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Enigma: The Battle for the Code

Enigma: The Battle for the Code

3.5 6
by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

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Winston Churchill called the cracking of the





Winston Churchill called the cracking of the German Enigma Code “the secret weapon that won the war.” Now, for the first time, noted British journalist Hugh-Sebag-Montefiore reveals the complete story of the breaking of the code by the Allies—the breaking that played a crucial role in the outcome of World War II.

This fascinating account relates the never-before-told, hair-raising stories of the heroic British and American sailors, spies, and secret agents who faced death in order to capture vital codebooks from sinking ships and snatch them from under the noses of Nazi officials. Sebag-Montefiore also relates new details about the genesis of the code, little-known facts about how the Poles first cracked the Luftwaffe’s version of the code (and then passed it along to the British), and the feverish activities at Bletchley Park, Based in part on documents recently unearthed from American and British archives—including previously confidential government files—and in part on unforgettable, firsthand accounts of surviving witnesses, Enigma unearths the stunning truth about the brilliant piece of decryption that changed history.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
In Enigma: The Battle for the Code, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore tells the secret history of World War II -- the remarkable struggle of Allied cryptanalysts to break the secret "Enigma" code employed by the mighty German military machine. The story begins in 1931 with Hans Thilo Schmidt's money problems. Many Germans were having similar difficulties at that time, but Schmidt came up with a unique solution. Using his officer brother's connections, he got a job in the government bureau that guarded the secret German military code. Smart and well educated, Schmidt had a penchant for the company of women other than his wife, felt like the world owed him a living, and had no qualms about trading government secrets for money. One he gained access to the codebooks that contained the setting for the Enigma machine, which was designed to transmit undecipherable secret messages, Schmidt was quickly able to pique the interest of the French intelligence service.

Once the French had purchased Schmidt's information, they realized that they still didn't have enough to read the Germans' secret messages. While maintaining contact with Schmidt, they made some inquiries among the British and the Poles to find out what these allies might know about Enigma. The British were keen to learn more, while the Poles secretly had a head start in breaking the code. With the outbreak of World War II and the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Polish cryptanalysts sought refuge in France. As it became apparent that France would suffer a fate similar to Poland's, the code-breaking torch was passed to Britain.

Alan Turing, a brilliant young mathematician and one of the fathers of modern computers, built on the work of the Poles to develop a "bombe" machine that could help decipher the remarkably complex Enigma settings that were used to encrypt and transmit messages. But due to the Germans' convoluted and regularly changing encoding system, Turing and his colleagues could not read the secret messages as quickly as the war effort demanded. Faced with ever-mounting U-boat attacks on their supply convoys, the Royal Navy launched a successful series of operations that enabled them to capture the essential codebooks from German warships. Though German commanders were concerned about how much the Allies might learn, their intelligence experts convinced them that it was practically impossible to break the Enigma code. As a result, Allied cryptanalysts were able to decipher German military communications for the remainder of the war, enabling the Allies to defeat Germany at least two years earlier than they otherwise would have; without this advantage, they might not have won the war at all.

There's plenty of battle action in this book, as well as a wealth of technical detail about how the encoding and decoding machines worked. Anyone interested in World War II, spies, codes, or computers -- or who enjoys reading about the eccentricities of British intellectuals -- will find Enigma fascinating and exciting. With access to many newly declassified sources, Sebag-Montefiore has produced the first comprehensive -- and, most likely, the definitive -- study of the Enigma phenomenon.

William T. Wells lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Sebag-Montefiore (British attorney and journalist) utilized newly-discovered American and British archive documents, previously- confidential government files, and accounts of several survivors to develop this comprehensive exploration of the breaking of the German Enigma code by the Allies in WWII. Using an engaging, narrative style, the author describes in detail the work of the decoders at Bletchley Park (Britain's WWII counterintelligence station, and home of the author's ancestors until the late-1930s). He also recounts the previously-untold story of numerous British and American sailors, spies and secret agents who risked<-->and sometimes lost<-->their lives gathering information vital to the eventual success of the codebreakers, and critical to the outcome of WWII. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
It wasn't only a crew of eccentric English mathematicians with brains the size of basketballs who cracked the Germans' Enigma code during WWII, but a whole cast of spies and soldiers as well, says journalist Sebag-Montefiore in this magnetic story of breaking the cipher. Not that Sebag-Montefiore downplays the inspired contributions of those famed cryptographers at Bletchley Park (including Alan Turing, the eccentric genius who used to pedal his bike about the countryside wearing a gas mask and kept his coffee mug chained to a radiator). The author spends plenty of time detailing their toils, complete with code-smashing math in appendices. But other players were involved, as well as the workings of fate and dumb luck. There was also more than one Enigma code, and each was more vexing than the last. There were spies who sold early versions of the code to the French, whole companies of men assigned to raiding German vessels (particularly U-boats) for Enigma machines, and an important cast of Polish codebreakers and intelligence officers. Sebag-Montefiore does a masterful job of keeping the suspense ticking as he fills in all the details, for as he makes clear, it was not just breaking the code that was critical, it was keeping that knowledge a secret so as to exploit the information. What made it all so cat-and-mouse—and what keeps the reader on the edge of the seat—was that the Germans were suspicious that Enigma had been compromised (but never enough so to stop using it), Gestapo agents in occupied France were arresting individuals who knew the extent of Allied progress on Enigma, and the Allies themselves didn't know what had been divulged. The fate of theinvasionatNormandy hung in the balance. The Enigma story continues to enthrall and delight, even after 50 years and a few dozen accounts: don't miss this one. (photos, not seen)

