ULTRA vs. ENIGMA
Of all the Allied weaponry and equipment, there was nothing more crucial
than the top-secret British project called Ultra. Its mission was to
intercept and decipher coded messages sent by the Germans. The catch
was, the Germans were using the most challenging code ever developed,
appropriately named Enigma.
THE NAZI ENIGMA
The Enigma was meant to be the Nazis' ultimate weapon. It was a cypher
machine, designed to produce the ultimate code. Inside it was a system
of electrically connected revolving drums, on which letters of the alphabet
were placed. When a letter was typed, it was assigned a random letter
value. F. W. Winterbotham, one of the founders of Ultra, described the
Enigma like this:
A typewriter fed the letters of the message into the machine, where
they were so proliferated by the drums that it was estimated a team
of top mathematicians might take a month or more to work out all the
permutations necessary to find the right answer for a single cypher
setting; the setting of the drums in relation to each other was the
key which both the sender and receiver would no doubt keep closely guarded.
With Enigma at their disposal, the German submarines were able to sink
devastating amounts of Allied shipping between 1940 and 1942. Top secret
plans were freely sent through Enigma. They were totally confident that
the Enigma code could not be broken.
THE FORMATION OF ULTRA
After the Nazis created their invincible cypher machine, they proceeded
to mass-produce them in 1938. A Polish mechanic carefully kept track
of the parts of the Enigma he was making. From this, he was able to
discover that the Nazis had been working on their cypher machine. He
got word to the British through the Polish Secret Service, and the British
managed to smuggle one out of Poland.
From this, the British Secret Service were able to understand how Enigma
worked, but were unable to break the code. They set up headquarters
at Bletchley Park, along with dozens of expert mathematicians, cryptographers,
and even chess champions. Teamed with the best computer technology at
the time, these cryptographers were responsible for solving the Enigma.
They would spend months analyzing the code, trying to unlock its secret.
It was an incredible strain, and some of them suffered nervous breakdowns
trying to solve it. But with millions of lives at stake, they knew they
had no choice. They would either break the enigma code, or witness a
However, in 1940, what seemed like the impossible finally happened.
A few practice messages sent by the Germans in Enigma code were intercepted
and deciphered. Although the actual contents of the messages were totally
useless, Enigma had been solved. From this point on, the British were
able to decipher the German messages one after another. To distinguish
themselves from other cypher teams, the British team called itself Ultra.
Ultra was one of the most carefully kept secrets of World War Two. Only
the people actually working with it knew of its existence. If the Germans
found out that Enigma had been deciphered, they would change the code.
Solving it once had been nightmare enough. Ultra did not want to go
through it again.
For two years, Ultra proved itself to be vital to the Allies time and
time again. Without it, the Allies would never have been able to win
the war. During the Battle of Britain, Ultra saved Air Marshal Dowding
and the Royal Air Force from defeat at Goering's hands. Ultra intercepted
German submarine transmissions, which revealed their locations, enabling
Ultra to warn Allied vessels. In that same way, Ultra uncovered plans
for Operation Sea Lion, a German invasion of Britain. Ultra Intelligence
informed General Auchinlek, commander of the Allied forces in North
Africa, of General Rommel's position. This allowed Auchinlek to fight
Rommel and the Afrika Korps by hitting them where they were the weakest.
Eventually, Auchinlek stopped Rommel before he was able to enter Egypt.
Otherwise, the Germans would have had total control of the Mediterranean
ULTRA AND THE BATTLE OF NORMANDY
By February 1944, Ultra had worked with several Allied commanders, including
Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Patton-who used Ultra intelligence
to "bust open the enemy every chance he had (Winterbotham, 122-123).
This cooperation was essential to carrying out the Normandy invasion
In March 1943, Ultra discovered Hitler's plans for a secret weapon in
the works called the V1 flying-bomb (what they found out about it, such
as location of the test-sites and results, has not been revealed yet).
By April 1944, Hitler was preparing launch sites on the French coast.
Ultra intercepted Hitler's orders about establishing a headquarters
near Amiens to control the V1 operation. The headquarters was named
the 155th Flak Regiment. Colonel Siegfried Freiherr von Watchel was
in command. That meant that "Overlord," the Normandy invasion, had to
take place as soon as possible (Winterbotham, 119-121).
In May 1944, Ultra intercepted a message from Watchel to General Heinemann,
commander of the LXVI Corps (and administrator of the V1 headquarters),
saying that fifty sites on the French coast were ready. That meant the
Allied attack could not take place any later than June. It was a smart
move. On June 6th, D-Day, Watchel was ordered to launch an all-out offensive
with the V1s on June 12 (Winterbotham, 121).
A dispute between Hitler and his top generals, during the spring of
1944, would end up providing the most important clue about the German
defenses at Normandy. Rommel wanted his panzer divisions directly behind
the beach defenses. Hitler, who trusted Rommel's judgement, went with
his recommendation. But another general, Heinz Guderian, felt that the
panzers would be wasted on the beaches. Hitler began to grow uncertain
and suggested that the two generals talk it out. Guderian was backed
up by General Geyr von Schweppenberg, who commanded the panzer group
in France. Rommel adamantly refused to give in. He sent a message to
Hitler, reinforcing his plans to have the panzer division behind the
Normandy beaches. He felt that the superior Allied air power would severely
hamper the movement of the tanks (Winterbotham, 125-127).
This gave everything away to Ultra. Rommel's message revealed the locations
of the panzer division on the Normandy beaches. Although Ultra did not
receive Hitler's response, now they knew what to be on the lookout for.
Schweppenberg gave even more away when he personally asked Hitler to
keep a majority of the panzers near Paris. Hitler's response (which
was intercepted by Ultra this time) was to keep four divisions, the
reserve forces, would remain where they were, as an assault force. This
made Overlord easier for the Allies. If Hitler had moved these divisions
to the beach, the Germans would have overwhelmed the Allies at Normandy
Ultra set the stage for the Allied victory in Normandy. They had done
their part. Now it was the soldiers' turn.
Winterbotham, F.W. The Ultra Secret. Harper and Row: New York,