back to article Cambridge student rebuilds Polish Enigma-code-breaking box that paved the way for Turing ... and Victory!

A Cambridge post-graduate student has recreated the "cyclometer", the decryption device devised by Polish mathematicians that informed Alan Turing's later code-breaking efforts. Turing famously devised the "Bombe", a machine that was capable of decrypting messages encoded by Nazi Germany's fiendish Enigma machines. Breaking …

  1. UCAP
    Pint

    Well done

    A lot of attention has been focused on Alan Turing's work at Bletchley Park, in particular his development of the Bombes that helped the Ultra project so enormously. However very little attention has been focused on the activities of the Polish intelligence services who did so much of the ground work, and who generously handed everything over to the British intelligence services when they released that the Nazi's were going to invade Poland in 1939. This act gave Bletchley Park in general, and Alan Turing in particular, a huge boost in the encryption war that enabled the Allies to get an invaluable pipeline into the Axis activities.

    Raising one for all of those Poles who lost their lives in the struggle against Nazism.

    1. anothercynic Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Well done

      This might be the case in the press (rah rah Great Britain awesome rah rah rah), but on the ground at Bletchley and elsewhere, you will find that the Polish collaborators and originators are very much appreciated. It's made clear that they laid the groundwork that Alan Turing built upon.

      And yes, here's a glass to the Poles.

      1. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Mushroom

        So close cooperation with other European countries helped defeat the Nazi's.

        You'd think such a lesson would be remembered by the BREXIT Crowd.

        1. anonymousI
          Coat

          Ahem - "close cooperation" with the US also helped, without having to be in the same political pot-pourri.

          1. elaar

            "without having to be in the same political pot-pourri."

            Of course we have the same political pot-pourri, the difference being it's controlled in one direction only and concealed from the public.

            Brexit will not bring our "sovereignty" back.

        2. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

          The lesson is remembered - by membership in NATO.

    2. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Well done

      "However very little attention has been focused on the activities of the" ..rest of the world

      Like in this article "the bombe grew into the digital computers on which you are reading this story."

      Why the English have felt themselves so alone in the world that everything that exists has to have been invented in England (or Scotland) is a bit beyond me.

      "Konrad Zuse (German: [ˈkɔnʁat ˈtsuːzə]; 22 June 1910 – 18 December 1995) was a German civil engineer, pioneering computer scientist, inventor and businessman. His greatest achievement was the world's first programmable computer; the functional program-controlled Turing-complete Z3 became operational in May 1941. Thanks to this machine and its predecessors, Zuse has often been regarded as the inventor of the modern computer.

      ...........

      Due to World War II, Zuse's work went largely unnoticed in the United Kingdom and the United States. Possibly his first documented influence on a US company was IBM's option on his patents in 1946.".

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Zuse

      1. Yes Me Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Zuse

        The assertion that the Z3 was Turing-complete is very dubious. Being programmable doesn't make a machine equivalent to Turing's U. "Program code was stored on punched film" according to Wikipedia. Even its successor the Z4 had no memory for the program; all it had was "a mechanical memory with 64 words." [1] That makes it programmable like a Jacquard loom was programmable in 1805, or like ENIAC was programmable in 1945. None of these was Turing-complete, because to emulate U, the machine must have a rewritable memory where its own program is stored. (Somebody editing Wikipedia seems to be very confused about this).

        Actually nobody has ever built or will ever build a Turing-complete machine, because it needs an infinitely long rewritable memory tape. But the first approximation to one was only built in 1948, in Manchester, England. I'm typing this, and you're reading it, on a slightly updated version of the 1948 device.

        Zuse was indeed a great inventor, but he knew nothing about Turing's work until well after the end of WW II.

        [1] See Konrad Zuse's Z4: Architecture, Programming, and Modifications at the ETH Zurich, by Ambros P. Speiser, in The First Computers - History and Architectures, edited by Raúl Rojas and Ulf Hashagen, MIT Press, 2000.

      2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: Well done

        Actually by the Z3's standards, the first programmable computer was an English loom.

        About 1800 IIRC and rapidly took over the industry.

    3. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

      Re: Well done

      Couldn't have said it better.

      Shockingly the movie Enigma chose a Pole as a bad guy. Which added insult to injury.

      Hypocritically the movie was being screened at the same time that the press was complaining how Hollywood had nicked a true British story about an enigma machine on a submarine and rewriting history with American sailors as the heroes.

