Was Alan Turing’s work really
relevant for the outcome of WW2?
Section 1: Identification and
evaluation of sources 250
The Enigma was an adept ciphering
machine used by the Axis powers to hide their messages from the
Allies. This investigation will deal with Alan Turing’s code breaking
work during the Second World War, specifically whether it actually
changed the outcome.
question: Was Alan Turing’s work really relevant for the outcome of
first source I have chosen to evaluate is “Alan Turing: The
Enigma”, published in 1983.
It goes into great detail concerning Alan
Turing’s achievements and
activities during the second world war.
written by Andrew Hodges, who teaches at Wadham College, University
author cites a variety of primary sources in his work, amongst which
there are interviews with contemporary witnesses. This shows that a
lot of research was done in order to get the complete picture that is
presented in the book. Multiple views are considered, which makes the
source a reliable collection of knowledge.
a biography it includes a lot of excess information about his life
beyond the war, which means that it does not go into as much detail
at the parts that are useful to me.
Instead it opts for a fairly balanced overview on the topics.
my investigation the source helps to determine how Alan Turing was
involved in the Enigma project. This aspect covers half of my
research question. The book omits
the effects Enigma had on the war,
this source alone is not enough information
to answer the question.
second source is
2: Investigation 1,225
what am i investigating
the first half of the 20th
century it was
encrypt telecommunications because
wireless technology was fairly new1
and any message could be intercepted, which in times of war meant
that strategies and orders
had to be concealed if
they were to remain private2.
for Hitler’s Blitzkrieg it was essential that units exchanged fast
and protected information3.
this purpose the
Enigma machine was
by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius in the 1920s4.
original machine was modified significantly by the
to the point where British
could no longer decipher messages encoded
Polish mathematicians were
the first to attempt to crack the
between 1932 and 1939 they had successfully constructed machines that
were able to decode messages encrypted by earlier models of the
the war began and Poland was overrun, Britain’s
Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS)
hired at least 60 more cryptanalysts7
were to be someone “of a professor type”8)
to carry on the work
in secrecy at Bletchley
was done manually and included
long hours of systematic guessing, which was very inefficient and
required a lot of staff10.
Turing was recruited
to work in one of the departments (Hut 8)11,
with Gordon Welchman he invented
the first prototype
for the Bombe
Its purpose was to work out the Enigma’s
rotor settings and
decrease the amount of work done by humans,
so that the speed at which messages were decoded could be increased13.
to his machines Britain
up to two
messages per minute by 1943, which was incredibly fast for
direct result of Turing and his colleagues’ work at
Hut 8 was that the locations
of enemy submarines
in the Atlantic could be passed on to Allied convoys15.
According to Churchill and his analysts, had
there been any more sunken
supply ships it
would have led to starvation in Britain16.
in turn would
have slowed progress nationwide and possibly lengthened the war.
the Allies had to be careful when
using stolen knowledge, the
amount of faith the Germans had in the Enigma machine made it
possible to continue evading torpedoes at sea without much
German officers suspected spies were the reason they were sinking a
amount of ships18
and had they at any point decided to secure the Engima
machine with further rotors,
then the workers at GC&CS would have had to start from scratch
is indisputable that decoding, regardless
of how risky using the information was,
helped win some decisive victories, such as the Battle of Matapan in
U-boat wolf packs could be precisely
located and tracked,
which saved the lives of many soldiers at sea over
the course of the war21.
that the strategic advantages gained
from Turing’s technological triumph might
have shortened the war by up to 2 – 4 years22.
war would have meant even more casualties on both sides, and could
have potentially resulted in nuclear conflict according to Andrew
There is evidence that
suggests Germany was hoping to develop atomic weaponry, and although
they were still far behind the Manhattan Project, it is not unlikely
that the United States would have resorted to the bombs had the war
continued on much longer24.
some might argue that
the outcome of the war was only slightly changed by
the efforts of GC because there were many other important
factors that arguably played a larger role towards the end of the
and Turing’s ‘Bombe’ are scarcely mentioned both
in articles on WW2 and
in history books26.
failure of the Battle
of Britain and the success of Allied air forces are
more commonly referred to as reasons for the development of the war27.
With more advanced aerial technology, Britain
had a clear advantage over the German forces who had to fight above
The Royal Air Force had
better radar equipment, still
it was nearly beaten by the Luftwaffe in 194029.
Attacks on Berlin provoked Hitler into changing strategies and
instead of going after the RAF he ordered revenge bombings on English
aerial combat and efficient
defences can still be traced
back to Bletchley Park31,
mistakes on behalf of Germany and
declaring war on the USA Nazi-Germany put themselves at a
disadvantage in many
The air power of the United
States proved to be
especially formidable and the
resources they could supply tipped the scales in favour of the
meaning that even without
Enigma intelligence, Germany would still have been at a loss in terms
of what their allies could provide34.
outcome was also influenced
military and strategic strength
of the parties on either
and other topics
communication were only a
small part of the equation.
To win the war it might have been crucial to communicate, but
technology and man power were
just as important if not
even more so35.
for example proved
to be less useful in terms of military power, as seen in their failed
attempt to annex Greece and
their dependency on Hitler36.
It was only through
clever tactics that relied on
communication and coordination that German armies were able to make
fact that they had uncovered Enigma had to remain hidden, which
is why the case remained
classified until the 1970s38.
The sensitive information was
passed on to intelligence
services, amongst others the OSS
(which only played a role
when the USA joined the war)39.
Their job was to handle the
knowledge and combine it with the intelligence their spies gathered
to devise plans to guide Allied landings40.
is not unthinkable that in
order to keep the secret some units had to be sacrificed even
if saving them from peril was possible.
Furthermore, knowing the
positions of units was not
always useful because in some cases it only helped to predict
cracking Enigma was a joint
effort between many mathematicians and not just Alan Turing alone42.
to the invention of the Bombe and the breakthrough in 194243
that Bletchley Park needed to
Britain and the rest of the Allies in defeating
Germany. The accomplishments of the mathematician vastly shortened
the war, which saved an estimate of 14 to 21 million lives44.
achievements of the GC&CS
thanks to the Bombe were
definitely relevant to the outcome of WW2, considering they were
able to collect vital
information, which helped the
Allies win the war much
there might have been other factors such
as the support of the US or mistakes made by the Axis powers,
many of Allies
successes and victories
can be traced back to GC&CS46.
famous example being D-Day, where codebreakers were able to find
on defences in Normandy, making
the landings possible47.
it can be said that Alan Turing was
important figure behind the scenes in World War 2. His
contributions to mathematics and computer science were not only
relevant to the war but also to the development of modern technology.
He was granted
posthumous royal pardon from the Queen in 2013 for
being convicted for homosexuality48.
Section 3: Reflection