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Episode
44

The Man Who Cracked The Nazi Code

Apr 14, 2020
History
-
18
minutes
World War II
Hitler
Geniuses
Eccentric people

The Enigma machine, used by the Nazis in World War II, had 158,962,555,217,826,360,000 possible combinations, and was thought by many to be impossible to crack.

In this episode we tell the story of the man who cracked the code, and his tragic end.

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[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can learn fascinating things about the world and listen to amazing stories, at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the man who cracked the Nazis' code.

[00:00:30] It is said that knowledge is power, and if you know what your enemy is planning to do, well, that's certainly a powerful thing indeed. 

[00:00:40] So stay tuned, we are going to talk about the man who managed to decipher the encrypted messages of the German army, and according to some, was a big, albeit relatively unknown, factor in the Allied victory in World War Two.

[00:01:00] Before we do that though, let me just take 30 seconds to remind you that you can get a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for this episode , and all the other episodes for that matter, over on the website, which is  leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:16] The transcript is super helpful for following along, and the key vocabulary explains the harder words and means that you can build up your vocabulary at the same time as listening to the podcast. 

[00:01:30] So if that sounds like a good idea, and it certainly does to me, then head to Leonardoenglish.com to check it out. 

[00:01:40] Okay then let's get back into it. 

[00:01:44] Centuries ago, when armies used to face each other on the battlefield, things were quite a bit simpler. 

[00:01:53] Yes, there was obviously a lot of strategy and skill involved, but battles were normally geographically quite contained

[00:02:02] They might stretch out over a few square miles, but generally not over hundreds of miles or thousands of miles. 

[00:02:11] And if they did stretch out that far, getting information about your plans to your soldiers or to your allies, it took a while.

[00:02:20] A messenger had to physically travel there, and horses, well, they can only run so fast. 

[00:02:31] With the invention of radio, things became a little easier. 

[00:02:36] You could pick up a radio and tell your fellow soldiers or your allies what your plans were. 

[00:02:45] Great on one level, but it also meant that you could be overheard if someone else was listening in.

[00:02:54] And with the invention of things like aeroplanes, tanks and warships, battles were fought over even larger distances. 

[00:03:04] Knowing what your allies were up to and being able to communicate your plans to them, it was absolutely vital. 

[00:03:15] The Germans at the start of the Second World War had developed a military tactic called Blitzkrieg.

[00:03:23] It literally means "lightning war" or "lightning attack" in German.

[00:03:29] It involved a fast attack on the enemy with soldiers, tanks and air support. 

[00:03:37] Doing that effectively relied on good communication between all of the different parties involved. 

[00:03:45] And of course there wasn't any WhatsApp, mobile phones or anything like that, this was the 1930s. 

[00:03:54] What there was, if you wanted instant communication, was radio. 

[00:04:00] But of course if you radio in to your colleagues, even if you are speaking a different language, you can bet your enemies will be listening in and trying to understand what you're saying, so that they can be prepared for whatever you have in store.

[00:04:18] So the Germans needed a way of encrypting their messages, of making the actual meaning of what they were saying unknown for anyone who didn't have the key to unlock the meaning, to unlock the code.

[00:04:35] Luckily for them, a German company called Scherbius and Ritter had been working on a machine that did exactly that. 

[00:04:44] It was called the Enigma machine, and they had been working on it since shortly after the end of the First World War. 

[00:04:56] Without going into all of the details about how it worked, partly because they are incredibly complicated and it would take a long time to explain,  and also partly because I have to admit that even though I understand the principles, I don't fully understand everything , I will just explain briefly how the machine worked.

[00:05:19] The sender would write down the letters of the message that they wanted to send. 

[00:05:26] That message - the letters of that message - would then be passed to the operator of the Enigma machine. 

[00:05:34] That operator would press in the letters from the message into the machine.  

[00:05:41] Each time a letter was pressed a light would come on on the machine and this light would correspond to a different letter.

[00:05:52] For example, if I pressed the letter C, the light for A might come on, and then another operator would write down the letter A. 

[00:06:04] I guess you're thinking, well, that sounds quite easy actually. 

[00:06:08] Surely, if you can just figure out which letter corresponds to which other letter, then anyone can crack the code.

