Defense Media Network

When Telford Taylor and U.S. Army G-2 Gained Access to Ultra

The British let in the rabble

In the early years of the war, knowledge of Ultra – British decoded German cypher traffic encrypted by the Enigma machine – was limited to only the most senior American government leaders and military commanders. But as a result of America’s growing presence in the European Theater of Operations, the British Government Code and Cipher School and the War Department signed an agreement on May 17, 1943, “which provided for complete cooperation between the signatories in all matters pertaining to Special Intelligence,” meaning Ultra. This agreement was the outgrowth, in part, of a meeting between a G-2 team of three Americans with the staff at Bletchley Park (BP).

The idea of expanding the group of Americans privy to the greatest Allied secret of the war was met with something less than enthusiasm by the British at BP. For one thing, they regarded Americans as amateurs in the field. Worse was the memory of something that Herbert O. Yardley did in the interwar years.

Enigma Machine

German forces depended on Enigma machines to encode and decode secret messages transmitted over the radio during World War II. The Enigma machine is on the left. The breaking of Enigma by the British was one of the most closely guarded secrets of World War II. U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Helge Fykse, Norway

Yardley was an American officer in World War I who created MI-8 (Military Intelligence 8) that was responsible for code breaking. Yardley’s greatest success occurred after the war, when he cracked the Japanese diplomatic codes. Because they were reading the Japanese diplomats’ mail, American representatives were able to drive the bargain they did with Japan in the Washington Naval Conference in the early 1920s with its warship limits, the 5:5:3 ratio between the United States, Great Britain, and Japan.

When MI-8 was dissolved in 1929, a cash-strapped Yardley wrote an account of his experience with MI-8, including the revelation of the breaking of the Japanese diplomatic codes. His book, The American Black Chamber, was a bestselling success that outraged the Japanese government, embarrassed the American government – who couldn’t prosecute him because he had not broken any law (the Espionage Act was soon amended) – and horrified the British military intelligence community. So when Americans Col. Alfred McCormack, Lt. Col. Telford Taylor, and William Friedman arrived at BP, they were warily, not warmly, welcomed by the people working in the assorted decrypt and analysis huts that dotted the grounds.

The purpose of the two-month long meeting was to familiarize the three with operations there and to assist Taylor, who would remain in England, in setting up operations. Taylor, a Harvard Law School graduate, had been the general counsel for the Federal Communications Commission when he enlisted in the Army. He was commissioned a major in October 1942, and posted to its G-2 (intelligence) section. Taylor got the Ultra job because of his success with his first assignment from his commander Col. Carter Clarke.

Enigma Decryption

An Enigma decryption from Bletchley Park, formed from parts of two messages to the German Army Group Courland (Kurland) on Feb. 14, 1945. The basic German form has been mostly deciphered, but would have been further analyzed by language and military experts to gain maximum information. U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Dr. David Hamer

In a post-war interview, Taylor said that at the time “relations between the Army and the Navy were very frosty.” The Battle of Savo Island had occurred in August 1942, and while the Army suspected the Navy had suffered severe losses, the Navy still kept mum about it. Taylor was told to read all the American and Japanese naval communiqués “since the beginning of the war” to determine what was sunk. It was, he recalled, “a case of the Army snooping on the Navy to try to find out what was going on, an interesting reflection of the very self-destructive lack of harmony between the two branches.” Impressed by Taylor’s report, Clarke offered Taylor the Ultra assignment, which he accepted.

At first Taylor was the only American at BP, working with staffs in Hut 3 and later Hut 6. Alternating between BP and the U.S. embassy in London, Taylor initially forwarded decoded diplomatic traffic to the War Department. After a few weeks, he had sufficiently gained the confidence of senior BP officers that he was requested to recruit German speaking Americans to help with the now-crushing workload coming out of Hut 6.

Once American operations, code named 3-US (Hut No. 3, United States), expanded Taylor assumed more of an administrative role. Taylor was pivotal in setting up the system that placed Ultra teams in the headquarters of American senior commands for Overlord and beyond, thus ensuring that field commanders would expeditiously receive valuable tactical intelligence for their area of operations.

“In general the main function of 3-US was to see that Ultra was properly disseminated to the various American headquarters authorized to receive it.”

—“Operations of the Military Intelligence Service War Department London (MIS WD London)” a TOP SECRET/ULTRA document declassified Jan. 7, 1981

After the war, Taylor was the assistant to Chief Counsel Robert H. Jackson in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. He succeeded Jackson as Chief Counsel in October 1947.

Taylor set up a private law practice, and received notoriety for being one of the first to speak out against Sen. Joe McCarthy and his anti-communist witch hunt. In 1962 he became a professor at Columbia University. He received numerous honors and died in 1998 at the age of 80.

Rudolf Hess was one of the many senior Nazis tried in the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. Telford Taylor was interviewed about the Hess case and that interview can be viewed on YouTube at


DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...