"The Bombe" Codebreaking Machine (1943)

Codebreaking Machine, American version

In an attempt to break the German Enigma cipher codes during World War II, the Polish, British and Americans developed code breaking machines called "bombes." (The name "bombe" probably came from the Polish designers in 1938, although its exact significance is unclear.)

The Bombes were large electromechanical devices used to simulate the rotor movements used by the German Enigma machine. The Bombes were successful in helping to break some of the coded messages.

The American Bombes were built by the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio. The American Bombes were designed to address the codes produced by the German four-rotor Enigma. Each American Bombe was the equivalent of six of the British style three-rotor Bombes.

The American Bombe machines were 10 feet wide, 7 feet tall and about 2 feet deep. They weighed over 2 and 1/2 tons. The American machines used mechanical relays, vacuum tubes, various motors and clutches, and were run by the women of the WAVE section (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) of the United States military. They worked in the United States and kept in close contact with their British counterparts working in Bletchley Park, in the U.K.

The work by the codebreakers and the use of the Bombes on both sides of the Atlantic contributed to the deciphering of important military information from 1939 through the end of the war.

The Photo of the Bombe is featured on Cover of the History of Computing Encyclopedia.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Government Archives

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History of Computing

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