Military Wiki
Enigma machine out of its wooden box
Lorenz SZ42 machine with covers removed
Part of Japanese PURPLE machine
Three cipher machines that were broken by the Allies to yield Ultra intelligence

Ultra was the designation adopted by British military intelligence in June 1941 for wartime signals intelligence obtained by breaking high-level encrypted enemy radio and teleprinter communications at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park.[1] Ultra eventually became the standard designation among the western Allies for all such intelligence. The name arose because the intelligence thus obtained was considered more important than that designated by the highest British security classification then used (Most Secret) and so was regarded as being Ultra secret.[2] Several other cryptonyms had been used for such intelligence. British intelligence first designated it Boniface — presumably to imply that it was the result of human intelligence. The U.S. used the codename Magic for its decrypts from Japanese sources.

Much of the German cipher traffic was encrypted on the Enigma machine. Used properly, the German military Enigma would have been virtually unbreakable; in practice, shortcomings in operation allowed it to be broken. The term "Ultra" has often been used almost synonymously with "Enigma decrypts". However, Ultra also encompassed decrypts of the German Lorenz SZ 40/42 machines that were used by the German High Command, and the Hagelin machine[3] and other Italian and Japanese ciphers and codes such as PURPLE and JN-25.[1]

Many observers, at the time and later, regarded Ultra as immensely valuable to the Allies. Winston Churchill told King George VI: "It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war."[4] F. W. Winterbotham quoted the western Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, at war's end describing Ultra as having been "decisive" to Allied victory.[5] Sir Harry Hinsley, official historian of British Intelligence in World War II, made a similar assessment about Ultra, saying that it shortened the war "by not less than two years and probably by four years"; and that, in the absence of Ultra, it is uncertain how the war would have ended.[6]

Sources of intelligence

Most Ultra intelligence was derived from reading radioed enemy messages that had been encrypted with various cipher machines. This was complemented by material derived from radio communications using other methods, such as radio traffic analysis and direction finding. In the early phases of the war, particularly during the eight-month Phoney War, the Germans could transmit most of their messages using land lines and so had no need to use radio. This meant that those at Bletchley Park had some time to build up experience of collecting and starting to decrypt messages on the various radio networks. Initially, German Enigma messages were the main source, with those of the German airforce predominating, as they used radio more, and their operators were particularly ill-disciplined.


A typical Bletchley intercept sheet, before decryption and translation.

A typical Bletchley intercept sheet, after decryption.


"Enigma" refers to a family of electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines. These produced a polyalphabetic substitution cipher, and were widely thought to be unbreakable in the 1920s, when a variant of the commercial Model D was first used by the German military. The German Army, Navy, Air Force, Nazi party, Gestapo, and German diplomats all used Enigma machines, but there were several variants. For instance, the Abwehr (the German military intelligence service) used a four-rotor machine without a plugboard, and Naval Enigma used different key management from that of the army or air force, making its traffic far more difficult to cryptanalyse. Each variant required different cryptanalytic treatment. The commercial versions were not as secure; Dilly Knox, of GC&CS, is said to have broken one before the war.

German military Enigma was first broken in December 1932 by the Polish Cipher Bureau, using a combination of brilliant mathematics, the services of a spy in the German office responsible for administering encrypted communications,[7] and a slice of good luck.[8] Thereafter the Poles read Enigma to the outbreak of World War II and beyond, in France.[9] However, at the turn of 1939 the Germans made their systems ten times more complicated, which required a tenfold increase in the Poles' decryption equipment, a need that they could not meet.[10] On 25 July 1939, just five weeks before the outbreak of World War II, the Polish Cipher Bureau handed reconstructed Enigma machines and their techniques for decrypting ciphers to their French and British allies.[11] Former Bletchley Park mathematician-cryptologist Gordon Welchman has written: "Ultra would never have gotten off the ground if we had not learned from the Poles, in the nick of time, the details both of the German military Enigma machine, and of the operating procedures that were in use."[12]

After the war, interrogation of German cryptographic personnel led to the conclusion that German cryptanalysts understood that cryptanalytic attacks against Enigma were possible, but they had been thought to require impracticable amounts of effort and investment.[13] It was the Poles' early start at breaking Enigma, and the continuity of their successful efforts, that enabled the Allies to hit the ground running when World War II broke out.[12]

Lorenz cipher

In the spring of 1941, the Germans started to introduce on-line stream cipher teleprinter systems for strategic point-to-point radio links, to which the British gave the generic code-name Fish.[14] Several distinct systems were used, principally the Lorenz SZ 40/42 (code-named Tunny) and Geheimfernschreiber (code-named Sturgeon). These cipher systems were also successfully cryptanalysed, particularly Tunny, which the British thoroughly penetrated. It was eventually attacked using the Colossus computers, which were the first digital program-controlled electronic computers. Although the volume of intelligence derived from this system was much smaller than that from Enigma, its importance was high because it produced primarily strategic level intelligence.


On entering the war in June 1940, the Italians were using book codes for most of their military messages. The exception was the Italian Navy which, early in 1941, started using a version of the Hagelin rotor-based cipher machine called the C-38.[15] This was broken from June 1941 onwards by the Italian subsection of the UK's GC&CS at Bletchley Park.[16]


In the Pacific theater, the Japanese cipher machine dubbed "Purple" by the Americans, was used for highest-level Japanese diplomatic traffic. It produced a polyalphabetic substitution cipher, but unlike the Enigma machines, it was not a rotor machine, being built around electrical stepping switches. It was cracked by the US Army's Signal Intelligence Service and disseminated under the codeword MAGIC.

