A MACHINE used at Bletchley Park as part of the Second World War code-breaking effort has been bought by the National Museum of Computing for £9.50 on eBay.
The Lorenz machine was used to send encrypted messages from Hitler to his generals. It had been left to rot in a shed in Essex for decades, but was put up for sale on eBay described as a 'telegram machine'*.
Volunteers from the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park tracked down the machine, kept schtum about its real value (obviously) and picked it up for less than a tenner.
"My colleague was scanning eBay and he saw a photograph of what seemed to be the teleprinter," John Wetter, a volunteer at the museum, told the BBC.
"He then went to Southend to investigate further, where he found the keyboard being kept in its original case on the floor of a shed with rubbish all over it. We said 'Thank you very much. How much was it again?' She said '£9.50', so we said 'Here's a £10 note. Keep the change!'"
The rotor stream cipher was developed by a company called C. Lorenz AG in Berlin. The machines used a Vernam stream cipher to encode messages via 12 wheels with different settings as the machinist typed, and were in-line attachments to standard teleprinters enabling the messages to be sent quickly to generals where they would be decrypted and read.
The machine was used to send strategic communications, and was more complex than the more famous Enigma machine. Enigma was a portable machine for use in the field, whereas the Lorenz was kept in secure locations such as army headquarters.
However, the Lorenz picked up from the shed in Southend is missing a key piece of equipment: the motor. "It looks like an electric motor in black casing with two shafts on each side, which drive the gears of the Lorenz machine," said volunteer John Wetter.
So if you have something that might fit the bill languishing in your shed, don't put it on eBay, get on the blower to Bletchley Park and start haggling. µ
*An expensive way of sending short messages, quickly and expensively, in the era before the internet and text messaging, just in case you didn't know. Ask your parents or, better still, look it up on Wikipedia.
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