Posted: Tuesday 09 January 2018
South East Associates
home of the code-breakers
- Wednesday 15th November -
A total of 38 Associates and friends met at Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes on an overcast but dry day in November, to experience a fascinating insight into the work and mind-boggling achievements of the WWII code breakers.
The site and its work was a complete secret until the mid seventies and since then, the working environment of a mansion house and assorted huts have been faithfully restored and recreated, to provide an atmospheric and educational visitor experience.
A one-hour external tour provided an insight into the nature of the work and living conditions of the thousands of civilian and military personnel who spent round-the-clock shifts intercepting and decrypting the Enigma encoded messages between enemy locations and disguising their origin with cover stories, so that the enemy would not suspect their code had been broken.
Great lengths were gone to in order to preserve secrecy, with local residents remaining unaware of the true nature of the establishment, with most thinking it was a hospital of some sort.
Lorenz Cipher Machine
It was eye-opening to appreciate that, contrary to the Hollywood depictions, success was not due entirely to a few Oxbridge prodigies towards the end of the war but was a massive team effort building on pre-war Polish successes, with the code breaking taking place on an industrial scale.
The process of reverse engineering the Enigma Machine settings on a daily basis, started from an educated guess and, just like today, exploited the carelessness of human operators and a single inherent flaw in the machine design, the fact that the actual letter inputted was never the one to be output.
The highlight was to see the end-to-end process demonstrated using the ‘Bombe’, an engineering marvel, which mechanically tested the setting combinations for the enigma machine. The feat of reducing the initial probabilities for the possible combinations of enigma settings, from some million billion – that’s 1015 - and to crack the code with a combination of 1940’s technology and considerable ingenuity, was truly awe-inspiring.
It is estimated that the work of these relatively few people shortened the war by several years and saved many millions of lives. We are indeed indebted to those many unsung heroes of Bletchley Park!
Many of the Associates said they would be making a return visit because they were unable to see everything in one day – which they are able to do, because their admission also provided a one-year season pass - highly recommended!
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