Did Britain sell Enigmas postwar?

There is a seductive story that after the Second World War Britain sold off captured Enigma machines to other countries claiming, no doubt, that these machines were the best crypto devices available, and that the ciphers they created were completely unbreakable. Perfidious Albion, the story goes, then used the wartime techniques developed at Bletchley Park to read any Enigma-encrypted wireless traffic generated by these benighted customer countries. Is there any truth in such stories? They have been much repeated, by many authors. The earliest mention of this ruse that I have yet found was made by David Kahn, no less, when he reviewed Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret for The New York Times in 1974. Kahn says

It seems that after World War II, Britain gathered up as many of the tens of thousands of Enigmas as she could find and later sold them to some of the emerging nations. (This is a quotation given in Enigma by Wladyslaw Kozaczuk.)

Ten years later, Gordon Welchman’s book The Hut Six Story quotes a paper by Professor Jean Stengers of the University of Brussels as revealing not only that ‘after the war, England sold a considerable number of Enigma machines to certain less developed countries’ but also perceptively suggests that this could explain Britain’s determination to keep secret the fact that Enigma ciphers had been already been extensively broken at Bletchley Park. A couple of years later, Nigel West claimed in his 1986 book GCHQ that ‘many thousands of Enigma machines’ were recovered from Germany in 1945. He does not say that all, or indeed any, were recovered by Britain, but he does say that Britain distributed reconditioned Enigmas to friendly governments, and that even in the late 1970s there were many hundreds of Enigmas in operation all over the world.

            In 1987, David Hooper, a careful and considered writer, wrote in Official Secrets that

. . . the British government had after the war sold a number of these Enigma machines to unsuspecting developing countries, including Indonesia, without informing their governments that the British could now read their coded messages.

James Rusbridger’s The Intelligence Game was published in 1989, and contains the statement that Britain and America ‘sold off to many smaller countries reconditioned Enigmas at extremely cheap prices’. In 1991, Chapman Pincher wrote, in The Truth about Dirty Tricks, that MI6 and GCHQ jointly organised a scheme by which

hundreds of Enigmas recovered in Germany were reconditioned and sold to other Governments, mainly in the Third World, as a completely safe way of communicating.

Kahn himself had made no mention of such sales in the first edition of his monumental The Codebreakers (1967), but in 1996, in the second edition, he says

The British government  . . . had given the thousands of Enigma machines that it had gathered up after the end of the war to its former colonies as they gained independence . . .

Richard Aldrich, in a contribution to Action This Day (edited by Michael Smith and Ralph Erskine) says that in the late 1940s

Some neutral states were persuaded to adopt Enigma or Enigma-type machines . . . in the belief that these machines provided a secure means of communication . . . a belief that GCHQ did nothing to undermine.

This was published in 2001, and the statement was retained in The Bletchley Park Codebreakers (Erskine & Smith), which was a revised version of Action This Day, but Aldrich makes no such mention in his GCHQ: the uncensored story (2010).

* * * * * * * * * *

Thus we have a number of authors, some of whom are solid reliable historians, putting forward the same basic story, albeit with variations. The story is that Britain sold or gave WW2 Enigma machines to unsuspecting countries after the war, without revealing that Britain would then be able to read any Enigma-encrypted traffic they might send, and this provided one reason (perhaps not the only one) for keeping Bletchley Park’s wartime successes a secret. Frustratingly, not one of these writers gives any source for the interesting information that they put forward. The mere fact that eight leading writers all tell the same basic story does not, of course, prove that it’s true (we can’t ignore Tom Lehrer’s advice that if you plagiarise, you must remember, always, to call it ‘research’), and I have not yet come across any official admission that these sales actually occurred. On the contrary, official historians deny that there were any such sales.

On 6 January 2018, Tony Comer, departmental historian at GCHQ, was quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying ‘With the defeat of the Germans . . . . there was nobody left using Enigma’, but conversely admits that ‘50 bombes and 20 Enigma machines were kept in deep storage’. He dismisses the idea that Britain sold Enigma machines to neutral countries as ‘a complete myth . . . we now know there was no target’. However, as the Russians knew about Enigma, their client states would very obviously have been targets, and I was approached in 2001 by a man who told me that he’d been operating bombes at Eastcote in 1948, where 16 were still operational after the end of the war.

