On-the-Roof Gang: War in the Pacific

Matt Zullo

Book Cover

GENRE

ACTION ADVENTURE EPIC HISTORICAL FICTION WAR

    Core Theme

    NEVER GIVING UP; BEING INNOVATIVE TO SURVIVE

    TIME PERIOD

    1940s & '50s

    COMPARABLE TITLES

    A COMBINATION OF WAR MOVIES LIKE SAVING PRIVATE RYAN OR PEARL HARBOR WITH INTELLIGENCE MOVIES LIKE HIDDEN FIGURES OR IMITATION GAME

    CHARACTER LIST

    SMITH: 30S. BRAVE, RESILIENT, AND POSITIVE.

    WILDMAN. 30S. ADVENTUROUS DO-GOODER.

    RUNDLE: 30S. SMART AND FAST LEARNER.

    WHITLOCK: 30S. WANTS TO DO THE RIGHT THING.

    SAFFORD. 30S. WANTS TO DO THE RIGHT THING.

    REDMAN. 30S. JEALOUS AND MEAN SPIRITED.

    JOSLIN. 20S. IN POW CAMP WITH SMITH

    BARNUM. 20S. IN POW CAMP WITH SMITH

    Logline

    Japan has attacked. America is at war. A specially-trained US Navy radioman secretly eavesdrops on Japanese radio communications in order to help turn the tide of the war, while seeking revenge for the death of his cousin and denying the woman who loves him.

    Target Audiences

    Age: 35-54,18-34

    Target Gender: Male Leaning

    Setting

    Washington, DC; Hawaii; aboard ships at sea and in port

    Based on a True Story

    Yes

    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: with a Publisher

    Publisher: ZooHaus Books (Matt Zullo)

    Year Published: 2020

    Starting Description

    Leading up to WW2, a group of radiomen are trained to intercept Japanese katakana code and are stationed around the Pacific. After the Japanese attacks, some are taken POW, some are evacuated by daring submarine runs, and the rest use their skills to help defeat the Japanese Navy in the Pacific.

    Ending Description

    After following the exploits of Ray Rundle, an expert US Navy Radioman trained to intercept Japanese katakana communications. A member of the On-the-Roof Gang, we see the most famous WW2 naval battles through his perspective.

    Group Specific

    Intelligence operations, War History buffs, Navy history, Ham Radio operators, etc.

    Hard Copy Available

    Yes

    ISBN

    978-1735152721

    Mature Audience Themes

    Information not completed

    Plot - Other Elements

    Happy Ending

    Plot - Premise

    Quest,Overcoming Monster/Villain

    Main Character Details

    Name: Ray Rundle

    Age: 30-ish

    Gender: Male

    Role: Protagonist

    Key Traits: Complex,Patriotic,Engaging,Skillful,Heroic,Honorable,Leader,Aspiring,Charming,Funny,Desperate

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Harry Kidder

    Age: 40's

    Gender: Male

    Role: Mentor

    Key Traits: Complex,Confident,Patriotic,Masculine,Heroic

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Laurance Safford

    Age: 40-ish

    Gender: Male

    Role: protagonist

    Key Traits: Confident,Patriotic,Decisive,Selfless,Engaging,Skillful,Heroic,Honorable,Leader

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Agnes Meyer-Driscoll

    Age: 50-ish

    Gender: Female

    Role: protagonist

    Key Traits: Complex,Patriotic,Decisive,Blunt,Skillful,Heroic,Educated,Honorable,Leader

    Development Pitch

    Can be adapted for a feature film or a limited series TV show (draft scripts included). On-the-Roof Gang is a true-life, untold World War II espionage story based largely on recently declassified information. After the discovery of Japanese telegraphic communications on the airwaves, the US Navy secretly trained 176 Sailors and Marines how to intercept and exploit these transmissions. The story follows the youngest of these men, Radioman Third Class Ray RUNDLE, from his training to the intercept site in Hawaii, called Station HYPO. After the death of his cousin, Louie, during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rundle volunteers for one dangerous mission after another, hoping to revenge his death. Meanwhile, Rundle ignores repeated attempts by Louie’s fiancé to contact him – his feelings for her are too complex to face. While in Hawaii, he intercepts communications that lead to the shoot-down of the Japanese commander-in-chief and breaks the code that leads to the Allied victory in Operation HAILSTONE. During the Battle of Okinawa, Rundle is nearly killed again in a kamikaze attack at sea. The shock of the attack brings his feelings for Bernice into perspective, and he finally responds to her repeated attempts at contact. He travels to Montana on R&R and marries her. As the war nears its end, Rundle is reunited with his On-the-Roof Gang classmates in Hawaii, and they celebrate victory together when they hear of the survival of their POW shipmates.

