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The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) has started a crowd-funding initiative to enable it to host the Turing Bombe electro-mechanical computer on the same site as its Colossus rebuild.
The Turing-Welchman Bombe Rebuild Trust (TWBRT) Bombe is a fully functional and accurate reconstruction of the wartime Bombe, as designed by Alan Turing and refined by Gordon Welchman. It was used to discover the daily settings of the Enigma machines used to communicate operational messages across enemy military networks.
The funding will be used to provide a new gallery and move the reconstruction of the Turing-Welchman Bombe to a new location on the Bletchley Park Estate – Block H, the home of The National Museum of Computing.
Speaking to Computer Weekly about the importance of the TWBRT Bombe, Andrew Herbert, chair of The National Museum of Computing, said: “It is historically very important. It was the first machine to help automate code breaking, by allowing code breakers to check possible encryption keys.”
He added that the machine represents a key step in the evolution of automation and the use of mathematics calculations.
The Turing-Welchman Bombe was a relatively slow electro-mechanical machine and used mechanical switches and relays to run calculations, rather than the binary circuits used in computers, which can flip-flop between the “on” state and “off” state at incredibly high speed.
When the Germans switched to a stronger cipher, Lorenz, the World War II code-crackers at Bletchley Park needed a way to decipher the codes quickly, which led to the development of the world’s first programmable electronic computer, Colossus, by British Post Office electrical engineer Tommy Flowers.
“While it is not a computer, it is a very important step in the evolution of computing. To house the reconstructed Bombe close to the Colossus Rebuild makes a lot of sense from many perspectives,” said Herbert.
Read more about Alan Turing
- One man’s mission to uncover a WWII decryption machine – Alan Turing and the Bletchley Code Breakers.
- Alan Turing was the genius mathematician who cracked the German Enigma code during World War II.
- Government communications intelligence agency GCHQ has released two papers by Alan Turing on the theory of code breaking.
“As a pre-computing electro-mechanical device, the Bombe will help our visitors better understand the beginnings of computing and the general thought processes that led to the development of Colossus and subsequent computers.
“The story of the design of the Bombe by Alan Turing, the father of computer science, leads very appropriately into the eight decades of computing that we curate. Even the manufacture of the Bombes leads directly to British computing history – the originals were built by the British Tabulating Machine (BTM) company in Letchworth, which later became part of ICT, then ICL and now Fujitsu,” he said.
John Harper, chair of TWBRT, added: “Our team of volunteers is looking forward to continuing to demonstrate how the Bombes made their vital contribution to Bletchley Park’s wartime role in the new venue.”
The crowd-funding campaign to create a new Bombe Gallery close to the existing Colossus gallery is now live. Together the two machines will give visitors an unparalleled insight of the wartime code-breaking genius at Bletchley Park and the beginnings of our digital world, according to TNMOC.