Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Let's Go De-fense! *clap, clap, clap-clap-clap*

Certainly the Germans' overconfidence in the power of Enigma led to their loss in the battle of cryptography in World War II, and my classmates have brought up many other great reasons: how the Allies worked together, a few genius individuals working for the Allies, the American use of Navajo code talkers, human error on Germany's part, and Poland's (specifically Marian Rejewski) contributions to cracking Enigma. But stepping back from that, I think in the grand scheme of things it comes down to who was playing offense and who was playing defense. In general, Germany was on the offensive: the Blitzkrieg bombing of Britain, the invasions into France, and their U-boats in the Atlantic. This made the Allies often on defense, not entirely sure where and when Germany would attack next. Because of this, I think they found it more imperative to crack Enigma; if the Allies knew when the next bomb would fall, or where German troops were camped, or where the U-boats were headed, they wouldn't be caught by surprise and could be far better prepared to fight back. Therefore they were willing to hire thousands of codebreakers to work at places like Bletchley Park, and invest money in a seemingly crazy machine to break Enigma. Until Enigma was completely broken, Germany did have the upper hand, and they weren't as worried about deciphering Allied messages as long as they kept winning battles and advancing.

When the Allies (thanks to Alan Turing and his machine) were finally able to decipher any Enigma message everyday, British officers recognized the advantage they now had, one that would only be kept if Germany continued to think they were still on offense. So the Allies were very careful to not let Germany know of their success, and only here does Germany's overconfidence in Enigma come into play. Up until this point they had every right to be confident in the secrecy of many of their communications, and it showed as they swept across Europe. But England could never do a perfect job covering up what they knew, and Germany's overconfidence in Enigma led them to ignore that. In the football game of World War II, the Allies defense had intercepted the football and were running for the touchdown, while Germany's offense still thought they were advancing towards their field-goal range and their cryptographic defense was off taking a water break in the locker room.

Previous

Fear: a powerful motivator

Next

Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

1 Comment

  1. Ling

    Playing from a defensive standpoint definitely granted the Allies certain advantages when it came to cracking the German Enigma. I think you substantiated this viewpoint very well, and excellently supported it with the football metaphor! Just a few comments however:
    -When you stated that the Germans "weren't as worried about deciphering Allied messages," is this a true/proven statement? The German advance could potentially be attributed to having inside knowledge of the Allies' plans.
    -To what extent were the Germans overconfident? The Enigma has its impenetrable reputation because it had been built off of many improvements to the older versions of itself (ex: adding new rotors and thus granting more combinations), so is the possibility of the Germans still improving their cryptography during the war being overlooked just because they were winning?

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén