Captain Forrest R. Biard was born December 21, 1912 to Robert Jackson “Jack” Biard and Forest Lynn Elkins Biard in Bonham, Texas. Jack was a long time employee in the flour mill business, including Burrus Mills, a familiar name in Texas, where he worked as an auditor. The family moved around with Jack’s job, including some time in Midland, Texas. They eventually settled in Dallas where Forrest was a 1930 graduate of North Dallas High School. He then secured an appointment to the United States Naval Academy where he graduated 11th in his class of 1934.
Various accounts of the United States military personnel concerning World War II refer to the fact that the United States had long been concerned about the global intentions of the Japanese government. This included the concern that Japan’s posture could pose a possible threat to the security of the United States and its interests in the Pacific, given the reach of the Imperial Japanese Navy. For several decades prior to the outbreak of World War II, the United States had posted promising officers to live in Japan and learn the Japanese language. Biard was about twenty-six years old and classified as a Lieutenant (jg) in 1939 when this notice appeared in the June 24, 1939 issue of the San Pedro, California News-Pilot: “Lieut. (jg) Forrest R. Biard to instruction Japanese – language, American Embassy, Tokyo, Japan.” Biard and other linguists were posted as military attaches to the embassy there.
Between 1939 and 1941, the United States embassy had remained open despite increasing tensions and previous Japanese actions. The Japanese had been active in the Far East with moves that included the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, the 1936 signing of the “Anti-Comintern Pact” with Nazi Germany and Japan’s other activities in China. Biard was in Tokyo at the embassy posting as late as September, 1941 when he and four other United States military officers were able to slip out of the country. Biard had said in another interview that the Japanese would not permit American ships to pick them up, despite the fact that the countries were not officially at war.
In a newspaper article posted in the Kerrville Times (Kerrville, Texas) on June 7, 2002, Biard spoke of receiving assistance in his escape from the Swedish wife of the Nazi ambassador to Japan. This comment is not elaborated on in the article and no reason is given for her assistance. Though she was not named in this particular article, individual that Biard was referring to was Helma Ott, wife of Major-General Eugen Ott, the German ambassador to Japan.
Major-General Ott had been ordered to Japan in 1933 and assigned to an artillery regiment. Ott was also friends with a German news correspondent named Richard Sorge, who lived at least for some time in their home. Ott is believed to have been influential in Japan’s adoption of the “Anti-Comintern Pact” which led to his appointment as ambassador to Japan. The stated purpose of the Pact was for signers to join together to stop the spread of communism around the world. The target of this agreement was the Soviet Union. Ott had joined the Nazi Party in 1938. The correspondent Sorge mentioned above was also said to have been romantically linked to Helma Ott. Sorge is believed to have provided information to the Soviets regarding Japan’s intentions concerning an invasion of the Soviet Union. Perhaps unwittingly, both Eugen and Helma Ott were used by Sorge. Sorge continued to operate until he was arrested by the Japanese, leading to his 1944 trial and execution by hanging for being a Communist spy. Helma Ott’s date of death is currently unknown. Eugen Ott was eventually recalled as ambassador. He survived the war and died in 1977.
When Biard and the other officers left Japan in September, 1941 the linguists were assigned to Pearl Harbor, attached to Station Hypo, the code breaking unit where he would serve for the better part of the next two years. The goal there was to use the unit’s language skills and logic to break the Japanese operational code. The unit was already there serving in Pearl Harbor the day that it was attacked by elements of the Japanese Navy.
One of the next mentions of Biard in the news was a delayed announcement in the Midland Reporter-Telegram (Midland, Texas) of December 26, 1941 under a headline that read “Former Midland Boy Safe.” It went on to briefly state that Biard had been transferred from the embassy in Tokyo to duty at Pearl Harbor. Biard’s unit and the gifted individuals who served there helped to turn the tide of the war during the months following the Pearl Harbor attack. They provided critical intelligence about the Japanese battle plans in the battles that followed, including the Battle of the Coral Sea and the key Battle of Midway. It is widely accepted that this communications intelligence and the allies’ reliance on it helped turn back the Japanese momentum of the Pacific war up to that time and frustrated their efforts afterward.
After serving in Hawaii, Biard was assigned to two other cryptointelligence units in Washington, D. C. and Australia as well as being deployed aboard ships in the Pacific from time to time. He also served in the Philippines during the long and costly efforts to recapture the islands from the enemy.
After the war ended, Biard remained in the Navy taking graduate courses first at Annapolis, Maryland. He went on to earn a master’s degree in physics from Ohio State University. He retired from the Navy in 1955 after completing twenty-one years of service in the Navy. He then taught physics at Long Beach City College in California for many years before retiring a second time in 1980.
Biard was well known and sought after as a speaker and there are numerous newspaper articles of him discussing those years and the crucial role of cryptography in the Pacific War. Captain Biard died at the age of 96 on November 2, 2009. He is buried along with his wife Winifred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. (Image credit: Findagrave.com)
“After the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Aleutians, the invaluable contributions made by communications intelligence were recognized by senior naval officials in Washington and Honolulu. In their words, communications intelligence had given the United States a ‘priceless advantage’ over the Japanese.”
– “A Priceless Advantage: U. S. Navy Intelligence and the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Aleutians,” Frederick D. Parker, Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 1993, 2011 and 2017.
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