Product Details

Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.82(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Betrayal Belgium and Germany

1931 On Sunday r November 19 3 r Hans Thilo Schmidt, a forty-three-yearold executive at the German Defence Ministry Cipher Office in Berlin, took a step from which there was no turning back. He booked into the Grand Hotel in Verviers, a small Belgium town on the border with Germany, for his first meeting with a French Secret Service agent. Schmidt had been contemplating making this move for months. During June 19 3 z he had paid a visit to the French Embassy in Berlin to find out who he should contact in Paris if he wanted to sell some secret documents to the French government.' Three weeks later he had followed up the advice given by the Embassy staff and had written a letter to the French Deuxieme Bureau, the umbrella organisation which on France's behalf carried out many of the task performed in Britain by MI 5 and MI 6.2 In his letter he explained that he had access to documents which might be of interest to France, and he specifically mentioned that he was in a position to hand over the manuals for a coding machine which had been used in Germany since June 1930. If the Deuxieme Bureau was interested he was happy to meet up with its representative in Belgium or Holland, he wrote. It was in response to this letter that the meeting in Verviers had been arranged, and the scene was set for Schmidt's first act of treachery.

In normal circumstances Schmidt would probably never have considered becoming a traitor. He was just an average man from an upper-middle-class background with no political agenda or burning ambition to be successful. Although his mother had been born a baroness, she was not rich. She had lost her title when she had married Hans Thilo's father, Rudolf Schmidt, a university history professor. Hans Thilo's circumstances had improved a little in when at the age of twenty-eight he had married Charlotte Speer, the daughter of a well-to-do hat-maker. Charlotte's mother's family business, C.A. Speer, ran a shop in Potsdamerstrasse in Berlin which was the place for smart Germans to go for their umbrellas, walking sticks and of course their hats. The profits from this shop helped to pay for Hans Thilo and Charlotte's wedding present, some land and a house in Ketschendorf, a rural area, now part of Furstenwalde, just outside Berlin.

But then came the galloping inflation and the economic downturn which forced the Speers to close their shop. All of a sudden Hans Thilo's prospects looked far from rosy. He was fortunate that his father and his brother, another Rudolf, were prepared to help him out with his domestic expenses. Hans Thilo and Charlotte had two children by the time the economic depression began to bite and, although he had his job in the Cipher Office thanks to an introduction arranged by his brother, his salary was barely enough to keep himself, let alone his young family.

His first act of betrayal had nothing to do with matters of state. He betrayed his wife by having an affair with his maid. Presumably Hans Thilo must have hoped that his wife would never find out what went on when she was out of the house. But if he wanted to be discreet, he certainly went about it in a half-hearted way. His children, Hans-Thilo the younger and Gisela, knew exactly what was going on. They quickly realised that they had to tip-toe around their small Ketschendorf house in case they barged in on something which they and their father might have found extremely embarrassing. Sometimes they could hear the sound of their father and the maid making love in the spare room when their mother was out shopping. It was to be the first of many such affairs. His children at first had no idea whether their mother knew about her husband's philandering. They suspected that she did not. But they did notice that from time to time one maid would disappear only to be replaced by a more ugly substitute. Then their father would start off another seduction ritual until the next maid disappeared.

Hans Thilo's extramarital affairs were not confined to his maids. He also had sexual encounters when he stayed the night in Berlin; he claimed that he had to work late in the office. His sister Martha would try to cover his tracks when Charlotte, his wife, attempted to ring him at Martha's flat where he was supposed to be staying. 'He has just gone shopping,' Martha would tell Charlotte...

Meet the Author

HUGH SEBAG-MONTEFIORE is an attorney and journalist who has written for numerous British newspapers, including the Sunday times, the Sunday Telegraph, and the Observer. His family owned Bletchley Park before it was sold to the British government in the late 1930s. He lives in London.

