back to article Enigma message crack honours pioneering Polish codebreakers

The Bombe team at The National Museum Of Computing (TNMOC) has succeeded in breaking an Enigma-encrypted message in a live Poland-to-England demo. The demonstration was described by TNMOC as a tribute to Polish cryptographers and wartime Bletchley Park staff. The reconstructed Turing-Welchman Bombe at TNMOC in Bletchley Park …

  1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    For all involved --->

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Seconded - Brilliant stuff.

      Very interesting and it shortened the war enough to prevent a couple of German towns replacing the Japanese pair as 'A-bomb' demonstrations.

  2. BogBeast
    Thumb Up

    Bloody Excellent..

    Outstanding.. I really must get myself upto Bletchly Park.

  3. David Tallboys

    My dog has no nose

    How does it smell?



    Whilst I'm still here - is uBlock Origin still good enough for a non tech not completely paranoid user who just wants a tidier browser and a bit less slurping?

    1. Jan 0

      Re: Whilst I'm still here

      I couldn't possibly comment in this thread. Try posting using the "Create a new topic" link near the top right of this page.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      @David Tallboys

      Topics go off on a tangent here all the time.


      see icon-->

  4. steelpillow Silver badge

    Missed opportunity

    “I could operate it now and could plug it up,”

    Shame they didn't let her.

    1. Roq D. Kasba

      Re: Missed opportunity

      She may be less physically sprightly then she was 75 years ago, in fairness.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Missed opportunity

        Got to say, having seen her talking last week I think she's still very much up to it. The chap that introduced her talk left the room, after she finished talking she just spun up the machine herself.

  5. arctic_haze Silver badge

    A new book on the Enigma story

    Nice story.

    Enigma is now in the news again due to a new book titled "X, Y & Z: The Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken" by Dermot Turing, great nephew of the famous man.

    According to its review in the Nature journal, it also tells the forgotten story of the Polish cryptographers who saved Turing at least a year.

    The review is here:

  6. BillPStudios

    Polish contributions

    The new book should be interesting. The contributions by Polish researchers have been either lost or ignored by history especially in the US.

    1. Jay Lenovo Silver badge

      Re: Polish contributions

      Poland has a much larger story to tell.

      The Nazi's execution of the Polish intelligentsia, and the later difficulty of dealing with the iron curtain, made getting and verifying the actual stories difficult.

      It seems odd how so much relatively recent history, is still being discovered.

      1. Tomato42 Silver badge

        Re: Polish contributions

        cryptography in general being marked as Top Secret as late as 1990's is the main reason – e.g Clifford Cocks of GCHQ described RSA good decade before MIT got their RSA patent, but it was secret until 1997

      2. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: Polish contributions

        It seems odd how so much relatively recent history, is still being discovered.

        Not really. Wartime secrecy and deception morphed straight into both cold-war intrigue and the politics of zionism and modern Israel. Lots of powerful players with enmities, suspicions, and propaganda Agendas that have changed over the years but are still with us. A historian is faced with obstacles ranging from state-enforced secrecy to weaponised taboos.

    2. Roq D. Kasba

      Re: Polish contributions

      They've always been present in my understanding of the affair in the UK, perhaps in the circumstances UK and Poland have a lot of shared history regarding WW2...

    3. Clive Harris
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Polish contributions

      There's a story my father once told me about his wartime experiences. As a teenage draftsman working for the military, he was called in for a "special" job. He was taken to an isolated building with an armed guard at the door. He was then told to go inside and prepare engineering drawings for the "thing" inside. He was told to then hand the drawings to the guard, walk away and, if he valued his life, to forget the entire incident.

      He described the "thing" as a bit like a typewriter, but with numbered dials on it. It was, of course, one of the Polish decryption devices, recently smuggled out of Poland.

      It was that job, and several others like it, that saved him from being "called up" on active service. Anyone with knowledge of these devices could not be risked being captured, so he was forbidden from any service overseas. He did his fair share of air raid patrol and similar service though.

      Black helicopter because I'm probably breaching the Official Secrets Act by telling this story.

