It’s An Enigma…

An Enigma machine, that is.

And it can be yours, if the price is right. Or, more accurately, if you can afford to send $245,000 on this piece of WWII history.

M. S. Rau Antiques of New Orleans has an Enigma I three-rotor cipher machine for sale. From what I can tell, this was an early Wehrmacht Enigma cipher machine as they became more sophisticated as the war continued.

From Rau’s description of this Enigma I:

This highly important three-rotor Enigma I machine was used by the German Army during World War II. This machine, manufactured in Berlin, features three moving code rotors, or “walzen” (wheels), and a “steckerbrett,” or plug board. It is believed that the acquisition of an Enigma, and the subsequent deciphering of the German codes by the Allies, shortened the war in Europe by at least two years. A few of these vital intelligence tools survived the war, existing examples of Enigma machines are exceptionally rare, with almost all known models currently held in museums.

The Enigma machine was an advanced electro-mechanical cipher machine developed in Germany after World War I. The machine, called the “M” machine by the Germans, was used by all branches of the German military as their main device for secure wireless communications until the end of World War II. Several types of the Enigma machines were developed before and during World War II, each more complex and harder to code break than its predecessors. In addition to the complexity of the Enigma machine itself, its operating procedures became increasingly complex, as the German military wanted to make Enigma communications harder to code break.

The effort to crack the codes generated by an Enigma was an international affair. In 1929, the Poles intercepted an Enigma machine being shipped from Berlin and mistakenly not protected as diplomatic baggage. The Poles were able to determine the wiring of the rotors then in use by the German Army and used them to decrypt a large portion of German Army traffic for much of the 1930s.

In 1939, the German Army increased the complexity of their Enigmas. The Poles, realizing time was running out before the Germans invaded, decided in mid-1939 to share their work, and passed to the French and the British some of their ersatz ‘Enigmas,’ information. The information was shipped to France in diplomatic baggage; the British share went on to Bletchley Park, where the British secret service had installed its Code and Cipher School for the purpose of breaking the Germans’ message traffic. There, British mathematicians and cryptographers, chess players, bridge players, and crossword puzzle fans, among them Alan Turing, managed to conquer the problems presented by the many German Enigma variations and found means of cracking them.

A similar Enigma machine is on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans

The interior of the case is stamped Klappe schließen (“Close the door”) on the lower flap

German, Circa 1940

6 1/4″ high x 11″ wide x 13 5/16″ deep

Many of the existing Enigma machines are in museums. For example, the US National Cryptologic Museum has a four-rotor Kriegsmarine Enigma cipher machine that was used in the latter part of WWII.

The history of cryptology has always been a bit of an interest of mine. That is because my mother worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation during WWII as a cryptology technician. Part of her job involved searching suspected mail for microdots.  In a box somewhere, I have her training notes from the FBI on codes and code breaking.