    Genre

    ACTION, WAR

    Brief

    This is the story about the heroic and innovative work of the On-The-Roof Gang, a group of radio intelligence officers during World War II who were able to break the codes that helped the U.S. win the war.

    Overall Rating

    GOOD

    Point of View

    THIRD PERSON

    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: GOOD

    Characterization: GOOD

    Commerciality: EXCELLENT

    Franchise Potential: FAIR

    Pace: GOOD

    Premise: EXCELLENT

    Structure: GOOD

    Theme: EXCELLENT

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    Yes, the profile is a good representation of the book.

    Draw of Story

    It’s a historical story that I hadn’t heard before about an interesting intelligence unit during WWII, and so I was immediately curious.

    Possible Drawbacks

    There isn’t really a story that follows characters. While the 4 characters show up a little more than others, there are so many characters and so much that happens not related to the 4 characters, it didn’t really feel like a story, as much as a history book. A deeper focus on the 4 characters, and probably condensing 7-8 characters into 1 will help the story feel more like a narrative.

    Use of Special Effects

    THE STORY RELIES HEAVILY ON SPECIAL EFFECTS

    Primary Hook of Story

    It’s an amazing story about a secret intelligence unit that helped win WWII and combines action with innovation.

    Fanbase Potential

    Yes, people love war movies and WWII movies and also true stories about incredible work that we hadn’t heard about before.

    Awards Potential

    Yes, these types of war movies are generally considered for Awards, think 1917, Saving Private Ryan, Hidden Figures, Imitation Game.

    Envisioned Budget

    LARGE BUDGET

    Similar Films/TV Series

    A COMBINATION OF WAR MOVIES LIKE SAVING PRIVATE RYAN AND PEARL HARBOR WITH INTELLIGENCE MOVIES LIKE HIDDEN FIGURES OR IMITATION GAME

    What’s New About the Story

    It’s a story we haven’t heard before.

    Lead Characters

    They are all heroic and brave men who want to do the right thing.

    Uniqueness of Story

    The premise is a rare gem, the story itself is not. That’s because there isn’t really a story there. This would need to be highly adapted to be a good piece of content and not just an interest chronology of history. There are too many characters and not enough narrative.

    Possible Formats

    Film - Studio

    Analyst Recommendation

    RECOMMEND

    Justification

    Even though the book would need a complete overhaul to be adapted into a script, it's an amazing story that should be told and has great commercial viability.

    Brief

    This is the story about the heroic and innovative work of the On-The-Roof Gang, a group of radio intelligence officers during World War II who were able to break the codes that helped the U.S. win the war.

    What We Liked

    It’s an amazing true story full of action and adventure that also looks at innovation. It’s a mixture of adrenalin and intellect.

    Film: This is an epic war movie that is incredibly cinematic and would play out well on the big screen.

    TV: There are so many stories about the different radio intelligence units, different episodes could deal with different messages that were intercepted and decoded from different units.

    Key points: Amazing true story; Big set pieces ; Heroic characters

    Synopsis

    Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and the US enters the World War II. The On-The-Roof-Gang, a small U.S. military group that does radio intelligence, hadn’t picked up anything. It felt like a failure, especially for Rundle and Rochefort, who were part of the founding classes of the group. In Guam, another group of U.S. radio intelligence catches Japanese chatter on the radio. They realize it’s time to leave, now. Smith orders the men to burn all of the work there and then evacuate. At the same time, Japan attacks the Philippines. Like Pearl Harbor, they are taken by surprise.

    Safford, back in D.C., is trying to figure out what happens. He realizes that the answer is to increase the U.S. Navy’s radio intelligence effort. That would mean putting in more resources, and training more men to be katakana intercept operators, Japanese linguists, code-breakers, as well as other important competencies for setting up a fully operable radio intelligence unit.

    Safford begins making plans to expand the radio intelligence effort, and is getting increasingly worried about his teams in Guam and the Philippines, who he hasn’t heard from. Smith, Barnum, Joslin, and a few other men on Guam stalk into the jungle with their equipment in toe, but they are captured by the Japanese and become prisoners of War. At the same time, Whitlock, Otte, and the men in the Philippines are being bombarded in an air raid.

    Rundle and Rochefort are at the main station in Hawaii, blaming themselves for the bad intelligence and trying to figure out how to make the radio intelligence better.

    Smith and the men who have been taken as POWs are locked in a church on Guam for a month, starving and scared. Then, they are put on a boat, and Smith realizes that they can probably overtake the crew, but after considering it more, decides against it. They are taken to a camp in Japan, where they are beaten and treated poorly. Smith, the whole time, steps up as a leader, and tries to keep up morale. He does whatever he can for the gang to stick together and take care of one another.

