Rare WWII Enigma machine uncovered in the Baltic

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An incredibly rare Enigma machine from the Second World War has been recovered from the Baltic Sea.

Divers made the discovery at Gelting Bay, east of Flensburg, while searching for discarded fishing nets.

The Enigma machine found in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of Germany. Although mass-produced during the war, the machines are now extremely rare. Images: Christian Howe/Florian Huber/Uli Kunz/Submaris.
The Enigma machine found in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of Germany. Although mass-produced during the war, the machines are now very rare.

The cipher machine consisted of a keyboard, a set of three or four interchangeable rotors, and an illuminated letter box. Invented by German engineer Arthur Scherbius in the 1920s, the Enigma encrypted the messages of the German Army and Navy during the Second World War.

It was believed that the complexity of the device rendered all messages indecipherable to an enemy. However, teams of cryptographers at Bletchley Park – including mathematician Alan Turing – decoded the Enigma messages, an achievement that is regarded as having shortened the war by several years.

Although the machines were once produced in high quantities, they are today extremely rare, with only a few surviving intact in German museums.

On the night of 4/5 May 1945, as the war in Europe was reaching an end, Gelting Bay was the scene of Operation Regenbogen, a large-scale scuttling operation in which almost 50 submarines of the Germany navy, the Kriegsmarine, were sunk to prevent them falling into enemy hands.

By the end of the war, more than 200 submarines lay at the bottom of the North and Baltic Seas. Many were subsequently salvaged and scrapped.

It is possible that this machine was thrown overboard as part of the 1945 scuttling. However, only M4 models of the Enigma machine (with four rotors) were used by German submarines from early 1942 onward. The model recovered is an M3, with one fewer rotor, according to early analysis.

Images: Christian Howe/Florian Huber/Uli Kunz/Submaris.
Images: Christian Howe/Florian Huber/Uli Kunz/Submaris.

The discovery was made by Kiel-based diving company Submaris, which was, on behalf of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), searching for abandoned fishing nets that endanger marine life.

Commenting on the find, Dr Florian Huber of Submaris said: ‘As an underwater archaeologist, I have already made many exciting and curious finds over the past 20 years. But I couldn’t have dreamed that we would find one of the legendary Enigma machines!’

‘The find is interesting historically as well as archaeologically extremely interesting,’ he added.

Huber and his team have donated their discovery to an archaeology museum in Schleswig, where the Enigma machine will be examined, restored, and conserved.

This is an article from the February/March 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

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