German SG-41 Encryption Machine Up for Auction

A German auction house is selling an SG-41. It looks beautiful. Starting price is 75,000 euros. My guess is that it will sell for around 100K euros.

EDITED TO ADD (6/13): It sold for 98K euros.

Posted on May 23, 2019 at 2:05 PM • 15 Comments

Comments

Cornell WrightMay 23, 2019 5:31 PM

The auction listing has German and English versions. The English version includes:

"Would the Germans have deployed SG-41 earlier, the war would have lasted much longer."

The Google translate of the German version has a slightly different implication:

"An earlier deployment of the SG-41 would have changed or prolonged the course of the war."

I take "changed the course of the war" to mean the Germans would have won. Perhaps this is a sentiment that the author of the listing or their translator does not want to express in English ?

MarkHMay 23, 2019 6:25 PM

@Cornell:

To change course (direction, path or trajectory) is not necessarily to change the destination or outcome.

RealFakeNewsMay 23, 2019 9:19 PM

To "change the course of the war" could include winning it.

Because we were successful at intercepting their encrypted messages, we could avoid the U-Boats which were necessary for getting supplies.

Without this, the UK would have been starved, and potentially crippled to at least the point of becoming ineffective, if not opening it up to invasion.

Cracking other communications also helped, but not nearly to the same extent. If the UK had been weakened beyond what it already was (it was still suffering losses to the U-Boats), cracking codes from High Command would have been pointless as the country would not be in a position to do anything.

Had this happened prior to Pearl Harbour, the US would have not been involved, and we can only speculate as to whether they would have got involved to help bail out the UK at that time.

Hitler had other problems in addition to the Allies - he had upset Stalin, and was already doomed by the Soviets in the East and North.

IMHO what would have happened would be a larger take-over by the Soviets into the Nazi-controlled parts of Europe. They already had the Eastern side by the Cold War - the line would probably be at the North Sea instead.

65535May 23, 2019 10:44 PM

There seems to be a weight problem with the machine which made it unfavorable for the German Army use.

From translated German Wikipedia:


'The key device 41 was developed on behalf of the Army Weapons Office (OKH / Wa Prüf 7 / IV) [2] with the collaboration of the German cryptologist Fritz Menzer (1908-2005) and the company Wanderer, a leading manufacturer of typewriters at that time Chemnitz built. The SG-41, whose name indicates a start of construction in 1941, was called because of the side-mounted crank (picture) as "Hitler mill". It had - unlike the Enigma standard key machine used by the Wehrmacht in the numbers of a few tens of thousands at that time - no letter lamps, but worked with two strips of paper, one printed out the entered letter sequence, the other the result of the encryption or decryption process. Due to the war-related lack of light metals such as aluminum and magnesium, the device weighed about 13.5 kg more than originally designed, and was thus actually too heavy for field use.

'According to the motto "... the ENIGMA must die now" [4], the SG-41 was originally intended to replace the Enigma, which was no longer considered safe, nationwide. Luftwaffe and army ordered about 11,000 copies Occasionally, it is believed that due to wartime bottlenecks only about 500 pieces of the device were made. In fact, however, the head of the Amtsgruppe Wehrmachtnachrichtenverbindungen (AgWNV) in the OKW, Major General Thiele, the weight of the SG -41 as too high for the front-line recognized and had already set on 18 December 1943 during a meeting in office OKW / WNV, only 1000 pieces to be manufactured until the end of 1944.

'From October 12, 1944, the extradition to the defense began. In the last months of the war, this began to use the key device instead of the previously used Enigma- function Through the control flap, you can see the six keywheels The conspicuous red key (J) served (in accordance with the number assignment shown above) for the makeshift representation of numbers in alphabetic plain text, such as "41" by "JRQJ" -Wikipedia


https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schl%C3%BCsselger%C3%A4t_41

PatriotMay 23, 2019 11:58 PM

The successor to the Enigma Machine, one that did not catch on. I understand it was released for service in 1943, but it was too heavy for use in the field.

It is interesting that the SG-41 does not have its own Wikipedia article. One of us needs to get busy.

Clive RobinsonMay 23, 2019 11:58 PM

@ Cornell Wright,

I take "changed the course of the war" to mean the Germans would have won.

The simple answer is they should have won or atleast ended with a stalemate and most of Western Europe.

The Germans had better engineering and in many cases better science. There are many claims that the Allies "invented" this or that. Contemporary historical documents show that the Germans actually invented rather more, and in some cases invented first.

There were however issues, due to "over spec'ing" on unimportant things, German production times were longer than they should be. A prime example of this was the difference between German and Russian tanks. The Rusians only cleaned up welds and casting and forging marks where a better finish was required mechanically, the Germans on the otherhand required all welds ground back and marks ground down/out which was very time consuming.

Hittler was overly fond of the new and dramatic hence the likes of V weapons that were complex and time consuming to develop and swallowed huge resources befor the first useable weapon rolled off the production line, but as weapons they were either ineffective or to late to make any difference.

