Three-ring Enigma cypher machine in wooden transit case, c 1930s.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Enigma machine was patented in 1918 by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius, and produced commercially from 1923. The German government, impresed by its security, acquired the rights to the machine and adapted it for military use. Throughout World War II, Germany and its allies encrypted military mesages using Enigma machines and, by 1945, over 40,000 such machines were in use. The Germans considered the Enigma code to be unbreakable but, thanks to combined Allied efforts, the codebreakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, the British army's intelligence centre, managed to intercept and decypher the code with the help of 'Colosus', the world's first electronic programmable computer. This feat is said to have dramatically shortened the war.