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Step into the world of wartime secrets; LINDSAY SUTTON visits the Bletchley Park code-breaking site, credited with shortening the war by two years.


THE numbers game was a real challenge for the war-time Bletchley Park team trying to crack the German military code that had 159 million million million possibilities.

But crack it they did - and they kept quiet about their heroic but secret victory for more than 30 years after the Second World War had ended. Not exactly a case of "crack and tell" in anyone's language.

Yet the work of the Bletchley Park code-breakers - a team of academics, MI6 operatives and thousands of Civvie Street processors - is said to have shortened the war by two years. Little wonder that Winston Churchill called them: "The geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled."

It is a truly British story. A small team winning out against the odds in cracking the German's highly-sophisticated Enigma Code, including the channel used for Hitler's personal orders.

A vast army of support staff - mainly Wrens who worked tirelessly and laboriously at their task - kept the whole operation secret from prying eyes.

And an elaborate smokescreen was designed to conceal the fact that Britain had gained access to Nazi military orders and plans.

Even the aspect of 'make-do-andmend' in the operation itself brings a smile to your face.

Until the team wrote to Churchill, Bletchley Park was massively underresourced. Churchill changed all that by ordering: "Give 'em all they need and report back directly to me!" The breakthrough came when Cambridge mathematics genius Alan Turing - played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game - and Gordon Welchman invented 'the Bombe,' the electro-mechanical device that reduced the vast number of possible coded message settings to a manageable number for handtesting by the army of Wrens and support staff.

It was, in fact, an embryonic computer system, leading on to the building of the world's first computer at Manchester University after the war - a lead squandered ironically by Churchill's 1951 Conservative Government which cut all 'unnecessary' funding that had been used to develop such enterprises!

However, back at Bletchley, the very Britishness of the operation made us quite smugly proud.

There you had the first 'computer' ever, but the six-step decoding procedure - done on paper in a series of different huts - was despatched from one hut to another through specially made hatches, using large wooden trays - and pushed on their way by a broom handle!

It's a great story, and an astonishing one. You feel quite privileged to be given an insight by expert guide Joel Greenberg, who has written the biography of Gordon Welchman, and who knows his stuff.

On a quick-march, two-hour visit, it's recommended you spend 40 minutes in the' Introductory Exhibition, Secrets Revealed' in the Visitors' Centre, then 20 minutes in the Cyber Security Exhibition, followed by an hour on the guided tour.

A four-hour visit means you can visit the code-breaking huts, then marvel at the 'Brilliant Minds' behind the project, before seeing a replica of the 'Bombe' itself.

Once the Enigma code was cracked, the Allies took care not to reveal anything to the Germans. When decoded information pinpointed where to target enemy shipping, a reconnaissance aircraft had to be sent out before action was taken, so that the Germans thought this was the reason their position was known.

When the war was over, Churchill ordered the 'Bombe' be destroyed.

Despite the fact that thousands worked on the Bletchley project, the full secret of the operation was not revealed until the 1970s. Even then, many operators never revealed anything, even to their own families.

One former female operator - now in her nineties - revisited the site with her daughter, and revealed she had been taught to speak Japanese at Bletchley when she was assigned the task of cracking their codes. Her daughter was astonished at the revelation, and the fact that her mother had never hinted at her range of skills and activities.

Here's some advice for visitors to this fascinating heritage site that hopes to soon attract 250,000 people a year with its developing programme.

Give yourself plenty of time - four hours to do it justice - and wrap up against the cold on your walks between the visitor centre, the huts and the original mansion which currently houses an exhibition on the Imitation Game movie.

Take a lunch break to warm up at the splendid Hut Cafe.

NEED TO KNOW | For information, visit www.

| (Full adult admission PS16.75. Family ticket PS38.50) Bletchley Park is now a |National Rail 2 for 1 Attraction - see


| The first computers Colossus and, inset, a reconstruction of the Bombe |which was destroyed after the war. Below, Bletchley Park Mansion and inside one of the restored huts where the codebreakers worked MODERN IMAGES: (c)ShaunArmstrong/ WARTIME IMAGES: (c)Crown. Reproduced by kind permission, Director, GCHQ

The Enigma Machine, left, an advanced coding machine used by the Germans and, right, the cipher office
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:May 16, 2015
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