Some Purple decrypts proved useful elsewhere, for instance detailed reports by Japan's ambassador to Germany which were encrypted on the Purple machine. These reports included reviews of Germany's assessments of the military situation, of strategy and intentions, reports on direct inspections (in one case, of Normandy beach defenses) by the ambassador,[15] and reports of long interviews with Hitler.

The chief fleet communications code system used by the Imperial Japanese Navy was called JN-25 by the Americans. By early 1942, the latter had made considerable progress into decrypting Japanese naval messages.

The Japanese are said to have obtained an Enigma machine as early as 1937, although it is debated whether they were given it by their German ally or bought a commercial version which, except for plugboard and internal wirings, was essentially the German Army / Air Force machine. The Japanese did not use it for their top secret communications, instead developing their own, similar machine.


Ultra despatches to field commanders during the war[17]

Army- and air force-related intelligence derived from signals intelligence (SIGINT) sources -mainly Enigma decrypts in Hut 6 – was compiled in summaries at GC&CS (Bletchley Park) Hut 3 and distributed initially under the codeword "BONIFACE",[18] implying that it was acquired from a well placed agent in Berlin. The volume of the intelligence reports going out to commanders in the field built up gradually. Naval Enigma decoded in Hut 8 was forwarded from Hut 4 to the Admiralty Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC),[19] which were distributed initially under the codeword "HYDRO".[18] The codeword "ULTRA" was adopted in June 1941.[20] The codeword "ULTRA" was reportedly suggested by Commander Geoffrey Colpoys, RN, who served in the RN OIC.

Army and air force

The distribution of Ultra information to Allied commanders and units in the field involved considerable risk of discovery by the Germans, and great care was taken to control both the information and knowledge of how it was obtained. Liaison officers were appointed for each field command to manage and control dissemination.

Dissemination of Ultra intelligence to field commanders was carried out by MI6, which operated Special Liaison Units (SLU) attached to major army and air force commands. The activity was organized and supervised on behalf of MI6 by Group Captain F. W. Winterbotham. Each SLU included intelligence, communications, and cryptographic elements. It was headed by a British Army or RAF officer, usually a major, known as "Special Liaison Officer". The main function of the liaison officer or his deputy was to pass Ultra intelligence bulletins to the commander of the command he was attached to, or to other indoctrinated staff officers. In order to safeguard Ultra, special precautions were taken. The standard procedure was for the liaison officer to present the intelligence summary to the recipient, stay with him while he studied it, then take it back and destroy it.

By the end of the war there were about 40 SLUs serving commands around the world. [21] Fixed SLUs existed at the Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Ministry, RAF Fighter Command, the US Strategic Air Forces in Europe (Wycombe Abbey) and other fixed headquarters in the UK. These units had permanent teleprinter links to Bletchley Park. Mobile SLUs were attached to field army and air force headquarters, and depended on radio communications to receive intelligence summaries.

The first mobile SLUs appeared during the French campaign of 1940. An SLU supported the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) headed by General Lord Gort. The first liaison officers were Robert Gore-Browne and Humphrey Plowden.[22] A second SLU of the 1940 period was attached to the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force at Meaux commanded by Air Vice-Marshal P H Lyon Playfair. This SLU was commanded by Squadron Leader F.W. "Tubby" Long.

Intelligence agencies

In 1940, special arrangements were made within the British intelligence services for handling BONIFACE and later Ultra intelligence. The Security Service started "Special Research Unit B1(b)" under Herbert Hart. In the SIS this intelligence was handled by "Section V" based at St Albans.[23]

Radio and cryptography

The communications system was founded by Brigadier Sir Richard Gambier-Parry, who from 1938 to 1946 was head of MI6 Section VIII, based at Whaddon Hall in Buckinghamshire, UK.[24] Ultra summaries from Bletchley Park were sent over landline to the Section VIII radio transmitter at Windy Ridge. From there they were transmitted to the destination SLUs.

The communications element of each SLU was called a "Special Communications Unit" or SCU. Radio transmitters were constructed at Whaddon Hall workshops, while receivers were the National HRO, made in the USA. The SCUs were highly mobile and the first such units used civilian Packard cars. The following SCUs are listed:[24] SCU1 (Whaddon Hall), SCU2 (France before 1940, India), SCU3 (Hanslope Park) SCU5, SCU6 (possibly Algiers and Italy), SCU7 (training unit in the UK), SCU8 (Europe after D-day), SCU9 (Europe after D-day), SCU11 (Palestine and India), SCU12 (India), SCU13 and SCU14.[25]

The cryptographic element of each SLU was supplied by the RAF and was based on the TYPEX cryptographic machine and one-time pad systems.