      To be fair to USA Bletchleys success could only be widely exploited due to US manufacturing brilliance at producing Bombe machines in prodigious amounts.

      There is a Polish proverb "Work first, pleasure after" which is why Polish soldiers are instructed that if confronted by a Russian soldier and a German soldier they must always shoot the Russian first.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Well done

        The Enigma Film was an adaptation of a Robert Harris novel of the same name.

        Here in blighty we are used to seeing our own portrayed as baddies, so we would hardly have noticed. Even we are not so immature as to care about Hollywood’s output of vain drivel.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well done

      Turing’s contribution to this has always been exaggerated, mainly due to his post-war preening. Other people at Bletchley Park contributed more than him, but are usually overlooked.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Well done

        But his contributions to computers are worthwhile.

        It's just rather more difficult to pin a hit movie on the Entscheidungsproblem even if you have Keira Knightley

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well done

          You mean badly rehashing the work of Alonzo Church? Every paper he published had to be republished due to the errors in the “proofs” – that others had to fix.

          And why haven’t you heard of Church? Mayhap he wasn’t an empty vessel promoting himself.

      2. Yes Me Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Well done

        "mainly due to his post-war preening"

        WTF? Even Turing's mother didn't know what he did in the war until 20 years after he died, shortly before her own death. Most of the world didn't know until 30 years after he died, when the Hodges biography was published.

        And others who served at Bletchley Park with him have made it quite clear that he was one of the leading lights; the other one who could be compared to him in mathematical importance was W.T. Tutte, but he didn't co-invent computability theory, artificial intelligence or mathematical models of morphogenesis; he is, however, well known in graph theory.

        No question that Alonzo Church's work was important too, but it was Turing who built the bridge between theory and real-world machinery.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well done

          You are clearly thinking of Tommy Flowers who built the bridge between theory and reality. He designed and built Colossus without any input from Turing. Then Tutte and his team wrote all the algorithms for it.

          Flowers and Tutte are very under appreciated for their enormous contributions to computer science. When talking about computers we should be saying “hey, Tommy Flowers built the first modern computer.”

          1. Lars Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Well done

            YES, let's create an all English alternative reality for selected members.

          2. rcw88

            Re: Well done

            Tommy Flowers WAS an undoubted genius, and Bill Tutte never got the credit for solving the High Commands super-encryption device, Lorenz, without ever HAVING SEEN one. If you try reading Turing's Cathedral it will have you spitting microchips at the false claims made about the computing efforts at Princeton being the first. My dad always said the Poles had had a rough time for centuries and he was right, we should never forget their contributions to decoding Enigma and as pilots in the Battle of Britain, we must always welcome them as or visitors or permanent residents, irrespective of our status with the EU.

    5. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Well done

      The Polish contribution is very well acknowledged at Bletchley.

      What is not generally acknowledged is that Bletchley had to repeatedly break enigma again and again in its different versions, and spent months blind to naval enigma messages until the RN managed to capture a code book.

      Then Bletchley Bille Tutte also reverse engineered the Lorenz cipher, a greater feat and with the work of Tommy Flowers at Dollis Hill in London they computerised the process of discovering reel settings. The code breaking was the key to it all but the real effort in collating hundreds of encrypted messages per day from a network of listening stations, and team of couriers into an industrial operation involving 24x7 shifts of many thousands of people to mine the messages and sift-pan them for gold. It’s too often portrayed as a couple of ramshackle huts with a few tank-topped boffins chewing pencils and scratching heads. A visit will open the eyes to the huge concrete blocks designed to look like a hospital. The processing of information that happened there was industrial scale. Sure the first commercial enigma cracks were important but it was a far bigger show than that.

      Of course we all know but are ashamed to admit that what really happened was an American GI showed up there chewing gum, wearing aviator shades and hat cocked at a jaunty angle, looked at a couple of crypts, changed a couple of wires on a bombe and suddenly everything started working 100 times better. He then declared that this was what he was talking about and took the prettiest WREN away with him sweet talking promises of nylon stockings and ration busting quantities of canned beef and Hershey’s chocolate.

  2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Very nice!

    Although I can't say that the demo told me anything, other than that lamps may or may not light up, and flicking switches may alter what lights up.

    1. MrBanana

      It's a cool thing for sure, but after watching the video I understood nothing about how I would encode a single letter, never mind "Hello World".

