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Is Alan Turing's effort code-breaking effort to the war exaggerated?

Discussion in 'Codes, Cyphers & Spies' started by DerGiLLster, Jul 19, 2015.

  1. DerGiLLster

    DerGiLLster Member

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    Is Alan Turing really this code-breaking god we show him to be? Or are his efforts exaggerated? It has been said he shortened the war by two years. He certainly did not invent the Enigma machine. It was invented by Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War One. Intercepting and deciphering of German messages was taken before the Nazis had even gotten power. The Polish Cipher Bureau had started in December of 1932. I know that the Poles had shared their encryption cracking methods with British and French intelligence.

    So is it really fair to say that because of the Poles, we were able to win the war? I am not trying to say they were perfect, as the British had made some changes to meet increasing complexity of the German messages. But to say that Alan Turing was responsible for shortening the war is just overstating his potiential. The person who said was responsible for shortening the war by two to four years was Winston Churchill, who I doubt even knew how crptography worked. I always saw Turing as more a guider who oversaw other cryptologists break the code to help the effort.

    So, Alan Turing, responsible for helping win the war, or just an exaggerated mathematician?
     
  2. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member Patron  

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    I always thought Alan Turning was part of a team that built on and constantly improved the early code breaking efforts of the Poles. I assume Turning to be a very significant part of that team and we owe him credit for all he did but I have never been one to think individuals are solely important for every significant thing. Our publicity system, now media, seems to be making this even more exaggerated. If the Poles had not done the ground work someone else would have. if Turning had not existed the same thing would happen....probably at a bit slower rate.

    I do not have the necessary knowledge to base it on but seriously doubt Alan Turning shortened the war by 2 two years. Did he make tremendous contributions, indeed, and make have inspired others but synergy comes into play as well. I do believe he well deserved his knighthood.

    For the record, I consider him one of the very significant participants in the war effort. Along similar lines I think Patton, Rommel, Macarthur all got more credit than perhaps deserved but that does not mean they did not make significant contributions to the war. Perhaps Turning would have been harder to replace than any of them.

    Intertesting post, thank you.
     
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  3. DerGiLLster

    DerGiLLster Member

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    The same goes for your answer sir. Thank you very much! You were able to answer it a way that completely answers my question in a way I haven't thought of before.
     
  4. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    A key part of the code breaking was his conception of the Bombe. This device even though many others contributed to the build was essential in cracking the code. One of the reasons the Germans thought it could not be cracked is that they did not conceive of a machine that could do the work that a human could never have done. So his efforts are quite essential.
     
  5. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Tutte, Flowers, Knox, etc. etc. etc. Many/Most practically unknown to the dilletante or populist coverage.

    I was essentially going to say almost exactly the same as Gaines.
    Like so many other WW2 stories, Bletchley etc. was a team effort, right through to the 'lowliest' girl processing the raw data.

    It is indeed that 'story' thing that comes into play though, isn't it. People like stories to be presented in an easily swallowed way, preferably with a personality or two to hang the attention onto.
    None of which is to denigrate Turing, but his story has more factors that contemporary storytellers can focus on. His sexuality and death, combined with the remarkable brain & achievements, bring a dramatic message that can easily be made to resonate with contemporary mores.
    Perhaps the process happened more intensely with Bletchley, with the story being so secret until the 90s. A different age absorbed this new history, and, to an extent, it chose it's heroes by it's own interests.

    We all do it though in some measure, the creation of narratives based on our own limited viewpoints... I live in the same country as Bletchley, so my focus lies there when thinking about cryptology as I can relate to it a little more... my knowledge of the US or other allied efforts is comparatively sketchy.


    Again, agreeing with Gaines; Wittman, Patton, Monty etc. etc, There's always a more complex story than the more famous 'personalities'.
    The war is too big to properly understand all of it though, so we specialise & learn about the less famous in our own small areas of interest, while retaining a somewhat vague grasp of links between the bigger names. Imagine how much vaguer our grasp would be without those famous names.
     
  6. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    I don't think that the war would've lasted a full two extra years, especially in Europe. Remember, the US had developed the A-bomb and had it ready by the late summer of 1945. Little Boy and Fat Man had Hitler and Berlin wrote all over them. Even if we used those two on Germany, we had the capability of cranking them out several a month for the rest of 1945, and more per month in 1946. I don't have the exact numbers at my finger tips, but there are other threads that go into these figures in detail if anyone cares to research further. But the point I'm making is the Manhattan Project and the major war effort still operated under the "Germany First" axiom. It was to be business before pleasure. We would have the bombs at our disposal along historical timelines. Not sure Churchill took this into consideration when he made the statement of Turings efforts shortening the war by two years.

