Code Girls

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
By Liza Mundy
Hachette Books, 2017, 416 pp.

4 Stars

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.

28 thoughts on “Code Girls

  1. Wow God bless those women code breakers. Didn’t know they made up 70% of the code breakers force! There’s something interesting when it comes to the intelligence community and women. For instance after 9/11 the CIA discovered that the best “tackers” (which is a billet who hunt people like Bin Laden from the intel data we gather) are actually women. Which was strange to those in the pre-9/11 world since the CIA is heavily men dominated (besides analysts). Somehow I guess women have a better intuition here lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There was probably a bit of a stereotype in play with the idea of women being more cut out for exacting detailed work just like with knitting, but the Army and Navy also anticipated able bodied men would be needed in combat if/when war was declared so got off on the right foot by recruiting women for cryptography. They specifically went after math and science majors.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just checked YouTube as per your comment and I see they have several good videos connected to the book. That’s great. Those 11,000 women made a vital contribution to the war effort that’s scarcely known.

        Liked by 1 person

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