      1. JerryMcC

        It doesn't decode/encode anything. It's a device for working out a key for a group of messages. Look for "Cyclometer" on Wikipedia.

        1. MJB7 Silver badge

          Poor video

          The video *completely* fails to explain that it is a device for working out the key. It also fails to explain how you might use the device to find the key for a message (or messages).

          1. JCitizen Bronze badge
            Meh

            Re: Poor video

            I don't think any of the wheel control encryption machines were made to "find" keys, you were just supposed to know the key settings using a timetable book in each location. For each change in time, the key was changed to a pre-planned setting. However having that polish device to study made designing a purely decryption machine more likely, because the mechanical nature of it was obvious. Later, they just had to build a mechanical means to predict those wheel settings - like the Bombe machine. Later computers did it better using "valves" instead of individual cylindrical calculators.

            1. JCitizen Bronze badge
              Go

              Re: Poor video

              From what I read on the Cyclometer, much of the work was done by testing the settings by various methods, like the grill and catalog methods, then this machine could display data that could be used to continue guessing the entire key. There was information about using perforated cards to place on top of the raw messages to see if they made sense, the hence the key was discovered that way. I may be way off, but watching the movie helped me at least gain a basic understanding. So yes you could use this machine to decrypt but it was a tedious method that took a large team of people to work it out. It wasn't as good as the computers Bletchley made up later, that replaced hundreds of workers by using auto electro-mechanical means to find the keys.

            2. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Poor video

              I don’t think computers with valves were applied to Enigma breaking. Rather, a few hundred rotating machines built in Letchworth worked on a reduced number of possibles using brute force.

              The computer was applied to a completely different cipher.

              1. JerryMcC

                Re: Poor video

                Quite so. The valved computer, Colossus, was designed and built to break another system, the Schlussel-Zusatz 42 aka the SZ42. More details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossus_computer

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Well, it's on Youtube so we techies will have to do some digging.for more info. A pity they couldn't be a bit more technical in the video though.

      1. JerryMcC

        There is a detailed paper, albeit abbreviated, downloadable from the bottom of http://www.eng.cam.ac.uk/news/enigma-code-breaking-machine-rebuilt-cambridge

  3. TheProf Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Presentation

    Good job but I prefer the look of the original. This one needs a bit of a steampunk makeover. (Or cyberpunk. Or WWII punk?)

    I was going to ask if anyone knew how it came to be called 'bombe' but I got off my lazy arse and googled it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bomba_(cryptography)

    1. JerryMcC

      Re: Presentation

      Actually, this is not a Bombe/Bomba but a Cyclometer/Cyklometr (also available on Wikipedia)

      1. JCitizen Bronze badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Presentation

        Yes, that's it! I like to call it the "guessing machine" because it made it easier to setup tables to eventually find the keys. It was still horribly complicated task, but some of the German communications used less complicated machines, and lazy settings each day, which helped the Polish a great deal. Adding plug boards to the Enigma device made it necessary to use the latest computers at Bletchley to even have a ghost of a chance of decryption while the information was still valuable.

  4. Egghead & Boffin

    Poles at Bletchley Park

    If you do the tour with a guide at Bletchley Park they are very open about the contribution of the Polish team and their achievements before 'Station X' started work on Enigma. There's even a statue of them, which is included in the tour. It's well worth a visit.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Poles at Bletchley Park

      Not a statue of them, but a memorial that is like a giant book.

      1. JerryMcC

        Re: Poles at Bletchley Park

        and it looks like this:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bletchley_Park#/media/File:Bp-polish-codebreakers-plaque.jpg

  5. Graham Cunningham

    Loyalty

    Polish heroism, rewarded with duplicitous assurances from the self-serving British government of the day.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Polish_military_alliance

    I'm sure today's incumbents would treat our continental allies more honourably. Oh, wait....

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Loyalty

      So when Britain went to war with Germany for over 5 years under that agreement with Poland, we somehow broke it? Although admittedly we didn't also declare war on the Soviet Union - but then the Wiki you linked to is badly written and doesn't make it clear whether the secret part of the treaty limited it to war with Germany or not.

      As to our guarantees to Europe, Britain since WWII, has consistently spent more on the defence of NATO than most of the rest of NATO. With exceptions lilke the US and Greece. There were long periods where we spending as much on the defence of Germany as the German government were - inlcuding large committments of troops to the basically suicidal positions near the East German border - who were there as a tripwire to give other NATO members time to mobilise.

