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Encryption The Military United Kingdom

WWII Code-Breaker Dies At Age 95 (washingtonpost.com) 120

An anonymous reader quotes an article from the Washington Post: Jane Fawcett, a British code-breaker during World War II who deciphered a key German message that led to the sinking of the battleship Bismarck -- one of Britain's greatest naval victories during the war -- died May 21 at her home in Oxford, England. She was 95... Fluent in German and driven by curiosity, Mrs. Fawcett -- then known by her maiden name, Jane Hughes -- found work at Britain's top-secret code-breaking facility at Bletchley Park, about 50 miles northwest of London. Of the 12,000 people who worked there, about 8,000 were women. Bletchley Park later became renowned as the place where mathematician Alan Turing and others solved the puzzle of the German military's "Enigma machine," depicted in the 2014 film "The Imitation Game"...

The sinking of the Bismarck marked the first time that British code-breakers had decrypted a message that led directly to a victory in battle... Mrs. Fawcett's work was not made public for decades. Along with everyone else at Bletchley Park, she agreed to comply with Britain's Official Secrets Act, which imposed a lifetime prohibition on revealing any code-breaking activities.

Meanwhile, volunteers from The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park finally tracked down an original keyboard from the Lorenz machine used to encode top-secret messages between Hitler and his general. It was selling on eBay for 10 pounds, advertised as an old machine for sending telegrams.
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WWII Code-Breaker Dies At Age 95

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  • finally tracked down an original keyboard from the Lorenz machine used to encode top-secret messages between Hitler and his general. It was selling on eBay for 10 pounds, advertised as an old machine for sending telegrams.

    Maybe NASA can find the Apollo 11 tapes on eBay.

  • Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 30, 2016 @03:52AM (#52209339)

    Greetings from Poland. Our enigma clone and hard work of our best code breakers is yours for free. You can forget us later. Or better still, make us the bad guys when you make a film about all this.

    • Re:Propaganda (Score:5, Interesting)

      by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Monday May 30, 2016 @09:56AM (#52210393) Homepage
      Please ignore the movies. There are many excellent books about the work of Bletchley Park, and while I can't claim to have read the majority of them, the ones I have read do acknowledge the Polish debt, and it's pretty clear that the personnel of Bletchley were extremely grateful for the head-start.

      A good book for example is "The Secret Life of Bletchley Park" by Sinclair McKay
      • Please ignore the movies.

        Doesn't work for the majority who don't read books and take everything they see in movies as factual.

      • There are many others too, e.g. Churchill's 2nd World War Memoirs in which he compared Germany and Poland to "vultures landing on the dying carcass of Czechoslovakia."
        The Polish contribution to Enigma helped a little to make up for their previous vile treachery and acting as "Hitler's jackals" in 1938.

    • No problem. We have almost forgotten that Poland and Germany invaded Czechoslovakia together in 1938.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      It was all fun and games then, wasn't it!

  • ROT13 (Score:5, Funny)

    by BlackPignouf ( 1017012 ) on Monday May 30, 2016 @04:02AM (#52209361)

    EVC

  • by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Monday May 30, 2016 @04:08AM (#52209375) Journal

    "We said 'Thank you very much, how much was it again?' She said '£9.50', so we said 'Here's a £10 note - keep the change!'"

    The ethics of doing that, as opposed to informing the owner that she has a possibly valuable artifact are murky for me. I'm not questioning legality, but morality. I think that, in some way, Mr. Wetter tricked that woman out of the difference between 10 pounds and whatever she could have gotten at an auction not in eBay but at Sotheby's.

    One can argue that she didn't do her due diligence, but the piece was a very specialized one. One can argue that Mr. Wetter's efforts in getting his specialized knowledge grants him the possible boons of that knowledge, like in the joke of the engineer and the 10.000 dollar bill for turning a screw. One can argue that Mr. Wetter didn't want profit himself, but wanted to preserve the artifact for the community. All these are valid points.

    But in the end, the basis of morality boils down to "Do unto others". I know I wouldn't like that happening to me, and so wouldn't Mr. Wetter, I'd guess.

    • Seller beware. I wouldn't want that happen to me either any more than finding out that my numbers in the national lottery were off by one from those winning millions. And in both cases I'd blame no one but myself. Besides, the value of a piece like that is probably historic rather than monetary. You'll get more than 10 quid but more than 100?
    • For me the price would depend on where you plan to put it.

