No episode in the history of the Second World War has captured the imagination more vividly than the deciphering of the Enigma code messages by a group of eccentric boffins at Bletchley Park. The brilliant work of Alan Turing and his team, as they worked round the clock to decrypt the messages sent by the most sophisticated coding machine of the age, played a huge part in winning the war for the Allies. But it was a part of a much bigger and equally dramatic story - that of the spies and ordinary seamen who risked their lives to capture the codebooks and manuals that would provide the key to Germany's top-secret Enigma machine.
It began in 1931, when Hans Thilo Schmidt - the 'Enigma Spy' - turned traitor and handed over two codebooks to the French Secret Service. In the cloak-and-dagger world of pre-war Europe, Enigma was already known to be the most powerful weapon in German intelligence. Once war was declared, the struggle to decrypt its messages began in earnest. Codebooks were scooped from sinking German U-boats or captured in hit-and-run raids: when U-33 was scuppered in the Firth of Clyde, a rescued crew-member was found to have Enigma wheels in his pocket. These 'pinches', as they became known, were vital. During the last six months of 1940, German U-boats sank three million tons of Allied shipping in the Atlantic, an assault so devastating it threatened Britain's very survival. For the cryptographers at Bletchley, a constant supply of new codebooks was essential if they were to have a hope of turning the tide.
Inspired by Robert Harris's novel, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore tells the whole extraordinary story - the charisma and courage, the deeds of heroism and sacrifice, and the unremitting determination of those involved.
Also available in The Secret War series