[00:06:17] Well, not so fast

[00:06:20] Every time a letter was pressed, the pattern would change and the code would change. 

[00:06:26] So if you pressed C again, it could be any other letter.

[00:06:33] After the entire message had been transformed into these new letters, the message with the new letters would be sent, normally by Morse code

[00:06:46] And when the message was received, if the person had an Enigma machine with the identical settings, then they could type in the message and get the encrypted letters back out.

[00:07:01] If you didn't have a machine, there was no way to guess, the message would just look like random letters.

[00:07:08] And these settings would be changed frequently, so even if someone was listening in, which of course they were, they wouldn't be able to easily see a pattern. 

[00:07:21] So obviously it was incredibly difficult to break. 

[00:07:27] However, before the official outbreak of World War II, a group of brilliant Polish mathematicians had figured out how to read part of the machine.

[00:07:39] They had partly broken the code. 

[00:07:43] When the Germans realised that this had happened, that their code had been semi-compromised, they made the machine quite a lot more complicated. 

[00:07:55] And so while the Poles had been able to read a large number of messages, they could now only read messages sent by the older machines.

[00:08:05] So it wasn't nearly quite as effective. 

[00:08:08] By the time it got to 1939  and it was clear that war was going to break out any minute, the Polish mathematicians decided to share their work with the British and French. 

[00:08:24] They could see that they would only have a short window of time before Poland was completely occupied by the Germans, and then there would be no way to get the message out.

[00:08:37] So they shared their learnings with British and French codebreakers. 

[00:08:43] And this work that they did, the work done by the Polish mathematicians, was incredibly important for understanding how the machines worked, and they even shared real copies that they had made of the machine with their new allies.

[00:09:01] And back in the UK, there was a top secret team assembled of scientists, mathematicians,  and codebreakers. 

[00:09:14] The focus was to break this code, to try and understand the system that the Nazis were using, so that the allied troops could be warned of an impending attack, so they could know their enemy's plans in advance.

[00:09:31] This secret group had its headquarters at a place called Bletchley Park to the northwest of London. 

[00:09:41] And a key part of that group, the hero of today's episode, was a man called Alan Turing.

[00:09:50] He was born in 1912 and so was only in his late twenties when he joined Bletchley Park.

[00:09:57] Turing was an incredibly gifted individual, a very talented mathematician. 

[00:10:03] He had studied at Cambridge and Princeton, and was considered by many to be one of the finest mathematicians and computer scientists of his era

[00:10:15] He was also a very eccentric individual.  

[00:10:19] His office was in a place called Milton Keynes, which is about 40 miles or 60 kilometres from London. 

[00:10:27] When he was occasionally called to meetings in London, he would run to London instead of taking the train. 

[00:10:35] That's like one and a half marathons. 

[00:10:39] Also, reportedly, he used to attach his mug, his cup for tea, to a radiator with a chain in order to prevent it being used by his colleagues.

[00:10:52] In any case,  while he was at Bletchley Park, his sole focus was on code breaking, on deciphering the messages that were sent by the Germans through these Enigma machines. 

[00:11:07] And by the time that Turing started in Bletchley Park, the German U-boats, the submarines, were causing havoc in the Atlantic. 

[00:11:20] They were sinking allied ships by the dozen and it was very difficult to resupply some of the troops in Western Europe.

[00:11:32] Being able to anticipate the movements of the U-boats and avoid them was crucial.

[00:11:41] Turing developed a series of machines that cracked this code using incredibly complicated mathematics and cryptography

[00:11:51] And the result was that they were able to decipher a large number of the Nazis' encrypted messages. 

[00:12:00] It's, of course, hard to say how many lives this saved, but it's acknowledged that the work of Turing and his team of codebreakers was incredibly important for winning the Battle of the Atlantic and for ensuring an eventual allied victory.

[00:12:21] After the war, Turing moved to London and then took up a position at the University of Manchester where he worked on artificial intelligence. 

[00:12:33] You might know artificial intelligence as a bit of a buzzword at the  moment, but Turing was working on it over 70 years ago now. 

[00:12:45] And if the name 'Turing' rings a bell, if you recognise the name, it may be from The Turing Test, the test used to define whether a machine is 'intelligent', in inverted commas.