      A museum? Here, it's yours, and here's a cup for the road.
      Your private collection? The price is 200 billion dollars in cash and your firstborn's heart on a platter. Only the heart. You can keep the rubbish.

    • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

      To add complication, they recognised it as a Lorentz machine, but they didn't realise exactly what they had bought until they got it back to the museum and cleaned it.

    • One can argue that Mr. Wetter didn't want profit himself, but wanted to preserve the artifact for the community. All these are valid points.

      She deserves to get only the ten quid in exchange for almost selling a historical artifact to a scrap dealer, which is what would have happened if nobody figured out what it was and bought it.

    • I wonder about the morals of this story too. But it looks that the value of the artifact was not preserved by that woman, or by the people that owned the artifact before, and that value was restored by Mr. Wetter - I mean it doesn't have any value if nobody knows what it is and who can put it to use.

  • Really?? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Feral Nerd ( 3929873 ) on Monday May 30, 2016 @04:22AM (#52209421)

    ...that led to the sinking of the battleship Bismarck -- one of Britain's greatest naval victories during the war...

    Really? Sinking one dreadnought, that was one of the highlights of British WWII naval operations? I realise that there wasn't much traditional dreadnought on dreadnought action for the British surface fleet in the European theatre of operations during WWII since the Germans hardly bothered to build any dreadnoughts but the importance of the hunt for the Bismarck has quite frankly been blown up to quite ridiculous proportions. This epic conflict between the Bismarck and the Royal Navy is a bit like the epic football rivalry between Germany and Britain, it's very important to the British while the Germans hardly know it exists (They are obsessed with beating the Dutch). To the Germans the Bismarck was just another warship that was sunk during WWII albeit a pretty big and expensive one but it's not the national trauma that you'd think given what an epic status the Bismarck hunt has attained in the UK. The Norwegian campaign proved once and for all that he who rules the seas is he who can project the most air power over strategic distances, not he who owns lots of battleships because aircraft will slaughter dreadnoughts in the absence of carrier cover; so why build dreadnoughts? Germany, with a tiny surface navy, occupied Norway in a series of amphibious and airborne operations that left it painfully clear that even if the British fleet had the firepower to intervene they were not able to do so because the fleet lacked even the airpower to simply figure out what was going on let alone challenge the Luftwaffe for air superiority over the battlespace. Even if the Royal Navy had had a couple more carriers available during the Norway campaign the Germans still would have swept their aircraft from the skies because the Luftwaffe would still have outnumbered the Royal Naval Air Arm by 5:1, they could project way more airpower over strategic distances. If there was anybody left who believed that dreadnoughts were still part of the future of modern navies (Ronald Reagan was one of the last hold-outs I think) then that illusion was dispelled by Pearl Harbour, Midway and other carrier battles in the Pacific. The Bismarck was just one more nail in the coffin of the dreadnought and the death of the big battleships hit the British quite a lot harder than the Germans if only because they had invested ridiculous amounts of money in them. The Americans on the other hand quite matter of factly phased the dreadnought out in favour of carriers and, apart form Reagan bringing the USS Missouri out of mothballs for a while in a fit of romanticism and nostalgia, they never looked back. Of course the Americans could afford that in the aftermath of WWII while the British could not afford to modernise and transition to a carrier navy that could hold a candle to the old dreadnought navy in terms of size and relative firepower.

    • This epic conflict between the Bismarck and the Royal Navy is a bit like the epic football rivalry between Germany and Britain, it's very important to the British while the Germans hardly know it exists (They are obsessed with beating the Dutch).

      And the rest of the world, even the soccer-loving world, doesn't give a shit about either.

      So yeah, your analogy is VERY accurate.

    • Re:Really?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Monday May 30, 2016 @06:26AM (#52209741)

      I don't think you quite understand what the Bismark was meant to do...

      By itself, it might not have been successful, but it would have been very painful had they not stopped her.

      Germany came very close to cutting the convoys off from Britian, a few more U-Boats, the Bismark and Tirpitz, and she might have done it.

      • I don't think you quite understand what the Bismark was meant to do...

        By itself, it might not have been successful, but it would have been very painful had they not stopped her.

        Germany came very close to cutting the convoys off from Britian, a few more U-Boats, the Bismark and Tirpitz, and she might have done it.

