Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book review - The triumph of Zygalski's sheets: the Polish Enigma in the early 1940

The solution of the German Enigma cipher machine by the codebreakers of Bletchley Park and the effect that this had on World War II became public knowledge in the 1970’s, with the publication of books like ‘The Ultra Secret’. Since then hardly a year goes by without a new book or movie coming out and claiming that the British codebreakers basically won WWII all on their own. Unfortunately the work of the Polish codebreakers has not received the same recognition, even though they were the first to solve Enigma messages in the 1930’s.

In the interwar period Poland had to face the hostility of a weakened Germany and a rising Soviet Union. The Polish military authorities knew that they had to keep a close eye their dangerous neighbors, so they built up an efficient codebreaking service, called Biuro Szyfrów. The Polish codebreakers played an important role during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–21 by solving the ciphers used by the Red Army and learning of the enemy plans in advance.
Against Germany the department faced a serious problem due to the introduction of the Enigma machine in the late 1920’s. The solution of this device required scientific research undertaken by mathematicians and for this reason the department hired Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki. Using material provided by the French intelligence service, the three of them were able to solve the Enigma in the early 1930’s.

Enigma Press has published a new book on Henryk Zygalski, called ‘The triumph of Zygalski's sheets: the Polish Enigma in the early 1940’ by Zdzisław J. Kapera.

The author has used Zygalski’s personal diary in order to reconstruct his work in Poland and then France plus he has included rare photographs from the archive of Anna Zygalska-Cannon.

The book covers Zygalski’s work for the Polish cipher bureau in the 1930’s, their evacuation to France in 1939, the solution of current Enigma traffic in 1940 (together with the British codebreakers) and his work for the signal intelligence service of Vichy France at PC Cadix. The last two chapters cover his escape to the UK (due to the German occupation of Vichy in late 1942), his assignment to the Polish radio intelligence unit near Stanmore and his postwar academic career at the University of Surrey.

The author has given particular attention to Zygalski’s cryptanalytic technique for the solution of Enigma traffic (Zygalski sheets) and he has also taken a look into why the intelligence gained from the Enigma did not play an important role during the fighting in Norway and France.
Overall this is a valuable contribution to Enigma historiography.

The author was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

1). Can you give a summary of Enigma Press and the books you’ve published?
The Enigma Press is a scholarly publisher from Cracow - Mogilany. The Enigma Bulletin is one of series/journals printed irregularly and in limited number of copies maximum 150. Contents of the Enigma Bulletin you can find at the end of my book. We have also a Polish series of pamphlets on the Enigma story, but only two issues appeared, one being an introduction to the machine and the second is a brief biography of Rejewski. 

2). In the book you say that you consider Zygalski a personal hero. Can you expand on that and also explain what new information you were able to discover while researching this book?
I have always been thinking that besides Rejewski Zygalski should be presented in the full light. His sheets saved possibility to read Enigma after changes in January 1939. The British were unable to use them despite producing the full set of sheets (60 necessary copies) in November and December 1939. In my book I reconstructed from all available sources the turn of events in autumn and winter 1939/1940. I used the Polish, French and British sources together and compared them for the first time. Turing learned from Zygalski in mid January 1940 and the British also had an opportunity to read more and more. Without the period January to May 15, 1940 the British would start reading regularly Enigma many months later. Even if Enigma did not save Norway and France in this crucial period the British were able to put foundations for ULTRA.  

3). What is the current state of cryptologic historiography in Poland? Is there renewed interest in the accomplishments of the Polish codebreakers?
Very few people are now interested in the Enigma story as sources are very scattered. We expect that young historian Lukasz Ulatowski will write a history of the Polish Cipher Bureau in the 1920 and 1930s. 

4). What other topics do you plan to research for future books?
I am now working on the dangerous moment, the spring of 1940, when the reading the Enigma would be nearly exposed. Stupidity of some military committee of the Polish Government in Exile because of useless political revenge would help the Germans to discover reading Enigma. I plan to publish a pamphlet on the escape of the Polish cryptanalysts from the Vichy Cadix radio intelligence center and on the efforts of the Germans to protect Enigma against the WICHER operation. 

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