[00:13:02] Essentially, if a human can tell a machine apart from a human, then it is deemed to be intelligent.

[00:13:11] But, and I'm afraid that there is a but here,  the story of Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazis' code doesn't have a happy ending. 

[00:13:24] He was gay and this was still a crime in Britain, even in 1950. 

[00:13:29] After he admitted to the police that he was involved in a homosexual relationship, he was arrested for what's called gross indecency, and he was given a choice, either go to prison or agree to have chemical castration.

[00:13:52] Basically to be given oestrogen injections to reduce his libido, injections to try and stop him having sexual desires towards men. 

[00:14:03] He accepted the chemical castration,  and  he predicted that, in his own words, he predicted that, "no doubt, I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I've not found out."

[00:14:21] This process was obviously horrible. 

[00:14:25] It caused him to go impotent and caused breast tissue to form. 

[00:14:32] And he was found dead two years later, poisoned by cyanide

[00:14:37] And although it's widely agreed that he killed himself, there are all sorts of other theories about what happened, including that he was killed by the British government because he knew too much about Britain's secret espionage activity and was liable to be compromised by the Soviets.

[00:15:00] Whatever you believe, it was a tragic end for a man who had played such an important role in saving so many lives and had had such an impact on the allied war effort. 

[00:15:15] 55 years later, in 2009 the British Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown, issued an official apology for Turing, saying that the treatment he had received was appalling, which it obviously was.

[00:15:34] However, he wasn't technically pardoned by Gordon Brown, he wasn't absolved of his crimes. 

[00:15:45] The reason being that homosexuality technically was a crime at the time, and according to the British government, you can't pardon someone if they are guilty of a crime, even if that crime is now completely legal . 

[00:16:01] But then in 2013, after a big public effort, he did get a posthumous pardon, an official pardon from none other than the Queen of England.

[00:16:16] And something called The Turing Law, or Alan Turing Law has been introduced.  

[00:16:25] This law essentially pardoned thousands of gay men who had been convicted when homosexuality was still illegal. 

[00:16:33] And so all of these men who had been either sent to prison or had been sentenced in some way received an automatic pardon

[00:16:45] So although I said that the story doesn't have a happy ending, and of course this pardon doesn't make up for the terrible way in which Turing was treated, it is at least better than nothing and has helped raise awareness of the fantastic work that was done by Alan Turing. 

[00:17:09] Okay then, that is it for Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazis' code. 

[00:17:17] It is a fascinating story. 

[00:17:19] He was obviously just an incredible, brilliant man, 

[00:17:23] And of course it is a tragedy how he was treated by the British government. 

[00:17:30] As always, if you have thoughts, feedback, questions, or anything you want to say, then I would love to hear from you. 

[00:17:39] I've heard from students in Russia, English teachers in Colombia, entrepreneurs from Italy, podcasters from Switzerland, and people from all over the world.

[00:17:49] And I would of course, love to hear from you. 

[00:17:52] So the email is hi@Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:58] And as a final reminder for the transcript, key vocabulary and bonus podcasts, then the place to head to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:18:09] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:18:14] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can learn fascinating things about the world and listen to amazing stories, at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the man who cracked the Nazis' code.

[00:00:30] It is said that knowledge is power, and if you know what your enemy is planning to do, well, that's certainly a powerful thing indeed. 

[00:00:40] So stay tuned, we are going to talk about the man who managed to decipher the encrypted messages of the German army, and according to some, was a big, albeit relatively unknown, factor in the Allied victory in World War Two.

[00:01:00] Before we do that though, let me just take 30 seconds to remind you that you can get a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for this episode , and all the other episodes for that matter, over on the website, which is  leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:16] The transcript is super helpful for following along, and the key vocabulary explains the harder words and means that you can build up your vocabulary at the same time as listening to the podcast. 

[00:01:30] So if that sounds like a good idea, and it certainly does to me, then head to Leonardoenglish.com to check it out. 

[00:01:40] Okay then let's get back into it. 

[00:01:44] Centuries ago, when armies used to face each other on the battlefield, things were quite a bit simpler. 

[00:01:53] Yes, there was obviously a lot of strategy and skill involved, but battles were normally geographically quite contained

[00:02:02] They might stretch out over a few square miles, but generally not over hundreds of miles or thousands of miles. 

