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Codebreakers: The Story of Bletchley Park’s Growing Influence in World War Two

Codebreakers: The Story of Bletchley Park’s Growing Influence in World War Two


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This article is an edited transcript of Bletchley Park: The Home of Codebreakers on Dan Snow’s Our Site, first broadcast 24 January 2017. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.

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It’s widely believed that Bletchley Park didn’t start to meaningful impact Allied fortunes until after the Battle of Britain. This isn’t entirely accurate.

While it’s true that Bletchley Park’s contribution grew as the war went on, the team was already reading German navigation beam information as early as the Spring of 1940.

Bletchley Park’s analysts were already contributing during the Battle of Britain, and that role continued to grow in influence campaign by campaign, theatre by theatre, throughout the rest of the war.

Some of this intelligence didn’t require any codebreaking. For example, when German aircraft flew back to their home base, the pilots would talk in plain language because getting home is pretty important and they didn’t think there was any strategic value in what they were saying at that point of their mission.

Heinkel He 111 bombers during the Battle of Britain. Bletchley Park was already reading German navigation beam information as early as the Spring of 1940.

In fact, by listening to the German Air Force talking in plain language as they flew back, analysts were able to establish where they were for next time, which was actually very important information.

Bletchley Park’s analysts were already contributing during the Battle of Britain, and that role continued to grow in influence campaign by campaign, theatre by theatre, throughout the rest of the war.

How was Bletchley’s intelligence used in the Mediterranean?

By 1942, Bernard Montgomery, the new commander of the British Eighth Army,

was able to take advantage of extensive intelligence courtesy of Bletchley Park, including information about the German order of battle and what Rommel’s intentions were.

All this information relating to the German and Italian military in North Africa became invaluable, enabling Britain to sink convoys bringing supplies across the Mediterranean.

The Lancaster Bomber is one of the most iconic aircraft of World War Two. It entered service in early 1941 and went on to be Britain’s main heavy bomber aircraft during the War, serving predominantly on night-time bombing raids of German-occupied Europe. Its effectiveness ensured that the Lancaster proved central to the successful Allied bombing strategy from 1942 onwards.

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There was a problem with such good information however. By acting on a piece of intelligence that couldn’t have been found out any other way, the Allies were effectively in danger of signalling their codebreaking capabilities to the enemy. The Allies had to be very careful about how they acted on intelligence.

The British Army developed strategies to get around this problem. For instance, when they had intelligence on ships in the Mediterranean, they would send reconnaissance aircraft to the area they knew a convoy was going to be, the reconnaissance aircraft would fly around, making sure it had been spotted, and then fly away again. A submarine was then sent to sink the convoy.

The idea was to present a conceivable reason for the convoy being found that had nothing to do with codebreaking.

Why was Bletchley Park so vital to the D-Day deception?

Ahead of D-Day, the Allies wanted to persuade the Germans they’re going to attack at the Pas-de-Calais, rather than Normandy. All sorts of cunning deception was employed, from building a fake army in Kent to using inflatable wooden tanks. Bletchley’s Enigma codebreakers played a key role in the ruse, called Operation Fortitude.

The German spy network in Britain, by then completely controlled by British Intelligence, would report to the German intelligence service, the Abwehr, mostly in Spain and Portugal.

Ahead of D-Day, the Allies wanted to persuade the Germans they’re going to attack at the Pas-de-Calais, rather than Normandy.

This information was then reported back to Berlin by wireless and read by British codebreakers. So, MI5 was able to put something in a message that was then fed back to Berlin via a double agent, then read the reply from Berlin.

British intelligence was not only able to provide information, it could then see how the Germans reacted to it. Such complete control of the information feed allowed them to play the Germans like a violin, nuancing and tweaking the information they fed them according to the responses.

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Total information dominance

By late 1944 Britain had total information dominance. By patiently studying German communications Britain had built a complete picture of the German Army in France and the Low Countries by the time of D-Day.

