Friday, June 29, 2007

The Churchill Series – Jun. 29, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

During WW II certain locked boxes arrived for Churchill on almost a daily basis wherever he was. He alone had the keys to those boxes. His closest aides did not know their contents. In his multi-volume History of WW II, Churchill makes no mention of the boxes.

The boxes, of course, contained principally the latest British decodings of German Enigma messages. They sometimes also contained intercepts and decodings of Italian and Japanese messages.

When he wrote his history, Churchill could not reveal the Enigma secret: that early in the war the British had begun to break the German code system which used encoding and decoding machines the Brits dubbed the Enigma machines. That remained a secret until 1974.

At Pico Technology’s website we learn more:

Situated about 50 miles to the north west of London at Bletchley Park is the former WW2 code breaking centre (also known as Station X). It was here that a dedicated team of talented mathematicians (including Alan Turing) worked to break the German Enigma codes and also the more complex codes used by Hitler and his high command.

The number of people working at Bletchley Park grew throughout the war to a point where there were literally thousands of people working around the clock decoding and analysing messages. Despite the number of people involved, the German high command had no idea that their security had been compromised and believed that their codes were unbreakable. . . .

During the war, many ingenious aids and machines were developed at Bletchley Park to aid the breaking of codes, one of these was Colossus — the World’s first electronic computer.

(For many years the honour of being the World’s first electronic computer was given to the American ENIAC. In recent years however, both the UK and US governments have declassified and released papers giving more information about Colossus. In the light of this historians have been forced to reconsider and most now agree that Colossus was in fact the World’s first electronic computer.) . . .
There’s much more at the Pico site which should be extremely interesting to anyone interested in the early development of computers.

I’d be interested to hear what you think of the part of the Pico dealing with Bletchley, especially from those of you with tech backgrounds.

Have a nice weekend, folks.


Anonymous said...

"He alone had the keys to those boxes. " - How did the papers get in there then?

More seriously, Turing was a very interesting guy and is famous (in Comp Sci circles) for designing what is known, of course, as the Turing Test. This is the test you give a computer to see if it can think like a human.



Anonymous said...

I'm sure you're familiar with the "Body Guard of Lies" book of the Enigma story,but it's fascinating.As I've read more of WW II,I realize it wasn't ineveitable the Allies would win.
Turing was Von Neumann's secretary at the Institute for Advanced Studies aand his suicide was a tragedy and fascinating in its methodology.
By the way,did you know WSC' s grandfather was part owner of the NYT?

JWM said...

To AC @ 5:04,

The question of how the papers got in the box if Churchill alone had the keys is one that historians still argue over.

Just kidding.

The Turing info is interesting and above my pay grade.

Corwin @ 5:48,

"Body Guard of Lies" is indeed fascinating.

And did you ever hit the mark regarding the outcome of WW II not being inevitable.

So few people today, including historians who write of the era, realize that.

Nice hearing from you both.