Morse Code, German WWII Technology, And Allied Ingenuity

Morse code was used extensively by both sides during the War in Europe from 1938-1945. Transmitters were relatively small and easily carried by a wireless operator, avoiding the long wired telephone connections of World War I. Communication was the key to deployment and logistics and played a major role in the eventual victory on the battlefield.

Prior to WWII, Germans improved upon a machine that became known as “Enigma,” built in the 1920’s enabling a message to be encrypted before it was sent and then the process reversed to decipher it upon receipt. These machines could easily be carried in ships, submarines, airplanes and to army field headquarters operations. The machine utilized a series of rotating four inch wheels that scrambled plain textual messages into unreadable gibberish. Since the wheels could be set into billions of positions, an unlimited number of combinations provided the German high command the ability to transmit and receive Morse code messages without concern that the Allies would intercept and know the operational plans. During the early years of the War, Hitler’s armies enjoyed a tremendous advantage through utilization of this method.

However, British and Polish mathematicians, who had acquired a machine prior to the War and stationed at Bletchley Park, England were able to eventually break the code. Two Englishmen, Alan Turing, (after whose name the coveted prize for artificial intelligence is named) and Gordon Welchman developed another machine called “The Bombe” using the fact that common words and phrases, such as names and weather were coded into most messages. The Bombe was able to single out these parts of communications and that gave leverage in figuring out the remainder of the message.

After the War ended, a great shield of secrecy kept information about the Allied deciphering efforts from the public eye for more than fifty years. In 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK broke the silence to honor one of the last surviving code-breaking operatives, Margaret Fick. She had been sent to the Isle of Man, while just 17, to learn Morse code and join the secret German Intercept Service. From the listening station near Harrogate, she along with other listeners, copied thousands of coded messages and passed them along to the Bletchey Park group for deciphering. This whole operation was guarded and the Nazi high command never realized that the Allies knew their secret plans within hours. This fact allowed the Allies to test their plans for the D-Day invasion of France by sending out false messages and seeing the reaction from the German generals. This deception allowed the Allies to invade while the bulk of the German resistance was centered far away.

Hardly recognized as War heroines, these Morse code listeners played a tremendous role in shortening the war and bringing peace to Europe. Their contribution should be remembered and honored.

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