Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II. By John Prados. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1995. Maps. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 832. $27.95 ISBN: 155750431-8
This big book covers a big subject--World War II naval (primarily) communications intelligence in the Pacific--and an impressive time span--1917-1945. But the book's size and scope should not daunt the reader: it is a manageable and enjoyable read.
Mr. Prados enriches the historical tapestry by seeding it with human-interest stories. How many of those who fought the Japanese in World War II knew of the aid U.S. Navy language students provided to Japanese inhabitants during the 1923 earthquake? War understandably changes the way people think about each other, creating or strengthening misperceptions and biases. The author reminds us that governments use these misperceptions in times of war to convince their people of the justness of their own causes. Combined Fleet Decoded also provides the other side of the picture: one that reminds us that we are all just ordinary people, with hopes and dreams like those who live next door or thousands of miles across the ocean.
One amazing story recounted is how the U.S. was surprised at the attack on Pearl Harbor, despite vast evidence of the Japanese military buildup and regional aggression. Throughout the 1930s, U.S. naval attaches reported on the Imperial Navy's technological developments: including conversion of the liner Kasuya Maru into the aircraft carrier Taiyo, development of the Type-93 Long Lance torpedo, the quality of the Japanese Air Force, and development of the A6M Zero fighter. There was also Japan's growing belligerency This information was picked up not only by the U.S. embassy in Tokyo (including the military attaches), but also by communications intercepts and code breaking since 1931. Prados reminds us of one of the more important duties a military attache performs: "...one of the main fears of host countries has always been that envoys would be spies in their midst. To a degree, that fear is well-founded.... Even more so than diplomats, however, military and naval attaches are sanctioned spies."
Not only does the author provide plenty of meat in the text, but also the supporting material is impressive and very helpful: 27 pages of notes, 36 pages of bibliography, and 27 pages of index. In fact, there is so much good material on the...