Enigma, coding machine that cost Germans the war, is stolen

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The Independent Online

One of the Enigma coding machines used by the Germans to send secret messages during the Second World War has been stolen, police said yesterday.

One of the Enigma coding machines used by the Germans to send secret messages during the Second World War has been stolen, police said yesterday.

The thief is thought to have carried the three-rotor cipher machine, which looks like a large typewriter, out of Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, while it was open to the public on Saturday.

It is one of only three such machines in the world and Christine Large, director ofthe Bletchley Park Trust, said conservative estimates valued it at £100,000. "We had thought it was the only one in existence although we have now been told there are two more. But this particular one was extra special because it was used by the German SS and it was made to a higher standard than the ones which were used in the field. We can only hope we get it back."

The theft bore all the hallmarks of a sophisticated operation. The machine was secured in a glass cabinet that had not been broken.

Ms Large said: "We have an alarm system as well asvolunteers to watch over the collections and all the cars are checked in and out. It did not seem like an opportunist theft." She added it was possible the machine would disappear into a private collection and might have been stolen to order.

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said a member of staff had dialled 999 to report the theft and officers had immediately been dispatched to the centre. "A sniffer dog was used to check the building and the grounds around in case the thief had dumped it in a hedge," he said. "However, the dog could pick up no scent at all and we now have scenes-of-crime detectives taking forensic samples."

During the war British agents, working in total secrecy at Station X, as Bletchley Park became known, cracked the Enigma code, which had 150 million million million possible combinations. The Germans thought the code was unbreakable.

Teams of mathematicians, including the lead codebreaker Alan Turing, and other experts were employed solely to work on the project. By 1945 there were 10,000 people deciphering 18,000 messages a day, many of which were decoded even before they arrived at their intended destination.

Their work is said to have shortened the war by several years. Winston Churchill later referred to the staff as "the geese that laid the golden eggs, and never cackled".

Station X remained secret until 1967 but has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction since details of its wartime exploits were revealed.

Ms Large said: "The trust will be deeply grateful for any information that may lead to the return of the machine. This part of British heritage has a great following with social historians, mathematicians and students of the Second World War. It is a devastating theft and has cast a dark cloud over Bletchley Park."

She said work on a new security system had now been speeded up. By next Friday, exhibits will have security tags and infra-red labelling and CCTV will be installed.