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These code-breakers were real lifesavers

Chatham exhibit shares the story of Nazi Germany’s Enigma Machines—and the Cape Codders who intercepted their messages and helped win the war!

Chatham exhibit shares the story of Nazi Germany’s Enigma Machines—and the Cape Codders who intercepted their messages and helped win the war!

Photo Courtesy of: Chatham Marconi Maritime Center

Submarine Rock lurks a stone’s throw off the southern coast of Sampson’s Island in my hometown of Cotuit. At high tide, the rock dives beneath the waves, an unmarked navigational hazard I often worry will sink our boat when we’re out sailing or fishing. But the rock surfaces when the waters ebb, and it looks so like a submarine’s conning tower, that some pranksters back in my father’s youth infamously swam out and painted the rock battleship gray. I’ve always chuckled at that story; how shocked folks on Cotuit’s Loop Beach and Sampson’s Island must have been when they saw what appeared to be a U-boat nearly on their doorstep! It was not until recently, however, that I came to realize the Cape has an important history of fighting real submarines . . .

On the front lines of Allied efforts to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II, code-breakers at Chatham’s Marconi Station played a critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic, helping to locate and sink many German U-boat submarines that threatened America’s coastline. In conjunction with Allied stations like Government Code and Cipher School at Blechley Park in England, service men and women in Chatham helped break the Enigma codes—encrypted messages on a diabolically intricate machine that German Admiral Karl Doenitz used to communicate with his submarine fleet. The race to decipher these codes was the subject of 2014’s popular Oscar-nominated film, The Imitation Game, and these technological breakthroughs not only hastened the Allies’ victory in the Atlantic, but the machine used to crack the Enigma codes, known as the Turing Bombe, helped pave the way for the emergence of the computer. According to a special program broadcast by the BBC, “it has been claimed that as a result of the information gained through [the Turing Bombe], hostilities between Germany and the Allied forces were curtailed by two years.” On Saturday, June 20, the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, as it is now called, unveils a new exhibit featuring a genuine, German Enigma machine. The exhibit coincides with Chatham History Weekend (June 20-21) and is also meant to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the ending of World War II.

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