• Travel, Science and Natural Hi auction at Christies

    Sale 2362

    Travel, Science and Natural History

    29 September 2011, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 109

    A THREE-ROTOR ENIGMA CIPHER MACHINE

    CIRCA 1939

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    A THREE-ROTOR ENIGMA CIPHER MACHINE
    circa 1939
    Number A-1206, with electric core, three aluminium rotors each stamped WaA618, raised 'QWERTZ' keyboard with crackle black painted metal case, plugboard in the front with ten patch leads, carrying case with spare bulbs, and green night-time filter.
    13¼ x 11 x 6in. (34x28x15cm.)


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    The three-rotor ENIGMA, the standard German electronic ciphering machine widely used in World War II. It derives from a 1919 patent of a Dutch inventor, H.A. Koch; an early design marketed by Dr. Arthur Scherbius was bought out by the German military in 1929 and placed in service. ENIGMA in several variants was used by the German Navy, the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, the state railroad system, the Abwehr (intelligence) and the SS.

    It was designed with a complex, interchangeable series of three rotors bearing the 26-character alphabet, a 'reflector' and a plugboard with movable connecting cords that connected pairs of letters. As an added precaution, the base or starting settings for the rotors was changed every 24 hours, according to pre-printed setting registers furnished in advance or supplied daily by courier. It has been calculated that the 3-rotor ENIGMA, with plugboard in use, made possible a total of 15 billion billion possible readings for each character.

    ENIGMA was widely regarded by the Germans as too complex to be broken, but in the 1930s a team of Polish analysts (Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rszycki and Henryk Zygalski), made remarkable progress in working out the machine's basic system, identified its vulnerabilities and succeeded in deciphering much of the encrypted German radio traffic. Their findings, including plans for very useful mechanical devices known as 'bombes', which aided in the decryption operation, were secretly passed on in 1939 to French and British investigators. An elite team of cryptanalysts, mathematicians and engineers including Alan Turing (1912-54) were established in a top-secret facility at Bletchley Park. For the rest of the war that legendary team's heroic and unstinting efforts gradually accomplished the seemingly insurmountable task of deciphering an enormous volume of encrypted communications. The critical intelligence deriving from their decipherment was dubbed ULTRA and was employed cautiously but to great effect during the war; some commentators credit ULTRA with shortening the war by some two years.

    This example is number 115 in David Hammer's 2005 census, the rotors have since been replaced.

    Provenance

    One of the machines used in the 2001 film Enigma
    Crypto Museum until 2007
    On loan from a private collection to The Combined Military Services Museum, Maldon 2008-2010
    Whence acquired by current owner