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Seizing the Enigma: Race to Break the German U-boat Codes, 1939-43 Paperback – 21 Nov 1996


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd; New edition edition (21 Nov. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099784114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099784111
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 2.5 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 640,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Primoz Peterlin on 20 Jun. 2001
Format: Paperback
The year is early 1941, and the Battle of Britain is intensifying. The Kriegsmarine submarines, organized in groups - wolfpacks - are trying to cut the life-line the British defense depends on - the convoys which supply Britain with food, military supplies and raw materials. And they are pretty much successful in it, sinking more ships each month than Britain and United States can build. Meanwhile, a group of mathematicians, linguists and other odd characters located a top-secret base in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, is trying in frenzy to decode the German naval code, Enigma...
David Kahn has produced a well researched and clearly written book on this segment of naval history, which has long remained classified. The story of Enigma is traced from the Arthur Scherbius's design, through the first successful decoding made by Marian Rejewski's group in Poland, and finally to Alan Turing and the Hut 8 staff in Bletchley Park. We learn that while direct attack on the cipher was mindbogglingly impossible, the chances for decoding being 150 million million million to one, the Brits had to find bypasses, raiding German boats for the on-board code books, employing "kisses" (identical messages transmitted in two different cryptosystems), and finally mechanising the solution finding with the "bombes".
The emphasis of the book is more on the naval war than on the cryptology. Although the operation of Enigma machine is described to some extent, you will not be able to fully understand its workings from it alone. Singh's Code Book, for instance, has a much better introduction to it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ned Middleton HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 7 April 2012
Format: Paperback
`Nothing like the Hollywood version at all' is this exceedingly well researched account of the true story of capturing the first Enigma machine. This work is so detailed that we are even treated to the thoughts of Commander Joe Baker-Cresswell RN who, at a crucial moment when poised to ram U 110, remembered how the Russians recovered a code book from a German cruiser grounded in the Baltic during WW1 and how that book was used to decode German messages throughout that earlier conflict. Wondering whether or not he was about to destroy a similar find, he ordered full astern just in time to avoid the intended collision, sent over a boarding party and was responsible for the capture of the first Enigma cipher machine of the War. In so doing he made one of the most valuable contributions to the eventual Allied victory.

Rarely have I enjoyed such a fascinating read and it says much for the outstanding way in which detailed, technical research is combined with sheer readability that this important historical work reads better than most novels. In order to provide the reader with a taste of what I mean, Baker-Cresswell and U 110 are introduced in the first two paragraphs of Page 1 where the author skilfully begins to set the scene for their historic encounter. By page 7 one is the officer commanding No 3 escort group charged with protecting a convoy from U Boat attack and the other is attacking that convoy. By Page 16 the badly damaged U 110 is forced to the surface where her crew abandon ship. Only now is Baker-Cresswell mindful of the grounding of the Magdeburg.

Pausing there, we are then treated to a full account of the grounding of that German cruiser in 1914 and the resultant effects of her captured documents.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By inkman5150@yahoo.com on 5 Nov. 1999
Format: Paperback
Kahn has written a great book, a real heavyweight read. It easily matches other good works on WWII radio intelligence, such as Anthony Cave Brown's "Bodyguard of Lies," and has a smooth style. It is fairly heavy material and Kahn goes to great lengths to describe the inner workings of the German Enigma machine. Don't despair, those sections are well written and Kahn takes great care in making the descriptions understandable, even for the layman. The material is still current and he dispells some of the myths that have grown about the Enigma machine that have been perpetuated by other authors. On interesting detail is that German naval enigma codes mostly withstood British codebreaking efforts for the first two years of the war and were not cracked until the British captured secret German code keys from a German warship.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sherwood Botsford on 6 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was given to me by a friend. I gave another copy to a history buff friend.

If you want the exact details of enigma, this is not the book for you. But is is a great book for putting the enigma machine in the perspective of WWII and the battle of the Atlantic.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Odd Erling Eriksen on 18 May 2007
Format: Paperback
Kahn's book is an excellent read; rather than focusing too much on the details, he paints the process of breaking the Enigma with broad strokes, allowing readers without much insight in mathematics or signals intelligence to follow him.

The book is packed with anecdotes showing how the various bits of the puzzle to solve the Enigma came about, be it from German procedural errors, 'revelations' among the scientists tasked with solving it or simply good old courageous action from fighting men.

This book's major strength lies not in providing you with the best technical account of how the Enigma was broken - it doesn't - but rather in the way it enables the reader to single out the subjects (s)he'd rather find out more about, providing an excellent list of references.
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