Hastings on GCHQ and cracking Enigma

2016-03-31

in Bombs and rockets, Geek stuff, History, Security

Hut 8 [of Bletchley Park] now had enough information to read some U-boat signals, but the seizure which opened the traffic to fluent decryption was the fruit of chance and high courage, rather than of design. On 9 May 1941 a convoy escort group attacked and forced to the surface Julius Lempe’s U-110. A boarding party from HMS Bulldog commanded by Sub-Lieutenant David Balme secured the submarine, prevented its sinking, and brought back to his destroyer pearls beyond price: documentation for current Enigma. Though U-110 later sank under tow — fortunately so, from a security viewpoint — the short signal book, officer ciphering instructions and other material reached Bletchley safely, and the secret of the submarine’s capture was preserved beyond the war’s end. An Enigma machine was also recovered, but perversely this was the least useful element of the booty, because Bletchley had one already, together with assorted rotors seized in other ‘pinches’. Within days, Hut 8 was reading a steady stream of German naval messages. Ralph Erskine, one of the foremost experts on codebreaking at Bletchley, believes that the Park was already close to reading the Kriegsmarine traffic, even without the U-110 haul. What is for certain, however, is that it was impossible to break the U-boat ciphers without the assistance of captured material, which would again become a vital issue later in the war.

Hastings, Max. The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939–1945. p. 83 (hardcover)

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