The enigma machine capture

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by wildhaggis, Sep 11, 2010.

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  1. Can anyone give me a book title and author that gives an accurate, historical record of the capture of the first enigma machine from a U boat and what were the names of the two sailors that got it but were drowned.
  2. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    Google is your friend, try U110,HMS Bulldog, and try www.UBoatarchive it gives the actual report from HMS Bulldog
  3. I believe there was a 16 year old lad involved in this escapade, worked for NAAFI or something like.
    His name was Tommy Brown and he got the GM.
  4. The 19 year old Sub-Lt David Balme led the boarding party from Bulldog, his account is here: -

    The Boarding of U110 by David Edward Balme

    Met him once, a wonderfully unassuming and amusing man - balls of steel too.
  5. Tommy Brown GM was civilian canteen assistant.
    Google 'Tommy Brown' and you gets loads of info.
  6. I think the Poles captured some Enigmas first and even as their war was going for rat-shit had the decency to pass on sets and information to the French and Brits
  7. Quite true.
  8. Bletchley Park have a hut dedicated to the capture of this Enigma (or they did last time I was there), with all sorts of info about the capture.

    IIRC you could actually buy civilian version of the Enigma machine pre-war (without the plugfield and some rotor modifications) however the Polish Cipher Bureau discovered that enigma was in use on higher level military networks prior to the war. They started to break the logic of the rotors, and the function of the plugfields.

    While the capture of the Enigma itself was very important, the Codes and Cipher books that accompanied it gave a major boost to our decryption efforts.

    BP is well worth a visit.
  9. Andrew Hodges' book Alan Turing: The Enigma goes into encyclopaedic detail about the Enigma machine and the efforts of Alan Turing, the original mad scientist, to break it. As Hodges is a Cambridge mathematician, it's also a sure cure for insomnia.

    A slightly less dense book about Enigma, and other cryptographic systems, is Simon Singh's The Science of Secrecy

    There's also a Channel 4 TV series and accompanying book about the work at Bletchley Park called Station X. It's available on VHS but I don't know if you can get it on DVD.

    Enigma was indeed invented well before the war IIRC by a bloke called Scherbius. He marketed it to banks and other organisations wanting to send sensitive information by telegram. At that time, telegram was the the only fast means of communication and everybody at the Post Office could read your message.

    The German armed forces took up Scherbius' machine and used it to encode their morse radio traffic that was readable by anybody with a receiver. Poles captured a number of Enigma machines and three of their mathematicians broke it and designed the original 'bombe' decoding machine. Having laid the foundations of the work at Bletchley Park, the Poles were more than a little hacked off when the traitor in the film "Enigma" was portrayed as Polish.

    By expanding on the Poles' work, Turing and his colleagues were able to break the German Enigma codes very frequently. The Germans generally would not believe that the untermenschen on the other side of the Channel could defeat a masterpiece of Nazi ingenuity but Karl Doenitz, head of the German Navy, wasn't so sure. After all of his U Boat refuelling tankers were sunk on the same day, he suspected that Enigma was broken and he had naval enigma machines redesigned with a fourth rotor. This made German naval Enigma traffic unreadable and Bletchley Park could no longer locate U Boats in the Atlantic. Britain faced losing the Battle of the Atlantic, starvation and surrender.

    Discovering the Enigma machine with the fourth rotor (by the Royal Navy, not Jon Bon Jovi), was vital for Turing's work. The setting books were too but the settings changed every day so the books became useless after a month or so. Finding the daily settings exploited the single flaw in Enigma machines - they could not encrypt a letter onto itself. Sending a bomber over to Calais invariably resulted in a signal with "Calais" encrypted into it and the code breakers exploited this.

    As one of the WWII code breakers pointed out on the Station X video, the work at Bletchley Park showed for the first time that, in war, brains could defeat brawn.
  10. Something lurking in the back of my mind suggests the RCN had something to do with the capture of one of the first (if not the first) four rotor Enigmas?
  11. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    Simon Singh's "The Code Book" has some good stuff in it. One useful clue we had was that all German meteorological reports from their weather ships kicked off with the same groups, rather like our own standard formats (see Admiralty List of Radio Signals Vol 5 if I have managed to recall correctly - la la la lo lo lo etc)

    Ironically the British disease of complacency rears it head when we look at other people's successes against our own coding. Although we were doing wonders at Bletchley it never occured to us that the Kraut might also be at it.
  12. I gather that cryptologists' work is predicated on the notion that if a code can be invented, then it can also be broken (although I wonder what they make of cyphers like PGP). Rather too clever for me, though. Some interesting posts here, thanks gents.
  13. Some serious criminals have walked because their PGP encrypted data couldn't be decoded by the police or the boffins at GCHQ. The only known cases of PGP being broken have involved the keys being obtained by means fair or foul. Asymmetric ciphers like PGP are thought to be unbreakable. The only known way to break them is by trying every possible key and you can't do that in a realistic time scale. But, that's exactly what the Germans thought about Enigma.

    The only code that can be mathematically proven to be unbreakable is the one time pad. War movie aficionados will be familiar with spies sitting in a barn somewhere in occupied Europe, tapping out a morse signal then ripping a page out of a code pad and eating it (rumours that the CIA can reconstruct code books from the contents of your toilet are exaggerated). The modern equivalent is a machine that combines your signal with a load of random numbers (harder to get hold of than you think) then transmits it to somebody with a copy of the same random numbers who can decode it.

    The wonderful world of cryptography. Inhabited by terrorists and paedophiles since 1943.
  14. I thought the whole tale was covered in that great documentary U531:)