    4. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ
      Thumb Down

      Re: Polish contributions

      ignored by history especially in the US.

      Hollywood history has the USA cracking enigma all by themselves with out even a mention of Turing never mind the Polish.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Polish contributions

        The Polish contribution has always been well acknowledged and appreciated in the UK by the people involved in Bletchley Park and the various books written. It’s far from forgotten.

        It’s mainly Hollywood that skews history, as usual but amongst all the other stuff that get wrong....

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: Polish contributions

          Not, however, appreciated enough at the time for the Polish cryptographers to be offered a "seat at the table" at Bletchley.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Security Theatre

    but without any Russian Hoaxes, officially sanctioned or otherwise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Security Theatre

      It's only Security Theatre if it isn't real. This was as real as it got and shortened the war by some considerable distance.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Security Theatre

        We have always been at War with the Truth.

  8. MooseMonkey

    Next years release of official papers will show that Brad Pitt actually broke the code with three tooth picks and a piece of gum. Those papers of course will be released from America.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Saving Private Lion

        My biggest shock as a kid was discovering that the British war with Germany was, basically, a sideshow (though an important one) and the real war was Soviet Union versus Germany and US versus Japan. Enigma and radar saved the UK, but American production (and the T-34 in all its variants) were what won the war in the West.

        This isn't to belittle what Turing, Welchmann et al achieved, but to point out that the achievement was mainly in a UK context. Tragically, when the time came, Britain was unable to rescue Poland either from the Nazis or the Soviet Union. I'm still surprised they've forgiven us.

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: Saving Private Lion

          Tragically, when the time came, Britain was unable to rescue Poland either from the Nazis or the Soviet Union. I'm still surprised they've forgiven us.

          Britain was never particularly concerned with Poland. It was more concerned that Germany would interfere with Briain's ability to keep half the world under military subjugation.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Saving Private Lion

          Unverified quote, that “the war in Europe was won by British tenacity, American money and Russian blood”.

          And the almighty output of the Pittsburgh steel industry of course, because the ongoing work of the code breakers right through the war allowed the Pittsburgh steel to reach Europe, whilst the Wehrmacht was worn down by the Russian campaign.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Saving Private Lion

        Hey Captain why haven't we seen any British soldiers yet?

        "Don't be ignorant, everyone knows the second world war was fought entirely by American Actors"

        Soon to be replaced with the new myth that England won the war all on its own. I look forward to the post-brexit films rewriting history to show how the WWII was won entirely due to plucky British spirit.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Saving Private Lion

          New myth? Every British schoolboy knows that the British won the war singlehandedly, all the while bailing out the other Allied forces who always manged to get into deep shit. It must be accurate, they read it in their comics! This has been true since at least the 1960s.

          With that said, nobody who matters (anywhere!) believes a single word out of Hollywood ... and trust me, us Yanks know about the Polish contributions. Sorry to burst your collective bubble.

  9. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    Bloody immigrants, coming over here with their war winning cryptography techniques

    1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

      Something something Brexit something something.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Did you know that some very smart folks in Russia (former USSR) actually invented the technique I (re)discovered a few years back, for building a miniature Turing complete system using incredibly cheap parts and 1940 era components but with some "interesting" optimizations to get around the memory issues that alas went the way of the dodo when better memory came along.

    It might have had a fair go at cracking Enigma back in the day, really should try and build the full scale prototype using contemporary parts.

    Uses glow in the dark sheet but could have just used a modified copper disk coated with the ZnS:Cu.

    The tricky part is using old green/blue (SiC) Russian LEDs from Losev's original stock as he essentially invented them in the first place for authenticity.

    They were used in the space program from what I can make out and had some limited use as indicators though based on somewhat more modern materials early SiC were identical to those early attempts with similarly weak emission.

    In this case the missing piece of the puzzle was GaAs IR emitters to quench the emission and make the memory retain data long term with continuous rewriting and an inverse data path so differential rotational velocity could be compensated for.