[00:02:11] And if they did stretch out that far, getting information about your plans to your soldiers or to your allies, it took a while.

[00:02:20] A messenger had to physically travel there, and horses, well, they can only run so fast. 

[00:02:31] With the invention of radio, things became a little easier. 

[00:02:36] You could pick up a radio and tell your fellow soldiers or your allies what your plans were. 

[00:02:45] Great on one level, but it also meant that you could be overheard if someone else was listening in.

[00:02:54] And with the invention of things like aeroplanes, tanks and warships, battles were fought over even larger distances. 

[00:03:04] Knowing what your allies were up to and being able to communicate your plans to them, it was absolutely vital. 

[00:03:15] The Germans at the start of the Second World War had developed a military tactic called Blitzkrieg.

[00:03:23] It literally means "lightning war" or "lightning attack" in German.

[00:03:29] It involved a fast attack on the enemy with soldiers, tanks and air support. 

[00:03:37] Doing that effectively relied on good communication between all of the different parties involved. 

[00:03:45] And of course there wasn't any WhatsApp, mobile phones or anything like that, this was the 1930s. 

[00:03:54] What there was, if you wanted instant communication, was radio. 

[00:04:00] But of course if you radio in to your colleagues, even if you are speaking a different language, you can bet your enemies will be listening in and trying to understand what you're saying, so that they can be prepared for whatever you have in store.

[00:04:18] So the Germans needed a way of encrypting their messages, of making the actual meaning of what they were saying unknown for anyone who didn't have the key to unlock the meaning, to unlock the code.

[00:04:35] Luckily for them, a German company called Scherbius and Ritter had been working on a machine that did exactly that. 

[00:04:44] It was called the Enigma machine, and they had been working on it since shortly after the end of the First World War. 

[00:04:56] Without going into all of the details about how it worked, partly because they are incredibly complicated and it would take a long time to explain,  and also partly because I have to admit that even though I understand the principles, I don't fully understand everything , I will just explain briefly how the machine worked.

[00:05:19] The sender would write down the letters of the message that they wanted to send. 

[00:05:26] That message - the letters of that message - would then be passed to the operator of the Enigma machine. 

[00:05:34] That operator would press in the letters from the message into the machine.  

[00:05:41] Each time a letter was pressed a light would come on on the machine and this light would correspond to a different letter.

[00:05:52] For example, if I pressed the letter C, the light for A might come on, and then another operator would write down the letter A. 

[00:06:04] I guess you're thinking, well, that sounds quite easy actually. 

[00:06:08] Surely, if you can just figure out which letter corresponds to which other letter, then anyone can crack the code.

[00:06:17] Well, not so fast

[00:06:20] Every time a letter was pressed, the pattern would change and the code would change. 

[00:06:26] So if you pressed C again, it could be any other letter.

[00:06:33] After the entire message had been transformed into these new letters, the message with the new letters would be sent, normally by Morse code

[00:06:46] And when the message was received, if the person had an Enigma machine with the identical settings, then they could type in the message and get the encrypted letters back out.

[00:07:01] If you didn't have a machine, there was no way to guess, the message would just look like random letters.

[00:07:08] And these settings would be changed frequently, so even if someone was listening in, which of course they were, they wouldn't be able to easily see a pattern. 

[00:07:21] So obviously it was incredibly difficult to break. 

[00:07:27] However, before the official outbreak of World War II, a group of brilliant Polish mathematicians had figured out how to read part of the machine.

[00:07:39] They had partly broken the code. 

[00:07:43] When the Germans realised that this had happened, that their code had been semi-compromised, they made the machine quite a lot more complicated. 

[00:07:55] And so while the Poles had been able to read a large number of messages, they could now only read messages sent by the older machines.

[00:08:05] So it wasn't nearly quite as effective. 

[00:08:08] By the time it got to 1939  and it was clear that war was going to break out any minute, the Polish mathematicians decided to share their work with the British and French. 

[00:08:24] They could see that they would only have a short window of time before Poland was completely occupied by the Germans, and then there would be no way to get the message out.

[00:08:37] So they shared their learnings with British and French codebreakers. 

