Author Matt Zullo Discusses his Book Series, The U.S. Navy’s On-The-Roof-Gang, With Virtual NIP Audience

During NIP’s November Virtual Speaker Series event on 19 November 2020, retired Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Master Chief (Ret.) Matt Zullo treated his NIP audience to a fascinating inside look into the research behind his recently published two-volume book series, The U.S. Navy’s On-The-Roof-Gang. The books trace the origins of the Navy’s cryptologic pioneers and radio intelligence organization in the interwar and early years of WWII.

Zullo opened his talk with a photograph of him receiving the On-The-Roof-Gang (OTRG) award in 2001. Up to that point, he had never heard of the OTRG, and nothing had ever been written. The surviving OTRG members didn’t talk about their work and had never felt comfortable talking about it. After talking to some of the OTRG members that evening, Zullo was intrigued—enough to devote his thesis to the subject when he studied at the Joint Military Intelligence College/National Intelligence University. Thanks to his wife, he finally decided to publish his research in the form of a series of books. 

Zullo stepped through a series of slides, full of great supporting photographs, to explain the evolution of the OTRG, their training and where they ended up operating. It was an insightful presentation that clearly showed the extent of his research. What began as just a couple of individuals involved in decoding Japanese naval communications turned into a group of exquisitely trained individuals who made a decisive impact on the outcome of U.S. operations in World War II. When asked whether the books were fiction or non-fiction, he told the audience that he had made the decision, based on the wishes of the families of OTRG members, to write their story as historical fiction. 

Zullo offered his contact information to the audience. In lieu of a physical book signing, he also offered to send a signed plate to any NIP members who would like a signed copy. Those interested just need to send him an email to request it. Matt can be contacted at:

Synopsis of books:

The U.S. Navy’s ON-THE-ROOF GANG: Volume I – Prelude to War is a historical novel based on the unknown true-life story of the "On-The-Roof Gang," the U.S. Navy's fledgling radio intelligence organization in the years leading up to World War II. It is based on the real life of Harry Kidder, a U.S. Navy radioman who first discovered and deciphered Japanese katakana telegraphic code while stationed in the Philippines in the 1920s, discovering that he was listening to Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) radio communications. Kidder strongly believed in the future of radio intelligence and a chance meeting with Lieutenant Laurance Safford led to the birth of the Navy's Radio Intelligence community. Kidder taught others the nascent art of intercepting IJN communications on the roof of the Main Navy Building in Washington, DC. From 1928 to 1941, 176 Sailors and Marines attended this training and were then stationed as radio intercept operators around the Pacific. These men would become known as the On-The-Roof Gang and were charged with keeping track of the IJN as they prepared for war with the United States. The circumstances of America's entry into World War II hinged on success or failure of the On-The-Roof Gang, and Harry Kidder knew this. On-the-Roof Gang: Prelude to War concludes with the "date which will live in infamy," December 7, 1941. 

The U.S. Navy’s ON-THE-ROOF GANG: Volume 2 – War in the Pacific is a historical novel based on the unknown true-life story of the "On-The-Roof Gang." It is a sequel to THE US NAVY'S ON-THE-ROOF GANG: VOLUME 1 - PRELUDE TO WAR. This second volume begins with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and documents the contributions of the On-the-Roof Gang during World War II. It focuses on the wartime stories of the On-the-Roof Gang intercept operators, some who were stationed in Hawaii, some who survived a tortuous existence in a POW camp, others who had to evacuate their intercept sites, and still others who performed intercept operations while at sea during some of the most famous naval battles of World War II. 

Matt Zullo’s contact info:

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