Turing's Letter to Churchill Produces "Action This Day"

Turing's Letter to Churchill Produces

By February of 1941, Alastair Denniston was no longer head of Britain's GCCS (Government Code & Cypher School). Commander Edward W. Travis had replaced Denniston.

Later, in 1941, Alan Turing and some of his colleagues (Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry) decided to write a “secret and confidential” letter directly to Churchill.  The men, wanting to raise the Prime Minister’s awareness of GCCS funding needs, used these words (among others) to address the issue:

Some weeks ago you paid us the honour of a visit, and we believe that you regard our work as important. You will have seen that, thanks largely to the energy and foresight of Commander Travis, we have been well supplied with the 'bombes' for the breaking of the German Enigma codes.

We think, however, that you ought to know that this work is being held up, and in some cases is not being done at all, principally because we cannot get sufficient staff to deal with it. Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention.

Thinking Churchill might need some assurance that the men were acting on their own, and not being prompted by someone higher-up, they also included these sentences in their October 21, 1941 letter:

We have written this letter entirely on our own initiative. We do not know who or what is responsible for our difficulties, and most emphatically we do not want to be taken as criticising Commander Travis who has all along done his utmost to help us in every possible way.

But if we are to do our job as well as it could and should be done it is absolutely vital that our wants, small as they are, should be promptly attended to. We have felt that we should be failing in our duty if we did not draw your attention to the facts and to the effects which they are having and must continue to have on our work, unless immediate action is taken. (Quoted by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore in his book Enigma: The Battle for the Code, at page 160.)

Churchill not only took the men at their word, he gave them what they needed. To use the words of Andrew Hodges, Turing’s biographer, the letter had “an electric effect.”

The Prime Minister's first words, to General Hastings Ismay (his principal staff officer), were these:


Then Churchill added this direction:

Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this has been done. (See Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: the Enigma, at page 279.)

The letter, and Churchill’s response, is a piece of evidence we can use to assess how important the work at Bletchley Park was to Britain’s Prime Minister. Before long, Station X had thousands of workers—including WRNS (pronounced "Wrens," short for "Women's Royal Navy Service")—who helped to run the bombes.

Media Credits

Quotations from the 29 October 1941 letter to Churchill, and the Prime Minister's response, online via referenced books (noted above).


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Turing's Letter to Churchill Produces "Action This Day"" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 07, 2015. Jul 22, 2019.
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