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Enigma Machine (Bletchley Park) | by Tim Gage
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Enigma Machine (Bletchley Park)

Enigma is the name of a family of ciphering machines made famous by their use in World War II.


Before the war, the German military adopted the Enigma machine as a means of enciphering highly sensitive wireless communications. First the Polish, and then the British spearheaded efforts to decrypt Enigma messages. The importance of this mathematical struggle was kept largely secret until the early 1970’s. After details were released, analysis of the war was to some extent re-written to take into account the use of this vital source of intelligence.


The intelligence gained through this source — codenamed ULTRA — was a significant aid to the Allied war effort. The exact influence of ULTRA is debated, but a typical assessment is that the end of the European war was hastened by two years because of the decryption of German ciphers. Dwight D. Eisenhower, was said to have described Ultra as having been "decisive" to Allied victory in World War II.


Much to the Allied codebreaking work was carried out at Bletchley Park in England. Churchill referred to the Bletchley staff as, "My geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled." Churchill is also quoted as telling King George VI: "It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war." Churchill's greatest fear, even after Hitler had suspended Operation Sealion and invaded the Soviet Union, was that the German submarine wolf packs would succeed in strangling sea-locked Britain. He would later write, in Their Finest Hour (1949): "The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril." A major factor that averted Britain's defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic was her mastery of Naval-Enigma decryption.


Bletchley's role in breaking the German, Italian and Japanese signals codes is held by many historians to have been the paramount factor in the Allied victory of 1945.


The machine in this picture has an unusual story behind it:

This is a rare Abwehr Enigma machine, designated G312. It was stolen from the Bletchley Park museum on 1 April 2000. In September, a man identifying himself as "The Master" sent a note demanding £25,000 and threatened to destroy the machine if the ransom was not paid. In early October 2000, Bletchley Park officials announced that they would pay the ransom but the stated deadline passed with no word from the blackmailer. Shortly afterwards the machine was sent anonymously to BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman, but three rotors were missing. In November 2000, an antiques dealer named Dennis Yates was arrested after telephoning The Sunday Times to arrange the return of the missing parts. The Enigma machine was returned to Bletchley Park after the incident. In October 2001, Yates was sentenced to ten months in prison after admitting handling the stolen machine and blackmailing Bletchley Park Trust director Christine Large, although he maintained that he was acting as an intermediary for a third party. Yates was released from prison after serving three months.

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Taken on June 3, 2006