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Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas Hardcover – 15 Sep 2009


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Dialogue; First Edition edition (15 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906447012
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906447014
  • Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 3.5 x 25.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 708,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Author

Mavis Batey, on why she wrote Dilly:

Normally an obituary in The Times would provide a framework for a biography of an important person in any given field, but that simply wasn't true of the one written for my boss at the British wartime codebreaking base at Bletchley Park. This was the wonderfully eccentric but outstandingly brilliant Alfred Dillwyn Knox, known to his many friends and admirers simply as `Dilly'.

George Steiner, the American writer and philosopher, has described the codebreaking achievements that took place at Bletchley Park as `the single greatest achievement of Britain during 1939-1945, perhaps during the 20th century as a whole'. If that is true, then Dilly's own achievements must be ranked among the greatest in their own right.
Dilly's work on the various Enigma ciphers was certainly among the most important and significant carried out at Bletchley. Enigma was not one single cipher machine, as is often suggested, but a family of many different ciphers and it was Dilly and his research section, of which I was a proud member, who were asked to find a way into each new cipher as it appeared.
The failure of his obituary in The Times to do him justice when he died in early 1943 was caused by the absolute secrecy surrounding the work on Enigma. The obituary mentioned that his father was a former Bishop of Manchester; that his brother was Monsignor Ronald Knox, a famous Catholic theologian; and that another brother, `Evoe', was editor of Punch. It also mentioned his work as a Classicist reconstructing the mimes of the Greek poet and playwright Herodus.

What it could not mention was that he was one of the leading members of Room 40, the Admiralty's celebrated codebreaking section during the First World War, broke Bolshevik ciphers during the 1920s and 30s, and Enigma ciphers during the Spanish Civil War and Second World War. What it would certainly not have been possible to mention, even without the understandable secrecy, was that Dilly's greatest triumph had not even taken place when the obituary was written.

Shortly before he died, in great pain from the cancer, Dilly broke the Enigma cipher used by the German secret service, the Abwehr. It was this that allowed MI5 and MI6 to manipulate the intelligence the Germans were receiving through the Double Cross System and fool them into leaving too few troops in Normandy to counter the allied landings.

Now that many more previously secret records have been released into the archives, I have at last had the chance to give my old boss the credit he deserves. I felt a strong sense of déjà vu in seeing once more the same secret enemy messages that we handled over sixty years ago, but then the secrecy was such that even I was unaware of the effect Dilly's work had on the allied success in the war. I was determined in writing this book to ensure that what Dilly did was never forgotten.

About the Author

A top codebreaker in her own right, Mavis Batey was one of Knox s female assistants at Bletchley Park. Dilly is a compelling and affectionate portait of a great British eccentric and a fascinating and detailed behind-the-scenes look into codebreaking and the hidden side of war. This is a tale from the inside by one of the few surviving protagonists and goes into unprecedented detail about the mechanics of the enigma machines and how their encipherment was achieved.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Plausible Denial on 26 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
Mrs Batey is to be congratulated on a well written and perceptive biography of Dilly Knox. It deserves to become one of the standard works on Bletchley Park.

Alfred Dillwyn "Dilly" Knox was a classical scholar of eccentric manner who was recruited as a codebreaker into "Room 40" of the Naval Intelligence Division at the beginning of World War I, where he contributed to many of the successes of that organisation. After the war's end, rather than returning to academe, he became a member of the Government Codes & Cypher School (GC&CS) and continued the developement of cryptanalytical techniques.

Dilly was a key participant on the British side in talks with the French and Poles over Enigma. He moved to Station X at Bletchley Park at the beginning of WWII. His skills were put to good use, including recruiting suitable people from civilian life as the organisation expanded. He did not fit easily into the larger system and argued with his superiors, his frustration probably exacerbated by knowledge that cancer would soon kill him. Latterly forced to work from home (his importance can be judged by the fact that this was allowed), he died in February 1943 having been appointed CMG shortly before.

Mavis Batey (Mavis Lever in 1939; she would meet Keith Batey at Bletchley) was one of "Dilly's Girls". Her achievement here is to use her personal knowledge of her subject, and of the work of Bletchley Park, to produce a balanced account of Dilly Knox's personality and achievements. Despite her obvious affection for Dilly, this is not a hagiography. She describes the awkward elements of his character, but puts his disputes with his superiors in proportion, something other recent writers, of a more journalistic bent, have failed to do.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. R. E. Wallinger on 11 Jan. 2010
Format: Hardcover
A beautifully written and enlightening account of a fascinating era in British Intelligence. It is written by a woman who played a key part in deciphering Enigma codes at Bletchley. Her knowledge of events and the people involved is utterly enthralling
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Albert Puddephatt on 26 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those interested in the extraordinary work carried out at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, this is a well written account of the life of a brilliant code-breaker, written by another code-breaker, still happily with us. The appendices explaining some of the processes used are particularly interesting. Given the extreme secrecy necessary at Bletchley Park and the severe restrictions imposed until quite recently, the few books published are complementary so I would also recommend the accounts written by Michael Smith and by Gordon Welchman.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Margaret T. Wescott on 5 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
A wonderful biography of the man at the heart of the Enigma project, by a colleague and friend who knew him well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By AA1 on 28 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Another angle on this ever unfolding story. An engaging read. I would have liked to have seen a bit more technical explanation but accept that this might deter some people.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
They bang on about turin and how he was subsequently treated for homosexuality after all he did for the war effort etc etc. This book explains how a man with a natural ability to fill in gaps helped everyone. I am personally saddened that the media and press think bletchley park/turin. Dilly was the man as much as turin and all at bletchley park were great at what they did despite eccentricities. Mavis has done a wonderful job at capturing a unique moment in the cottage and bletchley park. The abwer code, who else could have cracked it except for a team of fantastic minds and dilly looking for the lobster and not the crab. The book itself from the opening chapter where Mavis confirms an italian admiral had not been seduced by a mysterious female agent and that she was on deck to decipher the message through the bletchley park system to absolve and clear the families name, its a totally captivating book. Tracing the real history of the enigma machine and the roles the polish and french played in it all. We could even now turn to tommy flowers for a bit of contemplation. Thankyou Mavis Batey may you rest in peace.
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