Finding Enigma: from fields to flea markets – strange places Enigma machines have been found

Because, occasionally, previously unknown Enigma machines come to light (especially in Eastern Europe) our knowledge about how many Enigma machines survive, and how many were made, improves with time.

The number of known survivors increases, and will doubtless continue to increase, but one fact stands unchanged: the vast majority of all Enigma machines made (perhaps 45,000) have perished – destroyed in battle, sunk at sea, or deliberately smashed beyond repair to keep their secrets from the enemy. A mere one machine in a hundred has survived, and a good proportion of these are safely held in museums all over the world.

However, the wartime distribution of Enigma machines was virtually world-wide, and the final stages of the war so disorderly, that there could be no systematic gathering in of all the machines at that point.

They were abandoned, stolen or lost in a hundred and one places scattered over a hundred thousand and one square miles. The result is that no-one knows where the next Enigma machine may be found.

Enigma Machine Found in Flea Market

Thirty years ago, when I first became interested in Enigma machines, and they began to appear in auctions for a few thousand pounds, I encountered an urban myth – one of those things that happen to ‘a friend of a friend’.

This particular myth told of a man who had seen in a market somewhere a ‘funny sort of typewriter’ for sale for a few pounds. He didn’t buy it, of course, but when he belatedly discovered what it actually was, he rushed back – to find it had gone.

I have before me now a 30-year old newspaper article about a man who collected (and used) spy radios, which ends with:

‘His greatest regret is failing to spot a German Enigma machine for £5 in (London’s) Brick Lane market. He mistook it for a calculator.’

Mind you, such markets can yield prizes. A few years ago, a maths professor in Romania spotted a ‘funny looking typewriter’ in a flea market, priced at 100 Euros. Recognizing exactly what it was, a 3-rotor Enigma machine, he snapped it up, and then sent it to auction, where it fetched 45,000 Euros. That was by no means the end – it was next recorded on sale in New Orleans for $245,000.

I thought my luck was in when I spotted, in 1998, amongst a long list of electronic equipment advertised for sale in a wireless magazine, a ‘German Enigma Coder’. The entry itself was minute – about 15mm x 4mm – so I felt that I’d stumbled across an unrecognized treasure.

A quick phone call soon dispelled any such hopes – it wasn’t a German Enigma machine at all; it was a (perfectly respectable) post-war Swiss NEMA cipher machine.

Perhaps the last place you might expect to find an Enigma machine is in the exact spot where it last saw service, but that’s what happened in the Channel Islands, the last territory occupied by the Nazis to surrender.

The surrender documents were signed on 9 May 1945, one day after the official surrender on Europe’s mainland. The German soldiers were then allowed to leave the islands (on Royal Navy vessels) without let or hindrance, but were not allowed to take with them any military equipment.

Thus the Enigma machines which had been in use in the most heavily garrisoned part of Europe stayed behind, so when nowadays you see an Enigma machine in Jersey or Guernsey, it’s in exactly the place where it served during the war.

26 Enigma Machines found in Spanish Military Store

Surprisingly, it was not until 2008 that a group of really early Enigmas was found in a locked military store in Spain, overlooked and neglected for years. 26 Type D Enigmas, supplied to Franco in 1936 to bolster the Nationalist cause during the Spanish Civil War, were taken out of service in the 1950s, and had lain undisturbed for the next fifty years.

A number have since been presented to museums in Spain and elsewhere, including Bletchley Park and GCHQ.

Spanish stamp marking the stash of Enigma machines discovered

Battlefields Yield Enigma Remains

Metal detectorists are these days searching not only battlefields, but also locations where temporary camps, offices and staging posts were set up. The result is a rich haul – not so much of Enigma machines, but of the recognizable remains of Enigma machines.

Occasionally, a whole body of a machine will be found, but it’s often only a few handfuls of metal fragments, possibly including a rotor or two which may still carry the unique serial number of the machine of which it was part. Such fragments are undoubtedly of interest, but well beyond the possibility of restoration into a working machine.

Even in a decayed state like this, Enigma machines are still sought after.
This one is currently for sale by The Enigma Museum.

Underwater Enigma: MachineS found on Sea Bed

When the sunken U-Boat U534 was raised off the Danish coast in 1993, two Enigmas were found on board, somewhat corroded by 48 years lying in salt water, and these can now be seen in the Visitor Centre in Birkenhead, England.

U534 which was raised from the Danish seabed contained two Enigma Machines.
The picture above shows the rebuilt conning tower (and the new paint!)
The Enigma machines salvaged from U534

Rather different circumstances surrounded the discovery of an Enigma in the Bay of Gelting in the Baltic Sea in December 2020. An environmental group, scouring the sea bed to locate and remove old cables and nets, spotted a complete Enigma machine, and managed to raise it to the surface. A local museum has promised restoration, a considerable task, given 75 years of saltwater corrosion.

The Enigma machine found on the Baltic Seabed by an environmental clean-up group.
Image by Cristian Howe

6 more Enigmas found on Baltic seafloor

The Baltic sea seems to be somewhat of an Enigma machine graveyard. While searching for a lost propeller, a salvage diver located 6 more Enigma machines near Schleimunde. The find was originally made at the beginning of 2021, but due to the heavily encrusted state of the machines, they were not identified immediately for what they were.

Some had obviously been mutilated before disposal. Presumably the dumping of these machines is associated with the scuttling of nearly 50 U-Boats in this area on the night of 4/5 May 1945. My guess is that more divers will be out deliberately hunting for more Enigmas later this year, and they will find more of them!

Salvage diver – Christian Hüttner – poses with Enigma machines he discovered in the Baltic.
Image: Christian Hüttner Salvage Divers

So, no-one knows where the next ‘new’ Enigma machine will appear, or who will find it. We can be certain that there are more to be found, so keep your eyes open, and it may be you!

If you’d like to get ‘virtually hands-on’ with an Enigma machine – book a Dr Enigma online presentation and demo and see for your own eyes this fascinating machine and story.

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