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Enigma: The Battle for the Code 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
EHall More than 1 year ago
Enigma is a fresh take on a topic covered very well in a number of books. Most of these other books cover Bletchley Park and its American counterpart and their heroic cypher-breaking work. Sebag-Montefiore's book looks at the other side of the coin--at the even more heroic work of people in the field. They are the sailors and intelligence officers who captured ships and submarienes, stole code books and Enigma machines that allowed the cypher-breakers to achieve success. It also analyses the curious reluctance of the German high command to believe that its cyphers were broken. The book gives the missing half of the whole story, mostly centered on the European theatre, and this is new. Well-witten and informative, filled with exciting adventure, Sebag-Montefiore even has a personal touch: he lived in Bletchley Park before it was sold to the British government. For anyone interested in this important bit of WWII history, this book is a must.
In-Quest More than 1 year ago
Not until the 1970's did the world know much about how successful the Allies were in breaking the Enigma code system used by Germany during WWII. This book gives the reader a good idea of how intricate and difficult an undertaking it was. Poland had the first real success at breaking into the Enigma system and when they were occupied by Germany at the start of the war the Poles worked to pass on their results to France and England and some of them continued their work in unoccupied France for a while. The main part of the story revolves around England's efforts to break the code which was headquartered at Bletchley Park. Here they pulled together a group of usually off the wall math geniuses to apply mathematics to the problem. The book goes into some detail of the machines they built and concepts they used to attempt this code breaking. Some of it is interesting and if you want to delve further into these techniques there are several appendices at the back of the book that go into more detail. I did not read any of these. Most of the movie type action in the book comes from the recounting of various missions to capture code books, papers and actual enigma machines from German U-boats and surface vessels. These captures also had to be done without letting the Germans know that their code information had been captured. The story told is not always exciting but, that does not imply that the work these men and woman did and their degree of success was not important to the war effort. This book does not go into that much information on how the decoded messages helped the war effort. There have been other books that address that and I am sure there will be more to come. But if you are interested in how the code was broken this book is a good choice.
Azpooldude More than 1 year ago
There are many reasons why the Allies won the Second World War, and the breaking of the Nazi's code is one of them. Coded- "Top Secret Ultra"- it proved to be a such an important factor that it was given the highest priority and was well guarded for a reason. It saved countless lives and was a decisive factor in the Allies victory. Enigma:The Battle for the Code, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore is one of the few books that I have seen on this subject, and is well worth the time to read it. From the early days in Poland and France to the later efforts of the Allies in England, this is an incredible story. The book tells about the people, places, and methods that made it a success. Throw in real spies, secret agents, and double agents and you have the making of a great read. The author gives an interesting and accurate account of the history of the Enigma machine, and the technical aspects of the spy work done at Bletchley Park. He puts in layman terms how the codes were broken, with the bombes, cribs, codes, socket settings, and the actual Enigma machine itself. The people involved at the code centers and those who risked their lives at sea played a huge part too. This book ties it all in, and gives the big picture on the actual sea battles, and how so many U-Boat were sunk. The men at sea who fought the Germans and raided their ships are sometimes left out in the account of Enigma; but, they were the true heroes. They gave the code breakers the German manuals with the settings, code books and the physical hardware that was so desperately needed. Many died in their efforts. Without them, the German secret messages would have been almost impossible to read. This book is well documented with great photos, biographies, and a section on how the code was broken. I found it a little technical, but it was well written. I had hoped that more would have been written on how the code was important for the Army, i.e North Africa, Italy, and the D-Day Invasion. Nearly all the book was about the German Naval codes. Also, you may have to look up some words, since the author is British. I had to on occasion, but it was no big deal. As with any specialized topic about the World War Two, it helps to have a background on key events and dates before reading this book. This is important as it helps you put in perspective what events were taking place during the war as the code was being read. Alan Turing one of the key people in breaking the code is thought by some to be the father of the modern computer. The Enigma machine did do computing but not in the same sense as the computers we use today. But, that did come much sooner than later. Millions of people today do not even think twice as they check their e-mails and use the Internet. Few realize that its birth-an important part of millions of people's lives today-saved millions of lives and shortened the war by years. Enigma:The Battle for the Code is a great book for anyone who loves true spy stories with heroes from all walks of life. This was not however the case in Nazi Germany with its slaughter of anyone different from themselves and much of its brainpower- and it is probably one reason why we won the war and they lost. Robert Glasker
Urho More than 1 year ago
This is a book that provides a reasonably in-depth book that is quite accessible. There was a bunch of stuff that I knew nothing about, and the author did a nice job of tying the more esoteric aspects of the story to the familiar themes of the war, keeping the reader from being overwhelmed. He explains the encryption techniques in some detail and provides appendices with more detailed descriptions for the more technically inclined.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading for a men's book club discussion; excellent coverage of a pivotal part of WWII and the European Campaign against Hitler; focus on Turin's role and expertise that enabled the breaking of the German code, Enigma; well-researched and much detail.