The story of the Enigma is a combination of
technology, military history and the mysterious world of
espionage, code breakers and intelligence. As it happens,
these are the perfect ingredients to attract the
attention of young people. Therefore Enigma provides the
perfect subject to stimulate students to explore maths
and WW2 history.
Boring School Stuff
Imagine the response of your 12 year
old pupils if you tell them that you're going to talk
about the Second World War and the invasion of Poland.
Exactly, they start falling in a coma! But what if you
start by telling about a code machine on German U-boats?
What about top secret missions to capture code books? And
students, picked out of college to work on the largest
and utmost secret code breaking project ever in Bletchley
Park? What if your pupils where code breakers? What
skills would they need to crack top secret German codes?
You will have all eyes and ears in your classroom!
Fun With History
The story of the Enigma machine is
ideal to get your students interested. As they dive into
this story, they will discover amazing wartime stories.
Of course, once interested in that Polish top ace
codebreaker, it's a small leap to the invasions of
Poland. Once they know about the U-boat communications
and how Bletchley Park located these iron sharks, it's a
small step to the history of naval warfare. The whole war
was influenced by information, codenamed ULTRA, retrieved
by cracking German codes. ULTRA played a decisive role in
the Atlantic, in Africa, Russia and during D-day. How
many young people know about the importance of the
battles in Africa or know the desert fox, Field Marshal
Erwin Rommel? Or how and why Germany invaded the Soviet
But it's not all about history! Maths
played a crucial role in breaking the codes. Enigma is
the perfect way to show your students that maths can make
the difference! Brilliant people like Alan Turing and Max
Newton, founders of computer history, were ace code
breakers in Bletchley Park, England. And it all started
with maths! How many possible combinations are there to
place the rotors of the machine? And the number of plug
combinations? How much more complicated is a four rotor
Kriegsmarine Enigma to crack than a three rotor version?
It doesn't even have to be Enigma all the time. There are
many pencil-and-paper codes, which can be broken by some
simple methods like letter frequency analysis. And we
even didn't talk about the Colossus, the first computer
ever, build to crack German messages, encrypted with the
Lorenz machine. It was so secret that people believed for
decades that the American ENIAC was the first ever
If you're interested in using the story
of Enigma in your school, this website is a great place
to start collecting information on this subject. Of
course, there are many other sources, especially on WW2
history, and I have put in many links to other
interesting information. You can get a taste of code
breaking excitement by visiting my Enigma Cipher
Challenge which might be a
great class project. As you progress through the stages
and break new messages, the message content reveils more
and more pieces of actual wartime history. Some of the
most important moments in WW2 are captured in these
encrypted messages! Googeling around on names of
operations, persons or ships in these messages will bring
up some thrilling stories, straight from the war zone!
Let your students crack the codes and let them
investigate on the history from a particular message. Of
course, there are many other ways to compile an
interesting project or some fun hours in your class. If
you have any questions regarding the Enigma or other
cipher machines and their role in wartime history I will
be pleased to help you with your school project. Just mail me!
If you live in the UK, you might want
to contact some people of the Enigma School Project. They can even visit your school with a real
Enigma machine! It's an idea of Simon Singh which has enyoued enormous success. Simon's Black Chamber is a great place to discover the world of codes
and explaines how to break some of them.