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Encryption The Military United Kingdom

WW2 Hero Who Captured Enigma For Allies Has Died (express.co.uk) 67

An anonymous reader writes: Breaking the Enigma code is rightfully assessed to have significantly shortened World War Two by as much as two years. The genius of Alan Turing played a large role in building on the early successes of Polish mathematicians in continuing to pry messages out from Enigmas encryption. But Turing's genius might very well have counted for naught had it not been for the actions of Lieutenant-Commander David Balme, Royal Navy. On May 9, 1941, Lt-Cmdr Balme led a boarding party from the destroyer HMS Bulldog across freezing waters to storm Nazi U-boat U-110 where they seized the submarine's Enigma encryption device, along with the documents containing the top secret settings and procedures for sending messages. Under the greatest secrecy the Enigma and the accompanying documents were taken to Bletchley Park where they paved the way for breakthroughs in the efforts to defeat Enigma. Lt-Cmdr Balme was presented with a Bletchley badge and a certificate signed by British Prime Minister David Cameron in March. Local MP Dr. Julian Lewis said of him, "He played a crucial role in the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic at a very young age and I am proud to have counted him as a friend."
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WW2 Hero Who Captured Enigma For Allies Has Died

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  • Enigmatic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @11:38AM (#51268389) Homepage Journal

    Truly an enigmatic hero.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      A hero for Germany as well, obviously for shortening the war, which however might have spared Germany from atomic bombing like Japan.

  • Winner makes history.
    • Re:War Propaganda (Score:4, Informative)

      by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @12:45PM (#51268659) Homepage Journal
      Yes the winner gets to fit history into war movie plots :)
      The "AC" might like to have some dates over the different Enigma systems. Different parts of the many different German encoding systems got decoded before May 1941.
      January 1940 was the Rejewski Zygalski, Turing time frame. March 1940 was the UK delivery of the electromechanical efforts after the 1939 designs.
      France had German crypto insight thanks to an spy called Hans Schmidt. Poland was reading German Army traffic in 1938.
      The UK had the Red (German Army and the Luftwaffe liaison) code by February 1940.
      The more complex automatic German Tunny system also had to be broken. For that Colossus was built.
      The UK also went after its allies: Russia, the Free French, neutral nations.
      Japan had Magic and its Purple machines to consider. Enigma also changed a lot as Germany always had some ideas about possible Enigma weaknesses.
      The German Army, Navy, Airforce had different day changes, higher security setting options eg Pink, Geheimkommandosache.
      Later into 1942 more keys got added. By 1944 the Uhr device was in use and later the Umkehrwalze D (UKW-D). The Lückenfüllerwalze was also designed to be an upgrade into 1945.
      • Thanks for the history lesson. You really have a lot of knowledge about the topic. But I didn't want to say the story didn't happen, I meant to express my feeling that war stories tend to get heroic. Great story, but too many died.
      • Re:War Propaganda (Score:4, Informative)

        by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @01:16PM (#51268777) Journal

        And frequently, it was Opsec failures by German operators that allowed the British to crack encrypted German communications. For example, there was a German operator in the field who would start every communication by hitting the same key three (or four) times.

        Other issues were encrypted weather reports. The British effectively had the plain text of part of those weather reports because they could also see what the weather was.

        • Re:War Propaganda (Score:5, Informative)

          by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @01:25PM (#51268811)

          And frequently, it was Opsec failures by German operators that allowed the British to crack encrypted German communications. For example, there was a German operator in the field who would start every communication by hitting the same key three (or four) times.

          There was another spectacular one:

          From: Solving the Enigma: History of the Cryptanalytic Bombe, by Jennifer Wilcox

          The British took no action based solely on Ultra intelligence without first providing the Germans with a deceptive reason for the actions taken. Most commonly, British aircraft flew a reconnaissance mission over an area that Ultra intelligence had shown to be significant. When the Allies subsequently attacked that area, the Germans believed their forces had been spotted by the aircraft, not given away by Enigma.

          Admiral Doenitz, however, was not satisfied. He intended to change the U-boat Enigma machines. He could not radically alter the machine itself as it had to continue to work with the rest of the German Navy. His change added a thin fourth rotor between the leftmost rotor and the reflecting plate.When necessary, the rotor could be set in a straight-through position, enabling it to act as a three-rotor machine.

          Bletchley Park learned of the impending change from decrypts and captured material, but until it was actually implemented there was little they could do to prepare. Fortunately, the Germans made an error. In December 1941, before the change had been made official, a U-boat sent a message using the four-rotor machine. To compound the mistake, the same message was retransmitted using only three rotors. From this seemingly innocuous error, the cryptanalysts at BP determined the wiring of the fourth rotor.