John Ferris, in his long-awaited history of GCHQ, Behind the Enigma (2020), tackled the subject head-on: ‘The story that Britain deliberately flogged copies of the Enigma to foreign countries is false.’

* * * * * * * * * *

So, two historians, with access to extensive archives, dismiss the story completely. Mind you, Ferris has not chosen his words well. What does the word ‘deliberately’ add to that sentence? Why use a word like ‘flogged’ in what is supposed to be an academically respectable work? What does ‘copies’ mean here?  – the basic story is that what were being sold were original Enigmas. Before accepting what these two historians assert, we must remember that they are basing their assertions on a negative. They provide no sources, so presumably they have not found any documentary evidence that the story is false. That is not, by itself, proof; Ferris and Comer give no more evidence for their statements than do Kahn and Welchman, maybe even less.

            If, say, Kahn’s original statement had been published in 2020 rather than 1974, and Ferris’s in 1974 rather than 2020, we would simply conclude that Kahn had found a source or sources not available to, or not found by, Ferris. We expect later writers to have wider and deeper access than earlier writers. But perhaps Kahn, nearly 50 years before Ferris, did have access to records which have since been destroyed, or to people who have since died. Selective destruction of records does occur, and most of the makers and implementers of policy made in the 1940s and 1950s are long since dead.

* * * * * * * * * *

There is one further factor we must consider – the machines themselves. Is there any evidence for hundreds of machines being used postwar? There is no known record of how many Enigma machines were held by Britain, although a memo in 1953 referred to ‘a large number of E machines carelessly stacked, out of their cases . . .’ in a Royal Naval Depot. These were not destroyed until 1959. We do know that Norway used Enigma machines (with rewired rotors) for some time after the war. We know that Israel obtained perhaps 30 Enigma machines from somewhere a few years after the war. At least two of these survive, with keys re-labelled with Hebrew characters (although Comer says that UK had no knowledge of any machines being given to Israel). We also know that Italy’s Guardia di Finanzia used Enigma machines as late as 1985.

Undated USA advert for Enigma machines (probably 1950s)

In addition, Enigma machines were available, presumably as ‘Government Surplus’ both in USA and in Germany. In USA, commercial brochures advertising the Enigma machine were being printed well after the war, possibly as late as 1958. In Germany, Steeg’s 1968 catalogue showed photos of a 3-rotor machine, and stated that they had 135 in stock.

An entry in the Steeg Catalogue, 1958

            There is, therefore, plenty of evidence for Enigma machines being available and being used for decades after the war. West may even have been right to say that there were hundreds in use in the late 1970s. There is also good evidence that some East German Departments were using Enigma machines at least as late as 1956, and that the Americans were using a Bombe to attack these (see KVETKAS).

So Enigmas were still being used by friendly countries, neutral countries and enemy countries, for years after the war. It seems that both the USSR and Britain could have had both motive and ability to distribute Enigmas to client countries. If Comer did say ‘With the defeat of the Germans . . . there was nobody left using Enigma’ and ‘we now know there was no target’, this does not seem to be the whole story.

On balance, the evidence that Britain gave or sold Enigmas postwar, and retained and used Bombes in the postwar period, is very slender, and the basic story may rest on a misunderstanding about Israel, and the fact the Enigmas were being actively traded for years after the war. However, unless a register of Enigmas held by, and disposed of by, Britain comes to light, statements to the contrary must remain unsubstantiated, even if strongly phrased.

For their advice and assistance, my thanks go to Mike Barbakoff, Howard Craston, John Jackson, and Tom Perera.


ERSKINE, R & SMITH, M. The Bletchley Park Codebreakers. Biteback, 2011. p359.

FERRIS, J. Behind the Enigma. Bloomsbury, 2020. p271.

HOOPER, D. Official Secrets. Secker & Warburg, 1987. p197.

