Marconi Station relives the code breakers from World War II

by Donna Cain

We recently went to see the Oscar nominated film, The Imitation Game at the wonderful Dennis Cape Cinema. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie as the acting was well done and the history documented in the film connected to our very own Marconi station.

When you visit Marconi Beach on the National Seashore you can see where the original towers once stood and now there is a wonderful exhibit in Chatham that documents the story of Nazi Germany’s Enigma Machines and the Cape Codders that intercepted the messages that  helped end World War II.

Prof-Perera-with-EnigmasShown above is Dr. Thomas Perera, PhD who is a professor at Montclair State University. Dr. Perera is the author of Inside ENIGMA–the Secrets of the Enigma and Other Cipher Machines, and is a world-renowned curator and collector of Enigma machines. He is coming to Cape Cod to offer a keynote speech  at the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center annual meeting on Saturday May 9 at the Chatham Community Center.

On the front line of Allied forces to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II were the code breakers at the Chatham’s Marconi Station. They helped locate and sink many of the German U-boat submarines that threatened our coastline. Amazingly, service men and woman in Chatham, in conjunction with the Government Code and Cipher School at Blechley Park in England helped break the Enigma codes which were encrypted messages on a intricate machine that German Admiral Karl Doenitz used to communicate with his submarine fleet. The machines that were used to crack these codes were called Turing Bombe, and were actually the beginning of the technology of our present day computers.

The Chatham Marconi Maritime Center is also unveiling a new exhibit on Saturday, June 20th featuring a genuine, German Enigma machine. The Maritime Center in Chatham occupies a 13 acre site on Ryder’s Cove and includes an educational center as well as the Marconi Wireless museum. At the Marconi station more then 300 sailors and WAVES (Woman Assigned for Voluntary Emergency Service) arrived in 1944 to intercept the German’s messages. Using teletype machines which are basically a electro-mechanical typewriter for transmitting messages from station to station over wires, the sailors sent the information to naval intelligence in Washington where it was decoded and used to help end the war. Enigma is the name of the electo mechanical rotor cipher machines that were built for the German military at the beginning of World War I. They were about the size of a portable typewriter and included a keyboard, a lamp board of letters and a group of rotors  that the German operators would set at a different order every day. There never was enough time to decode the critical messages as the rotors changed every morning. Each German U boat carried an Enigma machine, and operators would copy messages from the German navy as the machine letters lit up.

The Chatham exhibit features a three rotor Enigma machine, that is an original built in 1937. Though the Germans built over 200,000 of these machines, only about 200 survived the war with many being at the bottom of the sea.

For more information about the exhibit visit: www.chathammarconi.org

Content in this blog was found in an article “These Code-Breakers were real lifesavers” in the Cape Cod Life Magazine, written by Christopher White.

 

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