Sotheby's to sell rare WWII Enigma Code machine

Tin Man

Tin Man

2015-07-13 10:23:50

Sotheby's are set to offer a rare WWII Enigma code machine at an auction in London this week.

The machines were invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I, and were used by Nazi forces to send coded signals throughout WWII. The machines could be set up in 158 million, million, million different ways, which led many to believe the codes they produced were utterly unbreakable.

However, a team of Polish cryptographers made the initial breakthrough prior to the war, reverse-engineering the device using theoretical mathematics, and later passed their knowledge on to British and French experts.

Amongst these experts were the team at Bletchley Park led by Alan Turing, the "father of modern computing" whose work cracked important codes as the Germans scrambled to make them increasingly complex. It is thought that the work undertaken by Turing's team helped shorten WWII by two years, saving millions of lives in the process.

Turing's work also led to the development of mechanised decryption, laying the foundations for the dawn of the computer age. However, the secret status of his work meant his achievements remained classified for decades, and Turing later committed suicide in 1954 after being prosecuted for homosexuality.

It was not until 2009 that Turing's family received a public apology for his treatment by the British government, and in 2013 he was given a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth II.

During the final days of WWII, retreating Nazi forces destroyed as many of the Enigma machines as possible. So secret was the work at location like Bletchley Park, many governments around the world still believed the Enigma codes to be unbreakable and used the surviving machines for many years.

Now this rare example of the machine, built in 1943 and exceptionally well-preserved, will be offered at Sotheby's with an estimated value of £50,000-£70,000.

The Sotheby’s English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations Sale takes place in London on 14 July 2015.

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