KAHN, D. Codebreakers. 2nd edn, Scribner, 1996. p979.

KOZACZUK, W. Enigma. Arms & Armour, 1984. p219.

KVETKAS, W. The Last Days of Enigma. US NSA Doc 310787, 1998.

       States Enigma used by East Germany until 1956; messages broken by Bombe in USA.

PINCHER, C. The Truth about Dirty Tricks.  Sidgwick & Jackson, p252.

RUSBRIDGER, J. The Intelligence Game. Bodley Head, 1989. p21.

SMITH, M & ERSKINE, R. (eds). Action This Day. Bantam, 2001. p408.

STENGERS, J. ‘La Guerre de messages codés’ in L’Histoire No 31, Feb 1981.

WELCHMAN, G. The Hut Six Story. McGraw-Hill, 1982. p17.

WEST, N. GCHQ. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986. p3.

Who spilt the beans? How the Enigma secret was revealed

Although the secret was kept for nearly 30 years after the end of WW2, it’s now nearly 50 years since the public was told that the Allies had broken literally millions of Enigma-encrypted messages during the war, providing a wealth of authentic Intelligence about German military plans, reactions, state of readiness, and so on. Miraculously, the eleven thousand women and men who worked at Bletchley Park and in its outstations had understood the need for total silence, and had told no-one, not even close family.

Frederick Winterbotham in 1939

Looking back, we can actually detect tiny fragments of the story creeping into books published as early as the late 1950s, but none of these told of the scale or importance of Bletchley’s successes. It was in 1974 that Weidenfeld & Nicolson published The Ultra Secret by Frederick Winterbotham. He had not been a codebreaker, but had headed up the RAF’s Intelligence section since 1930, and was well aware of the significance of what the codebreakers had achieved. He also devised the technique whereby the Intelligence generated by the codebreakers could be delivered totally securely to Allied commanders in the field. The book, published simultaneously in UK and USA, caused a sensation, was much reprinted, and sales soon passed the million mark. Journalists loved it, but historians were more cautious.

The Ultra Secret, 1974

Winterbotham had requested, and received, official permission to write his book, but was given no access to the several hundred thousand relevant documents, which were, at that time, tightly locked away in GCHQ. He had, it appears, no diaries, so relied on memory alone, and made no reference to any sources, archival or published. The style of the book clearly reveals that it is not a scholarly work, and it must therefore not be taken as reliable. Its broad theme – that at Bletchley vast numbers of German wireless messages were broken, providing invaluable Intelligence which shaped Allied strategy – is indisputably correct, but the book contains, not surprisingly, serious errors, distortions, and omissions. One reviewer noted sadly that Winterbotham ‘has let out a big secret, but has failed to write a good book’.

Certain historians, noting that the book had been scrutinised by the D-notice committee, MI6, GCHQ, the Foreign Office, and even the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, made the erroneous assumption that this scrutiny implied official endorsement of its contents. In this they were wrong; the official scrutiny was to ensure that nothing too sensitive was being revealed. It was not an official stamp of approval to say that everything in the book was correct.

One of the most pervasive errors is Winterbotham’s assertion that the city of Coventry was deliberately left undefended on 14 Nov 1940, because Churchill feared that defending it against a coming German bombing raid might have led the Germans to deduce that we were breaking Enigma-enciphered messages. Detailed analysis of surviving documents (not made available to Winterbotham) shows this to be completely untrue. It is, however, such a gripping idea that it has taken hold most tenaciously in the public mind. One American edition of the book even headlines in red on its rear cover ‘The secret that was worth sacrificing a whole city for’. When the truth is less exciting than the lie, the truth struggles to be heard.

Coventry Cathedral, 15 Nov 1940

The Ultra Secret is an important book because it was the first to prise open the door into the secret world of Bletchley Park and Enigma. It broke new ground, and forced a re-assessment of many WW2 events. It is a great read, so enjoy it, but if you want the true history, turn instead to the books that followed Winterbotham’s enterprising lead.

