To-be-Auctioned Rare WWII German Coding Machine ‘Enigma’ Awakens Memories of WWII ‘Intelligence’ Battle

Enigma Machine during WWII

British auction house, Bonhams, is putting up a rare German code machine used by the Nazis for coding their military messages during the Second World War in auction this coming October 29. The said device known as ‘Enigma’ is expected to fetch over 50,000 pounds ($79,775).

the said sale brings to mind the role this certain machine had  during World War II and the counter-measures the Allies, particularly the British, had to do – counter-agents that included the making of the forerunners of modern-age computers.

The particular machine in the hands of the auction house was built in 1944 and was used for a time by the Nazis in the remaining days of WWII. The WWII gadget may have seen little action but a specialist from the London auction house putting it under the hammer was quick to note that the machine is ‘untouched and unrestored’ – meaning it still has its original parts intact and did not undergo modification after WWII ended.

The Enigma in ‘Enigma’ Machines

Enigma machines were mechanical cipher machines invented by a German engineer Arthur Scherbius after World War I ended. Eraly models of the Enigma machines were used commercially in the 1920s. The German Navy was the first to buy one model, modified it and used it for their operations in 1926. The German military followed suit a few years later. It was also bought and adopted by a number of countries for government and military use.

The Enigma machines, however, became heavily connected to the Nazis when they decided to use it before and during WWII. Among the many models of the cipher machine, those used by the German military in the Second World War is the most discussed.

An early Enigma machine had three sets of rotors which proceeded to code messages typed through its keypad by ‘scrambling’ it. This scrambled message was then sent via Morse code. Only another Enigma machine configured in the same pattern as the one which made the message would be able decode it.

In the later part of World War II, the Nazis built more complex Enigma machines which had sets of five rotors instead of three. These rotors were interchanged to greatly increase the number of possible variants, thus, decoding the message made by the model would be more difficult without the use of another Enigma machine configured in the same way as it.

Breaking through the Code

The Polish Cipher Bureau were the first to decipher coded messages –  German military texts at that – enciphered with the use of the Enigma machines. the said success resulted from the efforts made by three Polish cryptologists –  Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski, all three worked for the Polish military intelligence.

Rejewski was the one who studied the device through reverse engineering, figuring it out with the use of theoretical mathematics and other materials supplied by the French military intelligence. Afterwards, the three mathematicians made built mechanical devices which would break Enigma-enciphered messages including the Bomba Kryptologiczna (cryptologic bomb) or siply known as Bomba in October of 1938.

The following year, in the 25th of July, the Poles allowed representatives from the French and British military intelligence to garner the knowledge about the discovered know-hows on Enigma decryption including the devices they used, the Zyglaski sheets and the Bomba. Without these shared knowledge and these technological gifts from the Poles and the work of the three mathematicians/cryptologists – Rejewski, Rozycki and Zygalski – decryption of the Nazis’ coded military texts by the British may have been a next-to-impossible feat.

the turning-over of deciphering devices by the Poles to the British was a fateful event as shortly after it, Germans invaded Poland.

Bletchley Park, the hub of the efforts made by British intelligence to decode Enigma-enciphered messages.
Bletchley Park, the hub of the efforts made by British intelligence to decode Enigma-enciphered messages.

World War II

When World War II broke out, the German military employed the Enigma machines and upgraded these devices in part of their efforts to keep their communications secret.

The British, on the other hand, armed with the devices and the knowledge they got from the Poles put up an intelligence hub in Bletchley Park devoted solely to decoding Nazi Germans’ cryptic messages.

Germans did everything to keep their codes secret but the team in Bletchley, including members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, also put up so much effort in trying to decode them and most succeeded in that.

The role played by Alan Mathison Turing, a British mathematician, was also very vital in the deciphering of the German coded messages produce by the Enigma machines with codes which the enemy changed everyday. Turing made his own device dubbed as Bombe, from the Polish Bomba, which helped speed up the code-breaking procedure.

The device made by the mathematical genius was not able to decipher codes on its own automatically. However, when analysts had manually broken through with a few letters or words like names of generals, places or even common short words like ‘they’ and ‘to’, it then proceeded to test the hundreds of other possible combinations to put the code together. There were over a hundred of these said machines produced during the height of WWII but after the war, they were all destroyed. A replica has been built in 2008 and can be seen in Bletchley Park which is now converted into a museum.

Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers also did a great contribution during the Second World War when it came to code deciphering. In his quest to beat the Nazis’ intelligence arm, he constructed the world’s first proper computer dubbed as Colossus.

Flowers developed the machine using a network fitted with thousands of electronic valves. It was able to break through the Lorenz Cipher, which the Nazis’ high command used for messages though of too sensitive to transmit using the Enigma machines.

For a fact, the Colossus Mark II, was finished less than one week before the Normandy landings giving the Allies a deciding edge in the last stages of WWII.

Intelligence amassed from the Germans’ Enigma transmission. known as Ultra, had been a very vital factor in the Allies’ victory over Germany’s Third Reich.

‘It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war,’ British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reportedly told King George VI after winning the war.

Official chronicler of the whereabouts of British intelligence during WWII, Sir Harry Hinsley, also held Ultra in high esteem.

“Thanks to the information gained through Ultra, the war was shortened by not less than two years and probably by four years,” he said.

Enigma Machine in Auction

Jon Baddeley of the Bonhams auction house said during the interview that the exact number of Enigma machines produced remains unknown.

‘During the war, many were destroyed for fear of them falling into enemy hands, and documents about their manufacture were often burned or simply lost. What we do know is that there were at least five mainstream versions employed by the German military.’

He also explained how the Germans used the said devices for their coded messages.


‘The first machines to be used in a military capacity only had a fixed set of three wheels. Later, a set of five wheels were used so that they could be interchanged to dramatically increase the number of variants available. Each machine could use the interchangeable wheels from any enigma, so to find a matching set of wheels with the same serial number as the Enigma is rare.’

One such machine with that feature is the one which will be auctioned come October 29.

‘Enigma machines rarely come up at auction, and this particular example is especially unique. It’s unusual because it has Bakelite thumb wheels instead of the more widely used metal ones: this was due to the diminishing availability of metal and other resources for the Wehrmacht [German military] towards the end of the war. t’s also special because it’s untouched and un-restored. Many machines were picked up by the allies as souvenirs during the final stages of World War II, and as such, their parts were mixed and matched. All of the elements of this one bear the same serial number, making it complete and original throughout,’ Baddeley further stated.

The said Enigma machine is encased in its own carrying case made from Oak bearing the year it was manufactured – 1944.

-The Las Vegas Sun and Daily Mail (UK) report; added information via Wikipedia 




Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE