The Nazi Enigma machine was a mechanical device that encoded and decoded secret messages. The Germans’ belief that the Enigma’s codes were uncrackable was, more than any other one single thing, the reason that the Allies won the Second World War.
Although a huge number of Enigma machines were produced, many were deliberately destroyed by German troops before the end of the war. Churchill issued an order for the remainder to be destroyed and many captured machines were thrown overboard from Allied ships.
Now only a few hundred remain.
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As a result, the fiendishly complex devices command high prices on the rare occasions that they come up for sale.
One rare example, being auctioned this week, is expected to reach up to $100,000 (about £83,000).
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As of this morning (Saturday), $82,500 (£61,914) was the highest bid. One of the machine’s 26 light bulbs is broken, according to the auctioneers' description.
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The effort to break the Enigma was not disclosed until the 1970s. Since then, interest in the Enigma machine has grown. Enigmas are on public display in museums around the world, and several are in the hands of private collectors and computer historians
Polish cryptoanalysts originally cracked the Enigma code as far back as 1932.
The first capture of a complete Enigma machine was made when a crew from Royal Navy ship HMS Bulldog boarded U-110 in 1941.
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That incident was dramatised in the film U-571, in which it was shown as a US operation. This distortion of the truth led the Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, to tell the Commons that the film was an "affront" to British sailors
Even after the Nazis realised that their messages were being read and added extra rotors to the machines, making the codes harder to break, cryptographers at Bletchley Park led by Alan Turing used "cribs" – such as the Nazi convention of ending every message with the phrase "Heil Hitler" – to deduce the content of the messages.
In May, an anonymous private collector from Ireland snapped up a similar machine – an SG-41 "Hitler Mill" cypher-machine for 98,000 euros (£81,783) from Hermann Historica auction house in Munich.
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