06 April, 2014

Bletchley Park, Enigma, and GB3RS

Enigma (Photo: R. Holm)
Bletchley Park, northwest of London (between Oxford and Cambridge), is one of the best known British sites from WW2. Its fame goes back to the breaking of the legendary Enigma cipher machine and its successor, the Lorenz cipher machine.

In order to perform this work a large effort in the development of early computers took place here. They include the mechanical Bombe for breaking the Enigma, and the valve-based Colossus for breaking the Lorenz.

The Bombe was reconstructed through a 13 year effort that resulted in an Engineering Heritage Award in 2009.

The Bombe machine (Photo: R. Holm)
Colossus was the world's first electronic digital computer that was at all programmable. It was also finally reconstructed in 2007 despite most of the hardware and blueprints being destroyed after WW2.

I visited it with my oldest son who lives in Cambridge, and it was a fascinating place that made me want to learn more about the work done at Bletchley Park and in particular one of the founders of computation, the brilliant Alan Turing, who was treated so badly after the war.

From left: Henry Ehm (M0ZAE), Peter Davies (M0PJD),
and Alan Goold (2E0GLD) on duty 5. April 2014
I was also impressed by the National Radio Centre run by the RSGB, callsign GB3RS, with its informative and well laid out exhibition and demonstrations.

They are able to keep it staffed for four days a week based on volunteers, and I really appreciated the hospitality and friendliness of the radio amateurs I met there.

If you ever come to London you should really try to visit this place. It is only a 36 minute train ride from London Euston station.