Campaign for Recognition of Polish Enigma Codebreakers
Written by Martin Postranecky   
Saturday, 20 October 2012

Poland's parliament has launched a campaign to restore justice to the Polish men and women who first broke the Enigma codes, but who have tended to be overlooked with the limelight going to the Bletchley Park codebreakers.

Historians tend to agree that World War II was shortened in Europe by perhaps two years due to the Allies' ability to eavesdrop on German coded communications. However, thanks to media exposure - in the blockbuster movie Enigma, Alan Turing Year and even I-Programmer's coverage of Queen Elizabeth's visit to  Bletchley Park - credit for cracking the codes is often accorded only to the work of British cryptologists. 

However there was an important "prequel" to this story. As early as 1932, three mathematicians from Poland's General Staff Code Bureau, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski, deciphered the mathematical basis of the Enigma, constructed a copy of the coding machine, and started to read German secret dispatches. Several more copies of the Enigma machine were built the following year by the Warsaw-based company, AVA. 



From left: Henryk Zygalski Marian Rejewski and Jerzy Rozycki.


The next step was that Marian Rejewski deduced the internal wiring of the Enigma and constructed a cyclometer, which consisted of two Enigma machines side by side with their right hand wheels offset by three places. This solved the problem of Enigma's constantly changing keys, rotating disks and electrical connections. 

Rejewski went on to devise the  "bomba kryptologiczna"  or Bomba, designed to overcome the double encipherment of the message setting that the Germans had introduced. Another aid to decryption of the double enciphered message settings, the Zygalski Sheets, were perforated overlays which produced more reliable results than the Bomba


In July 1939, with the invasion of Poland imminent, the Polish cryptographers decided to share their work with the French and British code breakers. At a meeting in the Kabackie Woods near Pyry just outside Warsaw the Polish team handed over copies of the Enigma machine and revealed the details of the Cyclometers, Bombas and Zygalski sheets.

The three Polish code breakers later escaped Poland through Romania and joined a French team of cryptographers.


Polish Enigma machine


Now Poland's parliament is now aiming to pass a resolution honoring Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski. It states:

"In both popular literature and official information the public was told that the breaking of the Enigma codes was due to the work of the British intelligence services to the complete omission of the work of Polish scientists." 

A senator from Poland's ruling Civic Party commented:

"This resolution restores justice.  Not only did the Western Allies marginalize the achievements of Polish cryptographers, but the Soviets did the same. They were silent about the Polish contribution to saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of troops fighting on all fronts."

The 2001 film Enigma was certainly a culprit in this respect. Starring Kate Winslet and set in Bletchley Park it made little mention of the Polish contribution to cracking the codes and the only Pole in the film script is given the role of a traitor.

However today's visitors to Bletchley Park are left in no doubt about the important contribution made by Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski and one of the most complete exhibits about their role is available online in the late Tony Sale's Virtual Bletchley Park.

Another proof that Bletchley Park has not forgotten the debt owed to the Polish codebreakers in included in Chuck Severance's video made for Alan Turing Year where he talks to Joel Greenberg at around 3 minutes 54 seconds):



Meanwhile David Link, who was presented with the first ever Tony Sale Award earlier this month, has plans to build a working replica of the bomba kryptologiczna, as outlined in his 2009 paper which includes the sketch of it made by Rejewski in the mid 1970's and has many other "archaeological" details of its operations.

As part of this project he wants to extend his research to encompass searching archives and museums in Poland for other apparatus built by AVA and trying to find survivors from the time. If any readers can help, please contact David Link directly.

More Information

Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski

The Breaking of Enigma by the Polish Mathematicians

Resurrecting Bomba Kryptologiczna (pdf)

Contact David Link

Related Articles

Alan Turing at Bletchley Park

An Enigma machine up for sale






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