14 December 2014

Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park was the top secret wartime base of Allied code-breakers, housing such luminaries as Alan Turing and Dilly Knox. Work at Bletchley focused on decryptingvarious coding systems, during the Second World War. These efforts, painstaking and work-intensive, were vital to the Allied victories at that time. Bletchley Park itself is situated near Milton Keynes, within a reasonable distance of London.

Bletchley Park: A Short History

In the summer of 1939, a small team of scholars arrived at Bletchley Park, travelling under the codename Captain Ridley's Shooting Party. Their aim was to crack the code used by the Germans to communicate. This code, the Enigma cypher, was seemingly unbreakable, yet it was vital to the Allied forces success that the code be broken. Other German codes, Ultra and Lorenz were also cracked by the Bletchley Park codebreakers, though Enigma remains the most famous.

Although the operation began with such a small group, before long the Bletchley Park mansion was crowded with teleprint machines and work surfaces, and an increasing number of personnel. By October further space was desperately needed, and Hut 1 was built, rapidly followed by further huts and even new brick buildings. All workers from Bletchley were housed in the local area, leaving the estate itself purely as a place of work, now known as Station X, where page after page of German codes were eventually, with constant hard work, deciphered.

A vital part of breaking these codes was the use of brute force calculation, performed by a vast array of circuit boards and spinning drums: Colossus, the worlds first computer, built specifically to crack the German codes. The procedures for deciphering messages was as follows:


Around the country, listening posts known as Y stations would receive and transcribe Encrypted Enigma messages in morse code. This work, painstaking and time-consuming, provided the raw material for Bletchley Park. It was particularly important to capture the first three blocks of each message, for it was in this section that the key to decoding each message was found.

These intercepted messages were sent, using a variety of methods, to Bletchley Park. Sometimes radio would be used; other methods included the teleprinter or even via dispatch rider. At peak times, up to 3000 messages would arrive each day - a rate of forty dispatch riders per hour.

Once these messages were deciphered they were translated into English, the resulting message analysed for significance and distributed to where it was needed. This message would be read and then destroyed to avoid allowing Axis forces to realise their code had been broken. Steps were also taken to ensure that no Allied action was taken which might give away the Allied Forces knowledge of the German information.

After The War:

It is undeniable that the work which took place at Bletchley Park shortened the war considerably, and, in doing so, saved countless lives. Although Bletchley Park is now in the charge of The Bletchley Park Trust, revered as a site of great historical importance, it is hard to believe the complexities faced by the trust to achieve this. Although over 10,000 people worked at Bletchley at the height of its work, by March 1946 the building was deserted, with all evidence of work removed.

Winston Churchill referred to the workers of Bletchley as 'the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled', such was the secrecy with which the work was carried out and then dismantled. Decades later, by 1991, Bletchley Park was facing demolition. The Bletchley Park Trust battled against hostile bids from property dealers and struggled with government bureaucracy to purchase Bletchley. Eventually, of course, the Trust succeeded, and Bletchley Park now houses a range of facilities for tourists and those who wish to see for themselves the place where these momentous wartime events took place.

www.bletchleypark.org.uk is available for further details.

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