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Posted: 3/28/2009 10:22:26 PM EDT
The Wider View: Nazi codebreaker which shortened the Second World War by two years

The Daily Mail (UK)
Last updated at 11:36 PM on 28th March 2009

The rows of silver dials and tangle of scarlet wires look more like a telephone exchange.

But this is the inside of the Turing Bombe, the part-electronic, part-mechanical code-breaking machine and forerunner of the modern computer, which cracked 3,000 messages a day sent on Nazi Enigma machines during the Second World War.

There were 210 such bookcase-like Bombes that gave Britain advance warning of Hitler’s plans and shortened the conflict by two years.

All were destroyed for security reasons on Churchill’s orders after the war. This is a replica, built by 60 volunteers, which was fired up last Tuesday.

The original Bombes, invented by brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, were made using reinforced brown Tufnol plastic moulded from sheets a tenth of an inch thick, a cast-iron framework and 12 miles of intricate wire circuits.

At 61⁄2ft tall and running on no more power than a kettle, the Bombe could unravel 158 trillion possible combinations to unlock a seemingly random series of letters sent by the Nazis to the front lines, which were, in fact, highly complex codes, changing daily. Typewriter-like Enigma machines scrambled the letters using three or four rotor wheels.

This inside view of the Bombe would not usually be visible to the operator. The right-hand wall is a hinged door, the inside of which holds electronic circuits.

The left-hand wall is the mechanical half of the Bombe. The brightly coloured squares are resistors and the loops of red tangled wire are circuits.

The original machine was destroyed after the war on the orders of Churchill

Teams of highly skilled mathematicians, cryptologists, inventive thinkers and crossword enthusiasts would receive hundreds of Nazi codes and ‘guess’ the approximate real message or plain text.

This ‘crib’ would be given to the Wrens who would set it on the Bombe’s alphabet wheels.

By checking all the permutations, the crib would help locate the true message within the code. It took the Bombe about 11 minutes to find a possible message. When it did, a bell would sound and the Wrens passed it on to the code-crackers, using a red scrambler phone. Churchill called them ‘the geese that laid the golden eggs but never cackled’.

The machine was named after an earlier Polish code-breaking machine called a Bomba. Each Bombe had its own title, inscribed on wooden plaques. This replica is called Phoenix.

(NOTE: The article includes several other photos of the machine and its operators)
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 12:00:33 AM EDT
wow, thats some hard core geekery right there
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 12:58:20 AM EDT
Turing was a really really smart guy, who ultimately got fucked over in the worst way by the government he served.
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 1:35:04 AM EDT
At what point is a computer a computer and not a series of switches?
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 1:48:12 AM EDT
Originally Posted By hoosier122:
At what point is a computer a computer and not a series of switches?

When it becomes self-aware?
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 1:52:44 AM EDT
It seems like they are, as Spock said in the episode "City on the Edge of Forever", attempting to construct a memory device using stone knives and bear skins.
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 1:52:54 AM EDT
Originally Posted By hoosier122:
At what point is a computer a computer and not a series of switches?

It doesn't matter if the switching devices are cams and pins, relays, toggle switches, vacuum tube switches, discreet transistor switches, or integrated circuits full of transistor switches. It's a computer if it computes, although some would argue the fine points between "computer" and "calculator". There's been mechanical and electronic versions of both for a long time.
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 2:12:00 AM EDT
Just like in the Cryptonomicon.
Link Posted: 3/29/2009 5:01:23 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/29/2009 5:02:00 AM EDT by ElrodCod]
Originally Posted By Jarhead_22:
Just like in the Cryptonomicon.

That's a pretty good book. It could have been another Catch 22 but the author chose not to go entirely in that direction.

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