With the passing of Gil Hayward, the magnificent British code breaking team at Bletchley Park moves, sadly, further from living memory. We appropriately admire the tremendous risks front-line soldiers took at Dunkirk and Normandy, but should also appreciate that some of the biggest victories of the war were produced by turbo-nerds with thick glasses working through the night to manually break Nazi codes.
The downfall of all the very clever German encryption devices was, unsurprisingly, human error. Regular users of Enigma got into the habit of signing off with stock phrases such as “Heil der Führer”. The Bletchley team recognized these repeated phrases over time, allowing them to painstakingly work backwards to deduce the number and type of coding wheels in the Enigma machine. The even more complex Lorenz encryption machine was undone by a cipher clerk who forgot to change the coding wheels when starting a new message.
Being stuck at Bletchley, the codebreakers played chess endlessly as one of their few available forms of relaxation (Can you imagine playing chess every day against Alan Turing, of Turing test fame?). With no one but supremely good players against which to complete and hone their skills, they likely could have been the world’s greatest chess team if they weren’t so busy winning the war.
Sympathies to Mr. Hayward’s loved ones, and profound thanks all the brilliant boffins of Bletchley.