The world wonders

The world wonders

"The world wonders" was security padding added by a radioman to a US Navy message from Admiral Chester Nimitz to Admiral William Halsey, Jr. on October 25, 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Halsey had taken the whole of the 3rd Fleet, including six battleships under the name "Task Force 34", northward on a wild goose chase -- pursuit of a fleet of Japanese aircraft carriers sent as a decoy -- leaving the landing beaches on the island of Leyte in the Philippines covered only by a small group of escort carriers from the 7th Fleet. He did this without clearly communicating his intentions. Everyone else, including CINCPAC (Chester Nimitz), back in Hawaii, still thought he was covering the landings. On the morning of October 25, a strong Japanese force of battleships slipped through the strait and attacked the landing force, which appealed for assistance from Halsey.

Nimitz intercepted the appeal and sent a famously unfortunate message to Halsey, simply asking for his current location. The entire plaintext of the message transmitted was:


The words before the first 'GG' and after the last 'RR' are padding added to make cryptanalysis more difficult. The first paragraph, the material between 'GG' and 'X', is routing and classification information, metadata for the message itself. While decrypting and transcribing the message, Halsey's radio officer properly removed the leading phrase, but the trailing phrase seemed so apropos he seems to have thought it might have been intended and so left it in before passing it on to Halsey. The structure tagging (the 'RR's) should have made clear that the phrase was in fact padding.

The message (and its trailing padding) became famous, and created some ill feeling, since it appeared to be a harsh criticism by Nimitz of Halsey's decision to pursue the carriers and leave the landings uncovered. The Japanese high command had dispatched the carrier force as a sacrificial decoy (the Japanese, by that time, were almost out of serviceable planes and more importantly, almost out of trained pilots), and the headstrong American commander swallowed the bait. Only through the actions of Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3"), composed entirely of small escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts was the Japanese line of battle deterred (see Battle of Samar).

The padding phrase may have been inspired by both a sense of history and a knowledge of poetry. The day the message was sent was the exact 90th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Battle of Balaclava. And it is Tennyson's famous poem that contains a phrase similar to the padding:

Cquote| When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!


*Miller, Nathan. [1977] . "The U.S. Navy: An Illustrated History", pp 366-371. American Heritage Publishing and United States Naval Institute. ISBN 0671229850

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