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on 6 December 2017
This is a difficult book for me to review, for this reason; I abandoned it after 300+ pages, and, despite having read books previously, that were likely to be beyond my comprehension. In the past, I have stayed doggedly with difficult books until I've achieved a 'breakthrough' into areas that my intellect could cope with. The best and most recent example was Andrew Hodges brilliant biography, of Alan Turing. Not being the slightest mathematical, I soldiered on ,page after page, until his true social biography burst through--and I enjoyed that part immensely. I have to admit though, that this, no doubt excellent book, was far too detailed and unremitting in it's long and varied progress into the twentieth century. I simply couldn't get a handle on it, because of the multi variations of the systems being used between the wars on both sides.. I was longing for the text to arrive at the gates of Colossus-land. But even that sapped my interest. SO--be warned, without a history in the communications world, you MAY struggle as I did. P G Croft.
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on 22 January 2006
Having waited so long to hear more of the latest 'secrets' from Bletchley Park one might ask what else could possibly not have already been put into print. This book concentrates on Colossus, exposing a 30 year old smoke screen using the Enigma story to deflect attention away from another of their successes, protecting modern secrets of GCHQ. The book is well-written, contains references to supporting texts and tells a story which will be hard to follow. The book contains an accurate technical picture of the colossal achievments, perhaps close to the limits necesssary to still make the 60 year old machine a national secret.
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on 6 October 2015
Good book, enough detail but not too over technical, just right for me!
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on 15 August 2017
I enjoyed reading this book and didn't find it too heavy going. It gives a lot of background information which I thought was very good.
Bearing in mind that the first word in the title of this book is "Colossus" I was disappointed to find that there is not a great deal of information on the machine itself.
Overall I found this to be a good book and I am glad that I read it but it was not really what I was looking for.
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on 20 March 2017
Am only a short way through this account, so cannot comment in full. However, the historical build up to Colossus itself is so interesting and so well described. I wish that I could read it right through at one sitting. Edward.
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on 8 October 2016
Full of information
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on 4 January 2012
This book was initially of interest to me because of my fascination with Colossus itself but it turned out to be a different experience to that I anticipated !!
There is actually relatively little detail of the Colossus machine itself, it is actually a massively detailed story of Bletchley Park and the incredibly skilled characters that comprised the UK's secret war winning codebreaking organisation. It is difficult to express the overwhelming detail in the book, and how it reveals just how fantastically difficult the decoding task was.
My knowledge of the cypher world is non existent, or it was before reading this book, but nothing prepares anyone new to codebreaking for the mind numbing complexity of it as revealed here ! In fact, for a non mathmatically minded reader it is necessary to scan read those sections dealing with the deeply technical to avoid becoming stalled ! Those parts would have to be re-read in conjunction with the impressively detailed appendices in order to develop an understanding.
However, don't let that deter you from buying this book, persevere and I promise you that that the reward more than compensates for your effort.
The story it reveals of WW2 is quite simple astounding and gives a completely new insight into what was actually required to assure victory. Without Bletchley Park, Colossus and the principal people involved, I am certain we would have lost WW2 !!
Information on Hitler, German Strategy, the numerous catastrophic errors made by the German war machine and in fact the allies, is quite simply mesmerising ! Especially for the casual WW2 historian like me.
This is very definitely a case of fact being stranger than fiction. Any movie made about WW2 upto now is quite simply nonsense. Although they could hardly have been anything else as the information in this book was classified up until very recently. So researchers for movies just could not have known the facts.
The significance of communications in warfare is also fully revealed, again, it is a revelation to the non expert. Explaining many aspects that many would not realise.
The book is a serious, heavy read, needing commitment but the reader will be left amazed by probably the greatest story of WW2. Most highly recommended, one of the best books I have ever read, exceptional.
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on 6 June 2014
The VERY FIRST computer – a machine called COLOSSUS - designed and built by TOMMY FLOWERS – is a fabulous machine of awesome beauty that was both programmable AND CONFIGURABLE.

Colossus was used at Bletchley Park by MI5 to help crack Hitler’s ‘uncrackable’ high-command Geheimschreiber – a word that here means secret writer (we are NOT talking about ‘Enigma’ – which Gordon Welchman and Alan Turin cracked – we are talking about the LORENZ CIPHER used by HITLER to issue orders to his high-command – which was ‘cracked’ by Alan Turing and Bill Tutte – the genius who worked out the logical structure of the LORENZ CIPHER – known as ‘Tunny’ at Bletchley)!

THIS formidable machine of awesome beauty was a GAME CHANGER that helped to provide Britain with intelligence that enabled Britain and her allies to take swift decisive action to scupper a terrifying unstoppable foe.

The Lorenz SZ machines were 12-wheel rotor cipher machines connected to standard Lorenz teleprinters that automatically transmitted messages. Features within the 5-bit International Telegraphy Alphabet No. 2 (ITA2) were exploited to create a pseudo-random character sequence with BILLIONS of permutations.