      Similarly the British army and airforce are currently forward deployed as one of the main forces committed to the defence of the Baltic States (under very real threat of Russian aggression) - a position that it's been hard to get other NATO allies to take up.

      I saw a very interesting piece of polling a few months ago. One of those polls of attitudes across Europe. Showing that Trump has dramatically lowered most people's opinions of the US. But what was really interesting was that only 30% of Germans and Italians thought that their governments should abide by the NATO treaty in defence of the Baltic States, but that even with Trump at the helm 60% still thought that the US would.

      Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners, committing serious amounts of blood and treaure to doing so.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Loyalty

        It's called looking out for our own interests. Don't get all confused and think it's altruism.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Loyalty

          anonymous boring coward,

          It's a bit of both. We commmitted more to NATO than other NATO members did - out of a combination of policy inertia, self-interest and a sense of obligation.

          That's why the relatively smaller scale genocide in the former Yugoslavia eventually led to a military intervention, but the worse one in Rwanda didn't.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

        partnership is verified in real action, friends in need friends indeed, etc. In 1939 we fucked our Polish allies royally because that pact was a bluff, and Hitler saw through it. I strongly suspect, we'd do the same with the Balts now if the Russians were to invade them. Would ANYONE want to die for Tallinn? Sure, we've got troops there, but I can easily see how the Russians let these token NATO forces withdraw "honourably" (by not destroying them immediately) and then, some brilliant politician steps off a place with I-bring-you-peace and we all breathe with relief. After all, who wants to swap their zero hour jobs and 40-year mortgages for a nuclear Armageddon against them crazy Russians, eh?

        Not that it makes us worse than any other country, I saw a poll done in Poland (sorry), about 2 yrs ago, most of them said their country shouldn't get involved if Russians invade the Baltics either. Well, they have mortgages and zero hour contracts to protect too (in fact, highest rate of them in Europe, apparently). Sensible people...

        1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

          Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

          >In 1939 we fucked our Polish allies royally because that pact was a bluff, and Hitler saw through it

          Except that the UK and France promised to go to war against Germany if Germany invaded Poland.

          German Invaded Poland

          UK and France both went to war against Germany.

          Thus commencing the European element of World War 2 that ultimately led to the defeat of Germany.

          The UK (and France) did what they promised to do.

          You appear to be claiming will let down our Polish allies because we were not able to do more against Germany.

          Throughout 1939 the UK was re-arming about as quickly as it was possible to do.

          What the UK (and France) did was say to Poland, if Germany attacks, we'll declare war on Germany. That Germany did not take the threat seriously was beyond the UK's control. I reiterate, the UK was at that point, re-arming as quickly as it could. There was no practical military action the UK could take against Germany in September 1939, beyond what it did.

          Had the UK and France not offered support to Poland, the result would have still been that Germany invaded Poland.

          Only then, Germany would have been left alone to begin its ethnic cleansing in peace.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

            "Except that the UK and France promised to go to war against Germany if Germany invaded Poland.

            German Invaded Poland

            UK and France both went to war against Germany."

            As a Pole, I can address this. Poland expected an IMMEDIATE action from their allies. The keyword has been highlighted. Actions, not just empty political gestures/statements. Meanwhile, as we all know the war started on September 1st. Poland's defensive war ended October 6th. And the first strike of the English troops took place on October 10th... in Tunisia.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_Poland

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Empire_in_World_War_II

            It's not that the war had been unexpected, Polish newspapers from the spring/summer of 1939 are full of fears that Germans might have interfered. And the work on German military ciphers started in early 30's, not sure what Mr. Turing was doing at that time, but I am glad that the Polish accent was so fruitfully understandable for him a few years later.

            You're welcome!

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

              As a Pole, I can address this. Poland expected an IMMEDIATE action from their allies. The keyword has been highlighted. Actions, not just empty political gestures/statements. Meanwhile, as we all know the war started on September 1st. Poland's defensive war ended October 6th. And the first strike of the English troops took place on October 10th... in Tunisia.

              Poland got an immediate action. Britain and France told Germany on 1st September to stop the war in Poland or they would declare war. Set a deadline on 2nd September and declared war on 3rd September.

