“The Secrets of Station X” should not be confused with Michael Smith’s book of a similar title, “Station X”, which was written to accompany the Channel 4 programme of the same name and is also reviewed on this web-site.
Though “The Secret of Station X” follows a similar format and time line as “Station X” it is by far more informative, extensive and substantial.
Through this compact publication the author, Michael Smith, introduces the reader to the secret world of the World War Two code-breakers working under the guise of the Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS) based in Bletchley Park, a quirky English Mansion in the heart of rural Buckinghamshire.
Working his way chronologically from 1938 to 1945 the author calls on substantiated evidence and code-breakers’ memories and tells the story of some of those people, the place they worked and the work they did, breaking into the enemy codes and cyphers.
By integrating the history of the Second World War with the work of the code-breakers Smith highlights the importance of their work, their frustrations and the tensions under which they were working.
With simple explanation of codes and cyphers the author explains the breaking into the Enigma cyphers, the working of the Enigma machines and that of the Bombe machines tasked to assist in breaking those cyphers; the building of Colossus to identify the wheel settings of the Lorenz machine used to encipher the teleprinter messages between Hitler and his high command. He also introduces the often ignored work undertaken at Bletchley Park on hand cyphers and in particular the breaking of the Japanese codes.
To my mind Michael Smith is the most prolific author where the history of Bletchley Park’s code breaking is concerned. In his books on Bletchley Park he covers the diversity of code breaking and intelligence gathering and sets his fully qualified information out in that easy to read writing style of a seasoned journalist.
This is a most useful introductory book to the workings of the GC&CS at Bletchley Park. With 295 pages of substantiated facts 24 pages of notes and 9 index pages, this book is well laid out and well presented. It makes good reading and is an ideal reference tool for the researcher and those wishing to expand their knowledge of the broader workings of Britain’s Government Code and Cypher school.