Friday, February 17, 2012

Bletchley Park and Stalin

Bletchley Park

"Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail", huffed US Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson.  At Bletchley Park during World War II the mail of the Axis powers was read on a regular basis.  As the majority of the workers at Bletchley Park were women, we can take some consolation in acknowledging that it was predominantly women who were reading the mail of the Axis "gentlemen."  Churchill referred to the nuggets of intelligence gleaned at Bletchley as his "eggs."  On a wartime visit to Bletchley Park, he commended the ladies of Bletchley Park as being, "the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled."

The conservative tour of London continues in Buckinghamshire at Bletchley Park.  Here is the link...

The Park is well worth a visit if you make it out to London.  The Bletchley code-breakers performed amazing feats in decyphering the "unbreakable" Axis codes.  Bletchley decrypts led directly to the sinking of the Bismarck (1941), informed Montgommery of all of Rommel's dispositions and movements prior to the battle El Alamein (1942), aided the Soviets in winning the huge tank battle of Kursk (1943) and helped divert troops away from Normandy prior to the D-day landings on June 6th, 1944.  Nor was Bletchley only helpful in the European theatre; Bletchley decrypts led directly to the Assaasination of the Japanese Admiral Yammamoto by US fighter pilots.  Eisenhower claimed that the work of Bletchley Park had shortened the war by two years.

At the Park you can see the magnificent technological innovations that enabled the success of Blethley Park.  Alan Turing invented the prototype of the modern computer in order to decrypt the Nazi coded created by their enigma machines.

It is one of the remarkable facts of World War II that none of the Axis powers ever discovered that their radio traffic had been compromised on a regular basis by the Allies.  Say what you will about the British, but they are darned good at keeping a secret.  The veterans of Bletchley Park, constrained by the Official Secrets Act, had to keep the secret of their wartime work even long after the war's conclusion.  It was not until the 1974 publication of Fredereick Winterbotham's book, The Ultra Secret, that the true role of Bletchley Park was revealed.

Dawn of the Computer Age
The British government was so concerned about maintaining secrecy that they actually destroyed almost all of their own decrypting "computers" at the war's conclusion!  How different Britain's postwar economic recovery might have been had they realized just what they possessed.

John Cairncross was a British spy who worked for the Soviets and became know as "the Fifth Man" in the ring of infamous double agents.  Cairncross became private secretary to Lord Hankey who had a general supervisory role over the intelligence services.  He, therefore, had access to Bletchley decrypts and passed these along to the Soviets.  He also worked briefly at Bletchley in 1942.  There is much speculation as to whether the British government knowingly allowed him to pass information to their wartime ally or not.   In any case, Stalin was clearly aware of the work done at Bletchley.

I see the connection between Bletchley and Stalin, however, in quite a different light.    Stalin may be thought of, in effect, as an Inverse Bletchley Park.  The brilliant work done at Bletchley Park on cryptanalysis clearly helped to shorten the war for the allies.  Stalin's stupidity and gross incompetence (purging the officer corps, disregarding multiple warnings of Hitler's impending attack prior to June 22 1941, etc.), on the other hand, lengthened the duration and intensified the suffering of the Russian people during World War II.

If you would like to learn more about an all too rare government program that was worth every penny spent on it, check out Sinclair McKay's The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, 2010...


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