              As to immediate assistance, I would suggest that the Polish government expected no such thing, given that they could read a map. Sending the Royal Navy into the Baltic to ferry troops to Poland was not possible. The alliance was supposed to work by deterrence, i.e. persuading the Germans that the war they weren't ready for would happen early, should they invade Poland. Hitler unfortunately doesn't seem to have believed it, and was surprised by the allied declaration of war.

              You are also materially wrong about the Baltic States. Since the UK already has troops in place defending the Baltic States, and has had them there for at least the last couple of years.

              In fact NATO directly learned from the experience of WWII, in that its doctrine became to have troops already in place, so that an aggressor would know that if it invaded - the guarantee would be much more likely to work, given that they were likely to have already killed more than one NATO nation's troops.

              However it was thought to be too much of a provocation to Russia to base troops in the new Eastern European members, since we were now supposed to be playing nice with Russia after the end of the Cold War. However after the attack on the Ukraine that policy was changed, and NATO forces were based in the Baltic States - at the urging of Poland, UK and the UK - and despite initial objections from Germany and France. To be fair to them, Germany have since taken up leadership of one of the battle groups.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

                "Poland got an immediate action."

                Yes, paper based statements "we disagree with you moves, you bad Nazis!". But this is your perspective and I understand it. I kindly suggest you read some books by Polish authors from that era though. The common conviction was that Poland had been left alone and for 5 weeks was defending against the German and Russian invaders, while none of the allies helped.

                France borders Germany, no map reading is necessary here, as well as no ferries. To this day there is a popular joke in Poland: French tanks have one gear forward and 6 reverse gears.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

                  The assumption was that this would be WWI-rev2, ie a long drawn out attrition war in Belgium with Germany running out of supplies and surrendering.

                  In hindsight bombing the fsck out of the Germany on 3rd Sept would have been a better plan... but that's the problem with history

                  1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                    Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

                    There was no option to bomb Germany in 1939. The Allies did not have the heavy bombers available to do it. Or the fighters to escort them.

                    In fact no country had sufficient 4 engined heavy bombers for a serious strategic bombardment. Including the Luftwaffe, who had to use mainly tactical bombers to bomb Britain, because that was all they had.

                    The French could have invaded Germany, as their tanks were all in Poland. But the invasion route was not particularly practical due to the border terrain and fortifications. As with World War I, the only practical way to invade across that border was through Belgium. And Belgium were neutral until invaded by Germany in Spring 1942.

                    The guarantee given to Poland was of deterrent value only until Britain had rearmed. Which it was doing. A lesson that many nations would do well to remember. If you would seek peace, prepare for war. Else your enemies may do so, and then you have no means to apply diplomatic pressure.

                    1. JJKing

                      Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

                      @I ain't Spartacus, I think you may have a typo with the year Germany invade Belgium,

                      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
                        Facepalm

                        Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

                        JJKing,

                        Sorry. Typing on the iPad, not proof reading. Naughty me!

                    2. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

                      Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

                      It's worth noting that when Britain did attempt to bomb Germany in daylight in 1939, the bombers were generally decimated (actually, that's an understatement: I think on the Wilhelmshaven raid, losses were 100%).

                      Poland allied themselves to the largest Naval power on earth at the time, but a power that had a tiny army, none of which was on continental Europe (I think the initial BEF deployment was about 160,000, which is about 1/8th to 1/10th the size of the force that Poland had already mobilised). It took most of September to get that initial BEF into France.

                      Once in France, the BEF was deployed near the Channel coast, consistent with maintaining supply lines back to the UK, and(predictably) in the area it had operated in during WW1. The British army therefore had no actual route to 'get at' the Germans, without violating Belgian neutrality (The French and British wanted Belgium to cooperate, but Belgium followed a policy of strict neutrality until they were actually invaded).

                      Meanwhile, the Royal Navy was hunting down merchant shipping and merchant raiders belonging to Germany, and instigating a blockade (everyone always seems to remember the U-boat campaign against Britain in both wars, but forgets that the UK blockaded Germany in both too, particularly effectively in WW1, but not without effect in WW2).

                      In respect of the UK, Poland allied themselves with a Naval power, and got an immediate (naval) response.

