Rare Spanish Enigma Machine

This is a neat story:

A pair of rare Enigma machines used in the Spanish Civil War have been given to the head of GCHQ, Britain's communications intelligence agency. The machines - only recently discovered in Spain - fill in a missing chapter in the history of British code-breaking, paving the way for crucial successes in World War II.

Fun paragraphs:

A non-commissioned officer found the machines almost by chance, only a few years ago, in a secret room at the Spanish Ministry of Defence in Madrid.

"Nobody entered there because it was very secret," says Felix Sanz, the director of Spain's intelligence service.

"And one day somebody said 'Well if it is so secret, perhaps there is something secret inside.' They entered and saw a small office where all the encryption was produced during not only the civil war but in the years right afterwards."

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): Blog comments from someone actually involved in the process.

Posted on March 26, 2012 at 6:38 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

Stupid Security QuestionsMarch 26, 2012 7:15 AM

Those paragraphs almost make it sound like the room was so secret that the few people who had the clearance to enter never passed on the keys when they retired, leaving the room so secret that nobody was allowed in. I find that to be completely hilarious but not at all surprising.

BrettMarch 26, 2012 8:23 AM

So funny about being so secret no one could enter... It seems to imply no one has been in the room for nearly 75 years. Really? It could be real, since the probable operators seem to have been the Nazis (they tended to distrust and look down on even their allies), and any deployed to Spain would have had bigger nightmares in the years after Spain anyways. And more than a couple Spanish governments also would have really wanted to forget about that room. Would like to see a book about this (there probably is only a handful of contemporaries left, however).

Moreover, that's an amazing discovery. I've been to Bletchley, I guess I'll have to go to Toledo also. Article doesn't say if GCHQ is going to retain or ultimately transfer to Bletchley however.

Manuel DelgadoMarch 26, 2012 8:38 AM

During the Civil War, the area where the building of the Ministry of Defence is located was uninhabited, and nearly one kilometer outside of the city limits. My guess is the building was built around ten years after the war ended.

Moreover, Madrid was on the Republican side during most of the war. It was Franco's side which was a German ally.

Therefore, it is just impossible that "the secret room" was "a small office where all the encryption was produced during not only the civil war..."

Juanma MerinoMarch 26, 2012 9:04 AM

It is publicy known that Franco's side had a lot of Enigma machines and even their price has been published several times during the last years so this is not so secret and the key point of the BBC post is far from that. These two machines has been exchanged by two others given to Spain by British authorities.

Clive RobinsonMarch 26, 2012 9:33 AM

@ Manuel Delgado,

Therefore, it is just impossible that "the secret room" was "a small office where all the encryption was produced during not only the civil war..."

Yup I had the feeling the Enigmas did not look right for the period when I looked at the photos because of the "z" in the top row (IIRC it's usual in German manufactured and sold Enigmas not the comercial Enigmas sold abroad).

Also you will note that one has four rotors not three and only 26 keys not 29 suggesting it is the later (c or d) comercial Enigma not the Kriegsmarine Enigma. Thus you would need to know which end the rotor scrambler input side is and where the reflector is if it has one, to identify which specific model.

So whilst the machine on the left could well have been used during the Civil War I'm not at all certain the same can be said of the military version on the right.

The trouble is it's been quite a while since I did research on Enigmas and the old grey matter is not what it could be I guesss I'll have to go digging for more information.

Arturo QuirantesMarch 26, 2012 10:03 AM

Hi, just a couple thoughts from Spain.

From my military experience, I can assume the story went like this. The Enigma machines were phased out. They were important, so they were kept in a closed room. Somehow, the officer in command did not tell the next guy about it. So one officer after another knew there was something big in there, none of their business. Eventually, everybody forgot about it.

Now, I´ve been in the Army HQ in Madrid, I was one of the first persons allowed to examine the machines there. The bounty was a total of 16 Enigma machines, commercial type (A- and K- models). The Army was very quick into spreading them to Army museums, so by the time I got there I only found 7 of them (code numbers K-204, K-205, K-289, K-356, K-693, A-1233 y A-1235).

You can find the report I wrote about it at:
http://www.cripto.es/enigma/...
The original press article (not from me):
http://www.cripto.es/enigma/...
And a larger article regarding the story of the Spanish Enigma machines in Spain:
http://www.lanzanos.com/proyectos/...

All in Spanish, sorry!

And here´s some pictures (feel free to use, quoting author and original url):
http://www.cripto.es/museo/enigma-esp-fotos.htm

And finally, a bit about Enigma patents in Spain: http://www.cripto.es/museo/patentes.htm
(not related but nevertheless fun, and it´s in English)

Enjoy. Feel free to email me for further info at aquirantes@cripto.es

paulMarch 26, 2012 10:46 AM

(speaking mostly vicariously) getting rid of sensitive material once its production life is over can be a difficult problem. Even assuming that you have the authority to get rid of it, you can't just throw it in the trash, you may not have the budget to destroy it properly (assuming that you know how), and the people who would have the budgetary authority to pay for appropriate destruction methods may not have the clearance to be involved in discussions of what the material is and how and why it needs destroying. Much better to leave the problem for your successor.

NobodySpecialMarch 26, 2012 11:22 AM

One of the reasons that breaking Enigma was kept secret for so long was that a number of enemy and allied countries used the 'unbreakable' enigma for many years after the war.
It would be interesting to know how long Spain and more interestingly Australia,Canada,etc used enigma for post-WWII.