They knew all the units, who commanded them, what their rank structures were, how many tanks they had, where their defences were… Essentially, they were close to knowing everything.

Dummy landing craft were used as decoys before D-Day. Bletchley Park played a key role in the deception.

In contrast, the Germans knew almost nothing about the army that was attacking them, and what they did know about was at least 50% false, thanks to a deception operation they’d been fed.

Consequently, the Germans had a very exaggerated view of how big the invading army was. So, even though Britain had almost made its full commitment to Normandy, Germany believed that there was another equally big army ready to go to Calais.

We’ve even seen a letter from Hitler himself telling the troops in Calais not to go to Normandy because there was another invasion coming.


Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park is an English country house and estate in Bletchley, Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire) that became the principal centre of Allied code-breaking during the Second World War. The mansion was constructed during the years following 1883 for the financier and politician Sir Herbert Leon in the Victorian Gothic, Tudor, and Dutch Baroque styles, on the site of older buildings of the same name.

During World War II, the estate housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), which regularly penetrated the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers among its most notable early personnel the GC&CS team of codebreakers included Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander, Bill Tutte, and Stuart Milner-Barry. The nature of the work there was secret until many years after the war.

According to the official historian of British Intelligence, the "Ultra" intelligence produced at Bletchley shortened the war by two to four years, and without it the outcome of the war would have been uncertain. [1] The team at Bletchley Park devised automatic machinery to help with decryption, culminating in the development of Colossus, the world's first programmable digital electronic computer. [a] Codebreaking operations at Bletchley Park came to an end in 1946 and all information about the wartime operations was classified until the mid-1970s.

After the war, the Post Office took over the site and used it as a management school, but by 1990 the huts in which the codebreakers worked were being considered for demolition and redevelopment. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed in 1991 to save large portions of the site from development.

More recently, Bletchley Park has been open to the public and houses interpretive exhibits and rebuilt huts as they would have appeared during their wartime operations. It receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. [2] The separate National Museum of Computing, which includes a working replica Bombe machine and a rebuilt Colossus computer, is housed in Block H on the site.


Introduction. The Influence of Ultra in the Second World War, F.H. Hinsley
Part One. The Production of Ultra Intelligence
1:Life in and out of Hut 3, William Millward
2:The Duty Officer, Hut 3, Ralph Bennett
3:A naval officer in Hut 3, Edward Thomas
4:The Z Watch in Hut 4, Part I, Alex Dakin
5:The Z Watch in Hut 4, Part 2, Walter Eytan
6:Italian naval decrypts, Patrick Wilkinson
7:Naval Section VI, Vivienne Alford
8:Anglo-American signals intelligence co-operation, Telford Taylor
9:An American at Bletchley Park, Robert M. Slusser
10:Bletchley Park, the Admiralty, and naval Enigma, F.H. Hinsley
Part Two. Enigma
11 11:The Enigma Machine, Alan Stripp
12:Hut 6: Early Days, Stuart Milner-Barry
13:Hut 6: 1941-1945, Derek Taunt
14:Hut 8 and naval Enigma, Part 1, Joan Murray
15:Hut 8 and naval Enigma, Part 2, Rolf Noskwith
16:The Abwehr Enigma, Peter Twinn
17:The bombes, Diana Payne
Part Three. Fish
18:An Introduction to Fish, F.H. Hinsley
19:Enigma and Fish, Jack Good
20:The Tunny Machine, Ken Halton
21:Operation Tunny
Part Four. Field ciphers and tactical codes
22:Recollections of Bletchley Park, France, and Cairo, Henry Dryden
23:Army Ultra's Poor Relations, Noel Currer-Briggs
24:Navy Ultra Poor Relations, Christopher Morris
25:Tactical signals of the German Airforce, Peter Gray Lucas
Part Five. Japanese codes
26:Japanese naval codes, Michael Loewe
27:Bedford-Bletchley-Kilindini-Colombo, Hugh Denham
28:Japanese military codes, Maurice Wiles
29:Japanese Army Air Force codes at Bletchley Park and Delhi, Alan Stripp
30:Recollections of temps perdu at Bletchley Park, Carmen Blacker
Appendix. How the Bletchly Park buildings took shape, Bob Watson

