Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet



Research by Alexander Molnar Jr., U.S. Marine Corps/U.S. Army (Ret.)

由美国海军及海军陆战队军方记者Alexander Molnar撰写


Prepared by the Navy & Marine Corps WWII Commemorative Committee



Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima: the Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language -- a code that the Japanese never broke.



The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently. Johnston, reared on the Navajo reservation, was a World War I veteran who knew of the military's search for a code that would withstand all attempts to decipher it. He also knew that Native American languages--notably Choctaw--had been used in World War I to encode messages.



Johnston believed Navajo answered the military requirement for an undecipherable code because Navajo is an unwritten language of extreme complexity. Its syntax and tonal qualities, not to mention dialects, make it unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. It has no alphabet or symbols, and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the American Southwest. One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II.

Early in 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and his staff to convince them of the Navajo language's value as code. Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions, demonstrating that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job. Convinced, Vogel recommended to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the Marines recruit 200 Navajos.

因为纳瓦霍语本身是一种没有文字而又极为复杂的语言,约翰斯顿认为纳瓦霍语完全可以满足军方对于通讯信息安全性的要求。纳瓦霍语的语法和发音极为怪异,对没有受过相关训练的人来说它根本是让人无所适从的。纳瓦霍语没有字母表或者任何符号表示,只有美国西南部的纳瓦霍地区才有人说这种土著语。调查显示在二战爆发时,世界上仅有不到30个非纳瓦霍人会说这种语言,而其中没有一个是日本人。1942年年初,约翰斯顿晋见美国太平洋舰队两栖作战部队的指挥官Clayton B. Vogel准将和他的幕僚。他此行的目的是使这位准将认识到纳瓦霍语在通讯加密方面的重要作用。约翰斯顿在实战条件下进行了他的操作演示,证明了纳瓦霍语可以在20秒内完成将一条3行长的信息加密、传输、加密的全过程,而当时的其他装置则需要30分钟才能完成同样的过程。Vogel准将对纳瓦霍语的应用前景信心十足,并向美国海军陆战队司令建议招募200名纳瓦霍土著新兵。


In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Then, at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California, this first group created the Navajo code. They developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training.



Once a Navajo code talker completed his training, he was sent to a Marine unit deployed in the Pacific theater. The code talkers' primary job was to talk, transmitting information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications over telephones and radios. They also acted as messengers, and performed general Marine duties.

一俟第一组纳瓦霍族人完成他们的训练,他们就被派遣到在Pacific theater计划里工作的一个海军工作组里。他们的任务是在电话和电报里将那些关于战术、军队部署、军事命令和其他重要的战场通讯情报用纳瓦霍语加密后传递出去。他们有时也充当传令兵,甚至参加战斗。


Praise for their skill, speed and accuracy accrued throughout the war. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima." Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.

对于纳瓦霍族通信兵熟练、快速、准确工作的赞扬贯穿于整个二战。在硫磺岛,美国海军陆战队第五师的情报官员Howard Connor申称,“如果没有使用纳瓦霍语,海军陆战队永远无法攻克硫磺岛。” Connor手下有8名纳瓦霍族通信兵,他们六个人在登岛的前两天里保持24小时不间断的工作,总共收发了超过800条信息且无一出错。


The Japanese, who were skilled code breakers, remained baffled by the Navajo language. The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, said that while they were able to decipher the codes used by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, they never cracked the code used by the Marines. The Navajo code talkers even stymied a Navajo soldier taken prisoner at Bataan. (About 20 Navajos served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines.) The Navajo soldier, forced to listen to the jumbled words of talker transmissions, said to a code talker after the war, "I never figured out what you guys who got me into all that trouble ."

日本的情报人员中也不乏颇以密码专家,但他们对纳瓦霍语始终一筹莫展。日本情报部门头子-- Seizo Arisue中将称,他们虽然成功破译了美国陆军和空军的密码,但是始终无法破译美国海军的纳瓦霍密码。这些纳瓦霍通信兵为了保证纳瓦霍密码的安全不惜试图杀死在巴丹半岛战斗中被俘的另一名纳瓦霍族通讯兵,当时在菲律宾有20名纳瓦霍族通信兵在军中服役。这名通讯兵被日军逼迫为日军破译看似杂乱无章纳瓦霍语密码,但战后他与战友重逢时说:“尽管你们那样对我,我始终没有出卖你们和美国。”


In 1942, there were about 50,000 Navajo tribe members. As of 1945, about 540 Navajos served as Marines. From 375 to 420 of those trained as code talkers; the rest served in other capacities.



