Inside story of the breaking of Hitler’s secret cipher

Launch of the Lorenz book at The National Museum of Computing

Capt Jerry Roberts’ autobiography Lorenz, telling the inside story of the breaking of Hitler’s most secret cipher, has been launched at The National Museum of Computing in the presence of veterans whose work with Colossus helped in the decrypting process.

The book Lorenz and the Tunny machine
The book Lorenz and the Tunny machine. Photo courtesy Andy Taylor.

The “unbreakable” Lorenz cipher was used to encrypt communications between Hitler and his High Command. Far more complex than Enigma, Lorenz-encoded messages carried invaluable strategic information. The decrypts are credited with shortening the war and saving countless lives.

The Lorenz book is the autobiographical story of the life of the late Captain Jerry Roberts and gives an in-depth personal perspective of the breaking the twelve-wheeled Lorenz cipher.

Paddy O'Connell speaking of Capt Jerry Roberts
Paddy O’Connell speaking of Capt Jerry Roberts. Photo courtesy Andy Taylor.

The launch was attended by some Bletchley Park veterans, their families and special guests including BBC presenter Paddy O’Connell. Among the veterans was O’Connell’s mother Betty, who was one of the first operators of Colossus, the computer that helped break the cipher.

Paddy O’Connell gave an insight into the complexity of the codebreakers’ task by playing an audio signal representing the enciphered German text as it would have been intercepted in Britain. Visibly moved by the sound, Betty O’Connell and her Colossus operator colleague Irene Dixon recalled how they had to keep their wartime work secret for decades and expressed great satisfaction that the story was beginning to gain the prominence that it rightfully deserves. They hoped that the book would generate wider public interest in the incredible achievements of the Lorenz codebreakers.

The names of the three Ts – the Testery; Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers should be known throughout the land,” said wartime Colossus operator Betty O’Connell. “The Testery linguists broke the code by hand after Bill Tutte had miraculously worked out how the Lorenz machine worked without ever having seen it. Then Tommy Flower’s creation of the Colossus computer helped speed up codebreaking hastening the end of the war. It is marvelous to see this story from the inside of the Testery, a group of people that I never even knew existed until decades after the war.

Mei Roberts, wife of the late Jerry Roberts, was also present. It was her determination and hard work that enabled the book to be completed and published almost three years after Jerry Roberts’ death.

The launch was held in the Tunny Gallery in Block H, alongside one of four remaining Lorenz SZ42 cipher machines and original associated equipment, as well as a rebuilt Tunny machine (the British re-engineered version of the Lorenz SZ42). Next door is the rebuilt Colossus, standing on the exact spot that Colossus No 9 occupied during the war.

Lorenz: Breaking Hitler’s Top Secret code at Bletchley Park by Captain Jerry Roberts is available now at amazon