A World War II German Army Field Cipher and
How We Broke It
In 1942 the U.S. Army Signal Corps was looking for college graduates to train in radar
work, which was then new and promising. I enlisted, and after, six months of pre-radar
courses in calculus, physics, chemistry, and radio theory at Rutgers University, I found
myself in Camp Crowder, Missouri, the Signal Corps basic training center.
Once I was there, a classification sergeant informed me that Camp Murphy, the radar
facility in Florida, was overcrowded and that I'd be assigned to some other training.
Checking my academic record and Army Classification Test score, he suddenly asked me if
I had ever heard of "cryptography."
As he thumbed through his manual, my memory reverted to a cryptanalysis course
that my fiancee had taken at Brooklyn College, given by Professor Jack Wolfe of the math
department. She and I would sit in a sunny meadow in Prospect Park, and I helped with
the frequency counts. My reverie was broken by the information that I was to be sent to
Vint Hill Farms Station, near Warrenton, Virginia - close enough to my New York home
and my wife-to-be to please me no end.
Vint Hill was an unusual army camp - in a bucolic setting, with evergreen trees
surrounding the barracks and woods all around. It was a hush-hush place, and we were
constantly warned to keep it so. One of its two parts was devoted to cryptanalysis studies,
and the other was a working radio facility.
The students were men of strong academic backgrounds and achievements. Of course,
there was a large supporting cast of administrative cadre who tormented us with the usual
army routine - drills, hikes, KP, inspections, and the like. However, there was
communion among the "crypt" people as a result of the learning atmosphere and the
intellectual interest engendered by these new and uncommon studies.
Our classes were taught by sergeants. Once in a while an officer would appear from
Arlington Hall, but Vint Hill was an enlisted men's camp and school. We