Alan Turing

Alan Turing was the leader of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. This secretive group was responsible for breaking the German code that was sent through the Enigma machine. It is calculated that their work saved 11 million lives and shortened the war by 2 years.

Turing was an unlikely war hero. He had a mundane childhood, he was a bit scruffy, but brilliant at maths. He was sent to Sherborne Public school as a full time boarder. There he was allowed to develop his individuality. He went on to Cambridge University and started on code breaking while he was there. He had already started working part time for the Government on code breaking.

The German Enigma machine looked like a typewriter and was connected to a set of lights that indicated substitute letters for the code. There were between three and eight cogs that set the main code for the day. To break it using normal means required an enormous amount of permutations of the keys and they were changed on daily basis. Turing realised early on that only a machine could break it and he had already started.

The Bombe was his first machine and it was improved with the help of an engineer called Tommy Flowers and others. There was a small group of Mathematicians, German speakers and even people who were good at crossword puzzles. Churchill had decided to use people of any background to win the war by all means necessary.

They had a stolen Enigma machine that was liberated from a German warship by the Poles in 1938. This enabled Hut 8 to work on cracking the code. They were able to recover the daily codes from captured German warships at other times. The Code could be read from about 1941. This was a Godsend for the Navy as it helped fight the Battle of the Atlantic. The Germans added an extra code, possibly suspicious of the success the Royal Navy were having.

Once the code was broken again in 1942, Hut 8 was able to accurately decode most of the high level German codes. But it was important not to give away their victory and they had to be very subtle about how the information was used for the rest of the War. There were only a very few people outside of Hut 8 that knew of the success.

The work of Turing’s team helped tip the balance in the following battles; Battle of Britain, Battle of the Atlantic, El-Alamein and Operation Overlord (D Day). They also warned Stalin of the German invasion of Russia in 1941, but he refused to believe.

This brilliant work by Turing and his team was possibly the most significant contribution to the War effort. Fought by people who would probably have been completely out of place on a battlefield, these heroes were never allowed to speak of their work.

At the end of the War, Turing started to develop his machines into what has become known as the computer. He was arrested for his homosexuality and chose chemical castration over prison so he could continue his work. He was found at home after committing suicide.

This hero was only rightly acknowledged many years after his death. He was shy, unsocial, obsessive and eccentric, but fortunately there were those who recognised he had a value and allowed him to flourish in his own way. For the Gay movement he has become a cause celebre, his conviction was quashed sixty years too late.

But from all those within and without the confines of English Society and for those abroad, Alan Turing we salute you!

Conway-Laird (2017)

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