Australian Code Breakers

On Wednesday evening I went along to a talk at a nearby library by David Dufty about his recent book ‘The Secret Code-Breakers of Central Bureau – How Australia’s signals intelligence network helped win the Pacific War’ published last year by Scribe.

The Secret Code-Breakers of Central Bureau by David Dufty

It’s a great story that does uncover previously unacknowledged contributions. Dufty’s interest was sparked by a newspaper mention of Australian wartime code-breaking on Anzac Day 2012. His interest triggered a comprehensive research trail.

It’s a great read with a solid bibliography. He interviewed about twenty people who worked on breaking the Japanese codes. From a standing start, the operation grew to involve over 4,300 Australians – a venture, Dufty says,  it’s hard to imagine us being able to mount as readily today.

He mentioned many of the characters from Australia’s early radio history, including Mrs Mac, Florence MacKenzie, who trained thousands of women morse operators who in turn were used to train many Australian servicemen.

He also mentioned Eric Nave who was responsible for breaking Japan’s Naval codes. Nave as a young naval cadet had spent years in Japan learning the language and culture of the country.

The character with the best nickname would have to be Keith ‘Zero’ Falconer. He was the country’s top interceptor of Japanese Kana coded messages. He got the nickname from his colleagues as every single day of Kana code training in Melbourne he would score zero errors in the test. Japanese hams can still be heard conversing in this code on the bands today.

Japanese Kana or Wabun morse code
Japanese Kana or Wabun morse code

The character who stands out from David Dufty’s talk on Wednesday evening is Stan or Pappy Clark. Apparently, prior to enlistment, his work was scripting radio serials for children. The mention of the magic word radio was enough to catch the eye of people recruiting for radio intelligence work, and it turned out to be a fortunate selection for Australia.

Stan Clark used his talents to develop a comprehensive knowledge of the Japanese communication networks and was able to analyse the dynamic ebb and flow of their radio traffic. Even if we weren’t able to decode every message the broad overview – which Dufty interpreted as the ‘metadata’ of the enemy’s radio communication – of this traffic analysis played a crucial role in determining the allied strategy of the war and effectively saved thousands of allied and enemy lives. Macarthur’s famous island hopping strategy was directly informed by this intelligence. One of the special things about Wednesday night was that unknown to Dufty until the end of his talk, Clark’s grandson and family were in the audience.

Learning morse and touch typing in tandem

I’ve been wondering whether I should try to synchronise my most recent efforts at learning and improving my morse with a similar complementary neural mapping exercise of simultaneously learning to touch type as I practice copying morse code.

I was googling around – on the off-chance someone had developed the ultimate piece of software which combined G4FON Koch CW Trainer with Typist or some other touch type trainer, oh and for the Mac would be good – using the term “learning morse and to touch type at same time” and I discovered via Google Books Lewis Coe’s ‘The Telegraph’. Here on page 109 is mention of how operators could recognise their call in their sleep!


The highlighting is due to the google search term.

On pages 69-70 there’s mention of how the older operators used a mill to take down messages as they streamed in over the line.

Maybe the best approach would be to change the learning sequence of characters to match the character sequence of touch typing so that every character gets a double whammy of learning reinforcement. So F, J, D, K, S, L, A and ; (?) instead of K, M, R, S, U, A, P, T, L and O. 
It shouldn’t be too hard to generate suitable static mp3 audio files of the touch type progression of characters. It would be great if there was a way to randomly generate according to this new progression, in a similar way to the G4FON software, with the alternate character sequence.
Also, I’m sure someone somewhere must have considered the learning pros and cons of such an approach.
I also found the perfect font to use. It’s called MILL
Testing the MILL font
You can grab this TrueType font from
Not quite the same as this one which explains its own provenance:

LCWO on iPad & iPhone

Great news for owners of Apple portable devices who want to access Fabian Kurz DJ1YFK’s brilliant site on the move. LCWO stands for “Learning CW Online”. If you don’t know the site and you want to learn morse code or improve your code skills, this is one of the best destinations available – and it’s totally free.

LCWO - Learn CW Online
LCWO – Learn CW Online

Since May Fabian has been working on alternative ways to deliver the material, using HTML5 as an alternative to Flash.

As of Tuesday this week, Fabian has enabled the HTML5 player option to work with Apple Safari so it can handle mp3 files. And now at last iPhone and iPad owners can use the site as it was intended. Now I have no excuse for not getting my CW into shape.

Another cause for celebration is that today the site welcomed its 20,000th visitor. As Fabian says on the site “The reports of CW’s death are greatly exaggerated.”

