By Mike Poiesz
CCC Journalism Program
BLACKWOOD – Dr. Craig Bauer gave a passionate lecture on Monday, April 8 on the impact of the Polish and the British’s cracking of the German’s Enigma cipher machine.
The lecture, Enigma: The Cipher Machine that Changed World War II, was held in the Connector Building’s Civic Hall and was attended by roughly 120 people. Bauer, author of Secret History: The Story of Cryptology and editor in chief of the cryptology journal, Cryptologia, gave a PowerPoint presentation explaining the purpose and functions of ciphers.
Before the lecture began, Bauer passed out copies of chapter eight from his book and demonstrated how to work the Enigma. Whenever he pressed a letter on the keyboard, a different bulb would light up, and the rotors at the top would move. The rotors, which are the primary control of the machine’s enciphering process, turn once every time a letter is pressed. It rotates 26 times before a full rotation is met. Then, it will move onto the second rotor and eventually the third.
Ciphers, secret messages concealed in code, were put into effect during the Second World War by the Nazis to ensure sensitive information could not be intercepted. The Enigma was often operated by more than one person. Usually there would be one reading the message, one typing it and one writing down which bulbs lit up, revealing the cipher message.
Because the Germans’ cipher was broken by the Polish and shared with the British, the tide of the war was changed in the favor of the Allied Powers. But, in 1942, Germany’s navy added a fourth rotor to the Enigma, bringing deciphering to a complete halt. When the codes were being deciphered, only 600,000 tons of Allied ships sank. When they weren’t, nearly 2,600,000 tons of Allied ships sank. The Enigma was again cracked later in the year.
During the lecture, Bauer said, “The reward for the Polish cryptanalysts was that whenever they saw large groups of people, they knew that some of them wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t broken the Nazi ciphers. This holds true today; many people owe their existence to the fact that broken ciphers shortened the war, saving the lives of their parents or their grandparents.”
Bauer ended the lecture answering questions from the audience and showing curious attendees how to operate the Enigma. He also suggested the National Cryptologic Museum for anyone wanting to look further into cryptology.