Some Hitler approved weapons were so dramatic they were compleatly impractical...

For instance Ferdinand Porsche's super heavy tank the Maus, due to the weight of gun, armour and the supporting structure, they had great difficulty designing an engine and drive chain sufficient to propell it, but also small enough to get in it... The result was the war caught up with them and only one was ever built to compleation.

The Germans also had problems with radar and night fighters. There is a long list of failings in that area. Where the UK got it right was the communications network behind the radar that alowed a more central control and thus more effective deployment of aircraft.

But the real problem the Germans had was ideology at the most senior levels in general their military commanders were good but those giving them orders were in many cases at best political appointees lazy and in several cases drug addicts. In the early stages the military commanders fairly easily achived their objectives by carefull planing sound logistics and by not doing daft things.

Ideology got in the way and fairly quickly things got overstretched supply lines became way to long, vulnerable or both, and stuffed with the wrong parts and equipment or sent to the wrong places.

One of the most general of military rules is minimize the number and size of the fronts you fight on, another is learn from history. Stalin was desperate to keep Hitler from starting war with Russia, and he appeased Hittler in any way he could the result was vast supplies of raw resources being poured into Germany... But for ideological reasons Hitler started a war with Russia without first dealing with Britain. Hitler also did not know, understand or give credence to what happened to Napoleon and Russia... It was this more than anything else that was the straw that broke the German's.

It was not Britain, her Empire or the Americans that defeated Hitler, it was the shear number of Russians and once they had got established their war production that outstriped the German production.

What bought the Russians the time to organize and establish production to fight Hitler were the North Atlantic Convoys around to places like Archangle and the supplies of military equipment from both America and Britain, as well as the continued fighting on the West and south of Europe, that was bolstered by Russian's fighting (many of whom who survived and went back to Russia were rewarded with execution, such was Stalin's view on the world).

The important point to remember is that whilst Hitler was defeated by the Russians, that was the only conflict area that Stalin fought in untill the very end of the war when he made a land grab push into Asia. American and British Empire forces carred on fighting in Asia for a considerable time after the surender of Germany. Likewise in other parts of the World.

Could Britain and America have defeated Germany, probably if they had not been also fighting Japan, Italy and others.

In many ways Britain got lucky in lots of little ways and these added up. For instance Radar could easily have been jamed but it was not, the Germans could have put more effort into intelligence activities but they did not. Likewise cryptography, both the British and American ciphers were very inadiquate for much of the war. The way Germany used new defensive technology was often short sighted or parochial. There are hundreds of points on the timeline that historians can point to and say this should not have happened yet they did and many might well have been pivotal, we just can not say as the dice rolled high not low...

Perhaps one pivotal moment was the bunker bombing, Hitler survived and decimated his military commanders hanging them on meat hooks with barbed wire befor going mad on drugs and retreating from reality whilst trying to manage Germany's military in retreate compleatly ineptly.

Take your choice and put your finger on it and say "This is the point..." you could possibly be right, we just don't know thus claims that the breaking of Enigma shortened the war by two years are in the same catagory.

Take the campaign in Africa, it was a disaster even with ULTRA. However when Field Marshal Montgomery took over his planing and tactics hardly involved any ULTRA intelligence and he prosecuted it successfully. Historians have argued if he had made use of ULTRA intelligence then the Desert Campaign would have ended months earlier and probably with most of the German forces captured early on and with Romel captured, he would not have done other things...

Petre Peter May 24, 2019 6:47 AM

If the war would have lasted one more year , Hitler would've created superweapons.

Clive RobinsonMay 24, 2019 9:56 AM

@ All,

The Second World War German activities are still unpredictably causing problems today...

Yes I do mean yesterday, today and probably tommorow as well,

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-48377427

Yup I'm one of those effected by it. Apparently the bomb has been found at the site of the Hotel Antoinette. Which appart from being regarded as a local "knocking shop" or very short term room rent for those "getting a room" the hotel used to do wedding receptions and discos etc.

From what I've been told the bomb was found in the old foundations under a block of rooms where the dance floor once used to be...

I guess it's just as well "The Stomp" was not a popular dance at the time, otherwise a disco night could have gone with more of a bang than expected.

This area of South West London in the Hogdmill river basin (Kingston, New Malden, Old Malden, surbiton, Tolworth, West Ewell etc) got a fair amount of bombs dropped on it as various tricks used to confuse German Bombers payed off and they droped them there rather than other more populous parts of London (see the three Thames loops at Surbiton/Kingston, Putney/Wandsworth and Grenwich Peninsula)...

Having looked at old records by the ARP there is something like a hundred or so "missing" bombs recorded for the area. The one that ammused me is that close to where I owned a home, there used to be a Brick Works prior to WWII. It had from historic notes fallen into ruin and got used by the local Home Guard unit as an arms dump until a bomb dropped in one night... After the war it became a playing field and some of the old boys used to say there were rifles and grenades hidden away underneth it all along with that missing bomb.

