WW2 merchant navy codes and cyphers

Trevor Bell
26th April 2009, 17:20
Following my successful plea for help on navigation on another thread, I am hopeful that this new thread will be equally successful. I am researching a WW2 incident in which RMS Rangitane was sunk off New Zealand. There were allegations at the time that both the royal navy and merchant navy codes had been compromised. I am aware of the merchant navy code and BAMS but have come across some other acronyms which are new to me - VESCA, VAI/VIA and CHECKMATE. Does anybody remember anything on this subject and... big breath here.... does anybody still have a copy of any wartime code books? I also know about QQQ and RRR (later QQQQ and RRRR) raider warnings but does anybody have any original instructions on these procedures? If you have an interest in this subject take a look at the Merchant Navy Signal Codes page on my website on Rangitane at
www.rangitane.co.uk (http://www.rangitane.co.uk)

sidsal
28th April 2009, 17:27
Trevor: I am a bit lost on these various threads but re codes I have been trying unsuccessfully to get a copy of MERSIGS which contained all the flag signals which Commodore ships used to manaouvre convoys - emergency turns, zigzags and general information/orders. Someone has suggested that the codebooks are still classified.
You mention the radio signals - there was also AAAA which signified the ship was under air attack. On passage Durban to Colombo in 1943 or 4 we had several messages from ships under attack in the Indian ocean. We ourselves had a full cargo of cement and would have gone down like a stone if attacked - it was a Canadian Fort boat - the fort Camosun - alreday torpedoed twice and survived !

vectiscol
29th April 2009, 10:57
I have a book on loan from the local library called "Intercepted at Sea" and sub-titled "The Human Cost of Insecure Naval Communications during Two World Wars". The authors are Leslie Howson & John Nixon. There is no index so I cannot see quickly if Rangitane is mentioned specifically, but even if this book itself is of no assistance to your cause, there is an extensive bibliography that may help.

K urgess
29th April 2009, 11:54
Just as we tracked U-Boats using high frequency direction finding (Huff-Duff) the B-Dienst service tracked vessels even if not actually locating them.
Most of the books on the Battle of the Atlantic give background details of the encryption and decryption services.
Such as Richard Woodman's "The Real Cruel Sea".
"German Mililtary Intelligence" by Paul Leverkuehn gives background to Admiral Canaris's intelligence gethering apparatus.
I'm sure there's a similair book about the Japanese "Kempeitai" intelligence services.

wireless man
29th April 2009, 13:14
Hi
I certainly think the MN codes had been broken by the Germans when the Rangitane was sunk. Roskill in "The War at Sea" says that by Jan after the sinking the Admiralty became aware that the enemy were in possesion of our merchant ship signal codes and of our instructions to merchant shipping.
I am not sure if the codes are still secret. I have an old RAF book AP1927 entitled Air Force Code and attached to it are Naval Sections No 1 and 2 and a section called Control Signals. These are RN and consist of a 3 number code so if that is declassified I guess the MN code is as well .
Max

Trevor Bell
29th April 2009, 19:51
Thanks for the replies and book titles - I have found a couple of them on Amazon. I have been looking for the merchant navy code books for a long time and am surprised that they have just vanished into thin air!

chadburn
5th May 2009, 12:38
The A.C.P's will have been collected and disposed of (shredded and burnt) by Boarding Officer's. Post War (Cold War) it was the Boarding Officer's job (mine) to make sure that all publications were up to date, those that were not were S&B and new editions were given to the Master along with his Sailing Order Folder before he sailed. The Sailing Order Folder is very comprehensive in it's instructions to the Master, the first page is the Certificate of Readiness featured in the Life Aboard photo section, it is un-classified as it is shown, it only becomes classified when it is Filled In. The Ships encoded Callsign does not remain the same throughout it's voyage it is changed on an "ir-regular" basis which is only known to the ship (in Sailing Order Folder) and the shore base. Manual number coding is still used along with authentication, the 3 is no longer in use. Boarding Officer's have the "power's" after consultation with the N.O.I.C. to prevent a vessel sailing by not issuing the Master with a S.A.O. which means he has to stay in Port until the matter is resolved. Bearing in mind the vessel may be carrying vital Gov owned War supplies. Faulty hatches tied down with bits of wire rope would not be allowed!!.

