Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Bletchley Park

I have been interested in code breaking and the role of Bletchley Park for many years.  The first book I read about it was Simon Singh's Code Book but I think even that was pre-dated by my Father telling (and re-telling) us kids all the story of the Man Who Never Was.  Bluff, double-bluff, codes, spying and cyphers - all interesting to my young mathematical brain.  Maps can sometimes be vague about the truth: a cartographer tells you want they want you to know.  And sometimes, for political expediency (or just downright deception), they choose to use the map to mislead.

Anyway, since then I've read a few more books about Bletchley and was really keen to see it.  Having a scientist for a husband and two mathematical/scientific daughters it was top of our list and we finally made it to north west London to visit.

We spent a good chunk of our time the Bombe Museum in  Block B.  This was allegedly only meant to take 30 mins but I think we were in there over 90.  There was just so much to see.  I've never seen a Bombe and we stood and watched this replica whilst listening to a lengthy explanation as to its operation.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Bombe (5)
And round the back.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Bombe (3)
Fortunately we'd all read the book(s) so knew roughly how the Enigma/Lorenz machines worked as it's quite a lot to get your head around straight off.  What with different dials, daily changing start positions, reflecting paths inside the Enigma machine and wires to reconnect letters on the plug board it was a formidable challenge to break the code.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Bombe (8)
Now this is what I call an exciting exhibit - a whole row of Enigma machines.  Nearly as good as a row of theodolites.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Bombe (1)
I hadn't really considered what the British version was, but of course there was one - the Typex machine.  It was built on the design of the Enigma machines we had legally purchased between the first and second world wars.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Bombe (7)
It was interesting to note that after development of the Typex the Brits had a dilemma about whether or not we owed the German manufacturer payment for IPR (Intellectual Property).  Golly, even when at war the British were minding their Ps and Qs...

The Bletchley Park site hub is the main building, the 'mansion'.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Grounds (3)
Initially all the code breakers were housed here.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - House
As the number of personnel grew, from 100s to 1000s, additional huts were built and are now scattered around the mansion and pond.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Grounds (2)
Hut 8 was where the naval intelligence worked and where Enigma was cracked.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Hut 8 (3)
It looks just like a lot of establishments I still work in.

This is a replica (of the actual?) of Alan Turing's desk.  With, you'll note, an Admiralty chart on the wall behind.  Of course.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Hut 8 (1)
Our visit to Bletchley Park was most timely being just a month after the release of the film Imitation Game.  Of course we'd all been to view it.  For sure, it wasn't the most technically in-depth explanation of how the code was broken, and it only focused on initial Enigma break, but it was a realistic portrayal of Alan Turing and his life.  Anyway, we were delighted to find that they had an Imitation Game set exhibition with some of their props in the house.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Imitation Game (14)
The school hats and blazers of the young Turing and his peers.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Imitation Game (13)
The bar area.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Imitation Game (5)
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Imitation Game (11)
Sadly we ran out of time to see everything.  I left undiscovered Hut 11, which housed the Turing-Welchman Bombe, Huts 3 and 6, where the Army and Air Force messages were decrypted, and really didn't do Hut 8 much justice.  We also didn't explore the grounds - although I did manage to sneak in a quick scout around the mansion and found this little one: a bit too easy to spot since someone had painted it.
14 12 29 Bletchley Park - Grounds (4)
We'd allowed 4 hours for our visit, had taken 5, and still didn't see it all.  Fortunately the tickets last for 12 months so I'll certainly be back for more.

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