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Save Bletchley Park

Why the site should be saved and how you can help now

In the previous two parts of our feature we looked at how Bletchley Park cracked the Engima code and helped win the war. After years of neglect the Bletchley Park Trust is doing a great job of preserving the site, but it needs help and money to realise its plans. In this part of the feature we’re looking at why the site needs saving and how you can help.

It’s hotly debated as to the actual results of the successes at Bletchley Park and whether or not the war was shortened by two years or more. This kind of talk is immaterial, as it’s impossible to work these things out. What we do know is that the code breaking was a massive success and let the Allies read secret German transmissions all the way from the lowliest train station all the way up to those sent by Adolf Hitler.

There are clear examples of where the work made a staggering difference to the war effort, particularly in the North Atlantic, where German U-Boats targeted merchant shipping brining supplies to the UK.

“You could argue that it made the difference in the North Atlantic,” says Simon Greenish, director of the Bletchley Park Trust. “If not for Bletchley, Britain could have been starved out.”

What was incredible about the work at Bletchley is the sheer number of messages decoded and sent on for processing by military intelligence. At the peak, 6,000 messages a day were handled by the team.

“They could see the bread and butter of what was going on in Germany,” says Greenish. “Everything that could be picked up was being decoded.”

A lot of it was pure junk, but the military personnel had everything they needed and could filter through the information for anything that could give the Allies an advantage. For example, an order to move vast quantities of fuel from a train station let the allies know that the Germans must have V-2 rockets there, and the site must be bombed.

Breaking Enigma helped the Allies plan and win important battles, such as that in North Africa.

“Bletchley was feeding Montgomery what Rommel was up to,” says Greenish.

This incredibly information meant that Monty had the upper-hand over Rommel, and knew everything about the situation in the Axis camp. This information was vital in the victory at El Alamein and the defeat of the German Army in Africa.

Getting access to the Enigma messages also gave the allies confidence in their tactics and the information that they were getting. In fact, they often intercepted messages from the Germans that stated Enigma was still secure.

Before the D-Day invasion of Europe, the Allies knew that the German army had fell for their misinformation about an army gathering in Kent poised to attack Calais. Regardless of any arbitrary figures, the simple fact is that the work at Bletchley Park played a significant role in the Allies’ war effort and helped us to defeat the German army. At the same time, the incredibly leap forwards in technology mean that Britain was, for a while, at the forefront of computer technology.


Once the war was over, there was no need for Bletchley Park to continue in the same vein. The 12,000-odd personnel were let go and all maintained their secrecy oath. The scientists who worked at the park mostly went to work for the new GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) and continued their work.

For Bletchley Park it wasn’t particularly good news, as the buildings were abandoned and much of the equipment was broken up. Due to the secrecy of the project, much of the work at Bletchley was kept from the public.

Bletchley Post Office

“Everything was broken up,” says Greenish. “Some of the Colossus machines were used elsewhere until the 60s. Some of the maths was kept under wraps until a few years ago. The story was that Britain didn’t want the world to know how good they were at code breaking.”

The incredible success that the British had, not to mention the computers they invented, just dropped off the world’s radar and what had happened at Bletchley Park was forgotten, until the 1970s.

Bletchley Park passed through many hands, even ending up as a BT training centre for a while, before it was almost sold in 1991 for redevelopment and Milton Keynes Borough Council took over the site, handing it over to the newly-formed Bletchley Park Trust shortly after. Then began the long job of educating the UK and the world as to just how important the site was, not to mention redeveloping and repairing it. It’s that job that’s most important now.

A large part of Bletchley Park’s problems have come from the incredible level of security and secrecy surrounding it, which meant that few people knew what had gone on. It’s easy to see why. Bletchley Park was, really, pure technology and pure mathematics, but it ultimately had no direct control over the information it decoded, it merely passed the messages on.

This let the site stay a huge secret in a way that other projects in the war couldn’t. For example, the Manhattan Project, which created nuclear weapons, could hardly have been kept a secret after they were used on Japan. The simple fact that the British could keep Bletchley Park a secret, meant that the work done there would not reach the public for a long time.

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