As cipher machines have taken on increasingly important roles in world history, considerable interest has developed in collecting and studying these early technological innovations.
For over 20 years we have been actively searching for examples of the Enigma cipher machines that the Germans relied on to keep their military communications secret during WWII. Very few Enigmas survived the war and since the Allies were commanded to destroy every one that they found, it is a real challenge to find them. Each Enigma has a story to tell and careful research and disassembly can provide clues to its hisory.
We work with a group of dedicated historians, collectors and technicians to uncover Enigma history and we make it available through EnigmaMuseum.com. A Virtual Museum like this is the ideal format for making these rare and interesting historic instruments available to view and study.
We have put much of our accumulated information in our book, Inside Enigma and CD-ROM Enigma Library. We give lectures and demonstrations and provide Enigmas as displays for museums and props for media and occasionally sell an Enigma to help defray our expenses. More recently, we have found other historic cipher machines including a fascinating Russian Cold War era Fialka cipher machine.
We attempt to display as much of this information as possible in our frequently-updated museum pages and we welcome comments and questions.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ENIGMA:
The Enigma cipher machine was first patented by Scherbius in 1918. It was initially designed to be used by commercial companies to keep their communications secret. When Germany began rebuilding its military in the 1930s, the government took over the Enigmas and began using them for all of their secret communications. (Note: the word cipher is also spelled cypher which is a primarily British variant.)
Poland was aware that Germany would probably invade them first and built a cipher bureau to try to read enciphered German messages. The Poles were the first to determine how the Enigma machine worked and how to go about decoding its messages. When Poland was invaded, the Polish mathematicians were already helping the Allied forces develop strategies and machines which allowed them to read many important German messages during the war.
A team of codebreakers working at Bletchley Park in England and initially using the wiring data and a replica Enigma machine supplied by the Poles was able to decode most of the enigma-coded messages used by the German military even though the Germans changed the settings of the machine. The code name for the deciphering operation and the intelligence derived from it was “Ultra”.
Every year the surviving veterans of the operations at Bletchley Park meet at Bletchley Park for a reunion. Here are some pictures of the 2009 Bletchley Park reunion.
Each letter typed into the enigma machine’s keyboard was converted to some other letter of the alphabet and displayed in a lighted window. Since the entire mechanism rotated each time a letter was entered, pressing the same letter three times could produce three different encodings. The encodings were produced by hard-wired code wheels and patch panels. The three code wheels could be mounted in a variety of positions and each one could be set to any letter of the alphabet. In addition, a patch panel on the front of the machine could be set up in many ways, making a vast number of combinations of cipher keys possible.