History of the device’s creation

Enigma was an electromechanical encryption machine that used both the electrical properties and mechanical components for polyalphabetic encryption. Its most important components were the encryption rotors, rotating on a single axis.

The decisive factor in the Enigma’s creation was the purchase of patent rights to another rotary encryption machine developed nine years earlier by Dutch engineer Hugo Koch by Artur Scherbius, a German engineer, the designer of his own rotary encryption machine and co-founder of the Scherbius & Ritterwas electrical equipment factory, in 1928. This transaction brought revolutionary changes in the encryption equipment market and in the field of cryptology. The Enigma quickly gained the recognition of buyers, which resulted in numerous orders, thanks to which it found its way to mass production.

The commercial success and effectiveness of the Enigma, which at that time was mainly used to encrypt German commercial correspondence, also attracted the interest of the German army and intelligence services, which, after a painful defeat during World War I, were working on the creation of an “ideal” encryption device. After modifying its construction and principles of operation, these institutions introduced it to use in their cipher communication. It affected its neighbouring countries, which since then had lost the ability to decipher German messages.

British and French cryptologists repeatedly tried to break the German code, but their efforts ended in failure each time. Discouraged by the constant failures, they finally stopped further attempts, considering the Enigma to be a machine which is impossible to be worked out.

Beginning of work on breaking German ciphers

At the beginning of work on breaking German ciphers, Poles, unlike other nations, were afraid of Germany’s expansive policy, and were motivated to work on this country’s cipher system and, above all, they believed that thanks to their ingenuity, intelligence and effort it would be possible to break the key used in it. For centuries it had been widely believed that the best specialists in this field are linguists and people with linguistic skills. However, Polish experts decided to apply non-standard methods of work, based on the knowledge and mathematical skills of selected graduates of Polish universities who knew German. At the beginning of 1929, in search for talented candidates for a secret cryptology course, the Polish intelligence services addressed Professor Zdzisław Krygowski, a lecturer at the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Poznań, for help in their selection (it was no coincidence that a university located in the Prussian partition was selected, where knowledge of German was common). The students indicated by him – 20 mathematicians – participated in classes conducted by Major Franciszek Pokorny, Lieutenant Maksymilian Ciężki and engineer Antoni Palluth. Out of this group, only three mathematicians were engaged by the Cipher Bureau of the Second Division of the General Staff of the Polish Army. The most talented scientist was Marian Rejewski, a fairly short, modest and prudent young man, described by his friends as a “shy four-eyes”. The other two were his university friends, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki. At the same time, Gwido Langer, a modern technology enthusiast, came to Warsaw from Vilnius, first as the head of the radio intelligence unit and then as the head of the Cipher Bureau, transforming it into a well-functioning structure. Thanks to him, the person who played an important role in the activities of the German section of the Cipher Bureau was Antoni Palluth, who purchased a civilian copy of the Enigma, allowing research on the device.

The photos show a copy of the Enigma used during World War II.  The device is currently stored in the Foreign Intelligence Agency.

First successes of Polish cryptologists

A breakthrough in the work on the Enigma was possible thanks to the close cooperation between the Polish and French intelligence services. The French handed over to Warsaw copies of materials concerning the military version of the Enigma, received from the German cipher Hans Thilo Schmidt, who worked for them. In return, Poles were to share with Paris the possible effects of using the information provided. This data allowed them to construct an exact copy of the Enigma. However, it was still not enough to read the German messages. Finally, thanks to the materials brought to Warsaw on December 8, 1932 by Captain Gustav Bertrand, G. Langer’s counterpart serving in French intelligence, Polish cryptologists managed to decrypt the cryptograms for the first time, using the Enigma, in the Saxon Palace in Warsaw, where the headquarters of the Cipher Bureau was then located, just before the New Year, on December 31, 1932. The success came just in time, as political changes took place in Germany at the beginning of 1933, as a result of which A. Hitler gained power. In this context, improving and increasing the effectiveness of the work of cryptologists from the German section, who had only one copy of the reconstructed Enigma at their disposal, became particularly important. For this reason, the intelligence of the Second Republic of Poland commissioned the “AVA” Radio Engineering Plant in Warsaw, headed by Leonard and Ludomir Danielewicz as well as Edward Fokczyński and Antoni Palluth (amateur radio enthusiasts), to develop further models of this device. A dozen or so copies of the Enigma were created, used by the Cipher Bureau as early as in 1934.