Canada’s Coded Coin

In 1943, the Canadian government issued a new 5-cent coin, a value commonly called a nickel because, in Canada and the USA, 5-cent coins had long been made of the metallic element nickel. However, this one was not made of nickel, and did not even have the silvery appearance of a traditional nickel. In 1942, ‘tombak’ (in French ‘tombac’) had been used for a 12-sided 5-cent coin, with its ‘tail’ side graced by a beaver.

Tombak is one of many alloys based on copper (in this case with 12% zinc added) which have long been used for engineering and artistic purposes, being easy to work, and having, initially at least, a deceptively golden colour. The dodecagonal shape is reminiscent of the nickel-brass British ‘thruppenny bit’, first issued in 1937, but the straight sides of the British coin make its shape more distinctive than that of the Canadian coin, as the latter had slightly curved sides.

In 1943, the beaver stood aside, to be replaced by a new design by Thomas Shingles – a flaming torch, backed by a ‘V’, standing both for ‘Victory’ and for the Roman numeral for five. The intriguing thing about this new ‘nickel’ was not its colour, nor its main design, but the fact that it carried a coded message.  Many coins have a raised rim, which helps to reduce the wear on the inscriptions, and not infrequently this rim is fringed by ‘denticles’ (aka ‘dentils’), tiny raised dots or beads. This is where the message was concealed.

Instead of a uniform series of denticles, the 1943 coin carries an apparently random series of short lines scattered amongst the beads. Random it certainly is not – the lines and beads are the dashes and dots of a Morse code message running clockwise round the coin, spelling out ‘WE WIN WHEN WE WORK WILLINGLY’.

Why was this included? In a contemporary Canadian newspaper, the Superintendent of the Canadian Mint, R.J. Edmunds explained: ‘We decided to throw in a few dashes – and it came out that way in Morse’. That seems too good to be true, but however it arose, designing a Victory coin in 1942, and issuing it in 1943 was an act of faith, given the disastrous loss of Allied merchant shipping in the North Atlantic in 1942 – over a thousand individual merchant vessels were sunk that year.

The same design was used in 1944 and 1945, but these were not struck from tombak, but from nickel-plated steel. The predictable wear at the very edge of these coins frequently broke through the plating, exposing the steel core beneath, and the ensuing rusting can make the Morse code difficult to read. In 2005, the design was re-used to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2.

Canadian support for Allied transatlantic convoys was invaluable. Perhaps this little coin, with its scarcely visible message, played a tiny part in fostering the will to win.

BAME Codebreakers: Less diversity at Bletchley than in USA

Peter Calvocoressi, who worked at Bletchley Park as an Intelligence Officer, was surprised that, as a Greek, he was allowed into secret Intelligence work. He had been rejected by the Diplomatic Service in 1934 because he was not the son of British-born parents. However, this did not debar him from joining the RAF in 1942, and being sent to Bletchley for the rest of the war.

As laid down in 1932, Foreign Office rules required that applicants be ‘natural-born British subjects’ or from ‘the self-governing Dominions’, i.e. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. However, as Calvocoressi’s experience shows, the pressing needs of wartime produced some relaxation – it became possible for foreigners to work at Bletchley, and indeed Grey (Decoding Organization: Bletchley Park, codebreaking, and Organization Studies,  2012) mentions staff being drawn from North America, the British Commonwealth and Europe. Note, however, that these would be almost exclusively white, and either English-speaking or European. The recruitment net was not cast so narrowly as to ensnare none other than white Britons, but neither was it cast widely enough to bring in talented staff from a wider range of ethnicities. As late as 1956, as Ferris observes, GCHQ ‘saw no  institutional reason to hire non-white subjects’ (Behind the Enigma, 2020).

This blinkered racist view did not prevail in the same way in the USA. Although full voting rights were withheld from the majority of African-Americans (and other ethnic minorities) until the legislation of 1965, General Cooke, chief of cryptanalysis in the US Army, was instructed in 1944 to hire about 100 black individuals and give them meaningful crypto work. With the help of his messenger, William D. Coffee (1917-1989), he established the first segregated unit of black cryptologists, responsible for identifying codes, decoding, translating, and routing commercial coded messages from a wide variety of countries.

