We enjoyed a most successful outing to Bletchley Park where the Nazi and Japanese ciphers were broken during World War II. Visiting coaches must park off site. Setting down and pick up times have to be booked weeks in advance. Our drop off time was 11am requiring a 7.30 am departure from Sheffield but as the day brought wall to wall sunshine our spirits were high.
Whilst Chamberlin’s appeasement ruled, Alastair Denniston planned for the coming war. He was head of the Government Code and Cypher School and acquired Bletchley Park in 1938. The initial team of less than 10 experts and mathematicians where known to Denniston personally and moved into the main building in 1939. By the end of the War over 9,000 people were based at Bletchley Park. Many of the buildings surrounding the original house have been restored to their wartime state and visitors wander through these “huts” to view exhibitions and hands on displays that explain the operations under taken by each “hut”.
Most associate the Park with cracking the Enigma machine used by the Germans for its enciphered army, air force and intelligence messages and for creating the first modern computer to assist this work. In the second half of 1940 an even more complex enciphering machine called the Lorenz was used and the Bletchley team also cracked this.
The original three rotor Enigma machine was capable of 156,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations. It was marketed to the banking industry and had been “cracked” by a few brilliant Polish mathematicians. The German military adapted this machine and made it more complex. The Polish resistance obtained one of these military enigma machines that was given to the French and then to the British together with their knowledge. At Bletchley Park the Enigma was cracked and an organisation was developed to try to interpret the de-ciphered messages. The machine settings were changed at midnight each day and the Bletchley team had to crack the “codes” anew.
The visitor is taken through all the above and it is enlivened by sound recordings as well as photographs and objects of the time. There is a restaurant as well as coffee shops, a museum with working models, a bookshop and of course toilets dotted around the site. It came as a bit of a surprise to some of the members’ wives just how interesting the Park was to them. The added bonus is that each entry ticket can be reused for entry during the next 12 months.