GCHQ reveals last message from German Second World War network

The last recorded message to be intercepted from a German military communications network at the end of the Second World War has been revealed to the public for the first time.

It shows that Britain's Bletchley Park code breakers carried on working in the dying days of the war to ensure there would be no final stand by the Nazis, according to GCHQ historian Tony Comer.

Mr Comer added the message, released to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, gives "a small insight into the real people behind the machinery of war".

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How British code breakers broke the Nazi war machine
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How British code breakers broke the Nazi war machine
Agency honours linguists, including many women, who eavesdropped and decoded in secret locations. The spy agency GCHQ is celebrating its centenary on Friday by highlighting little-known wartime eavesdropping and decoding work that took place in five secret locations around the country, from the Kent cliffs to the Derbyshire countryside. That includes the dangerous work undertaken daily by about 50 linguists, many of whom were women, who listened in to shortwave German naval and airforce radio at Abbots Cliff House near Dover, a site exposed to enemy attack. Or at Marston Montgomery, a base headed at one point by the agency’s first female commander, Pamela Pigeon, a New Zealander who took over operations in 1943 in a series of wooden huts hidden in the countryside. Tony Comer, GCHQ’s historian, told the Guardian that about 100 people were based there, “fingerprinting individual German radios, taking advantage of the fact that each crystal at the heart of a radio oscillated slightly differently. “If you had previously worked out what each radio was used for, it presented an easy way to distinguish between a bomber squadron or simply fighter aircraft approaching without having to decode any messages.” The 6,000-strong agency – the most secretive of Britain’s intelligence organisations – wants to showcase more of its little-known history beyond the now famous story of the cracking of the German Enigma cipher at Bletchley Park, led by Alan Turing. It is a history that dates back to the aftermath of the first world war, when politicians – including the prime minister at the time, David Lloyd George – were eager to maintain a capability that had been built up separately by the army and navy. A year earlier, in 1917, naval codebreakers had cracked the Zimmerman Telegram, an offer from Germany to Mexico to enter the war in return for territories in the US, which, when revealed, helped bring an angry US into the conflict. Stories about GCHQ’s wartime work are felt to help with the agency’s profile and recruitment following revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden of the extent of its surveillance activities. Six years ago, based on the leaks, the Guardian and other news organisations were able to demonstrate that GCHQ had tapped into fibre-optic cables via a programme named Tempora and helped the US National Security Agency to gain access to the servers of mostly US internet providers in a scheme called Prism. At the time, the Snowden files revealed the extent of the agency’s ambitions, that it wanted to be able to “exploit any phone, anywhere, any time” and that its “collection posture” included slides listed under the heading “Collect It All”. Such activities do not feature as part of GCHQ’s historical celebrations – the secret agency’s perception of history closes at the end of the cold war – although some later activities are foreshadowed by what went on between 1939 and 1945. At Ivy Farm, in Knockholt in Kent, a group of about 80 had the task of listening to “human-made noise” – what Comer described as “any unusual activity on the electromagnetic spectrum” that could amount to a previously unknown form of encrypted communication. Those working there managed to isolate enciphered communications between Adolf Hitler and his field marshals using the Lorenz cipher that was cracked at Bletchley Park. The site, Comer added, was the first place responsible for the interception of a fax, then an emerging technology used primarily by newspapers to send simple pictures around the world. “A Japanese press attache in Berlin had sent a description of a typical US bomber formation to a press agency in Tokyo. Staff at Ivy Farm were able to intercept the communication and pass it on to the Americans, so they could adapt,” the historian added. Other secret locations highlighted by GCHQ include Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, the site of the agency’s first anti-Soviet operations, which began work in 1944, a year before the war ended, and Croft Spa, in the Yorkshire countryside near Scarborough, where signals from enemy ships in the North Sea were pinpointed.