        U-boats yes, Bismarck and Tirpitz... ummm... no! Roughly calculated the Germans cold literally have built 45 Type X submarines or 105 Type VIIC subs from the steel that went into the Bismarck and Tirpitz. Just to make clear what that means, the German navy mobilised every available sub including obsolete training subs to cover operation Weserübung, that submarine force counted 35 boats. They would have been better off taking the money that went into those dreadnoughts and pouring it into high-tech subm

        • Hardly the only time the Germans made a "bigger is better" mistake involving military production during the war. Hell, if they had stuck to one consistent tank design instead of trying to make supertank after supertank.... of course, it didn't help that the German tanks were such precision vehicles that they were very difficult to repair in the field.

        • By 1943 Germany did have hundreds of U-Boats, so they could have had both, had they been prepared for war.

          The advantage to Bismark and Tirpitz is their speed and firepower. A few destroyer escorts would not have been all that useful. Had Bismark come across a large convoy, she might have sunk the whole think.

          Even in cases when a wolfpack of 6 U-Boats encountered a large convoy, they only ever could sink part of it and had to run away when the escorts engaged.

          The battleships also could have hunted the real

    • Re:Really?? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Monday May 30, 2016 @07:45AM (#52209903) Journal

      Really? Yes really.

      I don't think you've understood the conditions of the time nor the battle of the Atlantic very well.

      The problem wasn't the Bismark being some big super-weapon on the loose. Yes, everyone knows that carriers, especially now and even then to some extent are a better projection of power. But that wasn't the point. The UK is an island nation, and part of Germany's tactics was to cut off shipping to the UK, and additionally cut off supplies to Russia which didn't really have it's act together.

      The role of the Bismark was commerce raiding. It was large enough to deal with just about any convoy escort (though the good guns on otherwise obsolete WWI era ships like the Ramilles were often a sufficient deterrent), fast enough to chase down any convoy and had better endurance and was substantially faster than the then state of the art aircraft carriers, so it could stick around sinking convoys far longer.

      Also, the sea is big, really big. And back then with the state of the art locating tech, a small commerce raiding party could hide very well in the Atlantic. Merchant ships were not designed to hide and gave off smoke, making them much easier to find. But land based aircraft didn't generally have the range to find and attack a distant battleship, leaving it only open for aircraft carriers. The North Atlantic is also much harsher than the Pacific theatre, and there were a lot of very long nights, providing excellent cover for ships.

      The Bismark would likely have been very dangerous if it had had escaped to be able to perform commerce raiding, as such the Bismark was a big threat.

      While it's true that WWII was the clear end of the battleship as the top dog of the sea, most of WWII was not fought top-dog to top-dog. Much of the battle of the Atlantic was U boats and commerce raiders versus merchant ships, merchant ships armed with guns obsolete in WWI and outdated warships. The UK couldn't afford to commit new capital ships to escort duties, so it hardly matters what the best capital ship was.

      As for the other comment, neither side in the war had a carrier planes that were anything like a match for the land based fighters of the time.

      When it came down to actually hunting a capital ship it was different. There, the British Navy could afford to deploy serious force. And naturally enough, the the fatal blow to the was in fact dealt by an aircraft carrier.

      • Also, the sea is big, really big....

        That bit sounds you borrowed a line from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

        The Bismark would likely have been very dangerous if it had had escaped to be able to perform commerce raiding, as such the Bismark was a big threat.

        A large surface navy has never made sense for Germany unless it was at peace with or allied with Britain. With Britain as an enemy the only naval forces that make sense for Germany are smaller surface vessels, long range naval aviation and a large numbers of submarines. The Bismarck was a big capital ship with a very limited life expectancy once it got into the open Atlantic. Yes, the Bismarck might have mauled a few convoys before

        • That bit sounds you borrowed a line from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

          Well spotted :)

          A large surface navy has never made sense for Germany unless it was at peace with or allied with Britain. With Britain as an enemy the only naval forces that make sense for Germany are smaller surface vessels, long range naval aviation and a large numbers of submarines.

          That's true, but those ships weren't tasked for engaging equally matched ships. Also, the long range naval aviation wasn't up to much. It was enough t

      • by Totaku ( 897723 )
        An example of how successful German commerce raiding could be was with DKM Scharnhorst and DKM Gneisenau during Operation Berlin.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • After the Bismarck sank HMS Hood, large parts of the British Navy were moved around (or kept in port) depending on where Bismarck was. This put big constraints on Navy operations. Early in WW2, air power did not extend into the middle of the Atlantic (due to lack of range) leaving surface ships free to wreak havoc on convoys which were not equipped to deal with a battleship.
      Given the thin margin of supply Britain operated under, leaving Bismarck free to hunt British convoys would have been a major mistake.

