The encyclopedic guide to useless facts on the internet.
Early History and Founding
Bletchley Park is an ancient English estate dating back to the eleventh century. It became the center for British spies in 1938 and played a major role decoding German messages in World War II. The British Secret Intelligence service, SIS, took advantage of the estate’s location halfway between Cambridge and Oxford by recruiting from both universities, looking for people with top mathematical and problem-solving skills. Many code breakers were famous chess grand masters or crossword champions. One recruitment drive involved offering a “prize” to anyone who could solve The Daily Telegraph’s challenging crossword puzzle in under 12 minutes. The winner, to his surprise, was recruited as a code breaker.
The great untold victory of WWII was the struggle of British code breakers with Germany’s most famous encoding system, known as Enigma. Enigma was a machine that created a code the Germans believed was unbreakable. When Bletchley Park’s enormous radio aerials began to intercept Germany’s coded messages, their code breakers used a type of math known as cryptanalysis to decode them. The code breakers noticed that the codes were not purely random and that they could statistically analyze the messages. With the help of some Polish cryptographers (code breakers) who had spent years deciphering Enigma, the British cryptographers managed to crack the code. However, deciphering each code took an extraordinary amount of time. Information was months late by the time it was intercepted, decoded, and given to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. To speed up the process, a young man named Tommy Flowers constructed the world’s first electronic, digital, programmable computer, dubbed Colossus. By 1944, Bletchley Park had ten Colossi and cracked 4,000 messages per day. Some of these messages have recently been declassified and, to the surprise of many historians, seem to contain personal insults. However, some refute this theory, arguing that the messages must have been misunderstood because they make little sense. Why would a German call a British code breaker a “slimy Lucian”?
I’ve heard that word before! I just don’t know what it means.
You should keep it that way. It’s for your own good.
Secrets and Rumors
As a matter of security, everything concerning Bletchley Park was shrouded in mystery. The government hid Bletchley Park’s true purpose by spreading the story that it was merely an ocean research institute. Only four people knew everything about Bletchley Park’s operations and were privy to information classified as “ultra,” which was so exclusive that it made “top secret” really jealous. The extreme secrecy worked amazingly well, and no spy was ever known to have infiltrated the park.