K urgess
5th May 2009, 13:06
I know I did several coding exercises while at sea but I can't remember the details. Probably because I was told to forget all about them.
Having signed the Official Secrets Act on numerous occasions I shall probably now hear the knock on the door for even mentioning that I knew the code books existed or the exercises ever happened. (EEK)

R651400
5th May 2009, 15:57
Thought that signing the Official Secrets Act was a one off and for life?

K urgess
5th May 2009, 16:07
Supposed to be but each little jobsworthy, rather than wait for checks to be done, wanted his own copy for his own little empire.

R651400
5th May 2009, 16:18
...for example?

K urgess
5th May 2009, 16:47
Signing it several times is not uncommon since it applies in every instance to the sensitive information privvy to or sensitive equipment seen at each instance.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Official_Secrets_Act
If I went anywhere there was sensitive equipment or data then I could expect to sign it as a reminder to keep my mouth shut.
Air Ministry, Admiralty, Ministry of Defence, Civil Service were just a few that run on paper. If I wanted to get into any military establishment to do my job then it was usually presented unless the job was in the NAAFI.
Most probably for Marconi as well to remind me that the Post Office (Protection) Act of 1884 Section 11 wasn't just a piece of paper in a frame in the radio room but I signed so many pieces of paper on joining that I can't remember.

Lancastrian
5th May 2009, 20:08
Thought that signing the Official Secrets Act was a one off and for life?

Its not for life. When you retire you sign off, promise that you havnt got anything stashed away and that you have forgotten everything you ever knew.

R651400
6th May 2009, 05:50
Quoted from the 1989 amendment hardly requires any further explanation.
(1) A person who is or has beenó

Binnacle
6th May 2009, 10:15
When I retired twenty years ago nobody ever advised me that I was no longer obligated under the Official Secrets Act which I had signed a number of years previously. Those of us receiving a pension cheque from the Paymaster General tend not to be forgetful of this fact.

K urgess
6th May 2009, 11:06
Quoted from the 1989 amendment hardly requires any further explanation.
(1) A person who is or has beenó

You missed the last words of the paragraph
"while the notification is or was in force."

http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=1351839

R651400
6th May 2009, 16:16
Take a look at #15 above.
I drew attention to your #12.
A multiple signatory to the Official Secrets Act I doubt and which may mislead others.

King Ratt
6th May 2009, 16:22
It does not matter whether or not you have signed the OSA. If you are privy to information under it then you are bound by it. I worked for 30 years for RFA. I never signed this OSA on joining nor at any other time but as pointed out by Lancastrian, when I retired, I did then sign that I had no "souvenirs" on departing.

R651400
6th May 2009, 16:49
I signed the OSA when I moved to Coast Stations in 1963.
What you are actually saying, quoting yourself and Lancastrian ex RFA may point to a low "pv" status and the "souvenirs" piece of paper let out clause you adhere to.

K urgess
6th May 2009, 17:17
Take a look at #15 above.
I drew attention to your #12.
A multiple signatory to the Official Secrets Act I doubt and which may mislead others.

Well then, having personally signed to signify that I was aware of being notified that I was bound by the OSA several times appears to make me quite unusual.
I really don't care if you doubt it or not. It is possible and I'm the living proof.
Being notified that you were bound by the Act is not unusual or misleading and neither is signing both before and after to enforce the point.
What could be misleading is saying that you will never be asked to sign more than once.
I remember declaring several times that I had signed before and was told it didn't matter, just sign.

R651400
6th May 2009, 17:34
Yawn!
Let's get back to the nub of the thread.

K urgess
6th May 2009, 17:47
Yawn!
Let's get back to the nub of the thread.

