Archive: Computer Collector Newsletter / Technology Rewind, Jan. 2004 - March 2006

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V-E Day and the Enigma Machine

by Evan Koblentz

As the world remembers the 60th anniversary of V-E Day, it's fitting that we in the computer collecting hobby remember the Enigma machines. Made infamous by the Axis countries, the electromechanical encryption devices are still a vital part of the history of secure computing.

Many people don't realize, however, that German scientists did not actually invent rotor-based encryption machines. Who did invent them has been controversial, but historians in recent years said two Dutch Navy officers with backgrounds in torpedo design - Theo A. van Hengel and R.P.C. Spengler - were the true co-inventors. They began working on a device that likely became the Enigma Model A "in the first few months of 1915" and had it working "a few months later", or just about this time of year, 90 years ago. For more, visit a university library and find Cryptologia, vol. 27, no. 1, Jan. 2003, p. 73: "The Dutch Invention of the Rotor Machine, 1915-1923" by Karl de Leeuw.

There is also a new book out, "The German Enigma Cipher Machine: Beginnings, Success, and Ultimate Failure", a collection of essays and technical papers. The publisher's description: "You get a comprehensive view of the Enigma machine’s development, uses, role in WWII Allied intelligence, and cryptanalysis." For more or to order, see -- we've request a review copy for CCN. (The book is edited by U.S. Military Academy Prof. Brian Winkel, who isn't a collector, but who said that computers used in his career included an Ohio Scientific 8-inch disk CPM machine with 8088 and 6502 chips, an Osborne I, an Apple II, a TRS-80, an IBM-PC, and an IBM-XT.)

What if you want an Enigma for tinkering? Unless you have several thousand extra dollars, or a particularly lucky day on eBay, you can't get one. You can see real ones in museums, of course. Instead, why not obtain a replica kit? There is an electric replica project at and a PBS "how it works" article at ... or just visit to download a free paper Engima kit! Mike Koss, the designer, will also send you a detailed instruction booklet for $2, well worth it in my opinion. Still another excellent resource is the 1974 book "The Ultra Secret" by F.W. Winterbotham (see