Bletchley Park

About sixty kilometres north of London, in Milton Keynes, lay one of the Second World War’s most secret places, Station X. It was here code breakers deciphered codes from German military encryption machines, thus pre-empting Germany’s military action. The Germans used a complicated encryption machine called Enigma. Through Enigma, the German submarine fleet was able to assemble submarines for a joint attack on allied convoys. Convoys vital to the British war effort and survival. But when the British cracked the code, the convoys could be diverted away from the submarines. Enigma was just one of several encryption machines and it was used not only for offshore operations but also for ground and flight operations. For the British, this was a difficult balancing act, to pre-empt the germans enough that they didn’t suspect their that their code system had been cracked. 

The decipher operation at Bletchley Park began just before the outbreak of the war. The area was isolated from the surrounding area and few knew what was going on, although they suspected it was something secret. Those who worked with deciphering at Bletchley were mainly mathematicians, but also experts in crosswords and skilled chess players. To crack the codes, the British built two highly advanced computer machines called Bombe (1940) and Colossus (1944). When the Americans entered the war, Britain also allowed American deciphers to come and work in Bletchley park. Their main task was to crack Japanese encryption codes. A total of about 10,000 people worked at Bletchley Park at various times during the war. Mathematician Alan Turing is the best known of all those who worked at Bletchley Park.

Current status: Preserved with museum (2008).

Address: Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, MK3 6EB.

Get there: Bus from Milton Keynes train station.

My comment:

After the war, much of the equipment used in deciphering was destroyed and the site fell into oblivion. It was not until the 1970s that it was publicly revealed what had been going on in Bletchley Park. According to the museum, the war was shortened by at least two years but this is something that is still being debated about. Regardless, Bletchley Park had a major impact on the war.

Follow up in books: McKay, Sinclair: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2015).