loading...

09 December 2020 12:33

Normandy landings World War II Poland

Divers discover lost Nazi coding machine under Baltic Sea

Underwater archeologists sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have found an Enigma machine at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, likely from a submarine that Germany scuttled at the end of World War II. Enigma machines, created in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, were used to encode military messages; these codes were finally broken by the experts assembled by the British at Bletchley Park, work which fueled the creation of modern computers. Earlier this year, a four-rotor M4 Enigma cipher machine sold at an auction for £347,250 ($437,955). "We suspect that our Enigma went overboard in the course of this event," says Florian Huber, underwater archaeologist and diver in the Submaris team, which found the encryption machine. They were deployed to Germany's U-boat fleet in 1941 and prevented the Allies from knowing where German's U-boats were positioned for almost a year until English mathematician Alan Turing and, separately, Joe Desch in Dayton, Ohio developed the computer that broke M4 encryption to decipher German messages.

The WWF-sponsored diving crew who found this Enigma machine were exploring because abandoned fishing nets kill marine mammals, fish and sea birds. The dive team found the Enigma machine this November at the bottom of Gelting Bay in the Baltic Sea. "The WWF has been working for many years to rid the Baltic Sea of dangerous ghost nets. WWF Germany launched the ghost net project in 2016 to remove abandoned fishing gear from the Baltic Sea. It estimated there were 800 tonnes of old nets, which keep on catching fish after they're abandoned. Underwater archaeologist Florian Huber told Reuters he thought they had discovered a typewriter entangled in a net But I never dreamt that we would one day find one of the legendary Enigma machines," said Huber.

Florian Huber, research diver, kneels in front of the archaeological office of Schleswig-Holstein when handing over the Enigma cipher machine, which he found in the Baltic Sea, next to the machine. A team of scuba divers made an incredible discovery when they found a Nazi encryption device, an Enigma machine, at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The group, divers from the World Wildlife Fund searching for abandoned fishing nets to remove, thought they had found an old typewriter before realising they had found something much more rare. But I never dreamt that we would one day find one of the legendary Enigma machines," underwater archaeologist Florian Huber told Reuters. The Enigma machines were used by the Nazi military to send secret messages but the code was cracked by British cryptographers led by Alan Turing, helping turn the tides of World War II. Axel Heimken/Getty Images Florian Huber, research diver, kneels in front of the archaeological office of Schleswig-Holstein when handing over the Enigma cipher machine, which he found in the Baltic Sea. The Nazis ended up sinking more than 200 of their own submarines in the Baltic and North Seas before the end of the war.

The divers said that even though Enigma machines can sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction, theirs will be donated to the Archaeological Museum Schloss Gottorf in Schleswig, Germany. The three-rotor Enigma machine at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Image: Florian Huber Divers searching for discarded fishing nets in the Baltic Sea have discovered a rare Enigma encryption machine used by the Nazis in World War II. The device, famously used by Nazis to encrypt messages during the Second World War, was uncovered by a group not normally associated with marine archaeology: the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). After the discovery, one of Huber's colleagues "swam up and said: there's a net there with an old typewriter in it," he told the DPA news agency. On Friday, the group handed the Enigma machine over to a German museum for restoration.

Ulf Ickerodt, head of the archaeological office in the Schleswig-Holstein region, told DPA it'll be a delicate process, and the desalination of the machine alone could take upwards of an entire year. The Nazis used Enigma machines to encrypt and decrypt radio messages transmitted during the war. Unbeknownst to the Germans, however, British intelligence at Bletchley Park, with the help of mathematician Alan Turing, cracked the system in 1941. This machine probably didn't originate from a scuttled submarine (as Huber suspects), because German U-boats were equipped with the more complex four-rotor versions, according to Witt. Last month, German divers scanning the Baltic seafloor for abandoned fishing nets happened upon a rare piece of history: a strange contraption with keys and a rotor, rusted and covered in algae but relatively intact.

"A colleague swam up and said: [T]here's a net there with an old typewriter in it," lead diver Florian Huber tells the DPA news agency. As Agence France-Presse reports, the group's find is a rare Enigma cipher machine used by Nazi Germany to transmit encrypted military communications during World War II. The divers found the machine off the coast of northeast Germany in the Bay of Gelting, which is part of the Baltic Sea. On assignment for the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the team had been using sonar technology to scan for "ghost nets," or abandoned fishing nets that pollute the oceans and pose a deadly threat to fish, seabirds and other marine mammals, per a statement. The machine discovered by the divers had three rotors, so it likely came from a German warship. U-boats—powerful submarines that wreaked havoc on Allied forces during the first and second world wars—usually carried more complex four-rotor Engima devices, historian Jann Witt of the German Naval Association tells the DPA. Though Enigma machines did, for a time, allow German forces to secretly communicate troops' positions and plans of attack with impunity, the Allies eventually cracked their code. The Polish codebreakers' efforts paved the way for subsequent research ventures, including British mathematician Alan Turing's Bletchley Park team, which eventually cracked the increasingly sophisticated Enigma encryption.