    Who knows, possibly the Japanese might have reacted differently under the "new" Potsdam Declaration that would have been drafted after Berlin being stir fried first instead of Hiroshima. Maybe Potsdam might have been a little too radioactive to host a conference. They'd probably have to find another place, just in case.
     
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  7. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    The sub menace was clearly shortened by enigma. Could the invasions have been done in the same time frame??
     
  8. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    When it comes to mathematics and other subjects that require abstract thinking leaps I believe individual contribution is a lot more important than in other fields, given enough people working on a subject a breakthrough will eventually be achieved but quite possibly two or three generations later.

    Without Enigma Rommel would probably have gotten 99% of what was sent to him, successful RN ambushes like Matapan would not happen, and the battle of the Atlantic may have taken another couple of years to win (and by then you would get the Type XXI that was a possible game changer) so Touring's personal contribution was probably very important for the West's war effort. The Soviets would still get to Berlin in 1945 though as Enigma didn't affect their war effort much, I believe the preparation of Koursk was from their own intelligence and the operational surprise of Bagration had nothing to do with ULTRA.

    When looking at individual's contributions I always ask myself the question "put someone else there and will the result change?", Touring is critical as "the second best" may not be enough,
    Along the same lines Churchill and Stalin may be critical, the replacement are likely to make the same key decisions (they really had no other choice) but may lack the ruthlessness, drive or skill to pull it off, Rommel is critical, as a replacement is likely to be less aggressive and tactically skilful, and very few western allied military leaders are.

    Possibly Gamelin qualifies on the negative side but he was an expression of the contemporary French military mindset, even imagining you would get De Gaulle as replacement (not likely to happen as he was pretty junior in 1939) he may have the drive but not the vision to change the outcome.
     
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  9. DerGiLLster

    DerGiLLster Member

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    Still, in 1942, the United States was on Britain's side in the Atlantic, and along with air superiority and a high quantity of transport ships established in 1943, it wouldn't have done much. Probably have increased the length by 4-5 months, but two years is just way too much to say. Enigma codes were being decrypted before the Germans even had power in 1932, so maybe a Polish and/or British mathematician may have just taken his place. Wouldn't have been as good, but still would be enough to end the war, several months later.
     
  10. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Hard to underestimate the Uboat problem to the UK though.
    Even if a question of a few months, it wasn't a case of things being fine after that, we were potentially within a few months of being knocked out altogether if the wolf-packs had roamed completely at will, particularly if you throw in defeat in Africa and the med.
    It's worst-case scenario thinking, but try to imagine a UK surrender in the context of the Uboat's 'happy time' never having been curtailed.
    Knock-on potential of that is massive. On everything, up to and including the other allies' political will.

    Germany didn't throw so much effort into submarines for no reason.
     
  11. DerGiLLster

    DerGiLLster Member

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    What do you mean throw so much effort? They just flat out did not put it on their priorities?
     
  12. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    It's interesting that you'd choose to focus only on that last line, but If you are beginning from the premise that the Uboat campaign was not a significant part of the German strategy for containing the UK, & potentially holding the US at bay (though that US aim became much more complex later), then it would seem I've been reading rather different books for the last 25 years or so.
    That premise would also appear to have a built in misunderstanding of some of the most significant work that went on at Bletchley.

    Adolf never really understood naval affairs, and Germany's fleet as a whole was a somewhat imperfect business suffering more than most arms from the precipitate outbreak of war, but despite false starts and assorted interference, by 1941 the submarine fleet was a major weapon with strong support from above.
    In regards to industrial effort, raw materials, manpower, fuel, training, R&D etc., I feel confident in asserting the Uboat as a significant part of the Nazi war effort for two years.
    Without Bletchley, that effort may conceivably have succeeded in the Atlantic.

