Visit to Bletchley Park, October 2014

by Mike Dodd

Thursday 16th October saw a bright eyed group of enthusiasts board a coach to visit the Second World War code breaking centre at  Bletchley Park (BP). Visions of more deluges saw the group well prepared for rain but none materialised and the sunshine greatly added to the success of the visit. We made it to BP in about 2 hours past seemingly interminable Milton Keynes roundabouts and were welcomed inside the Reception Area for a brief but informative introduction to the whole site. We were offered the choice of a guided tour, the use of a very sophisticated audio guide or to just do our own thing and many of the group repared to the excellent cafe to consider the next move.

The start of the BP complex gave us many audio visual displays emphasizing the critical importance of the work done there to the overall war effort in providing timely and crucial information about the enemy’s plans to such an extent that the general concensus was that the work of all at BP had shortened the war by up to 2 years and saved many lives in so doing.

The group found  the details provided either by guided tour, information boards or audio guides very comprehensive. The first stop for many was the large Museum block with a wealth of code and cipher breaking equipment, in particular the Enigma machines which had enabled the code breakers to intercept and then utilize many of the German, Italian and Japanese coded instructions to their military, naval and Air Force units and in particular to foil the U-Boat menace. Several of us noticed the spoof Evening Standard here which had been produced and distributed by the Germans to undermine British Morale.

Then on to the core of the code breaking operations in a cluster of huts where the intercepted coded messages were registered, broken, analysed, translated and then forwarded to the appropriate group for action. In these huts worked the acknowledged heroes of BP, men like Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and Tommy Flowers with a range of skills from Chessplayers to Mathematicians. Here the group was able to use interactive equipment to demonstrate the range of possibilities and probabilities the code breakers faced.

Nearby was the hut which held the enormous "Bombe" operated by WRNS in hot and noisy conditions designed to run through at high speed information from numerous Enigma settings to see if they produced clear text for onward analysis. Also several of the group were able to visit the National Museum of Computing to marvel at a copy of" Colossus" , the worlds first programmable electronic computer designed to break enciphered teleprinter traffic.

There was plenty of time for lunch in the cafes or by the lake to ponder on the enormity of the BP operation ( about 2000 people working there at any time but mainly living elsewhere) and the mind boggling complexities of their work. There was also time for a visit to the administrative areas in the Mansion before our equally good return journey, many reflecting that we had only scratched the surface of what went on in BP and on the sheer ingenuity and inventiveness of those who worked there.