Marian Rejewski and His Enigma Discoveries

Marian Rejewski

This image depicts Marian Rejewski, one of the Poles whose work on examining - and understanding - the Enigma machine greatly helped the Allies during World War II.

It was Rejewski who made an intelligent guess about Enigma’s wiring system. The BBC tells us more about that major breakthrough:

Marian Rejewski, a talented Polish mathematician, had guessed correctly that the wiring connections between the machine's keyboard and encoding mechanism were simply in alphabetical order.

Of course, there were numerous other problems to solve, but Rejewski had made a major breakthrough, by devising equations to match permutations in the machine's settings.

Because of their work in figuring-out how Enigma worked, Rejewski and his colleagues knew about the strong build-up of German troops before Hitler’s forces invaded Poland in 1939.  

Just before World War II erupted, the Poles gave copies of their investigation to British and French experts.  That background information was invaluable to code breakers at Bletchley Park as they tried to decipher Enigma codes which were used by U-boats.

We learn more about Rejewski’s efforts - and those of his colleagues - from Polish Greatness:

By mid 1928, the Poles had been able to purchase a commercial model of the Enigma and began studying its components ...Rejewski  devised a set of mathematical equations that was able to produce a rapid, although partial solution to the Enigma puzzle.  Despite this success, it had only applications on the commercial model.

The Enigma was an extremely complicated electro-mechanical system based on drums or rotors for encoding.  The machine very much resembles a typewriter with the addition of a panel built into its lid in which were inserted 26 small glass windows indicating each letter of the alphabet and on the underside of the panel was an equal number of tiny lamps.  

Inside the machine, mounted on one axle were 3 rotating drums and a reflector connected by an elaborate system of wiring which was powered by either electricity or battery.  At the stroke of a key, two things occurred:  one or more of the rotors would revolve, and the glow lamps would simultaneously light up next to the letter above it. 

So by typing a plain text in ordinary language, the keys made the appropriate windows illuminate.  But for the purpose of conducting a secret communication, sender and receiver had to possess a cipher, or "key,” a device which encrypted each letter through the manipulation of numerous levers and knobs.

In his mathematical analysis, Rejewski was able to obtain positive results using group theory.  The first break came from the French secret service which possessed some documents on machine ciphers.  It didn't contribute to cracking the Enigma code but helped in the process of achieving it. 

The documents dated in 1932 provided real coded messages sent at specific times in that year.  When the Poles compared the old messages that they had intercepted, to the key settings, and combined it to mathematical analysis - they hit the jackpot.

The Poles easily figured out its inner wiring.  It was not difficult for them to discover that the wiring of the ring was in the same alphabetical order as they appeared on the German typewriter, so precise were the Germans for ordung (order). 

By 1934 the Poles were able to reproduce 15 Enigmas, at the AVA Radio Manufacturing Company at 34 Nowy Swiat Street in Warsaw...

There was a continuing challenge to overcome.  The Germans made frequent changes to the Enigma, but the Poles kept up every step of the way, deciphering every message-sometimes succeeding with only luck and imagination.

In July 1939, the Polish team met with their French and British counterparts in Warsaw.  War was imminent.  With the authorization of Polish General Waclaw Stachiewicz, the French and British teams were each presented with a perfect working copy of the Polish-made Enigma machine. 

That the Allies knew about Germany's position and strength along Poland’s borders was entirely attributed to the Polish success in decryptment of German Enigma messages.

Marian Rejewski was able to escape Poland, reaching Britain in 1943.

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Polish Greatness website.


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"Marian Rejewski and His Enigma Discoveries" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 17, 2020.
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