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From Botticelli to Bletchley Park

Part 1: Enigma

Bletchley Park is a not very distinguished Edwardian country house on the outskirts of Bletchley, on the railway from London Euston to Birmingham. The location was chosen because the Oxford-Cambridge railway line also passed through it, and so Bletchley equidistant from these three great centres of power and learning, and accessible. It was there that teams of dedicated, mostly young people with extra-ordinary diligence and ingenuity broke the code used by German High Command, thus enabling the Allied High Command to read the German battle plan. The story is now well known and has been the subject of novels and a film. Bletchley Park with its wartime sheds and offices recently became a Charitable Trust, and a visit there gives a glimpse of what it must have been like in its heyday. Yet, the existence of Bletchley Park was a closely guarded secret, even to those living in the district, which we do, until the fall of Communism after 1989.

The Germans encrypted their secret messages on the famous Enigma machine. They thought that this machine could create an unbreakable code. It was an electro-mechanical device with a keyboard and cogs. The operator tapped in a message on the keyboard and it emerged as a random set of letters by reason of the circulating cogs. The alignment of the cogs could be changed and was done so on a routine basis. The random combinations that the cogs produced was so variable and infinite that the Germans believed that the messages that were typed in could only be read by someone with an equivalent Enigma machine on an identical setting. They were wrong. The machine and its operation had two tiny flaws, which the Allies spotted and then worked with to unravel the coded messages.

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