Enigma code-breaking machine named favourite engineering artefact

Posted on 8 Oct 2014 by The Manufacturer

Alan Turing's famous bombe machine, which helped break Nazi codes during WWII, has been named by the members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as their favourite engineering artefact.

Engineers were asked to vote for their favourite recipient of an Engineering Heritage Award, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Awards scheme. The presentation will be later this month of the 100th Award to the Old Furnace at Ironbridge, which is cited by many as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

The awards, established in 1984, aim to promote artefacts, sites or landmarks of significant engineering importance from both the past and present. Members were asked to vote for their favourite of the 99 artefacts already in receipt of one of these awards. The Bombe achieved over 19% of the vote, closely followed by Concorde with almost 17% of the vote.

John Wood, Chairman of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Heritage Committee, said: “The 210 Bombes built by the British Tabulating Machine Company, played a crucial role in the Allied success in the war.

“Estimates suggest they could have helped cut the war by as much as two years – saving countless lives. These machines, illustrate the genius of Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, but also the vision and ingenuity of the engineer Harold Keen who made these concepts a reality.”

The Bombe was an electromechanical device designed to help crack the German Enigma code during the Second World War. All of the 210 Bombes built by the British Tabulating Machine Company during World War Two were dismantled after the war but a fully-functioning replica, on display at Bletchley Park, was completed in 2007. The replica was rebuilt over the course of 13 years by a group of enthusiasts, lead by John Harper, using the original blueprints.

The Bombe was the brainchild of mathematicians and codebreakers Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, who then passed on their concept for design and construction to Harold Keen, an engineer at the British Tabulating Machine Company. The machines allowed up to 5,000 messages a day to be decoded and were pivotal to the Allied Forces winning the war.

The machine has entered British cultural life with multiple TV works and a recent movie adaptation, as well as multiple posthumous awards for Turing and the team.