Hacking the Nazis: The secret story of the women who broke Hitler’s codes (cover story PDF)

Of the 10,000-plus staff at the Government Code and Cypher School during World War II, two-thirds were female. For this in-depth cover story, writer Nick Heath talked with three veteran servicewomen to find out what life was like as part of the code-breaking operation during World War II. This download provides the magazine version of the article as a free PDF for registered TechRepublic and ZDNet members. The online version of this story is available here.

From the story:

“I was given one sentence, ‘We are breaking German codes, end of story’.”

It was Ruth Bourne’s first job out of college, when, like thousands of other young British women during World War II, she was recruited to aid the Allied cipher-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park.

Today, the mansion in the heart of the southeast English countryside is famous for being where the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing cracked the Nazi’s Enigma code.

Because Turing’s individual achievements were so momentous, it’s sometimes forgotten that more than 10,000 other people worked at the Government Code and Cypher School, of whom more than two-thirds were female. These servicewomen played a pivotal role in an operation that decrypted millions of German messages and which is credited with significantly shortening the war.

The vital importance of preempting German plans led to a huge push to create machines that could crack ciphers at superhuman speeds. These efforts produced Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic digital computer.

However, the reality of running these electromechanical machines, setting rotors and plugging boards day in day out, was often less than thrilling, with the 18-year-old Bourne envying the girls who test-piloted aircraft fresh off the production line.

“That was exciting but standing in front of a machine for eight hours was not,” she said.

As mundane as her daily routine was, it was vital in deciphering coded messages sent by the German army, navy and air force and helping the Allied forces turn the tide of war.

To read the rest, download this PDF version of the cover story.

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