|Historical Name of Location||Milton Keynes, England, United Kingdom|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseBletchley Park was the jewel in the crown of Britain's war effort, and the most secret asset in the struggle to save the nation from Nazi enslavement. The house, located in the county of Buckinghamshire in England, previously the home of a wealthy stockbroker turned squire, was a notably ugly Victorian pile of bastard architectural origins surrounded by fifty-five acres of trees and grassland. Located fifty miles from London, it had been purchased in 1938, at a cost of £7,500, by the head of MI6, Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, in order to house the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS) at a safe distance from German bombs. Work began at once to lay direct telephone and teleprinter lines to London and in the following year a skeleton team of cryptanalysts, under the directorship of Commander Alastair Denniston, moved in to commence the secretive work.
ww2dbaseLarge though the mansion of Bletchley Park was, it was immediately apparent to Commander Denniston that more space would be required. Through the autumn of 1939 Bletchley Park would echo to the sound of workmen sawing and hammering to construct a growing number of low wooden buildings for GC&CS's ever-increasing establishment. Eventually, only administrators would work in the main house (including the fierce but efficient Doris Reid who kept the secretarial girls in order) and the vitally important telephone exchange, located by the ballroom.
ww2dbaseIn total there would be some sixteen wooden huts and nine later brick blocks constructed; all working on different aspects of intelligence gathering, and whose occupant, typically, were kept unaware of the activities occurring elsewhere. Hut 1, built just to the north of the mansion was initially intended to house a radio transmission reception station although, in order not to draw the enemy's attention to Bletchley's true purpose, this task was subsequently relocated elsewhere with intercepts delivered to Bletchley by despatch riders. Hut 2 immediately became known as "The Beer Hut" and served that purpose pretty much throughout the war serving strong refreshments to codebreakers, debutantes and other staff alike.
ww2dbaseHut 8 (where Alan Turing worked) attacked German naval traffic, which was then passed to Hut 4 for translation and processing. Hut 3 performed the same function for army and air force traffic decrypted in Hut 6 which was run by the talented Gordon Welchman – a senior mathematics lecturer recruited from Cambridge University. Huts 3 and 6 were actually connected by means of a small makeshift wooden tunnel, through which documents could be pushed on a tea-tray, by means of a broom handle.
ww2dbaseHut 5 contained a most unusual addition, in the form of a sunray parlour – a useful addition for maintaining vitamin D levels among the staff who worked long hours in windowless rooms such as the WAAF teleprinter operators. Hut 7 was built some distance away from the others as this contained noisy tabulating contraptions which would have been an intolerable distraction to codebreakers in other sections. Hut 10 dealt with low-grade coded messages not encrypted by the Enigma machine.
ww2dbaseThe later brick blocks, designed to resist bomb blasts, were a somewhat better place to work than the uncomfortable wooden huts (not least because of better lavatory facilities). Block C was possibly the noisiest of all – it contained the Hollerith card-punch machines capable of sorting through large amounts of data. The departments run by Professor Max Newman (q.v.) and Major Tester were in Block F, and it was here, later in the war, that the new German "Fish" or "Tunny" codes would be broken. It was also here that the Colossus machine (the combined brainchild of Alan Turing, Max Newman and Dr. Tommy Flowers) made its debut. Colossus, a super-fast machine utilising revolutionary valve technology could run through immense quantities of information, thereby permitting the codebreakers to read not only messages from the German High Command but from Hitler's office itself.
ww2dbaseAdded to all this the house and grounds contained many other facilities such as garages (for the numerous drivers and despatch riders), Nissen huts to accommodate the Military Police security unit, a sick bay, and a NAAFI kiosk which sold everything from chocolate to stockings to cigarettes (rationing permitting). One distinctly American innovation at Bletchley was the establishment of a self-service cafeteria (even though portions were still strictly controlled) which seems to have replaced the waitress-service meals previously taken in the dining-room of the house.
ww2dbaseAs the war progressed, so did the demands upon Bletchley Park. What had begun as an improvised establishment making it up as it went along, became bigger and more professional. The better the results (codenamed "Ultra") that it delivered, the more was demanded by the War Office. By 1942, when Commander Edward Travis replaced Commander Denniston as Bletchley Park's Director, the codebreakers were reading, translating and analysing countless thousands of messages from every theatre of war around the world. By this time, around 9,000 women and men working long, stressful and exhausting shifts at Bletchley Park were producing a volume of material that was quite staggering.