The PLAINTEXT message characters were first ‘encrypted’ using the five-rotor ‘enigma’ method of encryption with every key-stroke (obtain a copy of ‘The Hut six story’ by Gordon Welchman to see how this works and how it was ‘cracked’ – available from Amazon), and then the ENCRYPTED OUTPUT was ENCIPHERED, using a pseudo-random, low-repetition ‘VERNAM’ key-stream generated by the next set of rotors (which I shall explain further down).

DECRYPTION is a two-stage process that combines the ‘Vernam’ key with the data stream in the same sequence to yield the CIPHERTEXT; then the ciphertext is passed through the enigma ENCRYPTION rotors to reveal the PLAINTEXT.

What Colossus did (does) and HOW it did it is fully explained in this remarkable book – but what makes this book VERY interesting is the ‘bodyguard of lies’ that were ‘put out’ to mask what was REALLY going on at Bletchley.

In THIS wonderful book ‘urban myths’ are blown apart regarding who REALLY did what and who INVENTED what.

What this fabulous publication reveals will both ASTOUND you and AMAZE you – for HERE you will discover not just an insight into the REAL brains behind EVERYTHING that took place – but how the gleaned intelligence was used to thwart the enemy at EVERY turn by playing captivating, chivalrous, bold, dangerous, and daring ‘knights moves’ all over the global chessboard of the World War II battle for freedom and liberty, until WE were in a position to show OUR might – A NUCLEAR might that not only secured the absolute UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER of the foe – but also send out a BIG message that says do NOT MESS with us - EVER!

Our ‘Britannia’ emblem (beautifully displayed on the ‘tail’ side of our older fifty-pence pieces) shows Britannia sat across a LION – denoting that we are NOT afraid of ANYTHING. Britannia’s outstretched arm holds forth an OLIVE BRANCH – signifying that WE COME IN PEACE. Behind Britannia is a large SHIELD that bears our heraldic emblem – the cross of Saint George - that says ‘should you attack us we can PROTECT ourselves’; and resting across the SHOULDER of Britannia (depicting that we will ‘take on’ our foe) is a TRIDENT – a LONG trident that says should you attack we will DEFEND ourselves and we have a LONG REACH. And on the end of the trident are three ‘tines’. These tines signify YOU SHALL YIELD!

THAT dear reader is what Britain and our pilgrim father cousins in America forever represent – and THIS book reveals HOW we went about destroying a vile, sick, cruel, deluded megalomaniac despot - to create peace that has lasted right up to this very day by using a formidable revolutionary invention so advanced that what it REALLY did had to be kept secret for over FIFTY years - and beyond!

This extraordinary publication gives an INSIGHT into what took place. Should you wish to examine the SEEDS of all of this wonderment, then obtain a copy of ‘An investigation of the LAWS OF THOUGHT’ by GEORGE BOOLE (also available from Amazon). Here Boole throws away the CLASSICAL logic of Aristotle as he discerns just EIGHT 8 STATES OF THE MIND which he determines as ‘8 PROPOSITIONS’ that can ALL be expressed MATHEMATICALLY as either ‘affirmative’ or ‘negative’.

FOUR ‘mind states’ are used in FINITE STATE computers – these being AND; OR ‘XOR; and NOT. Turin discovered the XOR gate and applied its potency to crack the LORENZ CIPHER. This is only scratching the surface dear reader. When you read and digest Boole’s formidable expositions, be prepared to be shocked – Boole was heralding in the birth of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) MACHINE!

COLOSSUS was not only the world’s first programmable computer – it was ALSO the FIRST AI machine!

And that is it! Simply purchase this amazing insightful publication and have your eyes opened.

What I now offer is a tiny glimpse into how enigma-encoded ciphertext is converted into the LORENZ CIPHER and back again.

There is a digital gate called the XOR (exclusive ‘OR’) gate.

What this gate does is take two digital ‘inputs’ and ‘compares’ them AGAINST EACH OTHER to determine if they are DIFFERENT.

If the inputs are the SAME (i.e. both inputs are ‘LO’ or both inputs are ‘HIGH’) then the output is FALSE

If the inputs are DIFFERENT (i.e. one input is ‘LO’ and the other input is ‘HIGH’) then the output is TRUE.

Assuming two inputs ‘A’ and ‘B’ and an output ‘C’, taking LO = 0 (zero) and HIGH = I (one); using the two axioms just stated we derive the following TRUTH TABLE.

Input A + Input B = OUTPUT (C)
0 + 0 = 0
0 + 1 = 1
1 + 0 = 1
1 + 1 = 0 (*)

* In case you are wondering how 1 + 1 = 0 (zero): in ‘binary’, the number ‘2’ = ‘10’ – which consists of a ‘zero’ and a ‘carry’. The ‘zero’ is retained, whilst the ‘carry’ is lost.

So how does the XOR feature get used to ENCIPHER a message?

Teleprinters use a 5-bit ‘Baudot code’ to uniquely determine each alphabet character; number; and punctuation used in the International Telegraph Alphabet No. 2 (ITA2).