William D. Coffee led his cryptologic unit with distinction during the closing stages of WW2. His strength of character brought dignity to African-Americans in cryptologic work at a time when discrimination was still officially sanctioned, and he (deservedly) reached a status previously beyond the reach of African-Americans.

William D Coffee receiving an official award for cryptographic work from General Preston Corderman.

Capturing the Enigma machine; why it was less important than you think

Many a journalist, writing about code-breaking in WW2, praises the bravery, enterprise and doggedness through which the Royal Navy captured an Enigma machine. The popular story is that Britain’s codebreakers were toiling unsuccessfully in the dark, unable to make progress, until this capture.

One can understand how these stories emerge, and take hold. An Enigma machine is a real, tangible, chunk of equipment, something which could be physically captured and carried off, a very obvious prize.

As ever, the truth is less romantic. The Enigma machine was developed in Germany in the mid-1920s, and was for some years marketed publicly. Its function, stated briefly, was to provide secrecy for long-distance communications, whether by wireless or cable (or even on paper).

As the market was international, its makers wanted to safeguard their intellectual property rights in countries other than Germany. Quite naturally, successive innovations embodied in this piece of office equipment were patented in the UK, particularly in 1927 and 1929.

Enigma Machine patent - schematic
A patent drawing showing a section through the commercial Enigma machine (note – no steckerboard)

With the widespread publicity given to the machine, it is not surprising that, round the world, military, diplomatic and commercial bodies took some interest in its potential, although not many went as far as to buy one. The UK Foreign Office is reported to have bought one in 1928.

The Polish Cypher Bureau also bought one in the 1920s, so were aware of the mechanics of the basic machine by 1928, at a time when they realised that the German military had started using a sophisticated device to encipher a growing number of their radio communications.

Of course, the military version of Enigma was not identical to the machines which had been sold on the open market, but the brilliant work carried out by Rejewski, Zygalski, and Rozycki enabled the Polish Cypher Bureau to identify the differences, particularly deducing the wiring pattern inside each of the three different rotors then in use.

An Enigma machine patent document from 1927; well before the start of WW2

As any rotor could potentially be wired in any one of 400 million million million million ways, identifying the exact wiring pattern of the three rotors was an amazing achievement. In 1938, two more rotors were added to the original three, so that every machine used by the German Army and Air Force then had a suite of five, from which three were selected each day as part of the new day’s set-up. The Poles managed to work out the wiring of these extra two, as well.

In the summer of 1939, sensing that invasion was imminent, the Poles decided to pass on to their allies – Britain and France – everything they had so far discovered about Enigma and how its ciphers might be broken. They even gave a working Enigma replica to each, as well. Had they not shared their knowledge, the British work at Bletchley Park would have been, at best, delayed.

Sales literature for the Enigma machine (approx 1925)

Every Enigma machine in military service was reconfigured every single day at midnight. As there are literally millions of ways a machine could be set up, merely having access to a machine does not allow the deciphering of an Enigma-encrypted message.

To achieve that requires knowledge of the set-up, as well as a machine itself. The German cipher clerks had copies of carefully guarded books of settings (loosely referred to as ‘code books’) which gave them specific daily set-up  instructions. The Bletchley Park codebreakers had no such aids.

So, by the outbreak of war, the British had two patents, an original Enigma machine (commercial version), and a replica military version, and precise knowledge of the wiring patterns in all five rotors used by the German Army and Air Force. The German Navy used the same machine, but they had another three rotors of their own, making up a suite of eight altogether. It took about a year for Britain to discover (by capture) how these extra three were wired.

The big unknown, then, is how the machines are set up for use. The picture is also complicated by the fact that different regional commands of the German forces used different set-ups, and all of these were changed every day. Unless the Bletchley Park codebreakers could work out the ever-changing set-up details, deciphering the intercepted messages would be impossible.

Thus for much of the war, the most useful targets for capture were not the machines themselves but the instructions that went with them including, but not limited to, the code books. Two examples show this admirably.

