A Codebreaker's Dream: The Bombe!

Link - article by Avi Abrams

British Answer to the German "Enigma": The Cryptological Bombe!

What is this, sporting dozens of colorful knobs, almost like a "turn-the-knob" toddler's game at a playground in a nearest mall? This the awesome British Bombe electro-mechanical codebreaking machine which only had one purpose: to determine the rotor settings on the German cipher machine "ENIGMA" during WW2.

The Bombe was a development of an original Polish "cryptologic bomb": designed in 1938 by Polish Cipher Bureau cryptologist Marian Rejewski. Legendary "father of cybernetics" Alan Turing also was one of the original designers of this machine (together with Gordon Welchman), which succesfully emulated wheel-settings of ENIGMA during WW2.

(images via 1, bottom image: Sam Leach)

Each of the rotating drums is a simulation of an individual Enigma rotor. ENIGMA had only four rotors, but without knowing the proper settings, it took twenty minutes for a Bombe to complete a run, going through all 456,976 possible setting combinations. "Different Bombes tried different wheel orders, and one of them would have the final correct settings. When the various U-boat settings were found, the Bombe could be switched over to work on German Army and Air Force three-rotor messages." (source: National Cryptologic Museum)

Here are these "playground-like" wheels, looking so inviting to those wishing to crack some mysterious code:

(images via)

Here is the awesome view of the tangled insides of the Bombe, seen at Bletchley Park (UK):

(images credit: Richard Arculus, Tom Yates)

To get a feel on how intense this machine crunched the numbers, here are some facts: the bottom commutator moved at 850 rpm (British machine has been only slightly slower), the machine itself was electromechanical, featuring the Amplifier Chassis, Thyratron Chassis (the machine's memory), Motor Control Chassis and multitude switch banks, indexing through all potential wheel settings.

US NAVY had a cryptoanalytic Bombe of its own

The knobs in this photographs are set by one of the ladies from the "WAVE" unit: U.S. Naval Reserve (Women's Reserve) during WW2 -

(image credit: National Cryptologic Museum, via: J. Brew)

This WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) unit is perhaps worth of an article of its own? -

(images via 1, 2)

Designed by a remarkable American engineer Joseph Desch, indeed of the German descent. Joseph Desch, together with Bob Mumma, have a distinction of filing one of the very first patents on the "modern digital computer", back in 1940.

And here's the baby responsible for all this code-cracking frenzy: "The Enigma" itself.

This is the Enigma - rare, legendary and still beautiful to our retro-tech-spoiled eyes (featured in Neal Stephenson's wonderful "Cryptonomicon" book):

(images credit: Jason Chapin, Karsten Sperling)

Enjoy super-high resolution image of this technological marvel here.

This is a 1943 model on display at Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin:

(image credit: Pilot Micha)

Here is a lovely closeup of the "enigmatic" wheels and knobs:

(image credit: Chung Jen)

Here is a good page elaborating on the code and the inner workings of the Bombe machine - link

And finally, you can run the full-scale simulation of the Bombe right here!

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eure Reklame ist grosse Scheisse und nerft = niemals ORANGE !

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

what do you mean?

Blogger John Hobson said...

One thing that helped the Bletchley Park codebreakers a lot was that there was a message sent every morning at exactly 6 am, a weather report with the first word being "Wetter" ("weather") and ending with "Heil Hitler". It is really useful for the decoder to have known text.

My father worked on the Bombe for a while, but he didn't get along with Turing, so he was sent elsewhere with dire warnings about not letting anyone know anything about it.


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