Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Enigma--Decipher Victory: Learn

An exhibit from the Republic of Poland which details the early cracking of the Enigma Code by Polish mathematicians

What was Enigma?

The Enigma coding machine, created in 1918 for commercial use by German engineer Arthur Scherbius, was adapted for use by the German armed forces, especially the navy. The Enigma fulfilled the need, realized after World War I, for a secure and mobile military communication device. The decryption of the German Enigma code ultimately turned the tide of the Second World War in favor of the Allies, giving them the ability to evade and deceive the Germans.

The Polish Code Breakers

In the late 1920’s Poland realized that German forces intended to use the Enigma machine for war. The Polish Cypher Bureau recruited the top three mathematics students from the University of Poznan to begin work on breaking the code. Marian Rejewski, the first recruit, was able to break the code in two months using mathematical equations. Later joined by Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski, the three men continued to update their techniques as the Germans made frequent alterations to the machine. 

Eventually, the Polish code breakers were able to create replicas of the Enigma machine which they shared with Great Britain and France. Based on the early work by the Poles, British code breakers at Bletchley Park were able to make headway in the decrypting of German military communications, concentrating particularly on those dealing with the German submarine fleet. Among the many brilliant British code breakers the name of Alan Turing particularly stands out. When Poland was invaded by the Germans, Rejewski, Zygalski, Rozycki, and other Polish code breakers fled to France where Rozycki passed away. Eventually the Polish code breakers had to flee from France to various locales, with many escaping to Britain. When the war ended, Rejewski decided to return to Poland to be with his family and Zygalski became a British citizen.

Recommended Books

A three-rotor Enigma code machine

Picture source:

Selected Articles

To see these articles off-campus login using you Multipass username and password

Christensen, Chris. “Polish Mathematicians Finding Patterns in Enigma Messages.” Mathematics Magazine, vol. 80, no. 4, 2007, pp. 247–273. JSTOR

Erskine, Ralph. "The Poles Reveal their Secrets: Alastair Denniston's Account of the July 1939 Meeting at Pyry." Cryptologia 30.4 (2006): 294-305. ProQuest.

Kahn, David. "The Polish Enigma Conference and Some Exursions." Cryptologia 29.2 (2005): 121-6. ProQuest.

Karwatka, Dennis. “Technology’s Past: Marian Rejewski and His Role in Breaking the Enigma Code.” Tech Directions, vol. 76, no. 5, Jan. 2017, pp. 10–11. EBSCOhost.

Bailey, Ronald H. “Secret Doings in Dayton.” World War II, vol. 30, no.5, Jan 2016, pp.62-68. EBSCOhost

Budiansky, Stephen. “The Art of the Double Cross.” World War II, vol. 24, no. 1, May 2009. pp.38-45.  EBSCOhost

Casselman, Anne. “Enigma: The Final Riddle.” Discover vol. 27, no 8, Aug 2006, p.20 EBSCOhost

Isaacson, Walter. “The Price of Genius. (Cover Story). TIME Magazine, vol. 184, no. 21/22, Dec 2014, pp.66-75. EBSCOhost

Paschke, Jean. “The Code-Breakers of Bletchley Park.” British Heritage, vol. 32, no. 2, May 2011, pp. 30-33. EBSCOhost

Rejewski, Marian. "How Polish Mathematicians Deciphered the Enigma." Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 213-233.

“Resurrecting the Bomba Kryptologiczna: A Reconstruction of the Polish Crypto Device.” Archaelogy of Algorithmic Artefactsby David Link, University of Minnesota Press, 2016, pp. 113–134. JSTOR

Robinson, Andrew. “The Master Decoders.” New Scientist, vol. 236, no.3152, Nov. 2017, pp. 46-47. EBSCOhost

Schlesinger, Hank. “For Your Eyes Only.” Smithsonian, vol. 32, no. 4, July 2001, p.48 EBSOhost

Sears, David. “The Navy’s ‘Imitation Game.’” Naval History, vol. 30, no. 4, Aug. 2016, pp. 32–39. EBSCOhost

This guide was created by Victoria Wilson, English Department Intern, and Ted Bergfelt, Humanities Librarian, September-December 2019