2003 Letter from Bletchley Park: The day after our arrival in Stonesfield, we set off to visit a place that has always fascinated us since itís existence became known and one of the places that has been on our list to visit from Day 1. If youíre not familiar with Bletchley Park near Oxford where the British had an enormous de-coding operation during WWII, you should be. It is yet another place in which things occurred that changed the world. The Nazis had invented a machine, the Enigma, that encoded all operational orders to their military in an extremely complicated way. The mysteries of this machine were solved in this place. We werenít able to see everything, but what we saw was fascinating. There was lots of information and even real machines.

Most of the operation there we knew about, having read descriptions of it and seen some TV programs devoted to it. So we did know that they had a de-coding operation and that they had managed to discover how Enigma worked. We even knew that the British had "liberated" a Germany Navy machine from a captured U-boat, which is how they were able to track and sink most of the German U-boats. What we didnít know was that the Polish Intelligence Service had already broken the code in the 1930ís, and even had built their own Enigma machine. Before Poland was overrun, the British were given the machine and the information. Apparently the young Polish scholar who did this work was killed during the war, but he certainly was one of the great heroes of the war.

We also were surprised to find that the British Secret Service was using pigeons in WWII to keep in touch with operatives in occupied territory. There was a pigeon loft at Bletchley Park. We knew that the first computer was built for the decoding operation and that it had been disbanded in secrecy on Churchillís orders after the war. As a result, the young British engineer who designed it didnít receive credit for his invention until long after the event. Furthermore, and perhaps more important, because all of the documentation had been destroyed, work on designing a computer after the war had to begin from scratch.

All of this was interesting, but even more remarkable to those of us who still struggle with concepts of engineering and math, was the fact that 9,000-10,000 people worked at this facility. There were almost a dozen long shacks similar to barracks. It was manned around the clock by de-coding people, WRENs (the Womenís Royal Navy) and other Navy personnel, army and air force personnel Ė thousands on every shift. The operation was designed to decode intercepted messages within hours and pass them along to the key personnel in each military service unit so that they would know exactly what the Naziís were planning very shortly after the Naziís received the message.

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Intrepid Traveler

We were surprised to find that they had also been able to decode messages sent by Japan. We quote from the material posted on the war describing just one thing that the de-coders found out about Japan: "The code-breakers in Bletchley Park broke the Japanese Military AttacheCode between Berlin and Tokyo and knew from 1943 on, the Japanese were buying uranium and strontium from the Germans. We have the card in our archives. This shows the cargo carried by submarine blockade-runners from Germany to Japan and visa-versa. U-234 was carrying a jet fighterÖ.

In May 1945, U-234 surrendered at Portsmouth, New Hampshire and inside six lead cylinders were 570 kilograms (1232 pounds) of uranium on its way to Japan. If you were Harry Truman, President of the U.S., what would you have done?"

In spite of the large number of people who worked there, the secret of the existence of the unit was kept until 1969. No one talked about it for years. The funniest story was that one of the guides was making just this point to a group of tourists recently, and one of the older women in the tour group said, "I used to work here". At this point, her husband said, "So did I." Neither one had told the other all these years! If that isnít amazing, we donít know what is.

Bletchley Park was one of the most interesting places weíve been in. Weíre so glad that Harry et alia was willing to make the trip Ė and even happier to find that they liked it so much that they arranged to re-visit it in the future!