Google Celebrates UK's WWII Codebreakers

YouTube / Computing Heritage
YouTube / Computing Heritage / YouTube / Computing Heritage

Bletchley Park was the secret headquarters of British codebreakers during World War II. Previously a mild-mannered manor house, the building became a hub for secret computing activities that broke various codes and ciphers (most notably the German Enigma ciphers), helping the Allies win the war in Europe. It was where Alan Turing (father of the Turing Test) did some of his most brilliant work. Bletchley Park is a powerful symbol for geeks -- on that spot, in that old manor house, the power of early computers, designed by brilliant engineers, operated by tireless technicians saved Allied lives as war raged across the world. And it still stands.

Now, Google has launched an online museum exhibit dedicated to the history of Bletchley Park. Google previously donated a bunch of money to preserve the building and transform it into a national heritage site. (After the war, the computing apparatus was dismantled or demolished, so it has taken some effort to restore portions of it.) Google's online exhibit gives a history of the site and some of the people who worked there.

Here's a remembrance by Jean Valentine, who operated the Bombe, a decryption device originally designed by Turing and initially operated by men -- but then operated almost exclusively by women like Valentine. This includes scenes of Bletchley Park and sets the stage for what it was like working there.

And here's a video about Colossus, the world's first electronic, digital, fully programmable computer. It was used for codebreaking, of course. Did you know that parts of Colossus were thrown down coal mine shafts after the war?

For more, check out the online exhibit, or view Google's Cultural Institute with more such excellent stuff. If you're interested in deep details about the Bombe, check out this shaky video (and its second part) in which Hugh Davis explains the Bombe.