In 1919, a commercial ciphering device was invented by a Dutchman, Hugo
Koch. He envisaged only civilian application for his machine so that large
companies could preserve their trade secrets in code. Seeing the commercial
value of such a contraption, Dr. Arthur Scherbius, a Berlin engineer started a
company to manufacture and sell this invention that he called the Enigma. By
1926, every German army division, ship, and submarine had an Enigma, and
through the next twenty years its design was improved many times, and made
that much more complex. By the end of World War II, there was estimated to
have been up to 120,000 Enigma machines in use by the German Wermacht.
In 1930, the German military introduced innovations to its design - a commutator or plugboard "comprised of 26
connections and the addition of three spinning wheels. It gave the Enigma an enormous range of cipher
combinations. The new total was a number expressed by 34 digits followed by 51 zeros, making it virtually
impossible for an enemy to even chance upon the right setting. Despite efforts by other nations, Polish
cryptologists had made rapid progress in the prewar years, already being able to read German transmissions.
The Poznan University Mathematics Institute was the site of the astounding breakthrough in cracking the Enigma
Code. There, twenty Polish students were handpicked by Professor Zdzislaw Krygowski, to participate in a course
in cryptology and they were obliged to pledge secrecy concerning the plans of the course, and their involvement
in it. Overseeing all activities were two officers from the Polish General Staff in Warsaw, Major Pokorny and
Lt. Maksymilian Ciezki. Among the students selected for the mission were Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki, and
By mid 1928, the Poles had been able to purchase a commercial model of the Enigma and began studying its'
components. By 1930, there were only eight students remaining, working under the auspices of Rejewski. He
devised a set of mathematical equations that was able to produce a rapid, although partial solution to the
Enigma puzzle. Despite this success, it had only applications on the commercial model.
The Enigma was an extremely complicated electro-mechanical system based on drums or rotors for encoding.
The machine very much resembles a typewriter with the addition of a panel built into its lid in which were inserted
26 small glass windows indicating each letter of the alphabet and on the underside of the panel was an equal
number of tiny lamps. Inside the machine, mounted on one axle were 3 rotating drums and a reflector connected
by an elaborate system of wiring which was powered by either electricity or battery. At the stroke of a key, two
things occurred: one or more of the rotors would revolve, and the glow lamps would simultaneously light up
next to the letter above it. So by typing a plain text in ordinary language, the keys made the appropriate windows
illuminate. But for the purpose of conducting a secret communication, sender and receiver had to possess a
cipher, or "key ", a device which encrypted each letter through the manipulation of numerous levers and knobs.
In his mathematical analysis, Rejewski was able to obtain positive results using group theory. The first break
came from the French secret service which possessed some documents on machine ciphers. It didn't
contribute to cracking the Enigma code but helped in the process of achieving it. The documents dated in 1932
provided real coded messages sent at specific times in that year. When the Poles compared the old messages
that they had intercepted, to the key settings, and combined it to mathematical analysis - they hit the jackpot.
The Poles easily figured out its inner wiring. It was not difficult for them to discover that the wiring of the ring
was in the same alphabetical order as they appeared on the German typewriter, so precise were the Germans for
ordung (order). By 1934 the Poles were able to reproduce 15 Enigmas, at the AVA Radio Manufacturing Company
at 34 Nowy Swiat Street in Warsaw, its engineer, the brilliant Antoni Palluth.
There was a continuing challenge to overcome. The Germans made frequent changes to the Enigma, but the
Poles kept up every step of the way, deciphering every message-sometimes succeeding with only luck and
In July 1939, the Polish team met with their French and British counterparts in Warsaw. War was imminent.
With the authorization of Polish General Waclaw Stachiewicz, the French and British teams were each presented
with a perfect working copy of the Polish-made Enigma machine. That the Allies knew about Germany's position
and strength along Polands borders was entirely attributed to the Polish success in decryptment of German
In 1939, teams of French, British, and Polish experts set up a radio monitoring system in Paris, code named
Bruno, where German Enigma signals were intercepted. These messages were then transmitted to the team
in London Bletchley Center. From the messages intercepted the Allies discovered information on special
German operations and communication systems, reports of German agents and instructions given to them,
as well as intelligence reports that the Germans were collecting on Allied operations. Also discovered were
the orders of battle. Over 287 radio transmissions were intercepted in a matter of a few months. They were
deciphered and relayed to counter-intelligence.