In May 1941, the German weather-ship München was deliberately hunted down in the North Atlantic by a Royal Navy task force of 3 cruisers and 4 destroyers. When the München was fired at on 9 May, her crew threw the Enigma machine and current code books overboard. (Destroying or throwing overboard their Enigma machines was standard procedure for the German armed forces, but not all were fully lost – and many Enigma machines have since been found in fields and the sea floor).

What they, and the captain, failed to think about was that other documents including code books for future months were in the captain’s quarters. These were discovered by the Royal Naval boarding party, removed, and ended up in Bletchley Park on 10 May 1941, by which time the weather-ship had been sunk.

Weather ship Lauenburg before it was sunk 28 June 1941 (seen from HMS Tartar)
Enigma documents were captured from weather ship Lauenburg before it was sunk 28 June 1941 (seen from HMS Tartar)

In June 1941, another German weather-ship, the Lauenburg was hunted down by a task force of a cruiser and three destroyers. Again, when the Royal Navy ships were sighted, on 28 June, overboard went the Enigma and the papers from the signalman’s desk. Again, none of the Lauenburg’s crew thought about the papers stored elsewhere. The search party’s haul included the code books for July, and these reached Bletchley on 2 July.

In both these cases, the Navy had no expectation of capturing a machine – documentation was the prize. Of course, if an intact machine could be captured, it might reveal the settings for the day of capture, but a ‘code book’ might provide settings information for every day for a whole month.

Dr Mark Baldwin – aka Dr Enigma – is an international expert and speaker on the Enigma Machine. Book an talk, event or Enigma machine presentation (either in person or remote) here.

Women Codebreakers; the hidden female heroes of code cracking

Without doubt, if you ask someone to name some WW2 codebreakers, all the names they are likely to come up with will be those of men. Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Alistair Denniston, Dillwyn Knox, John Tiltman, Hugh Alexander, Stuart Milner-Barry, and Bill Tutte are names which might figure in a brief list of leading British codebreakers. In the USA, the list might include William Friedman, Joe Desch, Elvin Urquhart, and Frank Rowlett.

This could suggest that codebreaking is an exclusively male field, one to which women were unfitted to contribute. But nothing could be further from the truth; the reason women rarely participated at the higher levels of codebreaking was largely the result of male prejudice, not of female inability.

Even well before WW2, a several talented and determined women showed great codebreaking skills. Elizebeth Friedman (1892-1980, wife of William), started work as a codebreaker for the US War Department in 1919 and later worked for the US Navy, scoring notable successes against smugglers attempting to bring alcohol and other contraband into the USA in the prohibition years.

Elizebeth Friedman – US codebreaker

In the UK, Emily Anderson (1891-1962) was a ‘Hushwaac’ in WW1 – one of twelve women from the WAAC who were recruited as codebreakers in 1917 – and she stayed on after the war in GCCS as its sole female codebreaker. She has been described by John Ferris as ‘among the best cryptanalysts in the world’.

At Bletchley Park, there were eventually some 9,000 people employed, contributing to the work of this mighty production line of intelligence; intelligence derived from breaking enciphered enemy radio messages.

Women outnumbered men at Bletchley Park by about 3 to 1

In one sense all were ‘codebreakers’; they were, after all, employed in an institution dedicated to breaking enemy codes (and ciphers). However, the vast majority weren’t actually wrestling mentally with the problems of working out what GPCFF WNBFT IYRAM BBXFE TEQCB OHJJR could possibly mean.

The pyramid was a very flat one, with few at the top, challenged daily to interpret apparently meaningless strings of letters. Below them, in the broad lower reaches, were hundreds involved in the essential work of sorting, transcribing, indexing, translating and typing. The majority of these ancillary staff were women – by 1945, women at Bletchley outnumbered their male colleagues by three to one. One of them, Betty Webb, was doing such valuable work that she was transferred to the Pentagon between VE Day and the surrender of Japan in August 1945.

Although the women were, by and large, officially recruited for these more lowly roles, perceptive senior men deliberately sought out or recruited talented women who had codebreaking potential.