RN Ultra messages from the OIC to ships at sea were necessarily transmitted over normal naval radio circuits and were protected by one-time pad encryption.[26]


An intriguing question concerns the alleged use of Ultra information by the "Lucy" spy ring, headquartered in Switzerland and apparently operated by one man, Rudolf Roessler. This was an extremely well informed, responsive ring that was able to get information "directly from German General Staff Headquarters" – often on specific request. It has been alleged that "Lucy" was in major part a conduit for the British to feed Ultra intelligence to the Soviets in a way that made it appear to have come from highly placed espionage rather than from cryptanalysis of German radio traffic. The Soviets, however, through an agent at Bletchley, John Cairncross, knew that Britain had broken Enigma. The "Lucy" ring was initially treated with suspicion by the Soviets. The information that it provided was accurate and timely, however, and Soviet agents in Switzerland (including their chief, Alexander Radó) eventually learned to take it seriously.[citation needed]

Use of intelligence

Most deciphered messages, often about relative trivia, were not alone sufficient as intelligence reports for military strategists or field commanders. The organisation, interpretation and distribution of intelligence derived from messages from Enigma transmissions and other sources into intelligence was a subtle business. This was not recognised by the Americans before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but was learnt very quickly afterwards.[27]

At Bletchley Park, extensive indexes were kept of the information in the messages decrypted.[28] For each message the traffic analysis recorded the radio frequency, the date and time of intercept, and the preamble—which contained the network-identifying discriminant, the time of origin of the message, the callsign of the originating and receiving stations, and the indicator setting. This allowed cross referencing of a new message with a previous one.[29] The indexes included message preambles, every person, every ship, every unit, every weapon, every technical term and of repeated phrases such as forms of address and other German military jargon that might be usable as cribs.[30]

The first decryption of a wartime Enigma message was achieved by the Poles at PC Bruno on 17 January 1940, albeit one that had been transmitted three months earlier. Little had been achieved by the start of the Allied campaign in Norway in April. At the start of the Battle of France on 10 May 1940, the Germans made a very significant change in the indicator procedures for Enigma messages. However, the Bletchley Park cryptanalysts had anticipated this, and were able—jointly with PC Bruno—to resume breaking messages from 22 May, although often with some delay. The intelligence that these messages yielded was of little operational use in the fast-moving situation of the German advance.

Decryption of Enigma traffic built up gradually during 1940, with the first two prototype bombes being delivered in March and August. The traffic was almost entirely limited to Luftwaffe messages. By the peak of the Battle of the Mediterranean in 1941, however, Bletchley Park was deciphering daily 2,000 Italian Hagelin messages. By the second half of 1941 30,000 Enigma messages a month were being deciphered, rising to 90,000 a month of Enigma and Fish decrypts combined later in the war.[15]

Some of the contributions that Ultra intelligence made to the Allied successes are given below.