[00:08:43] And this work that they did, the work done by the Polish mathematicians, was incredibly important for understanding how the machines worked, and they even shared real copies that they had made of the machine with their new allies.

[00:09:01] And back in the UK, there was a top secret team assembled of scientists, mathematicians,  and codebreakers. 

[00:09:14] The focus was to break this code, to try and understand the system that the Nazis were using, so that the allied troops could be warned of an impending attack, so they could know their enemy's plans in advance.

[00:09:31] This secret group had its headquarters at a place called Bletchley Park to the northwest of London. 

[00:09:41] And a key part of that group, the hero of today's episode, was a man called Alan Turing.

[00:09:50] He was born in 1912 and so was only in his late twenties when he joined Bletchley Park.

[00:09:57] Turing was an incredibly gifted individual, a very talented mathematician. 

[00:10:03] He had studied at Cambridge and Princeton, and was considered by many to be one of the finest mathematicians and computer scientists of his era

[00:10:15] He was also a very eccentric individual.  

[00:10:19] His office was in a place called Milton Keynes, which is about 40 miles or 60 kilometres from London. 

[00:10:27] When he was occasionally called to meetings in London, he would run to London instead of taking the train. 

[00:10:35] That's like one and a half marathons. 

[00:10:39] Also, reportedly, he used to attach his mug, his cup for tea, to a radiator with a chain in order to prevent it being used by his colleagues.

[00:10:52] In any case,  while he was at Bletchley Park, his sole focus was on code breaking, on deciphering the messages that were sent by the Germans through these Enigma machines. 

[00:11:07] And by the time that Turing started in Bletchley Park, the German U-boats, the submarines, were causing havoc in the Atlantic. 

[00:11:20] They were sinking allied ships by the dozen and it was very difficult to resupply some of the troops in Western Europe.

[00:11:32] Being able to anticipate the movements of the U-boats and avoid them was crucial.

[00:11:41] Turing developed a series of machines that cracked this code using incredibly complicated mathematics and cryptography

[00:11:51] And the result was that they were able to decipher a large number of the Nazis' encrypted messages. 

[00:12:00] It's, of course, hard to say how many lives this saved, but it's acknowledged that the work of Turing and his team of codebreakers was incredibly important for winning the Battle of the Atlantic and for ensuring an eventual allied victory.

[00:12:21] After the war, Turing moved to London and then took up a position at the University of Manchester where he worked on artificial intelligence. 

[00:12:33] You might know artificial intelligence as a bit of a buzzword at the  moment, but Turing was working on it over 70 years ago now. 

[00:12:45] And if the name 'Turing' rings a bell, if you recognise the name, it may be from The Turing Test, the test used to define whether a machine is 'intelligent', in inverted commas.

[00:13:02] Essentially, if a human can tell a machine apart from a human, then it is deemed to be intelligent.

[00:13:11] But, and I'm afraid that there is a but here,  the story of Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazis' code doesn't have a happy ending. 

[00:13:24] He was gay and this was still a crime in Britain, even in 1950. 

[00:13:29] After he admitted to the police that he was involved in a homosexual relationship, he was arrested for what's called gross indecency, and he was given a choice, either go to prison or agree to have chemical castration.

[00:13:52] Basically to be given oestrogen injections to reduce his libido, injections to try and stop him having sexual desires towards men. 

[00:14:03] He accepted the chemical castration,  and  he predicted that, in his own words, he predicted that, "no doubt, I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I've not found out."

[00:14:21] This process was obviously horrible. 

[00:14:25] It caused him to go impotent and caused breast tissue to form. 

[00:14:32] And he was found dead two years later, poisoned by cyanide

[00:14:37] And although it's widely agreed that he killed himself, there are all sorts of other theories about what happened, including that he was killed by the British government because he knew too much about Britain's secret espionage activity and was liable to be compromised by the Soviets.

[00:15:00] Whatever you believe, it was a tragic end for a man who had played such an important role in saving so many lives and had had such an impact on the allied war effort. 

[00:15:15] 55 years later, in 2009 the British Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown, issued an official apology for Turing, saying that the treatment he had received was appalling, which it obviously was.

[00:15:34] However, he wasn't technically pardoned by Gordon Brown, he wasn't absolved of his crimes. 