Renowned among these was Dilwyn (‘Dilly’) Knox, who studied the interview notes made by the Foreign Office interviewer, and then drafted some of the brightest women into his team. All of his immediate team were women, giving rise to the nickname ‘Dilly’s Fillies’, supposedly picked for their good looks, but it was actually their brains which caught Dilly’s attention.

Amongst these hand-picked girls were Mavis Lever, Margaret Rock, Claire Harding, and Phyllida Cross, and their success against Italian Naval Enigma gave Admiral Cunningham the opportunity to surprise the Italian Mediterranean Fleet at Matapan, and inflict such damage that it was never a serious threat again. Admiral Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence, credited Knox’s team with this victory, and Cunningham himself made a point of visiting Bletchley to thank the team in person.

So, there were women codebreakers at Bletchley – but they faced an administrative hurdle: Civil Service rules defined certain jobs as male-only, making it impossible for a talented woman to be officially classified (and paid) as a codebreaker.

Obtaining appropriate promotion and pay for codebreaking women meant that, initially at least, they had to be given some other job description. Joan Clarke, for example, was recruited into codebreaking by Gordon Welchman because of her proven mathematical ability, but had to apply to be a ‘linguist’, despite admitting on her application form that she had no linguistic skills.

Joan Clarke, talented mathematician and codebreaker, could
only be officially classified as a ‘linguist’

In the USA, no such subterfuge was required. Even before Pearl Harbour, the US Navy started to recruit women from prestigious colleges to be trained as cryptanalysts. The US Army followed suit, and by the end of the war, about 11,000 women were codebreakers, outnumbering their male colleagues.

In the UK, therefore, male prejudice worked in two ways: firstly, senior (male) staff were frequently of the opinion that women weren’t good enough for codebreaking work, and secondly, even if a woman was deliberately recruited (by a more perceptive man) as a codebreaker, she could not be officially classified as one.

The inevitable result is that anyone now scanning contemporary staff registers, pay lists, etc, will underestimate the number of women codebreakers, because their skills and roles have been buried under inappropriate job descriptions.

We will never know how many of the six or seven thousand women at Bletchley were actually codebreakers, despite being listed as typists, filing clerks, indexers or secretaries. We can, however, be sure that many of them were codebreakers, and their skills and dedication contributed to Allied victory.

‘National Geographic’ pays tribute to Betty Webb,
who worked on Japanese messages at Bletchley Park, and later in the Pentagon

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.

Dr Enigma visits HAM Radio Fair in Germany

There were so many thousands of valves, condensers, tuners, aerials, coils, antennae, and numerous boxes of electronic gear embellished with dials, knobs and switches, that it was easy to accept that the recent Amateur Radio Fair in Friedrichshafen was Europe’s largest.


For some years now, that has been the proud boast of this southern German city, which will be better known to many as the home of the Zeppelin works, 90 years ago the world leader in airship design and operation.


The support from radio hams was world-wide – there were (amongst others) stands from Spain, Qatar, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Israel, and Turkey – and many of these radio hams were able to experience hands-on Enigma operation at the Fair.

Without radio, there would have been no need for the Enigma machine, so it is not surprising to discover that one section of the huge fair comprised eight stands devoted to Enigma and other crypto devices.


Pioneered by Tom Perera from the USA, there has been a strong Enigma presence at the Friedrichshafen Fair for some years, and this has become an important international focus for those interested in crypto.

Exhibiting and selling on the eight stands were enthusiasts from USA, Germany, UK, The Netherlands, and Switzerland, and Dr Enigma was right in there with them. The Pereras (father Tom and son Dan) and Klaus Kopacz both had Enigma machines on display.


Perhaps the greatest excitement came during the setting-up day when two Enigma machines were brought in for sale, and were quickly snapped up by eager buyers – and buyers who needed to be well organized enough to be able to produce tens of thousands of Euros in cash to close the deals.

On the first full day of the Fair, one of the conference rooms was the venue of an Enigma Forum, in which several papers were delivered reporting on new developments and discoveries in the Enigma world.


Amongst these was a detailed account of the restoration of an Enigma which had been found in a wood shed in Belgium, an explanation of the latest analysis of the evolution of the steckerboard, and a report on progress being made in the decryption of several hundred original Enigma messages recently discovered in an archive in Berlin.