    It's not my area of focus, but Clay Blair's two part history of the U-Boat war is very good indeed. Well worth a shufti.
    Correlli Barnett's 'Engage The Enemy More Closely' doesn't specifically concentrate on it, but also offers significant insight into just how much pressure subs put on the RN and essential supply routes.
    And if you're feeling really flush, or can find it in a library, HMSO's 'U-Boat War in the Atlantic' is a rather superb survey that rams home just how much effort and sacrifice went into their campaign.
     
  13. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    I thought the British were far closer to a compromise peace in May, 1940, then they ever were with regards to the U-Boat campaign.

    Further, if I remember Blair correctly, he argues that the U-Boats were far less effective than we are popularly led to believe.
     
  14. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    I don't see what relevance one potential source of defeat has in comparison to another.
    May 1940 was one potential catastrophe, the Uboat threat another, neither mutually exclusive while both connecting to each other.
    (Compromise peace was also off the table once Churchill took full belligerent control - the Citadel on Horse Guards was where he would end his war.)

    On the books, my point was contrary to the assertion that the Uboats were 'flat out' not a priority.
    The effectiveness of that threat may be debatable, but Blair's brick-sized pair of books certainly illustrate the scale of the German effort, and the efforts against it, as do the other two that sprung to mind.

    Personally I've always seen the Uboat threat as severe, but it only made full sense to me after reading Alanbrooke's diaries.
    He brings home the step-by-step nature of plotting victory, and how each problem could prevent or allow the next stage. How any aspect of the entire interconnected mess that was Grand Strategy could cause every other plan to change, for good or ill, with the stakes incredibly high and cataclysm lurking in any outcome. Even in early 1942 his unique viewpoint saw the UK as 'Hanging on by it's eyelids', and the Uboat threat, diminishing though it was by then, hardly helped. Which is as far as I'm probably willing to go as the next stage of assessment would be pure 'what if'.



    Naturally though, it's very hard to see what contemporary thought on Bletchley etc. really was, as no open contemporary source refers to it. Some even making stuff up to cover what came out of Ultra etc.
    That Fifty years of tight-lipped secrecy alone, even with the post/cold war implications of cryptological activity, casts a shadow over this stuff.
     
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  15. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The US program is interesting to read. Not trying to say the Bletchley was not the key for these ops.

    For instance:


    The secret in building 26

    The Untold Story of America's Ultra War Against the U-boat Enigma Codes

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Naval_Computing_Machine_Laboratory

    The first two experimental bombes went into operation in May 1943, running in Dayton so they could be observed by their engineers. Designs for production models were completed in April, 1943, with initial operation starting in early June.
    All told, the laboratory constructed 121 bombes which were then employed for code-breaking in the US Navy's signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group OP-20-G in Washington, D.C..[3] Construction was accomplished in three shifts per day by some 600 WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), 100 Navy officers and enlisted men, and a large civilian workforce. Approximately 3,000 workers operated the bombes to produce "Ultra" decryptions of German Enigma traffic.
     
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  16. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    This is a clincher and also questionable
     
  17. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    Of course, they threw a lot of effort, but,compared to the total war effort, it was meaningless .
     
  18. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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  19. green slime

    green slime Member

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    LJAd, the sole person on the internet still unable to properly quote.

    LJAd, after years on the internet, still unable to properly refute a position with anything more than meaningless one-liners.

    The basic concept of participation on an internet forum, is to share knowledge / experience / sources.

    Your driveby non-quotes are incredibly lacklustre.
     
  20. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    The more I look at the naval war in the Med the more it looks like Enigma was a critical game changer, the lack of good Italian ASW before the introduction of the corvettes and of night fighting training and radar may still allow some RN successes but the wear and tear on the RN resources, and the RAF's recon squadrons, due to having to patrol, rather than intercept know location convoys would be enormous and effectiveness would drop dramatically, even with Ultra they only managed to stop a small percentage of the convoys, so losses without Ultra are likely to drop to negligible. Ultra also allowed the British to concentrate on the critical tankers, no way of doing that without intelligence.

    The Atlantic is big, even the Bay of Biscay is too big to patrol effectively. especially a up to 1944 you will need strong patrols as the Germans had significant forces available, U-Boat losses without Ultra are going to be significantly lower and that may upset the western allies timetable , the 1940 British Isles were not self sufficient for food, far less to sustain a huge war production effort and the millions of servicemen needed for an invasion of continental Europe, until the U.Boat threat is reduced you cannot prepare an invasion, some merchant loses are an acceptable risk, troopship losses are not.
     
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