BCS bombe team receives award

31 March 2009

Bombe Rebuild The BCS Computer Conservation Society (CCS) has received an Engineering Heritage Award for its 13 year quest to build a replica code breaking machine used to crack Nazi Enigma ciphers during the Second World War.

The award by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) was presented at Bletchley Park to John Harper in the presence of veterans who had worked on the machines. Mr Harper led the painstaking rebuild work with a volunteer team. The project was also partly funded by the BCS.

Dr David Hartley, CCS chair says: 'It is wonderful to receive an award from such a prestigious organisation as the IMechE. John Harper and the team had a mammoth task ahead of them when they set out to build one of these machines from scratch, using blueprints discovered in the early 1990s. Their hard work and determination to re-create a vital part of our recent history is to be applauded.'

All 210 original machines, designed by mathematical genius' Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman and built by the British Tabulating Machine Company at Letchworth, were destroyed after the war. Many companies supplied or helped create specialist component parts for free to help keep down costs. 

Bombes were manufactured at the rate of one a week and the machine's 99.9 per cent accuracy was vital in the decoding process, which sometimes meant up to 5,000 messages a day could be broken. Much of the work was carried out at the secret Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, as well a number of outposts across the country. It is now widely acknowledged that the Bombe cut the War short by two years and saved the lives of thousands.

Dr Elizabeth Sparrow, BCS Deputy President, says: 'Many people today think that computers were invented in Silicon Valley. But Britain played a pioneering role in the information technology revolution. BCS was delighted to be a major supporter of the Bombe rebuild project and the presentation of the Engineering Heritage Award is testament to the scale of the achievement of the dedicated groups of volunteers, led by John Harper, who have toiled for many, many hours to reconstruct the machine.

'The Bombe rebuild just one of a number of computer preservation projects initiated by the Computer Conservation Society. We are enormously proud and grateful for the excellent work done by the many volunteers in this group who are dedicated to the conservation and restoration of early computers and to recording the history of computing.'