This was the first book I was given to read as the foundation to my training as a Volunteer Tour Guide at Bletchley Park and I must admit I found it quite daunting at first, simply because I was not prepared for the depth of information and the propensity to German Naval Enigma. Ironically, it is that depth of information and insight which makes this book so interesting.
The author, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, was a barrister before becoming a journalist and has written for the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Observer, the Independent on Sunday and the Mail on Sunday. The attributes of both his legal profession and journalistic abilities are apparent in his research, content and writing style.
He explains the pre-war involvement of Poland, Belgium, France and Britain in their ‘battle for the code’ taking the reader from 1929, when the Poles copied a commercial Enigma machine, through to the 1939 meeting between the Poles, French and British in Pyry outside Warsaw.
Amongst many others, Montefiore introduces the Polish code-breakers, Rejewski, Zygalski and Rozycki who were recruited from the University of Poznan; Hans Thilo Schmidt, the Enigma spy who worked in the German Defence Ministry Cipher Office; Bertrand of the French Secret Service; Dilly Knox and Alastair Denniston of the British Government Code and Cypher School based at Bletchley Park who, together with Bertrand, attended that Pyry meeting.
Between the outbreak of World War II in 1939 up until 1945 Montefiore follows, not only the quest to break the Enigma ciphers but also the part that individuals, named and unnamed, played in that quest. The part played by the secret intelligence services and their agents is not ignored it is however, the breaking of German Naval Enigma which focuses Montefiore’s attention.
He gives insight in to the frustrations of Hut 8’s Alan Turing and Hugh Alexander and highlights the importance placed on “pinches”, the capture of the German Naval Enigma code books and documentation. He describes, in detail and with great respect, the quest from both sides to conceal or steal German Naval Enigma documents, in particular the “pinches” from U-33 and U-559 and the case of U-110.
For those interested in the workings of the Enigma machine and code breaking will not be disappointed. Montefiore includes diagrams and explanation of both the machine and the intelligence and processes used by the code-breakers to manually break the cyphers.
This book is well researched and well written in a very matter of fact style. With 64 pages of additional Notes, Bibliography and Index it is an ideal addition to any book shelf for research, reference or simply a re-read. Each time you pick this book up you learn more.