          • The US had cracked the Japanese codes too. To avoid suspicion they'd send a reconnaissance aircraft to where they already knew things were - and at least one to somewhere else.

            • I've read about pilots of US patrol aircraft who were told by the base commander to patrol a certain part of their area and not to ask questions.

      • Re:War Propaganda (Score:4, Informative)

        by cavreader ( 1903280 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @08:13PM (#51270363)

        The first breakthrough in cracking Nazi Germany's Enigma code was not done in Bletchley Park but in Warsaw. Starting in 1928 Polish Intelligence had been intercepting German radio traffic that was using a new cipher system which they eventually identified as being generated by an Enigma machine. Polish Intelligence also obtained examples of the commercial version of the Enigma machine but discovered the military was slightly different. Polish Intelligence intercepted German Radio transmissions using a new cipher system which was eventually identified as coming from an Enigma machine. In July 1939 right before the German invasion of Poland, the Polish cryptographers rushed to share their Enigma results with the French and British code breakers. The Polish team gave them copies of the German Enigma machine and revealed the details of the Cyclometers, Bombas and Zygalski sheets.

    • According the movies, it was an heroic American, backed by the genius, efficiency and derring-do of that nation, that captured the Enigma. The kind-hearted Americans then let their fumbling English cousins in on the wheeze.

      • What's really stupid about trying to big up the American involvement in Enigma is that it was in fact huge. The Pole started it, the Brits continued, but as the project grew the Americans were needed just because it was so massive. By the end of the war over 3/4 of all the Bombes were being made in the US.

  • :(sad (Score:1, Troll)

    by campuscodi ( 4234297 )
    The last members of the non-whining generation are slowly dying away
  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @12:44PM (#51268651) Journal
    But ...... Hollywood told me it was Americans who captured the Enigma machine [wikipedia.org]. Surely the filmmakers would never lie about something so important as this?
    • Actually the first ones were captured by the Poles! There were several occasions where enigma machines were rescued from stricken German ships at least one of which involved American forces. Whatever the nationality anyone who went into one of these subs under these circumstances is a hero and not all of them survived.
  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @01:15PM (#51268775)

    There is a good article that discusses the capture and the wider circumstances here (note the author's name).

    OPERATION PRIMROSE - The Story of the Capture of the Enigma Cypher Machine from U11O by David Balme [samilitaryhistory.org]

    An excerpt:

    The capture of U110 and the Enigma machine was the greatest kept secret of the war. It was expunged from the official Naval records and only a few persons in the Allied war effort were informed that the German Navy cyphers were being broken. The information obtained was, of course, given to all necessary commands, but the source was kept camouflaged. In fact, even after the war when Captain Roskill, the official Naval war historian, came to write the history of the war at sea, he found no mention of it in the records. . . .

    That evening, of the 9th May 1941 the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, signalled Baker-Cresswell: "Hearty congratulations. The petals of your flower are of rare beauty". When David Balme, who led the boarding-party from HMS Bulldog, went to Buckingham Palace to receive the Distinguished Service Cross he had earned in the action, His Majesty King George VI remarked, according to Roskill, that the operation was the most important single event in the whole war at sea.

    It had been intended that the capture of the Enigma was never going to be divulged, but when the Blunt/Philby spy ring was broken in the 1950s, it was found that information of the Enigma had been given to the Russians as the spies had been working in British Intelligence and another spy, Cairncross, had worked at Bletchley.

    As Britain's allies, the Russians had been given information relative to their theatre of war, but the source had remained camouflaged, as it was to other recipients. It is interesting to note that the information which Blunt/Philby gave to the Russians on the enigma did not leak out to the Germans. Subsequently, the records were released under the normal thirty-year rule and are now available from the Government Archives at Kew to anyone of any nationality.

    In 1981 the German Sunday paper, Bild am Sonntag, ran a serial on the Battle of the Atlantic. The editor interviewed David Balme, the Boarding Officer, and Dönitz. When Dönitz was told how the British captured the Enigma from U110 and had used it, he would not believe it, forty years after the event. Dönitz died still not believing it.

    Historians writing today state that the enigma probably shortened the war by two years. As things turned out, that is probably a fair assessment, but in May 1941, Britain was losing the war in the Atlantic and North Africa. The enigma from U110 saved her from defeat in that crucial time before the USA joined her.

    There was also a NOVA program with some interesting detail:

    "Decoding Nazi Secrets" [pbs.org]

    NARRATOR: The only document on the U-110 that did not end up in British hands was the book of love poems to Edith. The papers that were captured, including the bigram tables, were priceless. When the documents reached Bletchley Park, the codebreakers rejoiced. The tables and charts would lead to a drastic improvement in fixing U-boat positions, so convoys could be routed evasively around the wolf packs.

