Tribute to Polish and British codebreakers eight decades on
The reconstructed Turing-Welchman Bombe at The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park successfully found the key to break an Enigma-encrypted message in a live link-up with Poland.
The event formed part of the IFIP World Computer Congress in Poland as a tribute to the Polish mathematicians who discovered how to break Enigma, and to the British codebreakers who developed their techniques and made such a huge impact on the outcome of the Second World War.
Enigma was used by Nazi Germany to communicate encrypted messages about their operations in the various fields of conflict. Each day, codebreakers at Bletchley Park would try to find the new key of the day, which when found, enabled them to routinely read other Enigma-encrypted messages sent throughout that day. The race to find the key of the day began around midnight when the wheel settings of the Enigma were reset across each network.
The Bombe Team volunteers at TNMOC enthralled an audience at the Poznan conference by reconstructing that race live during a live video link-up.
Ruth Bourne, a 92-year-old former Bombe operator (who still makes regular cameo appearances demonstrating the Bombe at TNMOC to the public), was present to verify the procedures and to recall those arduous and stressful but highly rewarding codebreaking days.
By early morning, today’s Bombe Team had found the key and by lunchtime were deciphering a message sent in English from Poland and calling Job Up! :
Header: JWK IHM
Encrypted message: IEEV LDQE WVUQ SHPG PZWL
Decrypted message: MYXD OGXH ASXN OXNO SEYY
(My dog has no nose)
Asked to compare today’s team of codebreakers with those of the war, Bombe Team operations leader Paul Kellar modestly put the day’s success in context. “The wartime engineers and codebreakers were much better than us! The engineering of the Bombe is as good as anything we have seen throughout our engineering careers. The codebreakers kept in their heads information derived from the Bombe -- we have to carefully write down the information as we go. Their innovative engineering and codebreaking skills are awe-inspiring to this day.”
Ruth Bourne was one of many hundreds of Wrens who operated the 200 or so Bombe machines in satellite sites close to Bletchley Park. Working eight-hour shifts in around-the-clock codebreaking, she knew her work was important – but little more than that. “All we were told at the time was that we were codebreaking enemy messages. I never even heard the name Enigma until long after the war.”
At the conference in Poland, Dr Cezary Mazurek, director of the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Centre, explained that his institution is affiliated to the University of Poznan, where the Polish Enigma codebreakers were trained in the early 1930s in clandestine courses. Dr Marek Grajek described how the Polish codebreakers revealed their work to their British and French allies in 1939, enabling them to start reading Enigma messages as the Second World War began. Sir Dermot Turing and Dr Roger Johnson acknowledged those pioneering Polish codebreakers whose insight and ingenuity opened the door to compromising the secrecy of enemy operational messages throughout the war with such an impactful result.
A recording of the real-time feed between the conference in Poznan, Poland, and The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park will be available shortly.
Notes To Editors
About the IFIP World Computer Congress
The World Computer Congress was organised by IFIP, the world federation of national computer societies www.ifip.org. At the congress, Sir Dermot Turing spoke about new book X, Y and Z: The Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken.
About the Turing-Welchman Bombe
The Turing-Welchman Bombe was the electro-mechanical device designed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, based on a Polish concept, to automate the deciphering of Enigma-encrypted messages during the Second World War.
In the early 1990s John Harper, a retired engineer, was inspired to recruit a team to reconstruct a Bombe machine as a tribute to the wartime code-breakers at Bletchley Park. The reconstructed Bombe was completed and officially launched in 2007. The reconstruction replicates the standard British Bombe that contained 36 Enigma equivalents, each with three drums wired to produce the same enciphering effect as the Enigma cipher machine motors.
The reconstructed Bombe was moved to The National Museum of Computing at the end of April 2018 following an appeal for funds to the general public through a Crowdfunder. The new Gallery was rapidly equipped and opened officially on 23 June 2018.