Bletchley Park 1


This is the first day of our road trip down to Cornwall. We got an early start, we have a pretty good distance to travel and a lot to do.

This first leg is the longest one, a drive of  about a 180 miles from Llan Ffestiniog to Milton Keynes and the Mansion at Bletchley Park.

P1000969 This is the mansion at Bletchley Park.

Before WWII, Bletchley Park was a center for the English cryptographic research. Once the war started and reading intercepted German communications became a priority, it was expanded greatly and was the wartime home to some of the finest minds in the world. It was the cryptographic equivalent to the U.S.  Manhattan project, and probably cut two years off the war.

There were essentially two groups of German Crypgraphic systems. Enigma, used for tactical communications, and Lorenz which was used for high level communications.

P1010031 The Enigma machine.

With help from their allies, and a good start from the Poles who captured an Enigma and developed an early version of the decrypting machine, called a “Bombe”, Bletchley park developed their own bombe and eventually able to crack enigma codes in just minutes. Which was a good thing, because they changed daily.

The front and back of a bombe.

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Lorenz codes were about 1 million times  more complicated than Enigma, so mechanical methods of decoding wouldn’t work. Again, Bletchley Park came through, this time with Colossus, the worlds first programmable electronic computer.

Using 2500 vacuum tubes and an optical paper tape reader for it’s input, Colossus was able to crack Lorenz and was so secret it was unknown by everyone else until the 70’s. Rebuilt from the memories of the men who originally worked  on it, the replica was switched on in 1996 and is still operating for visitors.

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In the same wing with Colossus is the computer museum, which is currently pretty small, but has a lot of donated bits and I expect good things.

This is a Commodore Pet, one of the first computers I used, and Sterling holding the disk from an old hard drive array. The original array ( about 8 of these disks ) was only 200MB.

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Bletchley Park was really great ( though it needs more support ) but it was a little too Geeky for Jeanette and Teresa, so they want on a canal walk instead, to be covered in my next post.


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