    VALERIE EMERY: The prize were the bigram tables and they were magnificent, although some of them had got a bit wet and we had to dry them. Geoffrey Tandy, having been at the Natural History Museum, had access to proper drying paper which he brought down by a load, and we had to dry those and clean them up and distribute them as necessary.

    NARRATOR: Almost immediately the results were evident. On June 23rd, 1941, Bletchley Park decoded a U-boat message that would save a convoy. It was heading for England laden with supplies, and the codebreakers discovered that a wolf pack of 10 U-boats was lying in wait. Armed with this knowledge, the Ad

  • Bletchley Park (Score:4, Informative)

    by AndyTayl0r ( 804872 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @01:45PM (#51268903)
    It is the work of the entire operation at Bletchley Park that is credited with shortening the war by up to 2 years. That includes breaking of Enigma, but also the more complex Lorenz cypher. The codebreakers didn't even see a Lorenz machine until after the war was over.
  • by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @01:55PM (#51268947)
    These three didn't die in 2016 but in 1942. These three men entered a sinking German U-Boat to recover the code books on board. They recovered materials, entered the U-boat again, recovered more materials, entered the U-Boat again, and it sank. They fully knew that once the U-Boat was going down, there was no way to escape.

    Two of them received the second highest award possible - not the highest award, because they were not under enemy fire.
    • by myid ( 3783581 )

      We should praise and cheer people like those three, not the latest sports star or "celebrity".

    • Technically they'd have been ineligible for VC on two counts Not being in the face of the enemy and the action being done single handedly.
  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new... [telegraph.co.uk]

    Interestingly, he has no Wikipedia article; I'm off out to dinner with friends, but if some kind soul could kick things off, let me know and I'll contribute tomorrow.
    Deserves a link to/from the "Enigma" page at least.

  • Bletchley Park listened to all radio traffic they could capture. Today we sneer and jeer at the NSA for doing (or attempting to do) that. Yep, today's all is much bigger than it was then, but still...

    • Maybe it's different today because almost everyone now is transmitting their private conversations and data over the spectrum while during WWII it was essentially public radio or something related to the military.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Of course, it is different in this way. But would this difference have stopped those people, whom we honor today as heroes, or would they have gone ahead anyway — just like their descendants at NSA, whom we jeer?

    • No, today the spying is much much bigger and the war is much much smaller.

    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @08:16PM (#51270379) Journal

      Bletchley Park listened to all radio traffic they could capture. Today we sneer and jeer at the NSA for doing

      We're not currently under a state of total war fighting for survival every single day.

      Bit of a difference, really...

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        We're not currently under a state of total war fighting for survival every single day.

        The amount of hatred against us is, probably, only greater. That most of it is impotent, and we've grown so big and powerful, we barely notice it — heck, we even have the luxury of blaming ourselves for it at times — does not change the fact, that it is out there.

        Thousands of minds — some of them brilliant — are thinking up ways to hurt us.

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )

          We're not currently under a state of total war fighting for survival every single day.

          The amount of hatred against us is, probably, only greater. That most of it is impotent, and we've grown so big and powerful, we barely notice it — heck, we even have the luxury of blaming ourselves for it at times — does not change the fact, that it is out there.

          Thousands of minds — some of them brilliant — are thinking up ways to hurt us.

          You've reminded me of an excerpt from Herman Goring at Nuremberg

          Goring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
          Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
          Goring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

          Seems you've copied your propaganda strategy. Well at least you copied from the best.

          The fact is, we're not at threat from a horde of terrorists, or even a handful. We're at threat from the people who want to make us afraid of shadows and use that fear to send us to fight a pointless war in some godforsaken shithole where we have no business being... But I expect you to call me names and denounce me for my lack of whatever it is.

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            You've reminded me of an excerpt from Herman Goring

            21st century... The generation of children of the never-ending September [wikipedia.org] grew up and the Godwin's law [catb.org], instead of killing one's argument, now makes it "insightful"...

            The fact is, we're not at threat from a horde of terrorists, or even a handful.

            Sure, we are not. We have not enemies in the world — only friends, whose grievances we haven't addressed yet.

  • But Turing's genius might very well have counted for naught had it not been for the actions of Lieutenant-Commander David Balme, Royal Navy.

    Jebus Christ, really?!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jeremyp ( 130771 )

      No.

      Balme's heroics were related specifically to Naval enigma which was more complex than the Army and Luftwaffe enigma (a bigger choice of moveable rotors and an extra fourth rotor that did not move whilst keying the message) and operational discipline was much better. In 1941, the British couldn't read Navy traffic without knowing the daily settings for the enigma machines. The daily settings is what Balme recovered that was so important.

      In fact, the British never reliably broke the Navy enigma until the A

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