    In the Philippines, Whitlock and Otte are worried they will be overrun like their counterparts in Guam. They pick up unusual chatter on the Japanese communications, and try to decode it. Whitlock has a different fate in the Philippines, when he’s told that the disappeared men were actually rescued by a submarine, and that another is there to collect him. He doesn’t believe it until he finally board the submarine and is safe. His relief is short-lived, when soon after departing, they are spotted by the Japanese. A shootout ensues, but they are able to get away, and have a smooth rest of their journey. They end up in Melbourne, where Whitlock is stationed.

    Back in Hawaii, they’ve doubled down on the radio intelligence unit and are picking up a lot of important information and expanding. The men are asked to volunteer for a more dangerous mission, and Rundle puts himself forward. He is assigned to the USS Enterprise. That becomes the first ship to have a radio intelligence unit it stationed onboard. They plan for an attack on Wake Island, and the intel gathered by the radio team is what makes the attack successful.

    The radio intelligence coming out of Hawaii is getting better and better. They get intel that the Japanese are preparing to take Port Moresby. It’s an ugly battle, but ultimately, the radio intel was what gave the U.S. the upper hand to win. On the Enterprise, Rundle helps a secret mission, working with an aircraft carrier to get close enough to Japan that they are able to bomb Tokyo. In Hawaii they learn about another Japanese scheme to target Midway. Rundle joins the ships who are preparing for that attack. They catch the Japanese by surprise, and a huge battle ensues. In the end, the Japanese lost all their aircraft carriers and retreated.

    Wildman, whose also been working in radio intelligence, volunteers to go on a top secret and dangerous mission. He’s not told what it is, but ends up in China, where he and the team need to figure out how to put together a radio intelligence unit there. Soon after, Wildman is sent to Kunming, where the U.S. keeps having planes brought down. They need to figure out where the spy is located who is giving the information. He works for months, triangulating the whereabouts, and finally finds the leak and stops it. However, Wildman gets very sick and is put in the hospital.

    Back in Japan, Smith and his men face a worse and worse time as Japan’s stance in the war worsens. They start to lose some of the group, who are transferred to other camps, including Barnum, who has been catatonic due to trauma, since they arrived. The Red Cross shows up at the POW camp, and between seeing the smoke rising from Tokyo and the Red Cross, the men start to become optimistic. However, as it becomes obvious that the Japanese are losing the war, they are treating the prisoners worse and worse. The guards make them do competitions, and Smith volunteers to race against them. He is so emaciated, the guards don’t think he’ll be able to get far. When he’s about to beat them, another guard puts out his foot and trips him so that he doesn’t win. Later, they sneak into the kitchen to find scraps of foods, and are able to scrape some burnt rice out of the bottom of the dirty pans. It’s the most they’ve eaten in months.

    The U.S. is victorious in another huge attack because they learned the plans the Japanese were making, and were able to hit them from behind. Things really turn around as the U.S. is able to retake Guam and secure the Philippines. Then they take Corregidor and Osaka.

    Meanwhile, Wildman has recovered and is on to his next dangerous mission in the Gobi Desert. They trek through hazardous conditions, and while crossing a frozen stream, loose one of their trucks. But they finally arrive at their remote location and set up shop.

    The U.S. tries to take Iwo Jima and is met with more resistance than they were prepared for, especially because of the kamikaze fighters. After some weeks, they finally win and then move on to Okinawa. In Hawaii, they intercept a last-ditch suicide mission by Japan, but Rundle and the team figure out the details and stop it. At this point, it’s clear Japan has lost, but they aren’t surrendering.

    Smith is offloading crates from the train that he realizes are TNT. He concocts a plan and sneaks out of the camp in the middle of the night, gets to the warehouse where the TNT was stored, and lights it up. He sneaks back into the camp and is never caught. The explosion could be felt for miles around. A few days later, the prisoners stop being harassed by the guards and are even fed. It’s clear the war is over as Marines come to the camp to release the men.

    At the same time, Wildman is called back to Happy Valley from Gobi.

    Then, the U.S. drops the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The men can’t believe it when a transmission comes through the radio unit that Japan is finally surrendering.

    About The Author

    Matt Zullo is a retired U.S. Navy Master Chief who has more than 35 years’ experience in radio intelligence, now more commonly known as communications intelligence. He was first introduced to the On-the-Roof Gang in 2001, when he was selected for the prestigious “On-the-Roof Gang” award for career-long excellence in the field of naval cryptology. 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.