Suppose we want to TRANSMIT the word ‘HELLO’:

The letter ‘H’ = 01110 (in Morse TONES (not Morse CODE) this is ‘dit-dah-dah-dah-dit’)
The letter ‘E’ = 00010 (in Morse TONES this is ‘dit-dit-dit-dah-dit’)
The letter ‘L’ = 11110 (in Morse TONES this is ‘dah-dah-dah-dah-dit’)
The letter ‘O’ = 00111 (in Morse TONES this is ‘dit-dit-dah-dah-dah’)

Now suppose we have a KEYWORD – held LOCALLY in the machine – that is ALSO five characters long – and this word is ‘GREAT’.

The letter ‘G’ = 01010
The letter ‘R’ = 11001
The letter ‘E’ = 00010
The letter ‘A’ = 00100
The letter ‘T’ = 10101

If we XOR (add together) the bits of the letter ‘H’ in the word ‘HELLO’ with the bits of the letter ‘G’ in the word ‘GREAT’ we get:

H = 01110
G = 01010
The result = 00100 = the letter ‘A’ – so ‘H’ has become ‘A’

If we XOR (add together) the bits of the letter ‘E’ in the word ‘HELLO’ with the bits of the letter ‘R’ in the word ‘GREAT’ we get:

E = 00010
R = 11001
The result = 11011 = the letter ‘N’ – so ‘E’ has become ‘N’

If we XOR (add together) the bits of the letter ‘L’ in the word ‘HELLO’ with the bits of the letter ‘E’ in the word ‘GREAT’ we get:

L = 11110
E = 00010
The result = 11100 = the letter ‘K’ – so ‘L’ has become ‘K’

For the NEXT (repeated) ‘L’ in the ‘HELLO’ sequence if we XOR L in the word ‘HELLO’ with the bits of the letter ‘A’ in the word ‘GREAT’ THIS time we get:

L = 11110
A = 00100
The result = 11010 = the letter ‘M’ – so ‘L’ has become ‘M’ and NOT ‘K’ like last time.

And finally, we XOR ‘O’ in the word ‘HELLO’ with the bits of the letter ‘T’ in the word ‘GREAT’ we get

O = 00111
T = 10101
The result = 10010 = the letter ‘X’ – so ‘O’ has become ‘X’

Putting it all together: ‘HELLO’ has been ENCIPHERED to become ‘ANKMX’

Notice that although we had REPEATED letters (the letter 'L'), the LORENZ CIPHER eradicated this ‘crib’ – a word that here means ‘a ‘peek’ into the STRUCTURE of the WORDS as a method of cracking a ciphertext’.

To illustrate how a ‘crib’ works; the English language uses several words with repeated letters in them such as ‘hello’; ‘brook’; ‘aardvark’; ‘little’; ‘book’, ‘look’, and so forth; however just like Dutch, the Germanic language is CHOCK FULL of words with repeated letters – and these provide a valuable ‘way in’ so as to analyse a message that has been ENCIPHERED - a word that here means one letter SWAPPED for another using a POLYALPHABET; or ENCRYPTED - a word that here means one letter converted into another by performing a FUNCTION (XOR) using a KEY.

So now we have the TRANSMITTED word ‘ANKMX’ – with all letters repeated in a word completely eradicated (aw - spoilsport).

What happens when we XOR the TRANSMITTED word ‘ANKMX’ with the LOCAL KEYWORD ‘GREAT’.

As we seem to be getting to know each other quite well, I can see that you are up for this, so I shall do the FIRST letter and leave the rest to YOU dear reader as an exercise in turning the LORENZ CIPHER back into PLAINTEXT.

There is JUST enough time to do this, so – are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin.

If we XOR (add together) the bits of the letter ‘A’ in the TRANSMITTED ciphertext word ‘ANKMX’ with the bits of the letter ‘G’ in the LOCAL ‘keyword’ ‘GREAT’ we get:

A = 00100
G = 01010
The result = 01110

Well would you Adam and Eve it dear reader - the letter ‘A’ has become ‘H’ – the first letter of the PLAINTEXT!

Knowing NOTHING about the machine whatsoever, the first problem was to solve was to DEDUCE the PSEODO-RANDOMLY GENERATED KEYWORDS in the machine so as to DECIPHER the text to derive the ENIGMA ENCRYTION.

The second problem was to then DECRYPT the Enigma variations (honoured in music by the British composer Edward Elgar) as each rotor religiously turned with each and every key press.

THIS dear reader is what William Tutte succeeded in doing SINGLEHANDEDLY!


Now its YOUR turn to decipher ‘ANKMX’!

Its GREAT fun!
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on 31 March 2016
Not easy going, but follows the development of data systems that we have today. Well worth reading
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on 26 September 2017
Fascinating book, with some great "worked" examples of how the traffic was broken. Just the level of detail I was looking for. Also very clear narrative record of what happened and when.
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