Allied Translator and Interpreter Service

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Charles Sheppard's letter of Appointment with ATIS. (RNM)
Charles Sheppard's letter of Appointment with ATIS. (RNM)

The Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS) was an intelligence agency created at the Allied General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area (GHQ SWPA) on 19 September 1942.

The idea was conceived by General Douglas MacArthur of the United States Army. ATIS became the largest military intelligence centre assisting in the war against Japan.

ATIS moved its base each time GHQ SWPA moved over the course of the war, transferring from Melbourne in Australia, to Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea, and then to Leyte Island and Manila in the Philippines.

ATIS formed in response to the urgent need for accurate intelligence on Japanese objectives and tactics. The section predominantly translated seized Japanese materials and provided interpreters during the interrogation of prisoners.

ATIS also provided analysis of Japanese military objectives and capabilities, as well as political and psychological interpretations of Japanese military and civilian activities.

The staff were recruited from across the Armed Forces in various Allied countries, predominantly America and Australia. A high number of the American staff were second generation Japanese-Americans.

There were relatively few interrogations of Japanese prisoners of war since their troops rarely allowed themselves the dishonour of surrendering. However, it was easy to interrogate Japanese POWs due to their lack of training on how to behave if taken prisoner.

Captured documents were therefore a more valuable source of information, covering operational as well as general and technical intelligence.

The Japanese presumed that the Allies would be unable to read the contents of such papers and had taken few security precautions. The ATIS staff translated over 350,000 captured Japanese documents during the war.

ATIS advance units accompanied the earliest combat forces in each action as they progressed towards Japan. Language teams were assigned to and participated in the two year campaign of jungle warfare in New Guinea and Borneo.

Several notable events occurred at ATIS, including the translation of the captured 'Z' Plan in 1944. The 'Z' Plan outlined Japan's defensive plans against Allied attacks on its Pacific territory, such as the Mariana Islands in the north west Pacific.

The United States wanted to capture these islands for use as a bombing base to raid the Japanese mainland. The 'Z' Plan also contained a strategy for engaging the Allied forces in a decisive battle.

ATIS staff recognised the importance of the plan and worked round the clock to ensure its translation.

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