Unseen photos of the machine that broke codes to win World War II

Unseen photos of the UK’s top-secret code-cracking computer, Colossus, which is credited with aiding the Allies in winning World War Two, have been made public by GCHQ. To commemorate the invention of the device’s 80th anniversary, the spy agency is publishing them. Many believe that Colossus was the first digital computer, and it adds that they “shed new light” on the “genesis and workings of Colossus”. Not much was known about it until the early 2000s.

The images served as a reminder of the “creativity and ingenuity” needed to keep the nation safe, according to GCHQ director Anne Keast-Butler. “Technological innovation has always been at the centre of our work here at GCHQ, and Colossus is a perfect example of how our staff keep us at the forefront of new technology – even when we can’t talk about it” , she stated. Early in 1944, the UK’s codebreakers were based at Bletchley Park, where the first Colossus started operations. By the time the war ended, ten computers were involved in the deciphering of Nazi messages.

With 2,500 valves and a height of over two meters, Colossus needed a group of expert operators and technicians to operate and maintain. They were frequently Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens) personnel; one of the new photos depicts Wrens operating the machine. For the first time, the machine’s internal blueprints, an audio recording of it in operation, and a letter mentioning “rather alarming German instructions” that Colossus intercepted have all been made available to the public.

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