[00:15:45] The reason being that homosexuality technically was a crime at the time, and according to the British government, you can't pardon someone if they are guilty of a crime, even if that crime is now completely legal . 

[00:16:01] But then in 2013, after a big public effort, he did get a posthumous pardon, an official pardon from none other than the Queen of England.

[00:16:16] And something called The Turing Law, or Alan Turing Law has been introduced.  

[00:16:25] This law essentially pardoned thousands of gay men who had been convicted when homosexuality was still illegal. 

[00:16:33] And so all of these men who had been either sent to prison or had been sentenced in some way received an automatic pardon

[00:16:45] So although I said that the story doesn't have a happy ending, and of course this pardon doesn't make up for the terrible way in which Turing was treated, it is at least better than nothing and has helped raise awareness of the fantastic work that was done by Alan Turing. 

[00:17:09] Okay then, that is it for Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazis' code. 

[00:17:17] It is a fascinating story. 

[00:17:19] He was obviously just an incredible, brilliant man, 

[00:17:23] And of course it is a tragedy how he was treated by the British government. 

[00:17:30] As always, if you have thoughts, feedback, questions, or anything you want to say, then I would love to hear from you. 

[00:17:39] I've heard from students in Russia, English teachers in Colombia, entrepreneurs from Italy, podcasters from Switzerland, and people from all over the world.

[00:17:49] And I would of course, love to hear from you. 

[00:17:52] So the email is hi@Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:58] And as a final reminder for the transcript, key vocabulary and bonus podcasts, then the place to head to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:18:09] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:18:14] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can learn fascinating things about the world and listen to amazing stories, at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the man who cracked the Nazis' code.

[00:00:30] It is said that knowledge is power, and if you know what your enemy is planning to do, well, that's certainly a powerful thing indeed. 

[00:00:40] So stay tuned, we are going to talk about the man who managed to decipher the encrypted messages of the German army, and according to some, was a big, albeit relatively unknown, factor in the Allied victory in World War Two.

[00:01:00] Before we do that though, let me just take 30 seconds to remind you that you can get a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for this episode , and all the other episodes for that matter, over on the website, which is  leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:16] The transcript is super helpful for following along, and the key vocabulary explains the harder words and means that you can build up your vocabulary at the same time as listening to the podcast. 

[00:01:30] So if that sounds like a good idea, and it certainly does to me, then head to Leonardoenglish.com to check it out. 

[00:01:40] Okay then let's get back into it. 

[00:01:44] Centuries ago, when armies used to face each other on the battlefield, things were quite a bit simpler. 

[00:01:53] Yes, there was obviously a lot of strategy and skill involved, but battles were normally geographically quite contained

[00:02:02] They might stretch out over a few square miles, but generally not over hundreds of miles or thousands of miles. 

[00:02:11] And if they did stretch out that far, getting information about your plans to your soldiers or to your allies, it took a while.

[00:02:20] A messenger had to physically travel there, and horses, well, they can only run so fast. 

[00:02:31] With the invention of radio, things became a little easier. 

[00:02:36] You could pick up a radio and tell your fellow soldiers or your allies what your plans were. 

[00:02:45] Great on one level, but it also meant that you could be overheard if someone else was listening in.

[00:02:54] And with the invention of things like aeroplanes, tanks and warships, battles were fought over even larger distances. 

[00:03:04] Knowing what your allies were up to and being able to communicate your plans to them, it was absolutely vital. 

[00:03:15] The Germans at the start of the Second World War had developed a military tactic called Blitzkrieg.

[00:03:23] It literally means "lightning war" or "lightning attack" in German.

[00:03:29] It involved a fast attack on the enemy with soldiers, tanks and air support. 

[00:03:37] Doing that effectively relied on good communication between all of the different parties involved. 

[00:03:45] And of course there wasn't any WhatsApp, mobile phones or anything like that, this was the 1930s. 

[00:03:54] What there was, if you wanted instant communication, was radio. 

[00:04:00] But of course if you radio in to your colleagues, even if you are speaking a different language, you can bet your enemies will be listening in and trying to understand what you're saying, so that they can be prepared for whatever you have in store.

[00:04:18] So the Germans needed a way of encrypting their messages, of making the actual meaning of what they were saying unknown for anyone who didn't have the key to unlock the meaning, to unlock the code.