Tom Perera, organizer of the Forum, has now invited Dr Enigma to present a paper at Friedrichshafen fair in 2020, surveying the work done at Bletchley Park during WW2.

Putting this work in context will provide a useful contrast to the intense scrutiny of the machine itself.

To book Dr Enigma for a fascinating talk and hands-on demo with an original Enigma machine – contact us, or visit the Enigma events page.


Alan Turing – Great British Icon

In early February, BBC 2 screened the final instalment in their series ‘Icons: The Greatest Person of the 20th Century’. In previous instalments, viewers had been asked to vote for the greatest within seven different categories: arts, sport, politics, science, etc. In the final show, the winners in each category were pitted against each other, giving viewers the challenge of judging, say, Ernest Shackleton against David Bowie and Alan Turing.

Inside Facebook HQ: a giant rendition of Alan Turing made from dominoes

In the event, Alan Turing won (or perhaps I should say that Chris Packham, who made the case for Turing, won). However, a real confusion arises from the inclusion in the series’ title of two distinct ideas: ‘greatness’ and ‘icon’. To assess greatness, we need an expert to recount the achievements of a particular man or woman, and explain why these are outstanding or groundbreaking, and thus worthy of the title ‘great’.

Being an icon does not require demonstrable greatness; it must rest upon a person’s having been widely enough known, and inspirational enough, to excite widespread admiration. It is hard to see how Shackleton, admirable though his achievements undoubtedly were, could possibly now be regarded as an icon – he just isn’t well enough known.

Turing scores well as both great and iconic. His achievements can be said to rest upon a few overly simple labels: ‘Codebreaker’, ‘Helped to win World War 2’, and ‘Father of the Computer’. Imperfectly understood by most, these labels are enough to convince us of his greatness. In addition, his determination to overcome personal difficulties and challenges, culminating in disgrace and criminal conviction, are truly inspirational and the last fifteen years or so have undoubtedly seen Turing develop the aura of an icon. An apology by the Prime Minister in 2009, worldwide celebrations in 2012 to mark the centenary of his birth, and a Royal Pardon in 2013, are all indicative of the evolution of his iconic status.

He won the contest – a fitting tribute to a clearly great man who continues to provide inspiration to many who do not fit easily into the slots society would force them into, but who battle on. A Great British Icon.

Enigma machine creates media frenzy in Ljubljana: Dr Enigma in Slovenia

Last week, upon the invitation of blockchain company Verity – Dr Enigma travelled to Slovenia’s beautiful capital to present at the ‘Original Crypto’ evening as well as visit Verity’s office and speak to both the Slovene media and Verity staff about the Enigma machine.

Media interest was strong, with two different TV crews doing segments for national stations, and several magazine and newspaper journalists interviewing both Dr Enigma, and Martin Mikeln, Verity co-founder.

Dr Enigma with Verity co-founders: Martin Mikeln (l) and Luka Perović (r)

The event was an excellent example of how the breaking of the Enigma machine codes still fascinates people and is still relevant to cybersecurity today; especially those in the computer programming community.

Slovenia is a hotspot for blockchain, having been an early adopter of the technology which has led to a strong ecosystem of blockchain companies, and several world-class companies to have come out of the country. This was reflected by the Original Crypto event selling out with over 100 people attending.

Dr Enigma demonstrates the Enigma machine to (amongst others) Peter Trček, Bitnik CEO and President of Blockchain Thinktank Slovenia



With its roots in ‘cryptography’, today’s ‘cryptocurrency’ and underlying blockchain pioneers are fascinated by the story of hacking Enigma as well as the original machine itself. Ljubljana has a bit of Enigma history of its own; it was Ljubljana (then called ‘Laibach’) that was where the first pre-Enigma rotor-cipher machine was patented. And as Ljubljana’s National Museum of Contemporary History highlighted via a tweet, they have a three rotor machine on display.


Dr Enigma was covered by most of the major Slovene press, including:

Dr Enigma in Delo – Slovenia’s daily broadsheet