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Enigma: The Battle for the Code 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471490357
ISBN-10: 0471490350
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Few of the great espionage successes of the twentieth century were engineered by dashing, James Bond-type agents. Rather, many of the "heroes" of spying were anonymous people performing seemingly tedious tasks of gathering countless bits of information, analyzing them, and trying to assemble coherent conclusions from them. Sebag-Montefiore is an attorney and journalist. The key players in this saga are not the stuff of which romantic action thrillers are made. Still, the story itself, describing the breaking of the German naval code during World War II, is both engrossing and exciting. Much of the information presented here is based on recently declassified documents. The parade of characters includes ordinary seamen, double agents, and technical experts who manage to^B decipher what seems indecipherable, even to some of their peers. The result is a real-life thriller that should entice historians, fans of the spy genre, and ordinary readers who appreciate a tense, dramatic, and superbly told story. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


In a crowd of books dealing with the Allied breaking of the World War II German cipher machine Enigma, Hugh Sebag-Montifiore has scored a scoop.

The original 1931 solution to Enigma depended on information sold by a German cryptographic employee. In the course of my own researches on code-breaking, I had learned his name (Hans Thilo Schmidt), his Nazi Party number (738,736) and that he was the brother of a renowned panzer general (Rudolf Schmidt). But neither I nor later authors had gone beyond this point. Gestapo records of his arrest had vanished, files of the People's Court which would have tried him, had been destroyed, the name was common, and the events were well over half a century old. It seemed impossible to learn any more about the World War II era's most important spy-more important than Richard Sorge, more important than Cicero, more important to that conflict than even the atomic spies.

Sebag-Montifiore drove beyond the obstacles to find Schmidt's daughter. She depicted an affectionate father whose sife's family business had failed in the great inflation of 1924, who seduced one housemaid after another, who always needed money. She told of seeing him after his arrest by the Gestapo, of giving him cyanide pills, of identifying his body, of his burial in an unmarked grave next to his parents'. Sebag-Montifiore has fleshed out a name, and we historians of the intelligence world are grateful.

The bulk of the book recounts British naval actions mounted to seize the documents that permitted them to set about solving the more complicated Kriegsmarine version of the Enigma. Some of these sagas have been sung before. But not all have. Many new British and American documents have been declassified in recent years, and Sebag-Montifiore, a British journalist, has a remarkable talent in finding survivors. He has used both sources to tell new tales and to add to the old.

Take, for example, the tale of HMS Petard. Its captain wanted desperately to capture a U-boat and seize its Enigma-not realizing that its associated keying papers were more important than the machine itself, whose innards the Allies had long since reconstructed. The destroyer forced U-559 to the surface off Haifa. Its crew abandoned her, and a Royal Navy officer and two seamen swam to enter her and rescue the Enigma and any papers. They managed to send up valuable papers before the submarine sank suddenly, taking them with her. The papers were sent to the British code-breaking establishment at Bletchley Park, a country mansion northwest of London. There British cryptanalysts, who had not been able to crack U-boat Enigma messages for most of 1942, started reading them again.

Such details have already been told. Sebag-Montifiore adds what was happening in U559 while Petard was depth charging it-carbon monoxide made the crew lightheaded, two members panicked-though unfortunately he does not cite any sources for this. He provides more details on the heroism of the British sailors and tells about King George VI decorating a survivor. So although he does not alter our knowledge of the events in any significant way, he does humanize them more.

He also enlarges the story by telling what was happening on the spy front, how the Germans were led to Schmidt, how they failed to learn of early Polish and French solutions to the Enigma, how a U.S. task force also captured a submarine-the U505, now at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. He rightly asserts that Sublieutenant David Balme, whose entering the surfaced U-110 to grab and Enigma perhaps inspired the recent movie "U-571," should have been awarded the George Cross. Six appendixes give technical details.

