Posts Tagged ‘Enigma’

Polish codebreakers ‘cracked Enigma before Alan Turing’

February 21st, 2016

By the time war broke out the Germans had increased the sophistication of the machine and the Poles were struggling to make more headway. But based on the Polish knowledge, Turing managed to build a huge computer that would finally crack the cipher.

However, despite their help, history and Hollywood has largely ignored their role. The most recent film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, barely mentioned the Poles.

Now the Polish government has launched a touring exhibition entitled “Enigma – Decipher Victory” to remind the world of their crucial contribution. They have already taken the exhibition to Canada and Brussels.

Maciej Pisarski, deputy chief of mission, Polish Embassy in Washington, said: “The story of Engima was very important to us and the breaking of Enigma code was one of the most important contributions of Poland to the Allies victory during the Second World War.

“Out contribution to Enigma is something that we learned a lot about as children in Poland but we have a feeling that the knowledge is not so widespread. It was a crucial association which gave the allies the edge over the Germans.

“We were trapped on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War which meant we did not get the credit that we should have received and nobody wanted to admit that anyone in Eastern Europe had anything to do with Enigma.

“We felt it was important to fill in the blanks. It is our moral obligation to right this wrong and put this picture in a more complete way.”

The Enigma machine was invented by German engineer Arthur Sherbius at the end of the First World Wat and were used by the military and government of several countries. The British had struggled to work out how to crack the early Enigma machines, and by the early 1930s the Poles were way ahead.

Poland’s main codebreakers were Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski and Marian Rejewski who joined the Polish General Staff’s Cipher Bureau in Warsaw.

While Britain still used linguists to break codes, the Poles had understood that it was necessary to use mathematics to look for patterns and had broken some of the early pre-war German codes.

They had then taken a further step by building electro-mechanical machines to search for solutions, which they called “bombes”.

On the eve of war in 1939 Bletchely codebreakers Alastair Denniston and Dilly Knox met with members of the Cipher Bureau at a secret facility in a forest in Pyry near Warsaw to share their knowledge.

Alan Turing, also later visited the Polish codebreakers and used their knowledge to develop his own “bombe” capable of breaking the more complex wartime Enigma codes.

But the Poles have received little credit, most notably in the recent film The Imitation Game, where their contribution was dismissed with a single sentence.

Dr Grazyna Zebrowska, science and technology advisor for the Polish Embassy in Washington, said: “I think the real story has been lost over time.

“The Polish involvement was well known during World War Two but during the communist time it was not so convenient to admit that there had been so much cooperation between Britain and Poland. It was a very special and very secret alliance.

“The Imitation Game film is all about Turing and everyone in Britain and it is just meant to be a short space of time, but I think there was an audible sigh in Polish cinemas when our contribution was reduced to just one line.

“We’re hoping this exhibition will show the work of the Polish mathematicians.”

Codebreakers at Bletchley Park, 1942

Speaking about The Imitation Game, Pisarski, added “I am sure it is a very good movie but I don’t think it tried to tell the whole story.

“We want to present a more complete picture of the past. It’s important to do justice to the people involved but to underline and underscore the strong cooperation between Britain and Poland when it came to Enigma.”

Polish pilots had the highest kill rates in the Battle of Britain, Polish troops fought in the North African, Italian and Normandy campaigns, and were involved in the Battle for Berlin.

Despite their efforts, a British desire to appease Stalin meant that Polish forces, still under the command of Poland’s independent government in exile, were banned from taking part in official V-E Day celebrations.

During the war Polish codebreakers Zygalski and Rejewsk ended up in England with the Army where they tried to join the Bletchley codebreakers but nobody would acknowledge the team existed.

Zygalski ended up working as a mathematician at the University of Surrey.


World War Two

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Cumberbatch Enigma film unlocks code to a family secret

December 8th, 2014

Mr Harrison, who died in 2012, was head-hunted to join the codebreaking team while he was an economics student at Cambridge University.

At the time, in the early 1940s, Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic and faced the prospect of a German invasion. Outstanding intellects were needed to crack the cryptic code used by the Germans to communicate with their U-boat submarines.

Mr Harrison was among a team recruited to work with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park HQ in Buckinghamshire. They were bound by the Official Secrets Act and forbidden to utter a word of their mission. After the war he enjoyed a career as an accountant in London before retiring to St Andrews.

True to his word, Mr Harrison kept most of his work secret until his death at the age of 90. He revealed brief details only when Mrs Smith asked if he would speak about his war work to her class.

“I was teaching the children how to gather impartial evidence from people who had lived or witnessed historical events,” she said.

“However, dad told me he wouldn’t have had much to say about the war except he went to work at Bletchley Park in a suit and carried a briefcase every day and he’d been drafted into it after

solving a crossword. The talk to pupils never happened.”

Mrs Smith did not recognise the significance of his words until she went to see the The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

“It was only when I watched the film with my husband, Blair, last week that the final pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and we truly realised dad’s contribution to the war,” she said. “No one would ever have known or guessed his part in the Alan Turing story because dad was never one to boast or push himself forward.

“This was so typical of him and his loyalty to his country.

“Now the story is unfolding, we are prouder than ever of his contribution.”

She added: “His love of puzzles lasted till a few months before his death and dad was as sharp as a tack to the end.”


World War Two

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Bletchley Park codebreakers 'dried their knickers on Hitler's Enigma machine'

November 13th, 2014

“It used to be festooned with bras and pants all through our night duty. Back then it must have looked a real sight.”

Mrs Balfour’s father had to give his permission for her join the Wrens in 1944 because she was under 18.

She spent six weeks training in London before being assigned to “Special Duties X” and posted to the secret facility near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

She spent up to 10 hours a day sifting through reams of code and said they were never told where their work had actually succeeded.

The women were even forbidden from talking to each other about their individuals parts of the puzzle.

Mrs Balfour said: “We were given long strips of paper tape made by the Enigma machine and told to divide everything into fives.

“We used to get codes for the day, one I can remember is YO-SE-RO, a Japanese code for man.

“There were so many of them I can’t remember, but I’ve always remembered that one.

Wrens operating the world’s first electronic programmable computer, the Colossus (Bletchley Park Trust)

“None of us knew everything that we were working on. We each knew a bit, our own part of the puzzle, so if you were caught, you couldn’t tell them everything, even if they tortured you.

“We were told never to discuss with anyone else what we were doing.

“We never knew anything. We never knew what we had done, or if we had helped to actually crack the codes.

“I never even told my parents because we signed the Official Secrets Act, so they died without ever finding out what I was doing.”

Mrs Balfour, from Helensburgh, Scotland, said she and her fellow Wrens would see Turing walking about the grounds – often backwards as he read a book.

She said: “We used to see Alan Turing from time to time, and back then we used to giggle and laugh.

“We used to watch him walk backwards sometimes while reading a book, and we couldn’t help but giggle at him for how he acted.

“We thought he was queer for how he behaved.

“But I feel the government should formally recognise him for his work during the war. He did so much and his name has not yet appeared anywhere really.

“It’s too late for him now, but people should know what he did.

“I think because he was queer, he was pushed into the background, but all these people with these brilliant minds were a bit different in their own way.”


World War Two

Archives

Categories