Where did the Allied Codebreakers of WWII carry on their secretive, vital work? It was at an unassuming place outside London called Bletchley Park, a Victorian mansion and its grounds and outbuildings. The house, on its way to ruin, was grabbed up by the Allies in WWII, and some of the greatest secrets of the war were uncovered here by the brilliant Codebreakers recruited to work in the huts hastily built on the property. The whole operation remained top secret through the war, and those who worked here kept their wartime occupation a mystery for decades. About the time the huts got so dilapidated they were falling over, people rallied to save the complex. History, they felt, should reveal what went on here, the tedious and the amazing.
Today you can tour the mansion, the grounds, and some of the huts that have been restored. No one lived here during the war. The house was turned into offices and a library.
The fine museum gives you an idea of how the German messages were decoded using Enigma machines and elaborate precursors to computers called “bombes.” Two men headed up the development of the bombes: Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman. All of these bombes were destroyed after the war, but an organization raised funds and rebuilt one from existing plans. You may have seen this bombe in the movie about Bletchley Park, “The Imitation Game.” Demonstrations give an idea of the complexity and noise of these computers.
The steps before the final decoding were done by teams of different people. Enigma messages arrived in Hut 6, then went to Hut 3 for translation and analysis. Most people who worked at Bletchley knew only their small part of the operation, which helped maintain the secrecy. Everyone knew that if the Germans discovered that their Enigma machines were being decoded, they would quickly switch the way they conveyed messages. More than one million German Air Force and German Army messages were decoded at Bletchley. The secret of the Codebreakers held until well after the war ended.
An informative tour is included with admission. Here’s our dapper and enthusiastic guide, Hugh.
Want to know more about Bletchley Park? Besides “The Imitation Game,” the movie “Enigma” also shows life at Bletchley Park. Several books about Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman are available. And I recommend the excellent television show, “The Bletchley Circle.” If you are near London, consider spending a day at Bletchley Park. The world of the Codebreakers will fascinate you.
If you go:
Bletchley Park is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 16:00 p.m.
Adult admission is 17.25 Euros; children 12 – 17 are 10.25 Euros; children under 12 free
From London, take the train to Bletchley Park and walk about 2 blocks to the museum.
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