Polish cryptologists crack the Nazi code
The Enigma machine was invented near the end of World War I. An electro-mechanical cypher machine that allowed the German military to send encoded messages, the Enigma evolved to become a powerful tool the Nazis would soon use before and during World War II.
But did you know that this powerful and complicated machine was deconstructed and decoded by a clever group of Polish mathematicians? Plus, as a result of their efforts, many agree the war in Europe ended two years sooner than it could have!
Read more to learn about this great (and often overlooked) moment in Polish history!
The Enigma machine
After World War I, as the German military worked to improve their Enigma machine, Polish intelligence worked on deciphering the code. But with each invention of an even more advanced Enigma, the Polish were falling behind.
After all, the Enigma had over 155 million million million (!) possible encryption settings. Cracking the code seemed nearly impossible!
Cracking the code
But all that changed in 1932, when Poland's Biuro Szyfrów (Cypher Bureau) hired three young mathematics graduates from Poznań university, who also understood the German language: Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. By rebuilding various commercial Enigma machines, they were able to create a near copies of the military versions.
Amazingly, they were not only able to break the code, but they were also able to keep up with the code changes as the Enigma evolved. One impressive device the code crackers used they named bomba, which means bomb in Polish (the story behind this name is disputed).
On July 25th, 1939, they presented their findings to British and French military intelligence. With the Enigma in the hands of the Nazi party, the timing couldn't have been better: just five weeks later, Germany invaded Poland, beginning World War II.
Because of the advanced work of the Polish Biuro Szyfrów, Allied forces were able to decode many of the encrypted German signals before and during World War II. Allied forces gave the military project the codename "Ultra." After the war, Winston Churchill told King George VI, "It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war."
The Polish have long gone unrecognized for their code cracking expertise, which was critical to the Allied success during World War II. Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki, Henryk Zygalski and the Biuro Szyfrów were essentially written out of history for quite some time. Some claim the British wanted all the credit, some claim the information was lost in the confusion of the war, but whatever the reason, these great Poles deserve recognition and respect for their important role in world history.
In 1989, on the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II, George Bush formally recognized the Polish code breakers in Gdańsk: "You gave the Allies Enigma, the Nazi's secret coding machine. Breaking the unbreakable Axis code saves tens of thousands of Allied lives, American lives - and for this, you have the enduring gratitude of the American people."
Since 1999, Bletchley Park (the British cypher intelligence headquarters during the war) has held an annual Polish Day, celebrating Britain's formal recognition and appreciation of the genius of the Polish code breakers.
But even as recently as 2001, the (albeit fictional) film Enigma gave all the credit to the British, while the Polish character was labeled a traitor. Polish historians and officials were sure to speak out!
Hopefully people around the world will continue to credit the Poles for all their heroic achievements in World War II.