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Huts used to defeat Nazis rescued by £4m grant

Another £6m needed to return Enigma machines to Second World War home

Bletchley Park, the wartime intelligence centre, has achieved a breakthrough which could mean that its historic wooden huts are saved from going to rot.

There is now a high chance that the Enigma machines, which cracked the codes used by the Nazi high command, will be able to go back into the hut where they were first housed.

The trust that runs the site has been awarded a grant by the National Lottery which is the first step towards a much larger award, totalling more than £4m.

The grant, announced today, is worth £460,500 – a fraction of the £10m it will take to convert Bletchley Park into a world-class heritage site but it will allow the trust to draw up a detailed plan and go back for more. Combined with other money coming in, including grants from English Heritage and Milton Keynes Council, it should be enough to save Bletchley's famous out-buildings.

Hut 6 at Bletchley Park, where a team of brilliant mathematicians and linguists decoded messages sent by Hitler to his generals, is scandalously dilapidated. Its wooden walls and roof are literally rotting away. It was in this hut that messages brought in by bike messengers from listening stations all over Britain were decoded into German. They were then passed to Hut 3, for translation and analysis.

Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who worked out how to crack the codes, was based nearby in Hut 8, which is in good condition.

During the war, the huts were kept in strict isolation from one another. The women who typed out the coded messages never saw them translated and those who decoded them were never told what their significance was, to ensure the Germans did not discover that their coded messages were being read. Thousands of lives were saved as the codebreakers read the messages between the high command and submarine commanders stalking the Atlantic.

Bletchley's 12,000 staff were forbidden for decades from saying anything about what went on there, and their contribution to the war was for a long time a secret, although it is thought that their contribution shortened the war by two years. It was once proposed that all the wooden huts should be demolished as eye-sores, and some were pulled down, but fortunately the ones with greatest historical significance are still standing.

This year, Bletchley's contribution to the victory in Europe was officially recognised for the first time. And this month, Gordon Brown issued an apology for the appalling treatment of Alan Turing, who committed suicide in 1954, two years after he was arrested for being gay. Thousands of people had signed a petition on the Downing Street website calling for the apology.

The trust's director, Simon Greenish, said yesterday: "This award means we are past the critical first stage towards a grant that will allow us to regenerate the museum, restore the hut and refocus the rest of the site."

Cracking the code Churchill's secret weapon

*Sir Winston Churchill called the men and women of Bletchley Park "my geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled". The story of what they did there remained a secret for almost 30 years.

*More than 10,000 people worked at Bletchley during the war. It was selected for its location halfway along the "Varsity Line", the now defunct railway that connected Oxford and Cambridge.

*Polish intelligence tipped off the British that an encrypting machine called Enigma co-ordinated the positions of the German U-boats. The chances of decoding its messages were reckoned to be about 158 million million million to one.

*An intelligence officer by the name of Dilly Knox realised the code would only be broken via an industrial process. When the war began, he set himself up a cottage in the Bletchley stable yard and set the operation in motion.

*Cracking the code came with the invention by Bletchley analysts of a machine they called Colossus. It was capable of reading 5,000 characters per second.

*Many of those who worked at Bletchley claimed later to have never heard the word Enigma and are still reluctant to talk about what happened there.