                      Whether the French (as a more 'continental' power) could have done more

            2. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

              Attempting to defend Poland by invading to face the Wehrmacht from the Baltic would have been fucking stupid, the BEF was ill-equipped to face them on their own doorstep. There could not have been a Dunkirk miracle from GDansk, there would be no army left and the war in Europe would have been over in 1940. Thousands of deaths went into defeating the Nazis and eventually ridding them from Europe. The allies were barely able to keep Europe out of Soviet hands afterwards, so expectations of what was possible need to be a bit more pragmatic.

        2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: Britain has been a staunch ally to its NATO partners

          > Would anyone die for Tallinn?

          Aw HELL yeah!

          You ever been there?

          Every 5th girl in Estonia is a supermodel.

          Even the "ugly" ones are gorgeous.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Loyalty

        Britain and the US understand that it is far, far better to hold a war in someone elses country, than at home. The further the better.

        If they could station the troops in Moscow they probably would.

        1. Jan 0 Silver badge

          Re: Loyalty

          > Britain and the US understand that it is far, far better to hold a war in someone else's country, than at home. The further the better.

          Errm. no. The USA understood that and set up NATO as a device to distract the USSR and keep battles out of the USA. Britain (and other European countries) are occupied client states and had no choice, If we demur, then all those USA nuclear devices are handily on "RAF", and other member's, bases ready to "deter" us.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Loyalty

            Britain created NATO, along with other European states, and asked the US to join. Its origins were based on post war treaties signed between the UK and a few Western European countries. Despite the ignorance of idiots like Corbyn, NATO was the creation, and an excellent part of the legacy, of the post-war Labour government.

            To address some more of your historical ignorance, the USSR were never a military threat to the USA. Except massive nuclear strike of course. They did not have the logistic, sealift or airlift capacity to put significant numbers of troops into the field there. The US were in Europe for the same reason they joined WWII in Europe, or Britain joined WWI. Not wanting an enemy to gain dominance of an entire continent.

            The thing that gives the lie to your paranoid bollocks about some imaginary US threat is that countries are still begging the USA to base troops there. Because if the security it gives them. Unlike say Russia or China, who have no allies they don’t have to buy or threaten. After using their treaty naval bases to invade Crimea, who’d trust Russia? Bases they only managed to keep by blackmail over Ukraine’s gas supply in winter.

            So I’ll give three quick examples. Iraq kicked out US troops, they were offered to keep some by Obama and said no. Since ISIS they want them again. Or the shock and dismay when Trump talked of pulling out of Germany last month. Or my final example of the Polish government asking the USA to base troops there 2 years ago. They even offered to pay $2bn a year, and call the base Camp Trump...

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Loyalty

      The real screwing over was post-WW2 when Britain and the USA signed over vast tracts of land to the Russians. The Poles and the Czechs (at the very least - other countries were equally badly treated) should detest us for it. I understand that the statue of Churchill in Prague, put up during Thatcher's time by a toadying Czech president, is at last due to come down. I couldn't believe it when I first saw it!

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Loyalty

        The real screwing over was post-WW2 when Britain and the USA signed over vast tracts of land to the Russians

        What is this "signed over"? The Red Army occupied those countries and decided to not allow them to set up free governments, or in some cases to overthrow the ones that did set up.

        The alternative was to declare war on Russia and kick them out. Which might have been the right thing to do, because there was a brief window when that could be done without it becoming nuclear. But the Red Army at that point was a lean, mean fighting machine - and heavily outnumbered the Western Allies.

        I'm not even sure if it was militarily feasible, or democratically possible. It probably could have been done using nuclear weapons, but then what would have been the result once Stalin had his own?

        The choice facing the politicians at that time was therefore incredibly unclear. Did they want to extend the war by an unknown number of years to fight the Soviets, with worse tanks but better aircraft.

        Also your opinion is historically revisionist. In 1945 it wasn't known how much the Soviets would repress Eastern Europe. They were setting up Communist Parties to create fake free governments and it wasn't for a few years until even they were often too indepenendent for Stalin and replaced with even more repressive ones - so that it wasn't clear in 45 that Eastern Europe was about to become the Russian empire.

        1. ICL1900-G3

          Re: Loyalty

          Thank you for an excellent comment. You clearly know your stuff.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how it works

    There's more explanation at

    http://www.eng.cam.ac.uk/news/enigma-code-breaking-machine-rebuilt-cambridge

  7. gnasher729 Silver badge

    The Polish mathematicians actually achieved two very important things: First, they managed to create a mathematical model of the enigma (which turned out to be simpler than they had feared), and to reconstruct the exact wiring of the wheels that were used at the time - which they managed because of the German mistake of sending the same three letter code twice, and using the same settings for three month in peace times. At the Bletchley bookstore they have a nice book explaining how you can break the code after receiving about 80-90 messages. When the Germans fixed these mistakes, reconstructing the wiring would have been much much more difficult.