Well the land got sold and a housing estate built on it. Various people told the developers about the bomb and the dump but were ignored. So the chances are one day a family will get the same experience as Comedian Paul Merton once had and dig up a box of handgrenades in the back garden.

epistemologyMay 24, 2019 10:16 PM

Why are the positions of the Z and Y on the QWERTY keyboard reversed? A German thing?

DanielMay 26, 2019 2:32 PM

You guessed 100k, and to me it sounded like a complete out of the blue guess -- but seems like it sold for 98k, so... well done!

SiMay 30, 2019 12:54 PM

98k is very close to 100K, and it seems apt, pricing it in killer euros :)

Eric CantorJune 4, 2019 2:52 PM

@Clive: The Germans ultimately could not have won the war. Broadly speaking, you cannot pick fights with several major industrial powers that far exceed your population and live to tell the tale. American factories could churn out an endless number of airplanes without the threat of bombing raids, in addition to the other natural resources. All the Enigma decrypts did was speed up victory in the European theater so Germany surrendered before the atomic bombs were ready to use. Even if Britain had been captured by the Nazis (denying the US their convenient springboard for D-Day), ultimately, the Soviets would still have overrun Germany, at a far greater cost.

Clive RobinsonJune 5, 2019 8:47 AM

@ Eric Cantor,

Broadly speaking, you cannot pick fights with several major industrial powers that far exceed your population and live to tell the tale.

Yes it's the point I was making about "ideology" Hitlers first objectives had been met by his generals and if the sense they had which was to consolidate and negotiate first Britain out of the war and stop the USA entering had been followed through then the map of Europe would almost certainly have been very different.

Historically it's known that the political classes in both Britain and the USA were fairly keen to negotiate war away. It was just one or two that could see that little bit further and decide to meet the problem head on whilst Hitler's forces had not sufficiently consolidated their gains. That kept Britain in the War and thus enabled USA public oppinion to be sufficiently re-oriented that they could first "lend support" then enter the war in Europe.

Some claim that Stalin would eventually have attacked Hitler's forces if Hitler had not attacked first. I like others have my doubts on that. Stalin had enough issues at home to stop him entering into foreign conflicts of acquisition what occured in Poland gives weight to that point. Further Stalin's behaviour in the Pacific War where he only entered at the last minute, to justify making territorial claims on the Korean North and other areas (which Stalin later manipulated up into the Korean War and then dumped it all into the unprepared Chinese hands).

Thus ideology was the drive forward to Hitler attacking Russia before dealing with Britain and thus keeping the USA out. Which ment the manufacturing of the US and Empire was turned against Hitler.

As for some of the claims about Enigma as I indicated I have my doubts. As I noted about Africa it was dealing with the enemy in a way the enemy did not want to do or could not do that turned that around. Despite the near non use of Enigma intercept and other intelligence information that formed Ultra, the commander in the field dealt effectively with the German forces, because simple logic and experiance had shown that the supply line issue was the German forces Achilles Heal. Further the prefrence to consolidate gains rather than gallop after the retreating Germans was tactically a sound thing to do on a wide open battle field, it reduced the enemy's ability to counter attack against the flank in supprise attacks to either harris or cut off the lead forces. The commander in the field was obviously distrustful of the Ultra Intelligence and probably knew all to well how easily it could be faked (as the german Command Atchel did when moving V weapon development).

The German V weapons and atomic development has always been of continuing argument. Arguably the attacks on the heavy water plant did major damage to German nuclear development, but heavy water piles whilst good for static energy production is not the best way to make nuclear weapons. It's highly unlikely that Germany could have developed the enrichment facilities to ever have got weapons grade materials, it was touch and go for the USA and involved emptying the US treasury of silver in order to make the Caultrons. Which at the time appeared to be the only practical enrichmrnt process. The centrefuge usage was not initially practical and had way to lower a yield to even be realisticaly contemplated. It was only when someone realised that the use of "stock feedback" in what we now call a centrifuge cascade that it only just became practical. And as you note about manufacturing and bombing the US had a massive advantage that Germany could not have hoped to get, and even then the US very nearly failed to make a nuclear device. If you have a hunt around you will find a quote from the Trinity test along the lines of that as it had worked they would not be guilty of treason. I think it might have bern Openhimer to Groves or the other way around. It's also now clear Russia only got it's nuclear programe to work because of Klaus Fuchs who passed on not just his own very important calculations but also knowledge of what went wrong and thus to avoid.

The stories of the German Scientists deliberatly "going slow" does not realy fit in with what we know of other V-Weapon development and production the SS ran. For the scientists to have been able to "go slow" they would all have had to have been absolutly united and further have reason the SS would have accepted without question to have not made progress. The loss of the Heavy Water would have been one such reason but it would only have slowed things for a month or two before they would have to have atleast shown energy production to avoid getting summary execution. The reality is they went the wrong route and could not have capitalised on any success if they had started with and stayed on the right route by repeated fortuitous accidents.

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