“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” ― Alan Turing
Why was enigma machine considered uncrackable, this article explains.
“If you gave 100,000 operators each their own Enigma machine, and they spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week testing a new setting every second, “it would take twice the age of the universe to break the code,” Simpson says.”
This is like creating a 76 bit encryption key.
To make it harder, the code was changed every 24 hours at midnight, so you only had one day to get the messages, crack the code and then read the messages before you had to start again..
The traditional way to break codes was by hand but even though they hand managed to get an Enigma machine, it didn’t help crack the code because of the amount of possibilities the machine can set (159 quintillion).
To add to the pressure, the war was not going well for England and cracking the Enigma code could help win the war and save thousands of lives.
These articles help give an overview
- Alan Turing: The codebreaker who saved ‘millions of lives’
- At Bletchley Park, breaking Enigma codes and winning WW II
- Breaking the Nazis’ Enigma codes at Bletchley Park (photos)
- How Alan Turing ushered in modern computing (photos)
- Profile: Alan Turing
You are probably thinking, this sounds quite important but how important?
Winston Churchill is rumoured to have said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany
“Yes, because without him, I, and many people are convinced that we would have lost the war.” Captain Jerry Roberts — BBC article — Captain Jerry Roberts
What I find fascinating is Turing and Bletchley park realised to crack the Enigma machine they had to create a machine of their own. What makes this amazing is computers did not exist then.
Like most leaps of imagination, you have to step on the shoulders of other people, in this case it Polish Ciphers and influence from his former tutor Max Newman
Even with a machine, it still didn’t work fast enough and it needed mistakes from tired German operators to give clues on some of the letters, which greatly reduced the number of possibilities to crack.
At the time Germany had blitzkrieged Europe and smashed through Poland, France and Holland and German U-boats were destroying ships and supplies. Great Britain was in a difficult position before USA had joined the war on the side of the allies.
What does it mean
How important is cracking German messages? It allowed the allies to know Germans actions and react before they they happened, to know German future plans and strategically respond before they happened. This helped
- Avoid German U-boats and help much needed supplies get through
- knowing the location of German forces and avoided them
At this stage of the war, every resource the Germans lost and we didn’t was important and made a difference.
“The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril,” Churchill
It allowed Great Britain to monitor fake messages and see if the Germans heard and acted on them. This played a key role in the success of D-day because the fake plans diverted resources away from Normandy.
Enigma for you
Thinking about cracking Enigma and the war doesn’t seem relevant to people now, it’s too long ago and abstract for us to imagine.
What would it mean if you had an Enigma machine for people?
Enigma is a way to read the thoughts of people, to understand their intentions. Imagine if you had a machine which let you read the messages and thoughts of people at work. Imagine if you could understand what
Imagine how you would act if you knew what people were thinking and what they were going to do. In the war surprise is key weapon for the attacker and now the allied forces had more confidence in their attacks, could avoid German forces.
Cracking the Enigma machine made a huge contribution to the war, creating a machine that could crack the Enigma code, made a significant contribution to the world and the possibilities of computers.
The contribution to the war was significant, and their are many people who contribute to winning the war. Individuals like Turing make significant contributions but big achievements are built on the back of teams with many people doing their jobs.
Consider the D-Day landings
- Espionage and fake plans
- codebreakers at Bletchley park
- Supply ships and crews
- Air force
- Sailors to sail the ships
- The soldiers who stormed the beaches
All these people and many more all had to do their jobs to all contribute to the that monumental victory at D-Day in 1944, consider it involved over 150000 soldiers from Britain, America, France and Canada to storm the beaches at Normandy.
“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” ― Alan Turing
- The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
- Alan Turing: The Enigma