By James Black | Sunday, April 6th, 2008 at 11:45 pm
On Sunday, the BBC presented the first in a series of episodes featuring a reunion of the still-living code-breakers from World War II whose clandestine work at Betchley Park benefitted the Allies. (See picture of reunited code-breakers below. The wooden box on the table holds an electro-mechanical device that has a typewriter-like keyboard. This is the famous Enigma encryption-decryption machine used by the Germans.)
Sue MacGregor hosts the series which reunites a group of people intimately involved in a moment of modern history. She gathers together five Bletchley Park code-breakers recruited during World War II to decrypt German messages created by the complex Enigma machine. Their success, on an unprecedented scale and against enormous odds, is said to have shortened the war by two years, but the nature of their work remained a secret for more than three decades.
I have a friend whose mother worked for Bletchley Park and didn’t tell him untill she was 70, despite the fact that he had signed the Official Secrets Act 25 years previously.
You can listen to the first episode here — Launch BBC Player.
To listen you will need to have a programme called RealPlayer installed on your computer. You can download it for FREE from this audio help page.
More about the series:
Sue MacGregor interviews members of the Bletchley Park code-breakers in the first of a new series of Sony Award-winning programme The Reunion.
The group was known by Winston Churchill as “the geese that laid the golden eggs, and never cackled” and played a vital role in the War, breaking German coded messages.
The code-breakers were recruited from all manner of backgrounds: academics, anthropologists, Egyptologists, palaeontologists, actresses, crossword addicts, debutantes; even the occasional lawyer turned out to “have the knack”.
Joining Sue MacGregor are code-breaker Lord Asa Briggs; John Herival, also a code-breaker whose vital Herival Tip earned him a special introduction to Churchill; Mavis Batey, who broke the code that led to victory at Matapan; Ruth Bourne, who was a Wren and operator of “the bombe” decoding machine; and Sarah Baring, who translated the broken German codes into English.
Together the group recalls life at Bletchley Park, the unquestioned code of silence, the long hours and hard work as well as the social life, the romances, the visiting Americans and the elation as codes were broken and the information they yielded began to be of vital importance.
Presenter/Sue MacGregor, Producer/David Prest
For an excellent technical explanation of Enigma, see Enigma machine at Wikipedia.
About Betchley Park, from the Cambridge Working Papers — The case of Bletchley Park 1939 - 1945 published August, 2006:
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War a manor house in the English midlands was purchased for use by the Government Communication and Cypher School. Its name was Bletchley Park (BP) and its purpose was to process Signals Intelligence. What happened there over the next few years was to have a decisive impact if not on the outcome then at least upon the duration of the war and, it is hardly an exaggeration to say, upon the course of human history. At BP, new cryptanalytic techniques were developed which enabled the reading of, most famously, the Enigma 1 codes used by Nazi Germany and, in fact, a range of other Axis codes. This meant that for most of the war the Allies were in possession of much of German operational and strategic communications. In the process, the world’s first computer was invented….
And from the American PBS Nova programme Mind of a Codebreaker:
Led by the brilliant Alan Turing, inventor of the computer, the codebreakers of England’s cipher-cracking organization, Bletchley Park, were mathematicians, crossword-puzzle fanatics, and other super-brains. For decades what these men and women did at “B.P.,” and how they managed to break the Germans’ seemingly impregnable Enigma encoding machine, was classified. Now … one can get a tantalizing glimpse of what went on inside the minds of these codebreakers, who were fully aware of how vital their mission was to the Allied effort….
John Herival was a 21-year-old Cambridge mathematician hell-bent on breaking Red, one of the main Enigma ciphers used by the Germans in World War II….
Read all of this two-page selection for an exciting account, in John Herival’s own words, of the reasoning that led to the “Herival Tip” that broke the code just as the Blitzkrieg was launched.
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