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Honoring Crypto's WWII Legacy: The Bombe Will Stay at Bletchley Park

It’s a good day for cryptography: The National Museum of Computing has raised £60,000 (and counting) for its efforts to keep a big piece of World War II and computing history on the Bletchley Park Estate in the UK.

The fundraising efforts are going towards saving the Bombe, a working reconstruction of the Turing-Welchman machine. The machine, as anyone who saw The Imitation Game knows, helped break German Enigma messages in the Second World War, under the leadership of brilliant computing pioneer Benedict Cumberbatch – err, I mean, Alan Turing.

Turing himself is somewhat of a tragic hero: After heading a group of linguists, academics, chess champions, intelligence officers (and, if the movie is to be believed, at least one Axis spy) in cracking the “unbreakable code” behind Germany's Enigma machine, he went on to lay out the foundations of modern digital computing. Not only that, but the “Turing Test” is a famous evaluation of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human; it’s a corner-piece of thinking on artificial intelligence.

However, Turing himself was arrested in the early 1950s on charges of 'gross indecency' and homosexuality, and was eventually chemically castrated. He died of cyanide poisoning in 1954 (widely believed to have been a suicide), less than a decade after he helped the Allies turn the tide of the war.

So, preserving the Bombe reconstruction is an exercise in honoring history, but also Turing’s legacy. It will be located near to a working rebuild of Colossus, the 1944 computer that sped up the breaking of Lorenz messages of the German High Command; together, the two machines are credited with shortening the war by up to two years and saving countless lives.

The reconstruction replicates the standard British Bombe, which contained 36 Enigma equivalents, each with three drums wired to produce the same enciphering effect as the Enigma cipher machine motors.

As the Museum explained: “Sitting close together in Block H, hailed as one of England’s top 100 ‘irreplaceable places’, they will bring to life the incredible wartime code-breaking story and pay homage to the amazing achievements of the Bletchley Park code-breakers.”

The funds will be used to create a new gallery, which will involve removing a wall and false ceiling, installing new flooring, power and lighting, relocation of existing exhibits, constructing a new Bombe store and office, plus creating all the necessary interpretive and display materials to enable the public to see the working Bombe reconstruction.

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