What a blazingly good fun day at Bletchley! A ‘few’ pictures of the day are shown below (hi-res versions are available on request).
Well… Some of us were ‘keen’ and so we were there in the queue for when the gates opened at 9:30am. Various en-route txts from the rest of our group coordinated our meet up over coffee and tea ready for the first tour at 11am.
There is easily more there than can be seen in one day. Did Chris ever make it out before the gates closed? Or is he still lost somewhere in the basement of Block B?…
Meanwhile, I was nearly locked in the RSGB amateur (Ham) radio station GB3RS as it was being shut down for the end of the day… Apparently, the station and displays have only recently been relocated from central London to Bletchley in July this year. They have a very good setup with some good hands-on equipment, some old historical stuff, and the latest state-of-the-art transceivers as witnessed by the various terrestrial and satellite aerials festooned around “Station X“.
… And then the more mundane mobile smartphone digital transceiver came to life to coordinate regrouping in the car park to make our timely escape…
We also enjoyed some good summertime weather that made for a very pleasant wander around the grounds and the various huts and stables. There’s various vintage vehicles and paraphernalia on show around the site to give a feel for the war period.
The wartime effort at Bletchley was certainly impressive with a cypher disassembly line spanning up towards 9000 staff with yet more staff in various outposts. Further expansion was limited by concerns to not overrun the available local services and for keeping the operation clandestine! Also impressive is the volunteer effort today that has brought Bletchley Park back to life. The ‘ultra’ secrecy surrounding the site meant that it was nearly bulldozed to disappear forever unknown under housing. The site was only rescued due to a conservation order placed on a number of trees on the site! Only some years later was the significance of the site ultimately revealed.
The rebuilding of a working Bombe and Colossus, each taking over a decade of re-engineering, are must-see pioneering marvels from the time. They are similarly epic to the Science Museum’s Babbage’s Difference Engine No 2, but also the Bletchley machines go somewhat beyond with their added complexity of electric/electronic circuitry and myriad connections… Elecro-Electronic-Mechanical marvels! And you get to see them working. With all the heat generated, and multiple machines crammed in, plus operators, plus the operators likely chain-smoking and always working under the pressure of time, and no windows, no wonder one of the huts was nick-named “Hell”.
Just a very few of the surrounding wartime stories are included on various display panels, but that still gives good context for the driving war effort.
All quite a feat all round.
Poor Eva in our group was put on the spot for translating the same repeating daily message for some lonesome Africa German outpost that the Allies very deliberately kept undisturbed… That one location must have been the safest but most boring place to be posted to for the entire war. It also helped Bletchley Park decrypt other messages that day…
Another deliberate curiosity was the Czech in-the-middle-of-nowhere posting that was of no strategic interest whatsoever that ‘happened’ to have one bomb dropped nearby. It also happened to uniquely have a few “z”s in its name…
Not to be missed are the stories of various hero pigeons that carried critical messages when all other ‘modern’ technology had failed!
And lots more. Too much to cover all in just one day.
Thanks to Jason for organizing a very good day. And thanks for the txt-ing coordinating from him to sheep-dog the rest of us all together!
And thanks are due to the volunteers we met at Bletchley who make it all enthusiastically and very knowledgeably work very well.
This seems timely: Alan Turing Monopoly
OK… A bit cheesy but a good idea. Hopefully not lost amongst all the other branded re-spins of that game… I like the use of “‘Auntie Flo is not so well’ (which was the secret phrase for…)”.
Is there also a ‘Turing Machine‘ game board? That would make for a hellish twisted sort of snakes and ladders for jogging forwards and backwards until completion… 😉
A few links:
- Enigma Simulator
- How the Poles broke the Enigma Code
- Wikipedia: Bletchley Park
- Wikipedia: Bombe
- Wikipedia: Heath Robinson (codebreaking machine)
- Wikipedia: Colossus computer
- Wikipedia: German code breaking in World War II
- feldgrau: German Code Breaking of WWII
- Wikipedia: Ultra
- Wikipedia: Combined Cipher Machine
- Science Museum: Doron Swade operating Babbage’s Difference Engine No 2
- My years at Bletchley Park – Station X by Sgt Carol West
- BBC: Celebrating Colossus, the codebreaking computer
- Distributed computing effort that has decoded some wartime intercepted Enigma messages: Enigma@Home
- Bletchley Park National Codes Centre
Three points to note:
- The Germans were ‘ahead of the game’ at the outbreak of WWII and due to their code breaking, they knew in advance the location of all British warships and lots more
- The Polish Intelligence Service set the scene for how to break Enigma
- And the turning point in the war was perhaps at or soon after Arnhem when the British decryption effort became the more successful to turn the tide of strategic information to help Montgomery against Rommel and for throughout the entire theatre of war. Especially, decoding Enigma/Lorenz was essential to the successful D-Day landings…
Perhaps (at least in part) the war really was won by which side knew the more of the other…