October 10, 2007
National Archives Hosts Discussion on World War II ENIGMA Codebreaking October 17
WWII Codebreaker Joe Desch’s daughter, Debbie Anderson, to participate
Washington, DC…The National Archives will host a program on World War II codebreaking on Wednesday, October 17, at 11 A.M. The program includes a showing of Dayton Codebreakers, a documentary film about U.S. and British codebreaking during World War II, followed by a discussion of the book The Secret in Building 26: The Untold Story of How America Broke the Final U-boat Enigma Code, by Jim DeBrosse and Colin Burke. Both the film and the book deal with Joe Desch, a Dayton engineer tasked with creating a machine to break Germany’s Enigma code. Debbie Anderson, Joe Desch’s daughter and a co-producer of the film, will attend and participate in the discussion. National Archives archivist Lee Gladwin will moderate.
This top secret operation remained classified for more than fifty years. Debbie Anderson said: "Because of his oath of secrecy, my father could not speak of his work. I think he'd be pleased with the way we tell the story, honestly yet respectfully. And he'd be fascinated by people's interest and the way the story resonates today."
This program is free and open to the public, and will be held in Room G-24 of National Archives Building Research Center, which is fully accessible. Participants should use the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance, between 7th and 9th Streets, NW, Washington, DC.
Much has been written about the success of the British “Ultra” program in cracking the Germans’ Enigma code early in World War II, but few know what happened in 1942, when the Germans added a fourth rotor to the machine that created the already challenging naval code and plunged Allied intelligence into darkness. Joe Desch, an engineer at the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio, was tasked with creating a machine to break the new Enigma settings. It was an enterprise that rivaled the Manhattan Project for secrecy and complexity–and nearly drove Desch to a breakdown. Under enormous pressure, he succeeded in creating a 5,000-pound electromechanical monster known as the Desch Bombe, which helped turn the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic–but not before a disgruntled co-worker attempted to leak information about the machine to the Nazis.
Please check the Archives Shop (202-357-5271) for book availability and a 15% discount for book group participants. To verify the date and times of the programs, the public should call (202) 357-5333, or view the Calendar of Events online. To contact the National Archives, please call 1-866-272-6272 or 1-86-NARA-NARA; (TDD) (301) 837-0482.
View a bibliography of espionage and intelligence books available at the National Archives.
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For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.