Royal Navy officer who seized Enigma machine from a raided German U-Boat has died aged 95

A Royal Navy veteran and hero has died aged 95. Lieutenant Commander David Balme led the team who stole the Nazis’ infamous Enigma machine after capturing and boarding a German U-Boat in 1941.

Lieutenant Commander Balme died earlier this month, but his memory will live on in World War Two history as it is the capture of the Enigma machine that is lauded as a turning point in the battle for the Atlantic.

When Balme and his men raided the German U-Boat in 1941 off the coast of Greenland, they had no idea what they would find. Even when they came across the Enigma machine, they didn’t know what it was, but decided to send the machine and code books that were found with it back to England for analysis and investigation.

It was this discovery that ensured British intelligence experts were able to eventually pick up secret coded messages that the Nazis were sending to instruct its submarine fleet around the world.

The British Government had set up a huge code-breaking team based at Bletchley Park in England where records show that around 6000 German coded messages were being cracked every day.

Balme’s mission was not made public until decades after World War Two ended since it was highly classified.

David was born in Kensington, west London, in October 1920. When he was 14, he joined Dartmouth Naval College and served in the Royal Navy during the Spanish Civil War. Just as World War Two began, he was assigned to HMS Ivanhoe in 1939. By the 1940s, David had been reassigned to HMS Bulldog as a navigator, and it was during this time that they raided the German U-Boat that contained the Enigma machine.

They were ordered to retrieve as much as they could from the U-110, which they got to by row boat from their ship. David recalled how he had been a prime target for any Nazi troops in the submarine as he had to climb down three shafts of ladders to reach the main control room.

The U-Boat was empty, so the Raiders spent about six hours searching the vessel and taking anything that they thought was important.

U-110 was taken in tow back toward Britain but sank en route to Scapa Flow.

Once the war had ended, David got married, had a family and became a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

In 1999 he condemned a Hollywood attempt to re-write history after it was revealed that a major film was going to tell the story that the Enigma device was captured by an American destroyer in the Mediterranean.

He said to the Daily Mail  ‘Rome and Malta make for better scenery than Greenland and Scapa Flow but Enigma was among the greatest British triumphs of the war.

‘It’s wrong to pretend the Americans were responsible. People don’t like that sort of thing.’

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE