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Theodore Eric Nave (1899–1993)

by Eric Pace

Eric Nave, n.d.

Eric Nave, n.d.

photo provided by Royal Australian Navy

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.

He married twice and had three children.

Additional Resources

  • Trove search
  • navy file, B6769, item Nave T E (National Archives of Australia)
  • ASIO file, A12385, item VI/25 Attachment (National Archives of Australia) (pdf)
  • ASIO file, A6119, item 3576 (National Archives of Australia) (pdf)
  • RAN personal record, A3978, item Nave T E (National Archives of Australia) (pdf)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Eric Pace, 'Nave, Theodore Eric (1899–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 June 2024.

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