OlegPenkovskyMarch 26, 2012 11:27 AM

"I wonder how many forgotten secret rooms there are out there..."

My father had a civilian job in the early '90s where he helped decommission US Military properties in West Germany and hand them over to the locals. One of the installations, which was being turned over in a few days, turned out had a small room in the attic with power and phonelines going into it. The room had no discernible entrance. The German workmen phoned my father and asked about it. My father, with the official records of the building, couldn't find any mention of the room or its purpose. He called around including a buddy in the DIA. Nobody knew what the room was. With the impending transfer, my father just ordered the German workmen to just cut the power.

A few hours later, some frantic desk jockey was phoning my father's group and trying to find out who had authorized the powercut. My father and his boss pointed out that the building was being physically transferred to the German government in a few days, for probably demolishment and replacement with housing.

Turns out the room was a one of the backup sites for the old "hotline" between D.C. and the Kremlin...

A lot of old, secret rooms out there...

Vince WhirlwindMarch 26, 2012 8:06 PM

Clive, I think the photos you are referring to do not represent the actual machines the Spanish are giving away, which are shown in the top photo. Perhaps the one on the left is one of them.

I've often thought there would be a good market for very crafty reproductions of these machines....

Vince WhirlwindMarch 26, 2012 8:15 PM

In fact, if you look at the extra margin below the bottom row of keys, it looks like they could be from about the right period, (earlier then 'K'), very similar to the illustration in this english newspaper advertisement:
http://w1tp.com/enigma/u_080e.jpg

Vince WhirlwindMarch 26, 2012 8:17 PM

Actually, that's just perspective - there is no margin, the keys are elevated. Could be a 'K', except no ID plate in the top right-hand side.

kashmarekMarch 27, 2012 8:39 AM

So, maybe U-571 was just a cover story to protect the "real" story about enigma codes?

Miguel FarahMarch 27, 2012 10:16 AM

My guess is the building was built around ten years after the war ended. [...] Therefore, it is just impossible that "the secret room" was "a small office where all the encryption was produced during not only the civil war...

While the room is certainly more modern than the civil war, could the machines themselves have been used during 1936-1939? I don't know if the models are old enough, but since they aren't room-sized, moving them around is a viable option.

NobodySpecialMarch 27, 2012 12:02 PM

@ Bruce Clement - but Typex was standard British equipment.
I wonder how many allies / commonwealth countries got captured enigma machines with a straight-faced "use these - they are so feindishly clever we could never break them"

And how many diplomatic incidents it caused in the 80s when the truth came out !

Arturo Quirantes SierraMarch 27, 2012 12:23 PM

As I saw and examined several of those machines myself, may I add some first-hand information:

"I think the photos you are referring to do not represent the actual machines the Spanish are giving away, which are shown in the top photo. Perhaps the one on the left is one of them."

They do look like them. You can see they have no plugboard, and the four windows are the three rotors plus and adjustable reflector. Commercial (K) type.

In fact, most (if not all) do carry their ID plate. Here´s the 26 IDs found in Madrid in 2008:

K-204, K-205, K-207, K-208, K-256, K-287, K-289, K-290, K-291, K-292, K-293, K-294, K-296, K-356, K-357, K-358, K-693, K-694, K-723, K-726, A-1232, A-1233, A-1234, A-1235, A-1242, A-1246

"While the room is certainly more modern than the civil war, could the machines themselves have been used during 1936-1939? I don't know if the models are old enough, but since they aren't room-sized, moving them around is a viable option."

The Enigma machines were first used during the 1936-39 Civil War. Franco had headquarters in different places, and an Enigma was always nearby. Other machines were given to field commanders.

After the CW, some Enigmas were shipped to Spanish embassies in Rome, Berlin and, for a time, France. Other machines were located in the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry, Army HQ (Madrid) and several military commanders.

So the "secret room" where Enigmas were found was probably just the place were they were kept hidden. However, the possibility that the same room was used to encrypt messages could not be ruled out; but it would only be after the war, not during it. (In fact, Madrid was held by the governmente up to the last days of the war)

Z.LozinskiMarch 27, 2012 1:32 PM

Señor Quirantes,

Thank-you, for a fascinating story.

I suspect Bruce and many of his readers will be interested in the rest of Arturo's web site, which has some fascinating bits of crypto history.

http://www.cripto.es/museo.htm

Kevin R.C. O'BrienMarch 27, 2012 2:23 PM

In re secret rooms,

a few years before the Spaniards found these machines, a NASA facility at Cape Canaveral was being cleared out. No one had the key so the workmen broke in. It was full of 1960s equipment, including experimental space suits (one of which I was able to track to the USAF astronaut who had worn it, who never crossed over to NASA when the Air Force program ended).

They also found miles of 16 and 35mm film and videotape of 1960s events and launches. Unfortunately, due to the non-climate-controlled storage, most of the media were unrecoverable.

This was about 2005. I also recall a home in the town I lived in in the 1990s turning out to have a forgotten, but still dry and stocked, nuclear bomb shelter below the basement. Quite a surprise to the new homeowners, and apparently never discovered by the ones before them.

So who knows what else is out there, just waiting for someone to ask the question, "well, what IS behind that door?"

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