back to article Cryptography is the Bombe: Britain's Enigma-cracker on display in new home

The UK National Museum of Computing will open its new Bombe gallery this weekend at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes after a successful crowdfunding campaign to put the WWII code-breaking machines on display. "We even hope to have a Colossus operator veteran present so that they can exchange notes – something they could never …

  1. Alister

    Ah, this is the one hand-built by Alan Turing / Benedril Cabbagepatch, is it?

    No mention of Harold Keen or Gordon Welchman...

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Or Tommy Flowers

      1. Alister

        Or Tommy Flowers

        He built Colossus, not the Bombes.

        1. Anonymous Coward


          Tommy Flowers and others get far less credit than they are due

          Tommy Flowers build algorithms with basic electrical component - WOW!!

          and invented the telephonic switchboard that used jacks and sockets.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      I'm betting the Poles aren't mentioned much either - coming over here taking our jobs, defeating our enemies....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Oh, you mean the Poles, such as Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski who actually broke Enigma? Then some people built machines to automate their brilliance.

        The Poles never get sufficient credit for their work on Enigma.

        1. Yes Me Silver badge

          The Poles never get sufficient credit...

          Actually, I don't recall reading a single history of the GCCS work that didn't start with the Polish work. So I think they do get due credit. Realising that purpose-built machines could attack weaknesses in machine-generated ciphertext was a major insight. However, their relatively simple Bombas worked against a relatively simple form of Enigma; it got precisely nowhere against military-grade Enigma as used during the war. Turing's Bombes were a good deal smarter.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: The Poles never get sufficient credit...

            The Polish contribution is written into all the material and they have a really nice memorial piece of art at Bletchley Park and the guided tours all make a point of stopping there and emphasising their contribution. So that "unacknowledged" bullcrap can stop.

            But Bletchley Park wasn't just about a few boffins reverse engineering the enigma, it was a big campus with thousands of people for industrial scale processing of encrypted messages that were feeding in from a network of listening stations. During the was the various types of enigma changed and had to be cracked and re-cracked as the rotors were added and the stecker boards etc. For periods of months during the U-boat blockade BP was blind to naval enigma and needed combat personnel to capture code books.

            So it wasn't just a case of being handed the decryption method before the war and happily reading off all the communications.

            1. James Hughes 1

              Re: The Poles never get sufficient credit...

              What werdsmith said.

              Go to BP, and actually see what is on display before complaining.

              It's a worthwhile day out.

  2. Blockchain commentard

    How's it geared up to mine Bitcoins?

  3. steelpillow Silver badge

    Needs an IoT interface

    Would be great to control it over a remote terminal. Text-only, POSIX complaint would do nicely.

    Now, that would be a real Bombe shell.

    1. Adam 1

      Re: Needs an IoT interface

      Pfft, I am just waiting to import bombe.js*

      *Too scared to Google this because

      1. The search as you type rubbish in all browsers will probably see some black helicopter circling as my door gets kicked in, and

      2. I'm worried that this will actually exist.

  4. Aladdin Sane

    Colossus operator veteran

    Well deserved ------->

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bletchley Park Trust vs The World carries on ?

    Do I detect a subtext that Bletchley Park Trust kicked the Bombe out ?

    What are those guys on ?

    Seems like the TNMOC vs BPT dispute carries on simmering with much bad blood, just kept out of the public eye.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Bletchley Park Trust vs The World carries on ?

      BPT - Where the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

    2. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: Bletchley Park Trust vs The World carries on ?

      I was thinking exactly the same thing. Having been to both several times down the years I have been mystified at the way that two complimentary organisations can be at loggerheads in such a mutually disadvantageous way. People, eh? Funny buggers at the best of times.

  6. Allonymous Coward

    Somebody set up us the Bombe

    What? Oh ok. I'll get it.

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: Somebody set up us the Bombe

      "Somebody set up us the Bombe"

      Launch both F35!

      Too late!

      All your encrypted database are belong to us!

      OK, OK, I'll find the door myself...

  7. Siberian Hamster

    Do you know what kind of a Bombe it was?

    Clouseau Operator: Yes, the non-exploding kind.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Raspberry and chocolate?

  8. Wellyboot Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    State Secret.

    >>The Bombe at Bletchley today is a replica, the originals having been destroyed as part of the post-war effort to keep Bletchley Park's codebreaking a state secret.<<

    Spooks giving up something that useful? I'll put money on there being a working set in GCHQ's basement, next to an original Collosus. I believe we did refurbish & sell on Enigma systems after the war.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: State Secret.

      The story is that Churchill et al wanted to keep secret the fact that we broke Enigma, et al, as we knew the Russian's had collected a load of the machines from the Nazis at the end of the war for their own use.

      1. DiViDeD

        Re: State Secret.

        "... the Russian's had collected a load of the machines from the Nazis at the end of the war for their own use"

        Not only the Russians. Many of our European allies continues to use Enigma machines after the war, as did a number of commercial companies.

        Part of my father's job in the late 40s was intercepting encrypted military and commercial transmissions from ships in the Med on behalf of the supposedly decommissioned Bletchley Park 'monitoring station'.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: State Secret.

        It's worse than that. The UK government sold enigma machines to some of its "allies" to keep an eye on them.

        1. Aladdin Sane

          Re: State Secret.

          Why's that worse? Of course you spy on your allies. If you think GCHQ doesn't take a look at US Government comms then you're sadly mistaken.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: State Secret.

            "Why's that worse? Of course you spy on your allies. If you think GCHQ doesn't take a look at US Government comms then you're sadly mistaken."

            Yeah, it's a sub-contract from the NSA because they aren't supposed to snoop on their own!

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: State Secret.

      I believe we did refurbish & sell on Enigma systems after the war.

      So having fought off the Nazis they risked the wrath of the BSA for selling on used equipment with an embedded software license.

      Thank $Deity$ they weren't made by Oracle

    3. hmv

      Re: State Secret.

      It is likely that GCHQ built new and improved kit when they moved back to London after BP was closed.

  9. steelpillow Silver badge

    A conspiracy theory is born

    What's the likelihood we built and sold "used" Enigma machines to Stalin, then kept the old codebreaking systems going and pretended we had destroyed them just so that Russian spies could discover the "secret" of their destruction?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: A conspiracy theory is born

      That would be ridiculous - Stalin had so many agents in British intelligence that he would have known instantly.

      Instead we sold them to all our Commonwealth friends and Non-US Nato allies, with a big sigh that it was such excellent German kit that we had never been able to break it.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: A conspiracy theory is born

        Many "commonwealth friends" worked in Bletchley Park against Enigma, so I reckon some of them might have noticed.

  10. tmz


    Germany invaded Poland in 1939 not 1938.

    1. Captain Badmouth

      Re: When?

      Possible mix-up of dates. I seem to recall that the Poles had early warning of invasion due to being able to decrypt some Nazi signals, so got out early- 1938 perhaps?

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: When?

        The Polish gave their work to the British more or less as the final act of their government before being overrun by the Germans. It was a close run thing in the scheme of things.

        As well as being a marvellous technical gift, what it also gave us British was a hope that a machine based decrytion effort was plausible (indeed, the Poles had done it). In war, the gift of hope is worth a thousand battleships.

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: When?

          The Polish gave their work to the British...

          (and the French, but that didn't help much)

          The British, by way of thanking the Poles, excluded them from the Bletchley operation, feeling they couldn't be trusted.

          // unknown if they were warned not to let the door hit them on the way out

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: When?

            The British, by way of thanking the Poles, excluded them from the Bletchley operation, feeling they couldn't be trusted.

            There were many exclusions on the grounds of nationality, not just the Poles. There were people of German ethnicity in Poland, Pomerania and other border areas (see the GDansk/Danzig situation / Prussia etc) so the exclusion necessarily had to be general. It's unfortunate by not "by way of thanking..."

  11. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    I'll be there a week on Saturday.

    For the TNMOC BBQ.

    I stumped up some Dosh to help get the Bombe moved to Block H.

    Well done to all those who moved it. By all reports it was quite a squeeze to get it through the door.

    Have more than one of these on me.

  12. Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    History Facepalm

    George Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to get the dates wrong".

    Or something like that, I think. But I can't remember....

    Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.

  13. OliP

    i was up there a few weeks ago, the first day the bombe was on show to the public, completely by chance.

    its a great day out, went for the guided tour of the full museum and was the only one on the tour so got huge value out of it.

    highly reccomend it to anyone with even the passing glimpse of an interest in technology and its history - so much more than just the colossus and enigma stories, truly impressive to see most of it still working.

    something pleasingly english about a museum with a Cray super-computer next to a Crazy Taxi arcade machine

  14. Andy Taylor

    Couple of things

    Firstly the Bombe isn't really a computer, it's an electro mechanical Enigma emulator.

    Secondly, Block H was built for Colossus machines 5-10, not Bombes.

    Bombes were housed in various huts (mainly Hut 11) and later at other locations near to Bletchley.

  15. unix.beard

    Careful now!

    If you go to Bletchley and want to see this, make sure you go into the National Museum of Computing, and not into to Bletchley Park. They are on the same site, but are two separate attractions with separate admission!

  16. 89724102172714582892524I9757670349743096734346773478647852349863592355648544996313855148583659264921

    WWII's greatest atrocities and intellectual achievements woud have not been possible without amphetamines.

  17. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    I love the smell of old transformers and tubes!

    Well done all.

  18. imanidiot Silver badge


    All the volunteers at TNMOC have one more thing to be proud of.

  19. disgruntled yank

    wartime atmosphere

    bad scanty food, casualty lists in the paper, frequent bombing raids?

    With all due respect to those who served, I don't get the re-enactor thing. Fair numbers of my countrymen dress up in blue and gray to fire off black powder blanks at one another as if it were 1863 again, and I don't get that either. Should I be reassured that we are not uniquely demented Over Here?

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: wartime atmosphere

      England's own civil war has its re-enactment society:

      And you will find plenty of medieval jousting displays at big old houses in the summer:

      It's just people who are interested in history putting on a show.

      I don't get golf at all but some do and that's fine by me.

  20. ricardian

    More goodies for the museum from a decommissioned nuclear power station

    Includes items such as an RL02 disk pack holding a working copy of RSX 3.2

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