Well that's cleared that up then.
If I remember correctly it was part of the bumf signed when acknowledging receipt of the coding equipment for a Merch exercise.
But I could, of course, be wrong. [=P]

Lancastrian
6th May 2009, 18:54
I signed the OSA when I moved to Coast Stations in 1963.
What you are actually saying, quoting yourself and Lancastrian ex RFA may point to a low "pv" status and the "souvenirs" piece of paper let out clause you adhere to.

There is no such thing as a low pv status.
There are two types of vetting , Normal (NV) and Positive (PV).
Beyond that there are Categories about which I cannot tell you 'cos I'm signed off and have forgotten it!

benjidog
6th May 2009, 22:26
Multiple signatures of the Official Secrets Act is by no means uncommon.

I have been required to sign it at least 6 separate times whilst working for the DWP (fka DSS, fka MOSS etc.); again when working for NATS; again for the Home Office when working for the Met Police; again for the Min of Defence (whatever it is called now) at a place that doesn't exist and even for an organisation that was a long time ago called the GPO.

Not at all unusual I would say. If I recall correctly it was an A5 size off-yellow form called an E7.

R651400
7th May 2009, 11:08
There is no such thing as a low pv status.
There are two types of vetting , Normal (NV) and Positive (PV).
Beyond that there are Categories about which I cannot tell you 'cos I'm signed off and have forgotten it!Double yawn! One signing, got the tee shirt and after eighteen years retired still waiting to sign off.

K urgess
7th May 2009, 11:25
Double yawn! One signing, got the tee shirt and after eighteen years retired still waiting to sign off.
You mentioned vetting which, as far as I know, has nothing at all to do either with signing the notification of the OSA or Merchant Navy codes, wartime or otherwise.
There's a simple answer to getting bored with a subject and that is to -
a) Don't start it
b) Leave the room when you no longer wish to participate

The buff/off yellow form sounds familiar, Brian. Don't remember the number though and, no, I don't happen to have a copy knocking around. Although I will have a look if you like. [=P]

R651400
7th May 2009, 12:29
I disagree as I do taking wikipedia as gospel.
A bonafide challenge to your input on multiple signing of the OSA seems to have put you into a fit of moderator pique.
I prefer to keep my postings to personal experience which I'm prepared to defend yet accept "au contraire" if there is a vestige of truth in said opposition.
Rather than flex your patronising "muscles," it may auger well if you adopted a similar posture.

trotterdotpom
7th May 2009, 12:54
I signed it when I worked for Trinity House, and a couple of times later on - can't remember why. Seemed like a load of crap as I never had nearly as many secrets as those blokes who went round doing North Sea Gas conversions! Received instructions to participate in exercises once or twice, but, despite my eager anticipation, nothing ever happened.

John T.

M29
7th May 2009, 13:07
Have to confirm what Kris says. Signed once when involved in RNR and a second occasion along with rest of ships officers + master when we were involved with collecting some sensitive information back in the cold war when a bit of hush hush kit was fitted to our ship.
The RN Officer and Government Official didn't care who had or hadn't "signed before" we were all asked to sign and they left happy.

Best Wishes
Alan

K urgess
7th May 2009, 13:43
I disagree as I do taking wikipedia as gospel.
A bonafide challenge to your input on multiple signing of the OSA seems to have put you into a fit of moderator pique.
I prefer to keep my postings to personal experience which I'm prepared to defend yet accept "au contraire" if there is a vestige of truth in said opposition.
Rather than flex your patronising "muscles," it may auger well if you adopted a similar posture.
Doubting the veracity of posts by any member in such a manner in not acceptable behaviour and contrary to the nature of Ships Nostalgia.

Ron Stringer
7th May 2009, 19:25
Have to agree with Kris; not only did I sign it each time before commencing work on various projects for various bits of HM Government, I also signed it at various times when visiting sundry MoD establishments. Seems like the ModPlod liked to get it in writing and disregarded any security clearance status that you had. Probably was easier for them than ringing up someone to check your status.

Don't ever remember ''unsigning'' it though - not conclusive since I am quite capable of forgetting it if I did!