ww2dbaseWhile many of the intercepts were found to be of purely mundane and trivial topics it all built up to provide the Allied leaders with a broad picture of the enemy's operations and intentions. Bletchley's codebreakers could therefore provide senior field commanders with useful information that was useful to cause serious damage and disruption to the enemy's plans. Some of their more notable achievements included locating the German battleship Bismarck heading towards France; Admiral Cunningham's defeat of the Italian fleet at Cape Matapan; and in supplying Allied Commanders with the German deployments before the Battles of Kursk and El Alamein. This is not to say that there were not problems. In 1942, for instance, Admiral Dönitz felt that he needed to be more careful and added a fourth rotor to the Naval Enigma machines, which effectively brought Hut 8 to a standstill for six months. Later, through German strict secrecy, Ultra failed to provide warning about the enemies build up to the Battle of the Bulge and what few clues obtained (from lax Luftwaffe intercepts) were generally ignored by SHAEF until well after the German attack had achieved its surprise assault.
ww2dbaseAt the end of hostilities, Bletchley Park's equipment was dismantled and the majority of the staff returned to their civilian occupations. The site then passed through a succession of hands and saw a number of uses, including as a teacher-training college and local GPO (today called British Telecom) headquarters. In 1976 the teacher training college left the estate, and eleven years later, in 1987, so did a recruit training division of GCHQ. In 1993 British Telecom packed up its operations there, as did the Civil Aviation Authority Branch. Sadly by 1991 the house and site had become increasingly derelict and the buildings were at risk of demolition for redevelopment into a vast supermarket and modern housing estate. Then in 1991 the Bletchley Historical and Archaeological Association managed to persuade, the Milton Keynes Borough Council to declare most of Bletchley Park as a conservation area, and in the following year the Bletchley Park Trust was formed to establish the National Museum of Computing. The renovated site opened to visitors in 1993, and was formally inaugurated by the Trust's patron, The Duke of Kent, in July 1994. In 2011 Queen Elizabeth II paid a Royal visit to Bletchley Park meeting many of the former codebreakers. In her speech given on that day she gave "heartfelt thanks" to all Bletchley Park's recruits "on behalf of a grateful nation". Another Royal visit occurred in June 2014, after completion of an £8 million restoration project (largely with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund), by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge during which the Duchess learnt much about the secret work that her grandmother, Valerie Glassbarrow, did there during the war. Currently it is estimated that Bletchley Park with its newly renovated huts and blocks enjoys nearly 200,000 visitors each year
ww2dbaseBletchley Park has in recent years been the subject of various Film and TV programmes – Most notably "The Imitation Game" starring actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing; ITV's murder mystery "The Bletchley Circle" starring Anna Maxwell-Martin; and two episodes of the BBC TV's popular "Antiques Roadshow".
Sinclair McKay, Bletchley Park – The Secret Archives (Aurum Press, 2016)
Max Hastings, The Secret War - Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939-45 (William Collins, 2015)
Last Major Update: Aug 2017
Bletchley Park Interactive Map
Bletchley Park Timeline
|4 Sep 1939||Alan Turing reported to Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom.|
|14 Jan 1940||British cryptologists at the Government Code and Cypher School, Bletchley Park deciphered the German Enigma code with help of Polish experts.|
|14 Mar 1940||First "bombe" decipher machine became operational at Bletchley Park in England, United Kingdom.|
|22 May 1940||Cryptologist in Bletchley Park, England broke the Luftwaffe Enigma code.|
|2 Sep 1940||In Britain, the Bletchley Park codebreakers with the help of the newly installed Bombe succeed in breaking the "Brown" cipher thereby providing useful information regarding German Luftwaffe targets.|
|21 Nov 1940||A German aircraft bombed the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom, damaging the diplomatic section, the telephone exchange, and the typists room. There were no casualties. The attack was almost certainly accidental, as the Germans did not know of the importance of this site.|
|25 Apr 1941||An indication that the Germans were considering Crete, Greece as a target for major parachute assault was discovered by the code-breakers at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Britain through an interception of the German Luftwaffe's lax cypher discipline.|
|10 May 1941||British Royal Navy Captain J. R. S Haines, carrying German Navy's June 1941 cipher setting information captured from German weather ship München three days prior, arrived at Bletchley Park in England, United Kingdom.|
|6 Sep 1941||Winston Churchill visited the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom.|
|6 Sep 1941||Alan Touring met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during Churchill's visit at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom.|
|2 Oct 1942||The British codebreaking establishment at Bletchley Park and the US Navy's codebreaking department (OP-20-G) agreed to a relationship of "full collaboration".|
|22 Nov 1942||The British Admiralty Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC) urged the staff of Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom to focus on Germany's new four-rotored Enigma machines.|
|13 Dec 1942||The Enigma codebooks captured by HMS Petard from the sinking German submarine U-559 arrived at Bletchley Park's Hut 8 and within one hour intercepts of German submarine signals allowed the British Admiralty to instantly pinpoint the location of fifteen U-Boats.|
|28 Jun 1945||The British Chiefs of Staff drove to Bletchley Park, where Sir Alan Brooke addressed four hundred of its staff, thanking and congratulating them for their extraordinary contribution to the Allied war effort.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935