Cracking the Code: The Enigma Machine

  • June 15, 2015 15:57

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This remarkable Enigma K machine was used to transmit secret messages during World War II. It is believed by some that the Allies' breaking of the Enigma code shortened the war by two years.
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Allied forces led by the United States and the United Kingdom, declared victory over Germany and the Axis powers in what is known as the deadliest conflict in human history–World War II.  With an estimated 50 to 85 million lives lost over the course of the War, it is hard to believe that a small mechanical device had such a tremendous impact on world history.

Known as the Enigma, this cryptography machine was devised by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius toward the end of World War I, and was initially used commercially until the German government and the Nazi regime realized the Enigma’s military intelligence possibilities. Several versions of the Enigma were created before and over the course of World War II, with their increasing complexity stumping cryptologists. The Polish Cipher Bureau had intercepted an Enigma machine that was being shipped from Berlin and mistakenly had not been protected as diplomatic baggage in 1929. By 1932, the Poles broke the code, only to have the Germans create other versions of increasing complexity, a cycle that would continue throughout the war.

This incredible Enigma Model K was one of those advanced machines. The finest example of its kind to surface, this model has four rotors instead of the typical three, which made the code more complex. Made by the Germans and used by the Swiss, this Enigma is in incredible condition (denoting it was most likely not used on the field), and even retains its original external power supply, extra light panel and oak casings, this is an absolutely incredible historical artifact.

By mid-1939, the Poles realized that a Nazi invasion was imminent, and decided to share their Enigma intelligence with the British and French. The effort to crack the Enigma code was now an international affair. The information was shipped to France in diplomatic baggage while the British share was sent to Bletchley Park, where the British Secret Service established its Code and Cypher School for the purpose of breaking the Germans' message traffic. There, the British government assembled mathematicians, cryptographers, chess players and anyone with code and advanced puzzle-solving skills, among them the renowned Alan Turing, to conquer the problems presented by the many German Enigma variations, and found means of cracking them.

This model, used by the Swiss, has an additional lamp panel and exterior power supply. This particular specimen remains in complete working condition.
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Olreans

It is believed by many scholars that the breaking of the Enigma code shortened the length of World War II by at least two years, and even Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower admitted that the cracking of the Enigma was “decisive” to the Allied victory.


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