London: A World War II-era machine used to send personal messages between Hitler and his generals by encrypting plain German text into secret code has been found on eBay.
Volunteers from the UK’s National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park used eBay to track down the historic teleprinter for the Lorenz cipher machine languishing in a shed in Essex.
It was advertised as a telegram machine and was for sale. “My colleague was scanning eBay and he saw a photograph of what seemed to be the teleprinter,” said John Wetter, a volunteer at the museum in Buckinghamshire.
He then went to Southend to investigate further where he found the keyboard being kept, in its original case, on the floor of a shed “with rubbish all over it”. The teleprinter, which resembles a typewriter, would have been used to enter plain messages in German. These were then encrypted by a linked cipher machine, using 12 individual wheels with multiple settings on each, to make up the code.
The museum has just received one on loan from Norway’s Armed Forces Museum, and has a video of how top secret transmissions might have sounded. When volunteers took the teleprinter back from Essex to the museum, they found it was stamped with the official wartime number from the German army that matches the one on the machine from Norway.
Andy Clark, chairman of the trustees at The National Museum of Computing, said the Lorenz was stationed in secure locations as “it was far bigger than the famous portable Enigma machine”. “Everybody knows about Enigma, but the Lorenz machine was used for strategic communications,” said Clark. “It is so much more complicated than the Enigma machine and, after the war, machines of the same style remained in use.”
Volunteers are hoping to recreate the whole process on June 3, from typing a message in German to cracking the code using wartime equipment.
“This gives us the chance to show the breaking of the Lorenz cipher code from start to finish,” said Clark. “We can show every single point in the process.”
But one key part is still missing and volunteers are still searching for it. “It looks like an electric motor in black casing with two shafts on each side, which drive the gears of the Lorenz machine,” said Wetter.