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New Bletchley Park exhibition to celebrate 70th anniversary of Enigma capture

09-May-2011 • Event

Bletchley Park Trust is proud to announce the opening of a new exhibition on Monday 9 May 2011, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the capture of an Enigma machine and codebooks from the German U-boat 110 which took place on 9 May 1941 exactly 70 years ago.

The exhibition contains photographs of the capture – it is the first time all known photos have been exhibited together at the same time – and also the full story including many of the details which appeared in the best selling book on the capture of the Enigma code by historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. The exhibition contains the first hand account of the 20 year old Sub-Lieutenant who climbed into the U-boat to seize the documents (he is still alive today), and it also covers the story from the German side. Some of the U-boat survivors have told their story. A special 70th anniversary edition of Hugh’s book, which has been specially updated to coincide with the exhibition, will be available at Bletchley Park.

The plot has longed been linked to 'Operation Ruthless' supposedly concocted by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, although his actual involvement in creating the scheme has recently been brought in to question with new evidence acquired from official GCHQ documents.

As well as being a dramatic event in its own right, the capture of the U-110 is also noteworthy because it was so significant to breaking the naval Enigma cipher. Many people still do not realize that Bletchley Park's’s naval codebreaking section in hut 8, led by Alan Turing, were not at first able to break the naval enigma cipher used by German warships including U-boats. At the beginning of 1941 they were crying out for the codebooks to be captured. They knew that once they had them in their hands the cipher could be broken. On 7 May 1941 some codebooks were seized from a captured weather forecasting ship. But there were significant documents still missing. When they were finally captured from the U-110. King George VI famously said it was the most important event in the war at sea.

While disputing King George VI’s claim, the exhibition reveals exactly what was captured – which included the Offizier Enigma codebooks used for particularly important messages – and also describes how these were used to conquer the Germans. For example the great British victory at the battle of North Cape in December 1943 when the Royal Navy sunk the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst was fought with the assistance of the Offizier Enigma codebooks recovered from U-110.

The exhibition is scheduled to open on Monday, 9 May. More details are available from Bletchley Park on 01908 640 404.

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