On This Day — Enigma Machine Captured (May 9 1941) [2019]

“Also the coding machine was found here, plugged in and as though it was in actual use when abandoned. The general appearance of this machine being that of a type writer, the telegraphist pressed the keys and finding results peculiar sent it up the hatch. This W/T office seemed far less complicated than our own-sets were more compact and did not seem to have the usual excess of switches, plug holes, knobs, ‘tally’s’ etc on the outside.”

Lieutenant David Balme — Report on the U-110  boarding

The Wireless Telegraph area on board U Boat U-124 in March 1941, where the Enigma machine, similar to a typewriter, can be seen bottom left.

May 9 2019 — One of the outstanding intelligence breakthroughs of the World War II came on May 9 1941 with the capture of an intact Enigma machine. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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The Enigma machines were a series of electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines developed and used in the early- to mid-20th century to protect commercial, diplomatic and military communication. Enigma was invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I.

Though Enigma had some cryptographic weaknesses, in practice it was German procedural flaws, operator mistakes, failure to systematically introduce changes in encipherment procedures, and Allied capture of key tables and hardware that, during the war, enabled Allied cryptologists to succeed and “turned the tide” in the Allies’ favour. (Wikipedia)

The German submarine U_110 was captured by the Royal Navy on 9 May 1941.  In the radio room, British sailors found several cipher documents and one Enigma device. The capture of the U_110 was a major secret of WWII. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was only told of the capture by Winston Churchill in January 1942.

“The British had assembled a team of brilliant academics at Bletchley Park who were making steady progress with the task of deciphering German messages encoded with ‘Enigma’ machines.

They already possessed one Enigma machine, passed on by Polish Intelligence before the war. What was needed were the internal rotors in the machines that were currently being used. A number of schemes had been devised to capture these but the boarding of U-110 came as an unexpected bonus.

The U-boat had been forced to surface after depth charging, the crew had abandoned ship believing that the U-boat was already sinking.

The surviving crew were rescued and quickly taken below decks so that they would not be aware that the boat was to be boarded. The commander of the boat died, possibly shot as he attempted to swim back to the boat to sink her.” (World war II Today)

The Enigma Machine Explained

As technology increases, so do the methods of encryption and decryption we have at our disposal. World War II saw wide use of various codes from substitution ciphers to employing Navajo code talkers in the Pacific theater.

Here, science journalist and author Simon Singh demonstrates the German enigma machine, a typewriter-like device used to encrypt communications.

He demonstrates not only its operation, but both the strength and fatal flaws in its method.

REFERENCES

Enigma machine captured — World war II Today

On This Day — Enigma machine captured (May 9 1941)

On This Day — Enigma Machine Captured (May 9 1941) [2019]

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