The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post 26 posts, one for each letter of the English alphabet, in April. Most of us choose to make these posts on a particular theme. My theme for 2022 is Codebreaking in World War II, which fits with the topic of the novel that I’m writing. Visit every day (except Sunday) in April for a new post on my topic.
Z is for Lieutenant Leonard Zubko
Let’s talk about Russia, since everybody’s talking about Russia in 2022, anyway. As we reach the end of the A to Z Challenge, I’ll start the transition from World War II to the Cold War. The Soviet Union was an ally during World War II and their success on the eastern front was key to ending the war. That didn’t mean that the US military and intelligence infrastructure trusted Stalin.
On February 1, 1943,
Lieutenant Leonard Zubko, a Russian-speaking cryptanalyst from the Japanese diplomatic section, and his assistant, Miss Gene Grabeel, a new recruit only weeks from teaching school in Virginia, set about moving desks and cabinets and unpacking office supplies and files. Amid the constant shuffling and reshuffling of offices at Arlington Hall, the activity of two obscure employees would have attracted little comment. (p. 204, Secret Messages: Codebreaking and American Diplomacy, 1930-1945 by David Alvarez)
This was the inauspicious beginning of the Russian Section, which eventually evolved into the Cold War functionality of the National Security Administration. In fact, this version of the Russian Section didn’t last more than a couple of weeks with Zubko heading to China and Grabeel taking her talents to the French Section of Arlington Hall. The next iteration of the Russian section appeared a few months later in the spring of 1943. Lieutenant Zubko was out of reach, but Gene Grabeel was brought back.
Sitting at her table, Gene Grabeel helped launch what became known as the Venona project. The name associated with Venona is that of Meredith Gardner, a linguist and book breaker who brilliantly was able to interpret messages and recover code groups, leading to several prosecutions of Soviet spies in the United States, and ruining the lives of others. But 90 percent of those working on Venona were women…. The Russians employed the cipher in question for only a few years, but Arlington Hall worked that system for decades, mining the old material and digging out names. It was a group of former teachers–Carrie Berry, Mildred Hayes, Gene Grabeel, others–who devoted their careers to this. (p. 343-4, Code Girls by Liza Mundy)
Since Code Girls was about World War II, Liza Mundy wrote a terrific article for the Smithsonian that covered the Venona project from its beginnings in World War II until its demise in 1980 and its declassification in the mid-1990s.
I’m sad to have come to the end of the A to Z of Codebreaking in World War II. But now I’ll have more time to use what I’ve learned while writing my novel. I hope you had a great A to Z, too!