  • In April 1940, Ultra information provided a detailed picture of the disposition of the German forces, and then their movement orders for the attack on the Low Countries prior to the Battle of France in May.[31]
  • An Ultra decrypt of June 1940 read KNICKEBEIN KLEVE IST AUF PUNKT 53 GRAD 24 MINUTEN NORD UND EIN GRAD WEST EINGERICHTET ("The Cleves Knickebein is directed at position 53 degrees 24 minutes north and 1 degree west"). This was the definitive piece of evidence that Dr R V Jones of scientific intelligence in the Air Ministry needed to show that the Germans were developing a radio guidance system for their bombers.[32] Ultra intelligence then continued to play a vital role in the so-called Battle of the Beams.
  • During the Battle of Britain, Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command, had a teleprinter link from Bletchley Park to his headquarters at RAF Bentley Priory for Ultra reports. Ultra intelligence kept him informed of the German strategy,[33] of the strength and location of various Luftwaffe units and often provided advance warning of bombing raids (but not of their specific targets).[34] These contributed to the British success. Dowding was bitterly and sometimes unfairly criticized by others who did not see Ultra, but did not disclose his source.
  • Decryption of traffic from Luftwaffe radio networks provided a great deal of indirect intelligence about the Germans' planned Operation Sea Lion to invade England in 1940[35] and, on 17 September 1940, about its cancellation. [36]
  • An Ultra message reported that equipment at German airfields in Belgium for loading planes with paratroops and their gear was to be dismantled. This was taken as a clear signal that Sea Lion had been cancelled.
  • Ultra revealed that a major German air raid was planned for the night of 14 November 1940, and indicated three possible targets, including London and Coventry. However, the specific target was not determined until late on the afternoon of 14 November, by detection of the German radio guidance signals. Unfortunately, countermeasures failed to prevent the devastating Coventry Blitz. F. W. Winterbotham claimed that Churchill had advance warning, but intentionally did nothing about the raid, to safeguard Ultra.[37] This claim has been comprehensively refuted by R V Jones,[38] Sir David Hunt,[39] Ralph Bennett[40] and Peter Calvocoressi.[41] Ultra warned of a raid but did not reveal the specific target. Churchill, who had been en route to Ditchley Park, was told that London might be bombed, and returned to 10 Downing Street so that he could observe the raid from the Air Ministry roof.
  • Ultra intelligence considerably aided the British Army's Operation Compass victory over the much larger Italian army in Libya in December 1940 – February 1941.[42]
  • Ultra intelligence greatly aided the Royal Navy's victory over the Italian navy in the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941.[43]
  • Although the Allies lost the Battle of Crete in May 1941, the Ultra intelligence that a parachute landing was planned meant that heavy losses were inflicted on the Germans and that fewer British troops were captured.[44]
  • Ultra intelligence fully revealed the preparations for Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the USSR. Although this information was passed to the Soviet government, Stalin refused to believe it.[45] The information did, however, help British planning, knowing that substantial German forces were to be deployed to the East.
  • Ultra intelligence made a very significant contribution in the Battle of the Atlantic. Winston Churchill wrote "The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril."[46] The decryption of Enigma signals to the U-boats was much more difficult than those of the Luftwaffe. It was not until June 1941 that Bletchley Park was able to read a significant amount of this traffic currently.[47] Transatlantic convoys were then diverted away from the U-boat "wolfpacks", and U-boat supply vessels sunk. On 1 February 1942, Enigma U-boat traffic became unreadable because of the introduction of a different 4-rotor Enigma machine. This situation persisted until December 1942, although other German naval Enigma messages were still being deciphered, such as those of the U-boat training command at Kiel.[48] From December 1942 to the end of the war, Ultra allowed Allied convoys to evade U-boat patrol lines, and guided Allied anti-submarine forces to the location of U-boats at sea.
  • In the Western Desert Campaign, Ultra intelligence helped Wavell and Auchinleck to prevent Rommel's forces from reaching Cairo in the autumn of 1941.[49]
  • Ultra intelligence from Hagelin decrypts, and from Luftwaffe and German naval Enigma decrypts, helped sink about half of the ships supplying the Axis in North Africa.[15]
  • Ultra intelligence from Abwehr transmissions confirmed that Britain's Security Service (MI5) had captured all German agents in Britain, and that the Abwehr still believed in the many double agents which MI5 controlled under the Double Cross System.[50] This enabled major deception operations.[51]
  • Deciphered JN-25 messages allowed the U.S. to turn back a Japanese offensive in the Battle of the Coral Sea in April 1942 and set up the decisive American victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.[52]
  • Ultra contributed very significantly to the monitoring of German developments at Peenemünde and the collection of V-1 and V-2 Intelligence from 1942 onwards.[53]
  • Ultra contributed to Montgomery's victory at the Battle of Alam el Halfa by providing warning of Rommel's planned attack.
  • Ultra also contributed to the success of Montgomery's offensive in the Second Battle of El Alamein, by providing him (before the battle) with a complete picture of Axis forces, and (during the battle) with Rommel's own action reports to Germany.
  • Ultra provided evidence that the Allied landings in French North Africa (Operation Torch) were not anticipated.[54]
  • A JN-25 decrypt of 14 April 1943 provided details of Admiral Yamamoto's forthcoming visit to Balalae Island, and on 18 April his aircraft was shot down, killing this man who was regarded as irreplaceable.[55]
  • The part played by Ultra intelligence in the preparation for the Allied invasion of Sicily was of unprecedented importance. It provided information as to where the enemy's forces were strongest and that the elaborate strategic deceptions had convinced Hitler and the German high command.[56]
  • The success of the Battle of North Cape, in which HMS Duke of York sank the German battleship Scharnhorst, was entirely built on prompt deciphering of German naval signals.[57]
  • Both Enigma and Tunny decrypts showed Germany had been taken in by Operation Bodyguard, the deception operation to protect Operation Overlord. They revealed the Germans did not anticipate the Normandy landings and even after D-Day still believed Normandy was only a feint, with the main invasion to be in the Pas de Calais.[58][59]
  • It assisted greatly in Operation Cobra.
  • It warned of the major German counterattack at Mortain, and allowed the Allies to surround the forces at Falaise.
  • During the Allied advance to Germany, Ultra often provided detailed tactical information, and showed how Hitler ignored the advice of his generals and insisted on German troops fighting in place 'to the last man'.[60]
  • Arthur "Bomber" Harris, officer commanding RAF Bomber Command, was not cleared for ULTRA. After D-Day, with the resumption of the strategic bomber campaign over Germany, Harris remained wedded to area bombardment. Historian Frederick Taylor argues that, as Harris was not cleared for access to ULTRA, he was given some information gleaned from Enigma but not the information's source. This affected his attitude about post-D-Day directives to target oil installations, since he did not know that senior Allied commanders were using high-level German sources to assess just how much this was hurting the German war effort; thus Harris tended to see the directives to bomb specific oil and munitions targets as a "panacea" (his word) and a distraction from the real task.[61]

Safeguarding of sources

The Allies were seriously concerned with the prospect of the Axis command finding out that they had broken into the Enigma traffic. The British were, it is said,[62][63] more disciplined about such measures than the Americans, and this difference was a source of friction between them. It was a little bit of a joke that in Delhi, the British Ultra unit was based in a large wooden hut in the grounds of Government House. Security consisted of a wooden table flap across the door with a bell on it and a sergeant sat there. This hut was ignored by all. The American unit was in a large brick building, surrounded by barbed wire and armed patrols. People may not have known what was in there, but they surely knew it was something important and secret.

To disguise the source of the intelligence for the Allied attacks on Axis supply ships bound for North Africa, "spotter" submarines and aircraft were sent to search for Axis ships. These searchers or their radio transmissions were observed by the Axis forces, who concluded their ships were being found by conventional reconnaissance. They suspected that there were some 400 Allied submarines in the Mediterranean and a huge fleet of reconnaissance aircraft on Malta. In fact, there were only 25 submarines and at times as few as three aircraft.[15]

This procedure also helped conceal the intelligence source from Allied personnel, who might give away the secret by careless talk, or under interrogation if captured. Along with the search mission that would find the Axis ships, two or three additional search missions would be sent out to other areas, so that crews would not begin to wonder why a single mission found the Axis ships every time.

