Monday, August 5, 2013

Bletchley Park

Why Did the Allies Win World War II? Start Here...

Bletchley park
Bletchley Park.
Bletchley Park, Hertfordshire was the site of the major Allied code-breaking operations of World War II. The British and Polish scientists there broke the German code, which was encrypted on the "Enigma" machine. This was British Project Ultra. Alan Turing led the operation, and he deserves to be remembered, as do the Poles who originally broke the code in the early 1930s.

Alan Turing
Alan Turing: "Machines take me by surprise with great frequency."
Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a giant of applied mathematics. He was an English Mathematician, Logician, Cryptanalyst and Computer Scientist. He generally is regarded as the Father of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. His "Turing Test" was a milestone in computing.

Bletchley Park bombe
One of three Bletchley Park Bombes.
Among the least of his accomplishments was cracking the German Enigma code by creating the "Turing-Welchman bombe," a feat many believe gave the Allies the means to win World War II in a reasonable length of time. Other scientists such as Dorothy Hodgkin used his computers to win their own Nobel Prizes.

Alan Turing
Alan Turing: "We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done."
Basically, Alan Turing started the computer revolution that continues to this day. In 1936, the Princeton mathematician published a paper about a theoretical machine that could solve any problem. It became the foundation for computer science. During the war, Turing created an electromechanical machine that cracked the German Navy's Enigma code, helping to end the war early and saving possibly millions of lives.

Turing Bombe machine Statue Alan Turing
Former Bombe operator Jean Valentine shows a drum of British Turing Bombe machine.
The British Turing Bombe Machine is maintained in the Bletchley Park Museum. It was first shown to the public in 2006, revealed for the first time in sixty years. The Bombe was the brainchild of mathematical genius Turing and Gordon Welchman. It enabled Bletchley Park's cryptographers to decode over 3000 enemy messages a day. Turing was a non-conformist and ultimately committed suicide after being stripped of his security clearance for being a homosexual. It took until December 2013 for Turing finally to be pardoned for this "crime." The Queen granted a posthumous pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a high-profile campaign supported by tens of thousands of people including Professor Stephen Hawking.

Alan Turing Bletchley Park
Alan Turing.
Clearly, this was one of the saddest events in all of science history. This is the kind of guy of whom they still make statues, a true (if under-recognized and appreciated) British hero.

Statue Alan Turing
Alan Turing statue, artist: Stephen Kettle.
Like Robert Oppenheimer in the US "Manhattan Project," Turing was a leader who had many able subordinates who rightly earned enduring fame for their own achievements at Bletchley Park.

Tommy Flowers
Tommy Flowers.
Turing did not work alone, of course. There were many others at his side. Thomas Harold "Tommy" Flowers was a brilliant electronics engineer who worked for the General Post Office. Early in the war, he became involved in the work at Bletchley Park and went on to design and build the Colossus computer used to break the German Lorenz teleprinter codes. Effectively, he created the first practical electronic computer. The German nickname for their British enemies was "Tommies." They didn't realize how right they were.

Tommy Flowers
Tommy Flowers’ photo from his wartime ration book.
The Enigma machine was nothing special - it had been sold freely during the 1920s to businesses. The Germans adopted it for all their major war transmissions. The Allies eventually broke most of the German codes, though some naval codes remained unbroken throughout the war. The Germans actually seemed to be suspicious at one point and added a new key - the "Shark" key - but they continued using the machine, to their detriment.

Bill Tutte
Bill Tutte.
Bill Tutte was recruited to Bletchley Park early in 1941, joining the Research Section. He worked first on the Hagelin cipher machine and in October 1941 was introduced to Tunny, a German teleprinter cipher. His work on Tunny, which included deducing the structure of the Tunny machine, can be likened in importance to Turing’s earlier work on Enigma. After the war, Tutte was elected to a Research Fellowship in mathematics at Trinity College Cambridge.

Commander Alastair Denniston
Commander Alastair Denniston.
Commander Alastair Denniston was a British cryptologist who worked during WW1 in the well-known “Room 40” dealing with breaking German military ciphers. After that war, he re-organized the headquarters of the British radio intelligence service GC'&'CS. Just before WW2, Denniston led the British delegation sent to Poland to meet Polish cipher experts, who disclosed the secret of breaking Enigma. After the outbreak of WW2, Denniston and his team moved to Bletchley Park.

Who really won World War II? It wasn't some flashy fighter ace or destroyer captain. It was the gentlemen above, clad in ordinary business suits and sitting at office desks. The "Enigma" secret was not revealed until the early 1970s. Everybody agreed that breaking the code shortened the war by many months.


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