Navajo remained potentially valuable as code even after the war. For that reason, the code talkers, whose skill and courage saved both American lives and military engagements, only recently earned recognition from the Government and the public.



The Navajo Code Talker's Dictionary



When a Navajo code talker received a message, what he heard was a string of seemingly unrelated Navajo words. The code talker first had to translate each Navajo word into its English equivalent. Then he used only the first letter of the English equivalent in spelling an English word. Thus, the Navajo words "wol-la-chee" (ant), "be-la-sana" (apple) and "tse-nill" (axe) all stood for the letter "a." One way to say the word "Navy" in Navajo code would be "tsah (needle) wol-la-chee (ant) ah-keh-di- glini (victor) tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca)." Most letters had more than one Navajo word representing them. Not all words had to be spelled out letter by letter. The developers of the original code assigned Navajo words to represent about 450 frequently used military terms that did not exist in the Navajo language. Several examples: "besh- lo" (iron fish) meant "submarine," "dah-he- tih-hi" (hummingbird) meant "fighter plane" and "debeh-li-zine" (black street) meant "squad."

当一名纳瓦霍通信兵收到一条由杂乱无章的纳瓦霍词汇组成消息,他首先要将这些纳瓦霍词汇翻译成同样意思的英语词汇,然后,他从这些词汇里挑出每个词的首字母,并以这些首字母组成另一个英语词汇。这样,纳瓦霍语的"wol-la-chee" (蚂蚁), "be-la-sana" (苹果) and "tse-nill" (斧子)都代表英语字母A(因为对应的英语词汇的首字母是A)。英语中“NAVY”的某一个纳瓦霍密码表示就是“tsah (针) wol-la-chee (蚂蚁) ah-keh-di- glini (赢家) tsah-ah-dzoh (丝兰).”一个英语字母和纳瓦霍语词汇间都是一对多的对应关系。但并不是每个词都需要这样逐个字母的翻译。因为纳瓦霍词汇中并不存在军事术语,纳瓦霍密码的发明者在建立这套密码时,将450个常用的军事术语和原始的纳瓦霍词汇对应起来。例如,"besh- lo" (铁鱼)意为"潜艇," "dah-he- tih-hi" (蜂鸟)意为 "战斗机" and "debeh-li-zine" (black street) 意为“步兵班”。


Department of Defense Honors Navajo Veterans



Long unrecognized because of the continued value of their language as a security classified code, the Navajo code talkers of World War II were honored for their contributions to defense on Sept. 17, 1992, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.



Thirty-five code talkers, all veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps, attended the dedication of the Navajo code talker exhibit. The exhibit includes a display of photographs, equipment and the original code, along with an explanation of how the code worked.



Dedication ceremonies included speeches by the then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Atwood, U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona and Navajo President Peterson Zah. The Navajo veterans and their families traveled to the ceremony from their homes on the Navajo Reservation, which includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

二战时在职的国防部秘书Donald Atwood和亚利桑那州参议员John McCain及纳瓦霍族首领Peterson Zah在表彰大会上作了发言,这些二战老兵们从位于亚利桑那州、新墨西哥州和尤他州的纳瓦霍族自治地出发参加了这次大会。


Navajo Code Talkers




W/T Sgt. Murrey Marder

Marine Corps Combat Correspondent

Reprinted by permission of The Marine Corps Gazette

由海军陆战队随军记者Murrey Marder发表,经陆战队军报批准再版


Through the Solomons, in the Marianas, at Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and almost every island where Marines have stormed ashore in this war, the Japanese have heard a strange language gurgling through the earphones of their radio listening sets--a voice code which defies decoding.



To the linguistically keen ear it shows a trace of Asiatic origin, and a lot of what sounds like American double-talk. This strange tongue, one of the most select in the world, is Navajo, embellished with improvised words and phrases for military use. For three years it has served the Marine Corps well for transmitting secret radio and telephone messages in combat.



The dark-skinned, black-haired Navajo code talker, huddled over a portable radio or field phone in a regimental, divisional or corps command post, translating a message into Navajo as he reads it to his counterpart on the receiving end miles away, has been a familiar sight in the Pacific battle zone. Permission to disclose the work of these American Indians in marine uniform has just been granted by the Marine Corps.



Transmitting messages which the enemy cannot decode is a vital military factor in any engagement, especially where combat units are operating over a wide area in which communications must be maintained by radio. Throughout the history of warfare, military leaders have sought the perfect code--a code which the enemy could not break down, no matter how able his intelligence staff.



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