back to article Fully working U-Boat Enigma machine sells for $365,000

A fully-functioning four-rotor M4 Enigma WW2 cipher machine has sold at auction for $365,000. The M4 Enigma which sold at auction yesterday. Pic: Bonhams Rare and pricey. Pic: Bonhams The German encryption device, as used by the U-Boat fleet and described as "one of the rarest of all the Enigma machines", went under the …

  1. BenBell


    ...I hope someone got shot for that.

    I'll be in the comms room giggling to myself if you want me.

    1. Matt Oldred

      Re: U-Boatnote

      Surely Das-BootNote would have been better?

      1. choleric

        Re: U-Boatnote

        That idea was floated but eventually torpedoed.

        <Legs it towards coat rack.>

  2. elDog

    Is that a USB 2 port?

    And is it powered?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TalkTalk could have used this to encrypt their user database.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hate to disappoint the owner but I think the manufacturer stopped producing patches for the known vulnerabilities long ago.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      I hate to disappoint the owner but I think the manufacturer stopped producing patches for the known vulnerabilities long ago.

      Wait, what!! They never said anything about vulnerabilities when they sold it??

  5. Andrew Moore


    The photo seems to show an M3 rather than an M4

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Err...

      No, it's an M4, it has 4 wheels. The black wheel on the left is what makes it easy to tell apart from the M3.

      See, the site also has images of the M3.

    2. CH in CT20

      Re: Err...

      The photo seems to show four rotors...

    3. CH in CT20

      Re: Err...

      If it was an M3 it'd have three rotors, unlike the one in the photo...

  6. Alister Silver badge

    Purely as an academic exercise, I wonder how long it would take a standard desktop PC running an emulated bombe to crack and decrypt something encoded with this machine.

    Would it be a matter of hours, minutes, or seconds?

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      @Alister An interesting question. Would love to know too. Are there any commentards with such knowledge?

    2. Peter Simpson 1
      Thumb Up

      Longer than you'd think:

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Thanks for the link! The simulator looks intriguing.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Decoding using PCs

      I've come across a project on the Interweb to decode Enigma messages. Lots of them were never broken, either because of a lack of time or a lack of likely useful information from that source. It takes longer than you'd think -- the encryption works quite well, as with most successful decryptions, success wasn't so much from breaking the code as from procedural errors by the users that gave leads to the likely settings of the machine.

      (I was under the impression that the four rotor machine was compromised almost before being put in service because some Eboat user used it as a four rotor machine, realized his screwup and immediately sent the same message using the three rotor setup for this machine. Its this sort of procedural screwup that was gold for the code breakers.)

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Decoding using PCs

        The Bombes weren't 100% brute force, they all started with a crib - some initial insight into the most likely meaning of the encoded message.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. hatti


    Probably works better than Windows 10

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Still

      Can I play Wolfenstein: The New Order on it?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On a 3-rotor machine each rotor will turn over the next one once per revolution (just like an odometer). On the Navy 4-rotor, there were two places on each rotor the turnover would happen which helped make it more complicated to crack.

  10. auburnman

    I wonder if it's a lot of effort to recommission a captured vessel when complex equipment is labelled in a foreign language? It's a lot more complicated than a car. Did the new crew learn a bit of German, label everything, memorise which lever did what or all of the above?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It's a lot more complicated than a car. "

      But it has a lot more people to drive it. And some of the more complicated equipment would have to be replaced anyway, with stuff people had been trained on. Spare parts might be the biggest problem.

      During the later wooden ship period there was some agreement that French ships were often the best constructed but British guns and crews were far away the best, so capturing French ships with as little damage as possible was the smart thing to do.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      It can't have been that difficult. I'd have relabelled everything for convenience though. But a diesel engine is a diesel engine, a valve is a valve and so on. You get training to work on a specific type of boat/plane/tank whatever, you get re-trained to work on another model the basics don't change.

      Beside, every single one of us uses technical equipment every day that has been designed by people from another country - I'm writing this on a laptop designed in Japan, built in China, running an OS fom the USA with the GUI set to a non-english language running a webbrowser from scandinavia right now and I'm doing just fine. Oh, and the electricity it runs on is probably imported from France.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Beside, every single one of us uses technical equipment every day that has been designed by people from another country [...]"

        A Japanese colleague had a problem with his Windows laptop - which he had brought with him from Japan. Trying to read the "familiar" menus required him to give me a literal translation - which I then had to interpret. Even worse was trying to help a friend over ICQ with a Hebrew PC.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        > But a diesel engine is a diesel engine, a valve is a valve and so on

        But none of our nuts and bolts fitted, and we had to file down all the bolt heads until they fit proper spanners

      3. gcla72


        Open source engines, whatever next?

  11. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge


    for an M4. $269,000 for an M3. That's about $90,000 per rotor.

    1. Captain Badmouth

      Re: $365,000

      The talk-talk m/c had one rotor working part time, so I've been told.

      Mine's the one with the one-time pad in the pocket.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: $365,000

        You probably could have had an U-Boat thrown in for that kind of money, back then.

  12. keith_w Bronze badge

    Did the crew of the ship that captured U-570 get prize money when it was bought into the navy?

  13. x 7

    so presumably this Enigma was a captured one and should be in government or official museum hands would seem likely its been stolen and sold illegally

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      It's the US gummint trying to raise money.

      I also have an Arc of the Covenant, slightly used, for a low price...

  14. JeffyPoooh

    Somebody in China or India or Argentina needs to make these

    Reproduction Enigma machines. I want one.

    Not 'price upon request' nonsense.


    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Somebody in China or India or Argentina needs to make these

      "QUALITY Reich material reproduction - made in Shenzen"

      Hitler suicides a SECOND time.

      1. x 7

        Re: Somebody in China or India or Argentina needs to make these

        the Chinese probably built some years ago......if my memory is correct I read years ago that China was one of the countries to which we sold UK-reengineered Enigma gear post-war. It would seem quite likely that they in turn ripped it apart with a view to making their own versions.

        As to Argentina, as they signed up to declare war on Germany just before WWII ended it wouldn't surprise me if we also gave them Enigma gear as well

  15. TeeCee Gold badge

    HMS Graph.

    ...even attacking another German U-boat.

    In a sort of Graph Spree I suppose.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    1. TedF

      Big Risk

      Taking a bit of a risk aren't you? If GCHQ decodes this, you are TOAST...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A while back

    A machine and its rotors was stolen, and later returned to Jeremy Paxman (a notable presenter on the TV) minus its rotors.

    Extra credit for mentioning which year, type of machine and what the heck happened to the rotors...

  18. Astarte

    3-D Printing?

    How about a project to build a working machine?

  19. naive

    So much money for the machine of death ?.

    It is really weird that they never realized their codes were broken, so many things went wrong because of this, like over 70% mortality rates among their U-boat crews. It is like they thought their codes were unbreakable. Actually this Enigma machine was the machine of death for the Germans.

    1. MrCervelo

      Re: So much money for the machine of death ?.

      My understanding is that the Allies went to a lot of effort to ensure that the Germans didn't know that it had been cracked. They ensured that they always had a legitimate way to ensure that they had obtained the data through another method. I seem to remember reading that they invented a spy who had access to high level German data as a plausible source of data.

      Also, they sometimes did send men to their death despite having information as they had to maintain the facade that they hadn't cracked enigma.

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