  11. jake Silver badge

    Actually, the initial enigma crack happened in Poland in December of 1932.

    Further work continued through the end of WWII and beyond, of course, including building & programming of machines to apply the algorithms required, just because us silly humans are so slow at that kind of thing. But the actual crack happened over 85 years ago.

    What the Bombe team at The National Museum Of Computing has just demonstrated is what you more properly call "decryption", not a crack.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I believe I saw Ruth give an entertaining talk last week while we were having a day out at Bletchley and the TNMOC. Obviously she's among the last remaining people to have witnessed these machines in operation at the time and we felt privileged to have heard her talk about that time. She said she had never heard the word "enigma" during her time in a listening post, also mentioned that she had never even been able to properly discuss it with her late husband. A real mix of emotion, audience totally captivated.

  13. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Don't these Poles deserve to be named?

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Yes, they do.

      Jerzy Różycki, Henryk Zygalski, and Marian Rejewski are the men in question. All three ended up working for the Allies after the fall of Poland, although none worked on Enigma.

      It was Zygalski came up with the idea of using punched sheets to quickly reduce the possible key-space. Because with some (about 12%) initial rotor setups, enciphering the same letter at a known distance could produce the same ciphertext on both occasions, and because, prior to 1940, the plaintext messages tended to begin with a repeated preamble identifying the sender, it was possible to construct a set of "can never occur" sequences for each possible start position, which allowed the majority of possible keys to be discarded quickly by visual inspection. The remaining possibles would then be fed into the Bombe for brute-force decryption.

      The use of the term "female" for these same-letter matches in ciphertext comes from Zygalski's original Polish term, but in general the origin of the techniques used were kept from the operatives at Bletchley, largely for security reasons (the name "Zygalski" certainly would not have been common in 1940s Britain, and would have stuck in the mind of workers at Bletchley; if overheard later by enemy spies, it could have tipped off the German intelligence services that the Allies were a. actively attacking Enigma, and b. starting from the attack previously used by the Polish)

      Zygalski and Rejewski eventually enlisted in the Free Polish Army (based in UK), but were not given access to the Bletchley group, and were instead set to work on far simpler cipher traffic. Rozycki had died in 1942 when the ship carrying him from France was sunk, presumably as part of a German operation, as the passenger-list included other ex-members of the Polish Cipher Bureau.

      Despite the three men never working there, there's a plaque to their memory at Bletchley, which clearly acknowledges the debt owed to the Polish services in cracking Enigma.

      (All three men have reasonable summary articles on Wikipedia, and searching the names will find you a number of other articles on the subject of Polish Enigma-breaking)

  14. tapemonkey

    Forgotten Heroes

    Everyone remebers the name Turing but he didn't, despite popular belief, do it alone. There were many heroes at Bletchley and I was fortunate to meet two. Sam Wiggin was the husband of my old primary school teacher and worked on Bombe as an engineer. George Cutler was RAF and tasked with delivering the decoded messages to various destinations.

    As a spotty 11 year old I remember Mrs Wiggin telling us, as she taught binary, that her Sam had said one day every one would have their own computer. That was way back in 1976 and just how right he was.

    Every single man & woman who worked so tirelesly to shorten the war deserved remembering.

  15. toxicdragon

    Another book

    Another book that mentions more than just bletchley is "Enigma Battle for the Code" By the magnificiantly named "Hugh Sebag-Montefiore" Covers the Polish side, the French side and the naval side actually recovering ENIGMA related materials.

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: Another book

      Also recommend - good read on the subject. Hugh's brother Simon Sebag Montefiori, is also a historian.

      The Sebag Montefiori family (no hypens, old bean) was the previous owner of Bletchley Park, selling it to a property developer in 1938. Admiral Hugh Sinclair of the Secret Intelligence Service was so convinced that it would be a good location for a codebreaking centre in the event of war that he bought the house for £6,000* from that developer out of his own money, after being unable to convince HM Government of its value.

      (* £6000 in 1938 pounds is about £250,000 in today's money, but the better comparison is that the average house cost around £500-600)

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