This month in history: Alan Turing and the Enigma code

Turing and the code breakers secure extra resources: November 1941

During the Second World War, the cream of Britain’s mathematical and scientific elite concentrated at Bletchley Park – a country house near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. Chief among these was Alan Mathson Turing, a brilliant mathematician, cryptologist and computer scientist whose pioneering work is still hugely influential some 6 decades after his death.

Turing and his colleagues were at the heart of the German code breaking effort in World War 2. By specifying a machine (dubbed a ‘bombe’) that searched for the ‘correct settings’ in an Enigma message, they were able to make logical deductions about the likely content of the message. Despite their initial success, securing manpower and funds to build more machines proved difficult, and in October 1941 the team bucked all convention by writing directly to Churchill to request more resources. The Prime Minister’s response was almost immediate. Writing to his chief military assistant, General Ismay, he demanded that the occupants of Bletchley have ‘all they want’. Significantly for the war effort, the final confirmation that unsparing provision had been made came on 18.November, when the chief of the intelligence services reported that staff at Bletchley were being supplied with everything they required.

Turing would go on to be honoured by the British state. In a supplement dated Tuesday 18 June 1946, Gazette number 37617 reports that Alan Mathison Turing Esq ‘employed in a Department of the Foreign Office’ is to be promoted to become an officer of the civil division of the British Empire. Although Turing’s life would be tragically cut short at the age of 41, his reputation as one of Britain’s most brilliant, innovative thinkers of the 20th century remains undimmed.

See the original issue of issue 37617, page 3124 of the London Gazette.

Issue 85 of the London Gazette, which detailed the events of the Great Fire of London.
Issue 37617 of the London Gazette, which published details of Turing’s OBE.