Enigma and how we were quite lucky to win


One interesting topic that could be covered is effect of enigma on WWII. Not just as a separate section but in the weekly episodes a little more. Noone has done this much as it was kept secret for so many years. For example, when you cover the Battle of Britain it would help for people to know we were reading the Luftwaffe orders and Churchill knew where they would bomb.

I’ve interviewed Freeman Dyson for many hours. Before he worked on Project Orion he was a scientist for Bomber Command. It was an amazing experience and made me see things from a different perspective. Especially enigma’s influence. (On a side note: He actually confronted Churchill once and told him he was killing babies!)

The only reason we managed to pull through was enigma intelligence. For example, we were losing the Battle of Britain before Hitler moved his airforce to invade Russia. The Luftwaffe was destroying more aircraft than they were losing. That was the private consensus of the RAF leadership after the war. That was the case even when we were reading the Luftwaffe orders every day during the Battle of Britain via enigma. Radar played less of a role than historians suggest. Intelligence played a major role. We knew where the bombers would be and still had trouble shooting them down.


If I remember it correctly on the stream they said they have contact to Bletchley Park.
So we will probably get one or more specials about codebreaking and Enigma.


It would be good if they also reached out to other sources too. I was floored talking to Freeman Dyson. I learnt so much about the air war. First hand sources are great.


Very quick answer as I’m at an airport bar. Enigma will be covered in the regular episodes- for example the “hook” of the January 26, 1940 episode will be cracking enigma. We may also do several specials on codes and codebreaking in general. Think it’s too big a topic for OOTF. / Indy


Because knowledge of the Enigma exploit was kept classified until the 1970s, a lot of official history had been written which incorrectly attributed to other means what should have rightly been given to the men and women at Bletchley Park. It’s still easy to find more recently written histories that state these falsehoods. It’s only been fairly recently that any real effort has been made to correct these errors.

Honestly, I think that the war was won with three things: British intelligence, American industry, and Russian blood.

If anyone is interested in the technical details of how Enigma was cracked, the Youtube channel Numberphile created a couple of videos on this subject.

Also, Numberphile’s sister channel, Computerphile, has several series of videos that delve into the machines that cracked Enigma: the Bombe and its successor Colossus.

As a side note, Professor David Brailsford’s father was recruited into Bletchley Park by solving one of Alan Turing’s crossword puzzles as was depicted in the movie The Imitation Game.

As a side note to the side note, Joan Clarke was not actually recruited using that method. Instead, she was directly recruited by Gordon Welchman, who – along with Alan Turing, Hugh Alexander, and Stuart Milner-Barry – was one of the four original members of the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Bark. She was an already very accomplished mathematician by that point and didn’t need to resort to any crossword theatrics to be let in.

On a tangent to the side not to the side note, the Bombe required precious resources that were very hard to come by at that point in the war. I think they only made something like 3 or 4 Bombes during the entire war because of parts shortages. As good as the Bombes were, that number wasn’t nearly enough to make a dent in the mountains of cipher text that the various listening stations were producing.

Fortunately, once the US entered the war this problem was mostly solved. Since the US had at that time nearly endless resources and industrial capacity, they could make as many Bombes as necessary. Unlike a lot of other war materiel, the US didn’t ship these Bombes to Great Britain. Instead, they stayed in the US and were fed cipher text via a series of undersea telegraph cables that stretched across the Atlantic from the US to the UK. Once decrypted, the plain text was sent back to the UK across the cables. This was effectively the world’s first cloud computing service nearly a half a century before the Internet was made public.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself that this undersea cable would be a signals intercept boon for the Germans if they could manage to tap it. That’s why the British government went to some rather extravagant lengths to protect it.


Thanks for that information. Was fascinating. Its exciting to see a community forming here.


Curious, how did they protect the cables? It’s impossible to guard every meter of it.


Spare a thought for poor old Tommy Flowers.

The sad bit is how after the war he tried to obtain funding to build a computer for civilian use. Nobody would lend him the money because they thought it was impossible to build. Of course he knew otherwise but couldn’t tell anybody about it because it was all still highly classified. Thus Britain pissed away its position as the world leader in computer development.


The easiest place to tap the line is where it meets the shore. Incidentally, that’s also the easiest place to guard it, especially if you have remote controlled flame throwers buried just below the sand on the shore. The technology to tap undersea cables in deep water wouldn’t exist until late in the Cold War, incidentally just about the time that the main transatlantic cable was replaced with untapable fiber optic lines. Too bad for the Soviets that they weren’t able to do the same thing.


Even to this day tapping the cables is a huge thing. A friend of mine did his PHd on undersea cables at Harvard and now works for the US Government. We really actually don’t know much about all the cables and how they can effect things.

During the cold war both nations tapped undersea cables all the time. It’s really hard to do but the technology was slowly developed over time. We actually got a lot of Russian intelligence this way as initially the Soviets thought it wasn’t possible.

During the Cold War, the United States wanted to learn more about Soviet submarine and missile technology, specifically ICBM test and [nuclear first strike capability.

In the early 1970s the U.S. government learned of the existence of an undersea communications cable in the Sea of Okhotsk, which connected the major Soviet Pacific Fleet naval base at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula the Soviet Pacific Fleet’s mainland headquarters at Vladivostok.

in October 1971 the United States sent the purpose-modified submarine USS Halibut deep into the Sea of Okhotsk. Funds for the project were diverted secretly from the deep-submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV) program and the modified submarines were shown with fake DSRV simulators attached to them. These were early diver lock outs. Divers working from the Halibut found the cable in 400 ft (120 m) of water and installed a 20 ft (6.1 m) long device, which wrapped around the cable without piercing its casing and recorded all communications made over it. The large recording device was designed to detach if the cable was raised for repair.