Despite numerous claims to the contrary, the solution to the Enigma was made by the Poles. Numerous
British periodicals attest to the Polish discovery, in articles written by F.W. Winterbotham, Patrick Beesly, Ronald
Lewin, Ralph Bennett, Gordon Welchman, and many others
The Use of Enigma in World War II
The Battle of Britain (1940)
Bletchley intercepted a stream of German Enigma messages in which detailed information was obtained on the
strength and deployment of German air fleets.
The African Campaign (1941-1943)
A complete order of battle was obtained concerning Rommels’ forces and his plans to attack the British Eighth
Army. Counter measures were enacted to subvert Germanys' plans.
The Italian Campaign
The ciphers at Bletchley Park were able to read frequent Enigma messages sent by Hitler to his Commander
Kesselring, in southern Europe, and to Rommel stationed in Naples.
The Battle of the Atlantic
Unfortunately, early in the war, England had not yet attained consistent success at decrypting Enigma messages.
In the period from January 10, March 1941, Germans were sinking more British ships than could be replaced by
British shipyards. The British were able to score an incredible coup in May 1941 when they captured a U-110.
The prize confiscated from the ship was a German Enigma machine, complete with a set of charts, code books
and cipher keys. By 1943, England had no problem reading Enigma signals, and was able to determine the
arrival and departure of U-boats, as well as the quantity of U-boats at sea. Even when the English gained the
upper hand, the Germans never suspected that they had discovered the Enigma key. Through the secret
advantage, the British were able to improve command and protect Allied convoys.
Operation Overlord- France (June 6, 1944)
The Allies used the Enigma machine to feed misleading information to the Germans regarding the site of Allied
landings, resulting in the Germans remobilizing in the wrong area. When the Allies landed at Normandy, it came
as a complete surprise to the Germans. It was the oldest trick in the book and the Germans fell for it.
German V1 and V2 Rockets
Through reports transmitted by the Poles, the Allies were informed of the location of the manufacturing plants
producing Hitlers V-1 and V-2 rockets. The RAF was dispatched to bomb the entire installation located at
Peenemunde. It set back German rocket production for six months.
The Enigma machine alerted the Allies of Germany's plans to attack Denmark, Norway, and France. Cryptologists
worked around the clock intercepting and deciphering messages. When France fell to the Germans, the Bruno
team evacuated, but due to Allied command returned to France, albeit to its southern region, still not occupied.
There they continued their radio transmissions under the code name CADIX. The Nazis never suspected.
The Polish team kept frequent communication with the Polish Commander-in-Chief in London. Assignments
were received and reports sent, sometimes even using the Enigma machine, and facetiously ending with the
message “Heil Hitler!" When the Nazis invaded the rest of France, the Cadix team scattered and escaped to
Britain through a circuitous route through Spain, and Portugal.
Rejewski and Zygalski finally reached London in 1943 after a perilous journey, and detention in a Spanish
concentration camp. They were astonished to discover that they were being excluded from the inner sanctum
of Bletchley Park. Instead they were relegated to lower level ciphering work at the Radio Battalion at Stanmore
The British had tried to break the Enigma code but failed. Only with the collaboration of the French and Polish
teams could Britain crack 83 % of the codes out of a total of 126 Enigma keys. From 1940 to 1945 the Polish
success rate skyrocketed - from decoding a few hundred messages to over 9,000 messages. "The breaking
of the Enigma by Poland was one of the cornerstones of the Allied victory over Normandy." (David A. Hatch,
cryptology expert, Center of Cryptologic History, NSA Fort George G. Meade, Maryland
Since the end of the war, there emerged a staunch refusal by the British to even acknowledge the contribution
made by the Poles to the Enigma. British records which might have attested to this fact mysteriously disappeared
or were destroyed. Some attribute this stonewalling to a sense of rivalry experienced by the British Intelligence.
In volume 5 of "British Intelligence in the Second World War" only a passing was made to the fact that the
Poles intercepted and deciphered German messages about the V-1 and V-2 rocket plant at Peenemunde.