[00:04:35] Luckily for them, a German company called Scherbius and Ritter had been working on a machine that did exactly that. 

[00:04:44] It was called the Enigma machine, and they had been working on it since shortly after the end of the First World War. 

[00:04:56] Without going into all of the details about how it worked, partly because they are incredibly complicated and it would take a long time to explain,  and also partly because I have to admit that even though I understand the principles, I don't fully understand everything , I will just explain briefly how the machine worked.

[00:05:19] The sender would write down the letters of the message that they wanted to send. 

[00:05:26] That message - the letters of that message - would then be passed to the operator of the Enigma machine. 

[00:05:34] That operator would press in the letters from the message into the machine.  

[00:05:41] Each time a letter was pressed a light would come on on the machine and this light would correspond to a different letter.

[00:05:52] For example, if I pressed the letter C, the light for A might come on, and then another operator would write down the letter A. 

[00:06:04] I guess you're thinking, well, that sounds quite easy actually. 

[00:06:08] Surely, if you can just figure out which letter corresponds to which other letter, then anyone can crack the code.

[00:06:17] Well, not so fast

[00:06:20] Every time a letter was pressed, the pattern would change and the code would change. 

[00:06:26] So if you pressed C again, it could be any other letter.

[00:06:33] After the entire message had been transformed into these new letters, the message with the new letters would be sent, normally by Morse code

[00:06:46] And when the message was received, if the person had an Enigma machine with the identical settings, then they could type in the message and get the encrypted letters back out.

[00:07:01] If you didn't have a machine, there was no way to guess, the message would just look like random letters.

[00:07:08] And these settings would be changed frequently, so even if someone was listening in, which of course they were, they wouldn't be able to easily see a pattern. 

[00:07:21] So obviously it was incredibly difficult to break. 

[00:07:27] However, before the official outbreak of World War II, a group of brilliant Polish mathematicians had figured out how to read part of the machine.

[00:07:39] They had partly broken the code. 

[00:07:43] When the Germans realised that this had happened, that their code had been semi-compromised, they made the machine quite a lot more complicated. 

[00:07:55] And so while the Poles had been able to read a large number of messages, they could now only read messages sent by the older machines.

[00:08:05] So it wasn't nearly quite as effective. 

[00:08:08] By the time it got to 1939  and it was clear that war was going to break out any minute, the Polish mathematicians decided to share their work with the British and French. 

[00:08:24] They could see that they would only have a short window of time before Poland was completely occupied by the Germans, and then there would be no way to get the message out.

[00:08:37] So they shared their learnings with British and French codebreakers. 

[00:08:43] And this work that they did, the work done by the Polish mathematicians, was incredibly important for understanding how the machines worked, and they even shared real copies that they had made of the machine with their new allies.

[00:09:01] And back in the UK, there was a top secret team assembled of scientists, mathematicians,  and codebreakers. 

[00:09:14] The focus was to break this code, to try and understand the system that the Nazis were using, so that the allied troops could be warned of an impending attack, so they could know their enemy's plans in advance.

[00:09:31] This secret group had its headquarters at a place called Bletchley Park to the northwest of London. 

[00:09:41] And a key part of that group, the hero of today's episode, was a man called Alan Turing.

[00:09:50] He was born in 1912 and so was only in his late twenties when he joined Bletchley Park.

[00:09:57] Turing was an incredibly gifted individual, a very talented mathematician. 

[00:10:03] He had studied at Cambridge and Princeton, and was considered by many to be one of the finest mathematicians and computer scientists of his era

[00:10:15] He was also a very eccentric individual.  

[00:10:19] His office was in a place called Milton Keynes, which is about 40 miles or 60 kilometres from London. 

[00:10:27] When he was occasionally called to meetings in London, he would run to London instead of taking the train. 

[00:10:35] That's like one and a half marathons. 

[00:10:39] Also, reportedly, he used to attach his mug, his cup for tea, to a radiator with a chain in order to prevent it being used by his colleagues.

[00:10:52] In any case,  while he was at Bletchley Park, his sole focus was on code breaking, on deciphering the messages that were sent by the Germans through these Enigma machines. 