Other deceptive means were used. On one occasion, a convoy of five ships sailed from Naples to North Africa with essential supplies at a critical moment in the North African fighting. There was no time to have the ships properly spotted beforehand. The decision to attack solely on Ultra intelligence went directly to Churchill. The ships were all sunk by an attack "out of the blue", arousing German suspicions of a security breach. To distract the Germans from the idea of a signals breach (such as Ultra), the Allies sent a radio message to a fictitious spy in Naples, congratulating him for this success. According to some sources the Germans decrypted this message and believed it.[64]

In the Battle of the Atlantic, the precautions were taken to the extreme. In most cases where the Allies knew from intercepts the location of a U-boat in mid-Atlantic, the U-boat was not attacked immediately, until a "cover story" could be arranged. For example a search plane might be "fortunate enough" to sight the U-boat, thus explaining the Allied attack.

Some Germans had suspicions that all was not right with Enigma. Admiral Karl Dönitz received reports of "impossible" encounters between U-boats and enemy vessels which made him suspect some compromise of his communications. In one instance, three U-boats met at a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea, and a British destroyer promptly showed up. The U-boats escaped and reported what had happened. Dönitz immediately asked for a review of Enigma's security. The analysis suggested that the signals problem, if there was one, was not due to the Enigma itself. Dönitz had the settings book changed anyway, blacking out Bletchley Park for a period. However, the evidence was never enough to truly convince him that Naval Enigma was being read by the Allies. The more so, since B-Dienst, his own codebreaking group, had partially broken Royal Navy traffic (including its convoy codes early in the war),[65] and supplied enough information to support the idea that the Allies were unable to read Naval Enigma.[66]

By 1945 most German Enigma traffic could be decrypted within a day or two, yet the Germans remained confident of its security.[67] Had they known better, they could have changed systems, forcing Allied cryptanalysts to start again.

Postwar disclosures

While it is obvious why Britain and the U.S. went to considerable pains to keep Ultra a secret until the end of the war, it has been a matter of some conjecture why Ultra was kept officially secret for 29 years thereafter, until 1974. During that period the important contributions to the war effort of a great many people remained unknown, and they were unable to share in the glory of what is likely one of the chief reasons the Allies won the war – or, at least, as quickly as they did.

At least three versions exist as to why Ultra was kept secret so long. Each has plausibility, and all may be true. First, as David Kahn pointed out in his 1974 New York Times review of Winterbotham's The Ultra Secret, after World War II the British gathered up all the Enigma machines they could find and sold them to Third World countries, confident that they could continue reading the messages of the machines' new owners.[68]

A second explanation relates to a misadventure of Churchill between the World Wars, when he publicly disclosed information from decrypted Soviet communications. This had prompted the Soviets to change their ciphers, leading to a blackout.[citation needed] The third explanation is given by Winterbotham, who recounts two weeks after V-E Day, on 25 May 1945, Churchill requested former recipients of Ultra intelligence not divulge the source or the information that they had received from it, in order there be neither damage to the future operations of the Secret Service nor any cause for the Axis to blame Ultra for their defeat.[69] Since it was British and, later, American message-breaking which had been the most extensive, this meant that the importance of Enigma decrypts to the prosecution of the war remained unknown. Discussion by either the Poles or the French of Enigma breaks carried out early in the war would have been uninformed regarding breaks carried out during the balance of the war. Nevertheless, the 1973 public disclosure of Enigma decryption in the book Enigma by French intelligence officer Gustave Bertrand generated pressure to discuss the rest of the Enigma–Ultra story.

The British ban was finally lifted in 1974, the year that a key participant on the distribution side of the Ultra project, F. W. Winterbotham, published The Ultra Secret.

The official history of British intelligence in World War II was published in five volumes from 1979 to 1988. It was chiefly edited by Harry Hinsley, with one volume by Michael Howard. There is also a one-volume collection of reminiscences by Ultra veterans, Codebreakers (1993), edited by Hinsley and Alan Stripp.

After the war, surplus Enigmas and Enigma-like machines were sold to many countries around the world, which remained convinced of the security of the remarkable cipher machines. Their traffic was not so secure as they believed, however, which is one reason the British and Americans made the machines available. Switzerland even developed its own version of Enigma, known as NEMA, and used it into the late 1970s.

Some information about Enigma decryption did get out earlier, however. In 1967, Polish military historian Władysław Kozaczuk in his book Bitwa o tajemnice ("Battle for Secrets") first revealed Enigma had been broken by Polish cryptologists before World War II. The same year, David Kahn in The Codebreakers described the 1944 capture of a Naval Enigma machine from U-505 and noted, somewhat in passing, naval Enigma messages were already being read.[citation needed]

Ladislas Farago's 1971 best-seller The Game of the Foxes gave an early garbled version of the myth of the purloined Enigma. According to Farago, it was thanks to a "Polish-Swedish ring the British obtained a working model of the 'Enigma' machine, which the Germans used to encipher their top-secret messages."[70] "It was to pick up one of these machines that Commander Denniston went clandestinely to a secluded Polish castle [!] on the eve of the war. Dilly Knox later solved its keying, exposing all Abwehr signals encoded by this system."[71] "In 1941 [t]he brilliant cryptologist Dillwyn Knox, working at the Government Code & Cypher School at the Bletchley centre of British code-cracking, solved the keying of the Abwehr's Enigma machine."[72]

By 1970, newer, computer-based ciphers were becoming popular as the world increasingly turned to computerised communications, and the usefulness of Enigma copies (and rotor machines generally) rapidly decreased. It was shortly after this, in 1974, that a decision was taken to permit revelations about some Bletchley Park operations.

The United States National Security Agency (NSA) retired the last of its rotor-based encryption systems, the KL-7 series, in the 1980s.