    And second, and maybe more important, they demonstrated that Enigma wasn't unbreakable. The Germans thought until the end that Enigma was unbreakable. If the Brits had believed that as well, they might never have even tried to break it. But they knew it could be broken, the only question was how hard it was to break. And they were lucky because breaking Enigma was right at the technological limit. Breaking an Enigma with four wheels would have been impossible (not impossible, but it would have taken weeks to break the code for one day, quite useless). (Later they developed a four wheel machine, but it used the first three wheels in the same way as everyone else, so all you needed to do was break the three wheel code, then try 26 settings for the last wheel).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cambridge

    Probably the best university in the world.

    1. Evil_Goblin

      Re: Cambridge

      Ah yes, one of the three great Universities, Oxford, Cambridge, Hull...

      1. EarthDog

        Re: Cambridge

        Bah! Cambridge is a dump.

        1. EarthDog

          Re: Cambridge

          apparently close to 50 percent of the voters didn't see the episode.

  9. EarthDog

    The reason they succeeded

    Is that the Brits and US started out with a good pole position.

    1. anothercynic Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: The reason they succeeded

      Boom boom tch! He's here all week.

      I see what you did there...

  10. Chick Lunchbox

    The Poles' critical early work on Enigma has been painstakingly researched and chronicled in Dermot Turing's book X, Y, and Z (The History Press (3 Sept. 2018)) https://dermotturing.com/my-recent-books/x-y-z-the-real-story-of-how-enigma-was-broken/.

    Turing is the nephew of Alan Turing and is generous in his acknowledgement of the foundations that were laid down by the Poles at Poznan Univetsity from 1931 until 1939.

    1. JerryMcC

      This book is also available in Polish, and more recently, in French.

  11. Kev99

    From what little I know of the Enigma machine is that was primarily and electro-mechanical "typewriter. Once the three (later, four) rotors were set based on the code sent out out by the German Navy High Command, the operator simply typed in the message. I believe at the other end the received message was then typed in verbatim and the process reversed itself.

    1. JerryMcC

      Quite so. The trick is knowing what the (settings) code was, which was "sent out by the German Navy High Command"; it is necessary for both ends to use that code. Moreover, any eavesdropper also needs to know that same information.

      This machine, the Cyclometer ("Cyklometr" in Polish) is one of the tools developed by the Poles to determine what that code was.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hardly the first

    There has been a reconstructed Enigma, made I believe during a summer school, on display in the foyer of the Merchant Venturer's Building at Bristol University for at least 5 years. No, it's not a model of a cyclometer but it is significantly more complex.

    1. JerryMcC

      Re: Hardly the first

      Actually, the Cyclometer, the device being discussed here, is made of two Enigma machines, with the input of one connected to the output of the other in multiple loops.

      Although, unlike the Enigma, it doesn't have a plug-board or rings on the wheels, I'd judge its complexity probably at least equals, if not exceeds, that of one single Enigma.

  13. Diez66

    Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

    Looking at old original kit you forget how good it must have looked at the time.

    All the sweet looking kit we get these days with all the sophisticated manufacturing processes and machines you look back at the museum kit and get, well I do, the opinion it was all a bit 2nd rate.

    Looking at this, wow, how amazing it looks, it make you, well me, think how some of the other kit, war, domestic and so on, must have been seen in the eyes of those in the past.

    What a great achievement by Marian Rejewski. Nice one Hal Evans.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

      Perhaps modern computer companies could learn something from the Germans? After all, the Enigma was a utlitarian military device, and yet came in a nicely polished wodden case.

      Would sir like his new PC in the beige powder coating, black with LED lights or the french polished rosewood casing? Ah, the rosewood, an excellent choice...

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

        This reminds me of my professor of German history's explanation of WWII. He holds up a piece of metal and says this is why Germany lost the war. I'm going to pass it round during the lecture and see if anyone can tell me what it is - and I'll explain at the end. We later get the clue that it's from a Messerschmitt Bf109.

