LONDON — An “Enigma” encrypting machine used to send coded military messages from Nazi Germany during World War II is going up for sale in London.
Auction house Bonhams says the machine, encased in an oak carrying box and dating from 1944, is expected to fetch up to 50,000 pounds ($79,775) when it goes under the hammer on October 29.
The “Enigma” machines, which scramble messages into codes, were best known for their use by the German military during WWII. Many models were made and there were complex additions to the machines during the war, but British code breakers managed to crack the “Enigma” code.
Jon Baddeley, a specialist at Bonhams, said Friday the model on sale was special because all its parts were original, unlike other such machines.
In the years after the establishment of the state in 1948, the Israel Defense Forces also acquired some Enigmas. The machines were tinkered with to adapt the keys to accommodate the 22 letters used in the Hebrew alphabet and then pressed into service to keep the new state’s military secrets under wraps.
However, apparently unbeknownst to Israel’s military, the seemingly secure Enigma machine codes had already been cracked in what was one of the most closely guarded secrets of WWII.
The Enigma machine was invented at the end of World War I and used by the German military from the 1930s onward to encrypt messages. With trillions of possible combinations, its codes were considered impregnable. However, following on earlier breakthroughs by Polish intelligence services, in 1939 a British team led by Alan Turing at Bletchley Hall finally managed to break the Enigma machine codes, giving the allies an inestimable advantage over the Nazis.
The success was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war and afterwards, as Britain encouraged former colonies that had gained their independence to use the enigma machines for their own military secrets.
Turing’s accomplishment was only made public in the 1970s, by which time the machines were obsolete.