A 2012 London Science Museum exhibit, "Code Breaker: Alan Turing's Life and Legacy",[73] marking the centenary of his birth, includes a short film of statements by half a dozen participants and historians of the World War II Bletchley Park Ultra operations. John Agar, a historian of science and technology, states that by war's end 8,995 people worked at Bletchley Park. Iain Standen, Chief Executive of the Bletchley Park Trust, says of the work done there: "It was crucial to the survival of Britain, and indeed of the West." The Departmental Historian at GCHQ (the Government Communications Headquarters), who identifies himself only as "Tony" but seems to speak authoritatively, says that Ultra was a "major force multiplier. It was the first time that quantities of real-time intelligence became available to the British military." He further states that it is only in 2012 that Alan Turing's last two papers on Enigma decryption have been released to Britain's National Archives; the seven decades' delay had been due to their "continuing sensitivity... It wouldn't have been safe to release [them earlier]."

Holocaust intelligence

Historians have long attempted to establish when in the war the Allies recognized the full extent of German plans to eliminate the Jews, specifically, the extermination-camp system.

The U.S. Nazi War Crimes Disclosures Act of 1999 made it official policy to declassify all Nazi war criminal records held by the U.S. Government and led to release of over 600 decrypts and translations of intercepted messages. Robert Hanyok concludes that Allied communications intelligence, "by itself, could not have provided an early warning to Allied leaders regarding the nature and scope of the holocaust."[74] The decrypts did alert British authorities to many massacres in the occupied zones of the USSR, but revelations about the concentration camps were gleaned from other sources such as Jan Karski and American diplomats in Switzerland.

In retrospect, a decrypted message referring to "Einsatz Reinhard", from January 11, 1943, listing the number of Jews and others gassed at four death camps the previous year, clearly outlined the system, but codebreakers did not understand what the message was.[75] In summer 1944, Arthur Schlesinger, then an OSS analyst, interpreted the intelligence as an "incremental increase in persecution rather than... extermination."[76]

Postwar consequences

There has been controversy about the influence of Allied Enigma decryption on the course of World War II. It has also been suggested that the question should be broadened to include Ultra's influence not only on the war itself, but also on the post-war period.

F. W. Winterbotham, the first author to outline the influence of Enigma decryption on the course of World War II, likewise made the earliest contribution to an appreciation of Ultra's postwar influence, which now continues into the 21st Century — and not only in the postwar establishment of Britain's GCHQ (Government Communication Headquarters) and America's NSA. "Let no one be fooled," Winterbotham admonishes in chapter 3, "by the spate of television films and propaganda which has made the war seem like some great triumphant epic. It was, in fact, a very narrow shave, and the reader may like to ponder [...] whether [...] we might have won [without] Ultra."[77]

Debate continues on whether, had postwar political and military leaders been aware of Ultra's role in Allied victory in World War II, these leaders might have been less optimistic about post-World War II military involvements.[78]

Knightley suggests that Ultra may have contributed to the development of the Cold War.[79] The Soviets received disguised Ultra information, but the existence of Ultra itself was not disclosed by the western Allies. The Soviets, who had clues to Ultra's existence, possibly through Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt,[79] may thus have felt still more distrustful of their wartime partners.