      • After the Bismarck sank HMS Hood, large parts of the British Navy were moved around (or kept in port) depending on where Bismarck was. This put big constraints on Navy operations. Early in WW2, air power did not extend into the middle of the Atlantic (due to lack of range) leaving surface ships free to wreak havoc on convoys which were not equipped to deal with a battleship. Given the thin margin of supply Britain operated under, leaving Bismarck free to hunt British convoys would have been a major mistake.

        I still do not see how one dreadnought and it's bodyguard would have caused more trouble than the U-boats. The Bismarck was tracked by reckon aircraft it's departure would have been quickly detected and even if the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen had gotten into a couple of convoys they were still sitting ducks once they were tracked down by a carrier group. Whenever this is discussed British and US historians don't mention fact that German Navy war-games in 1940-41 that investigated the feasibility of sending

        • I still do not see how one dreadnought and it's bodyguard would have caused more trouble than the U-boats. The Bismarck was tracked by reckon aircraft it's departure would have been quickly detected and even if the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen had gotten into a couple of convoys they were still sitting ducks once they were tracked down by a carrier group.

          The Scharnhost and Gneisenau repeatedly sortied prior to the Bismark. They weren't tracked down by a carrier group on any of these occasions, and weren't sunk by air power. It was a LOT harder to track ships back then than one might suppose. The most famous commerce raider, Atlantis, would survive for over 600 days. (Scharnhorst would later be sunk by the battleship Duke of York and her escorting destroyers, Gneisenau would survive the war: carrier groups again did not play the dominant role one would s

    • You're right, of course.
      The battle was a big deal for the British since the Bismark had just sunk the Royal Navy's "invincible" battlecruiser, HMS Hood.
      (Which actually was a pretty poor ship).

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      To your point about ai rpower, it is unlikely that the RN would have sunk, (or even found), the Bismark without aircraft - both land and carrier based. See:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • by Totaku ( 897723 )
        Good point - there was also the morale and propaganda issue that the loss of the HMS Hood caused. She was considered the pride of the Royal Navy. That the RN, renowned as ruling the oceans, lost their flagship in a traditional line-of-battle engagement, was massive.
    • It might have been a strategic victory, but a very pyhric one.
      The Hood went down with only 3 survivors

      Code breaking was more important in the fight against U-Boats

    • I realise that there wasn't much traditional dreadnought on dreadnought action

      Well, maybe they didn't feel like being dreadnaughty...

    • If there was anybody left who believed that dreadnoughts were still part of the future of modern navies (Ronald Reagan was one of the last hold-outs I think) then that illusion was dispelled by Pearl Harbour, Midway and other carrier battles in the Pacific.

      Others have corrected you on the Battle of the Atlantic - so, I'll tackle this one. No, only armchair experts had their illusions dispelled by those carrier battles in the Pacific. Every one of them that resulted in the loss of a battlewagon came down

    • The Norwegian campaign proved once and for all that he who rules the seas is he who can project the most air power over strategic distances, not he who owns lots of battleships because aircraft will slaughter dreadnoughts in the absence of carrier cover; so why build dreadnoughts?

      Not at all true.

      In fact, during the Norwegian campaign the British aircraft carrier Glorious was sunk by two unaccompanied German battleships, with huge loss of life.

      The battleships won that one (aided by radar controlled anti-surface guns, allowing them to achieve some of the most remarkable shooting of any navy during the entire war).

      The most decisive naval battles of the Norwegian campaign were actually fought by surface units at Narvik - including a British battleship, which an incredibly ballsy admiral

  • If you're interested in stories like this, I recommend the TV series "The Bletchley Circle". Four ex-codebreaking women reunite in 1952 to uncover a serial killer, using the same skills they used to break encrypted messages during the war. They rediscover a lost sense of purpose and struggle to obey the Official Secrets act within their family relationships. (For those who don't know, the UK's Official Secrets act is pretty strong stuff.)

    --
    .nosig

    • If you're interested in stories like this, I recommend the TV series "The Bletchley Circle". Four ex-codebreaking women reunite in 1952 to uncover a serial killer, using the same skills they used to break encrypted messages during the war.

      The reality is, most of the 'codebreakers' at Bletchley Park (men and women) had no need of any particular analytical skill... Ninety percent of them just used a recipe written by the boffins or (later) operated machines that operated according to said recipe. If a reada

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