In previous posts I have occasionally written a review of a book which I found particularly interesting. I have then related to the reader what the author found to say, in an effort to whet the potential reader’s appetite so that, hopefully, he or she might want to buy the book. This time, I decided to select an extremely interesting book which was not only fascinating but which taught me a great deal and introduced me to things that I had never previously known.
In this category belongs…….
How ‘Ultra’ and ‘Magic’ Led to Allied Victory”
by John Jackson
One of the best things about this book is that it doesn’t try to instruct you on how the German “Enigma” machine encoded its messages. Such subjects are way beyond the capabilities of my brain and I enjoyed being able to read the book without proving to myself that I was a complete thickhead. Incidentally, along with encoding important messages, I also find Quantum Mechanics an equally impossible subject and most of Relativity too, even though much of the latter topic is getting on for being around a century old nowadays.
This is an Enigma machine. It’s a bit like one of those old fashioned portable record players, but without the turntable.
To spare my readers’ feelings, and my own, I have therefore decided to concentrate on the method by which we eventually acquired our knowledge of this famous German code, along with putting a special emphasis on the events in World War Two which turned out differently from how they might well have done, thanks to the British knowledge of Enigma.
After all, from 1945-1975 at least, nobody was aware of Enigma because it was still top secret. Before 1975, more or less every event in the war which unfolded in a particular way because Enigma had had a role to play in it, had to have a different story invented to explain its outcome. If you don’t understand that, don’t worry, you’ll soon see what I mean.
In the years immediately before the Second World War, the invention of the Enigma code machine had not really interested the British at all. Nor were the French or the Americans particularly bothered either. No, it was the Poles who realised how crucially important the knowledge of the Enigma codes would be, if a second world war broke out, as seemed likely. For this reason, the Poles had, at the first opportunity, bought a commercial Enigma machine, in late 1932. Yes, you saw it right! Late 1932.
The purchase was made by Antoni Palluth of the Polish Cipher Bureau. In his private business life, he was also the co-owner of the AVA radio manufacturing company. AVA always wanted to help the Cipher Bureau as much as possible, and by February 1933, the company had back engineered their own replica of a commercial Enigma machine, and then produced a prototype according to the specifications of the three Polish “Five Star Codebreakers”. More of them. later.
Here’s the rather handsome Mr Palluth….
Four years previously, in 1928-1929, the Poles had worked out for themselves that the codebreakers of World War One would not be clever enough to crack the new type of codes now being introduced. What was needed were not men with secret pens and bottles of invisible ink which people kept throwing away because they thought they were empty, but whizz kid mathematicians with first class degrees at the top universities in the land. So the Poles cast around and found their own three whizz kid mathematicians and gave them the job. Their names were Marian Rejewski, Jery Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski. And here they are……
The Poles’ reward for taking the initiative like this was a bizarre event, a once in a lifetime event, an unforgettable occasion when, even though it wasn’t Christmas, Santa Claus brought them a very special present indeed. It was a gift from God, a present from heaven.
Events began to kick off, when somebody rang up Anton Palluth, now the Head of the Cipher Bureau, and told him that a rather peculiar, rather large, parcel had been sent in error to Warsaw’s main Post Office. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody had a clue. When the Great Gift was opened, they found that it was a military grade Enigma machine, brand new, state of the art.
Somebody, somewhere had committed a war-changing boo-boo.
This crass mistake was way beyond building the fastest jet fighter in the world and then slowing it down by putting bomb racks on the wings. No, this was the first steps in a process which would save the lives of millions of people and shorten the war by at least a couple of years.
Next time we see what Anton Palluth did with his gift from God, and he didn’t put it on ebay.