The mystery surrounding the discovery of the sunk U-869 off the coast of New Jersey by divers Richie Kohler and John Chatterton was unraveled in part through the analysis of Ultra intercepts, which demonstrated that, although U-869 had been ordered by U-boat Command to change course and proceed to North Africa, near Rabat, the submarine had missed the messages changing her assignment and had continued to the eastern coast of the U.S., her original destination.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hinsley & Stripp 1993, p. xx.
  2. Lewin 2001, p. 64.
  3. The Hagelin C-38m (a development of the C-36) was the model used by the Italian Navy, see: October 1941: British intelligence in the Mediterranean theatre.
  4. Cited in the Imperial War Museum's 2003 exhibit "Secret War".
  5. Winterbotham 2000, p. 229.
  6. Hinsley 1996.
  7. Singh 1999, p. 145.
  8. Copeland 2004, pp. 231, 232.
  9. Kozaczuk 1984, pp. 81–92.
  10. Rejewski 1984, pp. 242–43.
  11. Copeland 2004, pp. 234, 235.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Welchman 1984, p. 289.
  13. Bamford 2001, p. 17.
  14. Gannon 2006, p. 103.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Hinsley 1993.
  16. Wilkinson 1993, pp. 61–67.
  17. Bennett 1999, p. 302.
  18. 18.0 18.1 West 1986, p. 136.
  19. Beesly 1977, p. 36.
  20. West 1986, p. 162.
  21. Calvocoressi 2001, pp. 78.
  22. West 1986, p. 138.
  23. West 1986, p. 152.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Pidgeon 2003.
  25. In addition, there were SCU3 and SCU4, which supported Y Service radio intercepting and direction finding facilities. These units were formed from assets of the former Radio Security Service, after it was reassigned to MI6 and they were not involved in Ultra dissemination.
  26. Beesly 1977, p. 142.
  27. Northridge 1993.
  28. "Bletchley Park Archives: Government Code & Cypher School Card Indexes". Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  29. Welchman (1984) p. 56
  30. Budiansky 2000, p. 301.
  31. Winterbotham 2000, p. 31.
  32. Jones 1978, p. 92.
  33. Calvocoressi 2001, p. 90.
  34. Lewin 2001, p. 83.
  35. Jones 1978, p. 124.
  36. Winterbotham 2000, p. 58.
  37. Winterbotham 2000, pp. 82–83.
  38. Jones 1978, pp. 146–153.
  39. Hunt 1976.
  40. Bennett 1999, p. 64.
  41. Calvocoressi 2001, p. 94.
  42. "Seventy Years Ago This Month at Bletchley Park: December 1940". Bletchley Park National Codes Centre. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  43. Hinsley in Hinsley & Stripp 1993, p. 3.
  44. Winterbotham 2000, p. 224.
  45. Lewin 2001, p. 104.
  46. Churchill 2005, p. 529.
  47. Budiansky 2000, p. 341.
  48. Lewin 2001, p. 210.
  49. Winterbotham 2000, pp. 224,225.
  50. Smith (2007) p. 129
  51. Budiansky 2000, pp. 315–316.
  52. Lewin 2001, p. 237.
  53. Jones 1978, p. 336.
  54. Winterbotham 2000, p. 188.
  55. Budiansky 2000, p. 319.
  56. Lewin 2001, p. 278.
  57. Lewin 2001, pp. 227–230.
  58. Lewin 2001, p. 292.
  59. Budiansky 2000, p. 315.
  60. Winterbotham 2000, p. 180.
  61. Taylor, Fredrick. "Dresden:Tuesday 13 February 1945". (NY): HarperCollins, ISBN 0-06-000676-5, (Lon): Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-7078-7. pp. 202. 
  62. Winterbotham 2000, pp. 111, 152, 195, 211.
  63. "Bletchley park archives: October 1943 : Not all our own way". Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  64. Momsen, Bill (2007). "Codebreaking and Secret Weapons in World War II: Chapter IV 1941–42". Nautical Brass. Archived from the original on 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  65. Mallmann-Showell 2003.
  66. Coincidentally, German success in this respect almost exactly matched in time an Allied blackout from Naval Enigma.
  67. Ferris 2005, p. 165.
  68. David Kahn, "Enigma Unwrapped," New York Times Book Review, 29 December 1974, p. 5.
  69. Winterbotham 2000, p. 17.
  70. Farago 1974, p. 664.
  71. Farago 1974, p. 674.
  72. Farago 1974, p. 359.
  73. A 16-page pamphlet of that title, summarizing Turing's life and work, is available free at the Science Museum.
  74. Hanyok 2004, p. 126
  75. Hanyok 2004, p. 124
  76. Schlesinger 1992, pp. 66–67
  77. Winterbotham 2000, p. 44.
  78. Christopher Kasparek writes: "Had the... postwar governments of major powers realized... how Allied victory in World War II had hung by a slender thread first spun by three mathematicians [Rejewski, Różycki, Zygalski] working on Enigma decryption for the general staff of a seemingly negligible power [Poland], they might have been more cautious in picking their own wars." (Review of Michael Alfred Peszke, The Polish Underground Army, the Western Allies, and the Failure of Strategic Unity in World War II, 2005, in The Polish Review, vol. L, no. 2, 2005, p. 241. A kindred point concerning postwar American triumphalism is made by British historian Max Hastings, author of Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945, in a C-SPAN2 "After WORDS" interview with Toby Harnden, U.S. editor of London's Daily Telegraph, broadcast 4 December 2011.
  79. 79.0 79.1 Knightley 1986, pp. 173–175.


