The Bombe redux: the rebuilt replica of the codebreaking machine, on display at Bletchley Park

Turing's Codebreaking machine voted engineers' favourite

A codebreaking machine nicknamed The Bombe, developed by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park during World War Two, has been voted the engineers’ favourite artefact in a new survey to mark the 30th anniversary of the Engineering Heritage Awards.

Members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers were asked to vote for their favourite of the 99 artefacts already in receipt of one of these awards, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the awards scheme and the presentation later this month of the 100th Award to the Old Furnace at Ironbridge.

The Bombe was voted the favourite Engineering Heritage Award winner in the survey. Members were asked to vote for their favourite of the 99 artefacts already in receipt of one of these awards. The Bombe attracted 19 per cent of the vote, closely followed by Concorde with 17 per cent.

The Bombe was an electromechanical device designed to help crack the German Enigma code during the Second World War. All of the 210 Bombes built by the British Tabulating Machine Company during World War Two were dismantled after the war, but a fully-functioning replica, on display at Bletchley Park, was completed in 2007. The replica was rebuilt over the course of 13 years by a group of enthusiasts, led by John Harper, using the original blueprints.

The Bombe was the brainchild of mathematicians and codebreakers Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, who then passed on their concept for design and construction to Harold Keen, an engineer at the British Tabulating Machine Company. The machines allowed up to 5,000 messages a day to be decoded and were pivotal to the Allied Forces winning the war.

The Bombe became the 49th recipient of an Engineering Heritage Award on 24 March 2009.

John Wood, Chairman of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Heritage Committee, said, “The 210 Bombes built by the British Tabulating Machine Company during World War Two played a crucial role in the Allied success in the war. Estimates suggest that they could have helped cut the war by as much as two years – saving countless lives.

“These machines, which each weighed about a ton, illustrate the genius of Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, but also the vision and ingenuity of the engineer Harold Keen who made these concepts a reality.

“The award was presented to the replica Bombe in 2009 on behalf of Turing, Welchman and Keen and also in recognition of the fantastic work of enthusiasts who rebuilt the Bombe with such care and passion.”

Iain Standen CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust said, “I am delighted that the achievements of Turing, Welchman and Keen are being recognised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in this way. The Bombe machine industrialised the process of breaking Enigma, enabling the WW2 Codebreakers to decipher high volumes of messages at speed and while still relevant.”

The Engineering Heritage Awards were established in 1984 to promote artefacts, sites or landmarks of significant engineering importance, past and present.

The top five results of this year’s vote, open to all 105,000 members of the Institution between July and September 2014, placed the Bombe at Bletchley Park at number one with 19 per cent of the vote; Concorde second with 17 per cent; the Rolls Royce RB211 engine third with 11 per cent; the Mallard locomotive fourth with 10 per cent; and the Crossness Engine House & James Watt Beam Engine fifth with 6 per cent.

The full list of Engineering Heritage Award recipients can be reviewed online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineering_Heritage_Awards

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