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Divers stumble upon rare Nazi Enigma machine at bottom of Baltic Sea

Team uncovers coding cipher off Germany’s coast while searching for abandoned fishing nets; device was probably thrown off warship at end of World War II

An enigma cipher machine found in the Baltic Sea in front of the archaeological office of German federal state Schleswig-Holstein in Schleswig, Germany, December 4, 2020. (Axel Heimken/dpa via AP, File)
An enigma cipher machine found in the Baltic Sea in front of the archaeological office of German federal state Schleswig-Holstein in Schleswig, Germany, December 4, 2020. (Axel Heimken/dpa via AP, File)

German divers stumbled upon a rare Enigma coding machine, used by the Nazis to send coded messages during World War II, at the bottom of the Baltic Sea last month.

The legendary code machine was discovered during a search for abandoned fishing nets in the Bay of Gelting in northeast Germany by divers on assignment for environmental group World Wildlife Fund.

“A colleague swam up and said: there’s a net there with an old typewriter in it,” Florian Huber, the lead diver, told Germany’s DPA news agency.

It was probably thrown off a Nazi warship toward the end of the war.

The recovered machine was rusted but relatively intact, with several keys and their letters clearly visible.

The team quickly realized they had stumbled across a historical artifact and alerted the authorities. They turned the machine over to a museum for restoration earlier this month.

An enigma cipher machine found in the Baltic Sea in front of the archaeological office of German federal state Schleswig-Holstein in Schleswig, Germany, December 4, 2020. (Axel Heimken/dpa via AP, File)

The Nazis produced thousands of the machines in several models, but only a few hundred are known to have survived until today. They are considered valuable collector items — Christie’s auction house sold an enigma machine in July for $440,000.

Ulf Ickerodt, head of the state archaeological office in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein region, said the machine found in the Baltic would be restored by experts at the state’s archaeology museum.

The delicate process, including a thorough desalination process after seven decades in the Baltic seabed, “will take about a year,” he said.

After that, the enigma will go on display at the museum.

Naval historian Jann Witt from the German Naval Association told DPA that he believes the machine, which has three rotors, was thrown overboard from a German warship in the final days of the war.

An Enigma machine on display at Bletchley Park. (photo credit: CC BY SA Flickr/Tim Gage)
An Enigma machine on display at Bletchley Park in the UK. (CC BY SA Flickr/Tim Gage)

It is less likely that it came from a scuttled submarine, he said, because Adolf Hitler’s U-boats used the more complex four-rotor Enigma machines.

The Allied forces worked tirelessly to decrypt the codes produced by the Enigma machine, which were changed every 24 hours.

British mathematician Alan Turing, seen as the father of modern computing, spearheaded a team at Britain’s Bletchley Park that cracked the code in 1941.

The breakthrough helped the Allies decipher crucial radio messages about German military movements. Historians believe it shortened the war by about two years.

The story was turned into a 2014 movie called “The Imitation Game,” starring Oscar-nominated British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing.

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