Dairy farm for victory
At Vint Hill Farms, code breakers intercepted crucial messages from around the world.
In 1942, a dairy farmer in Virginia was listening to his shortwave radio when he picked up something totally unfamiliar: conversations in German. The chatter turned out to be exchanges between German taxi drivers and their dispatchers, more than 6,000 miles away. Excited by what he had heard, the farmer invited his fellow radio enthusiasts to come listen for themselves. “One of them was an Army Signals Intelligence Corps officer,” says Jason Hall, now executive director of the Cold War Museum at Vint Hill Farms.
It turned out that the low-power taxi transmissions came from Berlin. The fact that these conversations were overheard at Vint Hill Farms, 11 miles northeast of Warrenton, suggested the property could be a valuable military intelligence asset.
The military quickly inspected the site and discovered that its remote location and electromagnetic geology created the perfect environment for communications interceptions. In June 1942, six months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the US government exercised eminent domain and purchased Vint Hill Farms for $127,000.
Station 1: The largest listening post in the world
Soon, the rural dairy farm bristled with antennae capable of picking up communications — especially diplomatic communications — from places like Madrid, Helsinki, Moscow, Dakar, Buenos Aires and Tokyo, according to Mike Bigelow, command historian for U.S. Army Intelligence and Security. Ordered. The firm-turned-surveillance station became known as Station 1 and was equipped with barracks, intercept and code rooms, and classrooms.
As the United States mobilized to fight World War II, the Signals Intelligence Service (SIS) sought space near Washington to accommodate the people they were hiring and training. On a trip back to DC from Vint Hill Farms, the team of Army officers noticed Arlington Hall Junior College For Women, just five and a half miles west of the White House. The yellow-brick school and grounds would make an ideal headquarters, and as they had with Vint Hill, the Army purchased Arlington Hall under the War Powers Act. By August 1942, they had moved in.
Together, Vint Hill and Arlington Hall provided the White House and the Pentagon with immediate and accurate information on German and Japanese strategies, military deployments and more. Station 1 became the largest listening post in the world, known as “Washington’s Ears” to insiders. Its high-direction, shortwave antennae were connected to special teleprinter lines that relayed messages to Arlington Hall. There, the messages were decoded, analyzed, translated, and distributed to President Roosevelt as well as the Secretaries of War and State, the Army Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of the Office of Strategic Services.
Hiring and training code breakers
During World War II, over 10,000 army and navy women analyzed and broke the codes. “Vint Hill was one of the first places in the United States where women trained to become code breakers,” says Jason Hall. The SIS recruited female students and teachers who had math skills, foreign language skills, high integrity and discipline: any woman who leaked her work would be treated like a spy and shot.
During the interviews, the women were asked: “Do you like crossword puzzles? And, “Are you engaged?” If they answered “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, the interview continued.
Once hired, they were trained in Morse code and cryptography as well as Japanese, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese. And if not assigned to Europe or the Pacific, the newly minted female code breakers remained at Vint Hill to serve in the Second Signal Service Battalion as high-speed radio, ticker and teleprinter operators. standard.
A decisive message from Berlin
On November 10, 1943, Private Leonard A. Mudloff and his team intercepted a detailed report from Baron Oshima, Japanese Ambassador to Berlin. The report revealed where the Nazis expected the Allied forces to attack next and concluded that they had almost no chance of success. This breakthrough in cryptanalysis would change the course of history.
The ambassador’s message quickly reached General George C. Marshall and Admiral of the Fleet William D. Leahy, President Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to General Eisenhower, this information contributed significantly to the planning of the invasion of Normandy and the misdirection of the Germans so that the Allies could storm the beaches.
After the war, Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Vint Hill to thank officers and soldiers for serving “so silently and yet so magnificently”. Vint Hill intercepts revealed exactly how and where German military units were deployed, giving the Allies an advantage in planning the invasion. Vint Hill and Arlington Hall played a crucial role in the success of the D-Day landings and the war in Europe and the Pacific.
The code-breaking “saved many thousands of lives and shortened the war by no less than two years,” according to Major General Stephen Chamberlin, General MacArthur’s chief of operations.
Keeping History Alive
Vint Hill continued to provide active interceptions until after the Vietnam War. When the Army finally shut down Station 1 in 1997, Virginia Congressman Frank R. Wolf said losing it was like losing a family member.
In 2018, the Commonwealth of Virginia dedicated a historical marker to the Vint Hill Farms station. By then, Private Leonard A. Mudloff, who had intercepted the crucial Japanese transmission, had died. But his daughter was on hand to talk about her father’s contribution to military intelligence. “I’m proud of him and happy to have Vint Hill recognized,” she said. “Some people don’t really know what happened here.”
The former dairy farm turned spy post now houses Vint Hill Craft Winery. But for the full history of the property, don’t miss the adjacent Cold War Museum, which continues the story by providing a detailed history of Vint Hill’s role in WWII. While sipping a glass of Bombshell Cabernet Sauvignon from Vint Hill, you can see where the Japanese Ambassador’s interceptions got to Private Mudloff. Stay for a bite to eat at the cellar’s Covert Café.
But keep your ears open. You never know what you might hear. And who could be listening.