited the war and put the Allies above Enigma.

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