PortandTerminal.com, December 5, 2020
BERLIN – German divers searching the Baltic Sea for discarded fishing nets have stumbled upon a rare Enigma cipher machine used by the Nazi military during World War Two which they believe was thrown overboard from a scuttled submarine.
The legendary code machine was discovered last month during a search for abandoned fishing nets in the Bay of Gelting in northeast Germany, by divers on assignment for environmental group WWF.
The find, made by divers working on behalf of WWF aiming to find abandoned fishing nets that endanger marine life, will be given to the archaeology museum in Schleswig.
“A colleague swam up and said: there’s a net there with an old typewriter in it,” Florian Huber, the lead diver, told the DPA news agency. The team quickly realised they had stumbled across a historic artefact and alerted the authorities.
Ulf Ickerodt, head of the state archaeological office in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein region, said the machine would be restored by experts at the state’s archaeology museum.
The delicate process, including a thorough desalination process after seven decades in the Baltic seabed, “will take about a year”, he said. After that, the Enigma will go on display at the museum.
Who tossed it into the Baltic?
Naval historian Jann Witt from the German Naval Association told DPA that he believes the machine, which has three rotors, was thrown overboard from a German warship in the final days of the war.
In his opinion, it is less likely that it came from a scuttled submarine, he said, because Adolf Hitler’s U-boats used the more complex four-rotor Enigma machines. The Allied forces worked tirelessly to decrypt the codes produced by the Enigma machine, which were changed every 24 hours.
Others disagree. History shows that shortly before Germany’s surrender in May 1945, the crews of about 50 submarines, or U-Boots, followed an order to scuttle their ships in Gelting Bay, near the Danish border, to avoid handing them to the Allies. Destroying encryption devices was part of the order. Was this Engima machine one of those tossed overboard?
Overall, the Germans sank more than 200 of their submarines in the North and Baltic Seas at the end of the war.
British mathematician Alan Turing, seen as the father of modern computing, spearheaded a team at Britain’s Bletchley Park that cracked the code in 1941.
The breakthrough helped the Allies decipher crucial radio messages about German military movements. Historians believe it shortened the war by about two years and saved thousands upon thousands of lives.
With reporting by Reuters and Phys.org
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