[00:11:07] And by the time that Turing started in Bletchley Park, the German U-boats, the submarines, were causing havoc in the Atlantic. 

[00:11:20] They were sinking allied ships by the dozen and it was very difficult to resupply some of the troops in Western Europe.

[00:11:32] Being able to anticipate the movements of the U-boats and avoid them was crucial.

[00:11:41] Turing developed a series of machines that cracked this code using incredibly complicated mathematics and cryptography

[00:11:51] And the result was that they were able to decipher a large number of the Nazis' encrypted messages. 

[00:12:00] It's, of course, hard to say how many lives this saved, but it's acknowledged that the work of Turing and his team of codebreakers was incredibly important for winning the Battle of the Atlantic and for ensuring an eventual allied victory.

[00:12:21] After the war, Turing moved to London and then took up a position at the University of Manchester where he worked on artificial intelligence. 

[00:12:33] You might know artificial intelligence as a bit of a buzzword at the  moment, but Turing was working on it over 70 years ago now. 

[00:12:45] And if the name 'Turing' rings a bell, if you recognise the name, it may be from The Turing Test, the test used to define whether a machine is 'intelligent', in inverted commas.

[00:13:02] Essentially, if a human can tell a machine apart from a human, then it is deemed to be intelligent.

[00:13:11] But, and I'm afraid that there is a but here,  the story of Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazis' code doesn't have a happy ending. 

[00:13:24] He was gay and this was still a crime in Britain, even in 1950. 

[00:13:29] After he admitted to the police that he was involved in a homosexual relationship, he was arrested for what's called gross indecency, and he was given a choice, either go to prison or agree to have chemical castration.

[00:13:52] Basically to be given oestrogen injections to reduce his libido, injections to try and stop him having sexual desires towards men. 

[00:14:03] He accepted the chemical castration,  and  he predicted that, in his own words, he predicted that, "no doubt, I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I've not found out."

[00:14:21] This process was obviously horrible. 

[00:14:25] It caused him to go impotent and caused breast tissue to form. 

[00:14:32] And he was found dead two years later, poisoned by cyanide

[00:14:37] And although it's widely agreed that he killed himself, there are all sorts of other theories about what happened, including that he was killed by the British government because he knew too much about Britain's secret espionage activity and was liable to be compromised by the Soviets.

[00:15:00] Whatever you believe, it was a tragic end for a man who had played such an important role in saving so many lives and had had such an impact on the allied war effort. 

[00:15:15] 55 years later, in 2009 the British Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown, issued an official apology for Turing, saying that the treatment he had received was appalling, which it obviously was.

[00:15:34] However, he wasn't technically pardoned by Gordon Brown, he wasn't absolved of his crimes. 

[00:15:45] The reason being that homosexuality technically was a crime at the time, and according to the British government, you can't pardon someone if they are guilty of a crime, even if that crime is now completely legal . 

[00:16:01] But then in 2013, after a big public effort, he did get a posthumous pardon, an official pardon from none other than the Queen of England.

[00:16:16] And something called The Turing Law, or Alan Turing Law has been introduced.  

[00:16:25] This law essentially pardoned thousands of gay men who had been convicted when homosexuality was still illegal. 

[00:16:33] And so all of these men who had been either sent to prison or had been sentenced in some way received an automatic pardon

[00:16:45] So although I said that the story doesn't have a happy ending, and of course this pardon doesn't make up for the terrible way in which Turing was treated, it is at least better than nothing and has helped raise awareness of the fantastic work that was done by Alan Turing. 

[00:17:09] Okay then, that is it for Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazis' code. 

[00:17:17] It is a fascinating story. 

[00:17:19] He was obviously just an incredible, brilliant man, 

[00:17:23] And of course it is a tragedy how he was treated by the British government. 

[00:17:30] As always, if you have thoughts, feedback, questions, or anything you want to say, then I would love to hear from you. 

[00:17:39] I've heard from students in Russia, English teachers in Colombia, entrepreneurs from Italy, podcasters from Switzerland, and people from all over the world.

[00:17:49] And I would of course, love to hear from you. 

[00:17:52] So the email is hi@Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:17:58] And as a final reminder for the transcript, key vocabulary and bonus podcasts, then the place to head to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:18:09] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:18:14] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


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