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April 2, 2000

Thief Lifts Nazi Code Machine From UK Spy Center


LONDON (Reuters) - A thief out-foxed a former British spy center by walking off with a rare Enigma machine used by the Nazis to send coded messages during World War Two, police said on Sunday.

The typewriter-like device, one of only three in the world, was lifted during an open day on Saturday at the once top-secret Bletchley Park estate where the code was broken.

"At some point during yesterday afternoon, the machine was stolen from a display cabinet," a police spokesman said.

"There does appear to be quite a large market for World War Two memorabilia and if you are a collector then an Enigma machine -- and they're very rare in this country -- would be something you would want in your collection."

Police said the machine, which used revolving drums to encrypt messages, was worth several thousand pounds (dollars) but its historical value is impossible to estimate.

"This is a devastating theft," Bletchley Park Trust director Christine Large said. "Very many people are deeply upset and we are just hoping for its safe return."

Historians believe the success of the cryptographers at Bletchley Park north of London -- code-named "Station X" during the war -- in breaking a code that the Germans believed was unbreakable hastened the Allied victory by several years.

At its peak, the center employed thousands of people -- an eclectic mix of mathematicians, linguists and crossword experts who handled millions of German military messages every year.

The code-busters included Alan Turing, a mathematician whose groundbreaking work is seen as having paved the way for the modern computer.

Bletchley Park's work was so secret that its existence was not revealed until the late 1960s[*], more than two decades after the war ended.

The center was scheduled for demolition but interest in the wartime exploits related by former staff during a reunion in 1991 helped lead to its restoration.

© 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

Related materials on this website: Wartime SS and police messages decoded by British | Train transports of Jews seemingly well provisioned | Professor Sir Frank Hinsley's comments

[*] THE Enigma secret was kept by the thousands of British officers who worked at the code-breaking establishment. In 1964 David Irving included a draft chapter about it in his second book The Mare's Nest; but the chapter was seized by British GCHQ security officers from his home and from his publisher's offices before publication. (He was able to include it in a 1980s reprint of the book). As a reward for his keeping the Enigma secret, the British government gave him exclusive access to the personnel file of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, then in its possesion, for his biography, The Trail of the Fox. In 1974 the RAF officer Group Captain F W Winterbotham (formerly station security chief at Bletchley Park) was allowed to lift a corner of the curtain in his book The Ultra Secret.

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