Edited by F. H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp


Codebreakers' Victory: How the Allied Cryptographers Won World War II

For years, the story of the World War II codebreakers was kept a crucial state secret. Even Winston Churchill, himself a great advocate of Britain’s cryptologic program, purposefully minimized their achievements in his history books. Now, though, after decades have passed, the true scope of the British and American cryptographers’ role in the war has come to light. It was a role key to the Allied victory. From the Battle of Britain to the Pacific front to the panzer divisions in Africa, superior cryptography gave the Allies a decisive advantage over the Axis generals. Military intelligence made a significant difference in battle after battle.

In Codebreakers’ Victory, veteran cryptographer Hervie Haufler takes readers behind the scenes in this fascinating underground world of ciphers and decoders. This broad view represents the first comprehensive account of codebreaking during World War II. Haufler pulls together years of research, exclusive access to top secret files, and personal interviews to craft a captivating must-read for anyone interested in the behind-the-front intellect and perseverance that went into beating the Nazis and Japan.


Bletchley Park codebreakers' contribution to WWII overstated, new book claims

(CNN) -- The contribution of famed codebreaking facility Bletchley Park to the Allied victory in World War II has been overstated, according to the author of an official history of British intelligence agency GCHQ.

Codebreakers at the GCHQ facility deciphered Nazi Germany's communications and were credited with turning the tide of the war, but John Ferris, whose book "Behind the Enigma" was published Tuesday, told CNN that the British public had created a myth around the facility that overstated its influence.

"I'm second to none in admiring Bletchley and the way it operates, but the key thing is intelligence never wins a war on its own," said Ferris. "It can't, you have to have force."

Ferris believes that a myth has been built around the codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park.

"For British people, 1940 has taken on greater and greater significance as time goes by," he said. "They see it almost as the moment when modern Britain was created."

Bletchley became part of this founding myth with the release of details about the operation, which seemed to suggest it was the reason Britain won the war, added Ferris.

The activities at Bletchley Park remained a secret for several years after the conflict.

Some historians have argued that the success in cracking the Enigma codes shaved two years off the war, but Ferris believes it more likely made victory easier, and quicker by several months.

"To say it did anything more than that I think is just unrealistic," he said.

GCHQ is the largest UK intelligence agency today and Ferris was given access to archives during his research, according to a press release announcing the publication of the book.

Ferris told CNN that before 1914 Britain didn't have a signals intelligence agency. Signals intelligence involves producing intelligence from intercepted communications.

"In the First World War British signals intelligence probably is close to being as influential as it was in the Second World War," he said.

The organization's contribution has continued to grow, said Ferris, who called GCHQ a "very, very valuable tool for British power."

Today it monitors cyber threats against the UK, and it's in the top five best intelligence agencies of its kind in the world, said Ferris.

"It's an extremely able and effective organization," he said.

As conventional military forces have decreased in size, the role of technology has increased, and with it the importance of agencies like GCHQ, he added.


Shortening the war

In February 1942 the Germans hit back by introducing a new fourth wheel (multiplying the number of settings another 26 times) into their Naval Enigma machines. The resulting 'net' was known to the Germans as 'Triton' and to the British as 'Shark'. For almost a year Bletchley could make no inroads into Shark, and Allied losses in the Atlantic again increased alarmingly.

In December 1942 Shark was broken, but German innovations meant that the Allies had to wait until August the following year before Naval Enigma was regularly read again. By then the Americans were active combatants, providing much-needed computer power to Bletchley.

. Overlord would probably have been deferred until 1946 .

By D-Day in June 1944 Ultra was no longer so important. But still no one wanted the Germans to sense that Enigma was being read. When, a few days before the Normandy landings, an American task force captured a German U-boat with its Enigma keys, Admiral Ernest King, US Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, threatened to court-martial the officer in charge for endangering 'Operation Overlord', as the plan for the D-Day landings was known.

