Bletchley Park: Britain’s Best Kept Secret
Posted on April 29, 2015 by Kirsty
Now one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions, it’s amazing to think that
Bletchley Park was one of this country’s best kept secrets. Home to so many who changed the course of World War Two, Bletchley has played a key part in our history – little did we know it.
Bletchley Park lies in the heart of Buckinghamshire and was built by Herbert Samuel Leon in the 19
th century. Bletchley was built as the Leon family home and continued developments were made to improve the house and gardens into the early 20th century. Not only was the house enlarged, but many other buildings were added to the estate, including lodges, cottages and stables.
Following the death of Sir Herbert and his wife in the late 1930s, the park belonged to Captain Faulkner who intended to demolish the buildings and use the land for housing, but the threat of war was rapidly growing. Work had scarcely begun in 1938 when Bletchley Park was purchased by the Chief of the Secret Service. At the time, the Government Code & Cypher School was based in London and needed a safe place for intelligence work, far from enemy attacks.
Bletchley Park was the perfect location; close to a major road, offering rail connections across the country and only a short distance away from Oxford and Cambridge, whose universities would supply many of the site’s code-breakers.
After careful planning, the Secret Service began to send code-breakers into Bletchley in 1939 under the cover of ‘Captain Ridley’s shooting party’.
Once Britain declared war on Germany, the race was on to recruit both code-breakers and administrators. Trained Mathematicians were also needed due to the use of the enemy’s electromechanical cipher machines. Alan Turing, Peter Twinn and a number of other cryptanalysts began training in 1938 along with Joan Clarke who was one of very few female cryptanalysts who worked at Bletchley.
The aim of the code-breakers at Bletchley Park was to decipher German messages but these messages were coded.
The Enigma cypher was the core of the German military and intelligence communications, and allowed them to send messages throughout the war about positions and strategies without being discovered. The Enigma cypher was so complex that German intelligence believed it to be unbreakable. Shortly before the war began though, Poland’s Cipher Bureau made incredible achievements in breaking the Enigma code and shared the information with French and British intelligence. This allowed teams at Bletchley to better understand how the Enigma machine worked.
Code-breakers at Bletchley worked in teams to decipher messages, but the process was long as the work required irregular hours and intense concentration. In a bid to speed up this process, Alan Turing and his team began to create an electromechanical device. Its aim was to discover the settings of the Enigma machine, which changed on a daily basis. Originally designed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, the machine was engineered by the British Tabulating Machine Company and over 200 ‘bombes’ were in use by the end of the war. The first break into the Enigma code was in January 1940, when Turing’s team discovered the German Army administrative key. The code-breakers later went on to crack the key used to co-ordinate German air support and army units.
Several successes followed this initial breakthrough, from the First Battle of the Atlantic to the North Africa Campaign, and this encouragement lead to the breaking of the German’s strategic ciphers which were used to communicate between Hitler and his commanders. These incredible achievements are said to have shortened the war by two years.
The work at Bletchley Park was shrouded in secrecy and many documents were destroyed at the end of the war along with the equipment used by the code-breakers. Staff at Bletchley were sworn to secrecy even after the war ended, and many relatives were told cover stories about their work during the war. Many of Bletchley Park’s code-breakers are now being recognised for their work, and the achievements made during the war are still celebrated today. Bletchley Park has been featured on television and the popular film ‘
The Imitation Game’, a historical thriller detailing the life of Alan Turing and the breaking of the Enigma code at Bletchley, became the highest-grossing independent film of 2014.
Bletchley Park is now open for visitors to come and explore the iconic codebreaking Blocks and Huts. This fascinating heritage site is open throughout the year (with the exception of the 24
th, 25th and 26th December and 1st January).
Who not visit the historic Bletchley Park as part of your next Great Little Break?