Enigma 3

Last time, I had told the story of how the three Polish whizz kid mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, Jery Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski, had told the British and the French, everything they had discovered about Enigma.  The stories all came from the book by John Jackson which relates the story of Enigma, the German encrypting machine used throughout the entire Second World War…..

From these Polish beginnings, many, many aspects of the war were affected….. for the better. There was, however, a Golden Rule always in operation.

If the only information about a future event came from Enigma, then other sources had to be created as well. The rule resulted, for example, in a lot of photo-reconnaissance aircraft being sent to take photographs of a place already mentioned by the Enigma decrypt and which was going to be bombed  The pilot was always told to fly the aircraft around a lot of other nearby places as well, and to make it look as if the trip was completely routine. Here is a photo-reconnaissance Spitfire. They were usually entirely blue, although  I’m sure that they were also painted pink, a colour which was frequently nicknamed in North Africa especially, “Mountbatten pink”:

Mosquitoes were also used, especially for the longer trips:

If Enigma was the only source of a piece of information, of course, then any action taken by the British would prove to the Germans that the code had been cracked. For this reason, if there was only one source of information, and that was Enigma decrypts, then no action was taken.

The system worked so well that right until the very end of the war, the Germans continued to believe that Enigma was uncrackable and that only they had the secret of deciphering it.

In May 1941, Enigma was able to tell the Royal Navy the whereabouts of all the supply ships that were servicing the Bismarck. They also ascertained that the Bismarck was headed to France, not Germany, after a particular phase of the battle.  Here’s the German “Pocket Battleship of the Month”:

The Bismarck was one of my very few Airfix ships kits. That and HMS Tiger, a Royal Navy destroyer.  The way this piece of informnation from Enigma worked was that the ships carrying fuel and ammunition were all sunk, and so too was any other ship carrying supplies that added to the Bismarck’s capabilities as a ship destroyer.  Supply ships carrying records, newspapers, and a change of library books were all left alone, as were the ships carrying food and drink.

On November 1940, a major air-raid might have been opposed more thoroughly if the people at the top had used their brains and guessed which city in England was being referred to in a mildly encoded sequence of the names of cities about to be bombed back into the Stone Age………..

For example…..

“LOge” was “LOndon”

Do you see how it works? Nothing particularly Enigma-inspired at this point. The first two letters give it away.  So, what was “BRuder” ?

No, it wasn’t Brisbane, or Brighton & Hove or Bradford. It was…..


So, now, what was “BIld”

No, it wasn’t Bicester, or Bishop Auckland or Bilston. It was…….


So, a more difficult one, now. A city with its own name in German. And it’s actually easier than you might think. If the Air Vice Marshall had  taken his road atlas out of his bag, he would have realised that, of the 1, 165 cities, towns and villages of Great Britain, not a single one begins “Ko-“.

And no,  “Konchester” is not the German for “Manchester”, and “Korwich” is not the German for “Norwich”.

The correct answer is…..


The  only city of the four with its own name in German. The city was flattened……

…..especially the cathedral……

In March-April 1941, Enigma revealed that Crete was to be invaded from the air, in the glider towing and troop carrying aircraft that the Germans had been assembling in Bulgaria and Greece for some time now. It was easy enough to pass off the information the British possessed as the product of the hundreds of spies in every city in this part of the world. The German paratroopers were called “Fallschirmjäger” and they wore helmets and smocks which were different from the uniform of the Wehrmacht……..

Preparations were made to give the German paratroopers a warm welcome, and as a result of the fierce resistance from both Allied forces and civilian Cretan locals, the invasion force suffered heavy casualties. Hitler then forbade further operations of this type for the rest of the war. Here they are in action……..

Overall, nearly 4,000 German paratroopers were killed.

In June 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Stalin had been told time and time again by the British, the Americans and the Japanese that this was going to happen but he thought it was all some vast capitalist plot to upset his non-aggression pact with that nice man Hitler.

For Churchill, it had all become much likelier as a forecast when a series of Enigma decrypts revealed that three Panzer divisions had been moved to the Polish frontier, next to the Russian held zone of Poland. Overall, Churchill thought that Stalin and his Sycophants were…..

“the most completely outwitted bunglers of the Second World War.”

In August 1941, the RAF and the Royal Navy were told all about the German supply ships which were  transporting whatever Rommel required for the war in North Africa across the Mediterranean. Such precision made it easy to target and sink the oil tankers, the petrol carriers and the ammunition/weapons ships, even if that meant letting through the odd ship carrying savoury sausages or bottles of schnapps or a further change of library books for everybody. Ultimately. by supplying this kind of information, Enigma would make victory in the Battle of El Alamein a great deal more likely.

Here’s the ship with the library books:




Filed under Aviation, History, military, Russia

17 responses to “Enigma 3

  1. More fascinating history. It was clever to expand the possible information sources so the finger wouldn’t point to Enigma

    • Yes, it struck me as being particularly smart to do this.
      For some reason buried, I presume, deep in their characters, the Germans persisted in believing that nobody anywhere in the world could possibly have cracked their Enigma code, despite the fact that they knew very well that actual machines had been stolen on several parts of the world.

  2. GP

    Just as in the Pacific with ‘Purple’. Today I could just see someone like Julian Assange demanding everyone should know about it.

  3. What a smart decision not to use Enigma decrypts that couldn’t be supported by other means! That could not have been easy.

    • To be honest, I do think that the ideas of the time would have included the idea that the people who direct the wars will have to take dreadful decisions from time to time, and these decisions are all part of the philosophical concept of “You can’t make an omelete without breaking eggs”.
      That isn’t to say, though, that people nowadays, who lead ordinary lives and care about others, would be capable of condemning a whole city to a prolonged German bombing raid, with casualties of around 500 killed, or any of the other disasters that have not yet been revealed.

  4. Breaking enigma was the breakthrough the allies needed to gain the upper hand in the ‘code war’. In the film ‘The Imitation Game’, a whole convoy was left to the mercy of the U-boat as acting upon the information would have given the game away. How much of this is ‘Hollywood’ and how much real-life I don’t know, but I suspect there was a degree of truth to it. Another very informative and interesting piece or work John.

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I have never seen ‘The Imitation Game’ but it may well have been a true incident. Some others. such as the tale that the Americans captured the first Enigma machine is simply untrue. In actual fact, “Code Wars” contains a list of the machines captured, and a good few were of them were seized from U-boats well before Pearl Harbor.

  5. What an absolutely fascinating series of posts. I went back and read the 3 ‘Enigmas’. It would be fascinating to know who even sent the box to the Warsaw post office. I see that the book is available on Amazon.

    • And the book is well worth reading!
      If you are happy with a pre-used book, don’t forget abebooks, where prices can be very competitive. Overall, though, a fascinating read!
      And by the way, I don’t think that anybody has ever solved the puzzle of who sent the machine to Warsaw. My own guess would be a German inside the Abwehr (German intelligence), who was sick of seeing what the Nazis were getting up to, and who wanted to disadvantage them.

  6. Thank you for sharing!.. I am glad that wisdom prevailed, folks worked together and in the end a event that made a difference and save numerous lives and destruction.. 🙂

    And speaking of events, I watched the coronation in it’s entirety, everyone gathering and working together in spite of weather, circumstances, etc. and perhaps the “changing of the guard” will also make a difference and a better world… 🙂

    Hope all is well in your part of the world and until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

    • I was a little disappointed not to be selected as King, but I took it on the chin, and enjoyed it like everybody else! Not many ceremonies are a thousand years old!

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