The books content exceeds its form. It is adequately but not elegantly written. Too many errors of detail and grammar pock it, and the author is prone to clich?. The book's chief merit lies in its new information, though it lacks a summary of the vlaue of the cryptanalysts' work. In addition, a paragraph or two fitting the code battle of the Atlantic into the Allies' great crypologic victory of World War II, which shortened that conflict, would have helped. But the book is superior to the others on its subject. An in a way Sebag-Montifiore is the right man to have written it. His great-great-grandfather once owned Bletchley Park.
--The Washington Post

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (February 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471490350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471490357
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Ultra secret was kept for a long time after WWII. Recently declassified, it was the Allied code name for the Enigma ciphering system used by the Germans to coordinate U-boat attacks, to gather weather reports and intellegence, etc. This book is interesting in that the author gives ample space to the sailors and intellegence officers that gathered hard data, often from sinking U-boats, instead of focussing exclusively on the technical work performed at Bletchley Park. The result is an action-packed account that speeds through the material, while giving the reader a glimpse at the personalities and actions of the people responsible for solving the Enigma.

The book is arranged roughly chronologically, but Sebag-Montefiore divides his chapters into subject areas that span months at a time. This makes for a better flow. Therefore, the book backtracks from time-to-time, but it is never confusing, due to the skill of the author (and his editor). Oft-neglected episodes are included, much to the benefit of the book - because the U.S. and Britain were the two largest Allied powers, many books overlook contributions by other nations. Not so with this book - the Polish codebreakers that originally duplicated the Enigma and broke the peacetime ciphers are given more space than the celebrated Alan Turing. Likewise, the Canadian contribution to convoy duty (and therefore U-boat hunting and intellegence gathering from sinking U-boats) is given its rightful share of space.

The author wisely keeps the pace moving with events and doesn't allow the narrative to bog down in technical descriptions of the deciphering procedures. These procedures are gathered as appendices at the end of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
It's remarkable that 60 years on new information continues to surface about the breaking of the Enigma code. Having followed much of the "new material" released over the last 20 years in books and films it is great to see other key players in the Enigma drama getting due credit.
Forget about the crude attempts by Hollywood in the film U-571 to credit the americans with breaking the code, and read this book to find out about the huge contributions by the Poles (who were breaking Enigma in the early 1930's), the British and Canadian seaman (boarding subs and weather reporting trawlers to capture code books), and the French.
This book is not for those who want a deep understanding of deciphering techniques used at Bletchly Park - this is covered in other exellent volumes (see Sarah Flannery's book "In code: A mathematical journey" if you want a gentle introduction to cryptography ). It does give detailed and personal accounts of the risks taken by others in the armed forces and outside to secure code books, Enigma machine wheels and other "cribs" to help the code breakers.
The hardest part for me was reading about the fate of the various Polish mathemeticians who pioneered the Enigma work throughout the 1930's, and who were mostly left to perish in tragic circumstances by the French and British, despite being got out of Poland after the German invasion.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Once I picked this book up, it was very hard to put down. Sebag-Montefiore has compiled a gripping glimpse into the code breaking efforts by the British. His source and reference material are outstanding and his explanations of the technical aspects are gentle enough for the non-cryptologist to follow. I felt his technical analysis was just right, enough to let me understand the problems the Bletchly Park code breakers faced, while not to technical for me to lose interest.
Those wanting a in depth review of the methods used may want to look elsewhere, but I believe this book details the human story behind Bletchly Park's success masterfully. It's amazing to me that despite the capability of the Enigma machine, its ultimate Achilles heel was that it was operated by humans, who are in the end non-random and prone to habit. The eccentricities of the code breakers, the stiff British upper lip, and the maverick attitude of the US code breakers are all displayed for the reader.
The exploits of the Royal Navy is nothing short of truly heroic in their efforts to obtain code books to aid Bletchly's cause. It's ironic that the Enigma was first broken by three Polish mathematicians, who have never received much credit.
A fascinating book on exploits that had far reaching consequences after the end of WWII. Strongest recomendation.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent history of code breaking during World War II. The majority of the book is from the British perspective. It is action packed. If you are looking for the math behind the code breaking, this is not the book.
Some key points are:
-Code breaking of enigma much sooner than I had known.
-Steps that the Germans took to "secure" their code often backfired and made it easier to break.
-We are all human. Human habits were key to breaking the codes.
-The code breaking was a key weapon in WWII.
This book whet my appetite. I hope the author writes more. Possible topics include:
-German code breaking. Too many teasers in this book about the German code breakers.. I want more details.
-US code breaking of Japan and Germany.
-The hints of the French activity left me wanting to know more.
Overall I enjoyed the book. I would recommend it to history buffs and math buffs (too few books where mathematics and mathematicians are the heros.)
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