Navajo Code Talkers

The use of American Indian code talkers wasn't necessarily invented in World War II.  The U.S. Army used Choctaw code talkers to relay communications on the battlefields in France in World War I.  So effective were these code talkers that after the war ended, Germany sent people to the United States to learn the languages of the American tribes.  In particular, Adolf Hitler pursued experts in American Indian dialects in preparation for conquering Europe.

The main proponent of using Navajo code talkers in the military was a civil engineer named Philip Johnston.  Johnston had grown up in the American Southwest and was proficient in the Navajo dialect. At the outbreak of war in 1941, Johnston was too old to serve in the military (he had served during World War I), but he wanted to contribute in some way.  That way was to propose Navajo Code Talkers.

Pros and Cons
Navajo Code Dictionary
Works Cited/Consulted
When initially approached with the idea, the U.S. Marine Corps was hesitant to take the idea seriously.  With the ‘cat out of the bag’ as far as Indian code talkers being used in World War I and the distinct possibility that Germany and the Axis Powers were aware of the use of Indian code talkers, there wasn’t much interest in it.  This is where Johnston proposed the ‘catch’ to his idea.

“He believed, with good reason, that the Navajo language was unique. The tribe came from a remote region, and only a handful of non-Navajos had any knowledge of the language.”
(“Cryptologic Brilliance, Linguistic Expertise, Dedication To Duty”, National Security Agency archives)
The initial test conducted at Camp Pendleton in California was a great success – the Navajos involved clearly showed that they could take messages in English, translate into Navajo, and then re-transmit them back in English from the translation.

“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.”( Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet, U.S. Navy Historical Achieves)

The success was so great that proponents instantly wanted 200 Navajo code talkers to enlist immediately.  The final number agreed upon was 30 men.  Recruiting began in early 1942 in Arizona.

The initial recruits conducted Basic Training at the San Diego Depot and then went on to Camp Pendelton to train in the use of radios.

The Navajo Code Talkers went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific during the war.  Initially only 39 Navajo were recruited in 1942; by the war’s end, there were over 400 Navajo in uniform with only 13 being killed in battle.

The success of the Navajo Code Talkers was short lived though.  Although 100% successful during the war in the Pacific, the continuation of the program after VE-Day was doomed to be scraped with the end of hostilities and the apparent lack of need of secure communications.