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Gwen Watkins. Cracking the Luftwaffe Codes: The Secrets of Bletchley Park.

Gwen Watkins. Cracking the Luftwaffe Codes: The Secrets of Bletchley Park, Green_hill Books, London, 2006, ISBN 1-85367-687-X, hard cover with dust jacket, 232 pages, 13 b&w photos plus one plan of Bletchley Park, 13 cm x 19 cm. UK15.99 [pounds sterling].

A fair bit has been written in recent years about Bletchley Park or Station X activities during WW2 and even a TV documentary or two has gone to air. This is all very interesting stuff, but such information concerns mainly the German Army and German Navy. The Luftwaffe seems to have missed out until the publication of this interesting and not overly technical reminiscence of a former WAAF, who, because of her flair for languages and her phenomenal memory in some fields, was inducted into the Luftwaffe section of BP. Any reader seeking information on the top secret technology of cracking ciphers in WW2 had best look elsewhere. This delightful read is more of a social history of the British at war and a social commentary of the times than actual dramatic code cracking. The compartmentalisation of the various sections at BP is emphasised as well as the seemingly pointless sifting of intercepted enemy radio traffic.

The book is enlivened by descriptions of the array of talented eccentrics who worked at BP. Perhaps if the various sections had been freer to meet and mingle the book would have been a treasure trove of commentary on talented personalities crammed into an English manor setting. As it is some well known names are aired, e.g. Alan Turing, Telford Taylor, Oliver Strachey and William Bundy. The account provides invaluable glimpses of the mindset of the workers at BP, e.g. their dedication to their tasks, their resolve not to divulge the nature of their work to outsiders, and their not sharing details of their work with other section workers mainly because they were never asked, but also because everyone was sworn to secrecy. This secrecy obligation was taken seriously by all, and most took their stories to the grave even after the official ban was lifted many years after WW2. The author's impressions of the welfare of children in the war are interesting. She is of the opinion that nutritional standards and general health were raised because of rationing, which ensured basic food equality for all. The resourcefulness of the ordinary people and children in harvesting wild berries, fruits, mushrooms and the like, plus the proliferation of vegetable gardens ensured nobody starved and, as the author contends, the whole nation was better fed than it had ever been.

The appendix contains an essay entitled "Brief Introduction to Codes and Ciphers" by David Wendt, a former "brain" of BP. These 13 pages should part satisfy those who love puzzles and will probably whet their appetites for more. Another account in the appendix details some of the intelligence gathering and administrative tasks of the Control Commission (British Element) in Germany post VE Day. This is all very interesting material that is rarely seen in print. A helpful glossary rounds off this memorable glimpse of a Britain that was determined to do what had to be done to win the war.

Syd Wigzell
COPYRIGHT 2006 Military Historical Society of Australia
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Wigzell, Syd
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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