Lieutenant Commander David Balme, seized a top secret Enigma machine while storming a captured German U-Boat. He is pictured here on HMS Bulldog.
Balme was appointed to the destroyer HMS Bulldog, which he described as a ‘happy little ship’, as her navigator in the early 1940s. It was while he was serving on this ship that he came across the German submarine.
It was midday on May 9, 1941 when he was ordered to ‘get whatever’ he could from the U-110.
After rowing across to it, he made his way to the conning tower and had to holster his pistol in order to climb down three ladders to the control room.
Recalling the incident many years later, he said: ‘Both my hands were occupied and I was a sitting target for anyone down below.
Finding no-one aboard, Lt Cmdr Balme and fellow members of the boarding party spent six hours searching the submarine and found a device that resembled a typewriter as well as code books.
The ‘typewriter’, which was actually an ‘unbreakable’ code machine designed by the Germans to protect military communications, proved invaluable to Alan Turing and his team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.
The Poles had broken Enigma in 1932, when the encoding machine was undergoing trials with the German Army. But when the Poles broke Enigma, the cipher altered only once every few months.
With the advent of war, it changed at least once a day.
The first operational break into Enigma came around the 23 January 1940, when the team working under Dilly Knox, with the mathematicians John Jeffreys, Peter Twinn and Alan Turing, unravelled the German Army administrative key that became known at Bletchley Park as ‘The Green’.
Encouraged by this success, the codebreaker’s managed to crack the ‘Red’ key used by the Luftwaffe liaison officer’s co-coordinating air support for army units.
Gordon Welchman, soon to become head of the Army and Air Force section, devised a system whereby his codebreaker’s were supported by other staff based in a neighbouring hut, who turned the deciphered messages into intelligence reports.
Dr Turing, a “genius” mathematician, was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, where he invented the machine which cracked the Enigma codes used by German U-boats in the Atlantic.
Historians believe his work may have shortened the war by two years
However, in the 1950’s his life took a turn for the worse. Dr. Turing was arrested and after a trial on 31st March 1952, he was convicted for homosexuality.
Tragically, two years later, on 8th June 1954, he was found dead in his apartment. The cause of death was cyanide poisoning. There is some speculation about the nature of his death, some believe that he accidentally ingested some cyanide left on the ends of his fingers after a chemistry experiment, but the general consensus is that he committed suicide.
He has now been granted a pardon for his criminal conviction under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a high-profile campaign supported by tens of thousands of people including Professor Stephen Hawking.
“His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the father of modern computing.”