As a boy. I was obsessed by codes and ciphers and spent many hours deep in puzzle books. My friends and I would send each other notes in ciphers to see who could crack the most.
It is pertinent at this stage to point out that a code is a word or a series of words which mean something else entirely, whilst a cipher replaces the letters of a message with other letters.
Can you crack the cipher above?
As ciphers were broken fairly easily with practice, we began to allocate random letters to vowels as these are the most used letters which crop up frequently, making the cipher guessable. In doing so, we inadvertently stumbled upon a simple form of Enigma Cipher, as used by the Germans in World War Two.
Originally, the Enigma machine was a random letter allocation device for encrypting business secrets. It was quickly realised that this had great military potential.
An adapted typewriter which had a series of random letters attached to a cog-wheel was aligned with other cog-wheels and set to a particular day’s configuration from a pre-determined book. An operator would then lock the cog-wheels in place and type in a message in German.
As each key was pressed, a random letter would then illuminate in a second keyboard.
A second operator would note these down and send the ciphered message in Morse Code to wherever it needed to be.
The recipient, having configured his machine to the same day’s setting, then typed in the ciphered message whereupon keys illuminated, revealing the message in it’s original German form.
These Enigma, and later improved Lorenzo machines were used by the Germans, Italians and Japanese forces to direct war operations.
The Germans knew that the Allies would intercept the Morse Code messages but believed that the Enigma machine cipher was impregnable and un-crackable.
Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire was set up initially by the British and were later joined by the Americans to bust the ciphers.
Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, among many of the finest minds, were sent to Bletchley as soon as war was declared.
Their work resulted in the creation of the world’s first modern computers.
They worked in small teams at first and Churchill soon realised the importance of their work. He ordered immediate action to give them what they needed.
Up to 10,000 people were eventually working here.
Secrecy was paramount of course, few knowing what anyone else was doing.
Ciphers were cracked daily and with the help of a computer called Colossus, ciphers were later broken in minutes, often before the recipient had done so. This gave our military commanders advance notice of what the enemy was about to do and much valuable military intelligence.
The work is believed to have shortened the war by two years and to have saved millions of lives.
The site, once threatened with demolition, has been mostly preserved and work goes on to this day. Many of the original buildings remain and have been put back to their original condition with wartime fittings and furniture.
There are original machines, documents, displays, films and interactive sessions giving a fascinating insight into the secret work that led to the Allies victory.
This is a very interesting day out. There is an excellent on-site café at reasonable prices.
The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch is a film based on the real events and was partly filmed here. This is a classy and interesting film story, bringing the events to life.
For further information go to “www.bletchleypark.org.uk”:http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk
As for the simple cipher at the beginning of this article, cracked it yet?
(Jump one letter back to reveal it – told you it was simple).