The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Divided and Conquered

The Allied cryptanalysts were victorious over the German cryptographers due to a variety of reasons; however, one rather simple reason is often overlooked: the allies had a much larger and much more unified base of cryptologists than the Germans.

Germany had a total of around 30,000 people working in the intercepting, decoding, and coding of messages. The European Axis powers had a grand total of 36,000 people working in those endeavors. The Allied powers had a number closer to 60,000 people doing the same jobs, nearly twice that of the Axis powers. Just think about the implications of this: more people leads to more intercepted messages, which leads to more cipher text to work with (a historically beneficial resource in terms of breaking codes), and more people leads to more brain power trying more techniques to break the same code.

In addition to this, Germany did not have a central cryptology base like the Allies did at Bletchley Park. The Germans were spread out among 6 different bases, and would often overlap in each other’s efforts, duplicating each other’s work and thus wasting time and resources. There was some collaboration but not nearly to the degree of the Allies. In Andrew’s blog post, he discusses the importance of collaboration in the field of cryptology so I will not expand upon this as much.

Finally, the Germans never created a bombe-like machine that could decipher messages which can very easily be attributed to the division and smaller size of the German forces. Without this key technology, Germans had to do a lot of the leg work manually which is much much more time-consuming and much less reliable. The bombe and other machines like it (Colossus and Tunny) exponentially increased the cryptographic progress of the Allies, catapulting them far ahead of the Axis powers.


Click here to see my primary source.


The Importance of Logic


Enigmatic Ingenuity


  1. Abbey

    I like this argument, and thanks for the source talking about German codebreaking during World War II. I would add that yes the German codebreakers were divided while the English were working together at Bletchley Park, but beyond that I think the cooperation between the Allies in general was far better than that of Germany with the other Axis powers. Yes, Britain and America kept things from Russia/USSR, but when it came to fighting against the Axis powers, they shared resources and information. At the end of the day, Germany and other Axis powers, like Italy, were still trying to take over each other so they weren’t too keen to share what they knew.

    Additionally, I wonder why Germany never developed a machine to decipher messages? Singh mentions that the Allies used machines similar to Enigma to send and receive messages, so why would Germany not want to try and make a machine to easily decipher all of those messages? In my post I talked about how Germany didn’t feel as great of a need to decipher these messages because they were consistently on the offensive, but I also think here, specifically concerning this technology, the fascism of the German government didn’t lend itself well to technological development, since many German citizens were afraid of their government, unlike many citizens of Allied countries, like Alan Turing, who were willing to use their talents in service to their country.

  2. milfored

    This is a very analytical take from the text which I really like. While reading, I had not even noticed how large and organized the book described the Allies’ cryptographic efforts to be compared to Germany’s.

    However, there is one thing I want to add to this. Another reason that the Allies were victorious over the Germans  was that the Germans kept playing the role of being the cryptographers. They were always the aggressors, so as much, piercing enemy lines meant that their messages did as well.

    Take Germany’s campaign in France for example. Their storming behind French lines meant that they had to send messages to France as well, and you can assure yourself that French cryptographers took advantage of this. Among the thousands of radio messages they intercepted, there was one that read, “rush munitions.” This simple message was supposed to give German forces the green light to storm Paris, but it never happened because French forces soon launched a “hellish” surprise attack on them.

    An even better example of how Germany being the aggressor too much cost them the war is the Zimmerman message. Once again, as aggressors, Germany is trying to pierce into country, but this time, it is on another continent — North America. Their intended recipient was Mexico, but because the cables they were using to send the message were mostly American-owned, it made their messages more likely to be intercepted which is exactly what happened. With Room 40 of the British government successful at breaking the code, it became known that the Germans were conspiring with Mexico to keep the U.S. by having Mexico launch attack from the South. Eventually the U.S. was made aware of this, and thus, they had entered the war.

    If one should be taken from Germany’s failures in cryptography, it is that you do not want to be on the losing side of it. Throughout much of the war, Germany stuck to the side of being cryptographers — which, since to breaking of the Vigenère cipher, had been the losing side of it.

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