By how much did Ultra intelligence, gained from reading Enigma ciphers, shorten the war? Harry Hinsley, based at Bletchley during the war, suggests it was a significant asset. If it did not keep Rommel out of Egypt in 1941, it certainly did so the following year, by preventing him exploiting his victory at Gazala.

As General Alexander put it, 'The knowledge not only of the enemy's precise strength and disposition, but also how, when and where he intends to carry out his operations brought a new dimension to the prosecution of the war.'

The loss of Egypt in 1942 would have set back the re-conquest of North Africa and upset the timetable for the invasion of France. According to Hinsley, Overlord would probably have been deferred until 1946.

But by then the Germans might have hit back with V-weapons and worse. Enigma successes always needed complementing with other intelligence material, but the fact that the Allies kept Enigma secret until 1974 shows how much it meant to them.


How British engineering icons changed espionage in two world wars

Much of the success of gathering intelligence, secure communication and espionage during the turmoil years of the First and Second World Wars was down to technology and engineering.

E&T interviewed Dr Elizabeth Bruton, curator of technology and engineering at the Science Museum, London.

E&T: How did electrical engineers become of growing importance to the gathering of intelligence and espionage during the world wars?

Elizabeth Bruton: Electrical engineers had a key role in gathering of intelligence and espionage from the First World War onwards, even if, as far as we know, relatively few of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park had an engineering background or were members of the IET.

Initially, during the First World War, when we started to see an increased professionalisation in codebreaking, they used people who had expertise in linguistics. Back then, they felt it was their best bet to break codes and ciphers. It was largely pen and paper. It was all about understanding the language. By the late 1930s, the Polish Cipher Bureau realised that an increasingly automated cypher system would help. Enigma was first developed as a civilian cypher system in the early 1920s. Later, it was purchased by the German military for exclusive use.

It was then that the cypher machines, with automation of the process, became less about language and more about math. The Polish Cipher Bureau were the first cipher organisations to use mathematicians to break codes and ciphers and did so from the 1920s onwards. Quite a few of the codebreakers working at Bletchley Park were mathematicians and there were people from diverse backgrounds working.

E&T: Tell us about Tommy Flowers – an English engineer with the British General Post Office (GPO) – so crucial for British intelligence. Tommy Flowers was a student member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (the IEE, now the IET). The IET archives team confirmed that he joined in 1928 and was still a student member in 1930. Due to the changes in membership levels at the IEE, Flowers’ membership level was changed from Member to Fellow in 1945.

Bruton: While the stories of Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman are pretty well known, we aimed for the lesserknown collaboration between Bletchley Park and electrical engineers, including Tommy Flowers, at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill. Together, they produced the first semi-programmable electronic computer, Colossus, in 1944 and used it to break high-grade German cipher systems such as Lorenz.

‘Electrical engineers had a key role in gathering of intelligence and espionage from the First World War onwards, even if relatively few codebreakers at Bletchley Park had an engineering background.’

Elizabeth Bruton

To break German cipher systems, two separate developments took place at Bletchley Park. Firstly, the so-called Bombe machine, a code-breaking machine based on the work of Polish codebreakers and further developed by Turing and others, used during WW2. It was an electromechanical system used to find the key for Enigma cypher device messages.

Enigma was a German cypher system used for day-to-day communications between all military branches, including the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), the Navy and Army. However, they also used other cypher systems such as the Lorenz, a much more complicated system that was used for high-level command.

If breaking into Enigma exposes what the military is doing on a day-to-day basis, breaking into the Lorenz cypher exposes their strategic, longerterm thinking and their long-term military strategy. This was the task of codebreakers at Bletchley Park in 1941.

They soon realised that the process needed to be automated – automated far beyond the scope of the Bombe machines, that they already had in place, which could only be applied to Enigma messages and was based on the pre-war work of Polish codebreakers. Bletchley Park started to collaborate with the GPO.

In January 1944, the first Colossus machine was brought to Bletchley Park and operated a month later. Flowers was one of the leading electrical engineers who worked on the device, which became the world’s first electronic semi-programmable computer.

This system was in use from early 1944 onwards and helped break the Lorenz [cypher] messages sent around at the time of D-Day. It helped to expose, for instance, that the German military had fallen for a British counterintelligence ruse, that the D-Day landings in Normandy would only be one of several landings. As a result, the Germans held some of their troops and tanks back, waiting for a landing that never took place.

E&T: Tell us about the first radar-like system used in the First World War and its engineer, later an IEE member, who came up with it. Captain Henry Joseph Round, later an IEE member, was a pioneer in using electronics and the first to master using the wireless direction-finding system for gathering intelligence.

Bruton: Captain Henry Joseph HJ Round (1881-1966) was a Marconi Company engineer, specialising in wireless communications, such as pointto-point communications using electromagnetic waves. He started his work before WW1 developing ‘radio valves’, also referred to as ‘vacuum tubes’. These looked like lightbulbs and were based on lightbulb technology.

They could be used to detect electromagnetic waves and they could be used to amplify electrical signals. He realised this technology could be used for voice communication, but first it was used for ‘wireless direction finding’. We explored this in the Top Secret exhibition.

We had a WW1 wireless direction finder from the Marconi Collection at the History of Science Museum, Oxford, on display for the exhibition. Wireless direction-finding technology was used to defend the home front during the First World War, then one of the first wars, where the home front came under direct attack during a significant war.

Aerial attacks from German Zeppelin airships, and later Gotha G.V., a heavy bomber used by Imperial German Air Service, attacked the home front.

Captain HJ Round pondered ways to protect Britain from aerial attacks. Now assigned to military intelligence, he suggested the system of wireless direction-finding stations.

Wireless receiving stations were to be dotted around Britain’s coastline, such as on the east coast, under attack over-proportionally. They would intercept wireless signals, via Morse code signalling, sent from German airships to locate them.

If three or more stations could intercept the same message, they could triangulate where the signal was coming from and pinpoint where the German airship was located.

Left: Cathode-ray finding equipment installed in Regent's Park by Standard Radio, flight lieutenant Crowley operating the equipment wireless direction finding equipment (1953). Right: Photographs taken during the trials of the very first automatic triangulation system in the world at RNAS Yeovilton (1955).

Image credit: IET Archives

It wasn’t about the content of the message, it was about the location of the message and so defending the British home front from attack from the war. The Imperial War Museum has a photograph of the direction-finding operations room in Horse Guards in London from 1917.

If you didn’t look too closely, it could be a similar Fighter Command tracking station in the Second World War. The tracking and intelligence-sharing system was largely the same in both wars, even if the source was wireless direction-finding in the First World War and radar in the Second World War.

Essentially, it can be thought of as the radar of the First World War in terms of the intelligence received. Radar emits an electromagnetic signal, which is essentially bounced off an object, mostly aircraft in the Second World War, to reveal the object’s location. Wireless directionfinding requires intercepting a wireless message to reveal the object’s location. Despite these limitations, wireless direction-finding was quite successful.

An air defence control room in central London allowed triangulating and tracking of German airships. In 1916, this advanced warning system could send British pilots up to shoot them down. In early September of the same year, lieutenant William Leefe Robinson of the Royal Flying Corps managed to shoot down the German woodenframed Schütte-Lanz SL 11 airship over Hertfordshire, the first time such an aircraft was shot down over Britain.

Thousands of people were said to have cheered at the sight. From late 1916 onwards, the wireless direction-finding stations continued to be incredibly successful in detecting when German airships were coming in over the east coast of Britain [and allowed for] preparing defences against them.

Paper by H. J. Round, received in 1919 and then published in 1920 in the Journal of the IEE (Volume 58, Issue 289, 1920 , p. 224 - 247)

Captain Round submitted a paper to the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1919, where he talked about wireless direction-finding and how it was used during the war. After the First World War, Round was a key figure in the development of broadcasting technology.