Subliminal morse

Tim G4VXE posted an interesting ‘random’ thought about one suggestion he’d heard recently on air to raise your CW speed:

“one of the ways to improve your speed and competency is to listen to as much morse as you can – for example, have the rig running whilst your watching TV or reading. It’s almost as if the subconscious brain starts to process it and it becomes a ‘background process’.

This will help you if you want to be able to send/receive morse at the same time as doing something else.”

It can’t hurt – apart from driving all those around you crazy – and convincing them of all the doubts they already had about you! But maybe that’s what the headphones are for.

Overland Telegraph – 140 years ago, yesterday!

An ABC News story today tells of the celebrations in Darwin this week marking the start of the Overland Telegraph on 20th June 1870 when the South Australian parliament voted to dedicate about half its annual budget to building the telegraph line!

Morsecodian fist at the straight key
Morsecodian fist at the straight key

Barrie Barnes of the SA & NT Morsecodians and others appear in the video accompanying the story explaining the history.

CW resources

Via a link to a Facebook page I found two morse related application (for Windows) here. This page is interesting not just for the RSS Morse and Morse Keyer programs, but also some handy morse related links.

I discovered a free pdf book ‘Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy’ by Carlo Consoli, IK0YGJ. Interestingly Carlo wrote the book in Italian, translated it into English himself and then got Ulrich Steinberg, N2DE to revise the book. Net result: Very readable! When you think about it the first thoughts behind the first morse signals to hit the ether would have been in Italian! Carlo also salutes craftsmen such as Piero Begali I2RTF, Salvatore Canzoneri IK1OJM and Alberto Frattini I1QOD.

There are also links to versions of The Art and Skill of Radiotelegraphy by William G. Pierpont N0HFF (3rd edition – 20 April 2002) and Using an Iambic Paddle by Chuck Adams, K7QO.

Also via a post to the CW email group a link to K6DBG’s page on ‘Some things I’ve discovered about learning and operating CW and a link to a a cross-platform Morse program

This site is the distributon site for current and historical versions of A Fully Automatic Morse Code Teaching Machine first described in a May 1977 QST article of the same name by Ward Cunningham.

Ward Cunningham of course is the ham who also developed one of the earliest wikis on the web at

USB morse key

Via Julian G3ILO news of an Arduino based project to build an inteface to enable direct input to a computer with a morse key. Lots of information can be found here.

It looks like a neat little project. I don’t get the feeling it’s going to be offered as a kit or anything. Most of what you’d need to know to make one is on the site including a schematic and the code that decodes the morse code!

USB morse key
USB morse key

This is similar  – in concept at least – to those iPhone morse apps where you can tape the screen in the same way you would a straight key, and the app gives you feedback on your morse – at the most basic level by translating it back to what you hopefully intended to say.

What would be even more exciting would be an interface that could also handle paddle input to PCs … a bit like the $1.99 iPhone app iDitDahText by Marc Vaillant. You can only load this one on to jailbroken iPhones. It’s available via the Cydia Store. It enables you to enter text in all iPhone apps using the equivalent of an iambic keypad on the screen up to 50 wpm. Great party trick!

Or better still isn’t there a way to connect the output of the iPhone or even the iPad – electrical not audio – to control a keyer and a transmitter. Throw in PTT control while you’re at it!

The creator of the Continental code

Friedrich Clemens Gerke
Friedrich Clemens Gerke

I stumbled on to a page on Wikipedia about Friedrich Clemens Gerke, (22 Jan 1801 – 21 May 1888) the man responsible for simplifying Vail and Morse’s original telegraphic code.

As the wikipedia article explains, “The original Morse code consisted of four different hold durations (the amount of time the key was held down), and some letters contained inconsistent internal durations of silence. In Gerke’s system there are only “dits” and “dahs”, the latter being three times as long as the former, and the internal silence intervals are always a single dit-time each.”

This chart reveals the logic behind his reform of the code.

Gerke's tree chart of letter codes
Gerke’s tree chart of letter codes
After some minor changes it was standardised at the International Telegraphy congress in Paris in 1865.

Portuguese in morse

This page has a listing of how different alphabets and accented characters are sent with morse including Russian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese and Korean. I feel an overwhelming urge to change it from its dots and dashes layout to a didah format to reinforce the sound and not the visual structure of the characters. As comprehensive as these charts are, I’m still a little in the dark about some accents used in Portuguese. It could be that they’re simply not used in morse. Maybe listening to QSOs is the only way to confirm this.

Even the listing on the Portuguese Wikipedia page is missing the ã character. And this Brazilian page makes no mention of accented characters, even though it does explain that the codes for each character reflect their frequency in English.