War heroes will be reunited with the engineering masterpiece that played a crucial part in cracking the Nazi Enigma codes and ultimately saved the lives of thousands. They will watch the Bombe machine at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, receive a special Engineering Heritage Award on Tuesday 24 March at the park in Milton Keynes at 11.45 noon.
This will be the 48th such award given by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). All 210 original machines, built by engineering masterminds at the British Tabulator Machine Company at Letchworth, were destroyed after the war but blueprints found at Bletchley back in 1970s started a mammoth mission to recreate a replica Bombe. It took a staggering 13 years, and funding from a host of groups such as the British Computer Society, to finish the project. Volunteer John Harper, led the rebuild team.
It was the film Enigma Code film, starring Kate Winslet, which brought the magical story alive of the code breakers. Thought up by genius mathematical genius’ Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman the concept was then passed onto BTM who developed and built them. Bombes were manufactured at the rate of one a week and its 99.9% accuracy was vital in the decoding process which sometimes meant up to 5,000 messages a day could be broken!
The electro-mechanical devices were deployed across a handful of secret army establishments in Britain where scores of mostly young women would work on cracking and deciphering cryptic messages sent over the air by the Germans – who defiantly believed their intelligence and engineering machinery was far superior to Britain’s. In fact, they didn’t even know Bletchley existed or that some of the country’s most intelligent and brave young men and women – mostly handpicked from universities or debutante families – were decoding vital messages. Initially the odds of cracking the codes were a staggering 158,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1 (that’s a 158 million, million, million to one!!). But succeed they did.
A live demonstration of the Bombe in action will take place at the award ceremony at noon.
It is now widely acknowledged that the Bombe indeed cut the War short by two years and thus saved the lives of thousands.