Archives Library Information Center (ALIC)

New Books: Bletchley Park Visitors' Book

Lee Gladwin presents Michael Kurtz with a copy of the Bletchley Park visitors' book
Lee Gladwin (left) presents Assistant Archivist Michael Kurtz with a copy of the Bletchley Park visitors' book. Photograph by Roscoe George.

A copy of the visitors' book to England's super-secret code-breaking headquarters during World War II was presented to the National Archives recently.

In a brief ceremony March 18, Lee Gladwin (NWME) presented a copy of Bletchley Park's Hut 11 Visitor Book to Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Records Services-Washington, DC. Gladwin presented the book on behalf of His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent and Peter Wescombe, Trustee for the Bletchley Park Trust.

Bletchley Park's successful break into the German Enigma machine ciphers was World War II's "ultra secret." Located some 50 miles north of London, Bletchley Park was a Victorian estate taken over by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) in 1938 for the purpose of providing a secure location for deciphering Enigma-encrypted messages.

During the 1930s, the Polish Cypher Bureau broke into early Enigma ciphers, using a machine called a "Bomba," possibly named for a then popular dessert, to determine daily Enigma settings. Not until July 1939 did the Poles share their success with the French and British. They also provided their allies with copies of Enigma machines.

Provided with information and a working model of Enigma, Gordon Welchman and Alan Turing "designed an electrical-mechanical device, called a 'Bombe', which reduced the time to break a daily key down to hours" rather than days or weeks, according to an account in the dedicatory page of the copy given to NARA.

Bletchley Park's Hut 11 was built to house five bombes, the first of which went into operation about the first of March 1940. Hut 11 was the secret within the secret of Bletchley Park. "The few visitors allowed into Hut 11 had to sign the visitor's book, having first been identified by a third person."

Covering the period from 1941 to 1943, Hut 11's visitor book records the visit of US Army Signal Security Agency (SSA) cryptanalyst William F. Friedman on May 7, 1943, a visit coinciding with the signing of the British-USA Agreement between the GC&CS and SSA. Less familiar signatures document growing cryptanalytic cooperation: Solomon Kullback, SSA, (June 20, 1942); Robert B. Ely and Joseph J. Eachus, US Naval Intelligence, Op-20-G, (July 12, 1942). Ely and Eachus were there to learn as much as they could about the British Bombes in order to help design US Navy's future bombes.

The signature requirement was not restricted to American visitors. Even Stewart Menzies, director of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and the original of Ian Fleming's "M," signed the register on May 9, 1942. Admiral Sir Andrew B. Cunningham, hero of the Battle of Cape Matapan (25-29 March 1941) signed the register when he came to thank those who made that victory possible.

A facsimile Bletchley Park's "Holy of holys" now becomes a treasure of the National Archives Gift Collection.