back to article Original WWII German message decrypts to go on display at National Museum of Computing

Bletchley Park's National Museum of Computing will be exhibiting original, freshly discovered decrypted WWII messages to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day this June – messages that were broken by the Colossus machines based on the museum's site. The decrypts are due to be put on display in The National Museum of …

  1. Vulture@C64

    It's great that people like Tommy Flowers are remembered by the National Computing Museum. Tommy was the engineer who designed and built Colossus so it had the performance to do what was required.

    1. MJB7

      Re: Tommy Flowers

      But it still annoys me that he was turned down for a loan to build computers because the bank didn't believe the machines would work. He couldn't tell them that he'd already built them (and they did work) because it was covered by the Official Secrets Act.

      Now it may well be that Britain would still have found a way to piss away our computer industry, but the marginal improvement in our security provided by keeping Colossus secret has probably been _very_ expensive.

      1. Scott Broukell

        Re: Tommy Flowers

        @MJB7 - That's because banks still can't make computers work properly to this day!

        1. JJKing

          Re: Tommy Flowers

          Not quite correct there Scott. The Banking Royal Commission that was just held in Australia discovered the banks, and I assume via their computers, were charging dead people fees for services that they obviously weren't getting. One of those cheated had been dead for 13 years and the banks thinks they did nothing wrong. It was just a mistake apparently.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tommy Flowers

        I believe that hiding the fact the encryption was innefective was paid with human lives. When the single mean of discovering an assault was through decryption...

        _very_ expensive indeed.

        1. JJKing

          Re: Tommy Flowers

          Are you referring to Coventry?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tommy Flowers

        The reason it was kept secret was because the machines were still in use after WWII and British Intelligence wanted to be able to continue to intercept messages without anyone knowing that was possible.

        Other, more sophisticated rotor-based machines like the Fialka were also developed that could be cracked using the same techniques.

        However, the idea behind the machine could probably have been used without giving away where the idea had evolved or what it was used for.

        1. DiViDeD

          Re: Tommy Flowers

          "... the machines were still in use after WWII …"

          They were indeed. That's what my father did in RAF Signals (or whatever it was called) - his team was intercepting and decoding messages from our allies in the Med without the knowledge of said allies.

        2. JJKing

          Re: Tommy Flowers

          Then what were the ones that Churchill ordered to be destroyed and buried so their (the English of course and not the British) cypher breaking ability couldn't be discovered by the Soviets? Genuine question.

  2. Hans 1
    Paris Hilton

    Obligatory Untergang video

    Paris, cause, well ... Berlin and Paris share the same time zone ... maybe ?

  3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

    Valentines Day is coming

    Wouldn't it be great if TNMoC and Bletchley Park Trust would kiss and make up?

    They'd be better together.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Valentines Day is coming

      Relations are better than they were.

  4. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Colossus earned its official name well, standing 7ft tall and 17ft wide (2m x 5m) and weighing in at five metric tonnes.

    I wonder how much processing power you get in that volume/weight?

    A 3rd dimension measurement would be useful to calculate just how many Raspberry Pis you could cram into a space that size.

    1. StuntMisanthrope

      Purple magic.

      A new unit, no less. Equal to 14000 Apollo flight computers. #flyinglow

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      3rd dimension

      From the pic, the two sets of post racks look to be just over 1 metre deep.

      With a bespoke interface for ras-pi compute modules and the room for air flow, I'd hazard a guess at room for about 60,000.

  5. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Is this legal?

    I thought the EU had data security and protection laws in place that forbids the disclosure of private information?

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Is this legal?

      All those who could object are dead.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Is this legal?

      I guess the 'national security' exemption would apply?

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge
    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Polish plumbers

      Not only did they lay the ground work, they handed out gifts:

    2. Alister

      Re: Polish plumbers

      Fair enough with regard to Enigma, but they didn't have much influence on Colossus or the Lorenz cipher, did they?

      1. Alister

        Re: Polish plumbers

        downvoted for a question?


        1. DiViDeD

          Re: Polish plumbers

          "downvoted for a question?"

          That's how it goes round here. There's the autoscanners who read part of a post, just enough to get the spittle flashing, and then there's the regular ElReg 'didn't you even know that?' Superior Commentard,

          In fact, I might just vote you down myself, just for the lulz.

          Don't let it get to you, m8

      2. Dazed and Confused

        Re: Polish plumbers

        One significant contribution they made was demonstrating that the German codes were susceptible to attack and that machines could help. Without this we may never have had the teams at Bletchley to make the later breakthroughs.

      3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Polish plumbers

        Well, they weren't given a chance, were they? Spent the war working on low level hand ciphers, according to what I read. "Thanks, we'll take it from here"

        Still, there's a monument to the Poles now, and they're starting to get the recognition they deserve.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Polish plumbers

      I went round Bletchley Park (not the NMoC) the other week, and they did a pretty good job of crediting the original Polish work, although obviously the main focus was on British efforts.

  7. Scott Broukell


    <message begins> Send three and fourpence we are going to a dance <message ends>

    1. Ochib

      Re: Obligatory

      Calling Night Hawk...'allo, allo Come in Night Hawk... Listen very carefully I shall say this only once.....

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: Obligatory

        Ze knobs! Zay are flashing again!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward




    Do you have the fallen Madonna with the big boobies ?

  9. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Paper tape memory

    What I noticed about the Bombe and about Colossus when I visited was their use of loops of paper tape as fixed memory. So they made the tape go jolly fast. By the time I entered the computer industry tapes were slowing down, the speed no longer so important.

  10. GremlinUK

    TNMOC is not "Bletchley Park's National Museum of Computing". It is it's own self.

    It's also a damn sight better at presenting the story of computing than anything on the neighbouring site, for a much more reasonable entry price. Don't bother with Bletchley unless you want cryptography-lite and Churchill-the-hero. If you want the real thing, go next door.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      I still say that the two are linked by history, and they would both gain by combining resources.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        @Antron Argaiv

        They might be linked, but they are distinct organisations, with acrimonious history between them after Bletchley Park Trust gained control over the whole site. Don't ask...

  11. JulieM


    "Metric tonne" is a tautology. A ton is 2240lb., or about 1016kg; a tonne is 1000kg.

    Better question: Why aren't 1000kg. called a megagram?

    1. Alister

      Re: Terminology

      "Metric tonne" is a tautology.

      Only for the written word. If spoken there is no way to distinguish a tonne from a ton without specifying "metric tonne". It is therefore acceptable to use it to clarify which unit is being referred to.

      1. DiViDeD

        Re: Terminology

        Here in Arsetrailer, all our newsreaders put the emphasis on the 'o' sound, so it comes out like the o in pond, while the merkin version is pronounced as you'd expect.

        After 15 years, it still makes me do a double take.

        1. Sam_B.

          Re: Terminology

          That used to be the UK pronunciation when I was at school, but Alister was referring to the Imperial Long Ton of 2240lb not the American Short Ton of 2000lb.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Terminology

      "Better question: Why aren't 1000kg. called a megagram?"

      It is.

    3. Sam_B.

      Re: Terminology

      Metric Tonne is a Tautology, but it is also irrelevant if compared to an Imperial or Long Ton as you do, as the mass of the machine is unlikely to be exactly 1 Tonne, to better than the 2% accuracy of 1 Ton. On the other hand it may become relevant when compared to the U.S. or Short Ton which is 93Kg out, and still in common usage.

  12. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Support TNMOC

    A fantastic resource staffed by great people.

    A visit is a must for anyone even slightly interested in computing, old machines and the smell of dusty valves!

    Now to make a cup of tea in my TNMOC Colossus mug...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Support TNMOC

      the smell of dusty valves!

      Shirley some sexual deviance here...

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Support TNMOC

      Indeed. Love TNMOC.

  13. Roger Greenwood

    After the war . . .

    In case you missed it, I recommend this excellent book "Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing".

    Makes you weep - we were so stupid.

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: After the war . . .

      If you like that book, also read "Inferior" by Angela Saini. It makes science over the centuries look terrible when it comes to sexism and inequality.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon