Skip to content

eric nave – the secrets man

Nave, Theodore Eric (1899–1993)

by Eric Pace

Capt. Eric Nave, an Australian who broke Japanese codes for Britain during World War II and was the co-author of a disputed 1991 book about Pearl Harbor, died last month, London newspapers reported last week. He was 94.

In reporting his death, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian did not give its cause or say where he lived.

The Daily Telegraph said Captain Nave was “one of the most important pioneering personalities in the secret world of code-breaking” and his “long years in intelligence made him almost compulsively secretive.”

Born in Adelaide, he joined the Australian Navy in 1916 and later spent years in the British Navy. In 1919 he decided to study Japanese, learning it so well that in 1924 a Japanese admiral called him a genius.

Dan van derDat, a British military historian, wrote in The Guardian last week that Mr. Nave made “enormous inroads” into Japanese coded messages. In June 1939, shortly before World War II broke out in Europe, the Japanese Navy began using an important new code. Captain Nave was able to read it by the end of the year.

He drew on his experiences in his book, Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: How Churchill Lured Roosevelt Into World War II, which was published in the United States by Summit Books. Its other co-author was James Rusbridger.

The authors contend that if Britain had shared its understanding of the Japanese Navy’s codes with the United States all through 1941, the Japanese force that mounted the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, might have been crushed by forewarned American defenders.

“The denial of this information was no accident,” the book says, “but the deliberate policy of Churchill himself to achieve his aim of dragging America into the war.”

In an essay in The New York Times Book Review, Stephen E. Ambrose, a military historian, wrote that the authors’ charge “makes no sense at all.” He said that if Churchill “knew the attack was coming, he certainly would have wanted the United States Navy to meet and defeat it –after all, the United States would be fully into the war the moment the battle began.”


Captain Nave ended his naval career in 1947, joined the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and retired in 1959.




17 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have a copy of a 1959 SAPOL document that states the back cover was missing. Will link it to the last post.

    July 12, 2017
    • There is ambiguity in the paragraph about the missing slip and missing leaf … the newspaper must have had a disinterested editor.

      July 12, 2017
  2. After two failed attempts at getting this up as a comment on Cipher Mysteries.

    “What was revealed by this was several lines of mysterious cipher-like letters, and either one or two phone numbers (though it is still unknown which). This was quickly passed on to a well-known codebreaker (who was, without any real doubt, Captain Eric Nave): he determined that the letters seemed not to be a code or a cipher, but were instead an acrostic – the initial letters of a sequence of words.”

    .. from your (Pelling) post.

    Knowing Eric Nave was a very secretive man and working with ASIO at the time he was given the Rubaiyat, would he be likely to tell anyone outside the agency of his findings?
    So where did you learn of them, nickpelling?

    July 12, 2017

      “While following up the whole how-was-the-Rubaiyat-photograph-made question, I noticed that it was sent to “decoding experts at Army Headquarters, Melbourne” (26 July 1949, Feltus p.108) and that on the next day a “Navy ‘code cracker’ was tackling the task this afternoon” (Feltus p.110).”

      July 12, 2017
      • And from that you deduced it was given to Eric Nave a couple of months before he joined ASIO, then you added what you thought his findings might have been, findings that coincidentally agreed with your own opinion, is that how it goes?

        July 13, 2017
  3. There is a copy of the letter from Naval Intelligence to SAPOL, from memory I don’t think it was signed by Eric Nave. Stand to be corrected on that of course.

    July 12, 2017
    • Nave wasn’t with the Navy at the time, GC, he was with ASIO.

      July 12, 2017
      • Nave started with ASIO on 15th December 1949.

        July 13, 2017
        • My mistake …. Where did read of his findings?

          July 13, 2017
  4. Yes i know, just thought I’d add my two pennyworth 🙂

    July 12, 2017
    • Steady mate, you and me and Clive will make a fortune out of this when the movie offers start coming in.

      July 12, 2017
  5. The Best Is Yet To Come 🙂 Just need to be careful with them puppies…

    July 12, 2017
  6. Clive #

    He was living at 46 Cochrane St, Brighton North (1951)? Interesting files on the NAA site

    July 15, 2017
    • Interesting fellow, Clive, our Captain Nave, inquisitive and secretive – and known all around the intelligence traps.

      July 15, 2017
  7. Did you follow up on Bob Wake?

    July 15, 2017
    • Steady mate, I’m halfway through a bowl of butter chicken.

      July 15, 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s