  • Bamford, James (2001). "Body of Secrets". Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-49907-8. 
  • Bennett, Ralph (1999). "Behind the Battle: Intelligence in the War with Germany". Random House. ISBN 0-7126-6521-8. 
  • Bertrand, Gustave (1973). "Enigma ou la plus grande énigme de la guerre 1939–1945 (Enigma: The Greatest Enigma of the War of 1939–1945)". Librairie Plon. 
  • Beesly, Patrick (1977). "Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre 1939–1945". Sphere Books Limited. ISBN 0-7221-1539-3. 
  • Budiansky, Stephen (2000). "Battle of wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II". Free Press. ISBN 978-0-684-85932-3.  A short account of World War II cryptology which covers more than just the Enigma story.
  • Calvocoressi, Peter (2001). "Top Secret Ultra". M & MBaldwin. ISBN 978-0-947712-41-9. 
  • Churchill, Winston (2005). "The Second World War, Volume 2: Their Finest Hour". p. 529. ISBN 978-0-14-144173-3. 
  • Copeland, Jack (2004). "The Essential Turing: Seminal Writings in Computing, Logic, Philosophy, Artificial Intelligence, and Artificial Life plus The Secrets of Enigma". In Copeland, B. Jack. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-825080-0. 
  • Copeland, B. Jack (2006). "Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Codebreaking Computers". Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-284055-4. OCLC 238755360. 
  • Farago, Ladislas (1974). "The game of the foxes: British and German intelligence operations and personalities which changed the course of the Second World War". Pan Books. ISBN 978-0-330-23446-7.  Has been criticised for inaccuracy and exaggeration
  • Ferris, John Robert (2005). "Intelligence and strategy: selected essays". Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-36194-1. 
  • Gannon, James (2002). "Stealing Secrets, Telling Lies: How Spies and Codebreakers Helped Shape the Twentieth Century". Brassey's. ISBN 978-1-57488-367-1.  pp. 27–58 and passim
  • Gannon, Paul (2006). "Colossus: Bletchley Park's Greatest Secret". London: Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-84354-331-2. 
  • Gores, Landis (2008). "Ultra: I Was There". LuLu Publishing, Inc.. 
  • Hanyok, Robert J. (2004). "Eavesdropping on Hell: Historical Guide to Western Communications Intelligence and the Holocaust, 1939–1945". Center for Cryptographic History, National Security Agency. 
  • Hinsley, F.H.; Stripp, Alan, eds (1993). "Codebreakers: The inside story of Bletchley Park". Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280132-6. 
  • Hinsley, Francis Harry (1993). "British intelligence in the Second World War". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-44304-3. 
  • Hinsley, Sir Harry (1996). "The Influence of ULTRA in the Second World War". Retrieved 23 July 2012.  Transcript of a lecture given on Tuesday 19 October 1993 at Cambridge University
  • Hunt, David (28 August 1976). "The raid on Coventry". pp. 11. 
  • Jones, R. V. (1978). "Most Secret War". Book Club Associates. ISBN 978-0-241-89746-1. 
  • Kahn, David (1997). "The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet". Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-83130-5. 
  • Kahn, David (29 December 1974). "Enigma Unwrapped: Review of F. W. Winterbotham's The Ultra Secret". pp. 5. 
  • Kahn, David (1991). "Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-boat Codes, 1939–1943". Houghton Mifflin Co.. ISBN 978-0-395-42739-2.  is essentially about the solution of Naval Enigma, based on seizures of German naval vessels.
  • Knightley, Phillip (1986). "The Second Oldest Profession". W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-02386-9. 
  • Kozaczuk, Władysław (1984). "Enigma: How the German Machine Cipher was Broken, and how it was Read by the Allies in World War Two, edited and translated by Christopher Kasparek [a revised and augmented translation of W kręgu enigmy, Warsaw, Książka i Wiedza, 1979, supplemented with appendices by Marian Rejewski, Frederick, MD". University Publications of America. ISBN 978-0-89093-547-7.  This is the standard reference on the crucial foundations laid by the Poles for World War II Enigma decryption.
  • Lewin, Ronald (2001). "Ultra goes to War". London: Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-14-139042-0.  Focuses on the battle-field exploitation of Ultra material.
  • Mallmann-Showell, J.P. (2003). "German Naval Code Breakers". Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-2888-5. OCLC 181448256. 
  • McKay, Sinclair (2010). "The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There". Aurum Press Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84513-539-3. 
  • Northridge, A. R. (1993). "Pearl Harbor: Estimating Then and Now". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  • Parrish, Thomas D (1991). "The American codebreakers: the U.S. role in Ultra". Scarborough House. ISBN 978-0-8128-8517-0.  This book, earlier published as The Ultra Americans, concentrates on the U.S. contribution to the codebreaking effort.
  • Pidgeon, Geoffrey (2003). "The Secret Wireless War: The Story of MI6 Communications 1939–1945". UPSO Ltd. ISBN 1-84375-252-2. OCLC 56715513. 
  • Rejewski, Marian, wrote a number of papers on his 1932 break into Enigma and his subsequent work on the cipher, well into World War II, with his fellow mathematician-cryptologists, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. Most of Rejewski's papers appear inKozaczuk 1984
  • Rejewski, Marian (1984). "Enigma: How the German Machine Cipher Was Broken, and How It Was Read by the Allies in World War Two". In Kozaczuk, Władysław; Kasparek, Christopher; Frederick, MD. University Publications of America. pp. 241–45. ISBN 978-0-89093-547-7. 
  • Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. (1992). "The Secrets War: The Office of Strategic Services in World War II". In Chalou, George C.. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. ISBN 978-0-911333-91-6. 
  • Sebag-Montefiore, Hugh (2004). "Enigma: the Battle for the Code". Orion Books. ISBN 978-0-304-36662-0. OCLC 53122520.  This book focuses largely on Naval Enigma, includes some previously unknown information—and many photographs of individuals involved. Bletchley Park had been the author's grandfather's house before it was purchased for GC&CS.
  • Singh, Simon (1999). "The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography". Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-85702-879-1.  This provides a description of the Enigma, other ciphers, and codes.
  • Smith, Michael (2007). "Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park". London: Pan McMillan Ltd. ISBN 978-0-330-41929-1. 
  • Welchman, Gordon (1984). "The Hut Six story: Breaking the Enigma codes". Penguin Books. ISBN 0 14 00.5305 0.  An early publication containing several misapprehensions that are corrected in an addendum in the 1997 edition.
  • Welchman, Gordon (1997). "The Hut Six story: Breaking the Enigma codes". M&M Baldwin. ISBN 9780947712341.  New edition updated with an addendum consisting of a 1986 paper written by Welchman that corrects his misapprehensions in the 1982 edition.
  • West, Nigel (1986). "GCHQ: The Secret Wireless War, 1900–86". Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-78717-4. 
  • Wilkinson, Patrick (1993). "Codebreakers: The inside story of Bletchley Park". In Hinsley, F.H.; Stripp, Alan. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280132-6. 
  • Winterbotham, F.W. (2000). "The Ultra secret: the inside story of Operation Ultra, Bletchley Park and Enigma". Orion Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7528-3751-2. OCLC 222735270.  The first published account of the previously secret wartime operation, concentrating mainly on distribution of intelligence. It was written from memory and has been shown by subsequent authors, who had access to official records, to contain some inaccuracies.
  • Winton, John (1988). "Ultra at Sea". Leo Cooper. ISBN 978-0-85052-883-1. 

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