Bletchley Park faces bleak future

Bletchley Park faces bleak future

Summary: The secret home to Britain's World War II codebreaking efforts could face closure in two to three years unless it receives more funding

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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  • This is a reconstructed Bombe, one of the two main British codebreaking machines. It was used to break the codes produced by the German Enigma machines.

    Over 200 Bombes were eventually built, based on the expertise of Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman. Turing and Welchman achieved their codebreaking success by recognising several weaknesses in the Germans' communications.

    Firstly, the Enigma machines would never encrypt a letter as itself, which markedly reduced the number of permutations. Secondly, the Germans often sent encrypted weather forecasts. Because Bletchley Park could predict the weather, codebreakers could accurately guess the contents of the message and, therefore, the encryption used.

    After the war, all the codebreaking machines were destroyed on Winston Churchill's orders so that, in the early years of the Cold War, Russia could not learn of Britain's codebreaking efforts. 

    However, thanks to a 12-year rebuild project, based on partial component diagrams recovered from GCHQ, this model is now working and is used today to decode mock enemy messages.

  • Despite the British starting to crack the Enigma code, Germany had another trick up its sleeve: the Lorenz machine. More complex than the Enigma, the 12-rotor Lorenz was used exclusively for the most important messages between central high command in Berlin and German army field marshals.

    It was rather larger than the Enigma and, as a result, not portable. It used the so-called "International Teleprinter Code", with each letter represented by five electrical impulses. Messages were encoded by adding a series of apparently randomly generated letters to the original plain text.

    Max Newman, another Cambridge graduate, was assigned the task of building machines to break the Lorenz code.

  • Newman's answer was the Colossus. His 2,500-valve machine was the first to break the Lorenz code, although Britain had to wait until December 1943 to get the first one installed at Bletchley Park. Nevertheless, that gave time enough to verify that Adolf Hitler had swallowed the D-Day deception campaigns.

    A Colossus Mark II was finally reconstructed last autumn after 14 years of work by Tony Sale (pictured). Widely acknowledged as the world's first, practical, electronic, digital, information-processing machine, tape passes through the machine's wheels at a 30 miles per hour, meaning it can read 5,000 characters every second.

    When the rebuild was completed, it was pitted in a codebreaking competition against radio enthusiasts who were allowed to employ whatever computing means they had at their disposal. Ironically, Colossus was beaten in the challenge by a German. The competition is due to be repeated in June.

Topic: Tech Industry

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14 comments
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  • Guilt

    I guess President Brown et cronies won't be chipping in either, as the excellent Bletchley Park Museum is a reminder of the miracles performed there during the war to defend the freedoms they're now systematically stomping all over.
    Andrew Meredith
  • Government help

    Andrew - nicely summed up, whatever your views on Gordon Brown! There is some possibility of funding from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, although it might be a while coming. Let's keep our fingers crossed for Bletchley. Second World War miracles is a great description for what happened there.
    RichardThurston
  • A Sign of our Gratitude to Bletchley Park

    If every person in Britain alive today who was alive during the Bletchley Park Golden Years sent
    1000044543
  • Saving Bletchley Park is crucial

    What was achieved there is recognised to be of fundamental importance to both winning the war (Churchill visited to say 'thank you' to them) and the development of the computer. Maybe Bill Gates doesn't want to support this museum because it underlines where electronic computing started i.e. here, not the U.S.

    The place was nearly concreted over 40 years ago when the development of Milton Keynes New Town (as it then was) began. The achievements of all at Bletchley Park were kept a secret all through the cold war. It's a miracle that it survived all that, as well as the war itself.

    Surely we're not going to give up on it all now. I've visited twice and have been absolutely enthralled by the true stories brought to life by the excellent guides and, in particular, Tony Sale (an engaging and enhusiastic real-life 'Q' who hs rebuilt the original Colossus.

    I would urge you all to go and have a look and then join in the campaign to save what is surely a monument to what Britain was able to achieve when really up against it. We can still learn from it now - don't let it close!
    ianaaa2
  • Bletchley Park

    Alongside but unconnected is the Computer Museum which has the Colossus. Typically the fighting between the two organisations will destroy both. Surely the people who have made and continue to make fortunes in the .com world can stump up funds to preserve the history and the related artifacts for future historians.
    lewcock
  • Pride

    I second Andrew's simple and direct comment. However most of the time I feel like a dynasaur for holding such a view, a voice in the wilderness so to speak, even a joke.

    Nevertheless, I do feel that the younger generations should be properly informed (educated) about the Second World War, and even the Cold War, and what people sacrificed, fought and died for; and what they owe to such sacrices.

