What is the best kept secret

Time travel: the best kept secret of World War II

Transmission date: 02/14/2021 7:30 p.m.

She was irreplaceable. It was the great hope of the German armed forces. But the wonder weapon ultimately contributed to the fact that the Navy lost the battle for the Atlantic. It's about the Enigma encryption machine.

Seven specimens have been lying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea for almost 76 years. The pride of the Navy between algae and sediment. They were discovered by chance by divers within a few weeks in the Geltinger Bay and near Schleim√ľnde. How did they get there? The Kiel naval historian Jann Witt has to solve this riddle: "If it is possible to decipher their serial numbers and to compare them with the output lists of the navy, it would perhaps actually be possible to determine which ships and boats these enigmas belonged to simply illuminate this, one could say "last ride" of these units in the surrender, exactly. "

Jann Witt is sitting in his office, directly at the Naval Memorial in Laboe. For him, the Enigmas are a relic from the darkest hour in German history. They were part of the compulsory equipment of the Kriegsmarine in World War II. They were the bearers of the messages that decided the death of thousands of people. The historian explains: "The submarines did not operate alone, but in so-called packs. This is how they attacked the enemy convoys. These attacks were coordinated from the land. That is, reports of the sighting of a convoy were sent by radio to headquarters reported ashore, where the attack was planned and of course the submarines concerned were informed by radio. " The Enigmas were essential for this. But where did they come from?

Enigmas: The answer to the shame of the First World War

During the First World War, the British managed to secretly take possession of a naval code book of the German Empire. This enabled them to decipher the radio messages and thus had a great advantage. This time the Wehrmacht High Command wanted to do better. The tour became aware of the development of the Berlin electrical engineer Arthur Scherbius. He had already applied for a patent for the Enigma: an electric encryption machine that seemed to be able to encode each letter individually on a random basis.

The Enigma was classified as unbreakable and at the same time made mandatory equipment for the Navy. The safest means of communication, in which the officers believed wholeheartedly, like the then young radio operator Heinz Wilde. He remembers the apparent impossibility of cracking this code: "How secure was the code? The security was stated with the certainty of a million or several million possibilities. Today one would say: as safe as winning the lottery."

The greatest secret of the Germans: How the Enigma works

More than 100,000 Enigmas are said to have been built in Germany during the Second World War.

A typed letter is replaced by electrical contacts on the movable rotors, and each letter follows a different pattern due to the rotation of the rotors. This is done using a previously entered day setting that is changed every day. So there are millions of possibilities, unpredictable, unassailable - it was thought.

Because the Allies managed to capture some enigmas early on. Without the respective day setting, these could not be used for decoding, but this way they could examine the basic function of the machine. Between 1941 and 1942, the Allies succeeded in intercepting more than two million codes.

The Allies' greatest secret: They cracked the code

The German Wehrmacht underestimated that machine encryption can be cracked through machine decipherment. The first attempts to crack the Enigma were made in Poland. In the UK, near London, that was a priority. Operation Ultra was called it: in a property in Bletchley Park near London, the English mathematician Alan Turing, with the help of a team of experts, built an electromechanical machine that decoded the Enigma. Soon around 14,000 people were working to decipher thousands of codes every day.

They benefited from the German thoroughness and the routine reports. They were reported punctually every morning and always processed immediately. Over and over again they contained the same terms such as "weather forecast" or "victory" or "fight". In just a few hours, Tuning's machine was able to test all the possibilities of the Enigma.

This means that the British always knew where the German submarines were. The Germans suspected that at most, like the then 31-year-old naval officer Erich Topp. He was desperate because the naval leadership did not listen to his worries: "Since 1941 we have had the feeling that the other side had broken into our code. We reported that too, but the leadership repeatedly asserted that it couldn't The Enigma machine has a million ways to change its code. It is completely impossible for the other side to break this code. "

The Enigmas in the Geltinger Bay and Schleim√ľnde

The British hid for a good three decades that they had cracked the enigma riddle. In May 1945, the German Wehrmacht assumed that it had kept the greatest secret. Jann Witt thinks that's why they tried to get rid of the Enigmas. Because when the Wehrmacht surrendered, there was an agreement that ships and submarines should be handed over to the Allies unharmed: "I simply assume that a squadron was on its way to Flensburg or Kiel when the news came of the surrender, or was already on the way, to hand over the boats to the Allies, and that the things were thrown overboard during this voyage. "

In the coming months, Jann Witt will X-ray the machines. He hopes then to be able to pinpoint them precisely and thereby be able to say exactly which ship they belonged to.

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Schleswig-Holstein Magazine | 02/14/2021 | 19:30 o'clock