Tag Archives: Enigma machine

Merry Christmas, Dr Turing

Alan Turing Sculpture at Bletchley Park

The Alan Turing Sculpture at Bletchley Park

Yesterday morning, I woke to the news that Alan Turing had been granted a pardon.


Driving to work, I cheered and punched the air as the news item on Turing was read, a big grin breaking out across my face.  I parked up at work and stayed in the car to listen to Professor S Barry Cooper and Baroness Trumpington discuss Turing and Bletchley Park (Today, BBC Radio 4, 24/12/2013).

Walking into the office, I received cheery greetings of Merry Christmas, to which I replied “It is a Merry Christmas indeed, especially for Dr Turing”.  I took the slightly puzzled looks as an invitation to educate and spoke about “On Computable Numbers”, the Universal Turing Machine and the ten month blackout from reading Naval Enigma in 1942 (deciding not to continue into Artificial Intelligence or Morphogenesis).   I then sat at my desk, and smiled at my brand new Universal Machine that the IT department had installed for me the day before. How apt, I thought.

I’m well aware of the controversial nature of this pardon and I can understand this view point.  Turing was legally convicted of a crime that he had committed.  Further, Turing was just one of thousands to be convicted of the crime of gross indecency.  To pardon one raises the question that surely we must pardon them all?  Another question raised, is whether it is right to pardon anyone convicted of acts that were once criminal but are no longer so?  This is something that will no doubt be subject of endless debate. 

Hut 8 at Bletchley Park where Alan Turing Worked

Hut 8 at Bletchley Park where Alan Turing Worked

A perpetual problem for those trying to get recognition for someone is that there are always those who think differently or those who feel that others have been forgotten.  Everyone has their heroes/heroines and their own opinions as to who should be recognised and how they should be recognised.

If credit is given to Turing for the breaking of Enigma, we are reminded that the Polish broke Enigma first.  Professor Brian Cox featured Bill Tutte on Science Britannica and was questioned as to why he did not feature Turing.  Similarly, those who campaign for the arts, history or heritage often find that their causes are deemed less significant than those that tackle illness or poverty.  We live in a complicated world of endless good causes, but we can at least be thankful that our world is a more tolerant one.

I believe that history is important.  I believe that the story of Bletchley Park is important.  I believe that Turing is important, but I also think the same of Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers (and others, the list too endless to reproduce).  They were all unique and I am grateful to them for their unique contributions, which as part of the team effort at Bletchley Park contributed to shortening the Second World War.  

Members of the Bill Tutte Club learning about Enigma

Members of the Bill Tutte Club learning about Enigma

Tutte is not as well known as Turing.  That is why we  strive to raise awareness of this ‘forgotten hero’ through education, which is the principal aim of the Bill Tutte Memorial Fund  http://www.billtuttememorial.org.uk/education.htm .

This year, the fund has established a Bill Tutte Club in Newmarket to educate young people in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) http://www.billtuttememorial.org.uk/club.htm and fundraising continues to provide a scholarship to encourage the study of mathematics or computing at university.  You can donate here:  https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/billtuttememorialfund

For me, 2014 will be the year that  the Bill Tutte memorial is unveiled in Newmarket.  The memorial is at the heart of our education programme and it is something that I am immensely proud of.  In 2014, Tutte will finally have the recognition that he deserves.

So today, Christmas Day, I would like to say Merry Christmas to all those who in whatever way, strive to make this world a better place.  I would like to say Merry Christmas to those who give their time for causes in which they believe so passionately and I would like to say Merry Christmas to all those who donate to such causes.  But most of all, I would like to say:

“Merry Christmas, Dr Turing”.

Author: Claire Butterfield 





Bill Who? The Lesser Known Codebreaker of Bletchley Park

The work of Bletchley Park during the Second World War is inspirational-numerous codes were broken and incalculable lives were saved. It is important to remember that code breaking at Bletchley Park was a team effort and not something that one person could have achieved alone. However, some people are prominent due to their unique contribution; Bill Tutte was one of those people.
W. T. (Bill) Tutte

W. T. (Bill) Tutte

“Bill who?” Is the standard response I receive whenever I mention his name. If I’m lucky, then the person to whom I am speaking has heard of Bletchley Park and Enigma, and if it is a really good day then they have heard of Alan Turing; but it is rarely the case that they have heard of Lorenz, Colossus, Bill Tutte or Tommy Flowers.
A Naval Enigma Machine

A Naval Enigma Machine

So let me clarify. Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code as used by the German Army, Navy and Air Force. It was a cipher transmitted via Morse code and was an important tactical code to break. The breaking of Enigma is widely remembered for its significance when tackling U-boat threat during the Battle of the Atlantic. When we talk about Tutte, Flowers and Colossus, this is in reference to the Lorenz cipher-an enciphering attachment to a teleprinter machine. Lorenz was used by the German High Command, so a break into Lorenz revealed the strategy of Hitler and his generals-highly significant communications during World War Two.
Lorenz SZ42

Lorenz SZ42

So what was Bill Tutte’s contribution to the breaking of Lorenz?
Very simply, Tutte deduced the structure of the Lorenz cipher through analysis of two pieces of cipher text where the original messages had been enciphered using the same settings, but with slight differences between the texts (e.g abbreviations and misspellings). This meant the encipherment could be removed and then Tutte could look for recurring patterns within the text, eventually deducing the entire structure of the machine. This enabled Tommy Flowers to design and build Colossus, the world’s first digital computer, which was used to break the Lorenz cipher. Tutte’s achievement has been described as the greatest intellectual feat of the Second World War, because unlike Enigma, Tutte deduced the structure of Lorenz with no information about the machine or what it looked like.
Surely that deserves a memorial?
Author: Claire Butterfield