The vacuum tubes that he was working on for wireless destruction finding and voice communication during the war was used for very early radio broadcasting in the 1920s. You can see a narrative that connects his pre-war work to his wartime work and then the early history of the BBC.

‘Today, companies like Google and Facebook and social media companies are almost forming part of the intelligence landscape.’

Elizabeth Bruton

E&T: Tell us how a single engineer kept military field communication secure for nearly three decades.

Bruton: Major-General Algernon Fuller [an associate member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers] worked in the military for most of his life and was a telecommunications specialist. During the First World War, Fuller developed a system called the Fullerphone. [His invention was of] life and death importance for secure communications.

At the start of WW1, Britain was using a very crude field telephone for frontline communications. The Germans regularly intercepted it. There were leaks of battle plans, and it led to the loss of life at the battlefront. In response, Fuller developed the Fullerphone, which used a very low-voltage DC current, which meant messages sent using Morse code were entirely secure and voice communication by telephone was very hard to intercept.

Image credit: Archives and sources

The Fullerphone could also be used on very poor or damaged telephone lines. Fuller was able to patent the device, unusual for the time, allowing him to commercialise it. The technology continued to be used in the British military, in France and the United States throughout the rest of the First World War and even during the Second World War, its use spanning nearly three decades.

E&T: In your opinion, what changed since the early days when the aforementioned electrical engineers got involved in espionage and intelligence work since the First World War?

Bruton: If we can learn one thing about electrical engineering and intelligence, then that’s that it’s ultimately a collaborative endeavour. It involves many people, rarely just the single person that receives recognition. It can also be hard to discover the identities of people working in or with intelligence, especially after the Second World War. These people might still be alive today and so have their identities kept secret and protected due to the important and often secret work that they do. This includes electrical engineers working in intelligence as well as more traditional codebreakers and so on. The landscape also changed.

It’s not really until we started to have the advent of the internet, and the World Wide Web, and cyber security, that it’s now a completely different communications landscape.

Today, we see organisations like Google and Facebook and social media companies involved. They are almost forming part of the intelligence landscape, broadly and generally defined. We, as individuals, are very much part of the conversation too, as our data and communications are now, essentially, part of this new, general intelligence landscape.

It is also a much more open and accessible world of communications. Almost all of us use smartphones and encryption and have Internet of Things smart devices in our homes. And so cyber security is important to most people and businesses when historically it was the preserve of governments, intelligence agencies and the military.

Electrical engineers developing smart devices or working in cyber security play a very important and public role in our relatively new communications and intelligence landscape today. It’s great to see the IET getting involved and organising more events and training in cyber security and building awareness of career opportunities in cyber security, now and in the future.

Dr Elizabeth Bruton is curator for ‘Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security’, a free exhibition at the Science and Industry Museum, Manchester, from 19 May-31 August 2021.


ɼult of Bletchley'

The book provides a detailed sweep of the agency's contribution from its founding after World War One through to the cyber age of today, including the impact of revelations from US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Prof Ferris writes that a "cult of Bletchley" has protected GCHQ and boosted its reputation, and argues that the fact he is able to raise questions about it show GCHQ was sincere in giving him freedom to come to his own conclusions.

"GCHQ is probably Britain's most important strategic asset at the moment and will probably remain that way for generations," he says.

"I think that Britain gains from keeping it strong and world class, but at the same time, you need to put in proportion what it is you can and cannot get from intelligence."

Bletchley was still a high-point, he said, because of the ability to get inside the enemy's strategic communications.

This was not possible against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, although GCHQ was still able to provide the majority of intelligence about its adversary's military thanks to innovative work in studying the patterns of communications.

Prof Ferris also argues the agency's contribution was particularly important in the 1982 Falklands Conflict.

"I don't think Britain could have won the Falklands conflict without GCHQ," Prof Ferris told the BBC.

He said because GCHQ was able to intercept and break Argentine messages, British commanders were able to know within hours what orders were being given to their opponents, which offered a major advantage in the battle at sea and in retaking the islands.

"They understand what the Argentines planned to do. They understand how exactly the Argentines were deploying their forces."

The book provides new details on the controversial sinking of the Argentine warship Belgrano and over whether enough was done to warn of the invasion.

"It was a failure of policy, as far as I'm concerned, rather than a failure of intelligence," Prof Ferris told the BBC.

The book also details the close alliance with the US which persists to this day and how the make-up of staff who work at the agency, now based in Cheltenham, has changed over time.

In a foreword, the current director of the intelligence agency, Jeremy Fleming writes: "GCHQ is a citizen-facing intelligence and security enterprise with a globally recognised brand and reputation. We owe all of that to our predecessors."


Bletchley Park codebreakers' contribution to WWII overstated, new book claims

(CNN) -- The contribution of famed codebreaking facility Bletchley Park to the Allied victory in World War II has been overstated, according to the author of an official history of British intelligence agency GCHQ.

Codebreakers at the GCHQ facility deciphered Nazi Germany's communications and were credited with turning the tide of the war, but John Ferris, whose book "Behind the Enigma" was published Tuesday, told CNN that the British public had created a myth around the facility that overstated its influence.

"I'm second to none in admiring Bletchley and the way it operates, but the key thing is intelligence never wins a war on its own," said Ferris. "It can't, you have to have force."

Ferris believes that a myth has been built around the codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park.

"For British people, 1940 has taken on greater and greater significance as time goes by," he said. "They see it almost as the moment when modern Britain was created."

Bletchley became part of this founding myth with the release of details about the operation, which seemed to suggest it was the reason Britain won the war, added Ferris.

The activities at Bletchley Park remained a secret for several years after the conflict.

Some historians have argued that the success in cracking the Enigma codes shaved two years off the war, but Ferris believes it more likely made victory easier, and quicker by several months.

"To say it did anything more than that I think is just unrealistic," he said.

GCHQ is the largest UK intelligence agency today and Ferris was given access to archives during his research, according to a press release announcing the publication of the book.

Ferris told CNN that before 1914 Britain didn't have a signals intelligence agency. Signals intelligence involves producing intelligence from intercepted communications.

"In the First World War British signals intelligence probably is close to being as influential as it was in the Second World War," he said.

The organization's contribution has continued to grow, said Ferris, who called GCHQ a "very, very valuable tool for British power."

Today it monitors cyber threats against the UK, and it's in the top five best intelligence agencies of its kind in the world, said Ferris.

"It's an extremely able and effective organization," he said.

As conventional military forces have decreased in size, the role of technology has increased, and with it the importance of agencies like GCHQ, he added.


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Among the women working at the highest level was Mavis Batey, a Londoner who arrived at Bletchley Park aged just 19 years old, and who died last November at the age of 92.

'She was one of the top codebreakers at Bletchley,' explains Smith. 'She's frequently described as one of the leading female codebreakers but I don't think that's fair – she was one of the leading codebreakers full stop.'

Working closely with Alfred Dillwyn 'Dilly' Knox, at the time one of the world's top experts in ciphers, she was instrumental in unearthing the intelligence that helped Britain to a spectacular naval victory over the Italians at Matapan.

But her greatest triumph came in December 1941 when she deciphered a message sent from Belgrade to Berlin that allowed Knox and his team to decrypt the output of the Abwehr [German secret service] Enigma machine.

Vital work: Women played a variety of roles from lowly clerks to operating machines and breaking into ciphers and codes

Thanks to Batey and Knox, British intelligence was able to monitor Abwehr activities and even plant false information – something that would later prove crucial to the success of D Day.

It could even, as Smith points out, have helped prevent nuclear war in Europe. 'The key thing in all of this is that [decrypting Enigma] allowed D Day to go ahead,' he reveals. ' Without it, it might well have been put back two years. Bear in mind, this was at a time when the UK and USA were developing the atomic bomb which was later used on Japan.

'It's not at all clear they wouldn't have used it on Germany if they thought it necessary.'

Despite the heroic efforts of Batey and fellow code breakers such as Rozanne Colchester and Gwendoline Page, the work of female code breakers wasn't always given the recognition it deserved at the time.

'In the 1940s and 50s, ordinary life meant getting married, having children but never again having the sort of life they had at Bletchley'

Although there was what Smith describes as a 'collegiate atmosphere' and women were free to challenge their male colleagues as they saw fit, they were paid a third less than the men and after the war ended, many melted back into ordinary life.

By the 1950s, when the new series of The Bletchley Circle begins, most had become mothers and housewives - Mavis Batey among them.

Sadly, of the 9,000 women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II, just 600 went on to join the fledgling GCHQ or other branches of the secret services.

'These women had to really play down their amazing abilities, their strengths and minds,' reveals actress Sophie Rundle who plays former code breaker Lucy.

'They had to pretend they hadn't done anything special in the war and that means Lucy has to downplay her intelligence. She is upholding the Official Secrets Act.'

Back to reality: Of the 9,000 women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II, just 600 went on to join the fledgling GCHQ or other branches of the secret services

Groundbreaking: But the work of female codebreakers wasn't always given the recognition it deserved at the time.

'Unless they went on into GCHQ, most of the women went back into ordinary life,' explains Smith.

'It became a brief thing that didn't reflect their ordinary lives. It meant most of them had more life experience, cultural interests and so on than they might have done.

'But in the 1940s and 50s, ordinary life meant getting married, having children but never again having the sort of life they had at Bletchley.'

And it wasn't only the women who missed the fascinating life they had enjoyed while working at Bletchley Park.

'One of great Americans who worked at Bletchley was Bill Bundy, who later became a senior policy advisor to President Kennedy,' adds Smith.

'He once said nothing he did post-war matched up to what he did at Bletchley Park. If he can say that, just imagine what it was like for an ordinary housewife.

'It's astonishing how people could do something so extraordinary for five years and then go back to being ordinary.'

Ordinary their later lives might have been but nothing can detract from the incredible contribution made by the 9,000 women who spent the war years at Bletchley Park.

The Bletchley Circle starts on Monday at 9pm on ITV

BRITAIN'S BEST KEPT SECRET: INSIDE BLETCHLEY PARK

Until recently, the work of the men and women who worked at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire was a well-kept secret.

But thanks to the declassification of wartime documents, the exploits of the code breakers – and the magnificent contribution they made – have finally been given the recognition they deserve.

The story of Bletchley Park began in late 1938 when a group of MI6 operatives decamped to the house for a shooting party.

Museum: The house has now been taken over by the Bletchley Park Trust

Among them were men from an organisation called the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) whose job it was to assess the Georgian building's suitability for becoming the headquarters of a secret group of top level code breakers.

It was deemed ideal and by September 1939, GC&CS, the forerunner of GCHQ, returned to start their work in earnest.

By the end of 1940, 12,000 people worked at Bletchley and its sub-camps, whether as cooks and support staff or as code breakers decrypting the military codes and ciphers that secured German, Japanese, and other Axis nation's communications.

Others operated the incredibly sophisticated machines that were the forerunners of modern computers, including the Turing/Welchman Bombe, and the groundbreaking Colossus machine.

By the end of the war, GC&CS' code breaking expertise had become a key part of intelligence operations and had helped bring World War II to a close.

Sadly, Bletchley Park itself was eventually deemed surplus to requirements with operations later moved to Cheltenham.

Abandoned by GCHQ, the house passed through several owners, including BT, but by the 1990s was practically derelict and at risk of demolition.

The buildings were rescued, after the site was declared a conservation area by Milton Keynes council in 1992 and taken over by the Bletchley Park Trust which has since turned the building into a museum dedicated to the exploits of the men and women who helped Britain and its allies.


Watch the video: WW2 Codebreakers: Bletchley Park activities revealed in unique footage - The Hidden Film (May 2022).


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