Bletchley Park
Martin Sugarman, Archivist of the AJEX Jewish Military Museum, Hendon (Copyright of text and research); Trail devised and edited by Marcus Roberts.


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The Work at Bletchley Park

The secret code-breaking activities at Bletchley Park were one of the best kept secrets of the World War II and the intelligence provided by the code-breakers are credited with shortening the war by as much as three years.

The War-time work at Bletchley Park started with a small listening station called 'Station X', but with the advance of the war this small post became a major operation with over 8,000 civilian and military staff from many countries, but with a particularly large American contingent from 1943 onwards.
Many of the original recruits were sourced through the 'old-boy network', from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or from the ranks of cross-word fanatics and chess-players and those with special language skills. They were sworn to complete secrecy, the personnel working 24 hours a day, in three shifts, with its activities spread across numerous huts, and reinforced concrete blocks, and possibly under-ground bunkers too, across its 55 acre site.

From early in the war, Bletchley Park no longer operated as a listening station itself, as radio signals would have given the code-breaking school's location away to the enemy and so made it a target for bombers. Instead it became a central point of a great information gathering operation, and deciphering operations. Listening posts, known as Y stations, located all over the UK, would pick up the enemy radio transmissions and then send them to BP by motor cycle despatch, or direct cable teleprinter, for decoding. Pigeons were also used to receive messages from Europe and a number of the birds received the Dickins medal for their heroic exploits in bringing in secret messages fixed to their legs or even concealed within the quill of their feathers from intelligence operatives in the field.

The secrecy was so great that staff was rarely discussed work out-side of their own particular huts where they worked. The staff were billeted on the estate, as well as in Bletchley, and in the surrounding area, in a radius of up to 20 miles away.

The secrecy was also preserved out-side of Bletchley Park, as intelligence gleaned from the enemy was only acted on if it did not blow the cover of the decoders. For example the decoders would know the location of enemy ships, but they could only be destroyed if a reconnaissance plane had been sent over the area first as an intelligence decoy. This policy also meant that many lives had to be sacrificed by not acting on intelligence, such as by not evacuating in advance of large air-raids, if it would create suspicions in the enemy.

The code-breakers had a number of different codes and ciphers to crack, as the Germans and Axis forces used several types of sophisticated code-making machines, of which the Enigma machine is the best known, but was by no means the most sophisticated encrypting devices available to Axis forces. Also the Park was naturally home to intense linguistic and translation activity, as the codes, once they had been cracked, had to be translated into English. Towards the end of the war, the decrypting of Japanese was particularly difficult and many of the decoders and translators had to be taught Japanese from scratch in 6 months - the pressure of the immersion course held at Bedford was so intense, some of the students are said to have committed suicide under the strain.

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