How did the Allies crack the Nazi codes during World War II? The story of the first nazi code-breaking computers has been told time and time again, including Turing’s eventual tragic fate due to homophobia, but not many images of those machines have been released.
Take a look at these never-seen-before images!
Now, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the code breaking machines that ended the worst war in history, the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) revealed images of Colossus, the innovative computers built to crack codes. For lovers of history, especially tech history, these visuals are a treat.
Even more interesting, although people knew computers were involved in breaking Hitler’s codes, the UK did not formally acknowledge the existence of devices like Colossus until the early 2000s.
From the BBC:
“Colossus was not one computer but a series of computers developed by British scientists between 1943 and 1945. These 2-meter-tall electronic beasts played an instrumental role in breaking the Lorenz cipher, a code used for communications between high-ranking German officials in occupied Europe.
The computers were said to have allowed allies to “read Hitler’s mind,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The technology behind Colossus was highly innovative for its time.
Tommy Flowers, the engineer behind its construction, used over 2,500 vacuum tubes to create logic gates, a precursor to the semiconductor-based electronic circuits found in modern computers.
While 1945’s ENIAC was long considered the clear front-runner in digital computing, the revelation of Colossus’ earlier existence repositioned it in computing history. (However, it’s important to note that ENIAC was a general-purpose computer, and Colossus was not.)
GCHQ’s public sharing of archival documents includes several photos of the computer at different periods and a letter discussing Tommy Flowers’ groundbreaking work that references the interception of “rather alarming German instructions.” Following the war, the UK government issued orders for the destruction of most Colossus machines, and Flowers was required to turn over all related documentation. “
And yes, do notice the women working on Colossus. In case you missed it, the very term “computer” is said to refer to a person doing computing work and, in the early days of this technology, it was mostly women computers.
As for Colossus, it was such a powerful computer, the GCHQ says they used it up until the early 60s, more than a decade and a half after WW2’s end.