Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
By Liza Mundy
Hachette Books, 2017, 416 pp.
As the United States’ entry into World War II appeared increasingly inevitable, the Army and Navy began recruiting at select women’s colleges to beef up their cryptology (code breaking) departments. The thinking was that women were better suited than men for this painstakingly detailed work. After war was declared, recruitment intensified and women joined the cryptology departments as WACs (Women’s Army Corps) or WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Over 11,000 women comprised more than 70% of all domestic code breakers during WWII.
These women made incredible contributions to the war effort by cracking the coded messages of the German and Japanese forces. Much of the initial work was manual, but electro-mechanical machines, called bombes (precursors to computers), were eventually created that helped sort through massive amounts of data in search of code-breaking patterns. The Axis forces regularly changed and complicated their codes, so the cryptographers’ work continued until the end of the war (and afterwards with the immediate onset of the Cold War with the Soviet Union).
This was an enjoyable book that adroitly intermixed history with the personal stories of individual WACs and WAVES. Because of the absolute secrecy of their work, both during and after the war, the women never received the recognition they deserved. I tip my hat to the author for helping the reader wade through the technical jargon and making cryptology halfway understandable.