Binnacle
7th May 2009, 21:04
Just as we tracked U-Boats using high frequency direction finding (Huff-Duff) the B-Dienst service tracked vessels even if not actually locating them.
Most of the books on the Battle of the Atlantic give background details of the encryption and decryption services.


I believe B-Dienst starting cracking British Admiralty encrypted signals during increased RN activity in the Abyssinian Crisis period 1935/1936. Unfortunately some of these cypher systems were still in use after hostilities commenced.

benjidog
7th May 2009, 22:13
I have checked with my good friend Jacqui Smith and can advise you that the revised Official Secrets Act process has changed slightly to keep up with 21st Century technology and is now as follows:

1. Get signatures on form E7 in duplicate
2. Give one copy to the person signing it and send the other to the Departmental Security Officer
3. The Departmental Security Officer's Deputy secretary's assistant's assigned Graduate Trainee scans the form and saves the image on a laptop computer
4. Once a month (except when the laptop has been left on a bus or a train), the same person burns the images onto a CD and deletes the computer versions in case anyone leaves the laptop on a bus or train.
5. Once a year the CDs are posted with the Christmas Cards to a Departmental Office that closed down years ago and are never seen again.

K urgess
7th May 2009, 22:57
Nice one, Brian. (Thumb)
Sounds about the right procedure.

Moulder
8th May 2009, 11:06
I also agree that there are circumstances where one may be required to sign the OSA more than once - this happened to me thrice.



Steve
(Thumb)

G4UMW
9th May 2009, 22:48
Me too - I've signed it three times so far in my career.

wireless man
3rd July 2009, 19:20
Just visited The National Archive at Kew and had a look at file ADM 274/4. Its entitled Wartime Instructions for Merchant Ships and is the volume which has The Merchant Shipping Code for 1944 which was a common code for US and British ships. This might help though it was well after the time under discussion

charles henry
4th July 2009, 15:18
Just ignore the nitpicking, read your ticket after the sections a).b)c) etc it says
It is also certified hereby that the holder has made a declaration that he will preserve the secrecy of correspondence.

At least mine does, Number AC/121, Aug 1949

de chas

K urgess
4th July 2009, 15:43
Just ignore the nitpicking, read your ticket after the sections a).b)c) etc it says
It is also certified hereby that the holder has made a declaration that he will preserve the secrecy of correspondence.

At least mine does, Number AC/121, Aug 1949

de chas

I should hope so, Chas.
That would probably be the "Post Office (Protection) Act of 1884"

Cheers
Kris

charles henry
4th July 2009, 18:06
I should hope so, Chas.
That would probably be the "Post Office (Protection) Act of 1884"

Cheers
Kris

Guess so, but then I signed my life away going to Bletchley Park so it doesnt make any difference
de chas

GBXZ
6th July 2009, 06:29
Trevor
You may wish to try the Royal Navy communications and radar museum at HMS Collingwood.

Good luck

wireless man
7th July 2009, 22:15
ADM 274/3 might be of interest. I think it contains the MN code for the period you want

Mayday
31st July 2009, 18:44
Well then, having personally signed to signify that I was aware of being notified that I was bound by the OSA several times appears to make me quite unusual.
I really don't care if you doubt it or not. It is possible and I'm the living proof.
Being notified that you were bound by the Act is not unusual or misleading and neither is signing both before and after to enforce the point.
What could be misleading is saying that you will never be asked to sign more than once.
I remember declaring several times that I had signed before and was told it didn't matter, just sign.

Same here, I signed more than once. Post Office Secrecy Act had also to be signed by R.O.s.

Moulder
1st August 2009, 10:22
Wasn't the document signed by ROs going to sea (and presumably working at coast stations) simply a declaration to preserve the secrecy of correspondence? It was often referred to, incorrectly, as the OSA.

(Thumb)

david.hopcroft
1st August 2009, 18:20
Moulder - Yes I agree. I signed as an RO and as a Coast Station RO

David
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