When he was just nine years old, Alan Turing’s headmistress at St Michael’s Primary School in Hastings wrote a report to his parents. “I have had clever boys and hard-working boys,” she noted. “But Alan is a genius.”If anything, her words turned out to be an understatement.The man who will appear on the new £50 note was one of the most gifted scientists, mathematicians and thinkers of his – or any other – age.Among his achievements were developing the theoretical underpinning of the world’s first computers and laying the groundwork for the development of artificial intelligence.His most famous work cracking the fiendishly complex Nazi Enigma Code during the Second World War is said to not only have turned the conflict in favour of the Allies but done so with such significance that it shortened the whole thing by several years.Some military historians estimate Turing’s genius saved as many as two million lives.[[gallery-0]] Yet his life would end in tragedy. After reporting a burglary at his Manchester home in 1952, police charged Turing himself with gross indecency when he admitted, in good faith, that he was in a relationship with another man.He was chemically castrated, barred from continuing to work with GCHQ and had his heroism during the Second World War all but scrubbed from records. He died two years later, aged just 41 and a convicted criminal, after eating an apple laced with cyanide.Now, exactly 65 years on, his appearance on the banknote will perhaps be seen as the completion of a rehabilitation that should never have been necessary.Turing was born in London in 1912.His headmistress in Hastings was not the only teacher who saw his potential. The word “genius” was also used in a report from his secondary, Sherborne School in Dorset, when he was 13.After studying mathematics at the University of Cambridge, he went onto acquire his PhD at Princeton University, in New Jersey in the US.It was while there that he developed the notion of a “universal computing machine” which could solve complex calculations. This would become known as the Turing machine, an invention largely seen as the father of the digital computer.He returned to Britain at the outset of war in 1939 and joined GCHQ, leading a team of codebreakers at the now famous Bletchley Park complex in Buckinghamshire.There, he and his team managed to mimic the operations of the infamous German Enigma machine to break its codes. Crucially, the information provided allowed the Allies to locate German U-boats, giving them a significant strategic advantage at sea, thus, turning the war in the Allies’ favour.Other Nazi codes were cracked too, leaving vast quantities of the enemy’s communications open to the Allies.“We were using Turingery [a code-breaking technique] to read what Hitler and his generals were saying to each other over breakfast,” explained Jerry Roberts, a one-time captain at Bletchley Park, in 2012.Postwar, Turing’s fascination with computers led him Manchester University where he produced his most famous paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, in which he devised what he called the Imitation Game – now named the Turing Test – a method to determine whether a machine showing behaviour can truly be called intelligent.It was also here that he started to explore the homosexual identity he had largely – though far from entirely – kept hidden until then.A relationship with a 19-year-old called Arnold Murray was to lead to his downfall following the burglary in 1952.Murray told Turing that he knew the thief’s identity, which Turing passed on to detectives. They, however, took it on themselves, under Victorian anti-homosexuality laws, to charge Turing and Murray for gross indecency.Apparently scarred by the conviction – and his resulting chemical castration – Turing is said to have laced an apple with cyanide and eaten half of it in 1954.It was not until 2009 that the British government apologised for his treatment, and not until 2013 that he was pardoned by the Queen.Yet his legacy now appears assured for all time.As well as statues in Bletchley Park and Manchester (fittingly, located halfway between the city’s gay village and the university’s science department) and his place on the new £50 note, a more subtle tribute may be seen by millions of us every day: although Steve Jobs never confirmed the theory, it is widely believed that Apple was named partially in tribute to Turing – fighter of Fascism and father of the computer age.
A rare enigma machine has gone on sale – to anyone with the $200,000 required to start the bidding.The machines, used by the Nazis to scramble messages so that they couldn't be read, are incredibly rare. The Germans were told to destroy them to avoid them falling into Allied hands – and, at the end of the war, those that remained were ordered to be destroyed by Winston Churchill.The machine now on sale is even more rare, since it is only lightly used and includes its original parts. While there are still some issues, such as a corroded battery and a broken leather strap, it is in far better condition than most other examples of the machines.Only about 250 of them are thought to be around in the first place, let alone in such a state. And those that do exist rarely go on sale.That accounts for the very high price tag placed on the machines. Auctioneers Nate D Sanders has set a minimum bid of $200,000.It also notes the unusual features of the machine including an "engraving of the Third Reich emblem – a black eagle above the swastika" that can be found in the machine.The enigma machines were famously used by the Nazis to scramble up messages when they were sent.They could take communications and scramble up individual letters, making them entirely unreadable.But human error and the work of the well-documented teams at Bletchley Park would eventually find their way past the encryption in the machines.They noticed that the messages would often include similar phrases such as "Heil Hitler", and that allowed them to work backwards to unscramble the messages and help read through communications.
