The Enigma Machine in World War II

on Thursday, 27 June 2013
The enigma machine was a spy intelligence data gathering tool that was used by the German Navy, Army and Air Force in World War II. It was also used by other governmental agencies and departments of the Reich and the railway system. The armed forces needed to be able to send strategic information to distant units without revealing their plan to the enemy should the message be intercepted, so the machine was used to encrypt and decipher messages and commands. The machine was designed to look like a standard typewriter, but was far more complex.

The Invention of the Enigma Cipher Machine

Enigma was invented just after the end of World War I by German engineer and inventor Dr. Arthur Scherbius. Scherbius, whose name is synonymous with the Scherbius Principle, related to asynchronous motors, invented the Enigma machine for primarily commercial uses in the 1920s. It was in the mid to late 1920s when the machine was adapted from military use in Germany in 1929. A U.S. patent was granted for the machine in 1928 by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Patent No. 1,657, 411, 1928).

Scherbius, having matriculated with a doctorate in electrical engineering 1903 and having worked with several German and Swiss electrical firms, partnered with E. Richard Ritter to form the firm Scherbius & Ritter in 1918. The early Enigma machines were placed into use to provide commercial codes, proving to be a cost effective way to send messages and coded cables internationally, thus lowering the cost of such cables.

Militarization of the Enigma Machine

As Germany plunged into the depths of the worldwide depression and hyperinflation that effected many countries around the world after the first World War, including the United States, the military began to rebuild and retool itself. The Enigma machine, enjoying success as a commercial ciphering device, piqued the interest of the German military who eventually saw the device as vital to the militarization of the country under the Third Reich and its leader, Adolph Hitler.

The sophistication of the Enigma machine (seen as a forerunner of the modern computer), provided German cryptologists with a way to send coded messages to forward troop positions ahead of the 1939 Eastern Europe campaign and start of World War II, as well as to U-Boat commanders in the Atlantic in order to disrupt merchant shipping lanes.

Bletchley Park Code Breakers

A team of British cryptologists, led by mathematician Alan Turing, was charged with the task of breaking the Enigma code in order to discover U-Boat patterns in the Atlantic Ocean which preyed on U.S. Merchant Marine shipments that the country desperately needed in support of their wartime effort. Turing's team, housed in the English countryside at a place called Bletchley Park, were able to decipher the coded messages of the Enigma machine, uncovering Nazi war movements and plans for such campaigns as that in North Africa that led to the downfall of Benito Mussolini, D-Day, and the Russian campaign.

The significance of Turing's team at Bletchley Park contributed significantly to breaking the Nazi war machine and contributed to the turnaround in fortune of Allied forces in the war against Germany. Enigma machines now sit behind glass in museums or in personal collections, remind those who see them of our shared history of both ingenuity and violence.

Toby Henderson is a freelance writer who focuses on computers, technology, gadgets, gadget accessories, cell phones and other related topics; phone owners looking for solutions to iphone water damage should visit