        So it's a piece of 2mm thick steel about 7" from corner to corner, so between a large smartphone / small tablet size. With some engraving on it, that's now badly rusted away.

        Turns out it's the makers nameplate from the radio! In an ideal world your fighter planes should be as light as possible, and Germany definitely couldn't afford to be wasting steel. No wonder the Luftwaffe fighters only had fuel for 5 minutes combat over London, and couldn't get any further North during the Battle of Britain.

        1. Snapper

          Re: Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

          And that heavy piece of metal would have been machined to very high tolerances, which wasn't necessary for that part. Having 20 or so design bureau working on things like proximity fuses (REAL war-winning stuff) separately is another example of wasting your precious resources.

          Check out the history of the Sten sub-machine gun to see how lowering tolerances to just-good-enough enabled the British army to re-equip and have enough over to send to partizans in......Europe!

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

            The Germans were terribly inefficient, as you say, and really ran their economy poorly.

            I haven't got the figures to hand, so am going on memory. But after seriously ramping up aircraft production, from about 1937 onwards, the UK equalled German production somewhere around the beginning of 1940. Hence we were already out-producing Germany in fighters by the time of the Battle of Britain. Particularly useful as on one particular day in August 40, that I happened to hear on a documentary last week (and was surprised by) we lost 35 planes shot down, but only 2 pilots. Whereas German pilots who bailed out ended up staying in Britain for an all-expenses paid 5 year holiday.

            Worse, for the Germans, by 1941 they'd only increased their aircraft production by about 10-20% - whereas British production pretty much doubled. And that's not to mention planes built in Canada, or odered from the USA.

            In fact the Germans were so rubbish that they didn't even bring in proper materials rationing and a war economy until 1943! According to the US government's Strategic Bombing Survey - German war production peaked in Summer 1944. Despite having lost a lot of territory and resources by that point. This is because they were actually pretty bad at exploiting the production of the countries they'd conquered, and were rubbish at setting up their war economy - so despite the damage done by heavy bombing in 1943/44 - there were still easy wins for increasing production - things that should have been done by 1940.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

              Although it has to be said that in terms of technology, pilot less bobs such as V1, sub-orbital ballistic missile such as V2 and actual in service jets such as ME262 and ME163 Komet they were focused more on wonder weapons.

              Constant bombing by the USAAF and RAF disrupted their production of anything and the P51 log range escorts also made life hard for them. The combined efforts of most of the world is a really daft opponent to take on.

              1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                Re: Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

                I believe that the Germans killed more enslaved workers building the V2s than they actually killed Londoners. Which from memory was about 20,000. I think the V1 did for about the same amount.

                But the jets are a good example. The Komet was a deathtrap, being a rocket plane - and pretty shit anyway because you only got a couple of passes at a bomber at such a high speed that you couldn't be all that effective. But the Me262 was brilliant - except they couldn't build enough of them and also serviceability was rubbish because they needed an engine rebuild after every 10 hours of flight!

                The British government were much more sensible to rely on weapons they knew they could build and would be good enough, but could be produced in numbers and work reliably.

                The Tiger tank was similar, in that it was brilliant but couldn't be produced in numbers and broke down all the time. In fact the Luftwaffe suffered throughout the war with planes that were too damaged for the limited field repair facilities they provided, and thus had to be shipped back to the factory for rebuilds. Whereas the Allies produced more spare parts and so didn't waste resources with planes left broken at airfields - or having to transport them back to the factories - something which also slowed down production of new aircraft.

                All of these, and the stupid numbers of competing design teams, were all self-inflicted screw-ups, and not caused by allied bombing.

                1. werdsmith Silver badge

                  Re: Just love to see something that is not dusty, old and rubbish looking

                  As I understand it, the USA built a single steelworks in Pennsylvania with more capacity than all the steelworks in Europe combined. Nazis must have realised that they were up shit creek when that kind of capacity joined the fight against them.

  14. Elektronikgustav

    I'm german and I adore Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman. The polish Bomba is a another decrypt-system. Only the British Bombe can decrypt the Enigma Messages after 1939. For a period of more than two years I constructed a Electronic-Turing-Welchman-Bombe. In a presentation on YOUTUBE with the title "Turing Welchman Bombe Electronic Bombe" I explain step by step the whole decryption procedure. If you don't speak german, let YOUTUBE translate it and look at the subtitle. A lot of greetings from germany. Elektronikgustav

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

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020