Over 80 veterans who played a vital role in ending Second World War reunited at Bletchley Park on Sunday - PA
Bletchley Park veteran Betty Webb, 96, views a commemorative display of personal messages from staff at an event to mark 100 years of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire.
More than 80 veterans who played a vital but secret role in the efforts to end the Second World War at Bletchley Park on Sunday, as they gathered to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the conflict.
Betty Webb, a typist during WWII and later a recruiter for the army displays her medals as veterans reunite, returning to the scene of their wartime service at the annual Bletchley Park reunion at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes.
Close up detail from the notebook of Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing, that belonged to the mathematician which recently sold for £1M - and has now been loaned to Bletchley Park which played a major part in breaking codes in the Second World War.
File photo dated 06/09/06 of a restored and fully functioning Turing Bombe machine, used for cracking German military Enigma codes, at the wartime intelligence centre at Bletchley Park.
Former bombe operator Jean Valentine, 82 is reunited with a restored and fully functioning Turing Bombe used to crack the German's Enigma code during it's unveiling at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. Turing Bombe machines cracked 3,000 enemy messages a day and are said to have shortened the war by two years thanks to the vital military secrets they uncovered.
COLOSSUS: Codebreaking equipment used during World War II at the wartime intelligence centre at Bletchley Park, which is to be turned into a museum of communications technology. Colossus, the world's first computer (with a memory), was constructed by Post Office engineers, many of the parts coming from standard Post Office stores.
Codebreaking equipment at the wartime intelligence centre at Bletchley Park, which is to be turned into a museum of communications technology.
Codebreaking equipment used during World War II at the wartime intelligence centre at Bletchley Park, which is to be turned into a museum of communications technology.
An Enigma machine on show within Government Communications Headquarters, commonly known as GCHQ, the intelligence and security organisation responsible for providing signals intelligence and information assurance to the government and armed forces of the United Kingdom, based in Cheltenham.
Queen Elizabeth II looks at an Enigma machine in the Smith Centre, as Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford (centre) looks on, during a visit to the Science Museum for the announcement of their summer exhibition "Top Secret" in Kensington, London.
Enigma expert James Grime examines a working World War II Enigma machine at the Codebreakers and Groundbreakers' exhibition in the Fitzwilliam Museum, in Cambridge.
An original Enigma code machine of the type used by World War II code breaker Alan Turing, at a screening of the Imitation Game at the Science Museum, in central London.
A working World War II Enigma machine at the Codebreakers and Groundbreakers' exhibition in the Fitzwilliam Museum, in Cambridge.
Handout of former bombe operator Jean Valentine, 82. Today she was is reunited with a restored and fully functioning Turing Bombe used to crack the German's Enigma code during it's unveiling at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. Turing Bombe machines cracked 3,000 enemy messages a day and are said to have shortened the war by two years thanks to the vital military secrets they uncovered.
Former bombe operator Jean Valentine, 82 is reunited with a restored and fully functioning Turing Bombe during it's unveiling at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. Turing Bombe machines cracked 3,000 enemy messages a day and are said to have shortened the war by two years thanks to the vital military secrets they uncovered.
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With the Allies closing in and the network having retreated to the German town of Cuxhaven, a messenger who is identified only as Lieutenant Kunkel sent out a statement.

The intercepted message, which was sent as he signed off on 7 May 1945 at 7.35am, said: "British troops entered Cuxhaven at 1400 on 6 May – from now on all radio traffic will cease – wishing you all the best. Lt Kunkel".

Women in Bletchley Park (GCHQ/PA)

This was immediately followed by: "Closing down for ever – all the best – goodbye".

Bletchley Park code breakers were collecting communications from the German Brown network.

By 1944, the network's outstations had spanned across Europe from western Germany to the Baltic coast and was sending reports about the development of German experimental weapons.

Mr Comer said: "These transcripts give us a small insight into the real people behind the machinery of war.

"While most of the UK was preparing to celebrate the war ending, and the last of the German military communicators surrendered, Bletchley staff – like today's GCHQ workers – carried on working to help keep the country safe."

It is among the release of a number of never-before-seen messages which give an insight into the final hours of a German communications network, according to GCHQ.

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