    Now we have lost that ethos and are, as Andrews says, so busy throwing away all the freedoms and values which our forefathers rightly held dear.

    Of course this government, in particular, has assaulted our freedoms, values and choices like no other democratic goverment before it, but we cannot turn back the clock. We must move on to 'a brave new world', one that would not seem entirely worthy of these sacrifices.
    The Former Moley
  • Re: Pride

    On the subject of the need for the next generation to understand just exactly what a war is REALLY about, I could not agree more. I've never been in a war zone, but I have had an education, I have friends in the military and I have sufficient imagination to know that I don't want to be in one, and I REALLY don't want one to come to me.

    Today, war is just a word used in death match video game titles. It has no reality for the huge majority of the younger generation. Some of them sign on the line and get an object lesson, but the rest just keep on hitting the buttons on their handsets and making "war" on whoever the enemy of the day happens to be.

    So I'm with the previous correspondent all the way until:

    [[ Of course this government, in particular, has assaulted our freedoms, values and choices like no other democratic government before it, but we cannot turn back the clock. We must move on to 'a brave new world', one that would not seem entirely worthy of these sacrifices.]]

    Absolutely and emphatically NO.

    Just because this bunch of headline obsessed control freaks has decided to make freedom of assembly conditional, free speech a matter for interpretation and habeas corpus a corpse, doesn't mean we can't get the next lot to turn this round and at least take the thorns out of these laws, if not repeal and replace them with something more fitting.

    Phrases like "Civil Liberties" and "Our ancestral Freedoms" are now greeted with derision by Joe public as if to believe that such things are important is missing the point and that "The Threat of Terror" (yuk) is far more important than such nonsense. I even heard one genius say, in all honesty "If I hear one more mention of Civil Liberties I'm going to flatten someone. They could blow up my kids you know!".

    We now seem to have be more concerned about non-freedoms; like "How about the freedom to not be blown up"; and non-rights "Does anyone worry about the right not to have our kids preyed upon by drugs dealers and criminal gangs." ... "Never mind your *Civil* *Liberties*, how about that sort of stuff." .... Sadly, anyone who's consideration of these matters doesn't extend past the end of the headline is not going to be particularly receptive to hearing that it's a wee bit more complex than that. They're not taught how to do "complex" any more, just how to pass tests.

    I'm sure many people in this country of my generation had relatives that they deeply respected that fought in World War 2. Well folks, if you indeed respected them, think about how they would feel now, that the horror they suffered has been made trivial for the sake of a headline and a vote or two.

    For shame.
    Andrew Meredith
  • Support for Bletchley

    I think it's really great to see you guys getting behind Bletchley Park, particularly refreshing seeing the sarcasm of some of the (US-originating) comments towards our heritage on Slashdot, which picked up on this story. Clearly some of you have seen it for yourselves, and were as impressed by the work that has gone on there as I was. Let's not forget, the redeveloped site is less than 20 years old, and it's still growing. Let's hope there's not going to be the infighting that you suggest, 61320. There's little sign of that at the moment. On your other point, that surely someone will donate the funds to keep it going - let us hope so. Bletchley does have some generous contributors, just not enough at the moment. Fortunately visitor numbers are rising, forecast to be up 20 percent year-on-year. It's not just the millionaires who can help save our heritage.
    RichardThurston
  • Supporting Bletchely

    As well as trying to visit if you get the chance (and encouraging friends & family to do so). It is also possible to just send a donation.


    ... I tested this and it works :)
    Tezzer-5cae2
  • Bletchley Park

    I recently called to deposit some computers in the museum. There is a vast amount of equipment awaiting examination. But it is all being done by volunteers. It seems the Science Museum dont want to know. The leases for the Museum and "Bletchley Park" are different . There is a pressing need for some knocking together of heads plus a massive injection of funds. These must come from the computer industry.
    How about ZD campaign for this?
    lewcock
  • Re: Re: Pride

    Whilst fully endorsing all the other comments in response to my earlier post, I still do have some difficulty with the concept that a future government could or would unpick some or any of the the current overbearing and overburdening legislation.

    Notwithstanding the traditional differences, the three main parties seem, at the moment, to be struggling to occupy the same territory and generally offer nearly identical policies.

    Time will tell!
    The Former Moley
  • WE will tell

    The only reason for the next Government not to unpick this stuff, would be that "We The People" did not tell them forcefully enough that we require them to do so and the more people who should know better, but still take this approach, the less likely it is to happen.

    If we assume we are going to lose, then we will be proved right.
    Andrew Meredith
  • hi

    Do you think that what you said is truth.
    marto-5fb5b
  • Re: hi

    Yes I do.

    Do you?
    Andrew Meredith