DiscoverHistorical Fiction

The U.S. Navy’s On-the-Roof Gang: Volume 1 - Prelude to War


Must read 🏆

A fascinating look at the beginnings of the U.S. Navy’s radio intercept and cryptanalytic program and the men that made it happen.

Matt Zullo’s new book, The U.S. Navy’s On-the-Roof Gang: Volume One – Prelude to War, was a fascinating and well-told story. The characters and events absolutely came alive – no dry-as-dust history lesson here. In fact, I was immediately ready to jump into the rest of the story in Volume Two!

The book truly made for exciting reading seeing the creation of this secret, new unit with the mission of intercepting and analyzing the contents of the Japanese messages. I was amazed at the feat these guys accomplished just in being able to copy, report, and then convert to usable information the code they heard over great distances and under pretty rough conditions (both physically and atmospherically.) They were taking the ‘dits and dahs’ of encrypted Japanese and eventually translating it into English.

I felt the frustration of these men as they struggled to gain support from those in Washington, DC and, sometimes, even at the various places they had established listening stations. I was shocked when the Secretary of State under Hoover, Henry Stimson, shut down the joint code-breaking organization of the U.S. Army and the State Department (leaving the only the Navy’s group in operation) saying “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

One thing that made the events and history so much more interesting to me were the details that kept anchoring this story to what the world was like during this time. For example, at this time (the 1920s and 30s), telephones were not in every home or office. Households were still using gaslights as not everyone had been able to afford the transition to electric lights as yet. Aircraft carriers were relatively new ships in the fleet.

I appreciated the look inside day-to-day naval operations as well. The author provides a nice and useful key to abbreviations at the end of the book, but there were also little tidbits of information regarding rank, duties, and duty stations worked into the story, too. I learned that there is a universal compartment-marking scheme, a letter-number designation which will tell you where a particular location is on board ship.

I highly recommend this book to readers of non-fiction, historical fiction, World War II buffs, and ham radio enthusiasts. It was engaging, easy-to-read, and totally engrossing. I loved it!

Reviewed by

I love to read and hook up others with books that they might enjoy. I like genre fiction with a weakness for cozies, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and westerns. My professional background is in law enforcement, fire, water, and environmental education. I have basset hounds and ham radio is a hobby.

Harry Kidder

About the author

Matt Zullo is a retired US Navy Master Chief Petty Officer who has more than 35 years experience in Communications Intelligence. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University, where he researched and wrote his master’s thesis on the On-the-Roof Gang. view profile

Published on August 10, 2020

100000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by