Due to exponential expansion over the past 6 months, we are proud to announce our new Head Office at the birthplace of the computer, Bletchley Park. We are excited to be hosting many customer and community events over the coming months.
Bletchley is steeped in History.
In 1883 Herbert Samuel Leon, a wealthy City of London financier, purchased over 300 acres of land beside the London and North-Western Railway line at Bletchley. He developed 60 acres into a country estate for the Leon family and built a mansion in a mixture of architectural styles acquired from his world travels.
Following the deaths of Sir Herbert and Lady Fanny Leon, the Park was acquired by property developer Captain Hubert Faulkner for housing. But it was 1938 and the threat of war loomed as Hitler invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia. The Government Code and Cypher School, based in London, needed a safe home for its intelligence work unhindered by likely enemy air attacks - Bletchley Park was eminently suitable.
Commanded by Alastair Denniston, the Park was given the cover name Station X, being the tenth of a number of sites acquired by MI6 for its wartime operations. After meticulous preparation and a series of trial runs, the ‘codebreakers’, masquerading as 'Captain Ridley's Shooting Party' to disguise their true identity, arrived in August 1939. It was to be the first instalment in one of the most remarkable stories of the Second World War.
Invented in 1918, the Enigma cypher was initially designed for secure banking communications but it became the backbone of German military and intelligence communications. The German military, thought it to be unbreakable; and not without good reason for Enigma's complexity was bewildering.
Typing in a letter of plain German into the machine sent electrical impulses through a series of rotating wheels, electrical contacts and wires to produce the encyphered letter, which lit up on a panel above the keyboard. The recipient, by typing the resulting code into his own machine, saw the decyphered message light up letter by letter. The machine’s rotors and wires could be configured in many, many different ways such that the odds against anyone who did not know the settings being able to break Enigma were a staggering 150 million million million to one.
The Poles had managed to break Enigma in 1932, when it was undergoing trials with the German Army and had even managed to reconstruct a machine. At that time, the cypher altered once every few months but with the advent of war, it was changed at least once a day. In July 1939, the Poles passed on their knowledge and a machine to the British and French. This enabled the codebreakers to make critical progress in working out the order in which the keys were attached to the electrical circuits, a task that had previously been impossible.
The codebreakers were also able to exploit a chink in Enigma's armour that meant that no letter could be encrypted as itself; eg the letter ‘A’ in the message could never appear as an ‘A’ in the code. Errors in messages sent by tired, stressed or lazy German operators also gave clues. The first break into Enigma came in January 1940.
The Enigma decrypt teams worked in pairs in huts 3, 6, 4 and 8 and, for security reasons, were known only by their numbers. The codebreakers working on the Army and Air Force cyphers were based in Hut 6, supported by a team in Hut 3 who turned the decyphered messages into intelligence reports. A team in Hut 8 decoded German Navy messages supported by Hut 4, which provided the associated intelligence. The raw material came from web of wireless intercept stations - 'Y' Stations - dotted around Britain and overseas.
To speed the codebreaking process, the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing developed an idea originally proposed by Polish cryptanalysts. The result was the Bombe: an electro-mechanical machine that greatly reduced the odds and the time required, to break the daily-changing Enigma keys.
With the declaration of peace in 1945, activities ceased and Sir Winston Churchill ordered all 'incriminating' evidence at the Park to be destroyed. With the advent of Cold War, it was vital that the USSR, Britain's former ally, should learn nothing of the Park's achievements. Whilst most of the thousands of personnel who worked at the Park departed, some continued to use their expertise at the
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Bletchley Park became home to a variety of training schools for teachers, Post Office, air traffic controllers and members of GCHQ. In 1987, after a fifty-year association with British Intelligence, Bletchley Park was decommissioned.
For decades, the codebreakers remained silent about their achievements. It was not until wartime information was declassified in the mid-1970s that the truth began to emerge. In 1991, the Park was falling into ruin and it was planned to demolish the buildings for housing. The Bletchley Archaeological and Historical Society traced 400 codebreakers and in October 1991, held a farewell party in the Park. As a result of the stories they told, it was decided to try to save the site for posterity.
The Bletchley Park Trust was formed in February 1992, three days after Milton Keynes Borough Council declared most of the Park a conservation area. Negotiations began with the Park’s owners, the Government's land agency PACE (Property Advisors to the Civil Estate) and British Telecom. The Trust opened the Park to the public in 1993 and, helped by many volunteers and enthusiasts, maintained a collection of independent and Trust exhibitions. HRH The Duke of Kent became Chief Patron of the Trust, officially opening the Museum in July 1994.